Georgia’s Republican incumbent attorney general vies for second full term

Though there are some similarities between the three candidates running for attorney general — they all graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law and live in metro Atlanta — their approaches to the job are vastly different.

Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican from Dunwoody, is seeking his second full term as the state’s top lawyer. He was first appointed by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016 and won his first full term in 2018.

Carr has focused his campaign on “protecting lives, protecting livelihoods and protecting liberty,” a slight twist on the “lives and livelihoods” political talking point often used by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat from Sandy Springs, is challenging the incumbent because she said he has spent more time pushing partisan politics instead of prioritizing the needs of Georgians. She said if elected, the first thing she would do is create a voting rights division within the attorney general’s office.

A third candidate, Libertarian Martin Cowen, a retired probate judge and attorney who lives in Jonesboro, said as attorney general he would focus on making changes to the criminal justice system.

Cowen, who ran unsuccessfully as a Libertarian for a congressional seat in 2018 and 2020, wants to end the police practices of executing warrants without first announcing themselves and confiscating and selling property officers claim has been involved in a crime. He also said he would seek to end the practice of protecting government employees, including police officers, from personally having to pay damages in civil lawsuits.

The attorney general is tasked with being the legal adviser for the executive branch of state government, providing legal opinions, representing the state in court and prosecuting public corruption.

The attorney general mostly handles civil lawsuits, but in recent years, the Legislature has expanded the role to include investigation and prosecution under human trafficking and gang laws.

A recent poll of likely voters by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that Carr received support from almost 45% of those polled. Jordan trailed by 10 percentage points, getting support from about 35%. Cowen received support from a little more than 5%. The rest of the respondents were undecided.

The poll was conducted Sept. 5-16 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

After six years in office, Carr, a onetime aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, said there’s more work for him to do, specifically in the areas of human trafficking, street gangs and the opioid addiction crisis.

“I’ve worked with legislators to expand the role of the attorney general to tackle crime problems that go beyond individual jurisdictions,” said Carr, a Michigan native who moved to the Atlanta area as a child. “I’ve used the law to keep our communities safe, to punish criminals and to safeguard the vulnerable through special efforts to tackle gang crime, human trafficking, elder abuse and opioid addiction.”

Carr and Jordan have sparred publicly over Georgia’s new abortion law. The law bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade’s abortion protections in June, Carr submitted a letter to a federal appeals court asking the judges to allow the state’s 2019 law to take effect.

Soon after, Jordan said she would not spend taxpayer money to defend the Georgia law, which the court allowed to take effect in July. Cowen, 70, said as a supporter of the protections previously granted by Roe. v. Wade, he also wouldn’t use state resources to defend the law.

The law is back in state court, where abortion providers are challenging it’s legality under the Georgia Constitution.

Carr has called Jordan’s position a “dereliction of duty.”

“She is standing with district attorneys in this state who are saying they are not going to enforce laws — that’s the new criminal justice reform on the left,” Carr said at a recent campaign event.

Jordan, 47, said the attorney general is allowed to choose not to a defend a law if they think it violates the state constitution.

“We need elected officials who actually think that women are equal to men,” Jordan said at a recent campaign event. “We deserve more. "

Jordan, a native of Eastman who’s been in the Atlanta area since 2002, said she believes her legal experience makes her better suited to represent the people of Georgia.

“I’ve been practicing law for over 20 years successfully and represented individuals when they needed it the most, when the chips were really down,” said Jordan, who was elected to the state Senate in 2017. “That gives me the appropriate background to go into the attorney general’s office and do the same thing for the voters.”

Cowen, a Virginia native who moved to Athens as a teen after his father became the dean of the UGA School of Law, said he wants the government to be less involved in the day-to-day lives of Georgians.

“The greatest problem for a Libertarian with the general public is they don’t know what a Libertarian is. They think we’re kind of a nut group,” Cowen said. “As my campaign saying says, don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.”