Today’s Courier Herald Column:
On a day where the political world was focused on the first of the Presidential debates, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens still managed to make some news. Olens released a legal opinion instructing local school boards that they do not have the legal authority to spend money and utilize other resources campaigning for or against the Charter School amendment.
At issue has been various organizations advocating against the constitutional amendment on official board websites, as well as the taxpayer funded association of school boards. WSB TV reported Wednesday some have been conducting grass roots political training to oppose the amendment. Most organizations which had formally declared themselves against the measure have since switched their official position to “neutral”. Opposition to the measure from local school boards can be expected to remain strong, but efforts to oppose the measure will have to be done by individuals on their own time.
WSB noted in the same report that the Governor’s office had removed a letter supporting the amendment from its website as well.
Supporters of the charter school amendment have been complaining for weeks that local school boards as well as the Georgia Department of Education were actively working against the measure through official channels and in the name of the organization. Olens’ opinion seems to side with these complaints.
Opponents, however, argue that legislators and the Governor have been openly campaigning for the amendment, which becomes a bit more problematic to draw an effective line. Legislators, after all, are officially part time state employees. It’s difficult to see how verbally advocating for the amendment while the legislature is in session could be crossing the line. The Governor, who occupies a full time position, seems a bit more restricted but still speaks regularly on policy issues facing the state. It seems the removal of the item from his official website is a tacit admission that there are some limits to his advocacy.
Olens has promised a follow up letter with an opinion regarding enforcement actions “against local school boards that have violated this prohibition.” Clearly, there’s more to come.
For those looking for a better line of how politicians can split personal political advocacy and the performance of their daily responsibilities to constituents and taxpayers, Olens himself provides an active example. His office regularly sends press releases regarding the functions of his office. Most announce charges and convictions of state employees who have been abusing their offices for personal gain. Less frequently, there are matters where the state is involved in legal matters such as defending the recently passed immigration reform bill which went before the U.S. Supreme Court, or Georgia’s involvement against President Obama’s Health Care Reform law.
Olens maintains a personal facebook page and campaign team which distributes his political messages. Those channels remain highly active, helping Olens advocate on behalf of Mitt Romney as one of Georgia’s most frequent Romney surrogates. His facebook page is currently dedicated to post debate coverage, using various clips and post to declare victory for Romney in the first dust up.
Olens’ decision to wade into the charter school debate is somewhat risky politically, but execution of required job responsibilities often are. Having the job means doing the job, and Olens seems to be taking care of business.
Outside the job, however, Olens is definitely taking care of his base. His attachment to the Romney campaign and frequent tweets, facebook posts, and personal appearances on his behalf associates himself with the hard core Republicans across the state who are passionate about making a change in the White House this January. As such, Olens – on his own time – is deepening his connection with voters that chose him in a runoff to be Georgia’s Attorney General but may or may not have been focused on Olens’ ability to be an effective partisan.
Those skills, after all, aren’t necessarily what is looked for in an Attorney General. They do come in handy, however, when statewide elected officials decide one day to run for higher offices.