U.S. Senator Max Cleland:

running/standing while sitting down

By Tomi Morris Johnson

Digital images by Kurk D. Johnson


©2002 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.



October 27, 2002, Smyrna, GA…Attending a political rally for Senator Max Cleland, one is uplifted by the enthusiasm and Herculean spirit that drives this career politician. A Vietnam veteran hurt during war and left with one arm, no legs, an extremely quick mind and no visual bitterness, Cleland is running another senatorial race from the seat of his wheelchair, proving that if enough people believe in what you stand for, anything can happen, God willing.


U. S. Senator Max Cleland (D-Georgia)

Some of the biggest names in Georgia politics supported Sen. Cleland at his 2002 kickoff campaign in Atlanta.


“We’re standing with Max Cleland all the way,” was the pitch made by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin at Cleland’s kickoff campaign in Underground Atlanta.  “Stand up for the people who stand up for us,” is the campaign slogan on mailers sent out by the Georgia Democratic team of Barnes (for Governor)/Cleland (for Senator)/Taylor (for Lieutenant Governor). Cleland’s past successes prove that political stature is not determined by physical height or balance, but by popularity and donations.


Cleland’s story is not news to Georgians.  Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Cleland volunteered to join the Army in 1967. At age 25, Cleland was injured by an explosion while picking up what he thought was his own grenade. He was decorated as a war hero. After receiving what he deemed undeserved accolades came the struggle to repair his life and the choice to represent others. He wore prosthetic devices for a while, but gave them up for a wheelchair. The wheels of his mind and chair, wheels within wheels, seem linked in constant rotation.


Cleland has missed out on a lot because of that explosion, but he’s found a higher calling – representing people without voices in governmental forums. Cleland never married, but he has lived out a politician’s dream of working in the Georgia State Senate and on Capitol Hill. In a 1999 Esquire Magazine article focusing on how Max Cleland lives, Charles Bowden wrote that he works “the soul and what remains of the muscle.” He has a strong body despite disability.


Incumbent Cleland and his campaign staff have the power necessary to raise more than twice as much money as his Republican opponent, Saxby Chambliss. In the 2002 campaign, 74% of donations have come from individuals, 21% from PAC, and 4% from others, according to The Center for Responsive Politics (http://www.opensecrets.org). Like Chambliss, Cleland contributed none of his own money to his campaign. Cleland’s top 2002 corporate contributor was BellSouth Corp ($56,050).  Top industry donations were received from lawyers ($832,915).


With the untimely death of Sen. Paul Wellstone from Minnesota who was described as “a friend and a champion of working families, the poor, the disenfranchised and the disabled” by former President Bill Clinton, many will be looking to Cleland to bring sensitivity and equilibrium to the Senate when it comes to issues of everyday citizens.


After being inspired by Senator Cleland at President Georgia W. Bush’s “Teach for America” address in Atlanta, David Scott’s campaign fundraiser, and the Cleland kickoff celebration, WingcomLtd’s Tomi Johnson decided it was time to ask him some questions, not related to HIS life, but concerning a senator’s responsibilities to citizens.


Johnson:  This might seem elementary, but I think a lot of our readers would like to know your comments. Why is your job important, and why are you running again for the U. S. Senate?


Cleland:  The job is important because there are only 100 members of the United States Senate. The job of the Senate is to give advice and consent to the President in terms of ambassadors, the generals who run our military, supreme court justices, federal justices who sit on the federal bench, plus all the legislative initiatives that are encountered - every issue that pertains to the quality of life of people here in Georgia.  That includes the quality of water, education, and roads. It’s all about the quality of life that we have.


Since I’ve been in politics for thirty-two years, as state senator, as head of the Veterans Administration under President Carter (and we are very proud of him for winning the Nobel Peace Prize), as secretary of state, and now as a U.S. senator for six years, I’ve been devoted to representing people and improving their quality of life. That’s what it’s all about for me, and that’s the reason I’m running for re-election.


Johnson: You mentioned two other things that I want to talk to you about. One was the water issue. There was a recent report in the Financial Times newspaper that said Georgia will be out of quality drinking water by the year 2005. What is being done to turn that around?


Cleland:  I don’t think it’s 2005, maybe by 2050…


Johnson: I stand corrected.


Cleland:  What we have to do is get the governors together. The governors are authorized by the United States Congress to enter into a water compact. The governors of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are working on this problem. I think they are somewhat near a solution because they have been working on it for several years. It will come back to the Congress to ratify that compact or agreement.


Water is key to our life. Quality drinking water is key to our health. I have supported environmental protection and other measures to keep our water clean and safe. Only God Almighty can make more water, so we must conserve the water that we get.


Johnson:  I know that we have a Disabilities Act, but I am not too sure about what is protected in that Act. What would you as a senator like to see as far as improvement in the quality of life for disabled citizens?






“I’ve been devoted to representing people and improving their quality of life. That’s what it’s all about for me, and that’s the reason I’m running for re-election.”

Senator Max Cleland


Portion of campaign flyer mailed to registered voters.►


Cleland:  I wrote the law in Georgia opening up access to public buildings built with public funds to the handicapped. That was in 1972 and was signed by then Governor Jimmy Carter. Since then, I’ve supported the Americans with Disabilities Act which is the federal law which basically makes reasonable accommodations for disabled people so they can work, go to public places, and participate in life and society as other people do. I think that has opened up a lot of avenues in employment, for well-being, and quality of life that disabled people didn’t have before. I’ll continue to argue that cause in the next term of the United States Senate.


This information is the opinion of the author and, therefore, should not be construed as libelous.

©2002 WingcomLtd. All Rights Reserved.