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Teacher's pet (not!) 

At Marietta High, student rebels against GOP instructor's conflict

At 1337 Canton Road in Marietta is a suite of nondescript offices. Appearances can be deceiving. Think of the offices as (apologies to Tolkien) Saruman's Tower with the dark side's other spire, Sauron's redoubt, being 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.

The Marietta stronghold harbors some of the nation's most malformed political orcs, members of the Cobb County Republican Party. They've kidnapped Jesus, hoisted a banner of devilish theocracy, embraced George Bush's trampling of liberty and tossed science in the schoolhouse dustbin. In short, the Cobb GOP is goose-stepping into, oh, the 11th century.

And, by the way, they're getting help from Marietta High School.

At the school, there's an "apprenticeship" program run by teacher Sandra Thompson, who happens to be on the Cobb GOP executive committee. According to senior Gabi McMichen, Thompson uses her school post to funnel students into gigs as Republican foot soldiers. During election season, for example, kids were dispatched to labor for U.S. Sen.-elect Johnny Isakson and other GOP candidates.

"We place students [with organizations] that contact us," Thompson says. When asked if Republican campaigns had contacted her -- Thompson, of course, works on the same campaigns -- she says, "Yes." When asked if Democrats had requested interns, she says, "No."

"We live in a Republican district," says Thompson. "That's the way it is all over Georgia. We respond to people who contact us. We do not discriminate."

Of course, Democrats are unlikely to ask for interns from a Republican official.

And McMichen says partisanship permeates Marietta High. "In American government class," she says, "Democrats are depicted as only minorities, as only people who need handouts."

So when Thompson started a Young Republican club, "no teachers would come forward and start a Young Democrats club. They didn't want to get harassed."

Thompson's internship program places students in work situations. "For a senior in high school, you do what you're told to do," McMichen says. "If the teacher says to work in a Republican campaign, that's what you do. It bugged me that [Thompson] could do that."

In the fall of 2003, she was assigned a job as executive assistant to Cobb GOP Chairman Anthony-Scott Hobbs.

"He was crude and disgusting," says the teenager, who was raised in a strictly religious family. She adds that Hobbs was polite to people, including campaign contributors, when he met them. But "he'd say the most horrific things about them when they left."

Hobbs didn't return phone messages that specifically asked about McMichen's allegations.

But Marietta High Principal Gordon Pritz assured me that students are placed only in "appropriate programs." When I relayed the specifics of McMichen's allegations, he huffed, "You believe a student?" Well, gosh darn, yes, I do.

Pritz wouldn't answer whether Hobbs' allegedly vile language was an "appropriate" environment for a young Christian woman. Thompson deflects questions on Hobbs' behavior by claiming it's "confidential."

Here is some of my exchange with Thompson:

Sugg: "Would a Democrat be likely to ask a Republican official for campaign help?"

Thompson: No answer.

Sugg: "As a Republican official, don't you have a conflict in working on campaigns and sending students to those campaigns?"

Thompson: "No."

Sugg: "Again, can you name a Democratic campaign where you've sent a student?"

Thompson: "Where we place students is confidential." (She later confirmed that no students had been placed with Democrats because no Democrats had requested interns.)

Sugg: "How did Hobbs get Gabi McMichen as an assistant?"

Thompson: "His office made a request."

Sugg: "But since you are on Hobbs' executive committee, wouldn't you have been working both sides of the arrangement?"

Thompson: "I keep my roles separate."

Sugg: "What about the foul language and hate literature Gabi was exposed to?"

Thompson: "What happens [in the apprenticeship program] is confidential."

I then called Gary Walker, executive director of the Professional Standards Commission for Georgia teachers. Without naming names or political parties, I described the scenario of an activist/teacher referring students to work on campaigns in which the activist was involved.

Sugg: "Do we have an ethical violation?"

Walker: "Probably."

The commission judges other teachers' ethics. The delicious irony is that Thompson serves on it.

Gabi McMichen is my hero this week. The 18-year-old is proof that evolution does work in Cobb County -- that intellect, at least among a few, has scampered out of the ooze and is walking on two legs.

A month ago, I authored a column titled "I am a Christian, too." It quickly went platinum and is among my greatest hits. Hundreds of people, angered at the Republican perversion of Christianity for political gain, wrote and called to assure me that they, too, are Christians. I think we're going to start a crusade.

McMichen was one of those readers. Her e-mail prompted me to call. That inquiry led to uncovering the Republican recruitment office at Marietta High.

She's pure Cobb Countian. She was born there, as were her parents -- dad's a small businessman and mom's in the medical profession. "They're all Republican as can be, and everyone in the family is churchgoing," McMichen says. "I was always told that Republicans are the good guys."

She attended Christian academies until high school and is a member of the nondenominational Liberty Church. "You never hear anything straightforward about politics," she comments, "but it's all very conservative, anti-abortion, anti-gay."

In the fall of 2003, Thompson placed McMichen into Hobbs' clutches. Thus began the student's political awakening -- but not in the way Thompson surely hoped.

"You think there's an executive there when you call, but no, it was just a 17-year-old intern, me, making $200 a month," McMichen says. "I had it all, if you look at it one way. A big corner office with big windows. I rubbed shoulders with the who's who ... Newt [Gingrich], [U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis] Hastert, [GOP national Chairman Ed] Gillespie, Sonny Purdue, all the time, and even Dick Cheney himself. And, oh yes, Zell Miller, but he was the only Democrat I met."

Pretty heady stuff. If she had done what was expected -- play brain-dead -- there would have been some nice payback. "The college recommendation letter opportunities were booming," she says. Hobbs offered McMichen, an aspiring journalist, a job on his right-wing scandal sheet, Georgia Citizen.

Then came McMichen's epiphany. "I began being more passionate about politics when I was passing out a resolution supporting the war," she recalls. "I realized I was against the war. Period. War is not a Christian value."

McMichen fled the GOP offices and has been raising hell ever since. When she wasn't dancing with the Atlanta Ballet, she worked on Democrat Denise Majette's campaign, raising the ire of ersatz mentor Thompson. "And every girl I know who becomes sexually active, I take them to Planned Parenthood with me."

McMichen hopes to attend Agnes Scott College and then do graduate work at Emory University. Her ultimate goal is journalism, and I'll be glad to throw out the "Welcome" mat for her.

McMichen's generation was the only age group to give a majority of their votes to John Kerry. It's enough to give the nation hope.

Senior Editor John Sugg -- who denies that he was considered for the job of archbishop of Atlanta -- can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at john.sugg@creativeloafing.com.

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