September 22, 1997
Volume 50, No. 5
State Attorney General Thurbert Baker spoke to a standing room-only crowd in Gambrell Hall's Agnor Room on Sept. 11. Baker was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Michael Bowers, who resigned to campaign full time for governor.
Baker first ran for public office in 1988 and was elected to the Georgia General Assembly from the 70th House District on his first try. His mother's admonition that it's "always better to be part of the solution than part of the problem" propelled him into government service, Baker said.
The 1979 School of Law graduate, whose rapid political rise included stints as Gov. Zell Miller's assistant administration floor leader and administration floor leader in the house, outlined his priorities as the state's chief attorney, first touching on some of his achievements as a lawmaker.
Baker cited his work toward passage of the "three strikes" law as one of his best accomplishments. "I'm extremely proud [of that legislation] both as an individual and for this state," he said. As attorney general, he wants to push through similarly tough legislation for those who commit domestic violence. He told of a woman he knew as a child who always had a smile and kind word for children, but whose husband-the "neighborhood hellraiser," Baker termed him-clearly abused her.
"Domestic violence tears at the very fabric of family life all over the vast reaches of our country," he said. While there are approximately 18,000 reported cases in Georgia, he said, "even one case is one case too many.
"We already have some of the toughest laws against violent crimes and violent criminals and, quite frankly, I think it's time to have some of the toughest laws in relation to domestic violence," he said.
Just two weeks before Baker's speech, Georgia became one of the latest states to file suit against the tobacco industry. That fight, he said, and the battle against consumer and Medicaid fraud will be other top priorities for his office.
Even in his short time on the job-he's only held office since July 1-Baker has found frustrating limitations on the state attorney general's ability to effect change. "We can't always prosecute the way we'd like because there are not tools to do so," he said in response to a question regarding the impaneling of state grand juries. The Legislature hasn't given his office that power yet, but it's a tool he's all for possessing. "We don't need to depend on the federal government to clean up Georgia when it needs cleaning up," he said. "We need to do it ourselves."
Baker, who used the refrain "because it's the right thing to do" repeatedly throughout his speech, said, "My background will continue to guide my beliefs and principles. I will continue to push those issues that will make a difference in the lives of all Georgians."
One student asked Baker how he was able to reconcile community and political service with the need to earn a living. After graduating from Emory, Baker said, "I wanted to learn how to practice law-how to be a good lawyer. If you're good at what you're doing, the money side takes care of itself."
Still, recognizing economic realities, he concluded his speech by telling the students assembled, "Get out [of law school] and make a lot of money, be happy and practice the profession the way it ought to be."
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