Originally created 08/28/99

Black officials support convicted senator



ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes' call for suspended state Sen. Diana Harvey Johnson, D-Savannah, to resign left political leaders of both parties buzzing Friday.

Members of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials rallied to her support.

They argued that she shouldn't be pressured to resign -- by powerful Democrats or Republicans eager to make political points -- as long as she can legally retain her seat pending appeal of her conviction last month on federal mail-fraud charges.

"I think we have enough Democrats that we won't miss one vote," said Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, who added that other legislators of both parties still support Ms. Johnson. "If she wants to stay and fight, then she should do that."

Ms. James accused fellow Democrat Mr. Barnes and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor of caving in to pressure from editorials and reader letters in the Savannah Morning News calling for them to request Ms. Johnson's resignation.

On Thursday, Mr. Barnes said he agreed with comments Mr. Taylor made to the Savannah senator in a letter earlier in the week.

Mr. Taylor asked for Ms. Johnson's immediate resignation because he feared appeal delays.

Mr. Barnes' office said she hasn't responded to the request. A spokesman refused to comment about pressure on Mr. Barnes.

Georgia Democratic Chairman David Worley, an attorney, said Ms. Johnson's appeal will almost certainly stretch beyond the next legislative session, which begins in January and lasts 40 days.

"For the good of those 100,000 constituents who deserve representation in January, February and March, she should resign," he said.

Ms. Johnson did not return several telephone messages left at her offices and home over two days. In the past, she has said she will not resign while she appeals.

Mr. Barnes quoted Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who cooperated with the FBI and federal prosecutors, as saying Ms. Johnson could expect little chance of winning her appeal.

Georgia's constitution allows office holders to keep their seats after conviction while they appeal.

It also automatically suspends them without pay, although Mr. Barnes had already suspended Ms. Johnson with pay when she was indicted.

Republicans are already looking at ways to change the constitutional rule, according to Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah.