Gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel wasn't on stage Friday night for the Republican candidate debate at Statesboro High, but she did appear earlier Friday on the "Mornings unPHILtered" show to explain why. And appearing immediately after Handel was the reason why - Ray McBerry.
Handel said earlier this week that she will not appear on the same stage with Ray McBerry, another Republican candidate for governor.
Handel did come to Statesboro High to participate in the Bulloch County Republican Party's "Meet and Greet."
Handel told host Phil Boyum that McBerry's involvement in what she described as an "extraordinarily inappropriate relationship" with a teenage girl in 2002-03 is why she would not be part of any forum that included McBerry.
Handel stated at the Georgia Sixth District GOP debate last week in Columbus that she refused to "give him a platform." Handel said by appearing with McBerry she "would be giving tacit approval for him."
McBerry has denied any inappropriate activity with the girl. No charges were filed against him in the incident.
Boyum asked Handel on what basis McBerry should be excluded from the debate if the Georgia Republican Party legally qualified him as a candidate for governor.
Handel said several other groups planning debates, including one tonight in Columbia County sponsored by the Young Republicans of Columbia County, said they will not invite McBerry.
She said some groups set standards for minimum political support or are taking a stance about the allegations against McBerry.
Handel said she would consider "making any number of changes" in the guidelines in the Republican Party candidate process in order to prevent candidates with "moral issues" from qualifying and she promised to be a part of that discussion in the future.
Also, Handel said McBerry's signing the pledge of loyalty to the Republican Party while he was "guilty of having had an extremely inappropriate relationship" with a 10th-grade girl wasn't in and of itself a questionable action.
She said as the only female candidate running for governor, perhaps only she views appearing with McBerry, whom she said had "ruined this young girl's life," as unacceptable.
McBerry next appeared on the show and explained his side of the story.
Eight years ago, he said, his church didn't have a youth pastor, and the mother of the then 16-year-old girl came to him with concerns about her daughter. He said he soon discovered the girl was much more troubled than he first understood.
McBerry said the actions of this girl's step-father bothered him and McBerry said when he began to ask questions about her step-father's actions, the step-father tried to get him arrested.
McBerry said the local magistrate refused to prosecute him, and when the step-father tried to get his teacher certificate revoked, he had his certificate suspended for week while the State Professional Standards Office investigated the charges.
McBerry said everything quietly faded away until he said until "people became concerned about how well we're doing in the race."
Some of his church members, he said, asked him to apologize for asking the "pointed questions about the step-father" which he agreed to do. He said he and his family were once close friends, and the girl had babysat for his own child.
McBerry said he has been cleared of any misdeeds or inappropriate actions by both the Magistrates office, and the State Professional Standards Commission.
He said that now, looking back, he "regrets getting involved considering the problems that this young girl had" and said all he had done was agree to step in and try to help. He admitted he didn't have the skills to deal with someone with her issues.
McBerry restated his belief that the incident is nothing more than an attempt to discredit him, and stated that if there had been anything to these charges they would have been made a long time ago."