The Sweet Tea Summit

Published 3:57 pm Friday, August 14, 2009

I have just attended the Sweet Tea Summit. It was like President Obama’s recent Beer Summit except we didn’t have to endure Joe Biden and his motor mouth.

Gov. Sonny Perdue’s communications chief Bert Brantley has enough problems on his plate that he didn’t need to keep reading my smart-aleck calibrations about his boss’ “Go Fish, Georgia” program. So, taking a page from the White House, he invited me to a summit at Carver’s County Kitchen in West Atlanta. No beer. No police officer. No Harvard elitist. No nutty vice president. Just fried okra, green beans and lots of sweet tea.

Brantley wanted me to know there has been no funding for Go Fish for the past two years. There was $5 million in the fiscal year 2007 budget for a series of boat ramps, which he says has been matched more than two-to-one by local governments and that a $14 million bond project in the fiscal year 2008 budget for the new state hatchery will be paid back over the next few years.

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Mercifully, Brantley didn’t try to convince me that Go Fish is any great shakes of an economic development program. There’s not enough sweet tea in Georgia for that. He just wanted me to understand there has been no financial outlay for the program in these tough fiscal times and he wanted me to tell you. Fair enough.

Then the topic turned to more serious matters—Georgia’s water wars. A federal judge has ruled that metro Atlanta has been drawing water from Lake Lanier illegally for decades. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson has given Georgia, Alabama and Florida three years to get some resolution of their dispute over water sharing or for Congress to settle the dispute. If that doesn’t happen, the judge said he will cut Atlanta’s withdrawals from the lake to 1970s levels.

Brantley says the governor plans to appeal the ruling and has good legal reasons for doing so, but it is fair to say that Georgia is an underdog in this battle. Not only do Alabama and Florida seem to be holding all the cards, even our own state doesn’t seem to be unified on the issue.

Many Georgians view the ruling as the City of Atlanta’s problem, even though the issue extends into areas outside the city, most noticeably Gwinnett County.

To Perdue’s credit, he is working hard to persuade the rest of Georgia that Atlanta’s problems are their problems and that we need to be together in this critical face-off with Alabama and Florida. But rightly or wrongly, people in outstate are not convinced that metropolitan Atlanta has much of anything to do with their daily lives and show little sympathy for the city’s plight. The area could be in New Jersey for all they care.

Brantley says someone in the Atlanta media recently asked the governor if the city has an image problem out in the state. Do squirrels have bushy tails?

Atlanta had better start making some friends in the rest of Georgia—and fast. The city has been so busy trying to fashion itself into some kind of trendy, hip-hop metropolis that it has forgotten that it is a part of something bigger—the state of Georgia. While the state needs Atlanta and environs, Atlanta needs the state just as much. And the city needs to understand as their image goes, so goes the rest of the metro area.

The Water Wars are only going to get more complicated. If and when the judge’s order comes due, Georgia, Alabama and Florida will have new governors and there will be a presidential election looming. The water issue in the Deep South could become a national campaign issue. And of course, there is always the possibility of Congress getting involved and screwing things up worse than they already are, as only Congress can do.

I don’t know how Obama felt about the Beer Summit, but I deem the Sweet Tea Summit a success. Bert Brantley and I parted friends. We still disagree on the merits of Go Fish Georgia, but we both agree that the state has much bigger fish to fry these days.