Don’t wanna talk about politics.
Darrel Ealum’s tenure in the state Legislature is months away from beginning, but the Dougherty County School Board member/House representative-elect is already the focus of a lot of political conversation throughout the community.
A master politician who has learned from his early failures and used them to forge successful School Board and State House campaigns, Democrat Ealum appears to be something of an equal-opportunity agitator: He’s catching grief from Republicans, as expected, but he’s hearing it from some within the Democratic Party as well.
Republicans, many of whom saw Democrat Carol Fullerton as their only “voice of reason” under the Gold Dome, are angry over tactics Ealum used to earn his upset victory over Fullerton in last week’s runoff election. Many have openly grumbled that Ealum’s “sneaky” practice of securing absentee ballots and getting them to voters en masse — a tactic, it should be noted, that is perfectly legal — carried him to a “tainted” victory.
Not so openly, many among this group have questioned whether Ealum underhandedly used less pristine means to gain the huge advantage in absentee ballots that carried him to victory over Fullerton. The outgoing representative fueled such speculation by openly questioning Ealum’s tactics in the aftermath of her election loss and telling local media she is considering a challenge to the runoff results.
Another group of Republicans — and these are the ones who are entrenched in the Dougherty County “good-old-boy” network — doesn’t like the fact that Ealum claimed his victory over Fullerton by building a strong base in the black community. While Fullerton is an unapologetic, lifetime Democrat, her more conservative approach to governance better suited this group.
Meanwhile, a number of Democrats, some at the upper levels of the local party, question Ealum’s Democratic bona fides. More than a few have muttered in the last few weeks, “Darrel’s a closet Republican, using his money to influence black voters that are the stronghold of the Democratic Party in the county.”
It should be noted that many who have made such complaints are themselves black.
When Ealum took a number of his supporters to the recent Dougherty Democratic Party delegate selection meeting in a successful effort to claim a spot as one of four local delegates attending the state Democratic Party convention Aug. 9 in Dublin, many saw his action as a threat to the existing party leadership. When Ealum nominated and successfully got Democratic Dougherty County Commission District 4 candidate Pat Garner elected as a delegate, that threat deepened.
Both Democrats and Republicans also expressed outrage when Ealum, as the latest nominee of the Democratic Party in a rigidly Republican state, failed to show up at Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn’s campaign stop in Albany on July 24. Both sides ramped up the he’s “really a Republican” rhetoric.
As the whisper campaign has swirled around him, Ealum — ever the battler — has remained, so far, above the fray. He knows his actions between now and the start of the 2015 legislative session in January will be closely scrutinized by both Republicans and Democrats. And he also knows that some in the community have already started politicking against him, trying to find a viable candidate to challenge him in 2016.
Realistically, Democratic legislators have very little influence in state politics. Republicans have established such a stronghold, Democrats’ impact is negligible at best. Still, how well Ealum works with the Republican powers-that-be in Atlanta and the relationships he forges with state Democrats may very well determine whether his career in state politics is more than a blip on the radar screen.
One thing is for sure: Few freshmen representatives will be watched more closely than Ealum.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.