Jimmy Carter Wins Election for Governor of Georgia
In 1966, during the end of his career as a state senator, he flirted with the idea of running for the United States House of Representatives.
His Republican opponent dropped out and decided to run for Governor of Georgia. Carter did not want to see a Republican Governor of his state, and, in turn, dropped out of the race for Congress and joined the race to become Governor. Carter lost the Democratic primary, but drew enough votes as a third place candidate to force the favorite, Ellis Arnall, into a runoff election, setting off a chain of events which resulted in the election of Lester Maddox. During this race Carter ran as a moderate alternative to both liberal Arnall and conservative Maddox. Although he lost, his strong third place finish was viewed as a success for a little-known state senator.
Main article: Georgia gubernatorial election, 1970
For the next four years, Carter returned to his agriculture business and carefully planned for his next campaign for Governor in 1970, making over 1,800 speeches throughout the state.
During his 1970 campaign, he ran an uphill populist campaign in the Democratic primary against former Governor Carl Sanders, labeling his opponent "Cufflinks Carl". Carter was never a segregationist, and refused to join the segregationist White Citizens' Council, prompting a boycott of his peanut warehouse. He also had been one of only two families which voted to admit blacks to the Plains Baptist Church. However, he "said things the segregationists wanted to hear", according to historian E. Stanly Godbold. Also, Carter's campaign aides handed out a photograph of his opponent celebrating with black basketball players. Following his close victory over Sanders in the primary, he was elected Governor over Republican Hal Suit.
Governor of Georgia
Carter was sworn in as the 76th Governor of Georgia on January 12, 1971 and held this post for one term, until January 14, 1975. Governors of Georgia were not allowed to succeed themselves at the time. His predecessor as Governor, Lester Maddox, became the Lieutenant Governor. However, Carter and Maddox found little common ground during their four years of service, often publicly feuding with each other.
Civil rights politics
Carter declared in his inaugural speech that the time of racial segregation was over, and that racial discrimination had no place in the future of the state. He was the first statewide office holder in the Deep South to say this in public. Afterwards, Carter appointed many African Americans to statewide boards and offices. He was often called one of the "New Southern Governors" – much more moderate than their predecessors, and supportive of racial desegregation and expanding African-Americans' rights.
Although "personally opposed" to abortion, subsequent to the landmark US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, 410 US 113 (1973) Carter supported legalized abortion. He did not support increased federal funding for abortion services as president and was criticized by the ACLU for not doing enough to find alternatives to abortion.
State government reforms
Carter improved government efficiency by merging about 300 state agencies into 30 agencies. One of his aides recalled that Governor Carter "was right there with us, working just as hard, digging just as deep into every little problem. It was his program and he worked on it as hard as anybody, and the final product was distinctly his." He also pushed reforms through the legislature, providing equal state aid to schools in the wealthy and poor areas of Georgia, set up community centers for mentally handicapped children, and increased educational programs for convicts. Carter took pride in a program he introduced for the appointment of judges and state government officials. Under this program, all such appointments were based on merit, rather than political influence.
Vice-Presidential aspirations in 1972
In 1972, as US Senator George McGovern of South Dakota was marching toward the Democratic nomination for President, Carter called a news conference in Atlanta to warn that McGovern was unelectable. Carter criticized McGovern as too liberal on both foreign and domestic policy, yet when McGovern's nomination became a foregone conclusion, Carter lobbied to become his vice-presidential running mate.
During the 1972 Democratic National Convention he endorsed the candidacy of Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington. However, Carter received 30 votes at the Democratic National Convention in the chaotic ballot for Vice President. McGovern offered the second spot to Reubin Askew, from next door Florida and one of the "new southern governors", but he declined.
Death penalty and crime
After the US Supreme Court overturned Georgia's death penalty law in 1972, Carter quickly proposed state legislation to replace the death penalty with life in prison (an option which previously didn't exist).
When the legislature passed a new death penalty statute, Carter, despite voicing reservations about its constitutionality, signed new legislation on March 28, 1973 to authorize the death penalty for murder, rape and other offenses, and to implement trial procedures which would conform to the newly-announced constitutional requirements. In 1976, the Supreme Court upheld Georgia's new death penalty for murder; in the case of Coker v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional as applied to rape.
Many in America were outraged by William Calley's life sentence at Fort Benning for his role in the My Lai Massacre; Carter instituted "American Fighting Man's Day" and asked Georgians to drive for a week with their lights on in support of Calley. Indiana's governor asked all state flags to be flown at half-staff for Calley, and Utah's and Mississippi's governors also disagreed with the verdict.
Despite his earlier support, Carter soon became a death penalty opponent, and during Presidential campaigns (like previous nominee George McGovern and two successive nominees, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis), this was noted. Currently, Carter is known for his outspoken opposition to the death penalty in all forms; in his Nobel Prize lecture, he urged "prohibition of the death penalty".
United States Senate appointment
Richard Russell, Jr., then-President pro tempore of the United States Senate, died in office on January 21, 1971. Carter, only nine days into his governorship, appointed state Democratic Party chair David H. Gambrell to fill an unexpired Russell term in the Senate on February 1. Gambrell was defeated in the next Democratic primary by the more conservative Sam Nunn.
In 1973, while Governor of Georgia, Carter filed a report on his 1969 UFO sighting with the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. However, in 2007, Carter stated that he did not remember why he filed the report and that he believes he probably only did it at the request of one of his children. He also stated he does not believe it was an alien spacecraft, but rather believes it was likely some sort of military experiment being conducted from a nearby military base.
Carter made an appearance as the first guest of the evening on an episode of the game show What's My Line in 1974, signing in as "X", lest his name give away his occupation. After his job was identified on question seven of ten by Gene Shalit, he talked about having brought movie production to the state of Georgia, citing Deliverance, and the then-unreleased The Longest Yard.
In 1974, Carter was chairman of the Democratic National Committee's congressional, as well as gubernatorial, campaigns.
After easily defeating his Republican opponent, Carter surprised most of his Georgia supporters and attracted national attention during a short, twelve-minute inaugural address when he proclaimed that the time for segregation had ended. "No poor, rural, weak, or black person," he declared, "should ever have to bear the additional burden of being deprived of the opportunity of an education, a job, or simple justice." He soon revealed himself as a moderate business progressive with an extensive reform agenda designed to make state government operate more efficiently and to be more responsive to the needs of its citizens.
The reorganization of state government served as the cornerstone of Carter's gubernatorial program. This massive reform effort, which continued through much of his four-year term, produced large-scale structural reform. Sixty-five budgeted and 200 unbudgeted agencies, boards, bureaus, and commissions were consolidated into 20 line agencies. The objective was to group similar functions into a single jurisdictional body, thus saving money by avoiding duplication while improving the delivery of services. The most controversial aspect of the reorganization plan involved the creation of three super agencies—the departments of administrative services, natural resources, and human resources—that absorbed the functions and responsibilities of 62 existing state agencies.
An effort to improve management efficiency and reduce the costs of services accompanied the larger, more dramatic endeavor to restructure the administrative organization of state government. One of his more controversial proposals concerned budget reform. Under Carter's "zero-based budgeting" plan, state departments and agencies, rather than submitting an aggregate budget figure, supposedly started from scratch each year, evaluating and justifying every dollar they requested.
In addition to reorganization, Carter continued his earlier efforts to upgrade the state's notoriously weak educational system. The "Adequate Program for Education in Georgia," the governor's educational reform package, provided funds to support vocational education, reduce class size, and equalize funding among districts. At the same time, Carter increased the state's commitment to preschool education and launched a campaign that eventually led to the adoption of a statewide kindergarten program.
Substantial reform in the operation of the state's criminal justice system also occurred during Carter's governorship. These revisions included significant movement toward the creation of a unified court system, the systematic use of a merit system in the selection of judges, a constitutional method of regulating judicial conduct, and much needed penal reform.
Carter also initiated significant new mental health programs and took a variety of actions, both substantive and symbolic, to promote civil rights and equal opportunity for women and minorities. The governor reflected his commitment to fairness and justice most obviously in his appointment policy. He appointed more women and minorities to his own staff, to major state policy boards and agencies, and to the judiciary than all of his predecessors combined.