Perdue stays lucky, while Taylor gets cute

Vicente Fox and Andrew Young. Get used to those two names. In the weeks ahead, they may become as common in Georgia as Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox. Mexico's President Fox and former Atlanta Mayor Young dominated the first week of the 2006 election campaigns, though neither is expected to run for state office.

Fox slammed Gov. Sonny Perdue for signing a bill that bars illegal aliens from receiving some state services. Perdue's re-election campaign managers must have been elated. Fox's criticism clearly recognized the Georgia governor as a national point man in the immigration fight.

To add icing to the Fox cake, six members of the state Latino Commission quit in protest of Perdue's action. The governor also deleted from his Web site a proposal to establish Atlanta as the center for a hemispheric Free Trade Zone. Less than a year ago, Perdue enthusiastically supported the Free Trade Zone as a potential economic boon.

Let's hear it for Perdue! He is on his way to re-election. He has found the magic issue for voters in 2006. It's Mexican migrants. His bill signing made Georgia famous again throughout the world.

The Peach State has not received such global recognition since 2002. Remember how Perdue campaigned on a promise to allow Georgians to vote on restoring the Confederate battle emblem to the state flag. He later reneged on his vow, but - hey! - he won the election. Don't forget what Vince Lombardi said about winning.

Meanwhile last week, Andy Young co-starred in a warm-and-fuzzy TV commercial for Lt. Gov. Taylor's effort to unseat Perdue. The other star was a smiling unidentified infant. Democrat Taylor, aka "The Big Guy," played a supporting role. The G-rated TV spot was wholesome family fun. Andy is such a nice guy, and Baby Doe is so cute.

If we were measuring showbiz success at the end of Campaign Week One, we'd have to give Perdue two thumbs up. Inducing President Fox to attack him was sheer genius. Criticism from Jane Fonda and Jimmy Carter could not have helped Perdue more.

Secretary of State Cox, the other Democrat challenging Perdue, maintained a fairly low profile. She unveiled a new Capitol portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., replacing the old one that Gov. Jimmy Carter hung more than three decades ago. Carter's MLK painting made headlines and stirred up a fuss. The KKK was incensed. Cox's portrait ceremony barely caused a ripple. The Klan was silent; maybe it's dead.

Judging from her past performances, Cox is easily the best TV talent in the current political field. She looks and sounds just right. Both Taylor and Perdue are a bit heavy, and Perdue should consider wearing a hat on TV. Cox's yet-to-come ads ought to blow both Taylor and Perdue out of the water. However, it is difficult to envision a ploy that would trump the Vicente Fox move - unless, of course, the specter of taxes, hypocrisy and corruption materializes.

An independent anti-Perdue outfit, Georgians for Truth, suddenly cropped up in midweek with a low-budget and mean-spirited TV ad. The Truth's video voice contended that Perdue is habitually tardy in paying federal, state and local taxes - even as he proposes gigantic tax increases for the rest of us. (Some Democratic insiders believe the Truth ad was too soft on Perdue. They point out Perdue failed to pay some property taxes at all until the press caught him during the 2002 campaign.)

Perdue didn't say a word in response. He let Taylor and Cox come to his defense. Their spokespersons denounced the commercial as unwarranted and unwise. They also said they had nothing to with it, apparently fearing they would be charged with a violation of campaign finance laws.

Georgians for Truth is the state Democratic equivalent of the Republican Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, successfully used in 2004 to help sink Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid.

Unlike the well-financed Swift Boaters, however, Georgians for Truth is running desperately short of funds. Democratic leaders have ordered fundraiser extraordinaire Kristen Oblander to stop collecting cash for the rabble-rousers - or else. State Democratic leaders want to play nice.

One other thing: Campaign fireworks nearly made us forget a dull item that may be even more important than ruffling Fox's feathers.

Without fanfare, Perdue demonstrated again that he has reduced the formerly autonomous and prestigious University System Board of Regents to little more than a powerless collection of high rollers with access to good football tickets.

The governor's office scheduled a press conference on freezing tuition increases even before the regents convened to vote on the policy. No governor since Gene Talmadge has been so brazen.

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.