In the wake of former House Speaker Glenn Richardson's disastrous extramarital dalliance with a lobbyist whose company benefited from legislation he sponsored, ethics is expected to be a front-and-center issue in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, though it's unlikely to unseat state budget concerns as the top item on voters' agendas.
Handel has attempted to get at the head of the line on that issue, outlining a package of reforms that she wants the state government to implement.
As secretary of state, Handel is the state's chief elections officer. Whether she could make any decisions that would appreciably impact the gubernatorial race in her favor is debatable, given the fish bowl in which she would be functioning. But she correctly noted that her job of overseeing elections, handling campaign complaints and certifying elections results could lead to the perception that some issue was handled unfairly.
"This was an extraordinarily difficult decision professionally and personally. However, I know that it is the right one for the office of the secretary of state, the team there, and the citizens of Georgia who have entrusted me with this important position, as well as for my campaign for governor," Handel said in making the announcement.
"Over the past month, Georgia's economic climate has continued to deteriorate, and we've all experienced disbelief and anger over the actions of some in the state Legislature. As I've considered this new landscape, it became clear to me that, while certainly manageable, serving as secretary of state while also running for governor was no longer the best approach for the office or my campaign."
By taking the possible conflict out of play before it can occur, Handel has done the state a service, but she has also given her campaign a boost.
In any political run, the most critical component is raising funds. At last report, Handel was more than a half-million dollars behind her chief Republican opponents, former state Sen. Eric Johnson and current U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal. In the first half of 2009, Deal and Johnson each raised close to $1 million, while Handel raised $430,000 in that period. The decision Tuesday gives her supporters - and opponents - a signal that she is in the race for the long haul.
With Deal in Congress and Johnson already resigned from state office, they will not be hindered by state law that prevents state officials from raising campaign funds while the Legislature is in session. Had Handel stayed on the job as secretary of state, she would have given up about three months of fundraising starting Jan. 11, which would have caused her to fall even further behind in that area - a financial hole she likely would not have been able to climb out of before the summer primary elections.
Her decision to resign is in the best interest of Georgians, but it also is in her best political interests.