Voters across Georgia went to the polls Tuesday for municipal elections. In two special elections, they were there to elect two new state lawmakers. Both Representative Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, and Senator Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, stepped down from their positions earlier this fall to run for U.S. Congress.
A handful of other legislative candidates, however, have not resigned, including Representative Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, and Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick.
“I think it’s hard to serve two masters and someone that is running for federal office or higher office, I think we would have an expectation that they would resign in order to campaign for the higher office,” said Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.
McKoon filed legislation last session that would require state lawmakers to resign from their post before running for another office. He has been working to revamp that legislation for the upcoming year.
The bill would “set out some parameters that if you are going to basically announce for office right after being re-elected that you would have to make a decision within a set period of time as to whether you were going to run for that office or serve in the state legislature and if you chose to run for office, you would vacate your seat,” McKoon explained.
Arizona has a similar law on the books, which requires elected officials to step down when seeking another position if they have more than a year left on their term. McKoon’s legislation would have comparable guidelines.
“You know, somebody announces, for example, towards the end of our second year, that’s a little bit different because you don’t want people to be unrepresented for that six month window,” said Sen. McKoon.
Melanie Sloan is the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a non-profit watch dog group. She said few states regulate what has always been a common practice—state lawmakers seeking political advancement.
“It’s not unusual at all,” said Sloan. “Certainly, there are fundraising concerns. Are people donating to them with the hope that they’ll use their positions as newly elected members of Congress to benefit those people who donated? But that concern doesn’t really change whether you’re in the state legislature or not.”
She said people who have concerns can track campaign donations.
But Senator McKoon argued that Georgia lawmakers cannot raise money for reelection campaigns during the session in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety and that same principle should apply to legislators running for other offices.
“You’re allowed to raise money for federal campaigns even while we’re in our legislative session, which in my view goes against the strong public policy of our campaign finance regulations in the state of Georgia,” McKoon explained. “The idea that you can have a committee hearing or take action on something at one moment and the very next moment be at a luncheon or a dinner fundraiser with people who have a vested interest in those things creates certainly the appearance of a conflict of interest and that’s why we don’t allow it for members of the General Assembly running for reelection. So, I think it creates a very poor image and it damages the reputation of the institution.”
Voters were divided on the issue.
“Anybody can run that wants to run, they just need to be honest. We need to get them to take lie detector tests before they can run,” joked Larry Tullis of Dacula after casting his ballot for Rep. Sheldon’s replacement.
But another Dacula resident, Diane Compton agreed with Senator McKoon.
“I just think it’s a conflict of interest,” Compton said. “I mean, I think they’re elected to support the people of the state of Georgia and if they want to go, you know, to the Congress, they should step down.”