0

2006: Historic for state's GOP

Kia Motors gave Georgia its best economic news in years in late October with the groundbreaking for the Korean automaker's new plant near LaGrange.

The timing couldn't have been better for Gov. Sonny Perdue, who presided over the ceremony fewer than three weeks before he was up for re-election.

Just a week after the Kia groundbreaking, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, Perdue's Democratic challenger, showed up at the closing of the Ford factory in Hapeville to chide the Republican governor for not doing more to keep the plant open and warn of more closings to come.

Voters overwhelmingly bought Perdue's vision of a Georgia moving in the right direction over Taylor's of a state in need of change.

They returned Perdue to office by 20 points, the largest margin of victory in a Georgia governor's race in 20 years, and kept Republicans in power in the General Assembly.

Those results made 2006 a historic year for the GOP in Georgia. Perdue, already the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, became the first ever to win a second term, and Republicans retained majorities in the House and Senate for the first time.

The GOP's string of successes began early in the year with a legislative session that saw most of the party's key agenda enacted into law.

Foremost was immigration reform, an issue that polled well with voters, especially after the release of statistics showing Georgia with the fastest growing population of illegal immigrants in the country.

Absent comprehensive action from Congress on the issue, lawmakers passed a Republican-backed bill widely cited as one of the nation's toughest.

It requires adults in Georgia to prove that they are U.S. citizens or in the country legally before they can receive most taxpayer-funded

services.

Also during the January-through-March session, the Legislature approved a crackdown on sex offenders providing tougher penalties for sex criminals who victimize children and passed legislation making it harder for local governments to condemn private property, the latter a major piece of the governor's agenda.

Republican legislative leaders had less success with what critics labeled as the "private cities'' bill, which would have allowed property owners to band together and raise money to build roads and utility lines.

The measure died after opponents argued that it would give private developers too much power, including taxing authority.

Georgia Democrats' greatest success during the year came not in the General Assembly but in the courts.

For the second year in a row, legislative Republicans pushed through a bill requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

But the law didn't take effect, either during the primaries or for the general election. Siding with Democratic opponents and voting-rights advocates, state and federal courts ruled that the requirement posed an unconstitutional infringement on Georgians' right to vote.

The photo ID case contributed to a broader disenchantment with Georgia's courts among Republicans, who frequently bemoaned adverse decisions being handed down by "activist'' judges.

It was in that political climate that some GOP leaders - including Perdue - backed a challenger to Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein in a nominally nonpartisan race.

But Hunstein, supported by Democrats and not a few Republicans, easily defeated former federal prosecutor Mike Wiggins to win a new six-year term.

Her victory was one of the few on this year's statewide ballot to cheer Democrats.

The gubernatorial primary race proved divisive, doing significant damage to the party's chances against Perdue.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox, considered by many political analysts and observers to have the best odds of beating the governor, self-destructed against Taylor in what became a bitter campaign filled with negative ads.

Taylor, who was widely credited with running an effective race for the nomination, then disappeared for weeks. As he struggled to build up a campaign treasury depleted by the primary, he was forced to cede the airwaves to the well-heeled Perdue campaign.

By the time Taylor recovered and went on the attack against Perdue over charges that the governor had profited from land deals and a tax break, the lieutenant governor was too far behind to make up the lost ground.

The one silver lining for Democrats in Georgia voters' sense of contentment with the status quo were victories scored by the only three statewide Democrats to seek reelection: Attorney General Thurbert Baker, Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond and Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

But as 2007 dawns, Republicans will continue to be the ones making history.

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.-williams@gwinnettdailypost.com. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.