Common Cause Turnover in Georgia driven by Refocus on Voting Rights (UPDATE 1)
Perry helmed the state chapter for over four years, serving as a vigilant government watchdog on issues of ethics, transparency, public spending, and money-in-politics. His efforts were directed large at the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia.
Statements by Perry and Common Cause President Miles Rapoport expressed that the resignation, which Rapoport requested, was a mutually agreeable decision.
“I deeply appreciate the work that Common Cause Georgia does, and will continue to work with them as allies on issues that concern holding our public officials accountable,” Perry said in a press release.
“Common Cause, both nationally and in Georgia, has a broader policy agenda for an inclusive democracy, and new leadership will help move the chapter in these new directions,” Rapoport said in the same release.
Some Georgia media have reported the “new directions” referenced by Rapoport constituted a more progressive agenda that included tackling climate change and income inequality, suggesting a shift away from the bipartisan concern on ethics that has characterized Common Cause Georgia’s efforts over the last few years.
This idea has been bolstered by the fact that, earlier this year, two of the organization’s Republican board members were ousted and two more resigned in protest.
The national organization formally removed former board chairman Bob Irvin, a Republican, and incoming board chairman Terry Taylor, a Democrat, from the state’s board, the National Review reported.
This prompted two other board members to resign in protest: Lucius Morton, the outgoing chairman and a Republican, and Phyllis Fraley, an Independent, the National Review reported. Together they made up one-third of the state organization’s leadership.
But Scott Swenson, a spokesperson for Common Cause national, told Atlanta Progressive News that the turning point for Common Cause Georgia resulted from its leaders refusing to prioritize voting rights.
“The shift that has been alluded to by folks in the media in Georgia is a fiction. What they’re not telling you is that [members of the state chapter] were preventing us from woking on voting rights,” Swenson said.
“Common Cause’s core issue has always been making sure that democracy works for everyone. In a state like Georgia, where the Voting Rights Act has helped to protect voters, and since the [Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder]… has put more obstacles into some communities, it’s important that we focus on voting rights,” Swenson said.
“They may want to call that minimum wage and climate change, but it’s about every American, no matter their background, being ensured that their voice is heard,” Swenson said.
Perry told APN that the changes at Common Cause Georgia aren’t so much about taking a more progressive stance on substantive issues, as they are about bringing the state chapter in line with the national organization.
“We had a board that considered itself a governing board that could pick and choose the issues,” he said.
“For the most part, the Common Cause issues are ones that I personally agree with so I’m glad someone will be adding to the groups already working on these issues… public policy is okay but it’s not my strong suit. I didn’t enjoy the lobbying portion as much as you need to when you’re working on something like voting rights,” Perry said.
Perry is starting a new organization in order to focus on his government watchdog work.
On August 16, 2015 he registered a nonprofit corporation called Georgia Ethics Watchdogs Inc.
He told APN he needs to secure an insurance policy before talking about the issues he plans to tackle.
Previously, Perry ran for the Atlanta City Council District 1 post, challenging Carla Smith.
Prior to Perry serving as Executive Director of CCGA, the previous director was Bill Bozarth.
The new Board chair, following Irvin’s departure, is Clint Murphy.
Irvin, CCGA’s former chair, posted a comment on APN after this article was first published: “What the national Common Cause employee, Mr. Swenson, means when he says that the state board was ‘blocking [national] from working on voting rights,’ is this: Last October, in the midst of the election, the national organization (CCDC) wanted Common Cause Georgia (CCGA) to endorse a CCDC post saying that the Republican Secretary of State was holding up the processing of as many as 80,000 new voter registration forms collected by the New Georgia Project, a Democratic campaign organization. They wanted us to say that this was being done in order to suppress minority votes.”
“We investigated. It turned out that there was zero evidence that this was happening, and indeed all the forms were in the hands of local governments in five Democratic-controlled counties. Based on this, we declined to endorse their post. A judge later found that there was no evidence of any slow-down by anybody,” Irvin wrote.
“CCDC wants to spin this as blocking their work on voting rights, but in fact it is only declining to go along with their completely baseless accusation,” Irvin wrote.