A campaign event Wednesday afternoon turned into a screaming match as Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Dalton Mayor David Pennington held a news conference inside the state Capitol. An attorney for current Governor Nathan Deal even jumped in. The exchange appeared to be about campaign financial disclosures. GPB reporter Claire Simms dug into the raucous with fellow political reporter Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Here’s an edited version of their conversation below:
CLAIRE SIMMS, GPB Reporter: We're a little more than a month away from the May 20th primary and fireworks were bound to start going off. But Greg, I'm not sure if this was quite what people expected.
GREG BLUESTEIN, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: No, it was a very bizarre event. It featured a hand-lettered sign, some rather confused reporters, some snickering Governor Nathan Deal staffers, and even a made-for-TV interruption from the governor’s attorney.
CLAIRE: You started, but let's set the scene a little bit more. David Pennington called a news conference in front of Governor Nathan Deal's office. There’s television news cameras, there’s radio reporters, newspaper reporters like you all gathered around waiting for a big campaign announcement. Pennington steps up to the mic and after a few questions, he notices someone in the audience.
Audio: "I see Randy Evans shaking his head” (David Pennington)
CLAIRE: Okay. Who is Randy Evans and what’s his connection to Governor Deal?
GREG: Randy is one of the governor’s biggest supporters and he’s also his personal attorney. And early in the press conference, Randy interrupted and sought to push David Pennington to release his tax records.
CLAIRE: So, David Pennington was being attacked, but he was also attacking Governor Nathan Deal. Explain a little bit of (what) the exchange was about… I guess some business practices between both of them, really.
GREG: Yeah, David Pennington was trying to seize on the recent ethics trial where Stacy Kalberman and the former ethics head was sort of vindicated in her claims that she was pushed out for too aggressively investigating Governor Deal’s 2010 campaign complaints. He also was questioning Deal’s controversial sale of a salvage yard to a company called Copart that was later revealed to be locked in a legal dispute with the state over as much as $74 million in back taxes. What Pennington said was “What Watergate was to Richard Nixon, is what Copart records are to Nathan Deal.”
CLAIRE: We didn’t really tread any new ground today, although Pennington has now agreed to release his tax returns to the public as part of his campaign. But you’ve been covering politics a long time. Have you ever seen something like that come out of something like this?
GREG: No, it was a bizarre spectacle. And, to be certain, Pennington did not go there expecting to pledge to release his tax returns. He was forced to by Randy Evans who called him out in the middle of the press conference and asked him “Will you release your tax records?”
Randy Evans, as it were, ended up speaking longer than David Pennington after the press conference was over.
CLAIRE: Well, this is getting a lot of attention. Is it going to have any impact in a few weeks?
GREG: Who knows? Governor Nathan Deal’s folks are pretty confident that they will trounce David Pennington in the polls. John Barge, State Superintendent, is also running in the May 20th Republican Primary. And waiting for the eventual nominee is Jason Carter, who’s just stockpiling cash, waiting for November.
CLAIRE SIMMS: Greg Bluestein is a political reporter for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. Greg, thank you so much for joining me.
GREG BLUESTEIN: No, problem.