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‘Dean of the House’ Rep. Calvin Smyre leaves Georgia legislature after 48 years

Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 10:56 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - As the 2022 legislative session came to an end, Georgia Representative Calvin Smyre closed one of the longest and most memorable chapters of his life.

“For the past 48 year I have worn this name badge as a badge of honor,” Smyre said to fellow lawmakers in a farewell address from the House floor Monday morning.

Elected in 1974 in Columbus, Smyre is the longest-serving lawmaker in the Georgia General Assembly. He was honored on the house floor on the last day of the legislative session by lawmakers from both the House and Senate as a self-portrait was unveiled to hang in the halls of the Capitol building.

Seated in front of Smyre was his 96-year-old father, his two grandchildren from his late daughter, supporters, and his office staff.

“48 years is a long time and I’m filled with emotions,” Smyre told CBS46′s Capitol reporter Hayley Mason in a one-on-one interview in his office. He was elected at 27 years old. At the time, his fellow lawmakers didn’t call him Representative Smyre, instead they called him ‘son.’

“One day I went to see the speaker at the podium and I said, ‘Mr. Speaker, everybody calls me son, they don’t call me representative,’ and he said that’s a term of endearment and I said I kind of don’t see it that way and he called up several legislators,” Smyre stated, recalling how his first House speaker began introducing him to other lawmakers by his formal title.

That’s when things began to change. During his third term, he was chosen to be the chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. Over the years, Smyre later graduated from being called son by his colleagues to being revered as “The Dean of the House” a moniker bestowed upon him by current House Speaker David Ralston.

And over his nearly five-decade legislative career, Smyre has helped enact some of Georgia’s most monumental legislation from the removal of the Confederate flag as the state flag to the current design, to helping pass MLK Jr. Day as a state holiday.

Smyre was key in the building of the Georgia Dome and recent regional transportation legislation. Later he helped sponsor the anti-hate crimes law as well as the repeal of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute—a promise he made to Ahmaud Abery’s mother.

“After I traveled to Brunswick, I talked to her on the phone and said if you let us get the hate crimes bill out of the way, I promise you we will come back and tackle citizen’s arrest and when I hung up with her I called speaker David Ralston,” Smyre recalled, adding he was proud to see the centuries old statute be repealed.

Known for his bipartisan approach and civility in working with lawmakers young and old regardless of party.

“People come to me more than anyone in the house. I always try to be that sponge. I always try to be that glue that holds things together,” Smyre said.

Retirement is a very distant thought for the life-long lawmaker. He’s now being nominated by President Joe Biden to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

“I have to pinch myself when I think about it--48 years in the General Assembly and now I’m being considered by the U.S. Senate and nominated by the president of the United States as an ambassador,” Smyre reflected as tears welled in his eyes. “My mother would be proud of me. I have had a great career. Serving your state for 48 years and to go on to serve your country, I thank God for that,” Smyre said tearfully.

The U.S. Senate will work to confirm his nomination to the ambassadorship. He says even without the nomination, it was time to move forward from his seat in the House and let a new representative begin legislative work.

“It’s been a remarkable run,” Smyre said nodding with a smile of gratitude.