The campaigning side of the state GOP couldn’t afford to be seen with the governing side of the Republican party on Sunday night.
Much was made of Karen Handel’s absence from the Atlanta Press Club debates for governor, held at Georgia Public Broadcasting headquarters.
But with one runoff berth – possibly two – at stake, the most interesting aspect of the GOP confrontation was the effort made by each candidate to separate himself from the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Asked – by yours truly – whether $96 million in fee increases passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Perdue amounted to a tax increase, each candidate answered in the affirmative:
– Nathan Deal: “It comes closer to a tax increase than anything else I can call it.”
– Eric Johnson: “Anything that increases revenue to state government is just like a tax increase, no matter what you call it.”
– John Oxendine: “It’s a tax. You take money from the taxpayers of Georgia, take it out of their pockets, it is a tax.”
– Jeff Chapman: “To increase an existing fee or establish a new fee would be considered a tax increase….That’s one of the reasons I stayed this session and did not leave to run for the office of governor.
“I understood that there would be many people advocating tax increases. I chose to stay in the foxhole, fight through it, and oppose that tax increase along with some others.”
Republican members of the General Assembly no doubt winced as they listened to that exchange.
All five GOP candidates swore they would not follow the example of the current governor, and would place their investments in a blind trust or, in the case of those with businesses, mothball them.
Though he didn’t call him out by name, Oxendine chided Perdue for breaking a tradition established by Joe Frank Harris, the first governor to place his assets in a blind trust while serving as governor.
Said Chapman: “It does grieve the public to hear of someone as high as the office of governor benefitting, and doing deals.”
But curiously, the state senator from Brunswick was the only one of the five who said he had a slice of business that he would have to continue dealing with personally.
“Right now, the U.S. Army is looking at a patent, a piece of equipment that I invented, for soldiers – to save lives and help them mobilize their equipment,” Chapman said. “So I’ve got to hurry up and get that deal taken care of, ’cause I’m the only one who can move it forward.”
After the debate, Chapman explained a little bit more. Over in Iraq, semi tractors capable of hauling large trailers are valuable commodities – the U.S. military has only about 3,000 of them. Chapman has invented some hardware that permits more heavily armored trucks – which are also more plentiful – to haul those trailers.
Seth Harp, one of several Republican candidates for insurance commissioner received special attention during the gubernatorial debate, for these comments he made during his campaign, aimed at Oxendine:
“The citizens of Georgia demand a commissioner of insurance who will run the office with ethics, integrity and transparency.
The state of Georgia will not tolerate another insurance commissioner plagued with ethical problems.”
Asked what he thought of Harp’s remarks, Oxendine said:
“Seth Harp is an individual who is a trial attorney. He has spent his entire career trying to hurt Georgia businesses. He was against tort reform, and he has been in the pocket of all the trial attorneys. Which are the exact same ones funding Roy Barnes’ campaign.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of the trial attorneys using all of their pawns to come after John Oxendine, because they know that John Oxendine is the strongest candidate that will beat Roy Barnes.”
There were signs that the state GOP will pay a price for the harsh tone of its primary for governor. Of the five candidates on the GPB stage, only one – Johnson – would commit to endorsing and supporting the Republican nominee who comes out of the Aug. 10 runoff.
Immediately following the Republican gubernatorial debate, a small army of Atlanta police officers rushed Georgia Public Broadcasting headquarters.
The cops declared it wasn’t anything the candidates said.
Police were responding to a tip that a stabbing suspect might be in the building, officer James Polite, an Atlanta Police Department spokesman, told the AJC.
Later, Atlanta police public affairs manager Carlos Campos explained that the tip had been about a suspect hiding in the ceiling of the building. He said it appeared to be a prank call and that officers found no suspect.
The GOP candidates for governor were allowed to depart, unmolested.
The four candidates for governor with money yet to burn are on four separate aircraft today, touring the state for tarmac press conferences – trying to hit as many media markets as possible.
Highly convenient for TV crews.
Though it probably doesn’t mean anything, Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Karen Handel are traveling clockwise. Republicans Nathan Deal and Eric Johnson are moving counterclockwise around the board.
Oxendine has a lunch-time appearance in Macon, then the downtown Varsity in Atlanta. And then he’s phone-banking.
Barnes: A start at Peachtree-DeKalb, Augusta, Savannah, Albany, Columbus, Macon, and back to PDK.
Handel: A start at PDK, Augusta, Savannah, Macon, Columbus, and Dalton.
Deal: Dalton, Columbus, Albany, Macon, Augusta, and Dalton.
Johnson: PDK, Dalton, Columbus, Macon, Augusta, Albany and Savannah.