Kathy Cox and the Republican dilemma

Last week, former state lawmaker Roger Hines of Kennesaw became the second Republican to announce a 2010 primary challenge to state School Superintendent Kathy Cox.

His campaign slogan — “We can do better” — isn’t the catchy phrase likely to make Gov. Sonny Perdue smile.

The retired high school teacher enters the race with the support of a dozen or so GOP legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock, so it is not to be taken lightly. Richard Woods of Tifton, also an educator, is the other GOP candidate.

“Education in Georgia is too important to get caught up in party politics,” Rogers said in Hines’ defense. But serious primary challenges to incumbents are rare, and they always mean something.

Officially, Hines is running against the lack of progress in Georgia schools under both Cox and Perdue and the “testing mania” that he says has killed the joy of teaching. The state Department of Education, Hines said, “has become a data management center. It ought to be an idea-producing place.”

But he also expresses worries, as have some other Republicans, about Cox’s ability to weather a third general election next November.

“It does concern me,” Hines said. “But I’m running not because of her vulnerability. I’m running because we haven’t moved.”

Last year, the state school superintendent and her husband, John Cox, filed for bankruptcy protection. Much of their $3.5 million debt is related to John Cox’s home-building business in Fayette County.

Only a few months earlier, Kathy Cox had bagged $1 million from the Fox quiz show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” She promised to send the cash to state-run schools for the blind and deaf. Creditors are now gunning for the money in court.

Even so, Kathy Cox confirmed this week, again, that she is running for re-election. Asked whether she had experienced any Republican pressure to back out, the school superintendent e-mailed the following:

“We are honored to have many great friends who have offered words of encouragement and support to me and my family,” she said. “I am working hard through these difficult economic times, to ensure that Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students are given a world-class education.”

Already, the former classroom teacher boasts checks from the No. 2 leaders of both the state House and Senate: Rep. Mark Burkhalter of Johns Creek and Sen. Tommie Williams of Lyons. Sen. Ronnie Chance of Tyrone is her campaign chairman.

Cox supporters concede that her personal finances may require some explaining — which in turn could require a heftier campaign treasury. The state school superintendent has a lackluster reputation as a fund-raiser.

But Cox’s backers also argue that the economic downturn is so widespread that her difficulties are more likely to generate sympathy than criticism. Further, they point out that Republicans can’t afford to throw away the advantage that incumbency brings.

Not when the contests for school superintendent and governor are likely to be tightly bound — by the topic of education and by the statewide voting power of teachers.

(Democrats clearly understand the Republican dilemma over Kathy Cox. They have yet to field a candidate for U.S. Senate or lieutenant governor. But three Democrats have already established campaigns for school superintendent.)

Republicans have yet another factor to consider — their own sexual politics. Just as they do on the Democratic side, women form the core of the GOP volunteer network, from the lowliest envelope-stuffer to party chairman Sue Everhart.

Feminism is a subdued force in the state Republican Party, but it can be powerful when stirred.

To push an eight-year incumbent school superintendent to abandon her office, for money problems that occurred largely on her husband’s side of the marital ledger, might be seen by GOP women as an injustice. That the two Republicans ready to replace her are of the male species is something that’s likely to matter.

Kathy Cox’s claim to continued GOP support may have been strengthened this month by House Speaker Glenn Richardson’s unfortunate drama. A bankruptcy, even one involving millions of dollars, is nothing when compared with a depressive attempt at suicide.

Yet Richardson has no intention of resigning his speakership. The turmoil of his personal life has been compartmentalized and will not compromise his ability to carry out his duties as the second-most-powerful figure in state government, his friends say.

Kathy Cox in no way would wish it so, but Richardson may have made her case — in the most powerful fashion possible.

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18 comments Add your comment

Long time Goergia Voter

November 21st, 2009
4:16 pm

Kathy Cox is the poster child for why this position should NOT be elected or at least should not be a partisan contest. Everybody who follows politics in these “down ballot” races knows that her win was a complete fluke. Just because she had almost the same name as the former Secretary of State, she rode that name recognition to victory over a much more qualified candidate (one of Georgia’s most outstanding education leaders: Barbara Christmas).

At the time, Cox was not even qualified to be a county school chief, much less the state leader. Thank goodness there are some qualified and willing experts who are willing to challenge this weak incumbent. Georgia’s school children deserve so much better!!! Why have we had such bad luck when it comes to this position? First there was Linda Shrenko (still in jail I guess) and now the failed Kathy Cox. TIME FOR A NEW State School Superintendent… ANYBODY ELSE. Please!

Xmas in November

November 21st, 2009
4:22 pm

heck yeah ! Cathy with a C and Christmas in November. NVR voted 4 Kathy Cox, NVR will. BTW go SCHS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chirstmas past not a fond memory

November 21st, 2009
6:25 pm

You wouldn’t be referring to the same Barbara Christmas whose organization sold teachers out by not opposing Roy Barnes revoking their due process rights in exchange for approving an education car tag so they could say they stood up for teachers even as their rights were revoked would you?

Screw Up Birther, Deather,

November 21st, 2009
6:43 pm

Why is the State Super School job that has some Republican women going to the slammer or simply going broke is another way to have a state funded job?

David S

November 21st, 2009
9:43 pm

Education in Georgia is too important to get caught up in party politics – WRONG — Education is too important to be left in the hands of the government and politicians.

End the government school system, make parents be responsible for their children’s education, encourage homeschooling, provide tax incentives and eliminate all government and licensing barriers to enhance the growth of a private and voluntary market alternative to the current failure.

all conservatives are nutcases

November 21st, 2009
10:23 pm

people need to realize that republicans and education do not go together well, the republicans want to keep us stupid and uneducated so that they dont lose their power base


November 21st, 2009
10:41 pm

Everyone knows that the only reason Kathy Cox was elected in the first place is because most GA voters were to dumb to realize she wasn’t the former Sec of State – Cathy Cox when they voted for her. At the time Cathy Cox had a bit of popularity because she headed up the conversion to touch screen voting machines. When Kathy Cox was elected she wasn’t even qualified to be a elementary school principal no less a district wide administrator. Yet she was somehow elected to a position leading all of GA’s school districts. One of her first ideas was to stop teaching the scientific method that has brought us all the technology we enjoy today. That would have put GA school systems at risk of losing their accreditation. Since most voters are too lazy or dumb to investigate the basic qualifications of candidates we should consider letting the Governer or legis appoint. It will still be political but at least the Gov would be obligated to appoint someone qualified.


November 22nd, 2009
12:14 am

This Republican teacher would vote for anyone rather than Kathy Cox. She has been terrible.


November 22nd, 2009
6:28 am

I’ve got 3 more years to go before I am forced to move out of this state because my oldest kid becomes school age… Sad but true. I refuse to allow my children to be “educated” by the current public schooling system as it is. This state is high on the list of “dummy states” and gets made fun of all the time for it’s crappy school system. Give more pay and ciricullum latitude to the teachers!!! Simple solutions go a long way.


November 22nd, 2009
6:36 am

The First Brother and governor of Florida started this whole testing frenzy and then Dubya took up the drumbeat and determined to become the “edjamacation” president. Teachers cut short their curriculum and teach to the test and that becomes the focus — even influencing the school calendar!

School starts earlier to give more “cram time” before the testing.

In fairness, however, it must be noted that there are far more serious concerns than just the testing. The sociological issues at play compel us to look at the lack of discipline in our schools, the huge drop-out problem and the train wreck that awaits our culture down the road.

Unemployable young people get into trouble and fill our jails and cost the taxpayers far more than dealing with the root issues that underlie the calamity we’re in. But, of course, this sounds like an “ol’ bleedin’ heart librul” and God knows will only be heard in derision.

Rightwing Troll

November 22nd, 2009
6:40 am

I’m paying for a private school that I can’t afford for not one but two children. I refuse to put them in public schools, even though we live in one of the best districts in the state.

I’m not a repub. and I want vouchers…


November 22nd, 2009
7:05 am

There is no term limit for this position? That is a crime.

Kathy Cox doesn’t have a choice whether to run or not. Her family clearly needs her salary and there isn’t another job in education that pays anywhere close to this one.

The new math is a disaster at the high school level. Regardless of whether it gets better or not, this group of freshmen and sophomores will be lost.

Next year, Cox will let class sizes get even larger without even voicing one bit of concern.

She ought to be an easy target.


November 22nd, 2009
3:58 pm

What are the democratic contender’s credentials? Are they all educators? Seems to me that we need someone who has strong leadership/managerial skills to move Georgia from the bottom, and build a base to draw businesses. Sad to say, we are at a point where we need someone other than an educator to lead education in Georgia.

An educator

November 22nd, 2009
4:55 pm

David S., I can tell you have little understanding of the situation. Republicans, Libertarians, and those for no or little government involvement don’t like public education. Without public education our citizens would be even dumber than they are already. Look at who they elect! Leave it to the parents to home school? Have you met many of these parents? Think of some of these less educated, possibly high school dropout parents trying to home school. That would keep such children down and create a class based society. I realize that is kind of already the case, but it is not overt. Private schools will not get cheaper, or remain as attractive, if you flood them with the massive number of students from the public schools. They would have to teach them ALL? How about the unemployment rate after you end public education? Do you have any idea how many are employed in or public schools? This does include your state universities. You probably would like to see all these government programs ended. I would actually like to see them all ended for one month, maybe two. This would give some of you a better understanding of how many decent, hardworking (conservative too) people depend of these programs, and it is not all bad. Let’s get the US and state governments to do it. Shut down all public schools, social security benefits and services, medicare, medicaid, child and family services, public housing, and unemployment benefits. Really, I don’t disagree with the basic idea that all of these services are in place for those that did not do, plan, or provide for themselves. 99.9% of everyone that benefits from them could have done something to prevent their own personal need for the programs. I wish some of you would try to help us solve the problems rather than just complaining about it. When was the last time you stepped into a classroom to honestly try to make a difference. I know it seems easy, but if it were, we wouldn’t be losing so many good, competent people to the private sector where they can make more, not be scorned by those like yourself, and treated like nonprofessional by everyone. I honestly wish you would find a new song to sing or step up and help. Trust me those who teach and do it well don’t do it for the summer off, the pay (of course), or the respect of others(certainly not!). We do it to make a difference and serve our country in the way we can best. Please try helping rather than barking at the moon!


November 22nd, 2009
8:57 pm

If she gets re-elected, it would show the true idiocy of this state. When TEACHERS are getting laid-off and you’re changing the school schedule to save money there is a problem. That and she hasn’t shown in two terms any kind of innovative initiatives that would help Georgia get out this funk of poor education. But hey, look who’s putting these people in office.

Reality Check

November 22nd, 2009
9:40 pm

The reality is that 80% of all funds expended in the school system is for salary. The high costs of schools is due to too many administrators, high teacher healthcare and retirement and exhorbitant salaries for everyone. All of this is hidden behind the guise of “don’t you dare cut scjhool funding or the quality will further decline….” Time for reality, teachers and administrators… Time for BIG cuts and more competition!

Mr. Grumpy

November 23rd, 2009
9:15 am

Hey, Reality Check and the rest of you anti-public school education fools….one of the reasons education in Georgia is in the shape it’s in is because of years of under-funding it. In most developed countries around this world, teachers/educators are revered and not treated like second-class citizens or glorified babysitters. That’s whjy their kids beat our kids in almiost every testable academic area. They have kids who speak 2 or 3 languages. We have kids who can barely speak and write English. Teachers spend 8 hours a day, plus many hours after the regular teaching day preparing for the next day’s class schedule so they can give your children a chance to survive in this world. But your solution to the education problem is cut salaries of teachers and cut retirement benefits. That’s really brilliant. That’s what we need, huh? Let’s continue to treat education in Georgia as a problem and not as a source of solutions. Let’s push it down even further on the list of responsibilities of government. The solution you offer is not to treat or expect professionalism from educators, but home school the kids or hand out vouchers for those who make the choice to send their kids to private schools. Why should I as a taxpayer have to fund your private school choice AND a public school system?


November 24th, 2009
4:55 am

Throwing money at the education problem won’t help. The highest performing districts have the lowest per studant costs. Compare Iowa to Georgia as an example. Teachers need parents to partner in the education process. Low performing students have parents who have no idea about their process. There are still too many parents who don’t realize that their active involvement is critical to their childrens success. There are no studies showing that students perform better if their teacher and administrators make more money. However, there are numerious studies showing that high performing students have parents who are actively involved in their children’s education.