Fate did not smile on Cathy Cox's announcement that she is running for governor last week. News of seemingly greater significance broke out everywhere, overshadowing the debut of the secretary of state's bid for Georgia's highest office.
Cox's attempt to make an opening argument that she would be a fine governor was all but drowned out by news that:
The Roman Catholic Church has selected a new pope. In a not-so-distant era, such information barely would have caused a ripple in this once overwhelmingly Protestant state. Not today. Cardinal Ratzinger's selection received so much media attention in Georgia that one might have thought he was a preacher from Macon, instead of a priest from Munich.
The Board of Regents fired the University of Georgia Foundation trustees, who oversee UGA's $400 million endowment. The trustees' canning is the latest chapter in a 2-year-old controversy stemming from UGA President Michael Adams' decision to retire legendary Athletics Director Vince Dooley. The next dominoes likely to fall: University System Chancellor Tom Meredith's soon-to-expire contract may not be renewed, and Dooley's job as a UGA consultant is expected to be eliminated.
Before the dust settles, the regents-foundation-Adams-Dooley battle may accrue to Cox's benefit. The out-of-control fussing clearly demonstrates that the Peach State is bereft of able, cool-headed leadership. For now, however, the noisy feud simply knocks Cathy out of the headlines.
And there was this: The swells of Atlanta prepared to host two major fundraising events for Gov. Sonny Perdue. The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a mid-May affair with some of Atlanta's leading businesspeople contributing big bucks to the governor's re-election campaign. A second group of Buckhead types plans another shindig for Perdue later in the month. A roll call of participants in both fundraisers reads like the executive committee directory of the Piedmont Driving Club.
Still, Cox believes firmly that she has a good chance to send Perdue back to Bonaire and become Georgia's first woman governor. At first glance, election statistics seem to be on her side. More women than ever are participating in Georgia politics.
In the 2002 gubernatorial election, 54 percent of the voters were women. That might sound like a big advantage for Cox. However, many, if not most, of those women voted in favor of Republican Perdue and against Democratic incumbent Roy Barnes. Teachers, who detested Barnes, composed the nucleus of Perdue's female fan base.
Unlike Barnes, the present governor has not uttered an unkind word about teachers or school administrators. From Perdue's public pronouncements, one could presume that every teacher in Georgia is performing at an unparalleled level of excellence.
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.
Card-carrying teacher union members love Perdue's sweet talk so much that they are not likely to return to the Democratic fold, even to vote for a well-qualified Democratic woman.
The governor's flattery has turned their heads so completely that many are oblivious to what has really happened to them.
In the four budget years in which the ever-critical "King Roy" was governor, teachers' base salaries rose 15.7 percent. In Perdue's three budget cycles, base teachers' salaries have risen by slightly more than 4 percent. (Perdue's last budget broke new records for overall state spending and borrowing.)
n In the last two budget years, teachers' cost for health insurance has risen by 13 and 9 percent ($40 to $100 a month), depending on the healthcare plan.
Under Barnes, teachers who completed national board certification received 10 percent salary increases. With Perdue in charge, a national-board-certified teacher does not receive the "salary enhancement" unless that teacher moves to an officially designated underperforming school.
A national-board-certified teacher with 10-plus years experience could expect to receive an annual pay increase of $10,000 during the Barnes years. That same teacher may experience a loss of at least $5,000 with Perdue in charge.
Additionally, during the Barnes years, class sizes began to shrink. Now some classes are growing larger, making teaching more difficult.
Still, Cathy Cox or any other Democrat, using cold facts about hard cash, will have difficulty converting the teacher bloc, especially when the avuncular GOP incumbent continues to say lovely things.
P.S.: The above numbers, by the way, came from a committee of nonpartisan educators who woke up one morning, took a second look at "Uncle Sonny" and shrieked, "Who is this guy, and what has he done to us?"
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Contact him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA, 30160 or, e-mail email@example.com. His Web address is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.