WORDS BY MATT CAMPBELL
A political whip is a member of a legislative body chosen by a political party whose task is to enforce party discipline in a legislature. This means ensuring that members of their party vote according to the party platform, rather than according to their own individual ideology or the will of their donors or constituents. A whip is the party’s “enforcer.”
The term “whip” is taken from the “whipper-in,” who is a huntsman charged with keeping the hounds from wandering away from the pack, and whips them in, if necessary, to the chase. If you want to relate the role of the whip to something more mainstream, think of the character, Rip, from the popular tv series Yellowstone. Rip is a tough, no-nonsense cowboy who enforces order and cohesion from the other cowboys under his watch. He keeps them in line and on task, doing what is best for the ranch.
In Georgia politics, The Whip, along with the other party leadership (Leader, Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Secretary / Treasurer), are elected by each respective political party before the start of each two-year legislative session. In November, Representative James Buchett of the 176th District was elected as The Whip of the Georgia House of Representatives.
Long before James found himself making a life in the 176th District, he was a hard-nosed fella from Falcon Drive in Richmond Hill. His father was stationed at Fort Stewart and moved their family to The Hill at the start of James’ fifth grade school year. James graduated from RHHS in 1999, and since then has accomplished quite a lot, while still maintaining a close friendship with some of the kids he met on his first day at Richmond Hill Elementary School.
I myself, was one of the kids James met on his first day. He was the new kid that dressed a little different and he was picked on a little by some of us good ol’ boys. But that did not last long because James carried himself with a unique confidence, he had an edge about him, and quickly became known as one of the toughest kids in the school.
Over the past ten years or so, while working in government affairs at our state capitol, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all types of people who travel to Atlanta from across the State of Georgia. I have also run a few political campaigns, and I even ran once for the State Senate while living in Cobb County. During my tenure under the gold dome and through my experience in politics, I have learned a little about how to read someone and tell whether or not they will be a successful politician. And I do not mean “politician” in the negative way that so many of us think of when we hear that word. I am talking about someone who has the ability and the desire to better the lives of those they serve. There is a long list of attributes a person needs in order to make a good politician. You could probably fill up two or three pages with things like having a backbone, a big heart, business acumen, passion, and people skills. All of these are true and good attributes, but there is one special trait that a person must possess and without it, they will not get elected or be able to accomplish their goals. That trait is grit.
Psychologist and author, Angela Duckworth, explains in her New York Times bestseller titled Grit- The Power of Passion and Perseverance, that the secret to outstanding achievement is a special blend of passion and persistence, which she calls “grit.” In other words, people who are most likely to achieve outstanding results are gritty. Websters Dictionary defines gritty as being “courageously persistent and brave” and a quick search of synonyms for gritty will reveal words like determined, gutsy, resolute, and unflinching.
For those of us who know James Burchett, it’s no surprise to us how much he has already accomplished in his relatively short political career, because he’s the grittiest guy we know. And perhaps this grit, this courageous persistence, is what’s fueling his rapid climb up the ranks of Georgia politics. One of his RHHS Class of 1999 classmates, Brent Patten, says, “Growing up, James had a unique drive, tenacity, and work ethic. All of which have followed throughout his career and have attributed to his success.” Those who know James also know that he never takes the easy way out and he does not believe our abilities are pre-determined or fixed. He is living proof that with a little bit of grit, we can learn new things, we can improve, and we can change our paths.
Over the thirty plus years that we have been friends, there has never been anything that he did not think he could do, and he has consistently proven people wrong while accomplishing one goal at a time. After high school, he walked onto the Georgia Southern University Football Team, earned a scholarship, and won a National Championship. Next, he learned how to ride a bull and stayed on for eight seconds, he married a college cheerleader, and he learned the art of cage fighting. He built a thriving small business before deciding he wanted to pursue a degree in law. While juggling family life and a business, he went to night school, graduated, and passed the Georgia Bar Exam. I think you would agree that this man has grit.
In March of 2019, James won his first election and became the State Representative for the 176th District of Georgia. He quickly made a name for himself with colleagues and then Speaker of the House, the late David Ralston, and Majority Leader Jon Burns. In just two short years, James earned the Chairmanship of a powerful and complex committee, which is very uncommon for such a green legislator. Burchett chairs the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, which has jurisdiction over Georgia’s criminal code and procedure, drug enforcement, sentencing, parole and pardons, and immigration.
On November 14th, 2022, James Burchett was elected by his peers in the Republican Caucus, by acclimation, to serve as the House Majority Whip, a role that seems to fit him perfectly. The Whip must be a respected leader that can be trusted to see the big picture. He must also incite a little bit of healthy fear so that members of his party don’t stray to far from the pack. Legislation passed in the State Capitol affects the entire State of Georgia, and such a powerful position demands someone who is determined, gutsy, unflinching, and just plain gritty.