The AJC asks: Is Barnes the man to bring Democrats back? The Cracker Squire answers: He is the only person who can bring the Democrats back.
More than six years after Gov. Roy Barnes’ defeat signaled the death of Democratic dominance at the statehouse, the 61-year-old Marietta lawyer appears primed for a comeback.
He’s making the rounds of speaking circuits, venting populist outrage over the perceived wrongs of the Republican-controlled Capitol. He’s been in touch with old political allies about the 2010 governor’s race, and he’s answered endless inquiries from the media wanting to know whether he, indeed, is going to run.
But his potential candidacy raises questions: Is the polarizing politician whose crushing defeat in 2002 ushered in the first Republican administration since Reconstruction the man to bring Democrats back? And is a state that has become used to electing Republicans open to change?
Backers argue that Barnes wouldn’t get into the race to succeed Gov. Sonny Perdue, the man who beat him in 2002, if he didn’t think the answer to the last question was yes. But he’s not ready to publicly commit just yet.
“I’ve never had trouble making decisions, but this is a tough one,” Barnes said during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m satisfied with where I’m at, but not where the state is.”
An activist governor after being elected in 1998, he tried to fix everything from Atlanta’s gridlocked traffic to Georgia’s often-criticized schools.
But Barnes alienated teachers, who thought he blamed them for the failings of Georgia’s schools. He infuriated supporters of the old Georgia flag, whose Confederate symbol was minimized by Barnes as part of a new, short-lived state banner.
He created enemies as the state pushed for a Northern Arc, a new perimeter highway north of Atlanta.
He and his staff were accused of political strong-arm tactics in raising $20 million for his 2002 re-election campaign.
Polls still made him the favorite for re-election. But by 2002, Republicans were growing stronger across the state and were hot nationally on the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Barnes said [his 2002 loss to Sonny Perdue] was partly his fault, partly bad timing.
“I didn’t do a good job of listening,” he acknowledged. “Sonny Perdue said that, and it’s the only thing I agree with him on.”
[A]fter more than six years of Republican control, some Democrats believe the time may be ripe for change.
[T]he overall political climate has, for the first time in years, given Democrats hope. While Republicans continued to win elections last year, Democrats set records registering new voters, and Barack Obama got 47 percent of the vote for president in what was considered a solidly GOP state.
Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators said many teachers have long memories and haven’t forgiven Barnes for the way they thought he mistreated the profession.
“If the former governor wants to start with a fresh slate, he’d almost have to start with a mea culpa,” said Callahan, whose group is the state’s largest teacher organization. “It would depend on how he approaches educators. I think educators still have bad feelings about that [Barnes] era.”
Can Barnes win? There is no question in my mind that if he runs, he will be Georgia's next governor. While admittedly I very much want him to run, were I not so convinced, as a friend I would strongly discourage him from running. To run and lose would disrupt the successful law practice and firm that have been seven years in the making.
So what are odds of a run? A 8-31-08 post entitled "Shipp: Barnes talking like a candidate for governor" notes:
"Some people have asked me [Barnes] to run," he says. "But, right now, I'm leaning against it."
If your lowly correspondent [meaning Bill Shipp] were a gambling man, I'd say the chance of Barnes running for governor are about one out of five. Some people close to Barnes put the odds nearer to 50-50.
I opined in this post:
Personally, I see the odds considerably higher than one in five, but not as high as fifty-fifty. But regardless, wouldn't it be sweet. How about let's all do our share of pushing and be willing to reach for our checkbooks.
The odds of a run by Barnes have increased since last August for a number of reasons unrelated to his willingness to run but that have improved the odds of his winning if he did.
My readers know that I think Bill Shipp hung the moon. But what you don't know is that Bill and I disagree on why, in Bill Shipp's words, "teachers detest Barnes."
A 4-24-05 post quotes the Dean -- writing about a possible Cathy Cox-Sonny Perdue matchup for the 2006 race for governor -- as follows:
Barnes, you will remember, had the audacity to assert that part of education's problems lay in teacher incompetence. He also won legislative approval of a law making it easier to discharge unsuitable teachers. Perdue's people repealed the measure and restored teacher tenure.
A 2-19-09 post entitled "The sad painful truth: Sonny Perdue is not a Georgia ‘education governor’," quotes from an editorial in The Macon Telegraph by Charles Richardson that sounds the same theme in noting:
In 2002 Sonny Perdue was elected governor with the help of teachers who chafed at Barnes’ efforts to improve public education.
But I strongly disagree with the above assessments by Bill Shipp and Charles Richardson that teachers fell out with Barnes because of his education reform bill.
I am married to a teacher and have been a school board attorney for years. I closely keep up with educational issues and legislation. Teachers by and large did not mind Barnes's reform legislation on tenure. Good teachers don't worry about whether their contract to teach will be renewed year to year, and if their superintendent recommends against their contracts being renewed for the next school year, that tenure entitles them to a hearing.
Incompetent teachers do, and while I know GAE opposed Barnes's legislation (which did not surprise me), I don't recall whether PAGE did (which is the other and now larger organization for Georgia teachers and administrators).
But what teachers did resent -- and I got an ear full from my wife Sally on more than one occasion -- was just what the above-quoted AJC article very accurately sums up in one sentence: "Barnes alienated teachers, who thought he blamed them for the failings of Georgia’s schools."
I don't know who wrote the script for Barnes when he made his first speech on his education reform legislation, but that person sure wasn't someone such as myself who was married to a dedicated teacher who gets to work before 7:00 a.m., stays till 6:00 p.m. on everyday except Friday, and works nights at home and on Saturday and Sunday at school.
And I know from being a friend of Governor Barnes that he does not now and did not then blame teachers for the failings of Georgia schools. But that is exactly how it came out. Accountability was and is a worthwhile objective. But his message was perceived as blaming all teachers with the myriad of problems public education faces these days, and as we are all aware, perception will win everytime over the facts.
In truth, had the book by James Cook discussed in the above-noted editorial in the Macon Telegraph entitled “The Governors of Georgia, 1754 – 1995” covered the period 1754 - 2002, Roy Barnes's name without question would have been included in Mr. Cook's list of Georgia's "education governors."
Another quote from the above-quoted AJC article quotes Barnes as saying: "I didn’t do a good job of listening.”
I also think this is true, and that a corollary to this truism is that Barnes listened to my good friend Bobby Kahn too much, at least too much when this resulted in being to the exclusion of being able to hear from others trying to get to him to pass along constructive suggestions.
Obviously Barnes has some work to do in these areas, but I am just as sure as grits are groveries that such work can and will be successfully done, and that if Barnes runs, he will be nominated, and when nominated, he will win.
And when he runs, I want him to remember where the Other Georgia is and to visit us more often than he did his first term. It was following a very successful fundraiser held in Coffee County that Barnes returned to his home late that evening and told the lovely Marie that he could feel it based on the enthusiam for his candidacy in South Georgia -- he was going to be Georgia's next governor.
But after being elected, I only recall his coming back to our area once, and that was to Waycross shortly before the second election.
Roy, we love you, and you always welcome here in Douglas and Coffee County.
From the above-quoted AJC article:
Job: Marietta attorney with the Barnes Law Group.
Personal: Wife, Marie; they have three grown children.
Political life: Democrat. Elected to the state Senate in 1974; served eight terms. Ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1990. Won state House seat, 1992. Ran for governor and won in 1998. Ran for re-election in 2002 and was defeated by Republican Sonny Perdue.
Education: Bachelor's degree in history, University of Georgia, 1969. Law degree (with honors), UGA, 1972.