Rep. John Linder (R)
Georgia 7th District
In the last two decades, greater Atlanta has grown out in every direction: south past the airport, west over the Chattahoochee River, north past the Perimeter Center, and east and northeast past Stone Mountain. The outer suburbs north of Atlanta have grown fastest of all. Gwinnett County features more-mature neighborhoods of affluent professionals and entrepreneurs. The closer-in portions of Gwinnett, near Interstate 85, with their older shopping districts, have been attracting Georgia’s largest concentration of Hispanics and also middle-class blacks. The county’s rapidly growing school system boasts that its students speak more than 100 languages. Farther out in Lawrenceville, Duluth, and Buford, downtown Atlanta seems very far away, both physically—it is 30 to 50 miles, and more than an hour of clogged rush-hour driving, to Peachtree Street—and in state of mind. For many, Atlanta is something that whizzes by on the way to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The growth here and its diversity are hard to overstate. Gwinnett County cast 21,000 votes in 1972 and 291,000 in 2008. By contrast, Fulton County, which includes central Atlanta, cast 405,000, and DeKalb County cast 322,000. Gwinnett’s population grew 32% from 2000 to 2007, to 776,000. Like other metro Atlanta counties, the non-Hispanic white population has been dropping in the schools, while the overall numbers soar. There is some international flavor here: Mexicans in Norcross, Koreans in Duluth, and Bosnians in Lawrenceville. Beyond Gwinnett, recent increases have been equally robust, with growth spurts of 37% to 55% in Barrow, Walton, and Newton counties. These were once rural, low-income, and heavily Democratic areas. Now they are full of strivers and achievers, with many religious conservatives and many economic conservatives, and relatively few liberals and Democrats. Concern over excessive growth led Wal-Mart in 2008 to abandon plans for a supercenter in Duluth.
The 7th Congressional District of Georgia owes its existence to the rapid growth here since the early 1990s. Redistricting in 2005 gave it a more compact shape and recentered the district in Gwinnett, which has 78% of the population, compared to 58% previously. In addition to all of Barrow and Walton counties, the 7th includes thin slices of Forsyth and Newton counties. The changes increased the African-American population from 7% to 12% and had the effect of reducing the 2004 vote here for President Bush from 76% to 70%. In 2008, Republican John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama in the district 60%-39%.
Rep. John Linder (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Sept. 9, 1942, Deer River, MN .
Education: U. of MN, B.S. 1964, D.D.S., 1967.
Family: Married (Lynne); 2 children.
Military career: Air Force, 1967–69.
Elected office: GA House of Reps., 1974–80, 1982–90.
Professional Career: Practicing dentist, 1969–82; Founder & pres., Linder Financial Corp., 1977–92.
The congressman from the 7th District is John Linder, a Republican first elected in 1992 in the old 4th District. Like others in the Georgia delegation, Linder grew up elsewhere, in his case Minnesota, where he went to college and dental school. After two years in the Air Force, he moved to greater Atlanta and practiced dentistry for 13 years. In 1977, he started Linder Financial Corporation, a lending institution for entrepreneurial ventures in the South. In 1974, at age 32, he was elected to the Georgia House, where he served all but two of the next 16 years. In 1990, he challenged Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Jones, but lost 52%-48%. In 1992, Linder ran first in a six-candidate primary and won the runoff with 62% of the vote. In the general election, he faced Democratic state Sen. Cathey Steinberg and won 51%-49%. From this tenuous beginning Linder quickly became an important representative. For a time, he was a close ally to House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. They went back a ways. In 1975 Linder, Gingrich, and Paul Coverdell began meeting to try to build a strong Georgia Republican Party, and in 20 years, they were a representative, speaker, and senator, respectively. Gingrich resigned in 1998 after Republican losses at the polls, and Coverdell died in 2000.
|John Linder (R)||209,354||(62%)||($375,540)|
|Doug Heckman (D)||128,159||(38%)||($174,163)|
|John Linder (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (71%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (79%), 2000 (100%), 1998 (69%), 1996 (64%), 1994 (58%), 1992 (51%)
Linder has solidly conservative views, though they’re a bit more Wall Street than Main Street. After Republicans won control, Gingrich gave Linder a seat on the House Rules Committee and called on him often to preside over contentious debates. After the 1996 election, Gingrich chose Linder as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee to run the GOP’s efforts to maintain the majority. He excelled at fundraising, and relentlessly prevailed on incumbents to contribute to Republican challengers. He did a good job of recruiting candidates and shared the assumption of most observers that Republicans would gain seats as the out party in an off-year election. But one of his ads misfired. At the behest of Gingrich, it raised the impeachment issue against Clinton. While it ran in only a few districts, the ad was publicized nationally, and yielded a minimum of gain and a maximum of pain. When Republicans lost five seats, Linder was in deep trouble. He said the problem was the lack of a “strong message,” which “was not my responsibility”—a reference to Gingrich. Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia started running to replace Linder at the NRCC, with the support of others in the leadership, and Linder reacted bitterly, saying he was being blamed unfairly for Republican losses. But the rank and file was uninterested in the finger-pointing, and decided to clean house. Two days after the election, Gingrich announced his resignation, and 12 days later, Linder lost to Davis 130-77.
Taking a lower profile, Linder resumed his legislative work and got on well with the new Republican leadership. He turned his attention to the fight for tax reform and his FairTax plan, which would abolish all federal income taxes, including payroll taxes, and replace them with a single 23% national retail sales tax, with no exceptions for food or medical expenses but a monthly rebate for low-income citizens. As Linder explains, “The FairTax gives the American people control over their own lives again by allowing them to keep 100% of their paychecks and shielding their personal information from bureaucrats.”
Linder had longed to be chairman of the Rules Committee, but Speaker Hastert in 2005 decided that the six-year limit on committee chairmen did not apply to the Rules Committee, and gave California Rep. David Dreier another term as chairman. Linder left the committee and later that year got a seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee, with jurisdiction over tax policy. With Republicans consumed by Social Security reform and other issues, he made no legislative headway on tax reform. But he continued to try to generate grassroots interest, and in 2005 his FairTaxBook, written with radio host Neal Boortz, debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. When Republicans lost control of Congress in 2007, his proposal lost much of its legislative saliency. He focused more of his attention on the water shortages in the Atlanta metro area, and organized a House caucus to address the “devastating condition.”
In 2002, Linder was inconvenienced by the redistricting plan drawn by Georgia Democrats. Although the new 7th appeared tailor-made for him, he found himself in a primary contest with fellow Republican Bob Barr. Most Republicans expected Barr would run in the new 11th District, which contained more of his old area. The race was a contrast of styles, not of voting records. Linder campaigned as a political insider who quietly got things done. Barr, an early advocate of the impeachment of Clinton, campaigned as a champion of conservative principles. Linder had more local financial support, while Barr had contributors across the nation. The campaign grew bitter, but the final result was unambiguous. Linder won 64%-36%. In 2008, he won 62%-38% over Democrat Doug Heckman, a former Army colonel who served in Iraq.