This week’s column is about when two people decide to work together in spite of some pretty long odds and along the way became friends. This story is relevant at this time of extreme political partisanship. You see, these two people first got to truly know each other as politicians.
J.E. “Bo” Earnest was the Probate Judge of Seminole County for 40 years. This was during a time of near total control of the State of Georgia by the Democratic Party. That control was even more complete in the county courthouses where almost every elected official was a Democrat.
I became a County Commissioner in 1990 and was elected Chairman of the Board of Commissioners the follow year, a position I held for the next five years.
“Bo” as Judge Earnest was almost universally known, was old school and in many ways was the most powerful man in county politics. He was born, raised and lived almost his entire life in Seminole County.
I was a novice in politics, had many ideas about how things could be improved and like “Bo” was used to getting my way. I had moved here 16 years earlier, but had no long term ties to the county, family or otherwise. I was still not “from around here”.
If “Bo” had been asked about the three big forks in the road in our relationship, he would have mentioned the same things I would; county staff meetings, computers, and a random committee meeting in the legislature.
“Bo” was not too keen on the staff meetings, and I will be honest they did not bring too much cohesion and unity amongst the elected officials. At least not at first. I asked “Bo” for his help in making it work and he did. I never forgot that favor.
We decided to put computers in all the offices at the courthouse. “Bo” had a beautiful law library in the courthouse that was the envy of many of the small courthouses around the state. He did not think computers were necessary, but we were able to reach a compromise. The county would install the computers and he did not have to ever turn them on if he did not want to.
It was a couple of months later that I stumbled into his office to find him on a computer. He had that familiar grin on his face when he admitted he was wrong about the computers. He then proceeded to show me the many ways it could make his job so much easier.
Several years later, I moved on to the General Assembly. A couple of years after that, I changed to the Republican Party, a move the “Bo” did not care for in the least little bit.
It turns out that a bill related to Probate Judges was being lobbied through the committee system by Judge Earnest. The committee was still controlled by the Democrats. Partisanship had already begun its steady move towards fostering dysfunction in our legislative branches.
It became apparent the bill would not pass the committee without at least some Republican support. I went to the Republican leadership and asked them to support the bill with enough votes to enable the bill’s passage.
It was not a particularly controversial bill, but its passage was a great example of bi-partisan support. “Bo” was there to witness it all. He never forgot the favor.
From there our friendship grew. We apologized when we were wrong. We talked about politics with no filters to prevent us from saying what we really thought. We developed a trust that I wish was more common in today’s political world.
From a potential political adversary, “Bo” became such a public supporter of mine that I kidded him about being my Public Relations Manager. I spoke just as highly of him.
Probate Judge “Bo” Earnest was a great public servant who left his mark on the county that he loved. He was a great husband, father, and grandfather. He was a respected community leader. He was also an extraordinary local politician but as for me, I will forever remember “Bo” as a good man and a good friend.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.