And so it was a little odd last Tuesday morning when I got a call directing me to an event for Karen Handel. It had not been on my calendar, though I knew she was having several events that day. I’ve been trying to attend events hosted by the individual candidates that I am open to supporting, as well as public forums where candidates would be speaking. I have attended events thus far for Handel, Johnson, and Scott, and plan to continue to do so.
This one, however, was a bit different. I wasn’t really sure why I was invited to the “Women for Karen Handel” luncheon, but I think I now get it.
I’ve tried to be as frank with each candidate of why I have reservations about their campaigns in person as I am here on these pages. And in my first conversation with the Handels, as well as multiple follow up conversations with them and/or their campaign staff, the same topic has come up: I think the people of Georgia are not looking for the third term of Sonny Perdue. It’s fairly clear to me that I can take that issue off the table now.
Tuesday, January 5th, marked a turning point in not only Handel’s campaign, but it appears most Republican campaigns in the state. Fresh off her resignation and now a full time Candidate, Handel wasted no time in setting a message that framed her campaign around recent events, and has drawn a line in the sand to distance herself from not only Sonny Perdue, but the current “good old boy” system in general.
The message delivered, verbal and nonverbal, was as subtle as a ball-peen hammer upside the head, and judging from the reaction of many incumbent (male) legislators I’ve spoken with during the past week, I think she hit her target.
The event, emceed by Betty Rose Bowers, featured retired Navy Admiral Marsha Evans as the introductory speaker. Among her career highlights was that Admiral Evans led the task force that produced the after-action report on the Navy’s Tailhook scandal. She seemed to have a decent grasp of the magnitude of the news that had come from the general assembly, and worked the theme into her speech:
Speaking from experience, I know that isn’t always easy. You’re often caught in a bind…you want to work collaboratively with the guys because that is how you get things done…you work with “the good ole boys” but you don’t want to be one of “the good ole boys” when that means doing things you think are non consistent with your values or wrong. Karen has faced that dilemma and has stayed true to her values and not compromised her integrity. And she has gotten the job done…”accomplished the mission” as we say in my former life in the Navy. As I look over the list and qualifications of those running for Governor, it is pretty clear to me Karen is the only candidate who is not, shall we say, “ethically challenged.”
Subtle? Not so much. I can say that those at my table, which included one local elected official but mostly non-political types, went from being politically disinterested to being quite engaged during the above passage. When Handel followed with this, they seemed to be mad at every man that had ever done them wrong:
When one group of people … one type of people … controls an organization for too long, problems eventually develop. The group in charge begins to see itself as all-powerful with no real sense of accountability to anyone other than themselves. The group’s focus on staying in power overshadows the power of the mission.
This happens in politics too. It happened in Georgia when one party controlled the legislature and the Governorship for well over a Century. Ultimately, voters demanded accountability; demanded change. And, the result was dramatic change at the State House and across the state.
Sadly, it has taken only a few short years for some in the new Republican majority to adopt the same inept or self-serving style of leadership and for the same out of control culture to be re-established.
We’ve all heard or read the stories of “sex, lies and lobbyists” at our State Capitol where legislation passes or fails based on the size of contributions or the elegance of a dinner or trip. This is not public service. It’s not what we elect our leaders to do. And, we need to clean it up and refocus our energies and efforts on putting the business of the people of Georgia first.
If we are going to end this cycle of abuse and corruption … if we’re going to get real progress on the issues our state is facing … it’s going to take radical change and reform. And, ladies, it is time for exactly that. it is time for leadership that will shake things up and clean things up! Ladies, it is time!
This event, covered by Atlanta television, newspaper, and the Associated Press, drew immediate reaction from competitors. Austin Scott challenged Handel’s record versus his, while others focused on Handel’s own lobbyist connections.
Beyond our world of inside baseball, the words seemed to have hit their target. And left a mark. The men of Georgia Government have taken this one personally, and seem to be unifying against Handel.
Throughout the Wild Hog Supper, the Peach Pundit Road Show, and calls, texts, and emails both before and after, I have heard one central theme from members of the General Assembly: “We’re not all like that.”
They are taking this one personally, and they feel like they are being damned by the conduct of their colleagues. They are. My parents always taught me I would be judged by the company I keep. You don’t have to keep but one or two of the wrong folks around and condone their improper actions before you suffer guilt by association.
The resentment from GOP women has been simmering for some time. I still hear about the treatment of State GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart who was blocked from joining Saxby on stage during his victory speech last cycle. Many are still looking to claim a scalp for that transgression as revenge.
The “scorned woman” card is a tough one to play, but it seems to be working in this situation. Handels’ speech received immediate coverage on the AJC’s main blogs, and was teased from 3:00pm on for the 6:00pm news cast. It was guaranteed earned media, and it cut through the clutter with ease so that the average viewer, one that doesn’t even know there is a term for “inside baseball” could easily understand.
And so, there are a lot of members of the General Assembly who have been quite defensive over the last week. They’ve done nothing wrong. They come to Atlanta for low pay, long hours, get yelled at by everyone for not voting exactly the way someone else wants, and their thanks is that they are painted with a broad brush of corruption, sex, and lies.
It’s easy to get demoralized when you’re receiving the punishment for something done by another. It’s often even harder to clean up the mess. Rather than aim the frustration at the messenger – be it blogger, press, or candidate – the energy must be maintained and focused on changing the system.
If the members of the General Assembly don’t like Karen Handel’s message, then take it away from her. Fix the problems now, this session, before qualifying begins.
If the problems remain beyond the end of this session, she is liable to hang you with them on the gallows of earned media.