Political Notes – Remembering Robert Brown

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The apparent suicide of Robert Brown, a key Democratic leader during much of his 20-year career in the Georgia Senate, shocked and saddened his colleagues who remembered him as a tough, hard-fighting defender of his Macon-area district.

“He was a strong Democratic leader in the General Assembly and a tenacious fighter for his constituents,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who served alongside Brown in the Senate for seven years.

“He was not only a colleague, but also a friend and mentor to me for many years while we served in the Senate,” Reed said.

“He was one of the brightest people I’ve ever worked with,” said Dublin newspaper publisher DuBose Porter, who served as House minority leader at the same time Brown was Senate minority leader. “One of the most loyal political friends you could ever have, a true believer.”

“Senator Brown held his caucus together during some legendary political battles,” State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Berlon said. “He was a valiant fighter for education and opportunity for everyone.”

Brown, 61, was found dead in his Macon home Thursday afternoon from a gunshot wound that the coroner’s office said was self-inflicted.  He resigned from the Senate six months ago, ending a 20-year legislative career, to run for mayor of Macon.

Brown finished a weak third in the mayor’s race, and his friends said that he had been depressed in recent weeks.

An intensely private person, Brown had been dealing for several years with what were described as serious medical issues, although the precise nature of those problems was never publicly discussed.  There were unconfirmed reports that his health problems stemmed from cancer, as well as speculation that he suffered from a gastrointestinal ailment.

Brown, a graduate of Mercer University, was first elected to the Senate in 1991 in a special election where he defeated Robert Reichert and Jack Ellis, both of whom would later serve as mayor of Macon. He was the first black state senator from the Macon area.

He served as one of Gov. Zell Miller’s floor leaders during his early years in the Senate and was an influential member of the majority Senate Democratic caucus during the administration of Roy Barnes.

Brown’s power was diminished after Republicans gained both the governor’s mansion and control of the Senate, but he remained in a position of influence as the Senate minority leader, a title he held until the day he resigned from the General Assembly.

He took a populist position on many issues, such as opposing the bill passed in 2009 that made it possible for Georgia Power to reap a $1.6 billion windfall by charging residential and small business ratepayers in advance for the two nuclear reactors it is building at Plant Vogtle.

“He was staunchly committed to a government that worked for people and not for special interests and big corporations,” said Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur).

Legal challenge to the Savannah harbor project

Environmental groups that oppose the proposed dredging of Savannah River are going to court in South Carolina to mount their legal challenge to the project.

An appeal was filed Thursday with the South Carolina Administrative Law Court that alleges the board of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) improperly granted a permit last month to allow the deepening of Savannah harbor from 42 feet to 48 feet by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the appeal on behalf of Savannah Riverkeeper, the Cotasla Conservation League and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation.

The Savannah harbor dredging, which Gov. Nathan Deal and other Georgia officials support because it would allow larger cargo ships to dock at the Georgia port facility, has whipped up a political frenzy in South Carolina because of the actions of Gov. Nikki Haley.

The DHEC board, which Haley controls, initially turned down the application for the environmental permit that allows the dredging to move forward. The board reversed itself, however, after a prominent Republican activist held a fundraiser for Haley at an Atlanta law office.

Haley has come under criticism from both Democrats and Republicans who accuse her of “selling out” South Carolina in return for the political largesse from Georgia.

A South Carolina Senate committee held a hearing Thursday at which some of Haley’s aides testified, under oath, that they did not put political pressure on the DHEC board to approve the permit for dredging the Savannah River.

The committee members voted 7-3 on an agreement that there was no evidence that Haley’s office unfairly influenced the process.

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: dredging project , Nathan Deal , Nikki Haley , Robert Brown , Savannah harbor