Thursday, January 3, 2008

Georgia's three governors

I saw a story about the mayor of Anderson, Indiana, losing an election, but refusing to leave office.

The deal is that there's a lawsuit filed by some folks that worked for sitting mayor Kevin Smith (no, not Silent Bob). The suit charges that Kris Ockomon, who won the election, didn't meet the residency requirements to be elected mayor. So, Smith is staying in office until it's all settled. Or that's his plan, anyway.

This brought to mind the old story ... a true story, to be sure ... about the time Georgia had three governors.

You say you didn't know about that? Well, it's always been a favorite story. And it gets better every time. Because little bits surface here and there -- some true, some maybe not true -- that just make a ridiculous situation even more ridiculous.

Seems that back in 1946, Georgia went and held an election. Seems this new State Constitution had gone in that prevented a governor from succeeding himself. That meant that, in 1942, Eugene Talmadge, who had up an got himself elected governor twice, couldn't succeed himself, and turned the office over to Ellis Arnall, who served the first 4-year term.

Arnall couldn't run again in 1946. But Talmadge could. But no one else did. Republicans didn't stand a chance in Georgia politics back then, so they didn't bother.

The new State Constitution had created this new job called "Lieutenant Governor," and M. E. Thompson ran for the job. With no Republican opposition.

Now, you gotta know that Eugene Talmadge was in poor health, what with being old and a drunk. Which was ... and still is ... common in Georgia. But even more common then, because even an old drunk Democrat could ... and did ... get elected Governor in those days.

Now, the Old Man had a son. Herman Talmadge. You may have heard of him.

Anyway, supporters of Herman mounted a write-in campaign for him for Governor. And, sure enough, when the election was held, Eugene Talmadge was elected Governor, with Herman Talmadge running a distant second.

Oh, and this is important: M. E. Thompson was elected Lieutenant Governor.

The reason it's important is that the Lt. Governor became Governor if and when the Governor died.

Funny thing, though. When they wrote that law, they didn't specify anything about Lt. Governor-elect becoming Governor-elect if the Governor-elect died.

And Eugene Talmadge, on December 21, 1946, after the election but before being sworn in, passed from this world.

He passed on! This governor was no more! He had ceased to be! He'd expired and gone to meet his maker! He was a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! He was pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes were now history! He'd kicked the bucket, he'd shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!!

Yes, you may have figured it out. Eugene Talmadge had died.

So, who became Governor?


Well, the State Constitution said nothing about Lt. Governor-elect becoming Governor-elect.

But, it did say that the State Legislature had to certify the election results. Which they didn't do. Instead, they picked a governor from the top living vote-getters for the office of Governor.

Which is to say, the Legislature elected Herman Talmadge as Governor.

M. E. Thompson sued.

So, now two folks are claiming to be Governor.

Then, the outgoing Governor, Ellis Arnall, said he'd stay in office until it was decided.

After several Talmadge changed the locks on the office, Arnall set up a desk at the information booth at the Capitol, and more legal maneuvers, the Attorney General swore in Thompson at Lt. Governor, then immediately recognized him as Acting Governor.

Finally, a court ruled that Thompson was governor, and everybody went away. Until the special election in 1948 to fill the remainder of the term. Then Talmadge beat Thompson clean.

Just another example of politics at its finest.

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