Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

Second-guessing Sam Olens on the Holly LaBerge memo


On today’s ethics front, we have boatloads of radio-delivered news.

Starting my radio show at 4 PM today with an exclusive interview with Gov. Nathan Deal.

Over at WABE (90.1FM), Jonathan Shapiro hooked up with designated legal expert Page Pate, who outlined what he thought Attorney General Sam Olens ought to have done with a 2012 memo written by Holly LaBerge, executive secretary for the state ethics commission, alleging that aides to the governor pressured her to make ethics complaints against Deal disappear.

Olens withheld the document from attorneys for LaBerge’s predecessor, Stacey Kalberman, who ultimately won a hefty jury award for wrongful termination. She was sacked after drawing up subpoenas for documents from the 2010 Deal gubernatorial campaign. From the WABE website:

Pate said it’s difficult to understand how the memo could be interpreted as unrelated to those cases. And if Olens disagreed, according to Pate, withholding it outright would be a departure from professional standards.

“What you do is object to producing the particular document and then at least give the other side an opportunity to contest that with the judge. You just don’t hide the document,” said Pate.

He added the decision gives the appearance Olens was acting politically, possibly in an effort to protect the governor. Legally, however, unless the attorneys for the whistleblowers file an appeal to the court, Pate said its unlikely there will be consequences for the AG’s office.

“The strongest opponents of the attorney general’s position are on the political side, not the legal side, and they can’t simply go into court requesting that the court impose some sort of sanction for a discovery violation,” said Pate. “The main fuel to this fire will be political, from political opponents and folks who have a stake in this election.”

One of those political opponents is Greg Hecht, the former state senator – now a Democratic candidate for attorney general. On WGAU (1340AM) this morning, Hecht told host Tim Bryant that the judge in the Kalberman case is going to be more than a little ticked off. Listen here:

Said Hecht:

“The judge is going to be very upset, because the judge ruled that [neither] the governor nor the governor’s aides had to testify in this case because there was no evidence of coercion.

“There was no evidence of coercion because that memo was withheld by the AG’s office. And Attorney General Sam Olens knew it was in the file when the judge was making the ruling.”


Holly LaBerge as the Democratic hero? Once scorned by Georgia's underdog party as a lackey for Gov. Nathan Deal, LaBerge's status has shifted, given the aforementioned memo that surfaced Monday.

And there's been more than a little Republican grumbling.

On PeachPundit, the aforementioned Erick Erickson complains that LaBerge's attorney, Lee Parks, works for a firm that has hosted a fundraiser for Deal's opponent, Democrat Jason Carter. But the same website points out that the firm to which Deal's attorney is attached -- McKenna, Long & Aldridge -- has given far more to Carter, nearly $20,000. Which blows a hole in that conspiracy theory.

But most of the carping yesterday centered on one surprising development: The ethics commission took just a few days to toss a complaint against left-leaning Better Georgia, the Deal camp's arch-nemisis. One reader called to note that it took the panel two years to mete out complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal (and former Gov. Roy Barnes, for that matter.)


In Kennesaw last night, City Councilman and former mayor Leonard Church attended his first work session since he was accused of molesting a nine-year-old boy last month. The Marietta Daily Journal observed this:

Church, 66, remained silent for most of the two and a half hour meeting Wednesday, speaking up only once to decline comment at the session’s close.

Unlike during previous meetings, a makeshift wall composed of 21 chairs sealed the council off from the public.

A Kennesaw police officer said the barricade was a “preventive” measure that had nothing to do with Church’s presence.


Up in Forsyth County, we have an overheated GOP runoff involving incumbent state Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming and challenger Michael Williams.

This morning, Williams announced that he has been endorsed by Ashley Bell, a former Republican candidate for state school superintendent. Why would backing from a state school superintendent also-ran matter? Actually, in the May 20 primary, Bell finished first in Forsyth County. He's got a radio show with a big footprint there. It matters.


The national grassroots organization Ready for Hillary will have a kick-off event at Park Tavern in Atlanta at 6 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are a symbolic $20.16. So what will the gang be talking about? Probably this from the Gallup organization:

Hillary Clinton is currently the best known and best liked of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates tested in a July 7-10 Gallup poll, due to her 91% familiarity score and +19 net favorable rating. The net favorable is based on her 55% favorable and 36% unfavorable ratings.


The Washington Post points us to a chart putting some numbers on the difference between presidential and midterm years in non-white (and thus, Democrat-leaning turnout). It shows that in Georgia 37.9 percent of the electorate in 2012 was not white, while in 2010 it was 35.6 percent. Not too much difference, but in what could be a tight election, that difference matters.

Democrats in Georgia are hoping the rising percentage of minority voters in the state will help close the gap, but they will likely have to exceed the 2012 percentage, since Barack Obama lost the state by 7.8 percentage points. Republican lobbyist Ken Mehlman, who produced the chart, points out that Democrats across the country should look to Virginia:

 "As Mehlman notes, the 2013 governor's race in Virginia -- won by Democrat Terry McAuliffe -- proves it can be done.  In 2012, the Virginia electorate was 70 percent white, 20 percent black and five percent Hispanic. The following year, the Virginia electorate was 72 percent white, 20 percent black and four percent Hispanic.  That's pretty damn close."


U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, has a point-by-point retort for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp's objections to the Voting Rights Act update that is now languishing in Congress.

Johnson's key point:

"Unfortunately, the Secretary's contention that preclearance is discriminatory and does not help to ensure secure, accessible, and fair elections is not consistent with the facts.

"Georgia has a persistent history of disenfranchising voters. Preclearance is necessary until the state can demonstrate over a sustained period of time that it can reduce the number of Voting Rights Act violations to zero."

Here's the letter in full:

Hank Johnson VRAA Letter


Washington-based tea party-aligned group FreedomWorks is putting up $10,000 on Facebook ads promoting Barry Loudermilk in the 11th Congressional District runoff, according to a new FEC filing.

In the First District runoff, the Club For Growth has added another $29,000 to its TV buy savaging Buddy Carter on behalf of Bob Johnson, bringing its total investment to $387,000. (One of our number took an in-depth look at the First in Wednesday's paper.)


One sign of the times, from the Associated Press:

About 400 law enforcement officers from northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia are learning how to deal with domestic extremists.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Birmingham and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force are providing the training on Thursday in conjunction with police in the east Alabama city of Oxford.

Federal authorities say the session will teach law officers what to do during encounters with domestic extremists. They say that could include members of militia groups or so-called sovereign citizens.

The session will include a study of a 2012 mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, where a white supremacist and U.S. Army veteran killed six worshippers.


And another from Sam Nunn's Nuclear Threat Initiative:

As negotiating parties consider extending talks with Iran, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), today released new high quality, high resolution B-roll footage featuring facilities in Iran, North Korea and India. These videos complement their popular YouTube video series showcasing 3D models of nuclear and missile facilities in more than nine countries. The videos provide visual context to help understand nonproliferation headlines, from rocket tests to plutonium production.


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.