Black man with hat and glasses speaking on a stage
U.S. Rep. Calvin Smyre thanks local transit workers on Nov. 23, 2021, at the METRA Transit System in Columbus, Ga. Ossoff and other Georgia Democrats are traveling through the state to recognize the bipartisan infrastructure deal passed last week. (Madeleine Cook/Ledger-Enquirer)

Columbus lawmaker Calvin Smyre likely will get to finish out one more Georgia General Assembly session before he heads to his post as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, if the U.S. Senate confirms his appointment.

Smyre, 74, is the body’s longest-serving member and will see his near half-century statehouse run end if he’s confirmed.

The Dean of the Georgia House declined to provide further detail about the ambassadorship, but told the Ledger-Enquirer that he would probably not leave for his new assignment until after March 31, the end of the legislative session.

“The person that I talk with daily has informed me that … my timeline will have me going forward to a Senate hearing in the near future,” Smyre. “If confirmed, the timeline will have me probably going sometime after the legislative session.”

Smyre was first elected in 1974. He has held influential positions and helped craft key legislation during his 48-year tenure.

In 1986, Gov. Joe Frank Harris named Smyre administrative floor leader, becoming the first Black lawmaker to hold the position.

Smyre authored bills making the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a state holiday and co-sponsored a bill creating a new Georgia state flag, eliminating the old Confederate emblem. Smyre also was instrumental in the passage of a new state hate crimes law in 2020, following the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man shot dead while jogging near Brunswick​.

‘The definition of a statesman’

Smyre said he has enjoyed working with past and current members of the Columbus delegation who always set goals and worked in a unified fashion.

The Columbus-area general assembly members who spoke with the Ledger-Enquirer praised Smyre for his accomplishments and his ability to work with members of both parties to get legislation passed.

“If you want the definition of a statesman, you’ll see Rep. Smyre’s name right beside it,” said Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus). “He’s been a fantastic person to work with. …If anybody deserves to go be an ambassador somewhere, I think that would be a tremendous way for him to finish out his career. But he is going to be extremely, extremely difficult to replace.”

Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) formerly served as house minority whip and has worked closely with Smyre since she entered the body in 1993. Hugley said Smyre is a “rare and unique legislator” who will be missed.

“Calvin Smyre has had a legislative career like we will not see again I don’t think — at least in my lifetime,” she said. “Every major issue that has happened in Georgia over the last 30 years, he’s been a part of it.”

Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Democrat whose district includes east Columbus, said Smyre has been the go-to person for problem solving in the Georgia House of Representatives.

“His talents plus time have put him where he is,” she said. “If you ride around Columbus, Georgia, and you look at anything state funded … his fingerprints are on it. He has taken care of this community.”

Sen. Ed Harbison told the L-E that his influence extends to the national level. When then-U.S. President Bill Clinton gave a speech at Fort Benning, Harbison said he forgot the credentials he needed to get into the event. Smyre was able to speak with Secret Service members and get Harbison in.

“We laugh about it a lot,” Harbison said. “But it’s indicative of the kind of influence and popularity he experienced at that level.”

‘Bring closure to my career’

Being able to attend the legislative session will help Smyre transition, and gives him a chance for a proper exit in Atlanta.

“It really gives me an opportunity to bring closure to my career,” he said.
Smyre said he’ll miss the love and support he gets from state lawmakers. The general assembly, he said, is like a family.

“I recently lost my daughter,” Smyre said. “I can’t describe to you the response and the outpouring of love and support that I got from my Columbus delegation and from members of the house and senate and the executive branch. …It has been absolutely beyond anything that I could have even imagined.”

For more from Fresh Take Georgia and the latest updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.