ATLANTA - Former congressman Pat Swindall, whose church-centered campaigning pioneered modern evangelical politics in Georgia, and whose Washington career was cut short by a federal conviction for perjury in 1989, has died. He was 67.
Robb Austin, who once served as Swindall’s campaign manager and chief of staff, posted to Facebook that the Republican died in his sleep.
An attorney and former student body president of the University of Georgia, Swindall stormed onto Georgia’s political scene in 1984, when — as a 34-year-old Republican — he ousted five-term incumbent Democrat Elliott Levitas, who represented northeast metro Atlanta.
It was Swindall’s first attempt at elected office. His upset victory was built on a wide, suburban network of church activists driven by their opposition to abortion.
The strength of what would become known as the “religious right” was still untested, and the approach was largely foreign to Democrat-dominated Georgia. Swindall attacked Levitas, who was Jewish, as an out-of-control Washington liberal.
A DeKalb County resident, Swindall joined Newt Gingrich as one of only two Republican members of the U.S. House from Georgia. Mack Mattingly, a third Republican, was finishing out his single term in the U.S. Senate.
Swindall quickly earned a reputation as an uncompromising Reagan conservative, especially on budget issues. Washington magazine gave Swindall its “Straight Arrow” award in 1986, and he was re-elected to the 4th District seat the same year.
But in 1987, in an effort to finance his new $1.2 million home in Stone Mountain, Swindall accepted a $150,000 check from Charles LeChasney, who was later accused of laundering drug money. Swindall returned the check several days later.
Even so, he was later indicted for lying about the exchange before a federal grand jury. The prosecutor was Bob Barr, a fellow Republican who himself would be elected to Congress several years later.
Despite his indictment, Swindall sought a third term in Congress. He maintained a loyal core of followers. That summer in 1988, when Georgia delegates to the National Republican Convention found themselves bitterly split between presidential candidates George H.W. Bush and Pat Robertson, the television evangelist, Swindall was the compromise choice to chair the delegation.
Despite continued support from Christian evangelicals, Swindall lost that November to Democrat Ben Jones, best known for playing the role of Cooter in the TV series, “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
The now former congressman was convicted in June 1989, and sentenced to a year in prison and a $30,000 fine. He fought the conviction for five years. In January 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal, and he began his prison sentence shortly afterwards, serving eight-and-a-half months in a minimum security facility.
At the time, he and his wife Kim had seven children ranging in age from 3 to 9. Swindall occupied himself by lifting weights, working as a prison landscaper and librarian. He wrote mini-reviews of the prison’s religious videotapes.
“The toughest part is when you get there, the shame, the humiliation, the concern about your family,” Swindall told a reporter in 2000. “You don’t know how your child or your wife will handle it. In terms of the actual physical experience, it’s like going to a high school where you can’t leave campus. It’s claustrophobic, which is the extent of it. The toughest part is the humiliation of it.”
Afterwards, Swindall always maintained his innocence, but kept a low profile, operating several flea markets, including one at 82 Peachtree St. He also hosted a Christian talk show on a local radio station.
Patrick Lynn Swindall was born in Gadsden, Ala., on Oct. 18, 1950, one of four children born to Nathan and Gladys Swindall. Nathan Swindall operated the Atlanta Furniture Store on the corner of Butler and Decatur streets.
Pat Swindall worked in the furniture store as a youngster and would later manage the business. In 1972, Swindall graduated from the University of Georgia, where he also earned his law degree in 1975.
A visitation will be held in Peachtree Corners on July 14.
This article was written by Jim Galloway with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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