Tom Murphy (Georgia politician)

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Tom Murphy
The Speaker enjoying a cigar in his famous office 2013-09-06 18-10.jpg
69th Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives
In office
January 14, 1973 – January 13, 2003
Governor Jimmy Carter
George Busbee
Joe Frank Harris
Zell Miller
Roy Barnes
Preceded by George L. Smith
Succeeded by Terry Coleman
Member of the Georgia House of Representatives from the 18th district
In office
January, 1961 – January 13, 2003
Succeeded by Bill Heath
Personal details
Born (1924-03-10)10 March 1924
Bremen, Georgia, U.S.
Died 17 December 2007(2007-12-17) (aged 83)
Bremen, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater North Georgia College
University of Georgia Law School
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1941–1945
Battles/wars Second World War

Thomas Bailey "Tom" Murphy (March 10, 1924 – December 17, 2007) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Georgia. Murphy was the Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives from 1973 until his defeat in the general election of 2002, making him the longest serving House Speaker of any U.S. state legislature.[1] He was a member of the Democratic Party.


Murphy was born in Bremen, Georgia, where his father was a telegraph operator for the railroad.[2] Murphy graduated from Bremen High School in 1941 and enrolled in North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia.[3] During World War II Murphy served in the Navy in the south Pacific. After leaving the Navy Murphy attended the University of Georgia Law School, graduating in 1949. That same year he was elected to the Bremen Board of Education. He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1960, serving in both positions simultaneously until 1965 when he left the Board of Education.

From 1967 until 1970 Murphy was the floor leader in the House under Governor Lester Maddox. From 1970-1973 he was the Speaker pro tem of the House. In 1973, he was elected to the position of Speaker in the House of Representatives where he remained until his general election defeat in 2002. Murphy quickly rose to a position of unsurpassed influence in state government.[4] He became so politically powerful during his speakership, that he is largely credited with helping his legislative protégé, Joe Frank Harris, get elected governor in 1982.[3]

During his tenure, Murphy was a key figure in Georgia's economic development and throughout statewide politics; and was considered by many to be the best friend Atlanta ever had in the legislature despite his rural residency and upbringing.

In 2000, speaking of Murphy, noted political columnist Bill Shipp wrote, "In his 26 years as presiding officer of the House, he has become as powerful and important in the General Assembly as the governor."[5]

When Murphy died, Georgia Republican U. S. Senator Johnny Isakson said, "Tom Murphy was a giant in Georgia politics, and his legacy is everywhere. Without Tom Murphy there would be no World Congress Center, or Georgia Dome or MARTA." Isakson went on to say, "As tough as he was on the outside, he had a soft spot in his heart for children, the poor and the sick. He was a product of the Depression and it left a lasting impression on him. In many a speech Speaker Murphy would reflect on the days of his youth and would vow never to let a Georgia child face the conditions he did."[6]

Reapportionment and Downfall[edit]

Fiercely partisan, Murphy described himself as a "yellow dog" Democrat, or one who would rather vote for a yellow dog than vote for a Republican.[7] U.S. Representative Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-Georgia) put it bluntly: "Tom Murphy wasn't fair, he wasn't bipartisan and he didn't light up a room with his smile." [8] In 1991 and 2001 Murphy presided over the reapportionment process which redrew congressional and legislative lines.[9] The resulting district maps were criticized for gerrymandering, which significantly favored Democrats.[9] Murphy acted to redraw the congressional seats of high-profile Republicans Newt Gingrich (1991), and Bob Barr (2001), in what was viewed as typical of his "hardball" application of political power.[9] Gingrich remarked that "The Speaker, by raising money and gerrymandering, has sincerely dedicated a part of his career to wiping me out."[7]

Murphy frequently skated to reelection, but faced increasingly competitive races from the late 1980s onward as Atlanta's northern suburbs bled into the district. Indeed, Republican candidates began winning up and down the ballot in the district during this time. In 2000, he faced his closest race yet against Republican Bill Heath.[10][11] Murphy only held on by 505 votes, a margin of less than two percentage points.[12]

However, gerrymandering ultimately proved to be Murphy's downfall. The contorted districts that resulted from the 2001 remap both confused and angered voters, and is believed to have led to Murphy losing his own seat in 2002 in a rematch against Heath.[9][13]

Shortly after the controversial 2001 reapportionment process, and Murphy's own political defeat, political power shifted in favor of the Republicans, who gained control of both chambers of the Legislature, the Governor's office, and the majority of statewide elected offices.[8]

Murphy suffered a stroke in 2004, which left him incapacitated. He died at 10:00 p.m. on December 17, 2007, in Bremen after years of declining health.

To honor his service to Georgia, Murphy lay in state at the Georgia State Capitol on December 21, 2007—first within the House chambers and then in the Capitol Rotunda.[8]


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  10. ^ Pruitt, Kathey: "Showdown in Haralson: Legendary Speaker Murphy Faces Stiffest Challenge", p. 3D, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2000.
  11. ^ Chapman, Dan: "Taking on Mr. Speaker; A Political Newcomer is Giving Tom Murphy his Toughest Race in Years", p.1F, 2000.
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