Recently resigned Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel drew the line in the sand Tuesday, separating herself from male Republican gubernatorial candidates who she says are responsible for the “sex, lies and lobbyists” who run the Capitol.
Quickly, though, some of her opponents and the state Democratic chairman fired back at Handel, saying she’s the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.
Speaking at a kickoff event for “Women for Handel” in Atlanta, Handel said that she has the best chance of put an “end to the decades-old culture of abuse and corruption in Georgia politics” and begin “a new era of new leadership and ethical governance.
“We’ve all heard or read the stories of sex, lies and lobbyists” at our state capital where legislation passes or fails based on the size of contributions or the elegance of a dinner or trip,” she said. “This is not public service. It’s not what we elect our leaders to do. And, we need to clean it up and refocus our energies and efforts on putting the business of the people of Georgia first.
“If we are going to end this cycle of abuse and corruption … if we’re going to get real progress on the issues our state is facing … it’s going to take radical change and reform. And, ladies, it is time for exactly that. It is time for leadership that will shake things up and clean things up.”
Handel was introduced at Tuesday’s event by retired U.S. Navy Admiral Marty Evans, the first woman to command a Naval Station, who chaired the task force to address gender issues in the wake of the Tailhook scandal in the 1990s. Handel likened the culture at the state Capitol to that of the U.S. Navy in those days and called for a shakeup in state government similar to the culture change the Navy underwent at that time.
“When one group of people … one type of people … controls an organization for too long, problems eventually develop,” she said. “The group in charge begins to see itself as all-powerful with no real sense of accountability to anyone other than themselves. The group’s focus on staying in power overshadows the power of the mission.”
Handel has proposed a strict set of ethical guidelines she believes would substantially address ethical abuses in state government. The only female among seven Republicans, five Democrats and a Libertarian seeking the governorship, Handel resigned last week as secretary of state because, she said, she wanted to focus on the campaign. All but Democrat Carl Camon, Republican Ray McBerry and Libertarian John Monds have held state office.
Republicans in Georgia are plagued with scandals, particularly former House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Paulding County), U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine. After Richardson’s recent resignation, Handel said in an interview that she was told after being elected secretary of state that the best way for her to succeed with the Legislature was to hire a “young hottie as my legislative person.”
Georgia Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kidd said she’s not impressed with Handel’s speech.
“Where was Karen Handel before ethics became a front-page story?” Kidd said. “Karen Handel was part of the Republican leadership that saw the General Assembly turn into a frat house, but she didn’t say a word.”
Meanwhile, Oxendine and another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton), fired back against Handel.
“I have said that I cannot lift Georgia up by tearing other people down,” Oxendine said. “If you want a candidate that will resort to negative personal attacks, I am not your candidate.”
Added Scott: “I have taken less money from lobbyists that Karen has. I have already returned every contribution made by lobbyists to this campaign, and I challenge Karen to do the same.”
Other Republican candidates for governor are state Sen. Jeff Chapman of Brunswick, former state Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah, and states rights activist Ray McBerry. Democratic candidates for governor are Attorney General Thurbert Baker, former Gov. Roy Barnes, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin, and former Adjutant Gen. David Poythress.