Bryant's petition drive falls short; his stint as superintendent stops at six months

Interim state schools superintendent Brad Bryant pulled the plug Tuesday on his bid for a spot on the November election ballot and a shot at becoming the first independent statewide officeholder in decades.

Bryant began a six-month term as interim schools superintendent July 1. He hoped for a chance to ask voters to give him another four years in the job.

Under state law, he needed to submit 44,071 signatures to the state by noon Tuesday for his name to be placed on the November ballot as an independent.

But Brad Alexander, a spokesman for Bryant, said Tuesday that gathering so many signatures in about a month was beyond reach.

"The clock got us," Alexander said.

With volunteers and paid staff, Bryant had gathered about 36,000 signatures, all of which would have required verification by the deadline, Alexander said.

In a prepared statement issued shortly before the deadline, Bryant called the petition drive "a truly humbling experience."

He noted the work of family, friends and supporters.  "I am firmly convinced that our efforts are indicative of the widespread support for public education in this state and I am encouraged that this spirit will continue to bear fruit in the years to come."

Bryant, a veteran of both the state and DeKalb County school boards, was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue last month to fill the unexpired term of Superintendent Kathy Cox.

Cox, a Republican, qualified in April to run for a third, four-year term, but she then dropped out of the race and resigned May 17 to run a new education think tank in Washington.

Her resignation came too late for Bryant to qualify as a candidate in either the Republican or Democratic primaries in July.

His other option was to run as an independent, a move that, according to the secretary of state's office, required him to obtain signatures from 1 percent of the active registered voters in 2006, the last time the superintendent's job was on the ballot.

Three Democrats, two Republicans and a Libertarian are running. Cox's name also will appear on the July 20 GOP ballot.

Perdue supported Bryant's candidacy publicly and financially. From a political action committee he set up, the governor donated $12,200, more than half of what Bryant raised, records show.

In late June, Morgan County millionaire Ray Boyd abandoned his push to get on the November election ballot in the governor's race. He said the process of collecting the 50,000 signatures for that race was too daunting.

In an interview last week, Bryant said volunteers were out asking voters to sign his petition. He said he also had hired a group used by former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood in her bid to run as an independent for Fulton County Commission chair.

"It's been exhausting," Bryant said Friday. "But it's been really neat to see just how folks get energized. It's really been a broad tent of folks that have been involved."

On  Tuesday, Bryant said his goal now is to concentrate on the work he has to do for the next few months as superintendent.

"I will use the same passion that fueled this campaign to ensure we are focused on improving student achievement for all Georgia students," Bryant said.

-- Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this story.