After what President Bush called a thumpin by the Democrats, and adherents of that party would probably call a rout, Georgia is now only one of six remaining states that have a Republican governor, Republican senators, Republican congressional delegation and Republican legislature. In other words, Georgia becomes one of the few places left where an unimpeded GOP can prove it can lead and govern with practical common sense instead of froth-at-the-mouth, bit-in-the-teeth stubbornness.
Thats what the nation probably expected to get when it booted the Democrats in the revolution led by Georgias Newt Gingrich. It didnt get it and now the Republicans have paid the price.
Whether Democrats have come to their senses and can do better than they did in the past has yet to be proven. Whether Republicans can do the same is now only possible in those few places left, such as Georgia, where they can claim credit or receive full blame for the results.
THE JUST RE-ELECTED Gov. Sonny Perdue, now backed up by a Republican lieutenant governor in Casey Cagle, is remarkably well positioned to make such an effort. Never associated with the overzealous elements in his party that believe governments main purpose is to force some sort of one-minded social purity, his main failing to date has been in falling into a sort of caretaker mode. Totally unlike his Sonny Do list approach in the recent campaign, his first four years lacked innovative proposals and energetic leadership.
With pretty much the same General Assembly coming back (GOP gain of two seats in the House, including Romes; same lineup in the Senate), Perdue needs to force a stop by veto if necessary of the legislative preoccupation with abortion, gays, immigrants, the Ten Commandments and so forth. Thats never been whats wrong with the state. Its the nuts and bolts of basic, expected public services that have been falling off the wagon.
Perdue and his party must deal with education (massively underfunded), transportation (massively underfunded), basic/preventative health care (massively underfunded) and do so in a state where trying to raise taxes is considered an instant political death penalty.
WORSE, IN A TOPIC entirely avoided during the campaign, they likely will have to do so in a climate of inadequate tax revenues. Faced with that when first entering office, Perdue simply cut and pared on the essentials, such as support for public schools. In his defense, he may not have had much other choice as state law demands the budget be balanced. At the same time, it probably wasnt the right time to hand out huge corporate tax cuts and keep feeding pork to political pals.
Currently, corporate income-tax revenues are way down (26 percent), sales-tax gains are anemic (2.5 percent) and only individual income-tax collections remain solid (up 8 percent). Thats no problem in covering the current fiscal years budget of $18.6 billion but it spells big trouble if it continues. As Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, observed: We need $1.2 billion-$1.3 billion in growth just to tread water. The state is not currently on track to get it, which means those underfunded services again face getting less, not more.
And Georgia is in no position, given its unaddressed problems, to keep treading water or even sinking deeper.
No doubt, legislators will again dangle the flawed idea of switching education funding from local property taxes to a new, added state sales tax of 3, 4 or 5 cents. No doubt they will again refuse to consider the obvious, such as raising Georgias lowest-in-the-nation gasoline tax to a level sufficient to pay off past bonded highway-building debt as well as fund pay-as-we-go road construction.
PERDUE, CAGLE and others not yet blinded by the wrong issues need to find a way through this thorny thicket. They need to find their way back to the Goldwater/Reagan path that Republicans originally used to ascend to power: less government but one that concentrates on doing the needed things; more individual freedom and revival of faith in the American dream.
While it wont deflect the state/federal probes into his past real-estate dealings already that are already being sought, he needs to recognize that the publics impression of how he spends his time must involve wheeling and dealing for the publics benefit more than his own.
Further, he needs to spike the constant talk about cutting the public out of the loop on government dealings economic development included and affirm his belief in the most fundamental of American principles: Open government where the people know what their representatives are up to as the only true protection against corruption and evil-doers.
Perdue comes across as a square-shooter ... well, except for those land deals and personal tax breaks, plus a nasty inclination to hold personal grudges. Georgians want a square shooter, and a straight talker, running the show and it is probably in such a hope that they overwhelming re-elected the governor not so much on past record but on potential.
HIS PARTY, nationally, now desperately needs someone with a track record of delivering good things and not churning up new scandals.
The fate and future of Georgia in the next four years is now in Perdues hand. The fate and future of his party may be as well