The chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party this afternoon said he was prepared to go to court to have state Rep. Rick Crawford, D-Cedartown, removed from the November ballot – announcing a zero-tolerance policy for party-switchers.
“If you’re a Democrat, you’re a Democrat. But if you’re not going to be one, we’re coming after you. We’re going to do whatever we have to, to get you out of the office. That’s just good politics,” party chairman Michael Berlon told reporters.
Last week, Crawford, whose west Georgia district has been redrawn, announced he would shift his allegiance to the Republican party – if he survives his re-election bid.
With 16 Democratic officials gathered behind him, Berlon said that the party’s executive committee had stripped Crawford of his membership, and disqualified him as a candidate.
The case is unprecedented. Berlon conceded that Crawford has not withdrawn his candidacy, but in a letter to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Berlon argued that party disqualification should serve as a legal equivalent – that a state party should be able to control who serves as its representatives.
Read the letter here. Said Berlon:
”If the secretary of state says that the executive committee of the state Democratic party can vote unanimously to take away someone as a nominee, and that’s not sufficient, then we’ve got a bigger issue that we’ve got to speak with the secretary of state about.”
Jared Thomas, a spokesman for Kemp, said the secretary of state could remove a candidate from the ballot only in clear cases of fraud – misstatements of residency, for instance. A statement by Crawford about his future intentions “doesn’t invalidate the earlier qualification with the Democratic party,” Thomas said.
Crawford, a three-term conservative Democrat and a professor of political science at Shorter College, said he decided to make his announcement after Democrats placed an endorsement of same-sex marriage into the platform they adopted at their national convention in Charlotte, N.C.
That was on Sept. 4. If a candidate withdraws 60 days before an election, the executive committee can replace him with a candidate of its choosing.
”If Crawford would have resigned either on the 4th, 5th, or 6th of September, as a party we would have had the option to replace him. Instead he waits til five weeks before the election. I don’t buy it. It’s not intellectually honest,” Berlon said.
Even if Democrats are successful in replacing Crawford, they concede that any candidate they choose is nearly certain to fail. Republicans remain solidly behind Trey Kelley, a 25-year-old manufacturer’s rep.
One reason for Democratic anger is the fact that they’re battling for relevancy. District maps drawn by Republicans last year could produce a two-thirds majority in the chamber that would strip Democrats of nearly any influence.
“Crawford now has us at minus-one in probably one of the most important elections that we’re going to have in a long time,” Berlon said.
Language at the Monday press conference was sharp and personal. “I’m very disappointed in my colleague and what he’s doing,” said state Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta. Bruce declared party-switching to be “the greatest form of voter suppression that I can think of.”
“It’s denying the public their right to be represented,” he said.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, said he had considered Crawford to be a “friend” and “a loyal, dues-paying member of the House caucus.” Then he went on to condemn Crawford’s “intellectual dishonesty,” accusing him of making the switch for “political gain.”
We contacted Crawford late this afternoon. He had not heard any of the details of the Democratic assembly. The state lawmaker said his early announcement was an effort to be upfront with voters.
“I frankly think it’s something to be commended,” Crawford said. “God forbid that somebody should be honest about their intentions.”
As for the harsh reaction? “I don’t see but one explanation,” the lawmaker said. “I must be punished because I have challenged their leftist social agenda. Zell was right.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider