I got a Eugene Dog, I got a Eugene cat, Im, a Talmadge man from my shoes to my hat.
Old campaign song
In this red clay community, rattlesnakes are as prolific as the pine trees, hard work is a way of life, corn and timber grow tall along-side sweet onions, soybeans and tobacco - and appreciation for Sen. "Hummun" Talmadge runs strong as the muddy Altahama River after "a hard rain.
But the red clay has also sprouted Marion Daniel Minchew, 39, a hometown boy who made his way from this snoozing southeast Georgia town of 3,500 to Washington, D.C., as the Georgia Democrat's chief aide-turned accuser.
Minchew has done nicely since going to Washington, profiting from Capitol Hill real estate as he maneuvered through a series of interconnected government and private lobbying positions to a $120,000-a-year consulting job for a group of Japanese businessmen and a new worth of roughly $1.7 million last year, his financial records reveal.
He is cautious, articulate, full of classic southern charm, a political animal with a soft face and wavy brown hair who is always plotting his next move, say associates. At cocktail parties he rarely drinks, preferring to stay alert, and often slips into the bathroom to jot down a new name that may serve him in the future.
Back home, they say his ambitions were just too big for Baxley.
"He was always real ambitious," says Buzzy Baker, 40, a Baxley nuclear power plant inspector-turned farmer who graduated with Minchew's high school class. "Senior year, he was talking about being governor and all we could think about was getting out of school so we could hunt, fish and goof off. He wasn't like the rest of us."
"He's outclassed us," says another high school classmate who worked on Minchew's successful quest for the state 4-H Club presidency. "Now, he lives like a fuedal lord. And once you start using crystal and silver teaspoons, it's hard to go home to fruit jars and stainless steel."
Talmadge's daddy, "Old Gene," a fiery populist, powerful damagogue and four-term governor, built his power base on an army of poor dirt farmers in this area. "Tell us 'bout the time you stole, Gene,' they would yell at campaign rallies, referring to the liberties the elder Talmadge took with the state piggy bank.
And he would let the silence settle in glare at the audience, pop his red suspenders and shout back, "IT'S TRUE I STOLE, BUT I STOLE FER YOU!" And the farmers would roar their approval and send Old Gene back to Atlanta to give the city slickers the devil.
Outside the B&F Drive-In, long-time Appling County residents like Jim Watts, 54, a burly ex-Marine with a steel plate in his head from Okinawa and "Jesus Saves" tattooed on a forearm, remember these things as they head for their pickups after a lunch of presweetened iced tea and perhaps the tasties $1.75 fried chicken plate between Atlanta and the sea.
"We need more like Herman Talmadge. He's the only man ever done anything for the farmer," growls Watts. "He ain't done no more than Bert Lance, Billy Carter or Jimmy's mama done. Hell, Herman didn't have to slide or cheat; he had millions. And if he needed some money, all he had to do was come on down and ask the people of Georgia and we'd give him whatever he needed. I'd sell my place for Herman Talmadge.
"Dan Michew ain't nothing but a snotty-ass kid with a big head."
But Olen Hunt, 74, the former Appling County agent who advised a young Minchew about his prize-winning hogs and sponsored him during his early political rise in the 4-H Club, calls him "outstanding, all wool and a yard wide, full of horse sense. I figure someone's got to be lying ...."
Watts, Hunt and their neighbors in Georgia's rural outback will reach, at the ballot box next year, the ultimate verdict on the matter now before the Senate Select Committee on Ethics: Who do you trust - Talmadge, the beloved senator and powerful chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, or Minchew, a local boy voted "most likely to succeed" by Appling County High's Class of '57?
Minchew, born Sept. 9, 1939, in Savannah, Ga., grew up on a 1,00-acre Baxley farm 90 miles to the south-west. Minchew's father, Marion, a state revenue agent who busted moonshiners before he took a job as a policeman in nearby Blackshear, died when the boy was 10. His mother remarried a state court judge three years later.
The family compound of brick ramblers sits on a promontory just outside town on a two-lane blacktop nicknamed "Bill Parker Highway" after an uncle with connection from long service as a state legislator.
As a boy, he was driver, mannerly, aloof, a "brian" with few close childhood friends, they say.Baxley remembers the boy with his nose in a book.
"He was a good, upright boy," says Hulda Baker, a neighbor. "We never heard a thing against him, just since he's been in Washington. We're real concerned about him. We don't know about Dan being crooked."
It is a past of small-town values, church suppers beneath the china-berry trees, barefoot boys with fishing poles, good neighbors. Minchew testified last week before the six-member ethics panel that he finds it hard to reconcile that past with his status today.
Minchew claims he set up the secret $39,000 account at Riggs National Bank at the senator's request to launder campaign and Senate expense reimbursements, a charge Talmadge denies.
"I did things to help him, to help me, that I'm sorry I did," Minchew said. "I wish I could undo them. I wish he and I could undo them. The fact that I did things like this...has caused me to have serious reflections. I sought professional therapy to help me put my values back in order with those I learned in south Georgia."
Minchew graduated from the University of Georgia in 1960 with a bachelor's degree in political science and a Phi Beta Kappa key. "I've seen maybe a dozen boys who wanted to be governor," says William Tate, 75, former dean of men at the universit. "Herman Talmadge was one and Dan Minchew was another."
He left there to work on the Paris-based NATO staff of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McMamara, applied for a Rhodes Scholarship and was turned down. It was a "bitter" disappointment, recalls Tate, but Minchew went anyway. His mother paid his way to Oxford, where he earned an M.A. degree in philosophy, politics and economics. In between, there was a Washington episode as a Capitol Hill policeman and elevator operator, thanks to the pork barrel of another Georgia senator, the late Richard B. Russell.
From England, Minchew returned to Athens, Ga., to teach and began dabbling in real estate, turning houses into apartments and renting to students. He opened University Travel Agency, which went belly up after he failed to account for 55 missing airline tickets and his agency agreement was revoked by the Air Traffic Conference of America, the charter agency, records show.
He left for Washington, taking a job as a lobbyist for the National Cotton Council, and hopscotchin in 1969 to the Japan-U.S. Trade Council, a propaganda arm of the Japanese government. Next exit off Washington's fast lane was Talmadge's office, where Minchew worked as chief aide from spring of 1971 until October 1974. There he further developed his Capitol Hill network and opened te secret account to satisfy the incessant money demands Betty Talmadge made on her husband, Minchew testified.
Yes, he helped himself to a portion of it, he said, ostensibly to repay himself for expenses incurred on the senator's behalf and to pay off loans and contractors working on his Capitol Hill real estate.
A 1972 Riggs Bank statment obtained by The Washington Post reveals Minchew's net worth at $92,655, though it may actually have been closer to $66,000. Minchew listed a $55,000 Athens, Ga., rental property with a $28,000 mortage. It belonged to his mother, Georgia land records show.
by 1978, six years later, he was worth almost $2 million, mainly through real estate.
A member of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, Minchew usually would restore properties, sell them for a profit and plow the money into other houses. Records show he has bought at least nine Washington-area houses, an activity he ran from Talmadge's office when he was the senator's administrative assistant, and later from the International Trade Commission, a $50,000-a-year presidential appointment Talmadge helped secure.
Minchew's former secretary has testified that she quit in disgust after countless rendezvous with contractors forced her to finish government work in her spare time.
Several deeds indicate mailing instructions: C/O Office, Sen. Talmadge."
Six months after he left Talmadge's staff in October 1974, Minchew's net worth had ballooned to well over a half million dollars, according to his financial records. The most ambitious purchase was an $800,000 Oregon farm now worth $1.2 million, along with a registered $350,000 herd of Black Angus. He apparently needed a tax shelter.
Justice Department officials say Minchew may come under further scrutiny for revelations of financial wrongdoing now emerging from the hearings, which resume June 4, as well as tardy registration as a foreign agent. Questions of conflict of interest have also been raised concerning the consulting contract he signed with Japanese businessmen two months before he stepped down from the ITC. That contract called for an eventual fee of $10,000 a month.
Minchew's wife, Shirley Coffield, is a $39,000-a-year attorney for Robert S. Strauss, White House special trade representative.
Even as her husband was busy trying to open doors for his Japanese clients, she was negotiating with Japanese industry on behalf of the president on charges of unfair trade practices brought against Japan by American producers of finished leather goods.
Vince Clephas, a spokesman for Strauss, said Coffield's record in dealing with the Japanese is above reproach, and indicated that he was speaking for Strauss. "She generally takes a tough, pro-American position," he said.
Nonetheless, in late February, she excused herself from further White House dealings with the Japanese after a meeting with Strauss, who acknowledged "the appearance of conflict, considering Dan had some business associations in Japan," said Clephas.
Since Minchew resigned as chairman of the ITC, the couple has spent $6,000 entertaining the Japanese in the ivy-covered brick colonial mansion they bought last year in Chevy Chase, Md., for $425,000 and decorated with $50,000 in antiques and objets d'art, according to Justice Department documents Michew was required to file as a foreign agent.
Minchew's determination and ambition aside, without the blessings of th cigar-puffing senator from Lovejoy, Ga., he would have neither risen so far so fast, nor now enjoy such a lofty position from which to cash in his political chips.
It's too soon to tell whether Talmadge and the cadre of lawyers and investigators he has employed will discredit the man who would dethrone him. But one thing is certain: in a town where the ethic - protect thy patron - frequently disintegrates into self-preservation, Daniel Minchew of Baxley, Ga., has commited the cardinal sin. CAPTION: Picture 1, DANIEL MINCHEW Talmadge accuser, once his aide; Picture 2, Near small town where Minchew learned his "south Georgia values," Coleman Haynes and son Jim still live and work. By Art Harris - The Washington Post