Make Civility and Civics a Winning Combo in 2019

By Benita M. Dodd

A good man passed away on January 2nd.

Bob Hanner, 73, had served 38 years in the Georgia General Assembly, transitioning from South Georgia Democrat to South Georgia Republican before leaving the Legislature in 2013.

Most people have forgotten why he left. A census-based reapportionment, coupled with a declining Southwest Georgia population, meant Hanner, representative from the 148th District (Parrott), and Gerald Greene, who had served the 149th District (Cuthbert) for 30 years, would have to face each other in the newly drawn 151st House District.

“We talked about it – knew it was coming – and I told Bob I wouldn’t run if he decided to,” Greene told The Albany Herald in 2012. “Of course, Bob being the person he is, he said he wouldn’t run if I decided to. That’s kind of the secret we’ve kept between us for a while now.”

“Everyone in this position comes to that time in their life, when they know the time is right (to step down),” Greene said. “Bob came to me and said, ‘It’s time to enjoy my grandchildren, time to enjoy my life.’”

In the same article, Georgia State Rep. Ed Rynders called Hanner “a master of old-school politics,” telling the newspaper, “He never offended anyone; he had an even-tempered approach to difficult situations and difficult votes. Simply put, Rep. Hanner was always a gentleman. The respect he got was genuine; everyone likes Bob.”

In the early 2000s, Georgia was working on a statewide comprehensive water plan. By 2002, Georgia’s farmers and metro Atlanta were dealing with three years of drought; ironically, in the week Hanner died, Atlanta’s annual rainfall was reported at 70-plus inches, the second wettest since record-keeping began in 1878.

Hanner, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, was appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes as co-chair of the Joint Comprehensive Water Study Committee. Then a Democrat, he discussed the proposals with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

“He was the epitome of a Southern political person,” recalls Rogers Wade, then president of the Foundation. “He understood the need to represent his rural constituents while safeguarding the entire state.”

It was the proverbial splitting of the baby when the committee unveiled the plan to allocate water for agriculture, environment, industry and residential use.

“Some folks like some things; some folks don’t. You don’t get everything you want,” was Hanner’s sage response.

Hanner embraced a standard of statesmanship for Georgia. He was honorable in his efforts to collaborate with allies and opponents. He understood compromise. He was always courteous and civil. He graciously accepted change as he humbly, quietly stepped down for the sake of progress. He was a public servant to the end, and a gentleman at all times.

Hanner’s style of bipartisan collegiality has all but disappeared in Washington and is growing rare under the Gold Dome. Times and temperaments have changed in Georgia, as was demonstrated in the hard-fought, massively funded, nationalized, drawn-out elections of 2018.

Bruised pride and battered egos will take a while to heal in Georgia. The question is, do Georgia’s elected officials have the ability and willingness to cease hostilities and embrace civility, collegiality and a united sense of purpose in the new session?

Georgia’s population is growing and demographics are changing; the state can’t wait any longer for Washington’s vitriol to dissipate. Enhancing Georgians’ academic achievement, transportation, economic opportunity and health and well-being across the state must originate in the state. It can happen only if elected officials and policymakers on both sides of the aisle understand, like Bob Hanner did, that they have to set aside grandstanding and play on the state team.

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (January 4, 2019). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.