Statewide "down-ticket" races -- those below the governor and lieutenant governor on the ballot -- draw lukewarm interest from voters. After all, what does the secretary of state do? Records corporation documents, manages licensing for professionals, acts as the boxing commissioner (now there's a biggie). And, oh, yes, supervises elections.
It's that last item that should gravely concern Georgians. And we should all be aware of four words that define our concern: "Katherine Harris" and "Ken Blackwell." They were or are, respectively, secretaries of state in Florida and Ohio. Both used their offices to prevent qualified voters from voting -- actions gauged to help George Bush win (or, perhaps, steal) his presidential elections.
In Georgia, Cathy Cox ably served in the office for two terms (she is now a candidate for governor). But, seeking to modernize Georgia's antiquated voting system, she brought in Diebold electronic machines that many experts feel are vulnerable to tampering and, at the very least, leave no paper trail.
Cox's successor will have the daunting job of retrofitting the machines. Moreover, the new secretary of state will be charged with executing a voter ID law whose authorship was steeped in racism and whose intent was to deter minority, elderly and rural voters who are likely to be Democrats.
There's no shortage of attractive Democratic candidates. We were especially impressed by state Rep. Gail Buckner, utility executive Darryl Hicks, and a pair of young lawyers, Scott Holcomb and Shyam Reddy.
Holcomb and Reddy are clearly the standouts. CL's endorsement committee split 3-2 between them. Holcomb served 12 years as an Army officer. He brings to his campaign the finest traditions of the military -- honor and a fierce desire to serve. His almost complete lack of familiarity with Georgia politics hurts.
Reddy is Georgia born, raised and educated. As a lawyer, he's focused on election law and corporations -- the heart of the secretary of state's job. His platform would chase con artists who prey on Georgians, protect senior citizens, and implement an election system that will restore voter confidence.
Reddy -- the son Indian immigrants -- represents the new face of Georgia: a blending of backgrounds that can produce an ever-widening pool of potential leaders. He also was a founder of the Red Clay Democrats, a grassroots group that is helping modernize the party.
In the Republican primary, the choice is easy: Karen Handel. Her opponent, state Sen. Bill Stephens, suffers from severe ethical gangrene -- having received the largest individual fine in the history of the Georgia Ethics Commission. Exceedingly partisan, Stephens was one of the cynical sponsors of the "sanctity of marriage," aka anti-gay marriage, legislation. Yet his ex-wife told the press she divorced Stephens, in part, because of rumors of marital infidelity. The ex-wife called his pious "defense" of marriage "a bunch of baloney."
Most recently, Stephens' campaign has been more about trying to smear Handel -- including lying about his own campaign's relationship to a Handel critic -- than in articulating a program.
Handel has a long record of ethical, competent service. She began her political career working for former Vice President Dan Quayle. She served as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Sonny Perdue before winning in 2002 a race for chairman of the Fulton County Commission. Into that dysfunctional body she injected sanity and pragmatism. She helped expose corruption in the sheriff's department, leading to a change of regimes at the Fulton jail.
Handel's positions are sensible: Use the office to fight fraud, make the voting process accountable. She is pro-life and in tune with the GOP on family items, but she doesn't wield the issues as cynical wedge dividers.
Not only would her win in the primary put a well-qualified candidate into the general election, but it would have the benefit of exiling Stephens to the political trash bin.
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