The road to the Georgia governor's office is paved with mud. Every major contest for governor in the state's recent history has been a knockdown, drag-out affair. Contenders routinely attack each other with gladiatorial ferocity. In 50 years, I have never covered a successful "high road" bid for the state's highest office.
Perhaps this year will be different. In recent remarks, Gov. Sonny Perdue sounds like a candidate determined to offer Georgia voters better campaign content than dirt and more dirt. Perdue is the odds-on favorite to win in November. He can afford to be generous and positive in his bid for re-election.
"I think the people of Georgia have been absolutely disgusted at the negativity that they've seen in these (primary) ads," Perdue was quoted recently in The Claxton Enterprise. "They want to know again what your record is, what you've done, but they also want to know what your vision is for Georgia. That's what campaigns ought to be about. They ought to be about transparency, authenticity, openness - about discussing your beliefs, your core beliefs, (and) how you translate those core beliefs into action items for the people of Georgia."
Let's hear it for Sonny! He sounds like a fellow who has turned over a new leaf and decided to abandon the unofficial title of Mud King.
Noting evidence of Perdue's epiphany, The Moultrie Observer seemed taken aback. This criticism of negativity comes "from a man who likened his opponent in his previous race to a rat crawling on the Capitol dome. What irony!"
Tut, tut, let's not be cynical. Sonny has a chance to make history. As we said, because he has sufficient funds and favorable poll numbers, he has the luxury of eschewing dirtball attacks. His opponent, Democrat Mark "The Big Guy" Taylor, may have little choice except to attack Perdue.
Interestingly, Taylor may adopt a strategy similar to Perdue's masterful assault on outwardly powerful incumbent Roy Barnes four years ago. Sonny hit Roy with everything but the Mansion stove.
•Team Perdue enlisted flaggers from all parts of Georgia to join Perdue's army of protesters sworn to exact revenge on the scalawag Barnes for minimizing the Confederate emblem on the state flag. (As governor, Perdue completely deleted the Confederate cross from the flag.)
•A Republican U.S. attorney, Rick Thompson, launched an investigation into Barnes. Items from the prosecutor's investigation reports popped up regularly in Perdue's campaign advertising. (A U.S. Justice Department investigation of Thompson's conduct determined later that he had "abused his authority and violated the public trust" by using his office to help political
•Even as a Perdue video portrayed Barnes as a rat, the challenger's campaign vowed a brighter, rodent-free future: "The doors to state government will be flung open to the people. New ideas will be encouraged and rapidly implemented. Schools will flourish, traffic diminish. As businesses are unleashed and grow, jobs will return, and, as Georgia recovers, new employers will flood the state." (In June 2006, Georgia led the states in net loss of jobs [15,500], according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
The 2002 campaign was soon awash in accusations against Barnes. They included 1) rampant disregard of ethics laws, 2) too little local control of schools, 3) extravagant inducements to new industries and 4) an obsession with campaign cash.
As it turned out, Perdue would have won without launching a single one of those campaign rockets. Polls indicated Barnes beat himself. He angered too many constituents with an overactive reform regimen. Everybody from teachers and peace officers to road pavers and environmentalists were mad. Perdue could have run as a monk with a silence vow. He still would have prevailed.
Perdue must look back with some regret at his litany against Barnes. After Perdue moved into the governor's suite, he became the first governor in history found in violation of state ethics laws, a breach for which he was heavily fined. The Perdue administration imposed stiff state restrictions on local school systems. Class sizes and state expenditures were rigidly mandated.
Perdue offered a record $400 million in state inducements to Korean automaker Kia to build a car factory in West Point. Barnes had offered $320 million to DaimlerChrysler for a plant at Pooler. In addition, the campaign fund-raising activities of Perdue and the Georgia GOP dwarf the Democrats' efforts four years ago.
One might argue that campaign rhetoric and subsequent performance in public office are unrelated matters. Perhaps they are. Still it is heartening to hear Perdue's sentiments against negative campaigns. I take him at his word. He declares that he will run on his record and his vision. I can't wait for the show to start.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.