Handel keynote speaker at GOP event
By Jessica Blomquist
The Morgan County Republican Party hosted its sixth-annual Founder’s Day Banquet on Monday, July 14 at 6:30 p.m.
The dinner celebrated the 154th anniversary of the Republican Party and featured guest speaker, Karen Handel, Georgia’s secretary of state.
“We’re glad to have our secretary of state here on the eve of the primary election,” said Bob Rice, the group’s chairman who introduced the evening’s events.
About 150 people enjoyed a fried chicken dinner and the music of a bluegrass band before Handel took to the podium.
Many notable Republican officeholders attended the dinner, including State Senator Johnny Grant, State Representative Bob Smith, Sheriff Robert Markley, County Commissioner Sammy Cathey, and State Representative Doug Holt. Before Handel’s speech, Rice gave the three Republicans who are being challenged in the election the opportunity to speak: Cathey, Markley, and Terry Evans, who is running for Morgan County tax commissioner against incumbent Becky Astin, who is a Democrat. Representatives Smith and Holt, along with Senator Grant are all unchallenged in the election race this year.
“You need good people in these elected positions,” Evans said, lending his support to Markley and Cathey.
“For somebody who wasn’t born in Georgia, she sure is making an impact in Georgia politics,” Grant said when introducing Handel.
Handel is originally from Washington, D.C. She served as Fulton County’s chief executive officer on the county’s commission in 2003 before being elected as Georgia’s first Republican Secretary of State in 130 years in November of 2006. She is credited with passing strong ethics laws and discovering the corruption of Fulton County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Caudell Jones. Handel was also recognized by Georgia Trend magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Politicians in Georgia.
Handel said that she is working hard to overhaul the agency, one in which there has been only five secretaries of state in the past 60 years. She said the previous agency did not allow for a lot of change.
“We’ve been working very hard to bring in a new management team,” Handel said. “I need people in these positions with the best skills for the job.”
Two areas that Handel has worked on improving are ethics and nepotism.
“This was an agency that had no ethics policy,” Handel said, speaking of the previous agency. Of around 500 employees who worked for the previous agency, 30 percent were related to a coworker. Also, members of the agency are no longer allowed to accept gifts worth more than $25. Handel said hers is also the first agency to put their budget online.
“You can go in and see where we’re spending your money month by month,” Handel said. She said they also plan to rebuild the budget from the bottom up so they can figure more accurately how much money is needed to run the Secretary of State office. Another topic Handel addressed in her speech was the photo I.D. requirement for voting. Since the requirement was put in place, she said there have been eight elections “all without incident.” Currently there is no photo I.D. requirement for mail-in ballots, though there is a three-way signature check to validate a voter’s identity. Attendees were allowed to ask questions following Handel’s speech, before the Secretary of State was sent home with a basket of locally grown peaches from CJ Orchards. “Thank you so much for this incredible, rare opportunity,” Handel said at the close of the evening.
The Morgan County GOP will not hold a meeting in August, but there will be several fundraising events as it gets closer to the November elections.