Steve Handel, husband of SOS candidate Karen, ignited a firestorm of sorts on the southside with an ill-advised comment at the Fayette County GOP’s monthly breakfast meeting Saturday morning, according to several attendees.
Speaking on behalf of the Handel campaign, Mr. Handel, apparently attempting to draw a parallel between Karen’s track record in Fulton county and what he understood was needed in Fayette, “said that Karen Handel had done a lot for Fulton County in locating and exposing corrupt politicans,” specifically mentioning “her problems with their former Sheriff, Jackie Barrett,” according to Fayette GOP members present at the meeting. Mr. Handel “then stated that Fayette County residents were familiar with corrupt politicians,” and then “referenced [Fayette County] Sheriff [Randall] Johnson,” causing one prominent member of the organization to walk out, and sparking a flurry of blogging on the incident.
Here’s a brief background: Randall Johnson is in his 29th year as Fayette sheriff, and is arguably the most popular elected official in the county. The last few years, the County Commission–principally Chairman Greg Dunn–has been in a legal tug-of-war over money and resources with the Sheriff’s office. Dunn, who is running for reelection despite declining popularity numbers, is the Handel campaign coordinator for Fayette County, and has reportedly promised Handel “seventy percent of the Republican vote.”
The problem here appears to be that Steve Handel, while trying to show that he (and, by extension, Karen) understands Fayette county, took the word of a relatively unpopular official who, due to his involvement with the Handel campaign, he mistakenly trusted. So, thinking he was speaking the sentiments of the citizens of the Republican stronghold, Mr. Handel wrongly maligned an extremely popular county official.
The ensuing explosion of criticism elicited this response from Mr. Handel, posted on the local newspaper’s weblog:
During my comments I stated that Karen had uncovered a corrupt sheriff and run her off. I did say it was my understanding that there had been some challenges with the Sheriff in Fayette. I did not state nor did I intend to imply that the Fayette County Sheriff Johnson is corrupt. I also hope that no one will hold Karen responsible for my misstatements. My sincere apologies if I offended anyone.