Bert Lance, an important figure in Georgia politics and government but mainly remembered elsewhere as a symbol of the fecklessness of the Carter administration, died yesterday at the age of 82.
A folksy banker from the North Georgia foothills, Lance was a close associate of Jimmy Carter in Georgia, serving (by all accounts pretty effectively) as the vehicle for Carter’s effort to get control of the state’s transportation programs, long an independent political fiefdom. When Carter was elected president, he appointed Lance as OMB director, but congressional investigations of Lance’s banking practices back home forced him out of office after seven months. He was later embroiled in the BCCI banking scandal, but was eventually cleared of criminal charges.
Lance resurfaced in national politics during the 1984 Democratic National Committee when Fritz Mondale named him general chairman of the Mondale-Ferraro campaign (after flirting with the idea of making him DNC chairman), apparently thinking Bert could help make the ticket successful in the South. But all the old banking ghosts came back up, and Lance soon resigned before returning to relative obscurity in Georgia.
Lance (and Carter and Mondale) could have probably avoided all the unsavory national press clippings and embarrassment had he succeeded in his bid to succeed Carter as governor in 1974. But he was squeezed out of a Democratic runoff spot against the anachronistic segregationist Lester Maddox by George Busbee (my first political patron), and the rest was history.
A fellow Busbee staffer used to tell the story (meant to make fun of our beloved boss’ trouble with remembering names and faces) of accompanying the governor to an event in the late 1970s when he was approached by a couple that looked familiar. “Who is that woman? I know her from somewhere! Who is that woman?” My colleague responded: “That’s LaBelle Lance, Governor, and the man with her is named Bert.” Eventually, this was the sort of reaction the Lances would probably grow to cherish, but outside his North Georgia stomping grounds, he leaves us as just another political footnote.