Monday, August 31, 2009

Jim Thompson of Athens Banner Herald op-ed on Michael Thurmond

Political junkies across Georgia who've always wanted to see Athens native Michael Thurmond, the state's labor commissioner, in a top-tier statewide race - but have come to despair of ever seeing it happen - got at least a slight hint last week that they need not necessarily give up that thus-far vain hope.

In a brief news release issued from his office, Thurmond graciously declined what apparently had been an offer of an appointment in the U.S. Department of Labor.

"I appreciate the opportunity afforded by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Assistant Secretary Jane Oates to serve in the Obama administration. However, after much thought and prayer, I have decided to continue focusing my energy and efforts on helping nearly half-a-million jobless Georgians get back to work," the announcement read, in its entirety.Thurmond's announcement fueled speculation that he might make a run at the lieutenant governor's office, possibly in some sort of coordinated campaign with leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes.But, as has come to be expected from the ever-cautious Thurmond, he's given himself an "out." In his brief announcement on turning down a Washington appointment, he takes care to note he wants to focus on his current work.
Certainly, continuing economic adversities in Georgia and elsewhere in the nation and the world give Thurmond a handy - and, in fairness, an all too real - reason for backing away from the lieutenant governor's race, if that is his eventual decision.

And it's a delicate decision for Thurmond to face.

On the positive side, Thurmond's service as labor commissioner - he's nearing the end of his third four-year term - has shown that he's capable of running and winning a statewide race.

Part of the reason for his electoral success is his very real engagement with the work of the labor commissioner's office. It's rare when a plant closing or similar economic calamity doesn't bring Thurmond into the affected community to meet with local leaders and announce plans for addressing the issue, such as retraining laid-off workers. There's no telling how much political capital that sort of thing has built up over the years.On the other hand, though, Thurmond must be asking himself whether a run at the lieutenant governor's office would be worth it. Like the old joke about what the dog running after the car will do if he catches it, it's worth wondering what Thurmond might be able to do as a Democratic lieutenant governor in a statehouse that certainly will be dominated by Republican officeholders, many of whom Thurmond would be working with in the lieutenant governor's role as the presiding officer of the state Senate.

It's difficult to see where the balance might fall for Thurmond in his consideration - if there is, indeed, any consideration - of a run for the lieutenant governor's office.
He could do it. He could run, and he could win, and the post could serve as a springboard to even higher office.
Whether he will, though, likely depends on how much he thinks he could do in and with the office. And the answer to that conundrum is likely to be "not much," given the GOP's continuing domination of state politics.
But there's another factor complicating things for Thurmond. As anyone who even casually follows state politics knows, every time an election rolls around, Thurmond's name always is mentioned as a possible contender for nearly any available top-tier statewide office. Thus far, Thurmond has kept his ambitions confined to the labor commissioner's office, and as already noted here, he's doing an excellent job there.However, Thurmond may be fast approaching the point at which he's going to have to make a move to signal his readiness for a bigger challenge, or risk having his name not automatically moving to the top of the heap in virtually every election cycle.

Put simply, if Thurmond doesn't run for lieutenant governor in 2010 - regardless of whether it makes absolutely perfect sense or doesn't - he well indeed might finish his political career in the labor commissioner's office.


Anonymous said...

Thurmond won't run for Lt. Governor in my opinion. He could run against Iskason in 2010. The signature issue: Jobs will be a huge topic & Thurmond could run circles around Isakson.

Keith said...

I thought earlier in the year that he would run for Lt. Governor, but more & more I think he will turn it down. I say he stays at labor until 2014 & then run for the U.S. Senate against Chambliss. If he does run for something it maybe the senate against Johnny Isakson. But if he does leave the Labor dept. dems better have have someone ready to run in his spot.

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