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Karen Handel’s book packs a punch


Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel set off Tuesday on a media tour for a new book that trains most of its critical firepower on Planned Parenthood and its supporters on the left — but also manages to get in a few jabs at Gov. Nathan Deal, Georgia Right to Life and other prominent conservative names here.

Besides ticking off a series of “alleged ethical lapses” against Deal, who narrowly defeated Handel for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010, Handel’s book also challenges the atmosphere of Georgia’s Capitol.

“It was as simple as ‘she’s not one of us and she will have the capacity to take away the life that we know and love,’” Handel said in a lengthy interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the “good-old-boys club” forces arrayed against her during the governor’s race. “I think it was more about what they might lose, not about me.”

Handel’s book, “Planned Bullyhood,” went on sale Tuesday. It largely concerns her tenure as vice president of public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The heavyweight breast cancer nonprofit became engulfed in controversy last winter when it decided to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood — a decision that was quickly reversed. Handel resigned soon after that.

Some critics suggested Handel had engineered the change to assuage the anti-abortion movement, but she writes that Komen had been considering ending the relationship “for at least a decade.” Komen was revamping its granting model to focus more on “measurable outcomes” to fighting breast cancer, which excluded much of what Planned Parenthood did. Fundraising also was suffering because of backlash from conservatives opposed to Komen’s link to the leading U.S. provider of abortions.

In the AJC interview, Handel said of Planned Parenthood, “They are a blatantly partisan political organization,” and she believes it should no longer receive government funding.

Planned Parenthood’s only response to Handel’s book has been to issue a short statement obliquely referencing Handel:

“It is incredible that there are people who still want to inject politics into breast cancer detection and treatment,” Planned Parenthood vice president of communications Eric Ferrero wrote.

However, the earliest portion of Handel’s book is devoted to her pre-Komen days, notably her rapid rise through the ranks of elected office as a Georgia Republican who, by her telling, didn’t fit into the “politics as usual” mindset.

In “Planned Bullyhood,” Handel has harsh words for her formal rival.

“Nathan Deal had been named one of the most corrupt politicians in Washington,” Handel writes in her book. Handel then lists a series of “alleged ethical lapses” against Deal, including a finding by the Office of Congressional Ethics that Deal “had taken ‘active steps’ to protect a state contract that netted his company nearly $300,000 a year [and] exceeding the limits set on outside income for members” while still a congressman.

The office referred the case to a House ethics committee for further review, but it wasn’t taken up after Deal resigned from Congress to focus on his gubernatorial run. On Tuesday, the governor’s spokesman criticized Handel for rehashing old issues.

“Losing a close election is tough for anyone whose heart is in it. Some folks never get over it,” said Brian Robinson. “Gov. Deal has disproved every single one of these baseless attacks, and he’s proving that Georgians made the best choice with his strong conservative leadership of our state.

“To so bitterly rehash 2-year-old political trash provokes more pity than anger,” Robinson concluded. “This is sadder than the end of ‘Old Yeller.’”

It’s not just Deal who gets called out here. So does the “good-old-boys club” Handel says she observed in full swing — and holding the reins of power — when she arrived at the state Capitol as the newly elected secretary of state in 2007 after a term as Fulton County Commission chair.

“Sordid scandals — womanizing, lobbyist affairs, drunken-driving arrests — were in the news with increasing frequency. And each time, the matter was brushed off,” Handel writes of the culture surrounding the General Assembly then. The media was scrutinizing “lobbyist-paid gifts, event tickets, lavish dinners and trips for legislators,” but these legislators (none of whom she names) experienced little fallout, Handel says.

In fact, she writes that another Republican gubernatorial foe, Eric Johnson, then a state senator, “failed to investigate allegations of misconduct against the Republican Speaker, allegations that would later be proven true.” (It’s a reference to a House-Senate ethics panel Johnson headed in 2007 that ultimately dismissed for lack of evidence a complaint against House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who resigned in 2009 after his ex-wife accused him of having an affair with a lobbyist.)

“We couldn’t investigate rumors,” Johnson said Tuesday in response to Handel’s charge. “My battle with Glenn Richardson is well known, including fighting over ethics reform. It’s what actually got me into first the lieutenant governor’s race and then the governor’s race, was because I did not like what I was seeing going on at the state Capitol in terms of ethics.”

Ultimately, Johnson suggested, Handel can’t rewrite history:

“She ended up in the same place I did: not in the Governor’s Mansion.”

Handel also writes that Georgia Right to Life President Dan Becker “crossed every line of common decency” in his comments on why she didn’t get the powerful organization’s endorsement in the gubernatorial race. GRTL spokeswoman Suzanne Ward said last week that Becker was out of the country and she would have to “defer any discussion” on “Planned Bullyhood” before reading it.

An important part of Handel’s bio, her political career as depicted here firmly establishes her as someone willing to stand up for what is right — no matter the personal cost to herself. “Ethics was a real difference between my opponents and me,” she writes of the governor’s race. Calling attention to that fact likely contributed to her loss, she told the AJC.

Handel said she has “no idea” if she’ll run for office again; for now, the Roswell resident is concentrating on promoting the book, including interviews on Fox News on Wednesday.

“Writing a book was not anything ever on my radar screen,” Handel said. “But what transpired, the things that were said about me, about [Komen founder] Nancy Brinker, were just so mischaracterized. I have a really hard time abiding by falsehoods being left in place.”

Staff writer Aaron Gould Sheinin contributed to this article.

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