Taylor and Perdue attacks intensify as election nears

ATLANTA - Land deals and shady campaign financing allegations were the theme again Wednesday, as Georgia's two candidates for governor continued to hammer each other in the waning days of the fall campaign.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, called for state and federal investigations of the governor's role in the state's decision not to preserve a large tract of undeveloped land next to property he owns.

The Georgia Republican Party, meanwhile, filed an ethics complaint charging Taylor with improper use of his father's private plane.

Taylor held a news conference at the Capitol for the second time in three days to question the chain of events surrounding the 2004 sale of Oaky Woods, 20,000 acres of timberland in Houston County that had been identified as the state's top priority for open space preservation.

The state had an opportunity to buy, either on its own or working with The Nature Conservancy, the Oaky Woods site and a second large tract that also had been targeted for preservation.

The two parcels - which the state was leasing and making available to the public as wildlife management areas - were part of more than 330,000 acres of timberland being offered for sale by the Weyerhaeuser Co.

Instead, then-Georgia Commissioner of Natural Resources Lonice Barrett informed The Nature Conservancy's state director in a letter in May 2004 that the state would not be putting in bids on either tract because of a tight budget.

The following August, a development company bought Oaky Woods with plans to build up to 35,000 homes. Since that sale, an adjacent 101-acre property that Perdue owns has more than doubled in value.

While the governor has said repeatedly in the last several days that he badly wanted to preserve Oaky Woods, Taylor accused Perdue of putting his own interests ahead of the public.

He said he is sending letters asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the governor's use of his office for private gain.

"Because Sonny Perdue owned land next to Oaky Woods, if Oaky Woods is saved for the hunters and fishermen of Georgia, then Sonny Perdue doesn't make any money,'' Taylor said.

"If Oaky Woods is developed, as it will be into 35,000 home sites, then Sonny Perdue makes out like a bandit.''

Perdue campaign spokesman Derrick Dickey dismissed Taylor's charges as coming from a candidate who trails badly in the polls with Tuesday's election in sight.

While one poll conducted last weekend had Taylor within single digits of Perdue, others have continued to show the governor ahead by a double-digit margin.

"This is exactly why nobody believes Mark Taylor anymore,'' Dickey said. "While Governor Perdue is talking about his record and vision for the future on a 40-stop campaign tour, Taylor is holding press conferences to make wild and desperate accusations.''

The lieutenant governor was equally contemptuous of the ethics complaint state Republican officials filed against him on Wednesday.

The complaint accuses Taylor of using his father's plane for campaign travel six times in July and September and failing to reimburse his father and report use of the plane as an "in-kind'' donation. Taylor's father, Fred, owns a trucking business in Albany.

The lieutenant governor denied the charges and called the complaint an attempt to distract voters.

"It is almost comical,'' Taylor said. "He is the only governor ever to pay a fine for an ethics violation, and what did it involve? Campaign transportation.''

The State Ethics Commission fined Perdue $1,900 last year for using a plane owned by his wife's company during the 2002 campaign. As part of a consent order, the governor also agreed to reimburse Perdue Inc. more than $12,000.