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Georgia sets the table for this year's elections

Posted: March 11, 2014 - 11:11pm

Georgia’s political scorecard for 2014 was filled out last week as hundreds of candidates filled out the paperwork that places their names on the May 20 primary election ballot.

One of the more interesting outcomes of qualifying week is the presence of some familiar names on the Democratic side of the ballot, where you’ll see the offspring of well-known politicians taking their chances.

State Sen. Jason Carter is running for the same office (governor) that his grandfather held in the early 1970s. Michelle Nunn is making a try at the U.S. Senate seat her father, Sam Nunn, occupied for 24 years. Chris Irvin qualified to run for agriculture commissioner, a post his grandfather, Tommy, controlled for a record-breaking 41 years.

They definitely make this a “legacy election.”

In a couple of the statewide races, so many candidates qualified that you wonder how they’ll be able to fit all the names on the election ballot.

In the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, there are three congressmen running (Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston, and Paul Broun), one former secretary of state (Karen Handel), one multi-

millionaire cousin of a former governor (David Perdue) and two candidates (Art Gardner and Derrick Grayson) who will find out that they wasted $5,220 when they paid the qualifying fee.

If you think that one’s crowded, take a look at the race for state school superintendent, where nine Republican candidates and six Democrats have qualified.

I won’t list all the names because I’d run out of space – and besides, they’re competing for an office that’s become almost meaningless as the Legislature continues to whittle down its official responsibilities.

The odd thing about the governor’s race is that the incumbent, Nathan Deal, has more primary opposition than the Democrat who will be challenging him. It’s usually the political custom for the incumbent officeholder to get a free ride in the primary, but not this year.

Former Dalton mayor David Pennington and state school superintendent John Barge are both taking on Deal in the GOP primary, where they will devote their energies to pointing out the shortcomings of the current administration in the areas of taxation and economic development (Pennington) and education (Barge).

In the down-ballot elections, several Republican incumbents are trying to position themselves for the governor’s race in 2018.

There’s Attorney General Sam Olens, who will have Democratic opposition from Stockbridge attorney Greg Hecht, a former legislator.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is trying to do what only one other person (Zell Miller) has accomplished in Georgia’s history: win a third consecutive term as lieutenant governor. Cagle first has to fend off a challenge from Democrat Connie Stokes, a former state senator and DeKalb County commissioner.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, another prospective 2018 candidate for governor, will have Democratic opposition from either Oglethorpe Mayor Gerald Beckum or Lithonia consultant Doreen Carter, but I don’t think he’ll have to break much of a sweat.

Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens isn’t planning to run for governor, but it will be fascinating to see how much he is helped or hurt by his many promises to blow up the implementation of Obamacare. There will be a Democratic opponent (former House member Keith Heard or Liz Johnson of Statesboro) who’ll try to benefit.

One of the positive aspects of qualifying week was the fact that several of the General Assembly’s longest-serving members decided to run for at least one more term rather than retire.

These include Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), the dean of the Legislature with 40 years of service, Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta), and Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville).

Rep. John Yates (R-Griffin), who is 92 years old and the only World War II veteran left in the Legislature, is running for another term, as is Sen. Bill Jackson (R-Appling), who is campaigning again at the age of 80.

House members such as Butch Parrish of Swainsboro, Alan Powell of Hartwell, Mickey Channell of Greensboro, Tom McCall of Elberton and Ben Harbin of Evans all qualified to run one more time.

These are guys who know how the system works and understand the real-world consequences of the bills that the Legislature considers. It will be good to have them back.

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