The best statewide race this year happens to be one of the most important contests.
Forget the offices of lieutenant governor (whom a motivated and disciplined majority of senators can neuter), schools superintendent (who watches while the governor and Legislature make the biggest waves in education policy), U.S. senator (important, but no real contest this year), and the rest.
Georgia’s next attorney general will enter office amid the state’s biggest conflict with Washington in decades, and more may be on the way. The public is demanding better enforcement of ethics and open-government laws. Only the governor stands to be more important over the next four years.
Fortunately, the race to succeed Thurbert Baker has drawn two of the strongest major-party candidates.
Hodges: South Georgia, three-term district attorney, wants the AG’s office to be more aggressive in pursuing civil-rights claims and white-collar crime.
Olens: metro Atlanta, a longtime lawyer but better known as a successful Cobb County Commission chair, emphasizes tackling illegal immigration and suing to overturn ObamaCare.
The two men do agree on some things. At a candidate forum Thursday in Decatur, each sold himself as a fiscal conservative who supports the death penalty, wants to fight public corruption and Medicaid fraud, and aims to win the water wars.
And in light of the mud being slung in the governor’s race, the AG’s race is a textbook example of polite and substantive politics.
In fact, for the most part the AG’s race is electoral politics as it’s meant to be: Two candidates offering voters a clear choice between competing perspectives, and letting them decide on the merits.
And it’s probably no surprise that I’m voting for Olens.
His political and legal philosophies on ObamaCare and immigration more closely align with mine. He speaks more strongly, and without prompting, about enforcing sunshine laws (much-needed, and close to the heart of any journalist). He would not be the kind of activist, common among Democratic AGs in some states, who scares businesses.
His stewardship of Cobb County — budget surpluses without tax hikes or furloughs — was impressive. He also did it all without a hint of corruption. That’s something we should remember not to take for granted after the news that a grand jury has indicted a commissioner in Gwinnett County.
It’s likely that Olens has designs on even higher office down the road. Hodges has tried to make an issue of that, saying that he just wants to be attorney general, and not a future governor.
Who knows whether that last part would remain true forever; Hodges is awfully young and bright for a man who today would forswear any higher aspirations down the road.
Either way, ambition is nothing to hold against Olens.
Georgia isn’t exactly swimming in qualified, attractive candidates for higher office right now. Olens may well be the best person for the job one year.
Heck, he might be the best person for the job this year.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This year, Olens is running for attorney general. And he will make a fine one.