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Crawford: Lessons we should have learned from this campaign year
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This has been one of the dreariest election years ever.

Unhappy voters were made even grumpier by a flood of negative TV commercials. It's interesting that the Republican Governors Association spent nearly $6 million to produce and buy air time for attack ads aimed at former Gov. Roy Barnes. That's almost as much money as Nathan Deal reported raising in his last campaign disclosure report.

Even in the muck and mire of this campaign cycle, there have been some developments that are worthy of a compliment.

I don't recall a governor's race where the two major candidates participated in as many debates as Deal and Barnes have. They have gone head-to-head in these confrontations more than 10 times. We've never had that many debates in a governor's race in recent history and I doubt that we ever will again.

I commend both candidates for having the fortitude to show up and make their case in such adversarial settings. This is how the democratic process should work, and they did the voters a big favor by debating.

We've also seen an unusual degree of transparency on the part of some candidates. Back in May, Barnes released volumes of paper documenting his tax returns and personal financial information covering the past 25 years. He laid it all out there for the media and any interested voters to scrutinize.

Deal did provide some information about his financial history, but he was not as open about it as Barnes was. The Deal campaign released summary information covering 28 years of tax returns, but did not provide the backup schedules and explanatory forms that Barnes did.

Consider Deal's fragmented tax information that he provided for 2007. He reported total income of $205,433 but paid only $2,068 in federal taxes; his federal taxes amounted to just 1 percent of his total income. In 2006, Deal had $188,904 in adjusted gross income but paid just $5,575 in taxes - about 3 percent of his gross income.

Speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that my yearly income is a lot less than $205,000, but I pay a lot more than 1 percent of it in taxes. How was Deal able to do this? It's an explanation we never got because his campaign declined to provide the backup information.

Deal also waited until after the Republican primary runoff, when he won a narrow victory over Karen Handel, to make this partial disclosure of his financial information. Considering what we now know about his family's fiscal problems, that's information voters would have found helpful in choosing between him and Handel.

It's good that Deal at least disclosed some of the financial information about himself, but he should have provided a lot more.

Another lesson learned from the campaign is that we need to be more watchful of our judicial system. The Deal campaign strongly criticized Barnes because he, or someone from his law firm, had appeared 37 times before judges he appointed while Barnes was governor.

It is not illegal for an attorney to practice law and a judge is not necessarily crooked because he handles a case involving the man who appointed him to the bench. One of the judges Barnes appeared before was Jason Deal, the son of Nathan Deal. Barnes originally appointed the younger Deal to a judicial system job. I don't think it would have been fair to characterize Jason Deal as a corrupt judge.

These courtroom appearances do raise questions of fairness and impartiality, however. The General Assembly should pass a law next session that would require judges in future situations to excuse themselves from handling cases involving the person who appointed them to the bench.

That new law should also be written to apply to Supreme Court justices who are running for reelection, such as David Nahmias. Nahmias is considering an important case involving charter schools in which his own campaign chairman, Mike Bowers, is representing one of the parties to the appeal. Ethically speaking, Nahmias should not be involved in the ruling on that case.

It was a messy governor's race, to be sure. But if we can get some reforms out of it like the ones mentioned above, it will have accomplished something.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on


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