The transportation push-back begins

Last Thursday, minutes after Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson unveiled a plan to reorganize the way Georgia makes road and rail policy, the rebellion started.

A series of three elections for membership on the state board that governs the Department of Transportation — which Perdue would like to see gutted — were held in the state Senate chamber.

Two of the races were uncontested were of no account. But in the 12th District race, state Rep. Bobby Parham (D-Milledgeville) — after several elimination rounds — beat Charles Tarbutton.

Tarbutton is not only close to Perdue, assistant vice president of the Sandersville Railroad Co., and former chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He’s the chairman of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s campaign for governor.

Parham, a 34-year veteran of the House, is also dead-set against Perdue’s plan to emasculate the state DOT board by creating a State Transportation Authority to supercede it.

“He wants to take us back to the days of Talmadge,” Parham said — meaning the father Gene of the 1930s, not the son Herman of the 1950s. “He fired a bunch of the deans, and then started the same process in the Department of Transportation, saying they weren’t doing the roads where they needed to be done.”

Parham, a retired pharmacist, said he decided on the spur of the moment to enter the race, telling his wife only a few minutes before.

“I saw the candidates. And I saw some of them were lock, stock and barrel — they were supported heavily by the governor. I decided to run on that day. Democrats pieced it all together and pulled in a good amount of Republicans,” Parham said.

Parham, 67, was nominated by state Rep. Butch Parrish, a Swainsboro Democrat turned Republican who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The interesting thing about the contest — which extended over several rounds of elimination votes — is that Richardson, the House speaker, was informed of the pending Democratic victory.

“The speaker knew about it,” Parham said. “It’s my understanding that [Tarbutton] went to talk to the speaker about putting the pressure on some of the Republicans that I had locked down. And he refused to get involved. Which I was proud of him for that.”

“It was an exhilarating feeling for not only me but all the Democrats,” Parham said, “Because according to Dubose [Porter, House minority leader], this was kind of a first after the big Republican revolution we had in this state.”

Parham’s election is significant on two levels. First, according to Porter, it creates a 7-6 split on the 13-member DOT board, giving the upper hand to those who favor legislative control of the body over those who think the governor ought to dominate.

“Bobby Parham brings a lot of historical perspective. He knows why the DOT was made an independent agency. He knows about the corruption of the past,” Porter said this morning.

Parham also concedes his election should worry DOT Commissioner Gena Evans, who is appointed by the board. “It doesn’t make her job any easier. She’s been in there for the governor,” he said.

Parham won’t take his seat on the DOT board until the Legislature goes home — and this is another reason why his election could be important. Parham, a rural white Democrat, is likely to become the rallying point for those against Perdue’s reorganization of the state’s transportation agencies.

“I plan to stay there to fight those bills as hard as I can. When sine die comes, I’m going to resign the next day,” Parham said. He’d then be eligible to take his seat on the DOT board.

“But it takes the governor to swear me in. And he’s gonna damn sure put it off a while,” Parham surmised.

In the meantime, the campaign to pass S.B. 200 and a House companion bill has already begun. Here is the bill summary, list of talking points, and FAQs being tossed about.

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[...] that interview with state Rep. Bobby Parham (D-Milledgeville) last week. Parham’s rival, Charles Tarbutton, a man stalwart Republican [...]