Rarely have so many politicians, in both parties, been so unified in a common goal: to defeat Ralph Reed.
It's the driving theme in the lieutenant governor's race, except, of course, for Reed. The Christian Coalition's one-time wunderkind has placed the contest center stage in the nation's culture wars.
A 44-year-old religious right-winger-turned-ruthless political consultant, Reed has close ties to Washington's culture of corruption. He's a longtime pal and business associate of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and bribery. In the process of bilking casino-owning Indian tribes of millions of dollars, Abramoff paid Reed more than $4 million to help prevent those clients' competitors from opening new casinos. Reed then took a smashing golfing trip to Scotland, courtesy of the casino owners.
Despite e-mails that indicate the contrary, Reed claimed he didn't know his money came from casino operators. For that matter, he's lost his memory regarding many of his dealings with Abramoff.
It's strange enough that a man who calls himself a Christian would buy into a brand of campaigning that relies on character assassination, that he would dupe churches into unwittingly helping gambling interests, and that he would then conveniently forget about his ties to the biggest Washington corruption scandal in a generation.
It's odder still to think a national star like Reed truly would be interested in presiding over the Georgia Senate as lieutenant governor. Well, he isn't. The conservative Washington Times has reported that Reed views the position as a stepping stone toward the Governor's Mansion and, then, the White House.
Some Democrats want Reed to win the Republican nomination. They hope a high-profile foe will make it easier to raise money -- and that his baggage will drag down the Republican ticket in November. Careful what you wish for.
In the Republican primary, we instead endorse state Sen. Casey Cagle of Gainesville, who's shown much gumption in his race against Reed and his high-rolling backers. Cagle's politics aren't good for Georgia. In 12 years under the Gold Dome, he's pushed an extreme conservative agenda, most notable for his eagerness to allow the destruction of our water resources.
But Cagle understands the courtesies and rhythms of the Senate. He may not be as high-profile as Reed, but he has a cleaner record and is likely to manage the chamber in a way that doesn't make a mockery of democratic processes.
On the Democratic side, the leading candidates are former state Sen. Greg Hecht, former state Human Resources Commissioner Jim Martin, and state Sen. Steen Miles.
Miles, a former TV journalist from Decatur, deserves plaudits for her gut sense of right and wrong, and for serving as an effective ally in shepherding Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's PeachKids program through the Senate. But she lacks the campaign experience to win a statewide race and, with only one term under her belt, the legislative experience to run a Senate dominated by the other party.
Martin has far more experience. In 18 years as a state rep, the Atlanta attorney represented a liberal intown district well and also climbed through the conservative Democratic power structure. Improved mental health services and fair-housing regulations were among his many legislative accomplishments, and he ably chaired the House Judiciary Committee. A military veteran and Presbyterian elder, Martin was so respected across the political spectrum that Perdue didn't replace him as Human Resources commissioner for more than a year after taking office.
The intelligent, thoroughly decent lawmaker has evolved into a mellow statesman who'd make us proud as lieutenant governor. But mellow isn't what Democrats need in a general election campaign against an aggressive Republican -- whether it's Cagle or Reed. And mellow isn't what Georgians truly need from a Democratic lieutenant governor who'll have to vigorously defend Georgians from the GOP majority's often backward-thinking agenda.
Hecht is the opposite of mellow. In six years as a state representative and senator, he gained a reputation as a smart, energetic policy nerd who occasionally stepped on the toes of his colleagues. During the campaign, he's proved exceptional at articulating creative, populist ideas to lower the cost of prescription drugs by buying in bulk, to reduce class sizes and to bulk up Georgia's vocational training. Most exciting, he promises to use his position to push hard for badly needed commuter rail lines.
As Taylor showed after Republicans took control of the Senate in 2002, a scrappy Democrat occasionally can outmaneuver his foes by focusing hard on a few priorities and by using the bully pulpit. Hecht fits that mold.
Georgians are likely to relate to his bio: He's a former Clayton County prosecutor and a Columbus native. He's also the kind of candidate who will be quite comfortable punching back hard against Republican attacks, which are regrettably necessary in today's political environment.
Martin would make an excellent lieutenant governor, but the times call for Hecht.
CL Endorsements: Drink up!
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