Former Gov. Roy Barnes, in announcing his return to electoral politics, said Wednesday he made mistakes in his first term, but that he has learned from those days.
Now, he said, he’s ready for another shot.
“When I was governor before, I didn’t do enough listening,” Barnes said from a small stage in a packed meeting room at the Hilton conference center and hotel in Marietta. “I realize I was impatient and I had an aggressive agenda. I didn’t take time to explain why I thought certain issues were important or time-sensitive and critical to make a Georgia that could be instead of a Georgia that was.
“But, let me tell you, my momma told me I was the hardest-headed kid God put on the face of the Earth. And momma was always right. But I did learn from those experiences and from those mistakes and I learned also from my successes.”
Barnes said he called the three other Democrats already seeking the party’s nomination Wednesday morning.
“They’re all good folks,” Barnes said. “This is who has the training and the experience and the vision to do what we need to do right now.”
Barnes said he believes the obstacles that blocked his path to re-election in 2002 have been, or will be, minimized. The teachers who were angry at him over his plans for increased accountability or loss of tenure have come to work and thrive in just those environments, thanks to federal and state programs like No Child Left Behind, Barnes said.
And as for the battle over the state flag, where Confederate heritage supporters turned on him over his support for a compromise that included a reduced rebel emblem, Barnes said there are more important issues at hand.
Barnes reached for the current Georgia flag, standing behind him.
“This flag is fine with me,” Barnes said, and turned toward the U.S. flag. “But there’s one flag I like even better and it’s this one right here. And for all those who say we ought to secede from the Union and we ought to start our own nation, that’s about what drove me into this race.”
On the issues, Barnes said transportation and education top the list. First priority, he said, is to stop the bleeding in education but to immediately get to work on solving transportation. Water and the future of the resource for the growth of the region is also a top need.
Barnes showed the fire that helped him go from country lawyer to state lawmaker to governor (and back to country lawyer). When told that some Republicans appear to lying in wait for him, ready to re-fight the battles of the 2002 campaign, Barnes came close to borrowing Republican Karen Handel’s new slogan: “Bring it on.”
“I’ve been cussed by experts for 30 years,” Barnes said. “And some of these folks are just rank amateurs.”
Barnes said he hopes the race is on a higher plane, that issues rule the day. But Handel’s campaign has already taken a shot at Barnes, referencing the “rat” video that helped sink him in 2002.
“Have we got to this, that we can’t talk about water and transportation and education?” Barnes said Wednesday. “The only way you know to run a race is to call somebody names and dress them up in rat suits? Do you think the people of Georgia are so less informed that they don’t have enough sense? I believe they do.
“My mistake before was I should have called them on it. This is about the future. It’s not about that. If they want to rehash things, fine. I’ll talk about specific things to solve the problems that affect them every day.
“Let them do what they want to do on petty politics.”