Democratic chair change and Glenn in hot water

Bytes and bits at the beginning of 2007:

Atlanta lawyer Bobby Kahn, a leading scapegoat for the Democrats' string of recent ballot-box catastrophes, ends his nearly three-year tenure as state party chair with the election of a new chairperson on Jan. 27.

A glance at possible successors may cause a few Kahn haters to long for a return to the days of the brusque, razor-tongued strategist.

Here's the roster of candidates for state Democratic chair:

• Mike Berlon, Gwinnett County Democratic chair, is allied with leaders of Georgia's ever-shrinking labor movement. A handful of county chairs are also in his corner. Berlon's bid is built on the curious notion that the state party should keep Democratic elected officials at arm's length and concentrate strictly on raising cash for the overall "Democratic cause." (Some party organizations in other states already play such roles.) Several elected officials, including Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond, are hopping mad at the idea of a party that is mainly an independent boosters' club and not an operational campaign organization. Berlon is presently favored to win the position, though he spent a wad in 2004 on losing a Public Service Commission primary to underfunded Democrat Mac Barber by a whopping 43 percentage points.

• Jane Kidd, daughter of former Gov. Ernest Vandiver and a consummate political person, is looking for a landing place after she gamely ran for the state Senate in a district openly gerrymandered to end Kidd's political career. She leaves the state House after serving only one term. Kidd is closely allied with House Minority Leader Dubose Porter of Dublin, causing her detractors to fear that she would use the position of state party chair to promote Porter's nascent bid for governor. She is the anti-Berlon candidate in the contest, seeing the party as mainly an instrument of and for elected officials.

• Former state Sen. Carol Jackson could be the compromise choice for chairperson. For three terms, this diehard Democrat held onto a state Senate seat in a GOP stronghold. She retired from the Senate in 2004, and then attempted unsuccessfully to regain the seat against Nancy Schaefer, a longtime conservative icon. Republican Schaefer retained the seat with the help of Democrat renegade Zell Miller, who once counted Jackson among his most influential supporters.

The Rev. Jim Nelson, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in the 1st District, has indicated that he too expects to be a candidate for party chair.

Even if some Democratic regulars shout "good riddance" at the departing chairman, Kahn left an indelible mark of activity on a post often viewed as mostly ceremonial. In addition, Kahn as the party's executive director was a key player in landing the Democratic National Convention for Atlanta in 1988 and in getting Congressman Wyche Fowler elected to the Senate in 1986.

Kahn directed Roy Barnes' successful campaign for governor in 1998 and ran Barnes' disastrously unsuccessful re-election bid in 2002. Kahn also served as Barnes' chief of staff during one of the most activist administrations in recent Georgia history.

After Barnes' defeat, Kahn became the Democratic chairperson and was charged with the mission of constructing a challenger campaign against the Republican governor. Though Gov. Sonny Perdue won re-election easily, Kahn managed to raise issues about the governor's business practices and questionable ethics that may haunt him for the rest of his term and beyond, should Perdue ever seek other elective office.

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A Republican rebellion is brewing in the House against Speaker Glenn Richardson, whose personal conduct has raised eyebrows in political circles across the state.

Richardson has been seen as an almost sure bet to run for governor in 2010. He has already set records for fundraising as a legislator and speaker. In recent weeks, however, he has become the subject for derision among his peers because of his some of his after-hours activities.

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The Perdue administration quietly arranged the ouster of conservation-minded Ralph Callaway from the Board of Natural Resources. Callaway, son of legendary GOP scion Howard "Bo" Callaway, was nixed for reappointment after he opposed measures to facilitate greater development of Georgia's marshlands. Sara Clark, another strong conservation advocate, also was dropped from the Natural Resources panel now dominated by timber cutters and developers. The Perdue administration said redistricting conflicts forced the two off the board.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at bshipp@bellsouth.net.

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