In Georgia, Democrats are suddenly worried that a Republican secretary of State running for governor could “cast a pall over the election process” by remaining in an election oversight position throughout his campaign.
Gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp has refused to resign from his job as the state’s top elections supervisor, pointing out that recent Georgia secretaries of State from the Democratic Party kept their jobs while campaigning for higher office — and without eliciting any selective outrage from liberal lawmakers.
Kemp has had to endure cries of protest since he decimated his opponent, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, in the Republican gubernatorial primary this July. Since this victory, local Democrats like former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland have been vocal in calling for Kemp to step down, calling it “the right thing to do if you’re the chief elections officer.”
“You don’t want to cast a pall over the elections process,” Cleland, who resigned from the same position when he ran for higher office in 1996, said. But Kemp has strongly disputed his critics and their characterization of his continued civic employment.
“I made a commitment to run and serve, and that’s what I’m doing,” he said. “For anyone to think there’s a way to manipulate the process because you’re secretary of state is outrageous.”
Referring to his gubernatorial opponent, Kemp added, “It’s just them trying to distract from Stacey Abrams’ problems.”
State Rep. Buzz Brockway, who once ran for secretary of State, backed up his fellow Republican, arguing that it is ludicrous to suggest that any election tampering could result from Kemp’s continued service.
“It’s not like Brian Kemp is sitting there counting ballots,” Brockway observed. “He sets the policy, and the county officials move forward with it.”
The secretary of State is an elected position in 35 of the 47 state governments where the position exists, and the job generally requires the officeholder to serve “as the chief election official in their state, administering state elections and maintaining official election results,” according to Ballotpedia. Representatives also respond to formal electoral complaints and enjoy inside knowledge about election procedures.
While Democrats have been quick to point out that both Cleland and Republican Karen Handel resigned from their positions as election supervisors when they sought higher office, they may have done so to avoid restrictions on receiving cash from industries that are affected by secretary of State policies, or to avoid injunctions of raising money during active sessions of the legislature.
Still, Democrat Lewis Massey stayed in office during his 1998 run for governor, ultimately losing in the primary to Roy Barnes. Cathy Cox also refused to resign in 2006 before being defeated in a tough Democratic primary.
Cox felt that her decision was fair, since she intentionally shirked her election oversight duties during her campaign, passing them on to the Assistant Secretary of State, who administered State Election Board meetings.
“Of course, I also did not proceed beyond the primary,” Cox explained, “so I didn’t have that call to make for the full year.”
There is no reason why Kemp cannot pass on the same responsibilities to a subordinate, thus avoiding the appearance of anything corrupt or untoward. Despite this, Democrats have doubled their efforts to force Kemp to resign, even forwarding a petition that would ask lawmakers to consider barring incumbent secretaries of State from running for office.
“It’s not about who wins or loses, but it’s about the process,” Cleland said. “And Lord knows the process is under attack nationwide right now.”
Rep. Brockway put Georgia Democrats on notice, though, telling them to be careful what they wish for, since Kemp’s vacancy would compel Gov. Nathan Deal (R) to appoint state Rep. Brad Raffensperger, the GOP nominee hoping to replace Kemp this fall.
“And he could then show the world how well he would do the job,” Brockway concluded.