Carl Sanders, prominent statesman, lawyer, philanthropist and family man who died on Sunday at the age of 89, leaves an outstanding legacy ranging from being Georgia’s first “modern governor” to building a now-internationally-known law firm from scratch.
A concern for good government led the Augusta native, University of Georgia graduate and World War II pilot to run for the state Senate from an Augusta-based district. He beat the local segregationist political machine, gained seniority quickly and became Senate president pro tem. Insider Advantage CEO Matt Towery, in a 2011 James feature story, wrote that in 1962 Sanders was well underway to be lieutenant governor of Georgia. “But then came a serious stumbling block—a political ‘dirty trick’— as opponents of his slipped onto the ballot another candidate with a similar name to Sanders’. This would have led to serious confusion,” Towery wrote, “so Sanders jumped into the race for governor instead, and defeated former Gov. Marvin Griffin.”
As governor from 1963 to 1967 he is credited with various achievements ranging from forging the modern University System of Georgia and the state’s regional airport system to fostering a concerted effort to boost new industry and trade. Sanders was also responsible for bringing both major league baseball and professional football to Georgia. And, according to reports at the time in The Augusta Chronicle, the governor is credited with saving the sprawling Fort Gordon U.S. Army base from closure after directly lobbying then-President John F. Kennedy.
Sanders vigorously opposed politicians who favored shutting down schools as the state underwent court-ordered de-segregation. During his term the young, polished governor became to be viewed nationally as a progressive symbol of “the new South.” Ironically, when Sanders ran again for re-election in the 1970 Democrat Party primary against Jimmy Carter, he was painted by the future president’s campaign as being too liberal on race. This writer was stunned, for example, when Sanders told me in a 1980s interview that Carter was calling himself in some parts of the state “a Lester Maddox Democrat.” (Maddox, who served as governor from 1967 to 1971, was a symbol of defiance against the federal government in 1964 when he refused to racially integrate his Atlanta restaurant.) Sanders overwhelmingly lost to Carter in the primary.
After his defeat, the hard-charging attorney turned his energy during the 1970s and ‘80s into building a small Atlanta law firm, Troutman Sanders, into an internationally-known powerhouse. He created a government affairs team, which he viewed as a strong part of the practice of law, and remained active and engaged in the firm right up until this year.
The Insider Advantage team extends condolences to the Sanders family and his wide circle of friends.