Updated throughout 2:36 p.m:
Republican Eric Johnson on Tuesday resigned from the state Senate, giving himself a leg up in the money race as he makes a bid for the 2010 GOP nomination for governor.
Johnson, who was chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and served in the General Assembly for 17 years, made the announcement at a Capitol news conference.
By resigning, Johnson would freed himself from a state law that bans elected state officials from raising money during the annual meeting of the General Assembly. He will be one of only two of the top Republican challengers who will be able to raise money during this critical period before the July primary.
The legislature meets for 40 days beginning in January, but the session typically lasts until at least early April. The prohibition on fund-raising during this time can be a severe limitation for candidates.
But Johnson said campaign finances were not his motivating factor in the decision.
“I became convinced I couldn’t do both jobs,” Johnson, a former Senate president pro tem, said.
The needs of a statewide gubernatorial race threatened to detract from his duties to the 1st senatorial district, he said. Resigning now allows enough time for a special election to be held for his seat on the same day as local elections this fall.
Only Johnson and U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, along with longshot states rights candidate Ray McBerry, would be allowed to accept contributions. (The ban does not apply to Deal since he is governed by federal election law as a congressman.)
Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, Secretary of State Karen Handel, state Rep. Austin Scott and state Sen. Jeff Chapman would be barred.
The move has the potential to shake-up the race.
Johnson had already reported raising $962,000 in June, the last time candidates were required to disclose campaign finances, second most to Deal’s $975,000.
By resigning, Johnson puts pressure on Handel, who disappointed many observers by reporting that she had raised $430,000 through the same period.
Oxendine, who had reported having more than $1 million in cash on hand on June 1, had only raised $416,000 in the first six months of the year (not counting the 2009 legislative session).
Johnson had $913,000 on hand to Deal’s $1.15 million.
Johnson said while fund raising wasn’t the driving issue in his decision, resigning now will help nonetheless.
“We’ve got the best finance team put together,” Johnson said.
Johnson had originally planned to run for lieutenant governor. But when incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle decided to run for re-election rather than seek the governor’s office, Johnson jumped into the top race.
In a statement Tuesday, Cagle commended Johnson’s service.
“Eric Johnson has given many years of diligent, hard work and thoughtful service to the state of Georgia,” Cagle said. “He will be greatly missed by his friends in the Senate.”