They haven’t printed it, but I’ve obtained a copy of a letter to the editor at the AJC from Robert Highsmith:
Yesterday’s editorial accusing Secretary of State Karen Handel of “selective hearing” in the Jim Powell case itself selectively reads the law on candidate residency. Karen Handel should be applauded for her scrupulous and unwavering commitment to enforcing the law this election cycle. Under the law, Jim Powell is plainly not eligible to run for or serve in the District 4 seat on the Public Service Commission. The Administrative Law Judge’s initial decision was correct on the facts—Jim Powell had a homestead exemption outside the district from which he wishes to run—but wrong on the law. Karen Handel, to her credit, corrected that error. Under Georgia law, “[t]he specific address in the county or municipality in which a person has declared a homestead exemption, if a homestead exemption has been claimed, shall be deemed the person’s residence address.” O.C.G.A. § 21-2-217(a)(14). “. . . [T]he homestead shall be the legal residence and domicile of the applicant for all purposes whatever.” O.C.G.A. § 48-5-40(3)(K). In paragraph 5 of his initial decision, the Administrative Law Judge correctly found that Powell had a homestead exemption outside District 4. That finding makes him ineligible to run for that seat.
I represented Public Service Commissioner Bobby Baker against the challenge that Powell’s lawyer, Lee Parks, brought against Baker’s residency. Mr. Parks’s case failed to win the vote of a single justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. As that case made plain, a homestead exemption claimed by a candidate establishes residency irrefutably. A homestead claimed only by a spouse does not. Commissioner Baker did not have a homestead exemption outside his district. Jim Powell did. The central fact of the Powell case, therefore, is completely opposite the facts in the Baker case. Secretary Handel and her legal team were correct to look carefully at those facts and make that crucial distinction. Secretary Handel could have taken the easy path, avoided political criticism, and accepted Powell’s and his counsel’s misstatement of the law, but she didn’t. She upheld the law strictly as it is written, and we should all be grateful to her for doing so.
Let’s not forget that when the 1998 General Assembly—then under Democrat control—changed the law to require PSC members to run from districts, it did so with the acknowledged intent to hurt Republican chances of re-election. It is the height of hypocrisy to complain when that law is strictly and correctly applied to a Democrat.