Nation - Georgia Rare open AG seat leads to unusually intense race

By Greg Bluestein

Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA (AP) -- The first open seat in the election for the state's top lawyer in more than 60 years has transformed a normally down-ticket race into one of the most hotly contested campaigns in Georgia.

That helps explain why three prominent Republicans and two well-known Democrats are running to become the state's next attorney general, and each have unveiled ambitious plans to use the post to push their agendas. All have vowed to play a more proactive role in enforcing state law.

On the Republican side, former Cobb County Commissioner Sam Olens, state Sen. Preston Smith and former U.S. Attorney Max Wood face off for their party's nomination in the July 20 primary. Meanwhile, Democratic state Rep. Rob Teilhet and Ken Hodges, an ex-Dougherty County district attorney, will square off in their party's contest.

The GOP candidates have all vowed to fight the health care overhaul that passed Congress earlier this year and to support a constitutional amendment to allow statewide grand juries to prosecute criminal cases and fight public corruption. But they differ in their top priorities once they get in office.

Olens is emphasizing his experience running a suburban Atlanta county with a budget of more than $800 million and his role as the former chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, which decides key infrastructure issues. He says he plans to use his experience to lead Georgia's legal battle in the long-running fight with Alabama and Florida over water.

Smith, a Rome state senator, decided to run for the office after being ousted from the GOP leadership in the Senate for opposing a controversial hospital tax. He says his independent streak shows he'll end the "backroom dealmaking" in politics.

Wood, a former U.S. Attorney in Macon, has said his evangelical Christian beliefs and military background will help inform his decisions in office. He said he would create a solicitor general's office that would focus on joining other constitutional challenges because it's the courts, not legislators, that have the greatest effect on states' rights issues.

Olens is the clear fundraising front-runner, raising about $565,000 by the March 31 reporting deadline with about $380,000 left in the bank. Wood has raised about $70,000 and had $25,000 remaining to spend on the campaign. Smith entered the race after the filing deadline and has yet to report campaign contributions.

The Democratic candidates have both pledged to play a more proactive role if they were elected.

Teilhet, a four-term lawmaker from Smyrna, has emphasized his work on consumer protection measures that aim to reduce identity theft and high-interest payday loans. Teilhet said he'll adopt an aggressive legislative agenda with proposals that would broaden the state DNA database and expand sex offender restrictions.

"For a generation the attorney general in Georgia has primarily given advice to state agencies and defended them in court when they're sued, and that's about it," he said at the forum. "I absolutely believe that an attorney general, properly done, has a broader role and a voice in what the policy in the state ought to be."

Hodges has emphasized his role as the southwest Georgia prosecutor, vowing to focus on cracking down on gang-related crime and drug trafficking. He also said he supports using anti-racketeering laws to fight white-collar crimes, and touted his experience running the Albany prosecutor's office.

Hodges has emerged as the fundraising leader in the Democratic race. He raised about $500,000 cash in hand by the March 31 deadline, with about $300,000 cash on hand. Teilhet raised $370,000 by the same deadline and reported about $200,000 in the bank.

It's shaping up to be a heated race regardless of who prevails. 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.

Published: Tue, Jun 15, 2010