Michael Thurmond knows something about labor.
For one thing, he saw his sharecropper father do plenty of it, while still taking time to help Thurmond with his studies in school - even though his father couldn't read or write.
That impressed Thurmond with both the value of hard work and the love of education - the latter of which he sought at Augusta's own Paine College and the University of South Carolina School of Law.
He brings all that to bear in his job as Georgia's commissioner of Labor - a job we highly recommend you allow him to keep on Nov. 7.
"Work has value that extends beyond paychecks," Thurmond says, adding it helps define you, to give you pride.
Thurmond sees that in the former welfare recipients he's talked with. They tell him how their children look at them differently now that they're working.
There are plenty of them to talk with, too: once in the 160,000 range, the number of families on welfare is now down to less than 10,000, he says.
The key, of course, is education and training - something Thurmond's office is highly involved in. Its Jobs for Georgia Graduates program helps high-schoolers not on the college track to obtain employable skills. Indeed, he says, the program's graduation rate of 89.5 percent far exceeds the general rate.
That's one reason the Georgia Association of Educators has endorsed Thurmond.
And his department's "incumbent worker initiative" helps keep already employed workers trained and ready.
But while he says a trained and skilled work force is even more important in attracting industry than offering millions in tax incentives, neither does Thurmond believe government has all the answers. Turning philosophical, the learned author of books on Georgia history says the real key is parenting. Recalling his father, Thurmond says it doesn't matter how much you as a parent know, as much as how much you're there.
Thurmond also attracts support from all quarters. He remembers his first runs for the General Assembly in 1982 and '84 - after cutting his teeth on campaigns in rough-and-tumble Augusta politics while in college. Thurmond says he couldn't figure out why he couldn't win - until he realized he wasn't even trying to court white votes in a predominantly white district in Athens.
He did, and went on to serve in the state House from 1986-98, the first African-American to do so from Clarke County since Reconstruction.
He gets plenty of votes from all over now - as well as invitations to speak. The dynamic, but eminently substantive Thurmond's address to Leadership Augusta months ago still hasn't been forgotten.
Two of Thurmond's messages resonate especially well in the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed: never let your fears overpower your dreams; and results matter. The latter message is one he takes often to minority students who might otherwise believe, mistakenly, that hard work and education won't pay off in a system rigged against them. Not true, Thurmond says - and he's living proof.
Results do matter, and Thurmond has shown them. He's helped the Labor Department lead the nation in welfare to work. He also touts cuts of $1.4 billion in employer taxes while still increasing unemployment benefits.
In his next four years, he says he'll concentrate on expanding "incumbent" worker training and services for people with disabilities.
He deserves those four years. Michael Thurmond is a fine gentleman, a dedicated public servant and a man who, when he preaches about the value of hard work, knows whence he speaks.
Please return Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond to office on Nov. 7.
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