The most overlooked Georgia political development since the 2006 election may well be the increasing level of partisanship in our secretary of state's office. Most Georgians don't think about their secretary of state very often.
The real power of the position its real power comes from the secretary of state's regulation and administration of our elections. When one controls the process of choosing all of our other elected leaders, one has the ability to fundamentally influence the direction of our government.
Before Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel was elected in 2006, the office was a largely apolitical bureaucracy staffed by career employees. Like most government agencies, those bureaucrats were varied in their ability and commitment to their jobs, but they were not widely regarded as carrying out the political bidding of the Democratic Party, of which all secretaries of state before Handel were members.
Now that Handel has taken control of the office, nonpartisan tradition is gone with the wind. She's been compared to former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who was made famous during the 2000 vote recount of the state's vote for president between George W. Bush and Al Gore. That comparison is not particularly apt, because Harris was an accidental pawn in a game far larger than she, and her office was essentially commandeered during the recount drama by national Republican operatives. In contrast, Handel is part of a long-range plan by Republicans to use the secretary of state's office to solidify and expand their hold on Georgia politics.
Handel's recent conduct has provided plenty of examples of the GOP plan in action. Perhaps her most egregious act was her recent attempt to disqualify Jim Powell, a Democrat running for the Public Service Commission. Powell, a candidate widely regarded as an appealing prospect for the PSC, was forced to go to court to block Handel's attempt to remove him from the ballot the day before this summer's primary. Handel tried to boot Powell at the last minute, despite the fact that an administrative law judge, to whom Handel had referred a question regarding Powell's residency in his PSC district, reviewed the evidence and ruled that Powell was eligible to run for the office.
Handel also has been fighting tooth and nail to allow state Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta) to run unopposed. Jacobs made an odd decision to switch from Democrat to Republican in an in-town, Democrat-trending seat, during what may be the worst Republican year since Watergate. Handel kicked his Democratic opponent off the ballot, and is doing everything in her power to keep Michelle Conlon, an independent candidate, out of the race as well. Conlon is now suing Handel for throwing out a multitude of seemingly valid petition signatures collected by Conlon to qualify as an independent.
What we are witnessing is the skillful and shameless exploitation of power to ensure its perpetuation. As Handel and her partisan minders march on, each small decision makes a Democratic comeback in Georgia less and less likely - a plotline that should be left for the voters to decide, not some state bureaucrat.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: email@example.com, or Web address: billshipponline.com.