Atlanta native and University of Georgia Grady School of Journalism graduate Martha Zoller was a stay-at-home mom when she landed a political-talk gig with WDUN radio in Gainesville in 1994. She parlayed her conservative Republican take on all things political and societal into other radio talk-show jobs that led to state-wide syndication.
Zoller has served as a panelist on Fox 5’s “The Georgia Gang” and jumped into the national spotlight with appearances on CNN, FNC and MSNBC, among others.
She’s done more than just talk about politics. She ran unsuccessfully on the GOP ticket for Congress in the then-new 9th Congressional District of Georgia in 2011-2012 (Zoller lost in the runoff). She also served in staff jobs for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue. In 2016, she went back to college and at 61, thinks she may be into her last semester.
ASL contributor Mark Woolsey caught up with her on a recent busy afternoon.
What drew you into politics and political discourse?
I grew up in Atlanta and we talked about politics at the dinner table. My father had been a POW in World War II and he thought it was important for us to understand the way the world worked, that there were values and you had to fight for them. I was very young when [Martin Luther King Jr.] and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated in 1968. I was very impacted like that and wanted to be involved.
You had worked doing some radio in college. What got you back into that business?
I started doing radio because I was a caller into a radio show (at WDUN in Gainesville) and Jacobs Media invited me to come in a couple of days a week and that became three, then four, then five. It was a natural progression.
Along the way there was also a switch to the GOP, correct?
I voted Democratic until about 1988, and that was a turning point for me. The Democratic National Convention was in Atlanta that year and I saw all these people bashing capitalism and saying the country was so bad and I said, “I don’t need to be here. This party doesn’t reflect my values.” And they are still talking about how bad things are instead of how to build things. As for Republicans, I think we aren’t messaging effectively. We need to be talking about the things that unite us.
What’s your take on the current political situation?[For the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs] in Georgia, a half-million Republicans stayed home and 150,000 Democrats sat out compared to [the general election on] Nov. 3. The Republicans stayed home because they were disenchanted with the election process and they were given the message of “get out and vote, but it might not count.” That was a case of mixed messages and what we need is clear messaging.
Where we are right now is that some people feel they’re more powerful if they’re not participating, and that’s concerning because you don’t want people to not participate in the process. My dad used to say if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.
To what do you ascribe your becoming a national political commentator?[24-hour news days] are a double-edged sword. It means there’s a lot of time to fill and a lot of times first reports are not accurate. But also, with a 24-hour news cycle, there are a lot more voices out there and that’s a very positive thing. Without that cycle, I don’t think a woman from Gainesville Georgia would have made hundreds of appearances on television.
What convinced you to go back to school?
I have always wanted to go back to school, but life got in the way. When my children got out of college, I decided I didn’t want to sit at home watching TV at night. I started my graduate process in 2016 and I am getting a political science master’s degree in American politics. I love it because you get to be with a bunch of 25-year-olds.
And a lot of times they don’t know what to think because I’m probably the most conservative person they’ve ever met. I don’t know if I’ve changed any of their minds, but now I think they consider other points of view.
How do you plan to make use of your master’s degree?
I wanted the degree so I can do some adjunct teaching in American politics. You need the degree to be able to do that and I really think Politics 101 classes need to be taught by some conservatives. There aren’t enough conservatives to teach those kinds of introductory courses and I think that viewpoint needs to be brought in. I do think the student base — especially students who have stayed in college because of the recession — are a little liberal about their viewpoints and they don’t get challenged very often.
In January of 2017, I started a class on the American presidency. I told them I was Martha Zoller and I work for Senator Perdue. I told them I was glad Hilary Clinton lost because my dad always told me I was going to be the first woman president, and that’s still possible. That broke the tension.