It used to be that Democrats won all races for statewide office. This year, it's possible that they could all go Republican. The truth is that there are qualified candidates in both parties, depending on the contest.
Secretary of state: Gail Buckner, a Democrat with a solid but not stellar record as a state legislator, faces Fulton County Commission Chairwoman Karen Handel. Buckner has had one of the best ideas of the campaign -- public financing of elections, a concept that is anathema to the special interests that buy favor from both parties. Yet Handel is the more promising of the two candidates.
She's a staunch Republican, earning her spurs as an aide to former Vice President Dan Quayle and Gov. Sonny Perdue. Those partisan credentials give us pause because the secretary of state's office must deal with increasingly controversial questions surrounding voting rights and technology. We're particularly concerned that Handel's party is treating elections in Georgia and elsewhere as partisan proving grounds rather than sacred territory.
But we believe Handel's capable of tempering her "movement Republicanism" in favor of focusing on the critical managerial tasks of the secretary of state. As Fulton chairwoman, she displayed a pragmatic, businesslike style that should serve her well in an office that oversees more than 30 professional boards. And the stands she takes on issues like consumer fraud and government ethics are the kinds of principled positions that all Georgians should support.
Attorney general: Incumbent Thurbert Baker's lack of courage occasionally has disappointed us. On issues ranging from gay marriage to taking on Georgia Power's deadly air pollution, he's pandered for easy votes and refused to take the people's side against the powerful. But Baker, a Democrat, also is a careful centrist who has sometimes managed to check the overreaches of the Republican-dominated state government. And he's competently led the state Law Department in prosecuting a long list of criminal and consumer cases.
Baker's opponent -- fast-food lawyer and former state Sen. Perry McGuire -- displays the worst tendencies of the far right: a cast-the-first-stone judgmentalness, a willingness to tote water for special interests, and a reliance on viciously inaccurate attack ads. McGuire should make casting your vote for Baker easy.
School superintendent: Denise Majette made her name as a State Court judge and, for one term, a congresswoman. Then she bit off more than she could chew by running for U.S. Senate. Now, she's out of a job. Running for superintendent, an office for which she isn't truly qualified, isn't the solution.
Incumbent Kathy Cox (not to be confused with the failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate) got off to a shaky start four years ago, particularly when she allowed overly eager conservative appointees to attempt to strike evolution from the state curricula. In general, however, Cox has shown herself to truly care about teachers and children. While she may not be the charismatic intellectual to pull Georgia's schools up to par quickly, her steady leadership has been positive and stabilizing.
Labor commissioner: Michael Thurmond has built an excellent record as Georgia's labor commissioner since he was first elected in 1998. He oversaw creation of job service centers throughout the state, and helped lower Georgia's unemployment rate. His opponent, Brent Brown, is smart but lacks experience as an administrator or in public office. Even if he did, it would take someone uniquely qualified to best Thurmond, who is that rare combination of workhorse and visionary leader.
Insurance commissioner: Over 12 years, incumbent John Oxendine has repeatedly found himself explaining conflict-of-interest charges, as well as bizarre car wrecks. Oxendine has collected thousands of dollars in contributions from individuals working for the insurance companies he regulates. Meanwhile, Georgians pay higher rates than do residents of other Southern states.
Oxendine's Democratic opponent -- lawyer and accountant Guy Drexinger from Cobb County -- is running a campaign without taking money from the insurance industry. He vows never to take such contributions. Drexinger admits he made a mistake 11 years ago when he failed to disclose a client's unlawful attempt to secure a loan. We've yet to hear any contriteness from Oxendine, who's clearly part of the problem with insurance. Voters should give Drexinger a vote on principle.
Agriculture commissioner: Georgia agriculture now faces a moment of decision. The industry will either languish under the yoke of big-commodity food production or start to at least open itself up to such alternatives as smaller, sustainable farms. Fresh from the ranks of corporate agriculture, Gary Black at first glance hardly looks like the reformer who could welcome an organic revolution. But compared to Tommy Irvin, who has served as agriculture commissioner since Lester Maddox was governor, Black shows at least some promise of evolving into the 21st century.
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