By Lindy Earl
I had the pleasure of meeting with State Senator Josh McKoon, currently a candidate for Secretary of State. Below is a recap of our conversation. I hope it helps you understand Mr. McKoon’s vision for Georgia and how and why he wants to accomplish his goals.
Why do you feel you are the most qualified candidate to become Georgia’s next Secretary of State?
“My professional background. As a practicing Attorney for 14 years, specifically in election law, I believe Georgia’s next Secretary of State needs to be someone with a deep understanding of Federal and Georgia law. It’s critically important and I am uniquely qualified. In addition to what I’ve stated, I have experience as a legislator. I served for six years on the Regulated Industries Committee in the Senate. I offer Georgians a combination of experience in election law and a thorough understanding of how to accomplish things in Georgia.”
You have mentioned that you are the only candidate in the race with elections law experience. How important is that experience for Georgia’s next Secretary of State?
“It’s very important. For example, one complaint you may have heard regards Georgia’s nine week runoff in primary elections. It’s unique. Other states, such as South Carolina, have a two week runoff. Ours is lengthy because we failed to anticipate a legal challenge to Georgia election law. Why? Because a Federal law states that if you rely on absentee ballots, you need to have a 45 day delay to allow time for these ballots to come in. For example, for our Military serving overseas. Georgia relies on the ballot which can be returned by mail, whereas other states rely on secure online channels so don’t need the 45 day window. I realized the challenge five years ago but legislature failed to act, and Georgia was sued. A Federal Judge determined our nine week primary wait.
In addition, I want to maximize voter participation. The Tuesday before Memorial Day weekend is probably not the best choice for a primary election, but it’s what we have because a single Federal Judge made the determination for us. As Secretary of State I will secure a channel of voting to choose better dates and shorten the runoff window. Long windows empower special interest groups which is not necessarily to the benefit of the voters. Remember the Handel-Ossoff runoff last summer, with tens of millions of dollars spent – to what purpose? At the same time, South Carolina had a congressional runoff two weeks after the primary. I believe I can solve this problem and I have a workable solution.”
You have been out-spoken on Georgia’s need for new voting machines. What do you think is the state’s best option?
“The best option is one that gives us a paper trail to be independently audited and verified. There are a number of options but the most compelling is the touch screen interface which is simple for the voter and doesn’t allow for over or under voting. The machines will print a visible ballot each voter can review before turning it in. This increases the probability that the person is voting as they wish, and it allows for a paper trail.”
Continuing on elections, you have been campaigning on the promise of preventing illegal aliens from voting in Georgia elections. How big of a problem is this and what are you plans to resolve this?
“The size of the problem will require some investigation. Nobody knows how many non-citizens are on the roll. We do know that there are 48,000 illegal aliens who have received Georgia driver’s licenses. Due to existing laws, these drivers are automatically registered to vote unless they opt out. So we know there are potentially 48,000 non-voters on the voter roll. These licenses are limited-term licenses, limited to deferred action, usually of 1-2 years. I want to use the database from Georgia’s Department Motor Vehicles to compare with a statewide voter file.”
While we are talking about elections, you have said the state needs to address the problems with absentee voting. What is your biggest concern with absentee voting and how do we address it?
“Yes, I am concerned with the vulnerabilities of our voting process. Georgia led the nation with a requirement for a picture ID to prove you are who you say you are, whether the day of or early voting. But with absentee ballots, the ballot can be faxed or mailed and is not subject to any verification. I want to move to a process of requiring some ID verification, such as signed by a notary or a photo ID displayed within the process. We need to tighten up the process. The current system is abused. You may have heard about a situation in Columbus where a woman had 19 absentee ballots in hand. We learned that 15 of these people casting the ballots were residents in a nursing home and were no longer capable of even making their mark. Those ballots were disallowed but nobody was prosecuted. I believe we need tougher laws and tougher enforcement. We will also need resources to do so.”
Changing topics, we have heard talk on reforming the licensing process to make it easier for Georgians to start and grow their own business. What do you see is the first step to make this happen?
“When talking about a process like this, there are many aspects to consider. For example, filing corporate paperwork is one thing. But Georgia currently has 41 licensing boards and over 100 licenses that can be issued. Other states are not as onerous as Georgia’s so I believe we need to review the requirements and determine which professions impact protect health and public safety, and those are the ones that should be licensed.”
Would you consider reducing the number of professional licenses required to do business in Georgia? Which ones do you feel could be eliminated?
“Yes, and the top of the list is librarians. There is clearly no public health and public safety concern for this job to require a license. I respect the job, but believe their educational credentials will suffice.”
You have mentioned implementing a database to track all state expenditures. How important do you feel this is for Georgia taxpayers?
“It is incredibly important. The state of Georgia is a large enterprise. Our fiscal budget is over $25 billion. We have thousands of employees and multiple state agencies. For the average citizen to know what’s happening in state government, the state needs to provide information in an easy to understand way. I like Ohio’s state checkbook and think Georgia should follow suit with an online database, that would be searchable by any citizen. Anyone can see where money and funds are going. Any citizen could find any questionable activity. This database would provide line items to be tracked for auditors. It would help make all branches accountable.”
You have mentioned the need for more investigators in the Secretary of State’s office? How many are there currently serving Georgia in the licensing department and the elections office? How many would you like to see? How would you fund them?
“Yes. We currently have 18 investigators to cover all the over 100 licensed professional industries. A big part of the problem is insufficient personnel. Even after eliminating some licenses, we need sufficient resources to adequately cover the number of licenses requested. I want to do an agency-wide review to learn the correct number of investigators needed. We might need to dedicate employees by industry, for example for funeral home. Last year I offered a constitutional amendment to dedicate revenues from licensing fees to the licensing boards. The issue is not the amount of money coming in but using it to subsidize other state agencies. Money paid by state license holders needs to be dedicated to their agency and industry.”
You have created a Veteran’s Task Force to work with you addressing issues facing veterans and their families. What are some of the issues you see that need to be resolved?
“Yes, we announced our new Task Force Wednesday which will address issues of voting and professional licensing, and how they impact our veterans and their families. We need a system in place to make it as easy as possible for deployed troops to cast a ballot and confirm receipt and get away from using the US mail.
On the licensing side, we have vets who exit the service and have received sufficient training to walk into jobs, but are told military experience is insufficient. This is a huge mistake. Our Veterans are an excellent work force already prepared and ready to work. We should make it easy to make our Vets employable in jobs where they are already trained and experienced. Another issue is military spouses. Military personnel are often moved around a lot. It would help to allow license to transfer from state to state. It’s the right thing to do, it increases our workforce immediately, and allows for military families to get other employment in case of a Base closing.”
I understand you are the only Republican candidate in this race who has gone up against a Democrat opponent. How important is that in this race?
“This primary election is to determine our Republican nominee, and that nominee’s job is to win in November against John Barrow, the apparent Democrat nominee. We want and need someone experienced in debate and facing opponents in arguments. We need someone who is not starting from zero with a political network. I currently have 22 endorsements from senators, as well as endorsements from Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, Public Safety Commissioner Tim Echols, former Senate President Pro-Tem Eric Johnson, and more. These multiple endorsements are from people and organizations who understand the fight that is coming, and they realize that I am the best person to face John Barrow in November.”
What is your top priority if elected Secretary of State?
“Making Georgia the fastest state in the nation to get a job and the toughest state in the nation to cast an illegal vote.”
Is there anything else you would like to add?
“I have championed ethics reform. I was the only Republican co-signer on legislation that would create a nonpartisan redistricting process. My candidacy has huge appeal to crossover voters.”
State Senator Josh McKoon has been married for almost two years to the former Jacqueline Byrd and they reside, with her 7 year old son, Jackson, in Columbus, GA.
Thank you for your time, Senator McKoon. Best of luck on Tuesday.