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Sen. Eric Johnson, the Republican lawmaker who has represented most of Liberty County in the Georgia Senate for the past decade, has gotten quite a bit of praise for his decision to give up his seat to concentrate on his campaign for governor.
The governor’s race is next year and it appears there will be hard-fought primaries in both parties even before both parties’ nominees gets to square off in the main event.
The logic behind the praise is Johnson is putting his constituents first, that he couldn’t represent us well in the General Assembly session that starts in January if he is also running for governor.
I have a different take on his action, which he announced on Sept. 15. I think he’s putting his career first, behind his constituents.
It’s the same with most politicians who decide during the middle of a term that they would rather be doing something else. Voters in their districts did not elect him or her to one office just so he or she could run for some other office.
Quitting mid-term is more understandable for a U.S. senator, who serves a six-year term. But state senators serve just two years. If someone can’t plan out their career two years in advance, I’m not sure they qualify for a “higher” office.
Johnson has been an effective, conscientious lawmaker. We don’t see a lot of him in Democrat-leaning Liberty County. But we don’t get many politicians through. And the senator has never seemed to use his position to hurt the county for its yellow-dog ways.
I believe in his heart Johnson, who was first elected to the Georgia House in 1992 and to the Senate in 1994, has honorable motives. In his announcement on Sept. 15, he gave three reasons for his move:
“First, it is clearly impossible to fully commit to being the senator from the 1st District and a candidate for governor at the same time. The people of the 1st deserve a full-time senator, and my campaign for governor deserve a full-time candidate.
“Second, there is a growing disconnect between government and the people, particularly at the federal level. I want to make darn sure it doesn’t happen at the state level. I want to be out listening to Georgians and get away from the chattering political class within the beltway.
“Third, I want to make sure no one thinks that taxpayer funds are used to support the campaign and that there are no accusations I am using my position and taxpayer funds to campaign for governor.”
I fear Johnson’s resignation, its timing and the subsequent reactions further the disconnect he addresses in his second reason.
The same Tuesday Johnson said he was resigning, state Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, announced he would have a news conference the next day. And at it Carter said he was resigning his District 159 seat in the Pooler-Effingham County area to run for the District 1 Senate seat.
On that Wednesday, the next day, Gov. Sonny Perdue and Secretary of State Karen Handel also issued the necessary paperwork to schedule special elections (Johnson’s Senate seat and Carter’s House seat) to coincide with Nov. 3 municipal elections. Handel’s action set qualifying to run for both seats for this past Monday-Wednesday.
Do you think the fix was in?
Yeah, sure, Perdue and Handel had to act fast to meet deadlines to get the elections scheduled for November, when elections in a few jurisdictions were already scheduled. But, how could anyone who was not informed of these plans earlier possibly decide whether they could mount a campaign for the Senate or House in a week?
Dr. Billy Hair, who is best known in Liberty County from the early 1990s when he was president of Savannah Technical College, did qualify for the Senate race in the three-day qualifying period. But it seems unlikely anyone other than current officeholders were considered when all this was hammered out in some backroom that in years past would have been smoke-filled.
It is significant that all of the officeholders involved belong to the same party, but not that they are Republicans. Democrats participate in the same shenanigans when they are in the position. Just look at Illinois last winter when Barack Obama’s Senate seat opened up.
Johnson needs to darn sure look no further than my take on these events to see why there is a growing disconnect between government and the people.
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