Northern ‘burbs may finally be on cusp of new clout

Suburban Atlanta — specifically its northern roof of Cobb, north Fulton and Gwinnett counties — may finally be on the cusp of true political clout in Georgia.

The governor and the attorney general are the most powerful administrators in state government. The Republican nominations for both jobs are up for grabs in runoff elections now only 12 days away.

In each case, the leading candidate is the former head of a county government in metro Atlanta.

In the race for governor, Karen Handel, before she served as secretary of state, was chairman of the Fulton County Commission. Sam Olens, a candidate for attorney general, is the immediate past chairman of the Cobb County Commission.

Former Fulton County commission chairman Karen Handel/Associated Press

Former Fulton County commission chairman Karen Handel/Associated Press

Both, like many of you, are non-native Georgians. Though she now lives in Roswell, Handel was born in Maryland. Olens is from New Jersey.

In the Aug. 10 runoffs, both Handel and Olens face multigenerational natives of the state with political bases in North Georgia. Both their opponents have careers that grew out of the General Assembly.

Nathan Deal of Gainesville, Handel’s opponent in the runoff for governor, was a state senator before he won his seat in Congress. Preston Smith of Rome, Olens’ opponent in the runoff for attorney general, is a current member of the state Senate and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Both contests are up for grabs. And the suburban roots of Olens and Handel may seem like a trivial point. But in fact, their backgrounds — should either make it through November — could prove revolutionary.

“We’re now seeing the ascendancy of the large urban-suburban counties. And no, we haven’t seen it before,” said Chuck Clay of Marietta, a former state lawmaker and a past chairman of the state GOP.

Former Cobb County commission chairman Sam Olens/Associated Press

Former Cobb County commission chairman Sam Olens/Associated Press

In the July 20 balloting for attorney general, Smith edged out Olens in votes cast outside the nine largest counties of the metro area. But suburban Atlanta gave Olens a 55,000-vote boost into first place.

Handel won seven of those same nine metro Atlanta counties, which gave her a 48,000-vote tailwind.

Historically, local government has never been a reliable pathway to higher office. On Wednesday, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia could come up with no instance in which a former head of a county government has won a major statewide office.

As mentioned above, Handel went from her county post to secretary of state in ‘06. But think Vernon Jones, the former CEO of DeKalb County, and his ‘08 bid for U.S. Senate.

The most reliable path to power in Georgia has been the General Assembly. The last governor elected without prior service in the body was Lester Maddox in 1966.

ndeal0729

Former congressman and state senator Nathan Deal/Associated Press

Some 30 years later, Roy Barnes of Mableton — a Democrat — became the first suburban governor of Georgia. But Barnes’ roots were in the rural-dominated Legislature.

And when he attempted to tackle the concerns of metro Atlanta — education, transportation and a Confederate battle emblem on the state flag — both suburban Republicans and rural Democrats revolted.

An alliance of the two factions has brought eight years of GOP rule to Georgia — but Republicans in suburban Atlanta still see themselves as the junior partners, especially when it comes to issues such as transportation and water.

Rural Georgia has continued to set the agenda — right down to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s fish ponds.

One glimpse of how suburban roots might change the approach to state policy came last week during a forum attended by both candidates for attorney general.

Both Smith and Olens were asked whether they were satisfied with the level of involvement by Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, in negotiations with Alabama and Florida over water. Both said no.

psmith0729

State Sen. Preston Smith/Associated Press

“There’s no reason the state’s top lawyer should be sitting on the bench during perhaps the most important legal negotiation we’ve had in a generation,” Smith said.

But Olens cited his more wonkish experience with the water issue as a commission chairman and as chairman of the policymaking Atlanta Regional Commission.

“I [would] walk into this job on Jan. 10 knowing more about water and our water wars than our current attorney general does now,” Olens said.

During the first round of the race for governor, Handel was the only GOP candidate for governor who consistently included commuter rail when speaking of solutions for metro Atlanta’s traffic nightmare.

However, the lines between Handel and Deal blur on other issues. Deal has declared he wants to see the 50-cent toll on Ga. 400 disappear.

And the former congressman is well-versed when it comes to the issue of metro Atlanta’s access to drinking water from Lake Lanier — part of which is in the 9th District.

Deal also won Hall County in the primary by a large margin. It is where he lives, and it is one of the many places where suburban and rural Republicans merge in Georgia.

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70 comments Add your comment

KW

July 28th, 2010
6:38 pm

Sam Olens should have run for Governor instead……………..now the GOP has the option of a person whose highest form of education is a high school diploma or a person who had to resign their position in Congress to avoid an ethics investigation. I’m almost tempted to vote for King Roy since he’s term limited and the GOP would get another shot in ‘14 to get someone other than these two clowns to run for a vacant seat. Unfortunately, as Mr. Olens found out against Max Wood in the AG’s primary, some folks in South Georgia have no problem making his religion an issue – much the way Mr. Romney’s religion was an issue outside of Metro Atlanta in the ‘08 GOP Presidential primary.

jim nichols

July 28th, 2010
6:51 pm

We are watching demographic shifts this election cycle that will change the direction of state politics for a long time to come…

Jason

July 28th, 2010
7:02 pm

KW, I believe you are incorrect about Barnes not being able to run in 2014. I’m pretty sure that Georgia law only prevents governors from serving three terms in a row. As long as they sit out a term, the count starts over. So Sonny being elected restarted the count for Roy. That does mean however that in 2014 Sonny can try to get elected again, though I doubt he will since he had feathered his nest pretty well.

As far as suburb power goes, the suburbs are starting to wake up and realize that as much as they’d like to be, they’re not rural areas. For too long they aligned themselves with the rural powers and the metro suffered because of it. Even if the suburbs don’t align themselves with the city over the rural, they are going to start wanting government that helps deal with the unique problems of suburbia. The city is use to getting the short end of the stick but now it is rural Georgia’s turn. After half a century of raping the metro and being extremely ungrateful in the process, the rural powermongers are going to be left out in the cold with no friends to help them out.

I blame Gay Marriage — Peach Pundit

July 28th, 2010
7:03 pm

[...] AJC had another puff piece on how the Aug 10th Runoff is the Battle Royale between the North Metro and rural Georgia, and how [...]

Billy Joe Poteet

July 28th, 2010
7:06 pm

@Jason

I believe you are correct with regard to the terms. A governor can’t serve but two consecutive terms and, as far as I can tell, and can serve two more consecutive terms after being out of office for one intervening term.

khc

July 28th, 2010
7:10 pm

don’t tell sonny

Billy Joe Poteet

July 28th, 2010
7:19 pm

@Jason

Guess I should have read further before posting.

“The city is use to getting the short end of the stick but now it is rural Georgia’s turn”

I think past Governors have known that “as Atlanta goes, so goes the state”, and have been treated Atlanta in that light. I’m nearly positive that has been the case since Carl Sanders’ aministration and probably prior to that. Atlanta is the economic engine of the state. It has become that because of its’ geographic location and due to the wisdom and foresight of people such as Mayor Hartsfield. No one wants to see Atlanta or the suburbs suffer in any way. I do realize that the two Georgias still exist – Atlanta, and the rest of Georgia.

Billy Joe Poteet

July 28th, 2010
7:20 pm

@khc

We finally agree on something!

vuduchld

July 28th, 2010
7:25 pm

Any “power” the burbs think they havve is an illusion. You state is in shambles right now so what “power” do you think you have? I lived in Atlanta for 22 years, 17 of those in the ‘burbs. These candidates you are trumpeting about are part of the problem. These people are incompetent and will only slip Jawja further into irrelevency.

You people will wake up one of these days and realize that Atlanta is the draw that stirs the drink, not the ‘burbs or anywhere else. You take away Atlanta, your state becomes another Somalia, a failed, third world cabal . Proping up these nincompoops is a complete joke.

Billy Joe Poteet

July 28th, 2010
7:41 pm

@vuduchld

Atlanta itself is fast becoming a third world country all by itself. It doesn’t need any help to earn that distinction. The corruption in Atlanta politics rivals anything the state would have to offer. Crime is rampant and many people now fear entering Atlanta even for a visit. Atlanta’s tax base is becoming rapidly non-existant. Implosion is almost guaranteed..

John Konop

July 28th, 2010
7:51 pm

I can’t wait for Karen “Scandal” Handel to pack up the moving truck and go on back home to Maryland.

Maybe she can finally take some college classes (if they accept someone with a GED).

Erick Erickson

July 28th, 2010
7:54 pm

“Feminists have no sense of humor, but God clearly did in creating feminists.”

http://mediamatters.org/blog/201002080025

Erick Erickson

July 28th, 2010
7:57 pm

“Ugly feminists return to their kitchens.”

http://mediamatters.org/blog/201002080011

Erick Erickson

July 28th, 2010
7:59 pm

Joe college

July 28th, 2010
8:13 pm

No college degree for handel? No big deal—99% of the stuff you learn in college anyway is BS. It’s better to have knowledge gained from experience and street smarts than a bunch of bull from elite, ivory tower professors who have never worked a real job in their life.

Erick Erickson

July 28th, 2010
8:20 pm

Joe College, do you really think that Karen Handel who hasn’t completed any term she was ever elected to has “experience and street smarts”?

Do you think she gained “experience and street smarts” while working at Hallmark cards or scheduling events for Dany Quayle’s wife???

vuduchld

July 28th, 2010
8:20 pm

@Billy Joe Poteet

And the ‘burbs aren’t far behind. Been to Gwinnett and Cobb lately!!

Billy Joe Poteet

July 28th, 2010
8:22 pm

@.Joe college

Right you are! I think colleges have had a great deal to do with the political terrain nationally. The people who could not survive outside academia have filled too many heads with thoughts of the perfection of socialism. They impart their personal beliefs on young minds (who trust their instructors) instead of teaching the subject matter they are paid to teach. Young and impressionable minds will soak up whatever is given them without having the life experience to judge wisely.

Billy Joe Poteet

July 28th, 2010
8:24 pm

@vuduchld

You are right about Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb. Don’t forget Clayton and Rockdale!

Grandma Poteet

July 28th, 2010
8:46 pm

Spud get off that computer, and take your bath. Peoples, Billy Jo (family calls him Spud) hasn’t been the same since his daddy Billy Jo Sr. ran off with the cook from the corner diner. Spud if you get us in trouble and we lose our govt. check, PaPa is gonna get his belt after you.

Yankee

July 28th, 2010
8:50 pm

There is a unique culture here in Georgia that I have enjoyed for the past 16 years and I would hate to see Atlanta turn into another New York. When I came to Georgia Karen Handel was in New York working for KPMG. Does anyone know how long Ms. Handel has lived in Georgia? Does the word ‘Carpetbagger’ ring a bell?

Carpetbagger: “In United States history, “carpetbaggers” was a negative term Southerners gave to Northerners (also referred to as Yankees) who moved to the South during the Reconstruction era, between 1865 and 1877. It was a derogatory term, suggesting opportunism and exploitation in the outsiders.” “In modern usage in the U.S., the term is sometimes used derisively to refer to a politician who runs for public office in an area where he or she does not have deep community ties, or has lived only for a short time.”

Cee-lo

July 28th, 2010
9:06 pm

Joe College- I’d rather have someone in the Governor’s office who had that 1% of book smarts that even you deem important, than someone who didn’t have the drive to even attend college as an adult. With all the problems this state has, republicans are showing that there really are ‘retards’ like dude said in Hangover!

the ghost of Tom Murphy

July 28th, 2010
9:07 pm

I thought as Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, I threw Atlanta plenty of money. Remember I was there twenty some years. Governors came and went, but I decided who got what.

td

July 28th, 2010
9:18 pm

As much as I do not like Handel, I would much rather have a non college grad any day before I would want a Lawyer.

MD

July 28th, 2010
9:22 pm

It is time for Georgia to join Arizona and crack down on illegals in this state.To hell with obama politics and the left wing agenda.This is America and we and our fore fathers fought to hard to make this country what it is GOD BLESS AMERICA LAND OF THE FREE!LETS TAKE THIS COUNTRY BACK AND MAKE THE CONSTITUTION MEAN SOMETHING.

MD

July 28th, 2010
9:24 pm

If you are a liberal and don’t like it mexico wants you.

MD

July 28th, 2010
9:25 pm

obama I hope you see this,because you are not good for this country.

Real Georgia

July 28th, 2010
9:31 pm

Deal is going to win.

MD

July 28th, 2010
9:31 pm

The southern way of life is through heritage not I-95.Get it.

ga female

July 28th, 2010
9:51 pm

So are the hypocrites going to elect the cheating bible thumper Smith, rather than Olen’s is the real question. They all cheat on their wives themselves and get their girlfriends pregnant while they are out their preaching family values and are anti-abortion. Welcome to the land of the Bible thumper hypocrites. It is sickning!!!!

King Rat

July 28th, 2010
10:06 pm

Galloway, you are supposed to be keeping the focus on south Georgia, not north Georgia! Now fix me a cup of decaf while we figure out how to do damage control on your latest blunder.

justsaying

July 28th, 2010
10:07 pm

Handel just lost the teacher vote. She supports teacher pay tied to student performance.

John Holmes

July 28th, 2010
10:57 pm

How can anyone overlook the fact that Sam Olens was once the chairman of the Cobb Democratic Party? And that he has recieved numerous contributions from Roy Barnes? He and Barnes are good buddies. Does anyone thing he will really stand up against King Roy is they are both elected? He helped Roy and Clinton get elected! I think that is the worse thing I have heard this campaign season! Wake up Republicans!

N Fulton Guy

July 28th, 2010
11:20 pm

HOORAY FOR WHITE PEOPLE! WE’LL FINALLY HAVE A GOVERNMENT THAT REPRESENTS US! WE’VE BEEN OPPRESSED FOR SO LONG!

Cissy

July 28th, 2010
11:55 pm

KW said it well. Amen! But maybe I’ll just write in Eric Johnson’s name. The two Republicans are not options for me; and I’m not a fan of Mr. Barnes’ current suckup to the teachers’ unions.

Elliot Garcia

July 29th, 2010
12:42 am

There are plenty of college grads that are as dumb as a box of rocks…

Keith

July 29th, 2010
1:41 am

Sam Olens is a go along to get along member of the metro clique and as AG will do nothing that might upset his Democrat metro friends.

GI Dolly...

July 29th, 2010
4:43 am

Handeless doesn’t have the resolve or drive to finish high school. She did not raise kids, so what was the hold up?

MC W

July 29th, 2010
4:46 am

So they’re transplants. Big deal. So were my grandparents, and so is about one third of the state. It’s time for the rest of the state to realize that we’re not all about Southern Pride anymore.

Bubba

July 29th, 2010
5:38 am

I had been wondering when you would break the story of Preston Smith’s infidelity with a college student intern. He’s just another Teddy Kennedy / Bill Clinton / John Edwards / Gary Hart type.

????

July 29th, 2010
5:59 am

Saw Deal on TV last night spinning the fact that the feds are looking at his corruption, he is a joke, a joke that Georgia does not need..

MATHAN DEAL TOO CORRUPT FOR GEORGIA

????

July 29th, 2010
6:00 am

Saw Deal on TV last night spinning the fact that the feds are looking at his corruption, he is a joke, a joke that Georgia does not need..

NATHAN DEAL TOO CORRUPT FOR GEORGIA

Michael

July 29th, 2010
7:24 am

Deal and Smith are the two biggest retards in this election so, of course, Georgians will elect them. The remaining candidates will go back to clown college where they can think of even more stupid catch phrases for the next campaign. Georgians get what we deserve.

Chan

July 29th, 2010
8:24 am

College is not a requirement to hold office. Look at the Dekalb Co employee who scored a 480 on the SAT and all the fools that are currently in office. They have college degrees, didn’t seem to help them.

East Lake Ira

July 29th, 2010
8:30 am

Please nominate Deal.

I really really really want to see him impeached.

double zero eight

July 29th, 2010
8:42 am

FYI…….The last Georgia governor without a degree – Lester Maddox.

charles

July 29th, 2010
8:47 am

Handel needs to actually finish the job she claimed to want so badly – quit Fulton to run for Sec of State and quit Sec of State to run for Gov- she is a transparent power seeker caring little for job and people she claims to represent and only for the next step up the ladder. As for Attorney General, I would like to see someone elected like Ken Hodges, who has actually been a very successful AG out of Albany. Someone who wants to actually do the job rather than support their developer friends at statewide for the perks that can accrue.

Bob

July 29th, 2010
8:53 am

All of you people who can cite a couple cases of college grads in office doing poorly, or say that there are plenty of dumb college grads, know that there are far more incompetent non-college grads than college grads. The people who are afraid of electing Handel because she’s not a college grad are not saying that college automatically makes one qualified, so don’t bother citing Bush or Obama as some kind of proof that college doesn’t mean anything (and most historians actually are at least currently rating Obama pretty high, as a side note). What these people are saying is that while college doesn’t automatically qualify you, no college does automatically unqualify you. If nothing else, even if she has the skills to lead, the rest of the country would look down on her for it and she would have trouble bringing business into Georgia, which should be her first priority until our economy turns around.

????

July 29th, 2010
8:58 am

charles 8:47 am

Why did Deal resign his job? Looks like the Feds will find out..

????

July 29th, 2010
9:00 am

Bob 8:53 am

Deal & Obama have law degrees, what has that done for the taxpayer?