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Bill Shipp – Victory – minus the coattails

    You have to hand it to Gov. Sonny Perdue. He ran a first-rate campaign for reelection. It is amazing what a fellow can do with $20 million, not to mention the support of President Bush and 98 percent of the state’s bankers, lobbyists and land developers. Purdue gave challenger Mark Taylor a good old-fashioned whipping.
    In another time, writers might have referred to him as King Sonny or just plain Boss, except that Sonny doesn’t fit the boss matrix. To be sure, like a boss, he threatens and cajoles subordinates and appoints his buddies and rich associates to key governmental posts.
    However, Sonny lacks coattails. As everybody knows, a real boss is not fully dressed without a full set of political coattails. In truth, in a half dozen races, Sonny seemed to wear reverse coattails. Several Perdue hangers-on nearly lost their pants, even as Sonny celebrated his grand personal victory.
    Here is what happens when a governor shows up without coattails. Despite Sonny’s across-the-board opposition, every incumbent Democratic constitutional officer waltzed to reelection. So did the Republican incumbents, but they did not have to carry the burden of Sonny’s animus.
    For instance, Democrat Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a thorn in Sonny’s side since he took office, will be back, perhaps with subpoenas in hand to inquire of the governor’s land deals. Baker walloped Republican challenger Perry McGuire, 57 percent to 42 percent.
    A persistent Perdue critic and an official already consigned to political life support, 77-year-old Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin zipped back into office for another term. On paper, Republican Gary Black, an agribusiness consultant, looked like tough opposition. He wasn’t. Irvin bopped him, 56 percent to 42 percent. Remember, Tommy, you promised that this is your last rodeo.
    The governor and his legislative buddies decided to tidy up the Georgia House and toss out a couple of nettlesome Democrats, Alan Powell of Hartwell and Jeanette Jamieson of Toccoa. An all-star elephant team lined up against the pair. Among the donkey killers: Gov. Perdue, Congressman Charlie Norwood, Speaker Glenn Richardson and House Majority Leader Jerry Keen.
    Rep. Powell, a champion of environmental causes, won 65 percent of the vote against Republican pastor Mike Griffin, executive director of Ten Commandments Georgia.
    Rep. Jamieson, once mentioned as a possible Democratic Speaker of the Georgia House, polished off Republican Bill Quarterman, a Toccoa Falls College professor, with 53 percent of the ballots.
    The worst drubbing suffered by team Perdue and his billionaire allies came courtesy of Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein. The governor, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the secretive Safety & Prosperity Coalition of insurance executives and similar fat cats actively recruited an opponent for Hunstein. Former Bush administration lawyer Mike Wiggins signed up, and the war was on.
    In a $2 million ad blitz, Wiggins labeled Hunstein a liberal who was out of touch with Georgia. Wham! She struck back and hit Wiggins with everything in sight. Wiggins’ personal conduct, complete with an alleged threat on his sister’s life, lit up the TV, as did commercials addressing his lack of professional experience. At the end, each candidate, in a face-to-face encounter, called the other “despicable.” On Election Day, Hunstein soared, receiving nearly 62 percent of the vote.
    Perhaps the Hunstein-Wiggins dustup will be the last smash-mouth election brawl that the Georgia courts will experience for a while.
    Two years ago, Perdue and his friends tried a similar stunt with a better candidate, Grant Brantley, against Supreme Court Justice Leah Sears. Sears crushed Brantley and Perdue’s million-dollar kitty. Oh, why won’t they ever learn?
    The Democrat Underdog of the Year Award is to be shared this year by 8th District Rep. Jim Marshall and 12th District Rep. John Barrow. Even if a runoff is required in one of those races, Marshall and Barrow endured everything Gov. Perdue and his Republicans could throw at them. The Republican Legislature reapportioned both lawmakers out of their preferred districts. Barrow even lost his hometown (Athens). The Grand Old Party brought in President Bush twice in the closing days of the campaign to work against the Democratic duo. Republicans spent tons on direct mail and TV ads to send both men home.
    Marshall and Barrow were helped by a sense that both their GOP opponents, former Reps. Mac Collins and Max Burns, were just too eager to get back to the Congressional trough. They didn’t get the word that the Republican goody bag is empty and “Santa” Jack Abramoff is gone.
    The Moral: Democrats made it too easy for Sonny to try to make mischief. Opposition to Gov. Perdue was weak and the Democrats’ message was too tentative. Perdue’s preelection internal polls showed that the governor would swamp Taylor and still have time to dabble in a half-dozen other contests as well as keep tabs on his amazingly insightful real estate deals. The governor’s outside political dabbling didn’t work too well, and the jury is still out on his extracurricular land ventures. Even so, Perdue won the governor’s race and ought to be congratulated. So we say, congratulations, governor. Sometimes it’s lonely at the top.  

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

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