Biden picks ‘dean’ of Georgia House to serve as ambassador

State Rep. Calvin Smyre (right) was nominated Wednesday by President Joe Biden to become ambassador to the Dominican Republic. The Columbus Democrat has spent 47 years as a legislator and is known as ‘dean’ of the House. (Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder)

(GA Recorder) — A distinguished career as a state legislator is likely nearing its end with President Joe Biden’s nomination of Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) as ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

The White House announced Wednesday Smyre’s nomination for ambassador, which if accepted by the U.S. Senate will leave a major void in the Legislature in which he has served for 47 years.

In more than four decades, Smyre has used his calm demeanor and influence to promote Democrats’ priorities and ease tensions at the state Capitol. The 74-year-old retired banking executive entered state office in 1974, becoming a prominent Black lawmaker in the years following the civil rights movement.

As ambassador, Smyre would serve as a bridge between the U.S. and a country that remains in a tenuous situation following this summer’s assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

“I am deeply honored to be nominated by President Biden to serve as the Ambassador to the Dominican Republic,” Smyre said in a statement. “If confirmed, I look forward to advancing the interests of the United States in the Dominican Republic and our relationship with the Dominican government.

“As a longtime businessman and public servant, I will bring my background and experience to continue the significant work with an important economic partner in the Caribbean,” Smyre said.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff applauded Smyre’s nomination to what he called a “vital diplomatic post.”

“I look forward to working with him to advance effective U.S. foreign policy in the region,” Ossoff said in a statement.

State Rep. James Beverly, the House minority leader, said the announcement is bittersweet, calling Smyre a source of invaluable guidance over the years.

“He’s been as consistent as a guy can be with who he is throughout his whole legislative process,” Beverly said. “I’ve learned a lot from him, about how to govern yourself, what the state Capitol looks like and what it feels like to be a member.”

Among the dean of the House’s noteworthy achievements are serving as president emeritus of the National Black Caucus, earning national legislator of the year honors in 1985 and 2005, and becoming the first Black legislator appointed as a governor’s floor leader. He led the powerful House Rules Committee when Democrats held control of the chamber.

Smyre has continued to contribute to important legislation, including shepherding through a historic hate crimes law in 2020 and playing a leading role in the repeal of a citizen’s arrest law this year. He was also a member of the special House election committee where he expressed disappointment with the GOP’s passage of the controversial sweeping voting measure.

House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said the nation couldn’t find a better ambassador than Smyre.

“Few people have worked longer or harder to move our state and this nation forward,” Ralston said in a statement. “I am proud for my friend and congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.

“As dean of our House, Calvin has a wealth of institutional knowledge and a collegial spirit that will be sorely missed,” Ralston added. “ As a beneficiary of his wisdom and counsel, I consider it an honor to have served with him. And while I will miss seeing my friend everyday, our nation will be better for his service as our ambassador.”

Beverly believes Smyre will be able to stay in office during the upcoming November special session, when lawmakers will meet to draw new district boundaries. Smyre’s experience and wisdom allow him to predict cultural shifts before others – a coveted skill in the redistricting process – and should serve him well in his next position, Beverly said.

“He’s been here long enough to say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about that or get caught up in that, you might need to think about this because this pendulum swings both ways,’” he said.

“He’s a good man and he’s right for the job,” Beverly added. “I think it’s a true honor for Georgia, for Biden and certainly for Rep. Smyre.”

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