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Bill Shipp – Georgia happy with second-rate leadership

    Gov. Sonny Perdue and his legislative leaders have sent Georgians a clear message, which goes something like this: “Do not expect any grand reform initiatives from state government in the next four years. Georgians let us know in the Nov. 7 election that they are happy about the way things are going. They do not want to rock the boat, and we are not going to rock it.”
    Perdue and his pals are right. Republican polls throughout the year showed that Georgians are generally satisfied with their lot and optimistic about the future. The election results confirmed the polls. Incumbents from both parties were re-elected. Georgians seem satisfied. Complacency reigns.
    Meanwhile, the rest of the nation is in turmoil. President Bush’s poll numbers have plunged. Republicans lost control of the House and Senate. Democrats captured a solid majority of governorships. National polls indicated Americans were unhappy with their government and pessimistic about the road ahead.
    Why is Georgia so different from many other states? Why are our citizens so content? On paper, Georgia has a mess on its hands. Big industry and good jobs are pulling out. Public schools are growing worse by the day. Our population is exploding with growth  —  much of it from people who will remain a constant drain on the public treasury. In parts of the state, our water supply is nearing crisis levels. Monumental traffic congestion has become a way of life for commuters. Health care for the growing uninsured underclass is a joke. And on and on.
    A case can be made that Georgia’s basic needs have not been so neglected since the late 1950s when race-baiting trumped every other issue. We are still catching up from the neglect and betrayal of that tragic era.
    You might think public rebellion would be in the air. Nope, not in cracker country. To be sure, there is deepening resentment against Latino immigrants, illegal and otherwise. And violent crime, much of it connected to dope, is spreading. In the main, however, Georgians are a happy lot.
    We may be content for a simple reason. No one has really informed us that we can do better. We can have a more vibrant economy, better schools, improved health care, a protected environment and a transportation system that works. All we need to do is demand those things by informing our elected leaders that we aren’t satisfied. If they can’t improve the commonweal, we could say, we will find somebody who can improve it.
    Sounds simple enough  —  but it is not happening. For 40 years (1962-2002), while Democrats held onto a contested statehouse, a growing suburban-based Republican Party constantly demanded a more responsive, less corrupt government. Investigative reporting was the centerpiece of Big Media.
    The voices of discontent and dissatisfaction have been stilled. Republicans are no longer throwing rocks at the establishment. They are the establishment. What is left of Big Media is struggling to survive on a diet of pop culture instead of crusading journalism.
    The Democratic Party, now in the role of the loyal opposition, has gone out of fashion in Georgia. When the donkey brays for change, no one listens.
    Forget the Nov. 7 election results. Those tallies simply confirmed the obvious. The minority Democratic Party has become irrelevant, at least at the top of the ticket (governor, lieutenant governor and perhaps senator).
    You didn’t need a crystal ball to forecast the outcome of the governor’s election. All you needed were the official results of the July 18 Democratic primary  —  one of the smallest contested primaries for governor in history. Only 482,000 Georgians bothered to vote in the battle between Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox. In contrast, more than 1 million ballots were cast in the July 1990 Democratic governor’s primary featuring candidates Zell Miller, Andy Young, Roy Barnes, Bubba McDonald and Lester Maddox.
    The 2006 primary was the second smallest since 1946 in Georgia for a contested Democratic primary for governor.     A total of 692,000 turned out that year to give the nomination to Gene Talmadge. In 1982, the battle among Joe Frank Harris, Bo Ginn and others for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination drew 900,000 voters, in a state with a much smaller population.
    Mark Taylor won the 2006 Democratic nomination for governor with 249,000 votes  —  only slightly more votes than Jesse Jackson (247,000) garnered in the March 1988 Georgia presidential primary.
    Such relatively tiny numbers constitute solid evidence that the Democratic Party is on the ropes. Georgia is losing (or has already lost) vitally needed leadership to articulate the need for change, reform and progress. Until a strong voice of discontent is heard again (perhaps from within the ranks of the ruling GOP), Georgia will remain out of step with the rest of the country, satisfied with the status quo and pleased with second-rate leadership in Atlanta and Washington.    

    You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net

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