Georgia gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel dropped a bombshell with her closing remarks to a GOP forum held May 1. Handel said she would no longer accept invitations to debates that included fellow GOP candidate Ray McBerry. Stating that the GOP was the party of ethics, Handel said that appearing with McBerry would appear to condone his past actions. Many Republicans quickly hailed Handel’s stance as courageous and ethical. But, was it simply political opportunism aimed at a candidate whose popularity with grass-roots conservatives is growing daily.
About eight years ago Ray McBerry, then a Henry County school teacher, was accused of improper relations with a student at another Henry County High School. McBerry answered the renewed allegations by Handel in a statement released yesterday (1). When those accusing McBerry of the misconduct failed to appear at a second hearing, all charges were dropped. McBerry was given a warning, but no further action was taken. The State Professional Standards Commission, after an 18 month investigation, found no basis for the charges. McBerry was suspended for one week. The reason cited by the Commission was, “the educator did not follow generally recognized professional standards”.
McBerry’s accuser, now married, has come forward recently and added “sexual conduct” to the allegations (2), even though no such allegations were made in the initial complaint. The fact that this was a featured subject in two editorials from the Atlanta Journal Constitution (a very liberal leaning publication) adds to the implication that this has far more to do with politics than ethics.
Sure, the allegations against McBerry are very serious. And the nature of the allegations certainly causes John Oxendine’s numerous ethical dilemmas to pale in comparison. Yet, McBerry faced these charges via the legal system and was exonerated. We are a nation of laws and, according to the law, McBerry is innocent. Would Karen Handel, if elected, succumb to other “uncomfortable” feelings – even if they ran counter to the rule of law?
Ray McBerry, the only States Rights candidate in a field mostly dominated by “Demo-lites”, is growing in popularity among grass roots conservatives. He is a favorite among many in the Tea Party movement and seems to dominate most debates – when he is included that is. In fact, the results of the straw poll taken at the GA Governor’s Forum in LaGrange on Thursday, McBerry garnered 57% of the vote to Handel’s 7% (3). This seems like motive enough for Handel to play the “refuse to appear” card.
And not only does McBerry make Handel “uncomfortable”. The state GOP is piling on. John Watson, immediate past finance chairman of the state GOP and former chief of staff for Gov. Sonny Perdue had this to say:
It’s a free country, and if the guy wants to put his money down, I don’t see how we can necessarily block him.
“But we ought to stand up – and party leadership ought to stand up and say, ‘This guy has no business running as a Republican. We’re disgusted by him. We think he’s an outrage. We call on all local parties, if he’s been invited to a gubernatorial candidate forum, you ought to rescind that invitation.’
“We ought to say, ‘Withdraw from this race.’ Somebody in leadership at the party ought to be saying that.
“And we ought to be taking the $4,000 bucks that the party took [from McBerry for qualifying] and we ought to give it to the family and the child that was molested by this guy.
“The facts are as clear as my big nose on my face. And I believe it’s the responsibility of party officials, state and local, to say no to this guy.” (4)
As we’ve seen on the national level – Rubio in Florida, Paul in Kentucky, etc.- Republican leadership doesn’t support candidates that it cannot control. Ray McBerry does not seem like one who would simply tow the party line. I believe it is his independence and pledge to uphold the Constitution and states’ rights which truly makes the state GOP “uncomfortable”.
And, of course, there is that little matter of “innocent until proved guilty”. The rule of law cannot be breached, no matter how “uncomfortable” it makes us feel.