This past week, Georgia’s Secretary of State Karen Handel came to Statesboro to host a fundraising event for Jan Tankersly who is seeking reelection this fall to the Bulloch County Board of County Commissioners.
I am always particularly interested when I am able to interview a woman such as Handel who has broken through the glass ceiling. Currently, only ten Fortune Global 500 companies have female CEO(s), and there are just eight female governors. Handel belongs to pretty exclusive club of very successful women who serve at a high level of governance in their professions.
I visited with Handel, who was elected in 2006, for about 20 minutes. She was gracious, forthcoming, and straight forward about her role and that of her office. For those of you who may not be familiar with the duties of the Secretary of State’s office, I can only describe it as a “hodgepodge.”
“My division is like the “Mikey” Life cereal commercial,” Handel said. “If it doesn’t fit naturally anywhere else, they delegate the responsibility of oversight to the Secretary of State. Let me give you an example, I serve as Georgia’s Commissioner of Boxing, and our office oversees the regulation of boxing in the state. You may be surprised to know that there are about 80 bouts per year in this state.”
In addition to boxing, her office oversees 41 professional licensing boards, all of the election boards and elections conducted across the state, the corporations division, securities and business regulation division, and the Georgia archives. Her division’s oversight runs the gambit, and Handle is quick to admit that some of it may appear rather unnecessary.
“For example, we license librarians,” she said “Why do we license librarians? I have been unable to find the answer. Maybe a librarian will read your column and call me and tell me. We don’t know, but we do have new boards coming on line for general contractors and home inspectors. Those were definitely needed given the amount of growth and development in the state.”
Handel said one of the biggest challenges facing her office is in the area of licensing, making sure that the regulations associated with professions in the state keep pace with what is really happening in the real world for those professions.
“Government has a really strong track record of passing laws and regulations and putting them up on a shelf a hundred years ago,” she said. “Meanwhile, the business of an electrician or of a nurse completely changes. For example in the state of Georgia, there was no criminal background check for someone seeking a state nursing license. We were able to recently pass regulations changing that. Up until now, none had been required, and clearly that needed to happen.”
Handel said her office is about to launch an initiative to do a board by board review.
“We are going to ask the fundamental question why are we still regulating this profession, do we need to,” she said. “Do we need more or less regulation for the profession? Government has a great track record of having a knee jerk reaction to a problem and putting in massive regulation when it may have taken one thing to solve the problem.”
Handel also said there is an important ongoing demographic shift change that will affect the services delivered and required of our state government two decades down the road.
“In 20 years, Georgia will be the state with the fifth highest over 60 population,” she said. “From a service delivery model perspective, this will have a tremendous effect on our state government. We need to begin to prepare for that.”
I will be part of that “shift” Secretary Handel, so please go back to Atlanta and work hard to streamline our bloated government.