Hopefuls toss ethics charges

ATLANTA --- The leading candidates for labor commissioner squabbled Sunday over who has been the least ethical.

Democratic candidate Darryl Hicks fired the first shot in Sunday's debate, accusing Republican Mark Butler of abusing his position as a legislator to threaten to cut funds from a state university for firing his girlfriend, who had been its lobbyist.

"First of all, like a lot of things you've accused me of, your facts are all wrong," Butler said. "The one thing you haven't accused me of is having ethics charges, which is one thing you cannot say."

Butler then said Hicks had been fined for seven ethics violations related to campaign disclosures. Most go back to his 2006 campaign for secretary of state and many remain unpaid, Butler said.

Hick called the accusations untrue.

"You had a relationship with a lobbyist, and that lobbyist was bringing legislation to you," Hicks said. "You used unethical behavior in threatening to put thousands of people out of a job. ... Let's just own up to the facts."

Hicks was a lobbyist for AGL Resources before retiring and running for secretary of state.

The two did agree that the Labor Department should expand worker training and strengthen ties to employers about what that training should contain.

Butler said his 18 years at a small business prepares him to understand the needs of employers, but Hicks said his 20 years in a big business and as the one-time chief executive of Fulton County's government is better preparation.

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