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January 29, 2014 3:10 PM Snowstorms and Politicians

By Ed Kilgore

I realize there is often blame to be laid when public authorities fail to anticipate or properly prepare for bad weather. But while watching the freakout going on in Atlanta over the state and city’s response to a fast-moving snow event yesterday (fed to some extent, I suspect, by the presence of CNN and the Weather Channel in Atlanta), it occurred to me that luck can be a factor, too.

One winter day back in the early 80s, the first Georgia governor I worked for, George Busbee, was supposed to deliver welcoming remarks to some convention being held near the State Capital. A snowstorm suddenly hit, and The Honorable decided to blow off the speech and head to the Governor’s Mansion via his State Patrol car. The car immediately encountered a massive traffic jam, and after a while a gubernatorial Call of Nature occurred. Busbee got out of the car and sprinted to a hotel across the road, seeking facilities. He then walked directly into the welcoming committee for the speech he was supposed to be giving. Not missing a beat, he strode into the ballroom, told the attendees he couldn’t stay but wanted to welcome them to Georgia, and then headed to the men’s room before sprinting back to his car. He not only got a standing O from the conventioneers, but the next day’s Atlanta newspapers reported he had walked from the Capital to the convention through the snow, so determined he was to exhibit southern hospitality and keep that convention business flowing in.

Just over a decade later, another governor I worked for, a guy named Zell Miller, managed to get his photo taken (I am reasonably sure it wasn’t staged, either) pushing a motorist’s stalled car out of a ditch on I-75 during a snowstorm that had stranded hundreds of people on the roads. That photo was worth its weight in votes, and is as good a reason as any that he survived a very tough and close re-election challenge in 1994. In fact, Bill Clinton later gave Zell credit for giving him a very good piece of advice that management of weather emergencies ought to be a first priority if he became president.

In politics as in life, it’s important to be good but very helpful to be lucky.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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