In the twilight of his career, AJC political columnist Jim Galloway worries about what he won’t write

The Chief looks to the future—not the past—of Georgia politics

Jim Galloway

Photograph by Kevin D. Liles

Jim Galloway starts the workday in his daughter’s old bedroom. Every morning at seven, he flips open his Dell laptop to scan the first of as many as 500 emails that’ll flood his inbox that day, looking for something juicy to drive the political conversation. He’ll write blurbs and compile others from colleagues at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other outlets. His dog, Sherlock, must wait for a walk until his daily morning blog post, “The Jolt,” goes live.

Thousands of politicians, lobbyists, and everyday Georgians open the AJC’s political roundup each morning. As they do, Galloway will steer his Nissan pickup from Kennesaw to the Georgia State Capitol. There, the 63-year-old columnist will chat with government workers in the halls and legislators in their offices, looking for inspiration for his semiweekly Political Insider column. Nearly everyone here—from the governor to the troopers patrolling the Gold Dome—knows him by name. They all read him religiously.

Since Jimmy Carter held the White House, Galloway has penned thousands of stories chronicling politics in the South, from the slow progress after the civil rights movement to the rise of the Republican Party to Stacey Abrams’s bid to become America’s first black female governor. The longest-tenured AJC journalist, Galloway garners an unparalleled level of trust with officials across the political spectrum, in part due to his vast institutional knowledge, the envy of political journalists statewide. To his colleagues at the Capitol, he’s “Chief.”

“I’m concerned with how we’re going to—or not going to—change.”

Unlike some national columnists who use their words to defend or boost their partisan bents, Galloway focuses on the way political ideas founder or flourish. He’s captured the essence of elder statesmen (he described a reflective 91-year-old Carter, following a cancer diagnosis, as a “marathon runner, giddy and relieved at having crossed a finish line—upright, and of sound mind if faltering body”) and exposed the bluster of opportunistic politicos (he wrote of GOP gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams’s disastrous July 2017 press conference: “He skedaddled. He vamoosed. He fled the journalists he had so noisily summoned”).

“You think he’s not listening and observing—but he is,” says Max Cleland, the former Democratic U.S. senator. “He’s drawing conclusions while you’re thinking about the next thing to say.”

Galloway’s introduction to Georgia was inevitably political. On the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Galloway family moved from Ohio to just outside College Park, where the eight-year-old’s school had yet to desegregate and “whites only” signs hung at local fishing holes. A poor typist as a teenager, Galloway first contributed to the University of Georgia’s Red and Black newspaper as a photographer. He honed his writing, becoming the city editor, but got suspended for casting multiple ballots in a student government election as part of an investigation into potential voter fraud.

Internships at the Atlanta Constitution and for Sen. Sam Nunn, plus a reporting gig at the Anderson Independent, followed. In 1979, the 23-year-old was hired to write and edit for the AJC Extra’s North Fulton edition. His first true writing job, covering religion, took him from Ku Klux Klan meetings in North Georgia to the Southern Baptist Convention. During the next 20 years, he collected datelines from Blue Ridge to Beijing before landing at the Capitol in August 2001. Six weeks later, after 9/11, coverage of the war abroad started crowding out state politics.

The following summer the AJC launched Political Insider, an online column that promised intrigue from “Georgia’s war rooms and back rooms.” Then in his mid-40s, Galloway could lift the curtain on the political theater under the Gold Dome, providing insight and authority in ways straight reporting often did not permit.

When lawmakers battled over removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag in 2003, Galloway “was the person able to talk to all sides through his writing,” says former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, then a state legislator. Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge appreciated how the columnist framed today’s politics in the context of the past. And as Republicans like Johnny Isakson, who first became U.S. Senator in 2005, got elected statewide, they never forgot how Galloway eschewed a partisan lens. “He gets to the heart of the issue with the curiosity of Bill Shipp and the integrity of Ralph McGill,” Isakson says.

Over the years, Galloway’s work has landed him on the Washington Post’s list of top statehouse reporters, an increasingly endangered species. Locally, he’s caught some flak from the left (Abrams’s campaign in May critiqued his analysis of voter turnout leading up to the Democratic gubernatorial primary) and the right (GOP political strategist Seth Weathers recently tweeted: “Jim Galloway IS Fake News”).

When asked about his mistakes, Galloway acknowledges his potential blind spots as an older white male and how that could affect his perspective on the latest iteration of the human rights movement. In the twilight of his career, he’s “not so much worried about what I do write but what I don’t write.” His recent columns have focused on marriage equality, the Confederate memorial at Stone Mountain, and the family legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. “I’m concerned with how we’re going to—or not going to—change,” Galloway says. “And this is something you have to say carefully to white Republicans, but at some point, karma is a bitch. And as you treat, so you shall be treated.”

Though carpal tunnel and neck surgery have slowed him down, Galloway hopes to write for the paper through his 40th anniversary in May 2019. Afterwards, he plans to spend more time with his wife, Judy, two daughters, and woodworking tools. He won’t quit writing: A biography of Zell Miller or Roy Barnes may be in his future. Before then, he’s got a few stories to file on the divisive gubernatorial campaign this fall.

“I think about how we’re unable to have political conversations in this country anymore,” says Bert Roughton, the AJC’s recently retired managing editor. “Right now, Jim Galloway is kind of what the world needs.”

This article appears in our September 2018 issue.