Following Sen. Johnny Isakson’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the year for health reasons, Gov. Brian Kemp began his search for a successor to fill Isakson’s Senate seat until next year’s special election with a nontraditional approach. Instead of simply appointing someone privately, he is requiring all interested candidates to submit a curriculum vitae or resume online. Anyone who meets the requirements to be a Senator can apply, and the applications are available to browse online. Kemp explained his decision on Twitter, saying he wanted to “ensure an open and transparent appointment process.”
The move, though unusual, will keep the public informed and legitimize Kemp’s choice.
It was easy enough to laugh as an influx of applications from candidates ranging in seriousness poured in. And, though the idea that everyone can apply for the seat is nice in theory, Kemp will probably select an already-established political figure, rendering it mostly useless for an average person to send in a resume. However, as time has gone on, a few clear benefits of Kemp’s decision have emerged.
First, it reduces the likelihood of any corrupt practices. Governors in the past have used the opportunity to fill a Senate seat for personal gain. For example, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell the seat former President Barack Obama vacated after winning the presidency, leading to Blagojevich’s impeachment and removal from office.
Further, forcing all candidates to publicly declare their interest in the seat allows the public to evaluate the candidates. Those seeking the seat must publicly declare their interest in the office and make a case as to why they should be chosen. Without the application process, potential successors to Isakson could privately lobby for the position without repercussions. Now, however, hopeful appointees must reveal their intentions, putting some in a difficult position. For example, as Greg Bluestein in the AJC points out, the newly-elected Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan would risk being seen as overly-ambitious if they applied for the Senate seat so early in their terms. Allowing the public to observe possible successors instills a sense of democracy to what would otherwise be a thoroughly opaque process.
By maintaining transparency, Kemp has increased his pick’s legitimacy. This is critical because whoever is chosen will face what could be a highly-contested reelection campaign next year. As the incumbent candidate with the governor’s support, Kemp’s appointee will likely be the leading Republican candidate, so a candidate whom the public views as illegitimate could cost Republicans a Senate seat.
No matter who eventually fills Isakson’s seat, Kemp’s choice will have major and wide-ranging political reverberations in Georgia. Through the Senate application process, however, Kemp has succeeded in providing some transparency to his decision-making.