Husband and wife team seek state office; Carol Porter in lt. gov. race

ATLANTA — Carol Porter, wife of state Rep. DuBose Porter and a political presence in her own right, announced her run for lieutenant governor Thursday.

That sets up a husband-and-wife political ticket at the top of Georgia ballots later this year. DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, began his gubernatorial campaign last year.

“I know you all know me as DuBose Porter’s wife,” Carol Porter told a throng of reporters Thursday morning at the state Capitol. “I am definitely qualified to do this job. I’ve been here watching it for 27 years.”

Carol Porter is running statewide to seek her first elected office. She’s the only Democrat in the race so far, with the formal deadline to qualify coming in April. If no other candidates enter the race, she would face Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who became the state’s first Republican lieutenant governor in 2006 as the GOP completed its takeover of elected state government.

Carol Porter went after the Republican majority Thursday, saying the state might not have so many budget problems today “if we had had people paying attention.” She said Cagle’s agenda is out of sync with Georgians, and she criticized him for presiding over the Senate last year as the homeowner’s tax relief grant, which had given homeowners a property tax cut, was phased out to save the state money.

Cagle’s campaign manager responded to Porter’s candidacy in an e-mailed statement, calling Cagle “a steady hand and a principled leader.”

“We anticipate a spirited contest and a thoughtful discussion of the issues,” Cagle campaign manager Ryan Cassin said.

Carol Porter said she would focus on one of her husband’s top issues during the campaign: forcing the state to do a better job of collecting sales tax revenue. She called it “insane” to furlough teachers when there’s owed tax money on the table.

Both Porters have pushed this point as a massive missed opportunity for the state, saying it could collect an extra $1 billion in unpaid sales taxes with better enforcement. But the Georgia Department of Revenue and others have said repeatedly that number is far overstated, and a study of the issue is ongoing.

Carol Porter also called for a shift in spending within the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship program. She said college scholarships should remain a priority, but the state also should return to its previous policy of spending some of the money on early education. That could include technology in schools, job training and graduation coaches for younger students, she said.

Carol Porter, who manages the family chain of newspapers based in Dublin, said she wants to help enlarge the Democratic Party’s tent in this election.

She said she plans to appeal to people who are “fed up with Georgia politics” and that she favors more funding for education.

She also acknowledged that her run for statewide office “was not a thought two weeks ago.”

But she stood in for her husband at a recent gubernatorial forum, drew positive reviews and started a buzz. Then she filled a vacuum for the Democratic Party in a lieutenant governor’s race that many thought Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond or one of the party’s numerous gubernatorial candidates — including DuBose Porter — might fill.

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and has significant sway over whether bills progress through the Senate to become law.

But with Republicans likely to retain a majority in the Senate this year, any Democrat would have difficulty wielding power from the lieutenant governor’s office, much less a first-time elected official.

When Republicans won a majority in the Senate several years ago, they stripped Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor of most of his power. A couple of years later Cagle won office, and those powers were returned to the lieutenant governor. Carol Porter would almost certainly face the same power grab if elected.

But the office remains a major bully pulpit in Georgia, and Carol Porter made it clear she’ll be on the offensive for Democrats during this campaign.

And she pushed aside Thursday the notion that her candidacy is a publicity stunt meant to help her husband’s uphill effort to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

“I say if this is a gimmick and it’s going to get corruption out of Georgia, give me about a dozen,” she said.

Amy Morton, a Maconite who is chairwoman of Georgia’s Win List, a political action committee for Democratic women, said she is glad to see “a strong, smart woman step up to run for office.”

“I’ve never known Carol Porter not to be engaged and not to care deeply,” Morton said.

State Sen. Ross Tolleson’s district extends into Laurens County, making the Porters his constituents. Tolleson, R-Perry, said he has a lot of respect for Carol Porter, but now isn’t the time for inexperience in the lieutenant governor’s office. A down economy has pushed state leaders to hack away at the budget, and next year’s budget is likely to present even more problems.

“We need leadership that has a lot of experience,” Tolleson said.

DuBose Porter spoke briefly at his wife’s news conference, saying she’s been part of everything he’s done in Georgia politics since they married in 1984. The couple’s college-aged sons stood by during Thursday’s news conference.

“If you truly want family values in Georgia, elect a Georgia family,” DuBose Porter said.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.