Mills Envisions A New Georgia Secretary Of State Office
by Nigel Roberts
In a field of seven candidates vying to become secretary of state, democrat Michael Mills says he has a vision for the office that distinguishes him from the others. He has four goals if elected: developing a 21st century small business resource center, establishing effective oversight of securities and professional licensing while improving efficiency, protecting the integrity--without erecting barriers--of the voting system, and building a state that gives citizens a voice.
At 36, Mills is the youngest candidate. But the public relations consultant has been working for a number of years in public policy. He served as legislative aide to former Secretary of State Lewis Massey and press secretary on Mark Taylor’s successful 1998 lieutenant governor campaign. And as a public relations professional, Mills has also worked on shaping several public policy issues like health care and the environment, as well as pushing legislation through the General Assembly.
Mills is not bothered by critics who say he lacks experience in public office. "People want new ideas--not politicians and business as usual," he responds.
One of his ideas is to create a one-stop center for small business owners, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations. "I want to make the secretary of state office more than a place to file paperwork," Mills stated. "I envision the office as an incubator and a key resource for companies seeking to do business in Georgia and create jobs."
Mills, a small business owner himself, pointed out that the secretary of state’s Web site currently offers forms and basic information on starting a business. He envisions a site that connects business people to resources and vice versa. "It doesn't require new funding or creating a new bureaucracy," he explained.
Mills would bring extensive voting and elections expertise to the office. He's the author of Battling Democracy's Decline, which examines the decline in voter participation. He also served on the board of the League of Women Voters of Georgia and launched Vote for America-Georgia, a nonprofit focused on improving voter turnout and education.
If elected, Mills said he would end the lawsuit sought by incumbent Secretary Brian Kemp. The federal suit would seek to end an impasse with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over Georgia's implementation of its voter ID law.
The Voting Rights Act requires Georgia (and several other mostly southern states) to obtain preclearance from the DOJ--because of its history of voter discrimination--before it could enact changes to its voting laws. So far, the DOJ has not pre-cleared the state's recent change that requires new voters to prove citizenship.
A DOJ report found that Georgia's process of verifying citizenship has a "discriminatory effect" on minority voters, as the state erroneously flagged thousands of eligible voters in a recent election as noncitizens--disproportionately minority.
When Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker rejected Kemp's request to file a federal suit against the Justice Department, Kemp encouraged Gov. Sonny Perdue to hire a special attorney general.
"I'm in favor of IDs at the polls," said Mills, "but it must not be a burden." He said Georgia already has a state database and access to federal databases that could verify citizenship, remarking that much of this is simply political. "The governor's decision circumvents the attorney general's office and is a waste of tax dollars," he said.
The campaign has been "a remarkable experience" so far. Mills said he has been traveling throughout the state to talk to citizens. In his travels, Mills said he has learned that despite the diversity he encounters, people all want the same things: the best for their family and a brighter future.
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