Georgia ReportNews

Breaking Down the Senate and School Superintendent Races

For those who have endured Georgia’s longest runoff election ever, the July 22 finish line is finally coming into view. Voters and candidates are learning there is a big difference between four weeks, which was how long these campaigns used to last, and nine weeks, the runoff duration ordered by federal Judge Steve Jones to give overseas voters more time to mail in their ballots.  

The biggest race on the ballot is the Senate Republican runoff between Rep. Jack Kingston and business executive David Perdue. In the first weeks after the May 20 primary, Kingston appeared to have the momentum going his way. He secured endorsements from primary also-rans Karen Handel and Phil Gingrey, and the polls suggested he had a double-digit advantage over Perdue.

If this were the old days where runoff campaigns lasted three or four weeks, Kingston probably would have won easily over Perdue. A nine-week campaign, however, provides time for the story line to change. The Atlanta newspapers dug up a story about Kingston receiving more than $80,000 in contributions from a Palestinian businessman with a criminal record who the federal government has been trying for several years to deport. Kingston’s advisors returned the questionable donations, but recent polls show that the campaign’s momentum may have shifted. In a survey commissioned by Fox 5 Atlanta, Kingston held a slender 42–41 percent advantage over Perdue.

Questionable contributions also put a cloud over the campaign of Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn, who is not in a runoff. A conservative website posted an article detailing the attendance of a convicted felon and former Black Panther leader named Virtual Murrell at a recent Washington fundraiser for Nunn. The Nunn campaign said it was unaware of Murrell’s background and returned the donation.

There is another statewide race on the runoff ballot that has been overlooked by the media but presents starkly differing choices for both Republican and Democratic voters—the election of a state school superintendent.

On the Republican side, the runoff is between Mike Buck, a Floyd County educator who has served as a deputy state superintendent under current Superintendent John Barge, and Richard Woods, a Tift County educator who ran unsuccessfully for this job in 2010. Buck supports the Common Core curriculum standards that have been authorized by the state Board of Education and are now reflected in Georgia’s public schools’ curriculum. Woods opposes the Common Core standards, as do a large number of Republican conservatives who contend that the standards are part of a conspiracy by the Obama administration to take over the control of local schools. Since these standards were originally the idea of Sonny Perdue and other Republican governors, that’s a bit of a stretch, but it has become an issue in this race.

In the Democratic primary for state superintendent, the runoff choice is between Valarie Wilson, a former member of the Decatur city school board, and state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell). Morgan and Wilson both hold roughly the same position in support of the Common Core standards, but they differ on another major issue: traditional public schools versus charter schools. Wilson notes that a majority of Georgia’s students attend traditional public schools, which have been seriously affected over the past decade by reductions in state formula funding that total nearly $8 billion. Morgan is a staunch supporter of charter schools, on the other hand, and supports the diversion of tax funds away from traditional schools and into the coffers of charter schools, many of which are operated for a profit by out-of-state corporations. Charter school organizations have contributed heavily to Morgan’s campaign.

These are some of the issues yet to be decided in the runoff election. It’s taken a long time for the voters to get here, but election day finally approaches.