With a wistful note in his voice, an old political foe of Sen. Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga.) yesterday recalled the rough-and-tumble days of Georgia politics when Talmadge supporters put their man in their office by literally battering down the governor's door.
But in his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, which resumed its hearings into financial misconduct allegations against Talmadge after a three-week layoff, former Georgia governor Ellis Arnall told the panel that the old political wounds of the 1940s had long healed.
"Sen. Herman Talmadge is a man of good personal reputation, good personal repute, good personal character and impeccable personal integrity," Arnall told the committee.
"He was an honorable man," said Arnall, "but his politics were terrible."
Arnall's recitation of the statehouse antics of Talmadge, as well as of the senator's late father, former governor Eugune Talmadge, and his own political administration while he was government from 1943 to 1947, drew snorts of laughter from the committee and from Talmadge.
Such was the political hero worship of the time and the place, Arnall said, that supporters would travel miles to press cash on the governor of Georgia. One man, said Arnall, drove 50 miles each month to the state capital to make a $100 contribution.
Arnall left the identity of the gubernatorial recipient unclear. But he told Ethics Committee members, "such gifts were free from any obligation and were of the same fashion that a devoted and devout church member might give his pastor."
Another former Georgia politician Peter Zack Geer, who was lieutenant governor from 1963 to 1967, told the ethics panel that receiving cash gifts from supporters in Georgia was a routine occurence. Geer said he averaged about $200 a month in such gifts while he was in office.
Geer was the first witness to come before the committee in more than five weeks of testimony on Talmadge's finances to say he saw the Georgia senator receive gifts of cash from his supporters.
Talmadge has claimed that he used the cash from supporters to pay his out-of-pocket expenses. Past and present members for Talmadge have told the committee they never saw Talmadge get cash gifts. Betty Talmadge, the senator's former wife, testified that Talmadge kept a hoard of $100 bills in a hiding place in their home for the couple's expenses.
Yesterday's testimony opened Talmadge's defense before the Ethics Committee on the five charges against him. Committee officials said they expect to complete hearings by the end of the week, with Talmadge as the final witness.
In other testimony yesterday, Joseph Hearne an accountant for Talmadge from the firm of Peat, Marwick and Mitchell, said that the the chief witness against the senator, Daniel Minchew, spent $38,262 more than his income during 1973 and 1974 when he claimed he operated a secret bank account for Talmadge with illegal Senate and campaign funds.
Talmadge has dened any connection with the account and has accused Minchew, his former chief aide, with embezzling the money. Committee counsel Douglas McCullough yesterday disputed Hearne's figures and said Minchew's unaccounted-for cash supply was less than shown by the accountant.