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2005: Year of the Republican

Twelve months ago, as Georgians got ready to ring in the new year, it looked like 2005 was going to be a good year to be a Republican.

For the most part, it didn't disappoint.

GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue, who had been stymied for two years by legislative Democrats, entered 2005 with the first fully Republican-controlled General Assembly since Reconstruction.

As a result, his track record improved dramatically. Lawmakers passed 19 of the 20 bills on his agenda, including an overhaul of Georgia's ethics-in-government law.

With Perdue's backing, legislative Republicans also put limits on jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, imposed a waiting period for abortions and redrew Georgia's congressional map. And the governor reluctantly signed bipartisan legislation banning smoking in most indoor public places.

But Democrats weren't without a few victories.

Perdue couldn't get through the General Assembly a proposed constitutional amendment allowing religious organizations to receive state money to provide human services.

Democrats also overcame their minority status to halt GOP legislative leaders' efforts to pass a bill allowing government officials to negotiate in secret with companies interested in relocating to Georgia.

Another Republican-backed measure cleared the General Assembly, only to be shelved at least temporarily in the courts. A federal judge issued an injunction preventing the state from enforcing a requirement that voters show a photo ID at the polls.

Never a governor to rely strictly on the General Assembly for building a record, Perdue garnered his best press coverage of 2005 for leading Georgia's response to Hurricane Katrina.

He quickly coordinated aid to both hurricane evacuees entering the state and Georgians caught in the path of tornadoes spun off from Katrina.

When gasoline prices spiked in the storm's aftermath, Perdue called the General Assembly into a special session to ratify his executive order declaring a temporary moratorium on the state's gasoline tax.

But the natural disaster that won Perdue his strongest accolades of the year also stirred up the harshest criticism when he asked school districts to close for two days to save fuel and electricity because of supply disruptions caused by Katrina and an approaching Hurricane Rita.

Democrats and education leaders accused the governor of overreacting to the situation, and the protests intensified when it turned out he had relied on input from farm-industry lobbyists worried about fuel for crop harvesting.

The state of Georgia's economy during 2005 also was a mixed bag. Rebounding tax collections helped provide Perdue the revenue to pencil in small raises for teachers and state employees.

But Delta Air Lines filed for bankruptcy and officials at General Motors announced the closing of the Doraville plant.

This year's round of military base closings, the first in a decade, also contained good and bad news. Georgia was a net gainer of military jobs, with Fort Benning and the Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany among facilities getting new missions.

But in a process designed to bypass political influence, neither Perdue nor the state's Republican-dominated congressional delegation were able to keep Georgia from losing four of its 13 bases.

This was not an election year, but that didn't stop the politicking. The gubernatorial campaign got off to an historically early start when Secretary of State Cathy Cox held a kickoff rally in her hometown of Bainbridge in April, more than 18 months before Election Day.

Neither Perdue nor Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, Cox's rival for the Democratic nomination, have held formal campaign kickoffs. But, like Cox, both have been raising money at a frenetic pace.

Even the race for lieutenant governor generated early publicity due to a swirl of allegations surrounding Republican Ralph Reed's work as a political consultant since leaving the Christian Coalition, where he served as executive director.

Grassroots organizing done by Reed's firm in Duluth as a subcontractor for longtime friend and political colleague Jack Abramoff has been the subject of inquiries by a U.S. Senate committee and, more recently, political watchdog organizations in Texas. Abramoff, a once-powerful Washington lobbyist, has been under investigation for defrauding clients.

With other candidates for lieutenant governor already posting details of Reed's troubles on their campaign Web sites, Georgia politics can't help but get more intriguing as 2005 melts into 2006.

Dave Williams is a staff writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com.