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Memo to Cathy Cox: Get out!

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On Dec. 17,Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox got a surprise eviction notice to vacate her first-floor administrative offices at the state Capitol — not long after the popular politician and highest-ranking woman elected statewide denied overtures to leave the Democratic Party for the GOP, her spokesman says.

Intermediaries of Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue attempted to lure Cox to the Republican Party beginning about two-and-a-half weeks ago, says Cox spokesman Chris Riggall. Cox is expected to announce shortly after Christmas whether she will run for governor in 2006. If she wins the Democratic nomination, she would be a strong challenger to Perdue if he seeks a second term.

Perdue's intermediaries got word to Cox suggesting that she should run for lieutenant governor as a Republican in 2006, Riggall says, but that offer "morphed" after Republican state senators who want to run for lieutenant governor objected to the plan. The intermediaries then suggested Cox should run for re-election as secretary of state as a Republican to establish her GOP credentials, according to Riggall.

"Basically, she didn't respond," he says. "Cathy decided to stay a Democrat."

But Dan McLagan, Perdue's spokesman, says he was not aware of any contact with Cox from anyone in the governor's office or Republican campaign organizations. What's more, he says the intent of the letter telling Cox that her office space must be vacated was "to make more efficient use of space in the Capitol."

He adds that the move was not a political reprisal against Cox: "That's not the way Sonny Perdue does business."

At 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Cox received a letter from the Georgia Building Authority, which is chaired by the governor, saying staffers in her first-floor offices would have to move on or before Jan. 4 -- giving the offices only eight business days to move, because of state holidays.

The space was requested by Republican leaders of the House and Senate, the letter said.

Perdue's administration has often stated it wants to run government like a business. But Riggall notes that "if you evicted someone under this time frame in the private sector, you'd be in court."

The move will affect six of Cox's employees, including Riggall, who says the space has been occupied by the secretary of state's office for most of the 20th century. The first-floor offices also house a multimillion dollar collection of rare flags dating back to the Revolutionary War that must be kept in a special climate-controlled environment.

"What I equate it to is a guy asking a girl out," Riggall says. "And she refuses, so he eggs her house and rolls her yard. It's the same sort of syndrome."

So far, Cox has not been asked to vacate her office on the second floor of the Capitol. The ousted employees will probably move to the Sloppy Floyd Building, near the Capitol.

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