John Trotter Makes His Predictions About Clayton County’s Elections On Tuesday. He Says Most Incumbents Are Safe, Though The Sheriff And The District Attorney May Suffer Upsets. He Goes Way Out On A Limb And Says That Victor Hill Pulls An Upset Without A Run-off!
Dr. John Trotter with his sons, Robert Trotter (L) and Matthew Trotter (R). Matthew is a senior at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City, Georgia where he driven by his love for the theatre, and Robert is a sophomore at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi where he plays football. Both sons were born and raised in Clayton County and never forget that they are “sons of Clayco.” Dr. Trotter splits his time between Coweta County, Georgia and the metro area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Georgia Citizen: Dr. Trotter, the elections are upon us once again. On Tuesday, the voters go to the polls to cast their ballots. There are not a lot of things – besides the T-SPLOST – going on statewide. But, it appears that in many counties, there are some interesting races shaping up…which brings us to your former home, Clayton County.
Dr. John Trotter: Yeah, Clayton County usually has a few interesting races, and this year is no exception. But, to you tell the truth, I couldn’t tell you who all is running in many of the races over there. But, I still have friends who live there, and I pick up a morsel or two every now and then. In fact, just this past Friday, I was asking one of my friends who lives here in Newnan who I should vote for in a Judicial race. This friend is an attorney, and I knew that he would have an opinion. I asked about the other races, and he hastened to tell me that he didn’t know about these races. We both laughed about being expatriates of the Clayco Nation. We both seemed to know more about Clayton County politics than about Coweta County politics. He still maintains his law practice in Clayton County.
The Georgia Citizen: Well, that being said, what are your predictions for Clayton County?
Dr. John Trotter: What races in particular?
The Georgia Citizen: What about the race that everyone seems to be talking about, the Sheriff’s race?
Dr. John Trotter: Yes, this one will be a doozie! [Laugher.] Well, I am pretty confident that Victor Hill will be the top vote-getter. Now, will he just win a plurality or a majority? I don’t know how many are in this race, but I think that there are at least six, seven, or eight. This usually makes it almost impossible to win without a run-off, although I remember when David Scott beat a good field of Congressional candidates without a run-off. He beat State Senator Greg Hecht, David Worley (who had almost beaten Newt Gingrich in 1990), State Senator Donzella James, and the fellow from DeKalb – Mabry or Mosby (but a pretty well-known fellow). Now, that was quite a feat. I was helping Scott back then, and I remember that most people felt that he would win but they thought he would still be in a run-off.
The Georgia Citizen: So you think that Victor Hill will be the top vote-getter despite having just been indicted by the D. A.’s office a few months earlier?
Dr. John Trotter: Yes I do. In fact, this indictment (which many don’t seem to understand, including yours truly) might even get Victor some sympathy vote. He’s quite popular in Clayton County, even in other parts of Georgia. I told people the other day that from my observation, it appears that black voters have the same affection, the same affinity for Victor Hill like they had for Hosea Williams. They seemed to adore Hosea Williams…I presume because he showed fearlessness, especially about standing up to “the man,” so to speak. I think that the same thing is true with Victor Hill. I have personally witnessed this adoration, and I have heard others tell me what that when they are with him and walk into a restaurant, the people treat him like a rock star. I have seen others examples of this type of adoration with Herschel Walker and Michael Vick.
The Georgia Citizen: But, you are talking about just one segment of the population, the black voters. What about the white voters?
Dr. John Trotter: Well, you are right. I am talking about the adoration coming from the black voters, and this is the by far the largest segment which will show up at the polls on Tuesday. Yes, many white voters still despise Victor Hill because of what he did the first day in office in January of 2005. Some whites, believe it or not, have gotten to know Victor Hill and personally grown to like him. I could tell you several former white elected officials who voted for Victor Hill in 2008 and will vote for him again in 2012. But, as a whole most white voters who actually vote in the Clayton County Democratic Primary will vote against Victor Hill, despite his “crime fighter” image.
The Georgia Citizen: Talk about this “crime fighter” image, if you will.
Dr. John Trotter: Well, Victor’s signs and literature have “Bring Back the Crime Fighter!” The people seem to relish this. There is a lot of crime in Clayton County, and one thing about Victor Hill is that the people see him as someone who is not afraid of the thugs and the criminals. In fact, the voters seem to be saying, “Lil Vic will be our thug to fight the street thugs and to keep our communities safer.” I do believe that the criminal element in Clayton County hopes that Victor Hill doesn’t get re-elected. He runs a very taut ship at the county jail, and I believe that this word spreads like wild fire.
The Georgia Citizen: Do you think that he will win without a run-off?
Dr. John Trotter: I have told political friends that I think that it is a distinct possibility, but I am just not that clairvoyant…politically speaking, of course. I remember when I first moved to Clayton County thirty years ago, I couldn’t find many people who were willing to tell me that they were voting for Charley Griswell, but he just kept winning and winning. In fact, Charley never lost an election. He ran for Commission in 1972, for Commission Chairman in 1976, 1980, and 1984, had a ten-year hiatus, came back and beat an incumbent Commissioner (Terry Starr) in 1998 and won re-election in 2002. But, when I got to know Charley pretty well and would eat at a restaurant with him, it took him forever to get seated because it seems that every patron in the restaurant wanted to talk to him. I see Victor Hill in very much the same mold as Charley Griswell. They both have their detractors, but they are immensely popular with the common people. One of my colleagues who grew up Clayton County says that every time his mother sees Victor Hill on the news, she says, “They’d better leave my lil Sheriff alone!” Politicians anywhere would love to have this type of visceral response from his or her followers.
The Georgia Citizen: You still didn’t give us an answer…run-off or no run-off?
Dr. John Trotter: Oh, you’re tying me down! Well, I look back in the year 2000, and I see Marshall Newsome in a Democratic Party Primary in Clayton County after he had been indicted for stuff that went on in his non-emergency transportation company. I had helped Marshall run in 1996, and he was the first black person in the history of Clayton County to win a county-wide primary or a general election. He beat an embattled incumbent coroner, Abb Dickson, in 1996 in a crowded field. On election night, I was trying to prepare Marshall that he would be in a run-off because there just so many people in the race. At three in the morning at Krispy Kreme on Highway 85 on the night before the election, Marshall said, “No, Trotter, I’m gonna to win without a run-off!” And he did – big time! Four years later, he ran for re-election after having been indicted. Personally, I think that Marshall was not well-served by some who were running his company while he was coroner. I don’t know if Marshall was privy to what was going on in the business. But, that was determined by the courts. This time in 2000, an indicted Marshall Newsome was running against eight challengers. He won without a run-off! [Laughter.] So, what’s my prediction now? I will go way out on a limb and say that Victor Hill wins the Clayton County Democratic Primary without a run-off.
The Georgia Citizen: You must have a reason. How have you arrived at this?
Dr. John Trotter: Very precariously. [Laughter.] My close political friends say, “No way!” Well, I look at it like this. I think that Clayton County had about 25,000 voters in the Democratic Primary in 2008, and the white voting percentage was, if I remember correctly, about 37% which was much higher than the white population in the County at the time. But, white voters were mad as hell and were determined to vote out Victor Hill and to take care of the Scotts, Lee and Jewel. Lee was running for Commission Chairman, and Jewel was already the District Attorney. White folks were up in arms and were waiting with baited breath to kick some ass at the polls. Jewel Scott was turned out of office handedly, not even getting 40% of the vote – and she was the incumbent. Her husband Lee, though he beat Virginia Gray and made it to the run-off against Eldrin Bell, Bell beat him fairly easily in the run-off. Victor Hill, on the other hand, almost won it all without a run-off. Before the early votes and the absentee votes were counted, Victor had over 50%. The same thing the night of the run-off. He had over 50% going into the counting of the early votes and the absentee votes. If 37% of the vote was white (and Kimbrough took virtually all of this vote), then Victor Hill was getting, I believe, over 80% of the black vote.
The Georgia Citizen: What about this year? There many candidates in the race.
Dr. John Trotter: In a race like this with a very high profile figure (and Kem Kimbrough has been on the news a lot lately…in a negative way), the also-run candidates will get very little attention. I know that Tina Daniels or Daniel is well-liked in some quarters, but I really think that this race will boil down to Victor and Kem. Who do the black voters want in there? Will the white voters stick with Kimbrough with all his sexual baggage or will they shift their allegiance to Tina? Or, will some forgive Victor and say, “Hey, with the little man in there, I felt much safer”? I don’t know. But, I do know that if you just totaled the black and white vote in Clayton County, you get almost 114,000 voters as of July 1, 2012. There’s about 5,100 Asian-American voters and about 5,000 Latino-American voters in Clayton County. But, let’s just deal with the African–American voters and, if you will, the European-American voters. The white voting bloc constitutes a little over 18%. Some of these will be drained over into the GOP Primary but not much is going on over there. I think that the Clayton County Republican Primary had about 3,000 voters in 2008. But, let’s say that the white voters will continue to turn out in disproportionate numbers like they usually do. So, considering that the GOP drain which can be offset by disproportionate turnout of whites in the Democratic Primary, let’s just say that the white vote in the Clayton County Democratic Primary will remain at 18% and let’s say for argument sake that none of this vote goes to Victor (though some of it will). This leaves 82% of the vote left on the table. If Victor Hill just takes 65% of this vote, he wins comfortably without a run-off. If he takes the same percentage of the black vote that he took in 2004 and 2008, he wins big time without a run-off.
The Georgia Citizen: That’s assuming that the white vote is just 18% in the Democratic Primary, right?
Dr. John Trotter: Yes, I said just 18% because this is the percentage of white voters in Clayton County now, and a substantial (though not near a majority) will vote in the Republican Primary. In 2008, whites constituted 37% of the vote in the Democratic Primary, and this number was enormous given the white population at the time. At the time, there more white voters in Clayton County and their anger was so hot toward Victor and Lee Scott. Now, you can see why Tracey Lawson-Graham, the Clayton District Attorney, is apparently waging a campaign to get white GOP voters to switch over to the Democratic Primary. In 2008, she got a lot of the black votes because even the black voters were sick of the Scotts. (I actually think that their animus was toward Lee Scott but this hurt Jewell Scott tremendously. She lost a lot of black vote that she won in 2004 against 24 year incumbent Bob Keller.) But, let’s say that 30% of the votes in the Democratic Primary in Clayton County are white and that Victor only gets a negligible number of white votes. There would be 70% left on the table. Victor would need to take almost 72% of this vote to avoid a run-off. It could be done. Remember that Kem Kimbrough only took a very small percentage of the black vote in 2008 but he stared off with the 37% which was white voters. Has Kimbrough make a connection with black voters since then? I don’t know. I don’t think that he has the same loyal support that Victor Hill has. One other thing to keep in mind: I did these numbers without even calculating the “Other” voters. Some people designate themselves as “Other” when it comes to race. Clayton County has almost 12,000 “Other” voters. My observation in the past has been that many of these “Other” voters have some connection with the black community (via mixed-racial heritage, etc.).
The Georgia Citizen: What about the D. A. race?
Dr. John Trotter: Well, if you asked me this about a month ago, I would have told you that I thought that Lawson-Graham was going back in there. But, in recent weeks, I hear that Leslie Miller-Terry has stepped up the pace with mailings and signs – and let’s face it, the local races are always about mailings and signs. I think that there is a lot of interest here because of the indictment of Victor Hill and the rumored indictments of some Commissioners and possibly some County Administrators. But, keep in mind that the old adage is that you can indict a ham sandwich. An indictment takes place when a district attorney presents evidence to a grand jury composed of citizens, and the citizens decide to vote for or vote against the indictment. Many times, however, there is some wrangling which takes place behind the scenes, and there is often a split vote but the public never really knows this. But, this is why the District Attorney’s office is so powerful. If a District Attorney is determined to indict someone, it’s not like winning a jury trial where both sides get to present their evidence and to cross examine the other side’s witnesses. A grand jury is only presented one side of the evidence. But, in a criminal trial, this same D. A. will have to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt about the veracity of the charges – and even then you can have one or more jurors who hold out, and no conviction occurs. But, when someone has been “indicted,” this has the tone of being stricken down in the Holy of Holies, but in reality, many times the evidence is flimsy as well as the charges. I think that the African-American community understands this, and this is why an “indictment” doesn’t carry the same gravity that it does in the white community. Black people have seen their leader for several centuries being set-up, so to speak. This is why I don’t think that the indictment of Victor Hill will have destroyed his candidacy. In fact, it might have just had the opposite effect.
The Georgia Citizen: What about Eldrin Bell’s race?
Dr. John Trotter: Eldrin will walk away with this. He will probably be the top vote-getter for all incumbents who are being challenged on Tuesday. I worked his campaign in 2004. Eldrin, as all know, has charm and charisma. The old ladies love him. [Laugher.] He can go into a church and sing like a bird! I personally think that Eldrin will be the Commission Chairmanship as long as he wants. He’s getting on up there in age, but if anyone could hold down the spot at age 90, it would probably be Eldrin. He’s come a long way from the streets of Atlanta’s Fourth Ward! [Laughter.] Eldrin has been using a very reputable Republican communications office. He keeps sending out slick mailings. He may get 60% of the vote, though one opponent served several years in the Georgia House and the other opponent was the Clayton County Police Chief. I just don’t think that the challengers have the money to mount a serious campaign and don’t have a real issue to galvanize the voters.
Chairman Eldrin Bell
The Georgia Citizen: What about the race between Representative Darryl Jordan and former Democratic Party chairman Kevin Thomas?
Dr. John Trotter: This could be a pretty tight race. Representative Jordan was the first African-American man to serve in the General Assembly from Clayton County, beating a strongly entrenched incumbent, Jimmy Benefield, back in 2000. (By the way, I don’t want to overlook State Senator Valencia Seay who was also elected that year to the Georgia House, being the first African-American female from Clayton County to serve in the General Assembly. I remember encouraging her to run for the Clayton Board of Education back in 1992, and she became the first African-American on the Clayton School Board.) Kevin Thomas has been working in the trenches of the local party for the last six years, but I think that Darryl Jordan will pull it off because of his steadiness and his refusal to sell out when he serves in the House. The “Outside Influence Groups” (OIGs), as Representative Jordan calls them, tried to get him to go along with the Charter School Amendment which will be on Tuesday’s Statewide Ballot. The Republicans needed five Democrats to go along with this initiative in order for it to be placed on the ballot as a proposed Constitutional Amendment. Darryl Jordan refused to go along with this because he saw it as a backdoor that the Republicans were trying to employ to use state funds for charter schools and private school vouchers. This proposed amendment, if passed, will let charter school organizers by-pass local boards of education therefore by-pass local taxpayers for but still receive local school board funds. But, these Outside Influence Groups (especially groups like ALEC) and the Republicans were able to talk several black Democrats to go along with this scheme. Representative Jordan refused “to go along to get along,” so to speak. As a public school advocate, I was very proud of him! He’s “unbought and unbossed,” and I think that this goes a long way with the voters of the 77th House District.
Representative Darryl Jordan
The Georgia Citizen: What about the 44th Senate District with incumbent Gail Davenport being challenged by former legislator Gail Buckner?
Dr. John Trotter: This ought to be an interesting race. Gail Davenport was the incumbent of this district once held by long-time state senator, Terrell Starr, when Gail Buckner challenged her and won. Then Buckner decided to run for Secretary of State and relinquished the seat, and Gail Davenport won it back. But, I think that the demographics in this newly aligned district which cuts deeply into South DeKalb will work against Gail Buckner…if the voters know that she is white. Let’s face the obvious fact: Race is a very mitigating factor in politics. But, the race between the two Gails will be fun to follow on Tuesday night.
The Georgia Citizen: What about the single district commission races?
Dr. John Trotter: Talking about Gails, we have another Gail running for re-election in West Clayton. I can’t remember the number for the district. But, I think that Gail Hambrick will win fairly easily on Tuesday. I remember when Gail first got involved politically in, I think, 1990. Wade Starr and I were invited to her home, and we helped her organize the voters in the Oliver Elementary School area near her home. Gail knew a lot of folks back then, and she still knows a lot of folks. In the south part of the County, Ron Ringer has tossed his hat in the ring again (no pun intended). [Laughter.] Ron grew up here in Clayton County and has many, many relatives in the County. But, will it be enough? I don’t think so, but he could conceivably pull off an upset – or least force the race into a run-off – because Wole Ralph has had a pretty miserable amount of publicity since his last race. But, the power of incumbency is real. I think that there are three candidates in this race. If so, it may head to a run-off. I don’t think that Ralph will do as well as Gail Hambrick.
The Georgia Citizen: One more race…the Yasmin Neal and Mike Glanton race. What about it?
Dr. John Trotter: I first met Mike Glanton, so he reminds me, on the night of the Primary Election of 2004 at Eldrin Bell’s headquarters. Not many people in Clayton County knew him back then. But, he threw his hat in the House seat that Gail Buckner vacated to run for the State Senate. With Gail’s support among the white voters, he won the race in a run-off against Janice Scott who finished comfortably in the lead the first go around. But, Mike gave up this House seat to challenge Gail Davenport for State Senate who beat him fairly soundly in 2010. Talking about 2010, Sandra Scott surprised some folk by winning a House seat, and I think that she will hold onto that seat this year, though it might involve a run-off. Back to Mike Glanton: He’s a very hard working person in politics, but I really didn’t understand his decision to take on another female incumbent! [Laughter.] They are hard to beat. I’m thinking that Yasmin Neal holds onto this seat. I also think that Glenn Baker will hold onto his House seat that takes in the Lake Spivey area and also goes deep into Henry County. I met Glenn over 30 years ago my first week in Clayton County. He has a very facile personality and is hard-working in a campaign. I know that his opponent played some football at my alma mater, UGA, but this race is somewhat under the radar screen, and this always helps the incumbent, even when the demographics are stacked against him or her.
The Georgia Citizen: So, try to sum up what you think is going to happen in Clayton County on Tuesday night and what, in your opinion, is the State of the County these days.
Dr. John Trotter: Well, like I have mentioned, I think that most of the incumbents are safe in their seats. I think that there can be two huge upset on Tuesday night, the Sheriff’s race and the District Attorney’s race. I have made an outrageous prediction – I was forced into this prediction! – that Victor Hill will win on Tuesday night without a run-off, and I think that you will find a different Victor Hill. He will be just as vigilant in fighting crime and will still have this kick-ass attitude toward the thugs in the county, but you will, I think, find a wiser, more humble, and more circumspective Victor Hill. Full Disclosure: I think that I have an unusual relationship with Victor Hill. In January of 2007, I was falsely arrested by Sheriff Victor Hill at a school board meeting. I showed up at the meeting with a protest sign (as I am wont to do). Then Chairperson Ericka Davis and then Vice Chairperson Rod Johnson both bolted from their seats on the dais when they saw me walk into the auditorium with the protest sign and stand in the back of the auditorium without blocking anyone’s vision. The next thing that I know is a group from the Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Victor Hill, showed up. I was arrested. It was obviously a false arrest. I was detained in the Clayton County Jail about 28 hours, in “the hole” most of the time because if you know me, you know that I had not quit running my mouth. I know what my rights are, and I knew that my rights had been violated. The charges were summarily dismissed within a day or two. A few months later, I ran into Victor, and he sincerely apologized to me and said that the arrest was based on false information provided to him by the school folks. If you know me, you know that I do not hold grudges, especially in the arena of politics. I have told friends that if I refused to talk to those who have said bad things about me, then I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. [Laughter.] I have found Victor Hill to be very gracious and kind. Personally, although I no longer live in Clayton County, I think the re-election of Victor Hill as Sheriff will do wonders in tamping down on the crime in Clayton County. The drug pushers and gangbangers are afraid of Victor Hill, and “Victor’s Jail” sends chills down their spines. In my line of work, I have been falsely arrested on a number of occasions (always unscathed, though!), and I can tell you that a stay in “Victor’s Jail” is not a pleasant experience! [Laughter.] It is quite daunting!
The school board seats will not be up for grabs until this November because Federal Judge Pannell changed the districts lines, and qualifying for a school board seat takes place this week. I really don’t know what will go on here. I do know, however, that something needs to be done about the superintendent. I was counting them up the other day, and I realized that I have dealt with a dozen Clayton County superintendents (including the interim supes). I think that Edmond Heatley has been the most despised and least effective of all. This is my opinion, and I think that I know what I am talking about in this respect.
Clayton County went through, as one Ivy League school noted in its research, a racial transition quicker than any other county in the United States. Naturally, this was going to cause much upheaval and angst among the politicos and those county employees and school system employees whose jobs and futures are often hanging in the balance. For the dramatic and traumatic upheaval which occurred, I think that Clayton County has shown it mettle and its heart. All of the SACS stuff with the school system was simply a fight over power and the accompanying jobs which come with this power, including which law firm was going to end up with the lucrative contract to be the school board attorneys. Anyone with a lick a sense can see that SACS is just a money-grabbing hollow organization which unconscionably applies its so-called standards capriciously and arbitrarily. In mind opinion, the SACS sham was simply a ruse by white powerbrokers to determine which black people would control the school board and its largess.
Once a person lives in Clayton County for any length of time, I think that it is a hard place to forget. I think that Clayton County is a place where the sun keeps rising! Clayton County is like a family. It has more of a Mayberry feel than all of the other metro counties. Or, maybe more of the Hatfields and the McCoys! [Laugher.] The family may sometimes feud – in fact, may often feud – but the family comes together when outsiders try to put it down. I have lived all over the State of Georgia, but my 27 years in Clayton County were fun beyond measure and remain fond memories.
The Georgia Citizen: Thank you, Dr. Trotter.
Dr. John Trotter: It’s been my pleasure. I almost forgot to mention this. Turnout is the key, and I hear that it might rain on Tuesday, and this could alter my models. [Laugher.]