Many of the Republicans and Democrats who want to be the next governor of Georgia are at this moment discussing the state’s future at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
But what is said there is apparently a secret as the Chamber has denied requests from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other outlets to cover the panel discussion at the Ritz-Carlton along Lake Oconee.
The closing of the forum to the media has prompted protests from the AJC and other publications that are part of the Georgia Newspaper Partnership. Thirteen daily newspapers from around the state have joined together to cover this year’s elections.
Chamber spokeswoman Joselyn Baker said Wednesday that it is the Chamber’s “standard policy” to close board meetings to the media. Yet, at a forum Wednesday before the Chamber board for candidates for attorney general, a reporter for the Fulton County Daily Report was allowed to cover to discussion. When asked why that forum was seemingly open and the governor’s forum is closed, Baker responded that Ed Bean, the editor for the Report, was the moderator at the attorney general forum so his reporter was allowed to cover it.
In an e-mail to Baker and to the gubernatorial campaigns on Thursday, Bert Roughton, managing editor of the AJC, called the move to close today’s forum “outrageous.”
“Have Georgia politicians not heard the powerful desire voters have to be included in deliberations that can set the course of their government? Apparently not,” Roughton said in the message.
Several campaigns, when contacted Wednesday, said they were unaware the forum was closed. None, however, said that would keep them from attending.
Other editors joined Roughton in slamming the Chamber’s decision.
In a message to the gubernatorial candidates, Statesboro Herald executive editor Jim Healy asked, “How many times today will you utter the phrase ‘The people of Georgia …’ as a preface to whatever issue you address at the Lake Oconee debate sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce? That will ring a little hollow, don’t you think, since only a select few Georgians actually will hear your remarks?”
In a similar message, Savannah Morning News executive editor Susan Catron asked the candidates to remember the need for transparency in government.
“If all of you truly are running to serve the citizens of Georgia, it would seem you’d want to do that by ensuring each of them had access to your views on issues pertaining to them,” Catron wrote. “Closing this event and others like it sends the signal you will neither value nor trust the opinions of the citizens you wish to serve.”
Update 3:17 p.m. : Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), one of the Republican candidates for governor, told Terry Dickson of the Georgia Times-Union, one of the papers in the new partnership, that he was dismayed the press was excluded from the forum.
“I got there and I was thinking, ‘Good grief. A political forum can’t even get the press here.’ Apparently they weren’t invited,” Chapman said.
Update 4:23 p.m.: Chris Carpenter, campaign manager for former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat seeking another term, responded to Roughton by agreeing.
Barnes, Carpenter said, “has always had a policy of openess. So, it was a lapse in judgment for Governor Barnes to attend a public forum that shut out the people.”