Originally created 01/03/06

Hopefuls plotting agendas



ATLANTA - The campaign is about to begin.

It's true that Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, both trying for the Democratic nomination to face Gov. Sonny Perdue in November, are prohibited from raising money during the legislative session that begins this month. Their official duties probably will keep them in Atlanta and off the stump for much of the next few months.

The session, though, could offer them a chance to increase their profiles and burnish their records before what is expected to be a bruising primary battle in late spring and early summer.

The two Democrats, however, face a General Assembly dominated by members of the other party. Republicans can work with Mr. Taylor and Ms. Cox and aren't worried that their posturing will hijack the session, said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island.

"They were Democrats before, and that's just part of the political process," Mr. Keen said.

For Mr. Taylor, the challenge is to find an issue like those he's chosen in the past: popular initiatives that Republicans oppose.

In the 2005 session, the lieutenant governor and his allies proposed a law to crack down on Internet predators and new benefits for members of the National Guard called to duty either domestically or overseas. In 2004, Mr. Taylor joined forces with Mr. Perdue to raise the crime of child endangerment to a felony.

Mr. Taylor has chosen issues that are hard for Republicans to oppose, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

Mr. Taylor hasn't announced his agenda this year, but press secretary Kristi Huller said she saw little reason why the lieutenant governor would face problems working with Republicans.

"He hasn't in the past," she said.

Even if Mr. Taylor doesn't accomplish much this year, Dr. Bullock said, he still will have plenty to run on in 2006 from his time as floor leader for then-Gov. Zell Miller. Mr. Taylor helped push through the lottery that funds the HOPE Scholarship and a "two strikes and you're out" law that created harsher penalties for violent criminals.

Dr. Bullock said the secretary of state probably will find it more difficult to keep her name in the news when the session begins.

Part of the problem is that Ms. Cox's agenda probably will focus largely on the mechanics of elections and the regulations enforced by the secretary of state's office - not the sexiest of issues.

"These are not high-profile items that the average citizen is going to care about one way or the other," Dr. Bullock said.

Ms. Cox said her main focus in the coming session will be the same kind of "tweaks" that local election officials have asked for in past years.

"We always have some election housekeeping issues," she said.

High on the list will be a provision to extend early, in-person voting to 45 days before the election instead of the current week. A bill passed last year allows voters to cast their ballots by mail for the long period.

"I would like to see the Legislature extend (early voting) for that same 45 days," Ms. Cox said, saying that it would allow voters to "choose whichever method they prefer for voting."

Republicans have been lukewarm to the idea, however.

Ms. Cox, who has emphasized a theme of bipartisan cooperation in her campaign, said she intends to stay out of the fray as much as possible this year.

Republicans, though, might also try to get some mileage from the initiative that has so far defined Ms. Cox' tenure as secretary of state: electronic voting machines. Ms. Cox pushed for computerized ballots in Georgia, and some GOP lawmakers are proposing adding paper receipts to the machines - implying that the machines she picked don't work properly.

For her part, Ms. Cox said, she supports the paper receipts as a confidence-builder for state voters.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.