First in the race, Lee Anderson seeks to take rural values to Washington
by Eric Johnson
(Originally published September 22, 2011)
If you learn one thing from spending time with State Rep. Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown, it’s that he’s not your typical politician, at least not in the modern sense. He’s a throwback to the old days of citizen representatives, a hard-working guy who knows a lot of people like himself and just enough other people to keep getting him elected, first to the Columbia County School Board, then to the commission, then to the state house.
Now,Andersonhas thrown his feed cap into the race for the newly drawn District 12, a race that seems destined to put him up against far more polished candidates. However, in spite of the larger venue, he doesn’t seem worried. In fact, he seems almost eager.
“We’ve got to get this spending under control,” he says. “We’re basically up against the wall now. We’ve done all we can do and we don’t have anywhere to go. We’ve been taking care of everyone else, now it’s time that we take care of ourselves.”
Anderson, a third generation farmer who lives onLouisville Roadin rural Grovetown, has no illusions about being central casting’s version of a politician. Instead, you almost get the feeling that he sees that quality as an asset rather than the liability his detractors gleefully view it as.
Political opponents have consistently painted him as lacking the necessary intelligence to do the job.
“People are fed up with politicians and want somebody they can talk to and somebody they can trust and communicate with,” he says.
It might seem a bit odd for someone as unpolished asAndersonto speak so highly about the power of communication, but he knows how to get his point across. And if he gets that point across to enough people, it doesn’t matter if he’s the CNN-type of politician or not.
“A lot of times, people feel like they’re been talked over or that the politicians talk so much that when they’re done, they’re more confused than when they started,” he says. “The thing is, you’ve just got to be there for the people.”
Occasionally, he has fun with that availability. On his official state business card he’s substituted his cell phone number for his office number, so he’ll often answer the phone only to find people trying to leave messages for Rep. Lee Anderson.
“I’ll say that’s fine, but while you’ve got him on the phone, why don’t you just tell him what’s on your mind?”
Hearing him describe his relations with the people of the area, both personally and politically, he seems to divide the district into three types of people: Republicans, Democrats and the “rural-type people” who are his neighbors. As a Republican, he’s appealing to those who agree with his ideology — lower taxes, less government intrusion, business-friendly regulation — but it’s the rural-type folk who might provide his strongest voter base.
As a 30-year member of the Columbia County Farm Bureau board, 27 years as president, he has formed a generation of relationships with the district’s rural-type folk, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that his auction company sends him to the southern end of the district once a month.
Whether those individual relationships can keep pace with the rapidly growing urban parts ofColumbiaCountyremains to be seen. But as comfortable as he is in the county,Andersondoesn’t appear to mind engaging the urban folk, either.
“I can deal with both environments in the district,” he says, pointing out that he makes as many of the county’s Republican Party breakfasts as he can, despite the fact that several in the local party tend to dismiss him as an inferior candidate.
“I’m not a polished politician or a big speaker,” he admits. ”But I’ve always had people at heart and I know I can sellColumbiaCounty, theAugustaarea and District 12.”
Selling the district is important, and he knows the growing dissatisfaction with Congress in general and politicians in particular goes beyond simply being mad.
“People aren’t just fed up, they’re scared,” he says. “People my children’s age are living a lifestyle financially right now that they’ve never had to live before. A lot of them don’t know how to make it work because they’ve never had to do it until now and it’s a nightmare to them. They’re just scared.”
He says being a farmer has given him a special understanding of the fundamentals of business, particularly bottom-line economics.
“The people who do business with me all want me to be in the political arena because they know how I work deals,” he says. “I maximize and try my best to take that dollar and get a dollar and a quarter out of it. You’ve just got to do that.”
Vowing not to raise taxes, he goes even further, suggesting that cuts of between five and 10 percent a year are needed to rein in the federal government’s spending.
“We’ve got to balance the budget, and I know that means cuts,” he says. “And we’ve got to get corporate taxes off business to the extent to where they can breathe and bring in more jobs, because when corporate taxes are as high as they are, it’s tough for any business.”
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