THERE WAS ZELL Miller staring out from the television, piously intoning: "I pledge you this, as your senator I will serve no single party."
What utter nonsense.
The former Georgia governor's TV ad "pledge" is simply untrue, and he knows it.
As Georgia's new U.S. senator, appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes to replace the replace the late Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell, Zell Miller is already serving a single party.
According to an aide, Miller is meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus. Senate Democratic Caucus chair Tom Daschle is now the new senator's party leader, and Miller must go hat-in-hand to Daschle for committee assignments. The same holds true for a new Republican, who goes to his party leader for such plums. That's the way Congress is designed to work.
Miller just hopes average Georgia voters are so politically ignorant that they'll bite on his deceptive ad hook, line and sinker.
Why can't Miller just be honest and admit he's a Democrat who'll be working on the Senate Democratic agenda, including confirming those permissive Clinton-Gore judicial nominations?
Well, there's one reason Miller doesn't like to dwell on the subject. Most Georgians are still grieving over Paul Coverdell's unexpected death. It remains galling to many (and this includes independents and conservative Democrats) that a respected GOP workhorse elected by the people less than two years ago has been arbitrarily replaced by a duplicitous, partisan showhorse.
At Tuesday night's meeting of the Augusta-Richmond County Good Government Committee meeting, attended by many blue-collar Democrats, I asked about Miller replacing Coverdell. Some remembered that Miller instituted the lottery, and they liked that. But several other Democrat-leaning respondents displayed political sophistication. They thought Georgia needed two senators from different parties to be at the table in Washington.
This is a theme being emphasized by former U.S. Sen. Mack Mattingly, the Republican standardbearer against Miller in the Nov. 7 special election. The St. Simons businessman stresses that he already has six years of Senate seniority (1981-87) and that if elected his leader, Sen. Trent Lott will count this prior service so he can be appointed to committees extremely important to Georgia. Miller, by comparison, will have less committee power and overall clout than Mattingly because most political observers generally agree the Senate will maintain its GOP majority next year.
Mattingly will have his friend Trent Lott's ear on issues ranging from agricultural problems to funding Savannah River Site missions. Miller obviously won't have such influence and, furthermore, is weak on those issues anyway.
It's significant that, the same day that Miller's TV ad hit, Mattingly released a letter from Paul Coverdell's widow saying, "I would prefer a conservative Republican filling my husband's seat. It seems to me Mack Mattingly is closer in philosophy to Paul than Zell Miller could ever be."
Those are honest, moving words from a respected lady - quite a contrast to Miller's phony TV pledge.
Georgians must remember that Miller isn't running for governor again. Granted, he worked hard and performed some fine, non-ideological service to help move Georgia forward during the 1990s. But he is now running for U.S. Senate, a highly-partisan body of just 100 members. He sits with Sen. Ted Kennedy on the Democratic side of the aisle. On major national policy issues - from supporting the teacher unions to selecting judges - Miller will mainly be voting the exact opposite from Coverdell.
If our appointed senator will truly "serve no single party," then why doesn't he declare himself an independent? Why doesn't he immediately remove himself from the Senate Democratic Caucus? He could be a truly independent senator, like the late Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia.
BUT "ZIG ZAG" Zell isn't going to do that. He's already too indebted to fellow Democratic senators who have sponsored fund-raisers and donated to his campaign.
As Nancy Coverdell forcefully writes in her letter, "The goals that have been set by Paul and others in Congress are attainable, but only if we maintain Republican control of the U.S. Senate. ... The current appointed U.S. senator can wrap himself in Paul Coverdell's conservative values for only so long before his true philosophy will surface." Come to think of it, that would be a great sound bite for a Mattingly TV ad.
Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or email@example.com