Porter New State Democratic Chair

by Walter Jones

Georgia Democrats got a new party chairman and a new candidate for governor Saturday.

Former gubernatorial nominee Dubose Porter topped a three-man race for chairman on the second ballot in voting by the members of the Executive Committee holding a special election here. He won the contest to complete the term of Mike Berlon who resigned over lawsuits and professional complaints about his legal practice.

Also at the meeting, Connie Stokes, a former state senator and DeKalb County commissioner, told the 250 committee members she will formally announce plans to run for governor next week. Porter, a lawyer and publisher of the Dublin newspaper, is well known among party faithful after decades in the state House where he rose to minority leader before stepping down to run for governor in 2010. His wife at the time, Carol Porter, ran for lieutenant governor.

Dubose Porter defeated former state Sen. Doug Stoner of Marietta and Rockdale County Tax Commissioner RJ Hadley. All three had vowed to restore the party's finances, improve communications with county leaders and help Democrats win elections.

"We'll take the issues to the Republicans' front door step," Dubose Porter said. "We can only do that when we're together."

Berlon wasn't seen in the art deco Wadsworth Auditorium that housed the unique meeting two blocks from Newnan's bustling courthouse square. Party insiders blamed him for poor management in draining the party's coffers by trying to maintain a big staff, high-tech equipment and satellite offices in Augusta and Savannah during a non-election year.

The party was losing about $40,000 each month this year until he resigned. After his departure, Interim Chairwoman Nikema Williams trimmed staff, closed the extra offices and convinced regular contributors to pony up again. As a result, the party now has $152,000 in the bank, according to Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah, the party's treasurer.

"Our party was bleeding," he said. "... We, as a party, are beginning to move forward."

Stokes said her focus will be on education, honest government and jobs. She said as then-Gov. Roy Barnes' Senate floor leader she is qualified and eager to give voters a choice.

"I can't just sit back and say the Republicans are in charge," she said.

Also at the event was U.S. Senate candidate Steen Miles, who spent 30 years as a journalist and Atlanta television personality before serving one term in the legislature and then running unsuccessfully for the nomination for lieutenant governor. She had announced her candidacy Thursday.

Miles told the committee her main issues would be restoring federal preclearance for the state's election changes, funding deepening of the port of Savannah, building a passenger rail line from Athens to Atlanta and protecting the middle class.

Also addressing the committee was Branko "Dr. Rad" Radulovacki, an Atlanta psychiatrist making his first run for office as another candidate for the U.S. Senate. His priorities will be education, immigration reform and healthcare. It was the first time most committee members had heard him.

Noticeably absent at the event was Michelle Nunn, who many observers consider the frontrunner in the race for the Senate nomination. Several committee members said privately that her absence didn't help her with undecided party leaders, but one of her supporters said she stayed away to avoid being drawn into any controversy over the election of the party chairman.

Voting for chairman required a second ballot even though Porter won a majority of ballot cast. That's because as many as 15 ballots were discarded as "questionable," leaving him one vote shy of the majority of those cast the first go-round.

Party rules prohibit secret ballots. Committee members had to sign them. At one point, those running the election planned to require a roll-call vote in addition to the signed ballots because there were fears people who weren't on the committee had voted. Follow Walter Jones on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at walter.jones@morris.com and (404) 589-8424.

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