Politics & Government

Governor to appoint special AG for health reform lawsuit

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said Thursday he plans to appoint a special attorney general to sue the federal government over a new federal health-care reform law.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, the Republican governor said he plans to assemble a team of pro bono lawyers to file the suit after Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, declined Perdue’s request to sue.

“I think in this economy, in this America that we all grew up in and love, forcing people to purchase things they don’t want to purchase, I think, violates a constitutional right that they have,” Perdue said.

Perdue was referring to a part of the new federal legislation that requires nearly everyone to be insured or face paying a fine, starting in 2014. He has also blasted the law, saying it would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year by expanding Medicaid rolls, forcing the state health insurance plan to cover the adult children of state workers up to age 26 and requiring the state to set up a health-care purchasing exchange.

Baker wrote in a letter to the governor Wednesday that the state doesn’t have “a viable legal claim” and that he didn’t want to waste state resources in a time of budget crisis.

Baker is seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Perdue, who is barred by term limits from running again.

Following Baker’s refusal to sue, the state constitution gives the governor the right to appoint a special attorney general who will have the same power as the state attorney general in this specific matter, Perdue said.

Georgia probably will not join the lawsuit filed by attorneys general in 14 other states who are challenging what they deem an unconstitutional overreach of federal power, but will likely file a separate suit, Perdue said.

“I think we do run the risk of bearing some burden of shared costs if we join other attorneys general,” he said.

Several lawyers have volunteered to take the state’s case without pay, he said. While declining to name those lawyers or give a timeline, the governor said his office would work quickly to select a team of legal experts.

The issue has fast become politically heated at the Capitol, where Republicans who hold the majority have been attacking Baker’s decision not to follow Perdue’s direction and sue.

State Rep. Ed Setzler said if Baker moves to block Perdue’s selection of an outside lawyer to act as a special attorney general some House Republicans may move forward with articles of impeachment.

“It is my hope we wouldn’t need to do that,” the Republican from Acworth said.

A spokesman for Baker said he had no plans to oppose Perdue’s authority to tap an outside attorney.

The Georgia Democratic Party on Thursday filed a request under the state’s open records law seeking copies of any communications between Perdue’s office and national Republican groups and other documents related to the decision to oppose the federal health-care reform legislation signed by President Obama on Tuesday.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who appeared with Perdue, said he believes voters will show their disagreement with the bill in November’s midterm elections and in the next presidential election.

Both men expressed strong disapproval for threats that have been made in some parts of the country against Democrats who voted for the bill.

“I oppose anybody using vile language, making threats,” Gingrich said. “Anybody who’s angry ought to focus their anger into the political process.”

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