Want to suffer? Try being governor for four years

Finally, I believe I understand why Secretary of State Cathy Cox didn't pan out as a candidate for governor. She took a second look at the job and decided she didn't want it.

That explains why she appeared at first to be such a promising candidate and then ran a halfhearted campaign. She was afraid she would win. One can hardly blame her. She may be the smartest politician on the lot.

Take a look at what has occurred in Georgia in the past five years, since the terror strikes of Sept. 11. Forget the politics. Look at the real-time daunting facts. Sonny Perdue and Mark Taylor, the two guys yearning for the state executive suite, must be nuts.

By the time Perdue first stood for election in 2002, the state was in recession. His predecessor, Gov. Roy Barnes, imposed steep cuts in state spending and struggled to maintain an $800 million reserve fund to offset the $640 million shortfall now alleged by Perdue.

The Sept. 11 terrorism attacks sent shockwaves through the Georgia economy. Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, one of our greatest economic engines, sputtered badly. Delta Air Lines accelerated its inevitable flight into bankruptcy. State tourism took a major body blow.

Perdue's initial response to restoring revenues and maintaining state services was a wide-ranging package of tax increases. After several Republican legislators fainted, the governor backed off the so-called Mondale solution.

He did, however, endorse a whopping tobacco tax, and he whacked education funding. The chilly response to Perdue's first attempt at government creativity had a traumatic effect. Perdue has barely moved on the tax front since. Georgia desperately needs a wholesale rewriting and updating of its tax code.

The events of Sept. 11 represented just one element of the economic tsunami sweeping Georgia. The emerging global economy took its toll. Ford and GM announced plant closings. Plans fell through for the DaimlerChrysler factory at Pooler. The iffy Kia car plant at West Point will compensate for only a fraction of the lost union-wage automotive jobs. Brown & Williamson moved out of Georgia.

Georgia-Pacific and Scientific Atlanta sold out. Texas-based AT&T prepared to gobble up BellSouth. Blue Bird, Merck, WestPoint Stevens, Winn-Dixie, General Electric and Delta recorded sizeable layoffs. Five military bases started shutting down.

As Georgia's population continued to soar, Georgia's unemployment rolls grew faster than any other state. We tied in loss of jobs with hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To be fair, no governor has enough power to forestall many of these seismic shifts. Perdue could do little more than hang on for dear life and try to put a good face on increasingly unstable situations.

Meanwhile, Georgia's gas tax went from second lowest in the nation in 2002 to the top 20. The price of a gallon of gas rose from less than $1.30 to about $3.

The shrinking of corporate Georgia, decreases in manufacturing, the rising influx of legal and illegal immigrants, the end of the go-go years in the budding high-tech field - these are mostly post-Sept. 11 issues.

They do not supplant the already-filled inbox of old troubles: inadequate public schools, north Georgia boom vs. south Georgia bust, an overloaded transportation network, overused water resources, overcrowded healthcare facilities, etc.

Add to that seething mixture a list of racial divisions growing longer by the day. No one wants to talk about it, but controversial Rep. Cynthia McKinney would have won re-election in a landslide if blacks had voted in slightly larger numbers.

McKinney received 75 percent of the black vote and less than 5 percent of the white vote in her district, according to an analysis by noted Emory poli-sci professor Alan Abramowitz.

Blacks throughout Georgia believe the Voter ID law and the GOP's sponsorship of a plethora of new townships are rooted in racism. Such opinions only hint of a Tallulah Gorge of differences with whites.

We could keep going, but you get the idea. Perdue or Taylor is facing a pitcher full of headaches in the next four years. Neither has time to worry about making giant steps forward.

The next governor will be forced to focus just on stopping the bleeding. He will be lucky to get the Peach State back to the condition it enjoyed on Sept. 10, 2001.

As the campaign for governor begins, you have to wonder if Perdue is not asking himself, "Why am I doing this - again? I could be on TV as a sort of Dr. Phil from the pet clinic. I could make more money and have a lot more fun. I wouldn't have to fool with those smart-alecky Buckhead Republicans. I would not be required to attend Ann Coulter's lecture on civility and good manners."

Taylor is whispering to himself, "Do I really want to be governor? I could be making a mint selling Mack trucks to China or chickens to Cuba. I wouldn't have to kowtow to Howard Dean and Bobby Kahn or try to get Zell Miller to pay his political debts."

Why does Perdue want four more years of roller-coaster turbulence? Why does Taylor want a shot at the state's helm in the midst of an economic and sociological storm, the likes of which Georgia has not seen since Reconstruction?

Do they owe their rich patrons so much that they can't back out? Or do they just relish thinking of the coming pain?

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com.

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