The headline just before Christmas on the AJC.com Political Insider blog by reporter Greg Bluestein was eye catching.
“A pariah no more, Senate rallies around McKoon.” it read.
It was referring to Columbus Republican Sen. Josh McKoon, who is in his final year in the state Senate and is seeking his party’s nomination to become the next secretary of state.
“Now, even some who orchestrated that humiliation are backing his bid to oversee the state’s elections,” Bluestein wrote.
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McKoon’s bid for statewide office has drawn the support of 20 fellow senators in a public pledge. This time last year, McKoon was on the outs with the leadership of his party and had his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee stripped in a public way.
The newfound support is significant as McKoon faces state Rep. Buzz Brockway and Rep. Brad Raffensperger and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle for the Republican secretary of state nomination.
In many of the straw polls held at various Republican gatherings, McKoon has been the frontrunner.
“A lot of things have changed since last year,” McKoon said on Friday. “First of all, I am running for secretary of state, and there is a certain skillset associated with that job. A lot of my colleagues know that I will work for fair and honest elections, and they know I am a hard worker.”
He has also become more of a realist during his seven years in the state Senate.
“I know if I was running for governor, there would probably be a different analysis,” McKoon said of the widespread Senate support.
After announcing in January his intent not to seek a fifth term in the Senate this year, McKoon briefly considered a run for governor. But he decided to aim lower and at a more realistic target.
In his first three terms in the Senate, he became the face of ethics reform and religious liberty legislation, drawing the ire of powerful Republican leaders such as Gov. Nathan Deal and Speaker of the House David Ralston.
Wiser today, McKoon doesn’t back away from the populist stands he took, but does admit that the tone could have been different.
“If I had to do the first seven years over, knowing what I know now, I would try harder to persuade people internally of my position before going out to the grassroots,” McKoon said.
McKoon has been quick to turn to the media or the well of the Senate to express his views or put those he was fighting on notice.
“I would have been a little more judicious when I chose to do that,” McKoon now says.
That is a sign of maturity, right?
“I would hope we all learn from our experiences and have more wisdom today that I had seven years ago,” McKoon said.
McKoon and Ralston had a public battle in which Columbus State University had funding for a capital project delayed, and people in Republican leadership positions said a message was being sent to McKoon.
Today, McKoon said he has supported much of the governor’s legislative agenda.
“The speaker, now that is a different story,” McKoon said. “If I had that to do all that over, I would have tried harder to engage with him and have a dialog. I did try, but I should have tried harder.”
McKoon said his outlook has changed dramatically since the fall of 2015. His mother, Sharon, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died 11 weeks later.
“After that, a lot of things that seemed to matter didn’t matter as much,” McKoon said. “Things that once bothered me didn’t bother me as much. When you go through something like that, it gives you a new perspective on your own life and what’s really important.”