Monday, May 4, 2009

Baker’s bid could face trouble

Attorney General Thurbert Baker’s quest to become Georgia’s first black governor could hinge on Democratic primary backing from the state’s large African-American population.

But positions he’s taken as the state’s chief lawyer for the last 12 years could jeopardize that support, which should be a cornerstone of his campaign.

“I think it probably will have an impact,” said state Sen. Emanuel Jones, chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. “There are a lot of issues where those of us in the African American community were on the opposite end as our attorney general was and you have to wonder why.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Baker said that his job as the state’s attorney requires him to follow the letter of the law, regardless of whether it hewed to his personal beliefs

“I can’t pick and choose statutes that I like or dislike,” Baker said. “I took an oath when I became the attorney general to be the state’s lawyer, to defend the state.”

And Baker said he thought voters were smart enough to be able to make the distinction.

“I think voters understand more than some people give them credit for,” he said.

Still Baker — who endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton over Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary — is taking steps to mend fences with black leaders with whom he has not always seen eye to eye. Jones said Baker plans to sit down with members of the black caucus and other black leaders.

Black support will almost certainly be critical in determining who wins the July 2010 Democratic primary. Blacks currently comprise about half of the Democratic primary vote in Georgia, and that number has only grown in recent elections.

Baker is currently locked in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination to replace Sonny Perdue, who is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term.

Also running are House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Georgia National Guard Commander David Poythress. Former Gov. Roy Barnes has said he will decide by June whether to jump in the race.

Porter said he’ll win support from blacks because of his record in the state Legislature.

“I know that Thurbert may have some problems from the positions that he’s taken as AG,” Porter said.

Poythress said he expected that candidates should be held accountable for their records.

“In the Genarlow Wilson case, the (Georgia Supreme) court said he was wrong and I agree with it,” Poythress said.

The Wilson case is still a sore spot for some.

Black leaders rallied angrily outside Baker’s office in 2007 after his office appealed a judge’s ruling ordering Wilson’s release from prison. Wilson, who is black, was serving a 10-year mandatory prison sentence for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. Some blacks saw the case as emblematic of a system that is all too willing to lock up young black men and throw away the key.

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