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Unterman tangles with Cathy Cox over ethics

ATLANTA - The Republican chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee Thursday accused Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cathy Cox of playing politics with the ethics reform package Cox proposed this week.

Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford said Cox has had a ready-made platform for eight years as Georgia's secretary of state to make ethics in government a priority issue and hasn't done so.

Cox is launching "an election-year bid to become the poster child for ethics reform in Georgia,'' Unterman said. "This is too little, too late.''

Cox's plan, unveiled on Tuesday, calls for taking politics out of the State Ethics Commission and State Elections Board by having the members of those bodies appointed by judges.

Democrats criticized the ethics commission recently for firing the agency's longtime head, Teddy Lee, seven months after the panel fined Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue $1,900 based on several complaints filed by the state Democratic Party.

Three of the five commission members are appointed by the governor.

Cox also suggested that countywide offices should be made nonpartisan.

But Unterman said Democrats are pushing to make more elective positions nonpartisan only because their party has been losing ground in recent state and local elections to a Republican upsurge.

Unterman called the ethics reform law the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed last year the strongest in the state's history.

But Democrats and good-government groups have argued that the new law doesn't go far enough.

For one thing, it allows lawmakers to police themselves by creating a legislative committee to investigate alleged conflicts of interest involving members of the General Assembly.

"Perdue's team has put the insiders ahead of the people of Georgia,'' said Morton Brilliant, Cox's campaign manager. "This is a great example of why we need a new governor who can change the tune and tone under the Gold Dome.''

Unterman said she is working with one of the groups that has criticized the current law, Common Cause-Georgia, to extend its conflict-of-interest provisions to cover local elected officials.

She said she hopes to have legislation ready for consideration during this year's

session.

"It's not the best it can be,'' she said, referring to the current law. "But we're working on it.''