Originally created 01/08/98

Labor leader to resign for gubernatorial race



ATLANTA -- Georgia Labor Commissioner David Poythress is expected to announce his resignation today in order to campaign full time for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

He met with Gov. Zell Miller Wednesday and has scheduled a press conference this morning. After meeting with the governor, Mr. Poythress met with senior staff at the Labor Department to tell them of his departure, said those familiar with the situation.

Labor Department spokesman Sam Hall said Mr. Poythress did not want to discuss anything publicly until he had spoken with friends and colleagues.

"He plans to make a statement tomorrow," Mr. Hall said Wednesday.

The governor's office said Mr. Miller had not received a letter of resignation, "but one is forthcoming," spokeswoman Kristin Carvell said.

One reason for resignation could be that Georgia law prohibits state-elected officials from raising political contributions while the Legislature is in session. The 40-day session begins Monday.

Mr. Poythress, 54, won his office in 1992 in a bitter contest with incumbent commissioner Al Scott. That race was dominated by Mr. Scott's charges of race-baiting by Mr. Poythress and nasty exchanges. Mr. Scott, a former state senator, is black. Mr. Poythress, a former secretary of state, is white.

As commissioner, Mr. Poythress has favored tax credits for employers who established drug-free work place programs, and coordinated jobs programs and job transportation with the Department of Human Resources' welfare-to-work initiative. He also started a pilot program in Savannah that turned military retirees into public school teachers -- teaching primarily math and science.

A Macon native, Mr. Poythress has a varied list of executive branch offices on his resume. He was appointed deputy commissioner of revenue and commissioner of medical assistance. In 1982, he lost the Democratic primary for secretary of state to now-U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga.

Mr. Poythress then went into private law practice, emerging in 1992 to challenge Mr. Scott, an appointee by Mr. Miller.

Though Mr. Poythress announced his run for governor in 1996, he remains behind other Democratic candidates in fund-raising efforts and has even been left out of polls. Mr. Poythress has collected $761,000.

Washington political consultant and Poythress spokesman Tom Oppel, who helped lead Mr. Cleland's senate bid in 1996, said he expects the tide to turn.

"Hopefully people will recognize David is a very real candidate," Mr. Oppel said.

"I fully expect that both of the other candidates will report more money than we will ... but the fact that Max is in the Senate and was outspent is indicative that at least in Georgia, ideas matter more than money," he said.

Candidates for office must report their campaign donations and expenditures to the secretary of state's office today.

Among other Democrats running for governor, state Rep. Roy Barnes, D-Mableton, has collected $2.3 million, of which he loaned himself $800,000 and contributed $50,000; Secretary of State Lewis Massey has reported $1.23 million; and State Sen. Steve Langford, D-LaGrange, has raised $296,000.

On the Republican side, former attorney general Mike Bowers has raised $729,000, and twice-failed candidate and millionaire Guy Millner is expected to file his report today.