For The Record

‘Dean’ of Georgia House Smyre bids farewell as Dominican ambassadorship calls

By: - April 4, 2022 4:04 pm

Rep. Calvin Smyre. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

This story was updated at 2 a.m. Tuesday, April 5 with additional comment from Rep. Calvin Smyre. 

Longtime state Rep. Calvin Smyre, known as the “dean” of the House, bid farewell to his colleagues Monday after a career that has spanned five decades.

Smyre, a Columbus Democrat, has been tapped by President Joe Biden to serve as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. The U.S. Senate still needs to confirm his appointment. 

“I’m really, really happy that the process would allow me to finish the legislative session, because I needed this. I really needed to finish here. And I needed to go out right,” Smyre told reporters early Tuesday morning as he left the House chamber.

The 74-year-old has represented Columbus for 48 years, serving under seven governors – four Democrats and three Republicans – and nine presidents, visiting seven of them in the White House.

Elected in 1974 when he was just 26 years old, Smyre went on to be the first African American to serve as a governor’s floor leader, and he chaired the House Rules Committee when Democrats controlled the statehouse, which is one of the most powerful roles under the Gold Dome.

Rep. Calvin Smyre. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

A portrait of Smyre was unveiled Monday and will be hung inside the state Capitol.

“How can you measure a 48-year career in the Georgia House? Is it by the number of bills you introduce or pass? Is it by the positions you hold? I don’t think so,” Smyre said in a lengthy speech on the last day of the session.

“You measure your career by how you honor this institution, and I honor the House of Representatives, this institution. I have always paid honor to this institution called the Georgia House of Representatives, and I shall always.”

Smyre led efforts to pass a hate crimes law and repeal the state’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law following the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County in 2020.

He also sponsored legislation making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a state holiday and more recently carried a bill adding Juneteenth to the list of state holidays.

“I don’t have the words to say how much he has meant but he always (worked) with a spirit of trying to find a consensus and he always did it with civility,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican. “Many, many times he has been the calming influence on the waters when the storms were kind of raging around us.”

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.