Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Why Sam Olens and Chris Carr are good picks for jobs that have evolved

UPDATED at 3:30 p.m.: Both appointments are now official .


Sam Olens is set to be named today as the new president of Kennesaw State University. His long-expected appointment, and that of his putative successor as attorney general, have spurred a lot of hand-wringing about their credentials.

The worry is misplaced, because what’s most needed in these jobs these days isn’t what it once was.

The president of a state school in 2016 may have no greater asset than these: prowess at raising money and a good relationship with the General Assembly. Olens should be excellent at both.

The two are related. Finances are at the heart of a simmering (for now) dispute between the Board of Regents and the Legislature. Lawmakers resent that they lack control over the regents’ spending but field numerous constituent complaints about tuition hikes. Colleges fear potential legislation to limit how fast tuition can grow. This could blow up next year.

Meanwhile, colleges have redoubled their fund-raising efforts. They need to top up the amount legislators see fit to appropriate and the amount regents think they can levy via tuition, as well as to fill the gap between what the HOPE scholarship now covers and what low-income students can afford.

College presidents in Georgia haven’t always navigated these waters well. Since 2011, they’ve been helped by having an ex-legislator, Hank Huckaby, as chancellor. But Huckaby is retiring, and it wouldn’t hurt the university system, or KSU in particular, to bring Olens into the fold.

This particular moment is even more ripe for someone with Olens’ background. The KSU presidency is vacant because the man who had filled it, Daniel Papp, resigned after revelations he took retirement payments from the school’s foundation while still on the payroll. Other financial-policy violations came to light after he left. So KSU could use a former attorney general with a squeaky-clean reputation right about now.

The other half of this changeover is Olens’ expected replacement, Chris Carr. Georgia’s commissioner for economic development for three years, Carr is an attorney by training but hasn’t been one by vocation for more than a decade.

As long as he meets the minimum requirement set out by the state Constitution (seven years as an active member of the State Bar, though not necessarily the last seven years) I’m OK with that. The job of attorney general has also changed.

Georgia’s AG need not argue cases in court; Olens created the position of solicitor general for that. What he does need to understand is the role a state attorney general plays in the current policy environment, in which the federal government continually tramples state interests through legislation and — with alarming frequency and breadth in the Obama era, sure to continue if Hillary Clinton is elected — executive actions.

The courts increasingly are where states make their stand. Under Olens, Georgia successfully challenged such policies as Medicaid expansion under coercion and deferred prosecution for illegal immigrants whose children are legally present.

These are the highest-profile cases Georgia’s AG will take. He must identify where to draw the line with Washington, then work with the state’s staff of lawyers to craft the legal case. I’d expect Carr to be very good at that, particularly when it comes to the anti-business edicts coming from D.C.

We hear all the time about the way job descriptions in the private sector are changing. Some updated thinking is needed for these public-sector jobs, too.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.