Political science majors help new governor lead political revolution in Georgia
It’s not uncommon for college students to have aspirations of one day making a difference in their chosen field. But Kennesaw State University students Nick Ayers and Derrick Dickey have already achieved that goal and more‚ making history last fall when they helped Sonny Perdue become Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
(Jan 1, 2003) — It’s not uncommon for college students to have aspirations of one day making a difference
in their chosen field. But Kennesaw State University students Nick Ayers and Derrick
Dickey have already achieved that goal and more‚ making history last fall when they
helped Sonny Perdue become Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
Ayers‚ 20‚ and Dickey‚ 28‚ put their academic careers on hold in order to assist Perdue in his bid to claim the governor’s mansion in what has traditionally been a one−party state. Their efforts were rewarded in November with a victory over incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes‚ but the two Kennesaw State students weren’t done; both have accepted jobs working for the man they helped elect.
"They worked hard and cheap‚" Perdue told the Atlanta Journal−Constitution in January‚ speaking of Ayers‚ Dickey and other members of his youthful campaign staff. "They were bright‚ talented young people…they caught the vision early on; they were very strategic in their thinking; they were very tactical in the implementation of their ideas and it gelled into a great team."
Catching the vision
Ayers‚ a Cobb County native who grew up in Mableton‚ was one of the first full−time staffers to join the team‚ signing up in October 2001 before Perdue’s candidacy had even been announced.
"We just immediately clicked‚" Ayers said‚ recalling that initial meeting at Peachtree−DeKalb Airport. "Everything that he was saying I was really excited about. He gave you that immediate sense of someone who could win and somebody that you wanted to believe in."
Ayers dropped everything in order to follow Perdue‚ withdrawing from classes in mid−semester and leaving behind his job at a local bank. In the months to come‚ he spent hundreds of hours traveling around the state with the candidate‚ performing a variety of tasks while helping him fight past early favorites Linda Shrenko and Bill Byrne in the Republican primary before defeating Barnes in the general election.
"I was really like the liaison between the candidate and our whole team‚ kind of letting them know what they needed to do better‚" Ayers explained‚ "because if things didn’t go right on the road they didn’t hear about it‚ I did. So I would be their biggest fan at times‚ and then their worst nightmare when things went bad. I just made sure everything in Sonny’s world was being run efficiently."
A budding revolution
A few months after Ayers joined the campaign‚ Dickey came on board as deputy communication director/press secretary. Like his classmate‚ Dickey was involved with the College Republicans while at KSU‚ and he put that experience to good use on the campaign trail. Although many outside observers were stunned by Perdue’s victory‚ Dickey had been predicting just such a political upheaval for years‚ going so far as to type the word "Revolution" as the text greeting on his cell phone.
"All the signs were there that Georgia was trending Republican as a state‚" the Alabama native said. "Previous presidential returns especially had shown that we were right there; we just needed the right candidate that the people could trust."
That candidate turned out to be Perdue‚ and now that he’s taken office‚ both Ayers and Dickey are getting a crash course in the day−to−day operations of state government. Ayers is a political operative for the governor and also serves as his liaison to the state Republican Party; Dickey continues his work as a media contact. Both acknowledge the difficulty of that transition‚ but as their mentor in Kennesaw State’s department of political science sees it‚ the experience they’re getting now may be the most valuable of all.
"Governing is very different from running a campaign‚ and they’re in the position of having to deliver‚" Dr. Kerwin Swint said. "So they’re learning about the legislative process; they’re learning how rank−and−file legislators look at bills and what they need‚ and the politics of that. It’s wholly different from a campaign‚ but in some ways that’s even more valuable – the governing process itself‚ because that’s always with us. Campaigns are cyclical‚ but the governing‚ that’s always there."
Back in the classroom
Although their political careers are well under way‚ both have coursework to complete before earning their degrees. Ayers has already returned to school and is currently taking night classes at KSU‚ while Dickey plans to resume his education this summer after a year off. Both are working toward a Certificate in Professional Politics‚ a program unique to Kennesaw State in the University System of Georgia.
"It’s aimed at getting people more involved in organizations‚ campaigns‚ interest groups‚ media‚ polling‚ those sorts of things‚ where they can actually get jobs‚ like those two guys‚" Swint said of the program. "It’s really exciting; you see all these Kennesaw State people out there. It’s not just Nick and Derrick; there’s a number of them working for both political parties."
Asked if he had any advice for fellow students interested in a career in politics‚ Dickey replied‚ "You get in the game; it’s that simple. You get in the game. You show up every morning‚ wanting to do your best‚ not worried about making mistakes. You just show up and you work hard.
"I really believe that showing up and being organized is 90 percent of the game‚" he stated‚ "and your instincts‚ and the knowledge that you accumulate through experience‚ will take you through the rest."
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.