“He is definitely a ‘quiet, behind the scenes’ legislator, but his positions are always plain,” said Sierra Club lobbyist Neill Herring. “There is little of the ambiguity that so many members hide behind.”
Not only was he straightforward, but he also was a role model for newer legislators, Herring said.
“He has been an ‘elder brother’ influence on younger and newer members, particularly of the black caucus,” Herring said.
As a member of the minority Democratic party most of his career until his death Friday, Murphy had limited opportunity to shape statewide legislation.
The Augusta Democrat sponsored statewide bills that would have given teachers tax credits for their expenses, required schools to give Georgia companies preferences when purchasing goods and required college recruiters to make athletic scholarship offers in writing. He wanted candidates for the Public Service Commission to be elected within districts instead of statewide, and he wanted gravel trucks to be clearly identified.
None of his statewide bills ever made it out of the House committees they were assigned to, the typical fate of most Democratic bills under Republican control.
The three bills he did get into law were “local legislation” that affected only Augusta. Such bills generally pass if a majority of the local delegation approve.
One staggered the terms of Augusta Commission members. Another moved the election of the marshal to even-numbered years, and a third asked voters about giving the commission authority to create tax-allocation districts for spot economic development.
“He has always seemed to be the leader of the Augusta delegation through force of presence,” Herring said.
Murphy took a turn as chairman of the local delegation but eventually stepped aside when he thought his leadership style was causing friction. He continued to push local legislation, such as a bill that would have made Augusta Commission elections partisan, because he thought party labels would take the place of racial ones and ease community tensions.
When there was opposition within the delegation, it usually meant he was on opposite sides from Rep. Barbara Sims, until this year the lone House Republican among the county’s lawmakers.
“We disagreed, and we would have pretty serious disagreements. That is why I say he was a gentleman,” she said Friday. “... He was representing a constituency of his, and I was representing a constituency of mine.”
She said she never doubted his sincerity and that their disagreements never became personal.
In the 2013 legislative session, he served on the Appropriations, Higher Education, Insurance and Transportation committees and was active in several special-interest caucuses.