Wade Herring

Wade Herring, an attorney at Savannah’s HunterMaclean law firm, has announced his candidacy to run as a Democrat for the House of Representatives from Georgia’s First District. The seat is currently held by Buddy Carter, a Republican from Pooler.

Herring was born in 1958 in Munich, Germany. His dad was a captain in the U.S. Army, and the family moved to Macon in 1964. His father was from South Carolina. His mother was from North Carolina. His wife Susan and he have been married for 39 years. They have two adult children, a son who is a lawyer in Atlanta and a daughter who is a doctor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 

The former president of the Savannah Bar Association, chair of the trustees at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church and board member of Georgia Appleseed sat down with The Current to discuss what motivated him to run in his first election — and what he can offer Coastal Georgians.

Tell us why you have decided to run for your first election?

Jan 6 was a day I thought I would never see and one of the saddest days of our country. People were obviously angry, but they were angry in part because they were lied to repeatedly. And elected officials like Buddy Carter who are supposed to tell the truth did not tell them the truth. On the night of the insurrection, he stood on the House floor and voted to overturn the election in our state. I realized then that he had put politics above our country, our district and our families, but it wasn’t going to be enough to just talk about it. Someone was going to have to be willing to step forward and say “I’m going to be a problem solver and to put families first and district first and country first, and not be part of the political problem” so that’s why I am running.

When did you decide that you are really going to do this?

I published an Op-Ed [newspaper column] in late January and, frankly, given the divisiveness in the county my wife and close friends were concerned with my publishing that because they were concerned about the adverse reaction I might receive. The outreach to me — and obviously I know that there are people who disagree — but the outreach to me was overwhelmingly positive. From that publication, then people started talking to me about “would you run?” It was not an immediate decision on Jan. 6, but my personal decision to run evolved over the next couple of months.

Who told you they would back you? Where is your support so far?

Primarily, the people who have been encouraging me to run are people that I know who know my work in this community, but I’ve also heard from people from all over the state. I would say, not politicians and not party leaders but people who read the op-ed and were deeply concerned about the nation and the direction that the nation was headed in.

Have you always been a Democrat?

Yes. I’d like to say that I’ve always been independent, but what that has tended to mean is that almost every single time I vote Democrat. There have been Republicans that I have voted for. And you know, Buddy and I know each other. I attended his kickoff and I contributed to his campaign. Not so much that I believed in his political views, but because I knew him as a member of this community and respected anybody who was willing to offer themselves for public service.

What views are you bringing to District 1 that Rep. Carter doesn’t bring?

My focus is going to be on this district and the families of this district and long-term thinking. For example, health care. The people of this district deserve accessible quality health care whether it is tied to their job or not. I think that the pandemic taught us that a health care system too closely tied to whether you have a job is not viable and is not sustainable. So health care is an important part of it, and that includes preventative health care… so people can avoid some of those chronic health problems. That ties into my whole way of thinking about this. We have to start to think about long-term solutions for our children and our children’s children, not a short-term 24-hour news cycle. Health care is one of these areas, as is education. And when I speak about education that would include quality affordable childcare. That’s good for families. That includes early childhood education that’s good for families. It means young people being able to afford to go to college without taking on significant debt.

Infrastructure – we’ve been talking about infrastructure in this county for 30 years. It’s time we did something about it. That’s good for our families and for our district. Infrastructure includes things like broadband. Again, one of the many lessons of the pandemic is that you need broadband for education, you need broadband for health care. That’s not going to change. We’ve got to make sure that in our rural areas and in some of our urban areas in this district that they have access to broadband.

It would also include paying attention to our coast. Rising sea levels are going to threaten us in Coastal Georgia in a way that the rest of the state won’t realize. We have these wonderful river basins in our district, but we need to pay attention that clean water is a reality, that we don’t allow mining to threaten our clean water supply. And it’s not just the water supply for our people, but it’s the water supply for our fisheries and our shrimping industry, the water supply for our restaurants and tourism that is so important to us. I would oppose offshore drilling off of Georgia and also everywhere. It doesn’t make sense to threaten our coast in that way. That is a backward-looking technology and not a forward-looking technology. I would end back where I began — which is with the right to vote. What happened Jan. 6 was fundamentally un-American in trying to take away our right to vote, and what has followed from that has, frankly, been frightening and appalling.  If you don’t have the right to vote, or vote easily, then none of the other things really matters because you don’t have your voice heard.

I don’t think people have thought through the issues of the right to vote. My Mother is still alive, blessedly. She’s 86. She doesn’t drive and doesn’t have a driver’s license. She has some problems with mobility. But the laws that just got passed here in the state of Georgia make it harder for my mom to vote and my mom has voted in every election that she could.”

We have majority minority areas in District 1 and lots of diversity in District 1. How is an old white man like yourself going to be able to reach out to those voters and gain their trust?

As an old white man who cares deeply about everyone in the district, I will not write them off. What I’ve done my whole professional life is listen to people and their problems and then come up with solutions. In my volunteer work, I have worked for Chatham Savannah Citizen Advocacy, which is as diverse an organization that I know of anywhere. I was on the board for Georgia Legal Services that makes sure that poor people have access to legal services and justice. I have helped with the local legal services with Bill Broker. I have helped with Georgia Appleseed, which one of the primary thrusts when I was on the board was to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. That’s how I’ve spent my time because those are where my values are. Now, am I ever going to fully know what it’s like to be a Black person in the First District? No, but I’m willing to listen and understand.

And we’ve been listening. I hear those stories and I will be a voice for those people and they will be heard.

What outreach are you planning between now and the primary in May? Who are the community leaders you need on your bus?

We’ve already started talking to former mayors, former politicians and current politicians but I’m interested in listening to other people and community volunteers. One thing we are learning about a campaign … is that there’s not enough time, there’s not enough people and not enough money. A big, big part of a candidate’s time is raising money. I didn’t make those rules but those are the rules I’m going to have to live by.

Obviously, I need to get my message out. Chatham County and Liberty County are going to be critical for me. But again, I want to be a representative for the entire district. We’ve already been to Glynn County, and we will be expanding that.

As a first-time politician, there is an art and science to running a campaign. Who is your campaign staff?

Nick Savas locally is my campaign manager and Tom Kohler – community engagement person. Monisha Johnson is my treasurer.

We are in conversation with people nationally. It’s a little chicken or egg. You need some money to get the national experts. We have made some money, so we are starting to make those connections. I want to keep it local but think big, and I plan to win.

What are your fundraising targets? Rep. Carter currently has $1.6 million in the bank. Who’s going to raise that money for you?

Right now, it’s primarily on me. In our first four weeks, we have raised $113,000. For a first-time candidate, Democrat in Coastal Georgia, I’m pretty proud of that number.

Rep. Carter is also known for his corporate and industry ties. What is your strategy to reach out to corporations in the area and across Georgia?

I’m already part of the business community here. I consider that to be a plus and not a negative. It can not be that Democrats are not part of the business community. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. So the people in the business community, certainly in Chatham County, but also up and down the coast know me already. They know that I’m a problem-solver. They know that’s what I do. They also know that I’m going to tell it to them straight. I’m going to follow the rules, going to work harder than anyone you can think of. I think that is what the business community knows about me already.

I think that Rep. Carter would take issue with the fact that he isn’t the hardest working public servant in the area. Regardless of who you talk to, people have a lot of good things to say about constituent outreach. That is one thing he is quite well known for. How does that challenge your campaign strategy?

A couple of things there. From what we can tell from what we have heard and observed ourselves, I’m not so sure that the constituent outreach in Chatham County and Liberty County is as strong as he could be because he’s written those counties off.

Buddy is a very diligent person. My question would be: Who has he been working hard for? Has he been working hard for the families of this district? Or has he been working hard for Buddy Carter? I think the answer is the latter.

There are deep blue pockets in the First District and deep red pockets in the First District. From this demographic puzzle, it doesn’t seem like you can win without bringing on some of those red voters. How are you going to do that?

The way I’m going to do that is by telling the truth and putting families first and letting people know that I want to be a problem-solver for the First District. I’m not going to be a politician and put politics ahead of the people of this district.

But what’s going to be the concrete issue that is going to sound good to people from both sides of the aisle?

I think everyone is concerned about their family and if government is working for them. I think everyone is concerned about whether they are being heard. I think that’s why people are so angry right now. The message of ‘Let’s put our families first’ is a message that I think will resonate with all kinds of people.

But in a deeply divided district, what will bring people together?

The things that I already mentioned, Health care, education and protecting the coast and protecting the right to vote. Those are my emphases. As the campaign continues, and as I continue to listen and learn, I’m sure that list will expand.

Most politicians before they decide to run, they go through a background check about their background, what they have in their past that could be embarrassing or controversial. What about your background could be used against you to embarrass you in the polls?

I have not done any formal review.

Really? As a lawyer, you didn’t do any sort of review?

I have not. We have obviously talked about it. But it’s difficult for me to think of what that might be [the issue that could cause embarrassment or harm to his candidacy]. I am a lawyer and lawyers are required to advocate and take sides in certain cases. Perhaps someone could take issue with some of my advocacy.

Do you have controversial clients?

I don’t think so, no. [he pauses]  

On the other hand, I’ve represented a man on death row. I’ve represented a man who was serving a life sentence in Reidsville State Prison. I represented a young woman who unfortunately embezzled from her bank and got caught doing it. So I’ve done that kind of work. Most of my clients have tended to be businesses though, a lot of them happen to be small businesses. They don’t have an HR person or a lawyer. They have me. I’ve got decades long relationships with those clients. The things that I’m proudest of are the matters that get quietly taken care of and appropriately taken care of, consistent not just with the law but with ethics, and no one ever knows about it. That’s what I’m proudest of. If someone wants to do a background check on my recorded cases, they can. I’ve got a lot of cases in the books with my name on them. But that’s not what I’m proudest of, and quite frankly that’s not what I’m best known for in this community. I’m known as the guy that if you are in a jam and you need to talk to someone who knows what the law but also has some common sense and some pragmatism and knows how to compromise – call Wade Herring.

All that sounds great, but it seems out of step with the political atmosphere right now. Getting things done quietly is the antithesis of politics in America. Are you a rebel in disguise – are you going to break the mold?

I hope so. When we were talking about campaign colors, the natural color to go for would be blue, because I am a Democrat. But that’s not what I went for. We went for green. We went with green for our coast, green for go and green for looking to the future. It’s not red and it’s not blue. I think people are tired of all the anger. It’s exhausting.

How will people outside the cities of District 1 learn about you. How will they find out who you are?

That’s why the money is important. I need to get my message there. We’re going to have to go in person as well. One way, quite frankly, is through the churches. That’s a very natural space for me. I think that faith does remain a very important part of our district.

I think that people are going to see that Wade Herring is a different kind of candidate than they are used to.

But if you look at the numbers it’s a challenge. I understand it. I get it.

The reason why we decided to go ahead and announce so early is that there is a lot of work to do and we needed that runway to get the work done. I want to go ahead and start getting my message out.

Do you expect any challenges in the primary?

Yes. There is a 29-year-old school teacher Joseph Palimeno and then Joyce Griggs who ran last time. She’s running again.

I’m very excited about the rest of the ticket. We know that it’s going to be Senator Warnock, who is also from Savannah, and we expect Stacey Abrams to run as well [for governor]. The eyes of the nation are on Georgia in a way that hasn’t been in a really long time.

Is your wife ready for the eyes of the nation to be not only on Georgia, but also on your household as well?

The honest answer to that is no. She grew up in Macon, but her mother’s family is from Jeff Davis County. The first time I met her grandmother, a farm lady from Jeff Davis County, when I left Susan asked her grandmother what she thought. Her grandmother replied, ‘Susie, if you end up with him you are never going to get any rest.’ In this journey to run for Congress, I have reminded her more than once of that story and that she had been forewarned.

Why did you decide that a run for national office should be your first stab in elected politics?

I’ve been interested in politics since I was a kid. In 5th grade we had a lesson on writing a letter. Most people wrote their grandmother. I wrote a letter to Lyndon Johnson. He had just left office. Tom Johnson, the first president of CNN, was his aide. I wrote to thank President Johnson for the civil rights act and voting rights act. I was that nerdy kid in high school. Tom Johnson hand wrote a note on the reply. I have it framed in my office.So I’ve always been interested in politics. I got here to Savannah. I worked here with Malcolm Maclean directly for 15 years, of course, as the former mayor who by listening very carefully and working with W.W. Law and Eugene Gadsden peacefully desegregated this city in the summer of 1963 before the Civil Rights Act. I thought about politics then and running for office then, but, one, I was busy working for Malcolm Maclean who was a very demanding boss and two, I was busy raising two children. When you look at what is required of people who offer themselves for public service even at the local level, well quite frankly the way that we the people and you in the media treat them is terrible. I decided I didn’t want to do that. But after Jan. 6 and when it looked like no one was going to step forward and challenge this locally, I decided that I got to do this.