In show business, it’s called a cattle call. One by one, prospective Democratic candidates for governor — including the shy one — walked out to the front of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta for the sake of waiting reporters.
Democratic staffers promised a finale with all four linked arm-in-arm and doing the can-can, but they did not deliver.
And no, Roy Barnes did not announce at this evening’s sold-out Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. That would have broken the dramatic tension that’s been out there for the last three months. In politics, it’s a bad thing to have people start wondering. Because when they stop wondering, they start judging.
But a thought occurs: Eugene Talmadge was the last Georgia governor to make a comeback once out of office. And Roy Eugene Barnes was named after that particular governor.
In order of appearance: Barnes, Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin, and former state labor commissioner David Poythress.
So we’ll start with Barnes, talking about his current quiet life — and why it’s taking him so long to decide whether or not to give it up:
”It’s a difficult decision because I never planned to come back. I mean I was completely satisfied with my life.”
On economic development:
”The state of North Carolina is eating our lunch. In economic development. And then you have a General Assembly that is intent on passing a bill that says we’ll have no stem cell research in this state. That’s like holding up a sign at the state line and saying, ‘Go to the Research Triangle in North Carolina, do not stop and do not pass ‘Go.’ It’s wrong, but it’s still a very difficult decision.
“I listened in church when we had Youth Day. All the seniors were talking about where they would be in 10 years. Few of them said they thought they would be in Georgia. Which was shocking to me.”
On Barack Obama:
”I think he’s doing something. I don’t agree with everything he’s doing, but at least he’s doing something and not sitting around criticizing everyone who comes up with an idea. It’s difficult to come up with solutions. And I haven’t heard an alternative plan, except to give more special interest tax breaks to a few — which we see didn’t work very well.”
On John Edwards, whom Barnes endorsed in 2008:
“I’m very disappointed in John Edwards. I would tell him so if I saw him. He’d been my friend for a long time. And I think what he’s done, particularly in the light of Elizabeth — who I’m very fond of — is despicable.”
A very important point — whether Marie Barnes is ready to serve as First Lady again:
”She says, ‘If you want to run, I’m for it.’”
On the other Democratic candidates:
“There’s a verse in the Old Testament that says the people perish where there is no vision. And I’m looking for vision. And in that category, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s not that they’re not good folks. It’s just — listen, we can do better.”
The attorney general was next. Said Baker:
”This is a golden moment in Georgia’s history now. I look forward to leading this state. I’ve been able to tackle the tough problems of this state. What we’re going to need in Georgia is someone who’s’ not afraid to take on the tough issues. Someone who’s willing to stand up and say what we need to do and create a vision — “
There’s the word.
“ — of where this state can go and what we can do.”
What about the impact of a Barnes’ entry?
”I’m looking forward to debating the issues, debating the future of Georgia regardless of who’s in this race. It doesn’t make any difference who’s going to run.”
And on whether Baker intends on keeping his current job. How does he handle being the AG and a candidate?
”You just have to work hard. If people ask me, I just say you get less sleep than you normally would. These jobs are all 24/7 jobs. There’s no question in my mind that I will complete the term that voters have elected me to.”
Now, Dubose Porter. He something on his mind — a particular word. Started with a “V.”
”As I travel around the state, people are worried about the economy. And they want a governor that will set out a vision on how to solve that. On the long term, it’s going to be education. We’ve got to repair that. We have great teachers, we have facilities, we have technology. We don’t have a governor with the political will to make it happen.”
Now, keep in mind that line above about the “great teachers.” Because the next question for Porter was about Roy Barnes.
“You know, I appreciate Roy. But, you know, the problems he had before are still there. As I travel the state, I’ve supported education, I’ve supported teachers, I’ve supported smaller classrooms. The things that are out there for him before are still there.”
And there’s the question of doggedness, with an allusion to the former governor:
”Six years ago when we became the minority, a lot of people left. Some of those who are running for governor were among those who left — to do other things. Where we stayed, we pulled our caucus together. As you saw this past session, the Democratic caucus is now the stability of state government. We’re the ones who keep the radical things from happening.”
David Poythress, a military man, once headed up the Georgia National Guard. He, too, dwelled on the V-word.
I think I’m the only Democrat who can win. I’ve got the experience, I’ve got the vision, I’ve got the leadership, I’ve got a proven record. Georgia’s crying out for leadership. We’ve not had the kind of leadership that brought Georgia prosperity for many, many years — through the second half of the 20th century.
“I can bring back that leadership.”
And what bothers him most?
A lack of vision. There seems to be no sense of vision about where the state can go, where it ought to be heading. The serious problems have been put on a backburner. By that I mean transportation, water and education.”
He had a last word about the former governor who may or may not be in the race.
”If he gets in the race, he’ll be a very serious contender.”
Now, it’s late. And Kennesaw is a long drive home. Good night.
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