An anti-gang prosecutor with plans to significantly increase law enforcement pay and create a new state unit to attack organized crime announced a challenge Thursday to Republican Attorney General Chris Carr.
Democrat Charles Bailey said he would also immediately sue large pharmaceutical companies on grounds that they intentionally marketed drugs that fostered the opioid epidemic and that he would join litigation seeking to block the Trump administration’s plan to open Georgia’s coast to offshore drilling.
But he said he would make the crux of his case for public office about his legal background. Bailey, 34, was a Fulton County assistant district attorney before he recently stepped down to run. Carr had no courtroom experience before Gov. Nathan Deal tapped him in October 2016 to fill the post.
“Chris is a nice guy. And just about everyone I know says he’s a nice guy. That’s not a qualification to be an attorney general,” said Bailey. “If you’ve never done it before, then you don’t even know where to start.”
He’s the first known challenger to Carr, who is seeking a full four-year term in November. He’s lined up support from dozens of prominent Democrats, including Jason Carter, the party’s 2014 nominee for governor, Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard and House Minority Leader Bob Trammell.
Bailey said he would become the state’s top advocate for 10-20 percent pay raises for law enforcement officers, leaving it up to lawmakers to figure out how to finance it. Deal’s push last year to give state law enforcement a pay hike has triggered a wider debate about raising the salaries of sheriff’s deputies and police.
And Bailey contended he was the only candidate in the race who would be an independent voice at the helm of the Law Department and its more than 300 staffers.
“You’re not the AG of the Chamber of Commerce. You’re not the AG of the Republican Party. You’re not the AG of the governor,” said Bailey. “You’re the independent lawyer that’s supposed to be there to protect the people of Georgia.”
Carr, 46, was U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s top aide and Deal’s economic development commissioner before he was appointed the state’s top law enforcement official. He replaced Attorney General Sam Olens, who resigned to lead Kennesaw State University.
Although he has never run for public office before, Carr scared off better-known challengers from both parties. Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon and former U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat, both flirted with challenging him before running instead for an open secretary of state seat.
Carr has aggressively hit the fundraising trail, amassing more than $1 million in contributions and about $700,000 in cash on hand. His campaign strategist, Heath Garrett, said Carr is focused on a fight “to protect Georgia from gangs, federal overreach, the opioid crisis, human trafficking and elder abuse.”
“Chris's record of principled leadership is reflected in the success of the law department and the broad and diverse support he is receiving from across the state of Georgia,” he added.
Bailey, a first-time candidate, worked for ex-Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and the law firm of former Gov. Roy Barnes before he joined the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. He said he has brought about 20 criminal cases to trial and that the struggles to fight organized crime have shaped his priorities.
He would create a unit in Attorney General’s office that would help local prosecutors more proactively prosecute gang members, and would press for a cash infusion to hire more assistant district attorneys. He said those new positions would be funded partly by settlements from more aggressive litigation against drug manufacturers.
“We’re going to sue the pharmaceutical companies that have pumped millions of pills into the state knowing that it’s ripping families apart,” said Bailey. “And the only entity that could do that for the people of Georgia is the attorney general.”
A Harris County native, Bailey has little name recognition and an uphill battle against an incumbent with support from powerful GOP figures.
But he said he’s confident that shifting political winds will help Democrats down the ballot, and that his courtroom experience will resonate with voters.
“Chris doesn’t know what he’s doing. Not when it comes to evaluating cases,” Bailey said, adding: “If you’ve never prosecuted a case ever, how in the world can you be the state’s top prosecutor? You don’t understand what law enforcement deals with on a day-to-day basis. And I do, because I’ve done it.”