ATLANTA — Pam Davidson, a challenger in the Republican primary for Georgia Public Service Commission, acknowledged Friday that statements about her finances and education were incorrect but calls them minor compared to the behavior of incumbent Stan Wise.
“What I perceive these to be are very, very minor issues in comparison to Stan Wise and the very egregious acts that he commits against the ratepayers and the consumers in this state,” she said.
Davidson, an environmental lobbyist who captured 48 percent of the vote in an attempt to win another PSC seat four years ago, said she has filed an amended personal-disclosure statement with the state ethics commission that correctly reflects her negative net worth and the outstanding debts that triggered liens against her property. One of the liens is for unpaid taxes.
She said she originally did not include those debts, although they are in her name, because her divorce settlement orders her ex-husband to pay them.
After 10 years as a single parent and a massive recession, Davidson said her money problems are like those of other Georgians.
“I’m grateful for that struggle. The reason is it allows me to empathize with the people who are low income,” she said.
Her original disclosure form listed $1,500 in assets and $16,951 in liabilities with a positive net worth of $15,451 instead of noting that she actually owes more than she owns by that amount.
Asked if such a mistake and debt should raise questions about her ability to grapple with the billion-dollar financial issues considered by the Public Service Commission, Davidson replied that the post doesn’t require great wealth but rather a concern for ordinary people.
“If anything, (that makes me) being a person like most Georgians, that basically is trying to make ends meet,” she said.
Her education is another matter raised by Wise’s campaign. They note that a letter filed with the utility-oversight agency asking that she testify in 2003 listed her as holding a master of science in public administration from the University of San Francisco. The campaign was looking for comments to pin her down as supporting higher electricity rates as a subsidy for alternative fuels when they came across mention of her credentials.
“I think the point is to have fun with the fact that I went to the University of San Francisco,” she said.
Davidson said Friday the letter drafted by her client was wrong.
However, when she testified under oath before the commission on July 3 that year, she was asked if any corrections were required and she said there were none.
Wise said her testimony and lobbying of commissioners over the years on various issues wasn’t particularly effective.
“Maybe that’s why you have to lie about having a master’s degree,” he said.
Davidson has listed on other materials, such as newspaper campaign profiles, that she holds a bachelor’s degree from the university. However, school officials say their records show she attended but never graduated.
She said Friday that she had completed all of the coursework for the degree and attended the graduation ceremonies.
As she did in her 2008 campaign, Davidson is making personal integrity the central issue. In both, she vowed not to accept political contributions from employees of regulated utilities.
“When we talk about ethical fitness, I would have to say that I’m far more ethically fit than my opponent who is basically bought by the utilities,” she said.
Wise doesn’t deny that many of his contributions come from the employees of utilities and their law firms. They don’t give up their right to participate in elections by taking a certain job.
“What you’re talking about is a clear constitutional right of anybody to participate in the political process,” he said.
Such contributions don’t figure into his decision making, he said, because it would be impossible for him to reconcile contributions from employees of competing firms.
He also dismisses her charge that he has a conflict of interest with his son working as an attorney in Washington for the law firm that represents the Southern Company and Georgia Power. Wise said his son doesn’t handle those clients and has earned his job as a former intern at the White House and a federal energy agency.
“This is smoke and mirrors about somebody who’s not qualified to hold office. The public will recognize this as somebody who lied under oath and tried to come back and fill out another financial statement only when asked about it by the press,” he said.