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Remembering Ex-Rep. Mac Collins, R-GA: The "Trucker Congressman"

the late mac collins
Rep. Mac Collins (John Amis/AP)

Friday, 23 November 2018 02:09 PM Current | Bio | Archive

When Rep. Mac Collins was seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Georgia in 2004, I remarked to him how I had heard one of his two opponents speak and was impressed with his rags-to-riches story.

His name was Herman Cain, retired CEO of Godfather’s Pizza (and in 2012, a Republican presidential candidate).

“Well, he better not try to ‘out-poor’ me,” shot back Collins, “He may have come from humble beginnings, but I started with nothing — nothing.  I did pretty well and anything I got I earned.”  (Both Collins and Cain were defeated in the primary by then-Rep. and present Sen. Johnny Isakson).

When I learned that Collins died Tuesday at age 74, his Horatio Alger-esque life and the straight talk that was his signature immediately came to mind.

He was truthful when he said he started with nothing.  His hometown of Flotilla, Georgia had a population of 240 when he was born (1944) and, according to the Atlanta Constitution Journal, was “best known as a fueling and watering station for steam engines on the Southern Railroad.”

Collins never went to college and instead drove his own used truck to make deliveries.  When he married high school sweetheart Julie, she became, as one wag put it, “his gal Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and all week.”  Not only was Julie the secretary in Mac’s fledgling company, but the book-keeper and occasionally an extra hand on the loading dock.  She also raised their four children.

When Collins won a bid to haul timber for Georgia-Pacific, his company took off like the Apollo space program. Collins became a millionaire, as his company became one of the largest independent truckers in the Peach State.

A Democrat like most Georgians at the time, Collins ran twice in the 1970’s for the Butts County Commission and lost.  On the third try in 1976, he made it and — disgusted with the Democratic Party under fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter — he switched parties.  In 1981, he became Butts’ first-ever GOP county chairman.

Collins was elected to the state senate in 1988 — again, after losing two previous bids. In 1990, he lost a race for lieutenant governor, but bounced back to win a seat in the U.S. House. Republicans had never believed they could unseat conservative Democrat and ten-year Rep. Richard Ray.  But favorable redistricting and a candidate of Collins’ unique style made the difference.

“If Social Security is good enough for working folks to retire on, it’s should be good enough for Congress!” he declared, vowing not to participate in the congressional retirement plan. 

Audiences cheered as the Republican hopeful waved a broom and vowed to clean up “the mess in Washington.”  Collins defeated Ray with 55 percent of the vote.

The freshman lawmaker moved rapidly to the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and to the House Intelligence Committee.  Colleagues recalled Collins as quiet but with an amazing knack for putting the complex language of Congress into plain English.

“Mac was a wise man,” recalled former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R.-Mich, who came to Congress with Collins and is now U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, “He said very little but when he did speak, colleagues listened.  He also was one of the nicest members in our class.”

Collins’ popularity among colleagues was the main reason he was chosen as Deputy Whip of the House Republicans.  But in ’01, he was removed from the position after announcing his opposition to President George W. Bush’s plan to create the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Following his defeat in the Senate primary, Collins made a final run to reclaim his old House seat in 2006, but he lost narrowly to Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall. In his later years, when he worked on the family farm, Collins would hear of people who were broke and down on their luck.Without fanfare, he would write a note and enclose cash. 

Perhaps the most poignant words about Mac Collins came from another House classmate, former Rep. John Linder, R.-GA. 

“Mac never pretended to be anything other than what he was — a common man with the common touch,” he told us, “He and Julie worked hard for everything they ever had in life, and their lives were wonderful and full.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.


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When Rep. Mac Collins was seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Georgia in 2004, I remarked to him how I had heard one of his two opponents speak and was impressed with his rags-to-riches story.
mac collins, georgia congressman, mac collins death
Friday, 23 November 2018 02:09 PM
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