Gas price relief after Katrina puts Sonny on national radar

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is one of the few big-time Republican politicians to emerge from the Katrina catastrophe with a positive national image.

Perdue's public call for anti-price-gouging regulations and his executive order to stop collecting state taxes from gas stations earned him several minutes of smile time on cable TV. In sharp contrast to some of his GOP peers, Perdue appeared to act quickly and decisively in dealing with a crisis.

Though many of his Georgia critics contend that his actions had no appreciable effect on gas prices, the national media gave our governor credit for good works. Such attention may have been enough to turn him into a national player and to set conservative minds to thinking.

At the moment, the religious right of the national Republican Party appears to have no viable presidential candidate. Their former great hope, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, betrayed his religious backers by endorsing federal support for stem-cell research.

Perdue's appearance on the national scene is reminiscent of the startling takeoffs of two former Southern governors, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Both were dismissed early as fringe candidates. However, smart handlers and good luck sent them to the White House.

The current Georgia governor may have been just waiting for the right time to begin his climb. He has surrounded himself with figures who have national experience and exposure. His communications director, Dan McLagan, has participated in two presidential campaigns - John McCain's in 2000 and Lamar Alexander's in 1996. McLagan also worked on Oliver North's 1994 U.S. Senate bid in Virginia. Moreover, McLagan is a veteran of political combat against Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. McLagan worked for her New York opponent in the 2000 Senate campaign.

Perdue's first chief of staff, Eric Tanenblatt, was a major fundraiser for President George W. Bush. While serving as Perdue's chief of staff, Tanenblatt earned the title of "Ranger" in the Bush campaign, meaning he raised at least $100,000 for the president's re-election effort.

The Peach State governor is chummy with national GOP fat-cat Mercer Reynolds III of Ohio. Reynolds is one of the owners of the tony Reynolds Plantation resort in Georgia, which Perdue frequents. More important, Reynolds was the fundraising chairman for Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

One issue that might have haunted the governor in a national campaign, especially as a VP choice, is his 2002 campaign promise to hold a referendum on the 1956 state flag with its Confederate battle emblem. Some have suggested the governor's sidestepping of the issue was designed to propel him to the national stage.

Perdue and his staff have already taken on Washington airs. The governor's internal memos refer to him as GOG (governor of Georgia) and to his wife as FLOG (First Lady of Georgia). Such grand abbreviations are patterned after White House jargon that refers to the president of the United States as POTUS and the first lady as FLOTUS.

THE STIGMA OF EMILY: Secretary of State Cathy Cox's decision to refuse to accept contributions from the liberal Democratic-oriented EMILY's List probably cost her governor's campaign a bundle. Her brain trust says she had no choice.

Otherwise, with EMILY's List cash on her disclosure report, Cox would have faced a barrage of charges that she is a national, pro-choice Democrat who wants to be governor. Says a spokesman for Cox: "Turning down this money makes it much harder for (her adversaries) to distort this small-town girl from Bainbridge into some wild-eyed character. Cathy's agenda isn't to change the abortion laws or anything else like that. It's to get in office, take on the good old boy politics and make our government work for all Georgians. Taking this money would have become a distraction that our opponents would use to deflect from their own shortcomings and records of good-old-boy insider politics. We won't let that happen."

THE RIGHT WORD: A refugee is a person seeking refuge. That person may be female or male, white or nonwhite, old, young or middle-age. Refugee is not a racist or racial word. It is a word of desperation.

In the midst of last week's Katrina-created chaos, Jesse Jackson, self-anointed African-American leader, decided to lecture victims and their caregivers on English usage. "It is racist to call American citizens refugees," Jackson asserted.

Not wanting to be excluded from the latest politically correct trend, several writers and professors chimed in. They said Jackson was right. Refugee was a bad word.

Of the major league arbiters of English, only New York Times language columnist William Safire dared go against the flow. He said "refugee" carried no racial connotation.

While hundreds of corpses floated in the floodwaters of New Orleans and thousands of, yes, refugees streamed out of the city probably never to return, Jesse Jackson spoke on semantics.

Jackson seems never to have heard of World War II, and the millions of displaced persons - DPs, they were called at the time - left homeless and hungry in Europe first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets.

Too bad he had never heard how the United States welcomed many of those refugees to its shores and gave them a better life - under the aegis of the Eisenhower Refugee Relief Act. Today, we know scores of Americans who are "refugee" survivors and proud of it.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.