Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel visited the University of West Georgia on Thursday to participate in an executive roundtable at the Richards College of Business.
While on campus, Handel met with UWG President Beheruz N. Sethna and university administrators, spoke to a political science class and toured the campus.
Handel, who last month announced her candidacy for governor, told students of the importance of participating in the democratic process and said that what happens to citizens largely depends upon the leaders they elect at every level of government.
“We need more people engaged, all of you engaged, and to really understand who the candidates are and how they stand on the issues,” she said to the political science students. “What happens ultimately at the city, county and state levels comes as a result of your vote and the choices you make. You really have every reason to be engaged.”
Handel said that last year’s elections drew a higher-than-usual turnout, but despite that, created no unusual stress for the election systems statewide.
“We had about a 75 percent turnout in 2008. That says that Georgians vote, and we tend to be a little higher than the national average. Ninety two percent voted in person, with photo ID and without problems,” she said.
Early voting helped alleviate any potential problems, Handel said, and despite criticism of that practice, she said that it should be continued in future elections.
“Politically, a lot of people started raising questions about whether early voting benefits one party or another. That’s really not my problem. My job is to focus on having fair, orderly elections. It just made sense to try to do this,” Handel said.
Handel also acknowledged the difficulty that the recession has caused the state but expressed optimism that improvement is on the way.
“It’s tough budget times, whether at the state, county or city level. But I think we’re going to start to see things turn up in maybe a year from now,” she said.
She also said that the recession has led to long-overdue increased scrutiny of fiscal issues.
Handel advocates making sure the state budget starts at zero, rather than using revenue from the prior year as the starting point.
“In private industry, they don’t tell you ‘Well, you had this much last year, so I’ll add a little more to that, then you can do whatever you want to with it.’ It works the other way around. I think it’s ridiculous that we have to have legislation that mandates us to use good budgeting practices,” she said.
She also said she believes that belt-tightening shouldn’t be restricted to recessionary times.
“Because there’s a budget crisis, that shouldn’t be the only time we should look for more efficiencies,” Handel said. Significant savings could be realized from cutting some of the wastefulness from state agencies, she said.
Handel also suggested that some of the fiscal burden that the state now bears could possibly be shifted to local governments.
“We need to re-evaluate what role the state plays and the counties play. I don’t think it is the state’s job to pay for dumpsters in a city park,” she said.
Handel advocates looking at more ways to cut costs in state government, including, she said, the possibility of exploring more public/private partnerships.
Responding to questions raised by UWG students, Handel said she is committed to the state’s higher education system and making sure that students in Georgia have available avenues to college and training programs.
“We have to preserve the HOPE scholarship and make sure that college is available and affordable,” she said.
Handel said that because she was unable to go to college, she takes special concern in trying to place that opportunity within greater reach of more students who might otherwise not be able to further their education.
Handel was elected Georgia’s first Republican secretary of state in 2006. Her office oversees elections, corporations, securities, professional licensing boards and the state archives.
Handel also noted, humorously, that she is the state’s boxing commissioner, and that she oversees mixed martial arts.
Before serving as secretary of state, Handel was elected chairwoman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
She also has served as president and CEO of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
The Richards College of Business Executive Roundtable at which Handel spoke provides an opportunity for distinguished leaders to meet and share ideas. Its membership consists of students, faculty and industry representatives. The group’s semi-annual meetings feature a speaker and discussion session.