Smith takes his public service to District 7
Before Donnie Smith made the decision to run for Jerry Brigham’s District 7 commission seat, the Georgia State Patrol lieutenant considered making a run for sheriff.
“I had about 20 people call me and say, ‘Get into the sheriff’s race,’” Smith says, and after consulting with his sister, who was losing her battle with cancer, he approached Sheriff Ronnie Strength, who he worked with early in his career.
“I went and talked to Ronnie and said, ‘There’s people in this community who want me to run for sheriff,’ and he said, ‘You’d be a damn good sheriff, but you’re going to lose.’”
Strength explained how he’d been grooming Scott Peebles for the position, which was similar to the way Strength himself had been groomed by former Sheriff Charlie Webster, who Smith also considers an influence.
“Charlie Webster was probably one of the worst law enforcement guys there ever was, but he was a terrific sheriff and he was a terrific leader because he knew his weaknesses and he surrounded himself with people who covered those weaknesses,” he says.
Smith took Strength’s advice and steered clear of the sheriff’s race, but paid a similar visit to Brigham to find out if he’d chosen a successor. He hadn’t, so Smith took a shot at the commission.
Though he’s never been involved in a campaign, Smith was nevertheless exposed to politics from the inside when he worked security detail for Speaker of the House Pro Tem Jack Connell.
“He listened to everybody and he’d always try to find the middle ground,” Smith says. “I would hear him talk to one side of the story one day and then I’d hear him talk to the other side the next day, and I never heard him tell a lie.”
Watching the inner workings of the House, however, particularly a situation where the chairman of the powerful reapportionment committee was able to push through legislation that was personally favorable, soured him on the motivations certain politicians bring to the table.
“That’s one of those life experiences I saw and I said, ‘I don’t want to be that guy.’ Right’s right and wrong’s wrong.”
Currently an administrator with the State Patrol overseeing a 21-county area, the 49-year-old Smith describes his job as being the middleman between the field and headquarters in Atlanta, a job that brings him in contact with area leaders and law enforcement officials while giving him the flexibility needed to be an active commissioner.
He has accumulated three years of sick leave and has a position that allows him to use it.
“I don’t have a business to run in this county,” he says. “I don’t have a business that does business with the county. I live in a 1,400-square-foot house that’s 52 years old that’s the only house I’ve ever owned.”
Given his law enforcement background, supporters feel his presence could be important to the commission, especially with so many unsettled by the possibility of Richard Roundtree becoming sheriff. Smith, however, sees himself as more of a global leader and has surprised more than a few people by showing up at out-of-district events.
“We get divided along the lines of race and we get divided along the lines of economics and we get divided along the lines of Republicans and Democrats and we get divided along whether you’re West Augusta or South Augusta, East Augusta or whatever,” he says. “Commissioners spend 200,000 people’s money, and although I live in West Augusta and I represent this group over here, if I don’t know what the needs are in South Augusta or East Augusta, how the hell can I make an informed decision?”
He says the fact that most people live in one district, have kids who go to school in another and work in yet another only emphasizes that commissioners’ votes affect all Augustans.
As for the hardscrabble political life, Smith, who was wounded in the Olympic Park bombing, says he’s ready.
“I’ve been shot at, I’ve been cut with a knife, I’ve been bludgeoned with a brick and I’ve been blown up with a bomb,” he says. “What can the commission do that’s worse than those things?”You Might Also Like:
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