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Vacant AG seat leads to frenzy

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POSTED: April 22, 2009 4:33 p.m.
ATLANTA - The 2010 race for Georgia's attorney general is attracting almost as many candidates as the governor's contest - and for good reason. There hasn't been an open seat in the election for the state's top lawyer in more than 60 years.

That explains why what is normally considered a down-ticket race is already becoming one of the most hotly contested campaigns.

Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens, long thought to be running for governor, this week became the latest politician to run for the seat. Three other prominent Republicans are considering a run, and two well-known Democratic attorneys are already in the contest.

By comparison, many of the other down-ticket statewide races have so far attracted few candidates and little attention.

Many of the would-be candidates say they felt compelled to consider a run because the seat isn't filled by an incumbent for the first time since World War II.

State Rep. Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican weighing a run, points out there have only been four attorney generals in his lifetime.

"I'm generally happy with where I'm at, but the AG's position doesn't come up very often," said Lindsey, who is 50. "And for a lawyer interested in public service, when it does come open, you have to take a serious look at it."

State officials say the race hasn't been open since Ellis Arnall left the post to run for governor in 1942. Since then all five attorneys general - Grady Head, Eugene Cook, Arthur Bolton, Mike Bowers and Thurbert Baker - were all first appointed to their posts.

Many of the incumbents were since re-elected. Cook served for two decades before stepping down in 1965 to become a Georgia Supreme Court Justice. Bowers was elected to four four-year terms before resigning to launch an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1998.

And Baker, who was appointed by then-Gov. Zell Miller to be his replacement, was elected three times to the post. He announced this month he was running for governor, and spokesman Russ Willard said Wednesday that Baker was not planning to resign before his term ends.

"The people of Georgia elected Attorney General Baker to a four-year term and he fully intends to fulfill that commitment," said Willard.

The rarity of the open seat was one of the reasons Olens, whom many considered a possible candidate to replace Gov. Sonny Perdue, decided instead on a bid to become the state's top attorney.

At a campaign announcement Tuesday, Olens told a crowd of supporters that the "ability to serve as the people's lawyer is frankly an opportunity that I relish."

"The issues I've dealt with in local government - ethics, open meetings, closed meetings that should be open, consumer affairs, having elected officials honor their oaths of office - those are all activities that in the purview of the attorney general and all activities that will keep me energized," he said.

He could face a crowded GOP primary field. Lindsey, state Sen. Judson Hill and state Rep. David Ralston are all weighing a campaign, and other Republicans may also join the contest.

Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican who ran for the post in 1998, said he was taking a "long, serious look" at another bid and that he would soon make a decision. But he sounded as if he already made up his mind, saying he was the only candidate who has run a statewide campaign.

"Until you've done it, you don't know what it's all about," he said. "And having done one, we have the experience. We ran a very strong and good race. And that gives us some big advantages at this stage of the game."

Democrats, meanwhile, see an opportunity to retain one of the few statewide posts they still hold.

State Rep. Rob Teilhet, a Smyrna Democrat, announced he would run soon after Baker said he would seek higher office. He said his campaign would focus on advocacy for crime victims, consumer protection and ethics in government.

"The office of attorney general is second only to the governor's office in terms of its ability to do good for the people of Georgia," said Teilhet. "It's an extraordinarily powerful office that can be put to use for people in the state."

He faces a rival in the Democratic primary from Ken Hodges, a former Albany district attorney who resigned from office in September after serving for almost a dozen years. He is now in private practice in Atlanta.

Hodges plans to emphasize his efforts in south Georgia to crack down on predatory lenders and illegal video poker rings. And he said he'll be quick to emphasize his experience running a prosecutor's office.

"We need somebody who has done it before and knows the job," he said. "And so far I'm the only one I know of who fits that category."


 

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