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21 August 2008

Georgia's Secretary of State Says She Was Just Upholding The Law

This past Sunday, Athens Banner Herald columnist Bill Shipp, the "Dean of Georgia Politics," launched a scathing attack against Georgia's first Republican Secretary of State accusing her of "manipulating state politics for GOP."

Now that [Karen]Handel has taken control of the [Secretary of State's]office, nonpartisan tradition is gone with the wind [...] her most egregious act was her recent attempt to disqualify Jim Powell, a Democrat running for the Public Service Commission [...] Handel also has been fighting tooth and nail to allow state Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, to run unopposed [...] Handel kicked his Democratic opponent off the ballot, and is doing everything in her power to keep Michelle Conlon, an independent candidate, out of the race, as well. [Source: Athens Banner Herald, "Shipp: Handel manipulating state politics for GOP", August 17, 2008]

Karen Handel, in response, addressed each of Bill Shipp's claims in an op-ed piece appearing in today's Athens Banner Herald:

It's too bad that in today's political environment, elected officials who follow and enforce the law are so easily labeled as part of some partisan conspiracy or, in my case, as the next Katherine Harris [...] Jim Powell was disqualified as a candidate for District 4 of the Public Service Commission for a simple reason: Under Georgia law, Powell is not a resident of the district and is ineligible to run for the office, or to serve should he be elected [...] Similarly, state House District 80 candidate Keith Gross was disqualified because he did not meet residency requirements [...] Michelle Conlon has attempted to qualify as an independent candidate for the state House District 80 seat. Conlon's candidacy petitions required the verifiable signatures of 1,027 registered voters in the district. DeKalb County elections officials, not employees of the secretary of state's office, found that Conlon's petitions contained only 976 valid signatures. [Source: Athens Banner Herald, "Georgia secretary of state defends disqualification decisions", August 21, 2008]

For the record, I don't like being in the position of having to defend a Republican, so I won't. However, I will simply point out that most of the issues addressed in both the Handel and Shipp editorials go back to the fact that candidate recruitment for the Democratic Party of Georgia was absolutely pathetic.

Keith Gross didn't live in the 80th district and he got thrown off the ballot. If the Democrats had fully vetted Gross, they would have told him to go on home and wait until he met the residency requirements before making a run for office. Then Michelle Conlon could have run, as a Democrat, without having to run around collecting signatures to get on the ballot.

The same thing goes with the state Senate seat formerly held by Joseph Carter.

If the Democrats had just fielded a candidate in that race, there would have been no need for Karen Handel to re-open qualifying for just the Republicans only. The Democratic Party would have added to their numbers in the Georgia Senate and without spending a whole lot of money either.

The Jim Powell case is an interesting one because an administrative law judge said Powell met the residency requirements. Secretary of State Handel said he didn't. In the case of Jim Powell, over 300,000 people voted for him to be the Democratic nominee for PSC. I personally think that the will of the people, as expressed in the July 15th Democratic primary, should be heeded and Jim Powell should remain on the ballot.

But don't let that last paragraph detract from my underlying point.

We wouldn't be hearing these charges of Karen Handel politicizing the Secretary of State's office if the Georgia Democratic Party had done its job and recruited some strong candidates to run in the races in question.

So who's really at fault here?