Michael Thurmond, commissioner of the Department of Labor, is one of Georgia’s best kept secrets. The state’s first African American Labor Commissioner, he has held the office for so long — three consecutive four year terms — that it is sometimes hard to believe he is an elected official. Thurmond is widely expected to launch a bid for lieutenant governor of Georgia, but a lot seems to hinge on who will end up in the governor’s race.
If you believe freelance writer Maria Saporta (and I never doubt her), think about this recent report: “Thurmond, who has strong name recognition across the state and has been a popular labor commissioner, would be able to bring out the African-American vote. And it’s likely Thurmond is waiting to get a signal from Barnes.”
Thurmond is no Obama when it comes to campaigning, but he is a skilled veteran of both the legislative and executive branches of government. The same forces that triggered a record turnout of African Americans last Nov. 4 probably would go to bat for a Barnes-Thurmond ticket.
Bill Shipp, Online Athens
A fixture on the state political scene for the last twenty five years, Thurmond is one of the few black politicians in Georgia who have risen from to prominence outside of Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, Columbus, or Albany. Although Clarke County, where Thurmond was born and raised is the home of the University of Georgia’s flagship campus in Athens, the county itself is largely rural. An ability to connect with rural voters will play a key role in Thurmond’s candidacy should he decide to run.
“My victory marked the first time that an African-American was elected statewide in Georgia without having been first appointed to the position. I had to fight my way through the Democratic primary and runoff against better financed white candidates. In the general election, my Republican opponent retained a consulting firm headed by Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition president who is now chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. Reed ran a campaign with the race-baiting slogan: ‘The difference is as clear as black and white.’”
Michael Thurmond, “How We Did It”, DLC | Blueprint Magazine
After turning down a position in the Obama Administration with the Department of Labor last year, it would seem that Thurmond has been seriously considering running for higher office in Georgia for quite some time. Indeed, as a politician who has avoided controversy and billed himself as a centrist Democrat, Michael Thurmond’s name has shown up on political pundit short lists for governor, lieutenant governor, and even U.S. senator for years. Many of his more enthusiastic supporters feel Thurmond should wait this one out and run for governor in 2014, but many of these are likely to be the same people who wanted him to run for the U.S. senate against Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss back in 2008.
In 1986, he became the first African-American elected to the Georgia General Assembly from Clarke County since Reconstruction. Thurmond was elected Labor Commissioner in November 1998 and was re-elected in 2002 and in 2006. Thurmond is also a historian of sorts, having authored two books — A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History and Freedom: An African American History of Georgia are both historical treatises that illuminate the lives of influential African Americans in the state.