THE PLANK DECEMBER 4, 2009
An explosive political scandal in my home state of Georgia serves as a reminder that in state elections in 2010, there are many Republicans who are currently in control of statehouses, and could suffer the vicissitudes associated with malfeasance in office and a surly, wrong-track-dominated electorate.
Georgia's Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson resigned today, a few days after his ex-wife in a television interview said she knew for a fact that the conservative solon had conducted an extramarital affair with a utilities lobbyist even as he championed legislation highly beneficial to the lobbyist's employer. What made this charge political dynamite is that House Democrats had filed an ethics complaint against Richardson in 2007 making that exact charge, which was briskly dismissed by Republicans.
The story was made more lurid by the fact that Richardson had obtained considerable public sympathy last month by disclosing he had attempted suicide out of depression over the dissolution of his marriage. His ex-wife took to the airwaves in part to charge that the "suicide attempt" was in fact no more than an act of manipulation aimed at controlling her--and presumably, her mouth.
Georgia Republicans, of course, quickly handed Richardson an anvil, but it may not be so easy for them to avoid collateral damage; the scandal is already bleeding over into the borderline-vicious GOP gubernatorial primary for 2010. One candidate, Secretary of State Karen Handel, has already reminded Georgians that one of her rivals, former state senator Eric Johnson, chaired the ethics panel that peremptorily dismissed the Democratic complaint against Richardson, which now appears to have been entirely legitimate. Another of her rivals, state Rep. Austin Scott, was one of Richardson's strongest allies in the legislature. Moreover, the blame-game over Richardson's sex-and-corruption scandal can't help but remind voters of the cozy relationship between the GOP and corporate influence-peddlers.
With two Democratic candidates for governor, former Gov. Roy Barnes and Attorney General Thurbert Baker, both looking reasonably competitive against the fractious GOP field, Republicans may not have much of a margin for error, even in this conservative state. Power has its privileges, but in this particular day and age, being the incumbent party comes with handicaps as well.
Ed Kilgore is Managing Editor of The Democratic Strategist and a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.