GC of the GA GOP
Republican lawyer Anne W. Lewis talks voter ID laws, the state’s political racial divide, and a few social issues—including same-sex marriage—where her position is evolving
Published in 2014 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine
By Erik Lundegaard on February 18, 2014
Q: Law or politics: Which came first for you?
A: I was always interested in politics, but my political law practice really began when I was a second-year law student and clerked with a firm called Wilson, Strickland & Benson here in Atlanta. Then I went to work for them right out of law school. One of the senior partners, Frank Strickland, was either the assistant general counsel or the general counsel of the Georgia Republican Party. I did a lot of work with him and really enjoyed it. My attraction [to the Republican Party] was based in large part on candidates I met.
Q: Such as?
A: Paul Coverdell. At the time I met him he had been in the state Senate and he was running for the U.S. Senate. His political philosophy was moderate conservative. Much of his philosophy was based on fiscal issues.
Q: So are you more fiscal than social conservative?
A: There are probably some issues where I would be identified as a social conservative, but my main attraction to the Republican Party remains the fiscal conservatism.
Q: On what social issues do you identify as conservative?
A: I was born and raised a Catholic, so from the perspective of the abortion issue I certainly believe that life begins at conception. However, I understand the struggle with a complete ban on abortion in the case of the life of the mother, incest, rape.
Q: What percentage of your practice at Strickland Brockington Lewis is political/governmental in nature?
A: A good 75 percent. In a typical day, I’m working on issues for the Georgia Republican Party or for a campaign or a state or local government issue, or in a case where there is some political component. Maybe a city fighting a county. The other parts of my practice are general business litigation. I do some work for competitive telephone companies—the business competitors to what’s now AT&T.
Q: What do you do as GC for the state GOP?
A: In terms of advising the party, I do the business-related stuff: review disclosure reports, review contracts, make sure we file everything we are required to file on time. The parties in Georgia are responsible for qualifying their own candidates for state and federal office, so every two years we have a weeklong qualifying process [where] the party is acting in place of the government in qualifying its candidates. It’s a lot of little hoops you have to jump through.
Q: How does one qualify?
A: The state has a statutory qualifying period from Monday until noon Friday of a certain week. You fill out your affidavit swearing that you are who you say you are, you live where you say you live, what you’re going to run for, and you pay your qualifying fee. We process all that paperwork and make sure everybody’s got everything they’re supposed to have.
One of the things that the Republican Party requires that the Democratic Party used to—actually we got the idea from them and they abandoned it—is a loyalty oath, which says that you hereby swear your loyalty to the Georgia Republican Party. It’s actually been the source of some controversy in recent years, of people … well, one person … who didn’t want to sign the oath.
Q: Is this person known? Did they win?
A: No, he did not win.
I should add that the other big part of the general counsel’s job is … In the Republican Party in Georgia, we have conventions for party office in odd numbered years. So it starts at the neighborhood meetings, then the next month is the county, the next month is the congressional district, and the last month in May is the state convention, where we elect our officers. Of course, every four years that convention serves as the [place where we] nominate delegates to the national convention. There’s a lot of planning, particularly in the presidential years. There’s a lot of paperwork.
The other thing that takes up a good deal of my time is, during the campaign season, the two recognized parties in Georgia, the Democrat Party and the Republican Party, are authorized to run multicandidate ads. I’m sure you’ve seen these before, where you have a big picture of one candidate saying, “Hey, vote for this guy, he’s great!” and in real small letters below, “And also vote for Anne Lewis and John Smith.” The parties are allowed to run those but they have to be reviewed. In 2012, I think the parties sent out about 300. So I review all those to make sure that they don’t contain any slander, and that they contain the right disclaimers and they don’t run afoul of the campaign finance laws in any way.
Q: Do you ever get involved in the ideological discussion? Which way to take the party, etc.
A: Generally speaking, my role is to provide legal advice. But because I have been involved in the party for a long time, and politics for a long time, I think I’m able to give my opinion and it has some weight.
Q: Are there instances where an idea was floated and you said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea”?
A: I don’t want to give a specific example. I’ll give this example because it didn’t happen. If there was a mailer sent out that speaks against any sort of immigration reform, and not allowing noncitizens to, for example, be seasonal workers and pick the crops, that particular message would not go over well in the southwest corner of the state, where everybody’s interested in having their crops picked.
Q: I’m curious how redistricting works. In my head, I see Eisenhower standing over a map of Europe during World War II.
A: One thing people probably never think about is that for the legislators themselves it’s the most personal of legislation, because it determines whether they’re coming back. People who are involved in politics, they’re extroverts, they’re gregarious people. And, at least in Georgia, when the General Assembly is in session and these folks are sitting at the desk with one another, they’re friends. They may not always agree on the issue but they’ll go out and have a drink with each other. They’ll have lunch with each other.
Q: But how does it work? Is it looking at maps or just demographics?
A: No, it is looking at maps. What you’re doing is attempting to equalize the population among the districts. … The purpose is to get equal districts. But sometimes when you don’t have equality it’s because you’re trying to make the district compact or you’re following a road. Of course it’s come a long, long way in the last 40 years. There’s no more drawing with crayons and using a calculator to add up the population. There’s a program called Maptitude that basically you can watch as you’re adding people or taking people from the district. We did a lot of looking at maps.
Q: Was being part of this committee positive or negative for you?
A: Oh, for me it was all positive. In the 2000s I was looking for errors that we would be able to challenge the maps on. My role was exactly the opposite in 2011: trying to make sure the legislature didn’t make any errors that would allow for a challenge. And … for the first time ever, the maps that were initially drawn by the state and submitted to the Department of Justice, were pre-cleared on the first try. We didn’t have any follow-up litigation from any opponent to the maps.
Q: You’ve also been involved in a lot of voting rights cases. Georgia’s photo ID law, for example. How did it begin? What was the impetus for that change?
A: I think for several years there had been a desire to have people prove who they were when they came to vote. You could bring a utility bill that didn’t say anything other than “I’m a person that has this utility bill.” So the perspective of the legislature was there is the potential for fraud. The interesting thing about fraud is that if it’s successful you never discover it. So the legislature—or I guess the Republican caucus—had been talking about having a photo ID law [for a while], and in 2005, after the redistricting case, the controls swapped so now the House, the Senate and the governor’s office were controlled by Republicans. Really it was the first opportunity to pass that sort of law.
So the General Assembly in 2005 passed the photo ID statute but required that you pay a fee for one if you didn’t have one. But the plaintiffs challenged that law primarily on the basis that it was a poll tax, and the district judge agreed. So the General Assembly went back into session in 2006 and took that out. Ultimately the case was tried in 2007; and while the rhetoric may have been stronger, and perhaps even more appealing, on the plaintiff’s side, when push comes to shove you have to be able to prove that somebody is harmed by this. The judge issued a lengthy opinion, and the bottom line was, “The plaintiffs haven’t proven that anybody’s harmed by it.” It’s now been in effect in Georgia since 2007 and we haven’t had a problem with it.
It’s interesting. When Georgia was in process of passing the photo ID law, it was called the most draconian law in the country. And now as other states are passing their laws I kind of chuckle when I read articles where the opponents say, “Well, your law should be more like Georgia’s law.”
Q: On the other hand, I understand the opposition’s concern given the history of disenfranchisement in the South.
A: And no one can deny that history. But the problem is that [recent renewals of the Voting Rights Act] didn’t recognize the changes in Georgia. I’ve lived in Georgia my entire life and I can tell you it’s not the same place it was a year after I was born and the Voting Rights Act was put in place.
Q: Would you say there a political racial divide in Georgia?
A: I would say there is to the extent that the Democratic Party … I don’t think I can say that it’s majority black. I don’t really know that. But if not, I would say that it’s probably close. And the Republican Party is certainly majority white.
I will tell you from my own perspective and the perspective of the Georgia Republican Party that this isn’t how we want it to be. Frankly, both political parties want as many members as we can get. Georgia is currently a Republican state but the demographics show that that may change. So the fight is on to get as many members as you can. It certainly isn’t the aim of the Georgia Republican Party to be the white party and have the Democrats be the black party. Certainly the numbers show that, in Georgia, probably greater than 85 percent of black voters vote Democratic.
Q: And white voters?
A: Less than that.
Q: I was just looking at a state-by-state chart of white Obama support in 2012. Georgia was at 14 percent—fourth lowest, after Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
A: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s an accurate reflection of white Democratic voters or just Obama supporters.
Q: True. So if the aim of the GOP is to include other groups of people, what are some of the things you’re doing to reach this goal?
A: There are a number of initiatives to increase support, not only racially but with women. I’m a female Republican lawyer. It’s not a very big group. There’s a growing Asian community in the Atlanta area, a growing Hispanic population. All politics is local. There’s a big push on to make sure that there is Republican representation at city parades and senior centers. Basically to leave the comfort zone of your home county, or even one part of your home county, and go out into other parts where you’ll meet people who may just not have heard enough about the Republican Party.
Q: We’re talking in the middle of the federal government shutdown. The sense is that the movement within the GOP isn’t toward moderation, it’s towards extremism. Does that filter down?
A: I start with the premise that most people, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, are somewhere in the middle, they’re not on the extremes. My perception of the temperature in Georgia is that people are tired of elected officials not being able to get along and get the business of the government done.
Q: Does the GOP demonize the legal community too much? Tort reform is about certain practice areas but it can be a wide brush that paints the entire profession. Do you ever feel like, “Hey, guys, hold it back a little bit.”
A: I’ve heard things that would make me say, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t apply to everybody.” But I don’t know that I can say that I feel particularly attacked by the Republican Party for being a lawyer. I think regardless of politics, people love to hate lawyers until they need one.
Q: Have you ever thought about running for office?
A: I haven’t ruled it out. My husband and I have two boys. One is a freshman in college and the other is a junior in high school, and I didn’t think I should take on one more thing until everybody is comfortably settled in college. I’m sure I sound disgusted with the Congress, but the truth is I admire people who will offer themselves for office. I think being in Congress is a tough job. You’re basically on the road the minute you win an election. The next morning you wake up thinking how you’re going to win the next one.
But I love being a lawyer. My mother’s father had gone to one year of law school here in Atlanta, then he had to go home and take care of the family business. So he always talked to me about what a great thing it would be to be a lawyer.
I’ve been a lawyer now for 24 years, and the best thing that happened to me was having the good fortune to join a really good firm right out of law school—with lawyers who taught me not only the substance of the law but how to get along with other lawyers. [Recently] I had a surprise cancer diagnosis. I had surgery in November 2012 and I spent the first part of 2013 having chemo. I found what a great gift in my life it was to practice with these folks. When something unexpected came up, they were there to take care of things for me.
Q: I don’t mean to pry, but how did your treatment go?
A: Very well. Chemo has come a long way. I can’t say I worked at my usual pace, but I was able to come to work. I’m just saying my prayers and keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that it doesn’t return. I’m very grateful for the family that I have at home and also the one at work. It’s been quite an experience—with way more silver linings than I could have imagined.
Q: Such as?
A: It makes you step back and think about all the ways you’re lucky. At least for me. I have great kids, a great husband, had a fun career, and I don’t want it to be over but if that’s the way it ends up then I think I’ve been real lucky.
I’m thinking back to your question about social issues. For me, the abortion, immigration, and same-sex-marriage issues can be wrapped up the same way: which is, they all involve very personal issues. For the abortion issue, my faith determines my answer to that.
But for the immigration and same-sex-marriage issues—and I know I’m not alone in the Republican Party—these issues involve people’s children. Decisions are made that are going to affect people’s children. So there isn’t an easy answer. And I think that the people who are on the far end of the spectrum on either side of the issue don’t represent the majority of people who want to find a solution. We’re here to make the world a better place for each other, not to constantly be fighting.
Q: Does that mean you’re in favor of allowing same-sex marriage—on a state-by-state level if not the federal level?
A: [Pause] I believe there ought to be a way for same-sex couples to have a legal relationship. I do think it is a matter of the states’ prerogative. I know a lot of same-sex couples who have families and their families are no different than my family.
Q: You want to make sure they have protections.
A: Protections and rights. I’ve always thought about these things but focused on them more in the last year. What if I’m desperately ill and the person that I’ve lived with my entire life doesn’t have any right to determine how my treatment goes, or, God forbid, how my life ends? It’s not an easy answer, but I do think most people are like me. At the end of the day, people want to feel like they’ve made each other’s lives easier, not harder.
This interview has been condensed.
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