As soon as Georgians drive out the snake handlers presently snoozing in the shade of the Gold Dome, we need to begin prying our way back into the 21st century. There is much to be done, and not much time left to do it.
If we wait, our sister states will run right over us and leave us with the economic dregs. Florida, North Carolina and Virginia are so far out front in scientific research that we may never catch up. Even Alabama is running ahead. Georgia needs to ratchet up development of our research and teaching ASAP, right after we atone for slavery and prepare for Confederacy Memorial Month.
The University System Regents should cut the bull. The University of Georgia needs a medical school - now. It doesn't matter whether the school is a startup or reacquisition of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. A med school is a must-have for UGA if it is to develop into a major research center. Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed half-baked MCG satellite in Athens is just not enough. Every significant human-research university in the country, except Georgia's, has a med-school component. Or perhaps MCG should be upgraded to become the state's premier human research center to receive the substantial grants and conduct the groundbreaking research. In any event, official Georgia should get moving.
In addition, the state should have administrative control of Grady Hospital and transform it into the premier teaching hospital in the South - a hospital that would serve Emory, Morehouse, Mercer and, yes, a new UGA medical school. Instead, the out-to-lunch gang running state government looks on with mild curiosity as great old Grady Hospital tumbles into bankruptcy and ruin.
Georgia's elected chieftains don't worry about such pointy-headed research stuff. Sounds too much like global warming or a Jimmy Carter speech.
On another front, our state government has allowed Georgia's ground transportation system to go from best in the region to easily the worst. In the 1970s, metro Atlanta's integrated highway-rail-and-air network was cited as a national model. Our "best of class" did not last long. State government should have taken over MARTA decades ago and expanded it into Georgia's core mass-transit effort. The new breed of snake handlers is not interested in metro bus lines. Instead, they hear the call of Oaky Woods, where thousands of houses will be built on a nature preserve in Houston County, or the knock-knock of opportunity to build million-dollar boat ramps in Echols County.
Once upon a time, some far-sighted state leaders thought Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the nation's busiest, might work more efficiently under state management. Glowing reports to the contrary, the city of Atlanta is not doing such a hot job running the facility, especially in the law-and-order department. At least state-directed detectives might cut back on the number of sex predators and baggage thieves roaming terminal restrooms.
More importantly, we might try to lose our latest title for Hartsfield: "America's No. 1 Gateway/Distribution Point for Illegal Dope from Mexico." How did the feds happen to hand us that crown? We are a long way from the Rio Grande. Several big international airports exist much closer to the Mexican border. So how and why did kingpin dopers pick our airport for a corporate mob headquarters? Hint: Big-time racketeering flourishes where corruption is dug in.
Meanwhile, local and metro cops soothe us with talk about declining crime rates, even as close neighbors are roused by pistol-waving home invaders. A home invasion in 1997 was a headline story. Now it's not even reported. The police's upbeat crime statistics sound made up.
Notice we did not mention the State Patrol or GBI. There are so few state peace officers on Georgia's payroll that they are hardly worth bringing up - except, of course, certain privileged corrections officials, whom the state has seen fit to provide credit cards with million-dollar spending limits.
Many of the above items could have been tackled during the current legislative session. Instead, lawmakers twiddled their thumbs, argued the merits of loan-shark lending, worried about little gals becoming sexually active and tried to force private citizens to let people packing loaded guns park in their yards.
Despite the Iraq war, Georgia is enjoying pretty good economic times. In such a financial environment, other states would be starting up new initiatives that would generate jobs and cash and put the state on the road to a more progressive future.
We have great assets because previous governors and legislatures dreamed big and acted boldly. Now we are saddled with elected officials who think small and act meekly, except when they are chasing female lobbyists around a desk or enhancing their own real estate portfolios.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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