Former state Rep. Lee Anderson doesn’t hesitate to describe himself as an “old country boy” who was born and raised in Columbia County.
In fact, Anderson is deeply proud of his roots as a local farmer, businessman and former elected official who served this area for many years.
“I live on the family farm that has been in our family for three generations,” Anderson said. “I grew up on a dairy farm. Daddy and I were partners and Momma kept the books. She would cook these big old breakfasts and big old dinners for us. When Donna and I got married 35 years ago, we really lucked up and were blessed. There was a piece of property up for sale that was connected to the family farm at the other end of the farm. It was a mile from my house to my parents’ house and I told Donna, ‘That’s far enough, but close enough to Momma and Daddy.’”
For some people, living in such close proximity to their family members would be unfathomable.
But, for Anderson, it was truly a blessing, he said.
Superior Court Judge David Roper, who was an attorney at the time and also happens to be Anderson’s first cousin, drew up the paperwork.
“I never will forget Daddy leaning up to the table to sign that paper putting us into a partnership. He looked at me and the other folks in the room and said, ‘I guess this means he can’t fire me and I can’t fire him,’” Anderson said, heartily laughing. “But that’s my daddy. He always made you laugh. And I’ve learned that from him. Every day I try to live it to the fullest. I enjoy life. I love it.”
He also deeply loves this region of the Peach state.
“I grew up in the Harlem/Grovetown/Appling area,” Anderson said, chuckling. “I have to say that because I have a Grovetown address, I have an Appling telephone number and I went to Harlem High School.”
After graduating high school, Anderson attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga., and then returned to Columbia County and married his wife, the former Donna Robertson. The couple now have two grown children, Ben and Katie.
Over the years, Anderson has served on the Columbia County School Board, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners and as a state representative for District 117 in the Georgia General Assembly.
Anderson said he truly understands the responsibility that comes with being an elected official and that’s why he believes he is the most qualified candidate in the July 26 runoff for the Georgia State Senate’s District 24 seat.
“When I was a state representative, the one thing that really blew this old country boy’s mind was they trusted me with a badge where I could walk into the State Capitol anytime I wanted to and open the doors to the Capitol building,” Anderson said, smiling. “That is a lot of trust and faith that they put in me. So I understand the responsibility that comes with this office. But I used to tell people all the time when I was a state representative, ‘This is not my office. This is your office. The door is always open.’”
In the July 26 runoff for the District 24 seat currently held by retiring state Sen. Bill Jackson, Anderson is facing political newcomer Greg Grzybowski, a former District 3 candidate for the Columbia County Commission.
Anderson has already got some major political support from his friends, including endorsements by former state Sen. Jim Whitehead, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle, state Rep. Tom McCall, Sen. Bill Jackson and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
The reason these political leaders are supporting him is because he has a proven track record throughout this community and state, Anderson said.
“I believe the difference between me and my opponent is I have been here my whole life and I didn’t try to go to the top all of a sudden. I started small,” Anderson said. “Before I even ran for the school board, I served on committees in the county. I was learning. I think you’ve got to learn and see how the machine works. As a result, I’ve built a lot of relationships over the years because I love helping people that have a true need. And during all the years serving on the school board, the county commission and in the statehouse, people always knew that I’m accessible. They can call me anytime. I keep my cell phone on me at all times, right here in my shirt pocket. The only time it is off of me is when I lay down at night.”
In fact, Anderson said his wife likes to tease him about his attachment to his cell phone.
“My wife once said this phone is my first wife because I talk to it more than I talk to her,” Anderson said, laughing. “I thought about that a day or two and when it was just her and me sitting there in the den watching TV, I turned to her and I said, ‘Baby, you know how you said the other day that the phone is my first wife? Well, it is closer to my heart.’”
As he patted his upper shirt pocket where he keeps his cell phone, Anderson joked that he really paid for that comment.
“I dug my hole deeper that night,” Anderson said, chuckling. “But everybody always tells me, and I have to agree with them, that the best day’s work I ever did was getting that woman to say, ‘I do.’”
Anderson says he likes telling stories about his family because it gives people a clear picture of his values and his deep dedication to this community.
“Donna and I are a team. She has also lived here all her life. In fact, Donna and I met in summer school in high school, but she went to Evans and I went to Harlem,” he said. “But that’s how we met.”
While the pair dated a little bit in high school, it wasn’t until about five years after they both graduated that a woman named Linda from their church approached him and suggested the two should go out on a date.
“A lady in our church, who is like a Mother Goose because she loves helping young people, well, she and I were walking out of the church and she said, ‘I’ve a got a teacher you need to date,’” Anderson said. “I said, ‘Really? Is she good looking?’”
The woman from the church just laughed and told him that the teacher was very cute.
“I said, ‘Well, what’s her name?’” Anderson said. “She told me, ‘Donna Robertson.’ And I said, ‘Linda, I’m so sorry, but I can’t help you.’ She asked, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry. I already gave her an opportunity!’”
The two laughed about it, but Anderson agreed to ask Miss Donna Robertson out on a date again.
“I told Linda, ‘Since it is you, I’ll give her a second chance,’” Anderson said, laughing. “And six months later, Donna and I were engaged.”
But the wedding nearly didn’t happen, Anderson said.
“Summertime is our busiest time on the farm and I was doing everything I could do to get all the crops in before I got married on July 18 because I knew I would be gone all the next week on a cruise and I didn’t want to leave Daddy having to do a whole lot of work, so we were busy, busy, busy,” Anderson said, adding that Donna was at school trying to finish her degree right before the wedding. “So, it was all coming together right before we got married.”
On the big day, Anderson remembered his father and him putting on their tuxedos in Evans Baptist Church about 25 minutes before the ceremony when his brother, Rev. Robert Anderson, came into the room asking for the marriage license.
“My brother is a pastor and he was going to marry us,” Anderson said. “He came in and said, ‘Lee, let me see the marriage license, so I can sign it and get all of that done.’ All of a sudden, I just looked down at the floor. We didn’t even think about getting a marriage license.”
Since the brothers often pulled pranks on one another, Robert Anderson assumed it was all a big joke.
“My brother said, ‘There ain’t no time to play around. Give me the darn license. I have got to sign it!’” Anderson said. “And you have to know my brother because, when something goes wrong, he gets really nervous. I just looked down at the floor and said, ‘I ain’t got no license. I haven’t even thought about it.’ When he really realized I was serious and I looked over at Daddy and he knew it too, my brother just panicked. He kept saying, ‘It is against the law. I can’t do it. I have got to have the license.’”
But Anderson told his brother to calm down.
“I told him, ‘Robert, we may have to pay a fine or something, but there are 600 people out there. We are going to have a wedding today,’” Anderson said. “I told him to go ask Donna to see if she’s got one, which that was a big mistake because then it got her boohooing.”
Finally, Anderson’s father-in-law quickly picked up the phone and called long-time Columbia County Probate Judge Pat Hardaway.
“God bless, Pat Hardaway,” Anderson said. “She sent somebody halfway with a license and we sent somebody halfway and we were able to get the marriage license in time for the wedding. Without her, we might not have gotten married that day.”
Why would Anderson want voters to know about that story?
“To me, that’s all about being part of this community,” Anderson said. “Helping one another out and having true relationships with people.”
As far as his plans for District 24, Anderson said he is a true conservative who believes in supporting public safety, reducing the size of government, cutting wasteful spending, defending the Second Amendment rights, boosting the local schools, fighting for religious freedom and promoting Georgia agriculture.
“After serving in the statehouse, since then, I haven’t been sitting still,” Anderson said. “The governor appointed me to the Board of Corrections and, believe me, I have learned a lot. It is very expensive to have inmates in prison. It is big money and I have learned that there are other options out there that possibly would save tax dollars.”
For those with minor offenses, Anderson believes prison is not always the answer.
“I’m not talking about a cold killer. I’m talking about someone who has had some DUIs or drug charges,” Anderson said. “Somebody who has just messed up and just needs to get their life turned around. There are places where they can go to get help and these people will keep them accountable and they will report to probation officers.”
One such group is called Mighty Man Ministries here in Georgia, Anderson said.
“It is not about the dollar bill for them and that’s what I love about them. They don’t ask but $300 a month for one man,” Anderson said. “It costs taxpayers, for that type of inmate, $18 to $19 a day to house them in prison. Now, I’m not saying every family can afford this, but if they have the financial ability and they really want to help their loved ones and get their lives turned around, I would love to see the judges have more capability to sending them to a place like Mighty Man Ministries and the sentence would be that they have to complete the entire 10- to 14-month program.”
Anderson also said that his main concern has always been the safety of local citizens.
“I have connections with law enforcement in all areas of this district,” Anderson said, adding that he also believes in the importance of solid infrastructure including roads, bridges and sewer lines. “We need to strengthen that infrastructure and then, get out of the way and let businesses create jobs and not the government.”
As the husband of a retired educator and father of two children, Anderson also said he is committed to ensuring a quality education for all local students.
“I believe in education,” he said. “I believe in hiring the very best educators that we can and get out of the way and let them teach our children. Get the paperwork off of them. Let them teach our children.”
Finally, Anderson said he believes in the state of Georgia and the bright future for District 24.
“I’ve heard my opponent say that Georgia is in tremendous debt, but we are not,” he said. “We are one of only 12 states that have a Triple-A bond rating.”
And Columbia County is one of the most financially sound counties throughout the state, Anderson said.
“I never will forget, when I was a county commissioner and we went to New York City to try and get a Triple-A bond rating,” Anderson said. “They had a whole committee up there questioning us about Columbia County. They got to me and asked, ‘Commissioner Anderson, what need would you have to go outside of Columbia County?’”
Anderson said he thought about it for a few seconds.
“I looked them straight in the eyes and said, ‘I know of only two reasons why I would have to go outside of Columbia County. One is that we don’t have a hospital. So if I get really sick, I would have to leave Columbia County to go to the hospital. The only other reason I know of why I have to leave Columbia County is I have to come all the way up here to New York City to get a Triple-A bond rating,’” Anderson said, laughing. “Those people in New York were shocked. They didn’t know what to think. But that is the truth. I love this county with all my heart. It’s my home.”
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Greg Grzybowski has had two different tours of duty at Fort Gordon and says he has “lived off and on” in Columbia County for about 10 years.
He understands that he represents the new blood moving into this region every day from all over the country.
Grzybowski is not afraid to tell people that he isn’t a native of Columbia County or even the state of Georgia.
“To be honest with you, I think the majority of people living in Columbia County now are not originally from here,” Grzybowski said. “We are the majority, but many of us haven’t really started voting in this county yet.”
Grzybowski was born in Newburgh, N.Y., and attended James Madison University in Virginia where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, history and military science.
Following college, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the United States Army under the Reserve Officer Training Program in 1992.
He then served for 23 years as both a military intelligence and acquisition officer, retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He and his wife, Joanne, raise their four girls in Evans.
“During this election, I have been trying to reach out to those new residents and new voters of this county because those voters tend to be very smart, they are professional businesspeople, they are hard-working individuals and they have families,” Grzybowski said. “I’m just not sure why they are not voting, so trying to reach them is very difficult.”
And Gryzbowski knows the challenges of running in a local election.
Just last year, he lost a December runoff against fellow Republican Gary Richardson to represent District 3 on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.
“When you are running against someone from here, the powers that be — not all of them, but a good number of them — support the local individual,” Grzybowski said. “It’s frustrating. During this race, I have personally reached out to a number of locally known folks here, but at the end of the day, they are going to support somebody from here versus somebody who is not from here.”
In order for Columbia County and District 24 to truly grow, Grzybowski believes the region desperately needs new leadership.
“I am not part of the establishment,” Grzybowski admitted. “And let’s face it, there are parts of this community who do not want a new person to get elected because they are afraid if that person gets elected, they are not going to do what those people want.
My answer to that is: Well, if it is in the best interests of the total community, I would certainly be in favor of it. The truth is, we need a lot of new people in office. We just need to change the mindset.”
Grzybowski also says he is not shy when it comes to voicing his disappointment in some local leaders who refuse to support anyone from outside the area.
“I have personally told them, as nicely as I can say it, that supporting only local candidates born and raised here is not a good recipe for the future,” he said. “You should vote for the person who is the best qualified. I don’t think a qualification should be whether I was born here or not. As a candidate, that’s difficult to have to deal with.”
After all, along with endorsements of community leaders often comes serious financial support for those local candidates, he said.
“Just look at the dollars being spent in this race and you’ll know the difference,” Grzybowski said. “This race comes down to competing against somebody who has been here their entire life and the families who know that person give them a lot of money. I mean, I can’t financially compete with that. It’s impossible for me.”
But Grzybowski refuses to let the differences in campaign contributions discourage him.
“I am not running and going to Atlanta for a title. I am not going in there in hopes of a follow-up job and I’m not going in there to get reelected,” Grzybowski said. “I am going in there to prove to people that a regular person can run for office in this country, get elected, do the job and go home. Not make it a career and not get absorbed into all the things that happens with politicians and lobbyists.”
“I am trying to prove to folks here in my community here that there are plenty of us who can do these jobs,” he said. “We don’t have to be rich and we don’t have to be well-known. We don’t have to be particularly special in any way. We just have to care about our country and our future, take a chance and work hard.”
If elected to the state senate, Grzybowski pledges to represent every citizen in District 24, no matter what their background.
“There are lots of different groups of people in this community,” he said. “It is very fractured. We don’t have a future in this community or in this country if we don’t start finding some common ground. We have the rich and the poor. We still have racial differences in this community. You have Democrats and Republicans. We have to stop it. I don’t believe in any of those divisions. Having been in the military, I’ve seen that is not true. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
People from all different walks of life can work together for a common goal to improve a situation, he said.
“It can be all about merit and being a quality person and being respected for the hard work that you do,” Grzybowski said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or your race or gender or what your political beliefs are, so long as we have the common ground of understanding that we should all be free, we should all be able to live our lives the way we want, as long as that isn’t taking someone else’s freedom away. It is a pretty simple formula. We talk about it all day long, but we don’t practice it. We really don’t.”
As an elected official, Grzybowski believes one of the biggest responsibilities is to stay connected to your constituents and inform them of what is being proposed at the state level.
“Being an elected official isn’t like an office job,” he said. “As an elected official, you go and talk to your fellow citizens and find out what they need and help educate them on what is going on, so they can then tell you what they want to do. You shouldn’t just go up there saying, ‘Well, I know everything. I am going to go up there and make all the decisions.’ That’s not how it works.”
Much like a teacher in the classroom or a pastor in the church, Grzybowski said an elected official’s duty is to inspire people and to tap into his or her constituents’ talents in order to improve the entire community.
“You are there to raise people up, help that talent get tapped and find really innovative solutions for people’s problems,” he said. “That, at the end of the day, helps people live their lives better. Let people have more power for themselves. Not more power for you, not more power for the state, not more power for the county. That’s not how it is supposed to work. It is supposed to be empowering individual people to become more powerful in their own lives. That means more money in their pockets and less laws telling them what to do.”
If elected to the state senate, Grzybowski says he wants to ensure all legislation supports personal and real property rights; protect and defend first amendment rights to include religious liberty; ensure the preservation of the nation’s second amendment rights; support school choice and local control of educational resources; pursue a balanced and transparent budget process; support increased infrastructure investment and provide increased economic development focused on cybersecurity, information and communication technology.
“To me, the number one issue is business growth,” Grzybowski said. “So, how do you get that business growth? Infrastructure. So, people are paying out of their pocket to invest in infrastructure with the hopes of enticing businesses to come in. But that’s the big question that I have for citizens: How much are you willing to spend on the gamble that we will have businesses come in?”
In his opinion, Grzybowski doesn’t believe the state has done a good job of enticing new businesses to come and look at locations all across the state.
“Now, they tout themselves as bringing businesses to Georgia, but there are a lot of counties that don’t benefit from that,” he said. “My argument in the Legislature would be, what about the rest of Georgia? And I would look for allies to support me, especially in the border counties.”
All of the state’s attention shouldn’t just be focused on metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Macon and Savannah, Grzybowski said.
“That wealth will need to be reinvested in other parts of the state to grow wealth there,” he said. “Folks here in Columbia County will say, ‘I don’t want to spend my tax money on Hart County.’ Well, I understand that. But people in Hart County are saying, ‘Why aren’t we getting any benefit of all this other money from these other counties because we are growing crops and we are providing food for people?’ So both sides are correct and wrong.”
The key is to understand the entire region’s mission and the differences between each county.
“Nobody should get money for free from somebody else. Then again, somebody who is a very wealthy county wouldn’t want to see a farmer go out of business because then they are not going to get their food,” Grzybowski said. “People don’t think through it well enough sometimes. We have to understand that we are all in this together as a state and people look to the government to sort out those balances. So what I think is missing is an understanding of one another.”
As a state senator, Grzybowski pledges to spend a great deal of time on the road talking to residents throughout the district and listening to each county’s problems and challenges.
“There is a reason why we are a state. We are dependent on one another,” he said. “What folks have forgotten is we are a sovereign state. We have a flag that flies on a flagpole and we are in this thing together and we do have to distribute wealth to a certain degree in order to help people out because of the nature of what they do. For example, farmers who live in rural counties are struggling for lack of tax base. They need help and we have to find that balance.”
Growing up in New York state, Grzybowski said he learned to see people as individuals and understand everyone brings something different to the table.
“I come from a very poor background,” he said. “I have met some very rich people and very poor people in my life. I see no difference between the two. To me, at the end of the day, it is about pursuing your dream. If you end up being very rich, that’s great. If you are still very poor, but happy and you’ve done good things for people, you are just as great of an American. That’s the way I’ve been brought up. I believe in that.
“My father said, ‘Never be jealous of anybody. Everybody has earned what they’ve got. Just go out and do the best you can and make sure you help people along the way.’ That’s how I live my life.”