Telfair County's Role in Georgia's Three Governors Controversy
Perhaps there has never been a stranger occurrence in the State of Georgia as the time we had three governors . . . at the same time. It is known as the Three Governors Controversy and it included two native sons of Telfair County – Eugene Talmadge and his son, Herman.
Eugene Talmadge was elected Governor four times: 1932, 1934, 1940, and again in 1946. But there was a hitch in the 1946 election . Eugene Talmadge died on December 21, 1946, before he could be inaugurated into office to succeed then Governor Ellis Arnall.
A constitutional revision in 1945 created the new office of Lieutenant Governor. In it, there was a provision for the succession to the Governor’s office after a newly elected governor had taken office, but there was no provision for the succession before a governor-elect had taken office. This was the case in the election of 1946. Eugene Talmadge died before he took office. In the election of 1946, Melvin Thompson was elected Lieutenant Governor, and he claimed to be governor.
During the election in 1946, Talmadge was not healthy. His friends realized they needed a backup plan. They asked some people to vote for his son, Herman Talmadge as a write-in candidate to take advantage of a Georgia law that stated when the governor was elected but could not serve the legislature elected the new governor. . The legislature was convened and when the write-in votes were counted Talmadge's leaders were stunned to find out that while Herman did get 617 write-ins, both James Carmichael(669) and Republican D. Talmadge Bowers(637) had received more votes. Then, in the nick of time, it was discovered that Herman Talmadge had an extra 56 votes, all from his home county of Telfair. On January 15, 1947, Herman Talmadge was elected governor based on the fact that he had received 675 votes in the election the previous November. When the election results were remanded to the state legislature, Herman Talmadge was declared the Governor of Georgia.
At this point, Melvin Thompson claimed the governorship because he was elected Lieutenant Governor. Ellis Arnall, a staunch anti-Tallmadge man, refused to leave the Governor’s Office until the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on who should be the rightful governor.
Early on the morning on January 15, 1947, newly inaugurated Herman Talmadge told the state militia to escort Ellis Arnell safely to Newnan, Georgia, then return and change the lock to the governor's office. Arnall returned to the Capitol late on the morning of 15 January to the governor's office. When he tried to go into the governor's office, he was told that he could wait to see Governor Talmadge just like any other citizen. Fuming at the turn of events, Arnall took control of the information booth at the front door of the Capitol building. From here, Arnall would continue to claim that he was still governor. When a pro-Talmadge legislator dropped a firecracker into the information booth, Arnall then moved to his nearby law office, although rumors circulated that Arnall had commandeered the men's bathroom as his office. Arnall would continue his claim to be governor for 3 more days until he "resigned" the office in favor of M.E. Thompson.
The resolution of this event had a rather anticlimactic peaceful ending. In March 1947, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned two lower court rulings and decided that M.E. Thompson was the governor. To the surprise of some, Talmadge abided by the Court ruling and gave up the governorship to Thompson. However, Talmadge would have the last laugh. In 1948, Talmadge decisively defeated Thompson in the special election to decide the remainder of the term.
This ended the bazaar “Three Governors Controversy”.