MOULTRIE, Ga. — In 2010 Georgia’s last Democratic governor, Roy Barnes, mounted a comeback bid in which he picked up a respectable 46.3 percent of the vote to winner Nathan Deal’s 51.4 percent, with a Libertarian candidate grabbing 2.3 percent.
Eight years later the last white Democrat in the Georgia congressional delegation is seeking to do something no one from his party has done since 2006 -- win statewide office in the state.
That feat was last pulled off when Agricultural Commissioner Tommy Irvin won his 10th four-year term. He retired at the end of 2010, citing Parkinson’s disease.
John Barrow, a former U.S. congressman who campaigned in Moultrie last week, hopes his reputation as a centrist who can work with elected officials in both his party and Republicans will help him become Georgia’s next secretary of state.
His voting record, for example, includes joining 38 other Democrats who voted against passage of the Affordable Care for America Act (also known as “Obamacare”).
“I feel like most people want it down the middle,” Barrow said. “When I ran for Congress, I tried to strike a balance.”
Among the secretary of state’s duties are supervising and monitoring elections and providing campaign finance disclosure, managing and preserving public records, and licensing, monitoring and registering professionals and businesses.
“Most people think of it as nonpartisan,” Barrow said. “This is the most nonpartisan statewide job in state government. I think it’s what this office represents. This is largely an administrative job.”
During his time in the U.S. House of Representatives Barrow drew support from traditionally Republican-leaning groups such as the National Rifle Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
As a member of the Blue Dog Coalition made up of conservative Democrats in the House, Barrow was often a thorn in the side of his party’s leadership much as the Freedom Caucus can be for Republican leaders.
“I voted to hold (former U.S. Attorney General Eric) Holder in contempt,” said Barrow, who served 12 years on the Athens-Clarke County Commission and held the 12th District U.S. House seat from 2005 through 2014.
The office he is seeking does have important functions, Barrow said, licensing nearly three-quarter of a million Georgians in such diverse fields as cosmetology, podiatry, nursing, and residential and general contractors.
The Professional Licensing Boards Division oversees 34 occupational and professional regulatory boards in 64 professions. It includes reviewing applications to practice and approving licenses, scheduling examinations, issuing licenses and collecting fees. It also investigates allegations of violations and resolves complaints.
“For 700,000 people in Georgia, it’s an important office,” Barrow said.
The secretary of state’s office also registers and regulates corporations doing business in the state.
“For voters, it (the office) is important every two years; for the business community it’s important all the time,” he said. “It ought to be easier for small businesses to get a license. The economic engine that is the driver of new jobs is small business.”
Georgia was the first to initiate statewide the use of modern voting machines after the 2000 recount imbroglio in Florida that introduced the nation to “hanging chads” and butterfly ballots.
Those machines are aging and are not secure, Barrow said.
“There have been a number of serious gaffes” with the machines, he said. They have known vulnerabilities and some have been “wiped clean” in the past.
“There is bipartisan agreement they need replacing,” Barrow said. “Folks who know them know that we need to have a new generation of machine that” is tamper-proof.
The state is looking at an optical scanner with a paper printout that a voter can examine before casting a ballot.
That should cost about $25 to $30 million, but what state lawmakers are proposing would cost more like $150 million, Barrow said. That’s because the state is looking at having all new machines made to serve the handicapped. Instead, he said those machines should be purchased in numbers great enough to serve those who need them but not all the machines should be of that type.
Barrow will learn who his Republican candidate will be in the fall after the July 24 runoff between state Rep. Brad Raffensperger and former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.
There are two more weeks of early voting ahead of that election, with Republican runoffs for governor and lieutenant governor also on the Republican ballot. Early voting will be held from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. each weekday through July 20 on the second floor of the Colquitt County Courthouse Annex.
Those who voted on the Democratic ballot in the May 22 general primary are ineligible to vote in those runoff contests. Those who either did not vote or chose a nonpartisan or a Republican ballot in the primary can do so.
There are no state Democratic races on the runoff ballot, but there is one local race: a runoff election between Darius Dawson and Barbara Jelks for the District 1 Colquitt County Commission seat. Jelks won an earlier runoff to serve out the term of the late Luke Strong Jr. The winner of the July 24 runoff will face Republican Stacey Williams in November, and the winner of that contest willserve a four-year term beginning in 2019.
Anyone in the district who chose a Republican ballot in the May general primary is ineligible to vote in the Democratic runoff election.
Voters may choose candidates from either party in the November general election regardless of which ballot they selected for the earlier contests.