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Late Gov. Carl Sanders kept substantial ties to Hall
1123Carl Sanders
Carl Sanders is seen during his campaign for governor in 1970. Sanders died Nov. 16 at age 89. - photo by Joe Holloway Jr.

Carl Sanders, the Georgia governor from 1963-67, who died last week, had a lot of Gainesville connections.

The Dunlaps, who were politically potent in Hall County, were among his best friends and supporters. Sanders helped Hall County get Interstate 985 after the I-85 route was shifted southward away from Gainesville. It was a promise he made during a campaign rally in Gainesville.

He also had a lot to do with establishing the junior college system in Georgia, including what was then Gainesville Junior College, the state’s assistance in a Hall County Hospital expansion and helping Lake Lanier Islands get off the ground. He also pushed for more than $11 million of work on 359 miles of roads in the county.

Gainesville also got a new State Patrol headquarters and district highway department office during his term.

Before he left office as governor, hundreds of North Georgians attended an “appreciation day” for him at Gainesville’s Civic Building.

Sanders at the time couldn’t succeed himself as governor, but after Lester Maddox’s term, he decided to run again in 1970. It was a bitter Democratic primary with Jimmy Carter as his main opponent. The race divided Hall County voters as powerful forces supported one or the other.

He stumped a lot in Hall County, even stopping at Bennett Sargent’s Spring Street cab company and Henry Miller’s hatchery in Lula. In Flowery Branch, he addressed 850 employees of Georgia Shoe Co. while standing on the tailgate of a pickup truck.

Barney Terry managed his Hall County office on Washington Street, and other campaign supporters included Loyd Strickland, Bob Fowler, John Robinson, John Lackey, Abit Massey, Carl Chandler, Ray McRae and the Rev. Frank Coyle.

Sanders’s opponents nicknamed him “Black Satchel Carl” and “Cufflinks Carl,” to paint him as a slick, big-city lawyer from the Atlanta establishment. In a speech in Gainesville, Sanders said, “I have tipped my hat to the past, but taken off my coat to the future.”

Sanders was even a target in a lawsuit filed in Hall County by some investors who claimed a company he was part of shortchanged them.

Carter ran as a conservative, got 48 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 37 percent, then won the runoff 59-40 and beat Republican Hal Suit in the general election by about the same margin. Carter went on to become president. While he still has admirers around the state, some are critical of him because of his liberal stances taken both as a president and ex-president.

Don Whitmire was a county commissioner during Sanders’ term as governor. He remembers a rally for him at the Georgianna Restaurant on Atlanta Highway as well as others at the old Dixie-Hunt Hotel. Porter Weaver, a former state patrol officer, lived next door to Whitmire and was an aide and driver for Sanders. Whitmire still has pictures of his family posing with Sanders as Weaver drove him by their home.

During Sanders’ second campaign, Whitmire said he was at a convention in Savannah when Sanders fell and suffered a black eye. When he asked him what happened, Sanders joked, “Jimmy Carter threw a bag of peanuts at me and hit me in the eye.”

Gainesville lawyer Bill Gunter was one of two people who talked Carter into running for governor and became a close adviser to him during his presidency. Other Carter supporters locally included Don Carter, George Law and Washie Wallis.

The Times endorsed Sanders over Carter during their gubernatorial campaigns after heavy lobbying from Hall County supporters of each.

Sanders’ supporters wanted him to run for higher office, and he flirted with running for governor again in 1982 and 1986, eventually declining.

• • •

No reminiscing about how Atlanta Highway in Gainesville has changed would be complete without mentioning the Blue Front Café. A used car lot occupies the restaurant’s space now next to a rock house that has stood for decades.

Glenn Jones’ father, G.R. Jones, built the Blue Front in 1945, and it closed in 1955 after G.R. Jones died. G.R. Jones and his wife ran the popular restaurant, which became a draw for teenagers in that era. They would gather to listen to the music outside while grown-ups usually would eat inside. Ministers would sometimes come on weekends to visit with restaurant patrons.

The Joneses lived across the street.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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