The governor’s race dove into new territory on Monday as Democrat Roy Barnes shifted his campaign tactics in an effort to court women’s votes.
Barnes released ads on Friday that accused Republican candidate Nathan Deal of once attempting to weaken the state’s law that protects rape victims, but the arguments exploded Monday morning as Barnes discussed the two candidates’ records on women’s issues with physical and sexual assault survivors in front of the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center.
“Unfortunately, the rape shield isn’t the only time Deal tried to impede the justice system for Georgia’s women — on four separate occasions, he voted to oppose domestic violence bills,” Barnes said Monday. He acknowledged that picking up women’s votes will be critical to winning on Election Day.
The Deal camp has called the attacks “despicable.”
“Nathan supported the 2005 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. He’s got a tough-on-crime record while Barnes has an anything-for-a-dime record,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said, referring to Barnes’ record as a trial lawyer.
The increased focus on female voters is no surprise.
Kerwin Swint, professor of political science at Kennesaw State University, said, nationally, women turn out in greater numbers than men at the polls. And he suggested white women, in particular, tend to be less partisan than their male counterparts.
Barnes’ rape shield ad — with its Volvo station wagon and ominous car alarm — seems aimed at “middle-aged, higher income white women,” Swint said. “And they tend to vote in even higher numbers than other groups.”
In his attacks, Barnes targeted legislation he sponsored that passed in 1981-1988.
In 1981, then-state Sen. Barnes supported the Domestic Violence Act, which allowed police to make an arrest without a warrant of individuals suspected of committing violent acts against their spouses. It also allowed them to petition Superior Court judges to hold a hearing and settle the domestic dispute.
Deal opposed giving courts “far-reaching power” over the family and giving police too much discretion in arresting suspects.
On the Senate floor, according to several 1981 newspaper accounts, Deal said the bill was “asking a Superior Court judge to become a referee within the context of the family,” which was “no proper role” for a Superior Court judge.
In 1986 and 1988, Barnes sponsored bills that broadened the definition of family violence and one that would “ameliorate” the process of filing with a court for relief of domestic violence. Deal was the only senator to vote “no” against both 1988 bills.
Barnes also talked about controversy surrounding the February 1991 bill that could change rape shield laws.
Deal, a defense lawyer and then president pro tem, proposed revisions to the state’s rules governing what evidence can be used in criminal and civil trials because the broad statute was “vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.”
On page 21 of the 164-page document, the bill allowed defense attorneys to question a rape victim about sexual background if the prosecutor introduced evidence that the woman had become pregnant, contracted a disease because of the attack, became injured or doctors found semen during investigation.
Women’s groups protested the change with outrage, and Deal amended the bill. The version that passed the Senate continued protection for victims and broadened it to cover all victims of sexual assault.
On Monday, the Deal campaign responded to the 1991 legislation, pointing out that Barnes served on the State Bar Evidence Committee of Georgia during the time that panel reviewed and approved Deal’s legislation.
“The proposed law actually strengthened protections for victims. First, it expanded the shield to all sexual assault victims, whereas before it covered only rape victims,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. “Second, it had no exception to the rape shield for ‘highly material’ evidence that would suggest consent. Third, the proposed rule stated that even if the evidence of the victim’s past was admissible under an exception, the trial judge also had to find that the need for or probative value of the evidence outweighed its prejudicial effect on the victim before allowing it in.”
The campaign also said Deal supported the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 that increased annual funding for the group from $185 million per year to $225 million per year. The bill also supported the placement of special victim assistants in law enforcement to serve as liaisons between victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sex assault and stalking and law enforcement personnel. It also increased by $10 million funding for services for victims of violence, including rape crisis centers and other rape and violence support centers.
“This has become absolutely pathetic,” Robinson said. “Trial lawyer Roy Barnes defended child molesters and murderers, doing his part to keep criminals on the streets of Georgia.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.