Democrats elect woman to lead party in Georgia

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ATLANTA - Jane Kidd, of Athens, won election Saturday as chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party, and Athens native Michael Thurmond, the state labor commissioner, was elected first vice chairman.

It was the first time in modern history the party has elected its chairman. In the past, the governor picked the chairman, but with a Republican governor, Democrats held an election among the 240 or so members of the state committee.

Ms. Kidd defeated four other candidates, including ex-Sen. Carol Jackson, of Cleveland, the Rev. Jim Nelson, of Savannah, and the second-place finisher Mike Berlon, who had the support of organized labor.

Ms. Kidd, a one-term legislator who was defeated last fall in an uphill try for the state Senate, is the daughter of the late Gov. Ernest Vandiver and niece of the late U.S. Sen. Richard Russell. She promised to rebuild the county organizations, hold training workshops around the state and recruit candidates for every race in future elections.

"We've always been the party of ideas, and the best ideas are when we work together," she said.

State Sen. Robert Brown, of Macon, nominated Ms. Kidd, noting her devotion to maintaining racial diversity in the party. Mr. Brown is black.

"It's time for our party to come back," he told members of the committee. "And here we have a comeback Kidd."

A return to power in Georgia is on every Democrat's mind after losing control of the Legislature, governor's office, secretary of state's office and both U.S. Senate seats in recent years.

Last fall, as Democrats were picking up seats in Congress and on the state level in most other parts of the country, the party made no progress in Georgia. Even Ms. Kidd, Ms. Jackson and Mr. Nelson were all defeated in various races - Ms. Jackson for her old legislative seat and Mr. Nelson for Congress against Republican incumbent Jack Kingston.

Another unsuccessful legislative candidate from Athens, Becky Vaughn, seconded Ms. Kidd's nomination.

"Passion, persistence, promise, from a woman who is a proven political leader," is how Ms. Vaughn described Ms. Kidd.

Mr. Nelson, a college instructor of public speaking, clearly was the most dynamic speaker, energizing the audience. He joked that he could pull together the party's diverse factions if he could work with the differing opinions within a his Methodist congregation.

"Working in politics is easier than working in the church," he said.

Mr. Berlon, a labor lawyer who heads the Gwinnett County party, promised to donate $100,000 to the party during the four years of his term if elected. And, like all of the other candidates, he promised to pull rural voters back into the Democratic tent.

One of her first orders of business will be to hire a new executive director. Jeff DeSantis announced Saturday he is going into business for himself after four years in the job.

Ms. Kidd's election also signals the end of the chairmanship of Bobby Kahn, a Savannah native who was once chief of staff to then-Gov. Roy Barnes. Mr. Kahn was confrontational and frequently attacked Republicans, especially Gov. Sonny Perdue, who defeated Mr. Barnes.

Some Democrats complained that his style drove voters from the party, but the activists attending Saturday's meeting gave him a standing ovation.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.


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