Originally created 01/16/04

Walker says he will run



It should have been anti-climatic, but it wasn't.

The word was already out Thursday that former state Sen. Charles Walker Sr. was going after his old Senate seat, but his formal announcement generated plenty of excitement as more than 300 enthusiastic friends and supporters gathered at BL's Restaurant on Laney-Walker Boulevard to cheer their man on.

Chants and applause filled the banquet hall as Mr. Walker made campaign promises, criticized those in power and dismissed a federal investigation into his business dealings.

Mr. Walker, who was likened Thursday to both the Old Testament's Job and Hannibal at the foot of the Alps, lost his seat in November 2002 in an upset to political newcomer Randy Hall, a Republican.

"We've got to turn out in large numbers like we've never turned out before," Mr. Walker challenged the crowd.

"I firmly believe with the support we have and with your prayers we will be victorious in November. Augusta will be back on the map, and we will bring the bacon home."

Calling recent actions by the General Assembly "the state's betrayal," he promised to prohibit the privatization of state agencies without an impact study first through a public service accountability act that he would introduce.

"When high-ranking staff is discharged, they are given golden parachutes," Mr. Walker said. "When rank-and-file workers are discharged, they are given the boot."

He said he planned to protect public facilities, including Gracewood State Hospital and Fort Gordon, and he promised raises for the state's teachers.

"Our teachers are far too important to be treated so poorly by the Perdue administration. No raise last year. A mere 2 percent this year," Mr. Walker said. "This paltry raise won't cover the cost of living, nor will it cover the cost of rising health insurance in this state."

And he heralded his strong opposition to changes to the HOPE scholarship program, saying, "If anything, we should cap the HOPE Scholarship income bracket to $125,000. Let's cap it on the top end, and not on the bottom end."

Mr. Walker predicted a tough, bruising campaign, but one he will win if his supporters turn out the vote.

After the speech was over, he said he plans to register 6,000 new voters.

"I'm going after it," he said.

When asked about the ongoing federal grand jury investigation, Mr. Walker said the investigators are paid to do a job, and he trusts they will do a good job.

"And when they get through doing their good job, they will restore my good name," he said.

When asked if he was confident he would be vindicated, he said it was not a matter of being vindicated of any charges.

"These people are simply responding to an investigation, and they're simply doing what they're supposed to do. But you remember when you do an investigation, there are two parts of outcome - probable cause and vindication."

Supporters said they have been waiting for the day Mr. Walker would formalize plans to regain his seat.

"I think Sen. Walker could run on a laundry ticket and beat those bums," Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum said, referring to a political slogan popularized during the New York mayoral campaigns of Fiorello LaGuardia.

"I've never lost faith in him."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.