When friends ask me if I’m ever going to retire as a working journalist, I respond, “how can I leave when I’m having so much fun?”
Every election cycle in Georgia has its share of weirdness, but I think we got a double-load this year.
There is, for example, the candidacy of a fellow named Billy Davis in the 11th Congressional District, who’s hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk in the Republican primary.
Dale Russell of Fox 5 TV in Atlanta, one of Georgia’s best broadcast reporters, looked into Davis’ background and came up with an amazing story. Russell found out that Davis, who now lives in Kennesaw but was once an Arizona legislator, had served a year in prison for lying on a loan application, filed for multiple bankruptcies, and had to pay off a $782,000 legal settlement after an elderly couple successfully sued him.
“Why would you run for Congress when you know that you’re a convicted felon?” Russell asked him on camera.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Davis replied with unassailable logic. “I’m an American.”
Russell also remarked on the fact that Davis had to pay off that $782,000 settlement.
“Listen, back in those days I owed a whole lot more than that,” Davis said.
Over in the 3rd Congressional District’s Republican primary, state Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, caught folks’ attention with some provocative comments about the occasional necessity of shooting police officers.
Let’s first stipulate that Crane has done some admirable things as a state senator. He’s one of the few lawmakers with the courage to stand up to the governor and the legislative leadership when they’re trying to ram bills through to passage in the dying hours of a session.
Crane once held up a roll of yellow crime scene tape while making a speech to show his distaste for a proposed Senate rules change. When the Senate was voting on the transportation tax increase last year, Crane asked defiantly, “Isn’t it true that this is an unqualified midnight run on Georgia taxpayers?”
Even so, Crane raised a few eyebrows at a candidates’ forum when he made this remark about police officers who use no-knock warrants to conduct a raid on a private residence: “If you come to my house, kick down my door, if I have an opportunity I will shoot you dead. And every one of you should do the same.”
Those comments were quickly denounced by businessman Jim Pace, who’s another candidate in the 3rd District primary.
“Officers often risk their lives daily taking on violent criminals,” Pace said. “Our elected officials should thank them, not declare open season on them for carrying out the laws passed by those exact same career politicians.”
When asked about the controversy by a local reporter, Crane said, “I’ll never apologize for defending my home or anybody else’s right to defend their home.”
And then there’s Jim Barksdale, a political newcomer who is the Democratic Party’s best hope against incumbent U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in the general election.
Barksdale has a successful financial business — to the extent that he can lend his own campaign more than $1 million. But his name is probably unknown to about 99 percent of the state’s voters.
If you want to run for office when nobody knows who you are, you need to get out there fast and start holding news conferences and doing as many media interviews as you can to get your name in front of the voters.
Barksdale obviously is a different kind of candidate. He qualified for the Democratic primary the first week in March, but didn’t hold any news conferences or grant his first interview to a reporter until the last week in April.
That’s not going to get you the level of name recognition you need to run against a longtime, well-funded incumbent. It may not even get you through a primary election where there are two other obscure candidates on the ballot.
As I said, it’s been a strange election year on the local front, and there is still much to be done. Can a convicted felon hope to get elected? Will a state senator shoot a policeman? Can Barksdale cease being the invisible man of Georgia politics? I can’t wait to find out.
Tom Crawford is editor of the Georgia Report.