As best as I can recall, I’ve met Jason Carter twice. Most recently, it was at this year’s Dacula Memorial Day Parade. Carter rode in a truck immediately behind the Gwinnett Republican Party, and we had a chance to talk for a few minutes about his challenging Nathan Deal in the race to become Georgia’s governor.
The other time we met was more than thirty years ago, and I doubt Jason remembers it. It would have been in the summer of 1981, when he was six years old. Recently out of college, I had moved into a Stone Mountain apartment, and a friend and I were sitting at the complex’s pool when we noticed the Secret Service agents keeping an eye on young Jason, who had come for a visit.
What brought the earlier encounter to mind is an extensive profile of Carter in the October issue of Atlanta Magazine. The profile tells a lot about the man, including when he went to the city of Lochiel in Africa’s Swaziland as part of his service in the Peace Corps. His experiences there eventually became the subject of a memoir book, Power Lines.
The relative isolation was a change for the gregarious young man who’d always been surrounded by friends and family. “As much as the experience of another culture, I think the time for introspection shaped him,” his mother told me. “In Lochiel, I was always on,” he wrote. “Everyone was watching me, which meant I had to watch my every move and think before I spoke.”
Equally telling is the candor with which he described navigating the racial caste systems of South Africa. “Until I had to live as a minority in a community where I was forced to be conscious of my race every day, I had not scratched the surface of what racism meant,” Carter wrote. “In America, like many people, I knew how to talk about racism. But I never really felt like I was living with it until I came to South Africa.”
In his book, Carter described the disparity between South Africa’s wealthy cities and its impoverished townships, comparing some villagers to “people in poor, tiny communities in South Georgia.” When I asked Carter how his Peace Corps experience might influence him were he to govern a complex state like Georgia, he said, “There is a reason the book is called ‘two years on South Africa’s borders.’ Those borders divided people all over and are similar to the borders between people who live in this state. There are huge parts of the state that have been just left out. If you are out in rural Georgia and you are looking at the demographics—and I don’t mean race but the number of people in poverty in Hancock County, the number who are college educated in Stewart County—it gets to be even more apparent [why] you are talking about a state where the average household income is dropping.”
The magazine’s story goes into a lot more detail than this, describing Carter’s childhood through his run for the State Senate, and ultimately for governor of Georgia. Whether he reaches that goal in 2014 is still an open question the voters will decide in six weeks, and quite possibly in a December runoff.
But, if you’re looking for a reason why what was considered to be a long shot candidacy a year ago now has Carter leading in the latest polling, the Atlanta Magazine article provides an excellent explanation.