Barnes reflects on elections, tenure

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Roy Barnes returned to some old stumping grounds Tuesday and talked about some of the same issues from more than eight year ago—education and water.

The one-term governor, who is seeking a second term after previously being defeated by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2002 by 104,615 votes, dropped by The Post-Searchlight’s office Tuesday.

Barnes said Tuesday he felt good about this past July 20 primary election—winning 65.6 percent of the Democratic primary votes that enabled him to avoid a run-off with a crowded seven-person field. In the Republican primary, Karen Handel, who received 34.1 percent of the votes, and Nathan Deal, who received 22.9 percent, will face each other in the Aug. 10 run-off election.

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“I never intended to run,” Barnes said. “I was very satisfied with the time I served.”

But there were some lessons he has learned, and the issues of the past are still there—brewing.

“You have to communicate better. I always considered myself a good communicator,” Barnes said. “I was pushing a lot of fronts at one time. … I didn’t articulate or explain enough why this (education accountability) was necessary.”

Barnes said he’s also grown more mellow.

“I’ll try to listen to you more. I’ll try to consider more, but still I’m going to push you to make hard decisions and hard choices, and we’re going to have to have some hard choices over the next four years because of this budget,” Barnes said.

Barnes said he’s been defeated a couple of times and that it’s been good for him.

“It is not the end of the world to be defeated,” Barnes said. “You re-examine what you did wrong, and it lets you know that this is not your job. This is the public’s job, and you’re just holding it for a very short time, but do something while you are there.”

However, there were two issues that he grew increasingly frustrated with over the last several years—education and rural development.

While Barnes was governor, Bainbridge was touched with one of his programs—the One Georgia program that steered tobacco settlement money toward cancer research, biotech research and rural economic development. In Bainbridge, the renovation of the Bon Air was a One Georgia project. Renovating the historic Bon Air, which is one of the cornerstones of downtown Bainbridge, was considered vital to attracting tourists to the city.

Another plan that Barnes wished he could have seen come to fruition was to create more value-added jobs, particularly in Southwest Georgia and its strong agricultural base.

He said one of the greatest needs with the number of peanuts that are produced here is a candy company, such as Mars, M&Ms or Hershey, which could produce their product near where a key ingredient—peanuts or pecans—are grown.

Another item he would like to push is giving preferences to Georgia companies.

He said he noticed when renewing his hunting license recently that the company issuing Georgia hunting licenses was from Missouri.

“I think Georgia companies should get a preference within a very narrow margin within one to three percent if they employ Georgia workers. We’ve never gotten in to that, and I think this the necessary time,” he said.

Prioritize toward education

Barnes said the state hasn’t had its priorities set right when it comes to education.

He said Perdue and the General Assembly have allowed the recession and budget cuts go so deep that they are touching direct instruction, which was not the way when he was governor.

“You don’t touch direct instruction. Anything out of direct instruction is fair game,” Barnes said.

This time, lawmakers are allowing it.

“Economic downturns are opportunities for businesses and governments to examine their core business. And the core businesses of this state is pretty easy—educating the next generation of kids; keep us safe and to lock up those who want to harm us; it’s to build transportation facilities and to provide water and waste water. You know, it’s pretty simple.”

This year, the General Assembly funded only 147 days of instruction for this coming school year, and local governments are forced to make up the difference.

“We are cheating a generation of kids. Kids should be going to school more,” Barnes said.

However, he said the greatest loss is not the number of days but the gap of little learning and reinforcement during the summer.

The state has said the economy won’t normalize for approximately five years, which Barnes said seems a little too long.

“Assuming you have a little growth, you sweep that off to education. You set your priority. And then if you need to, you suspend some sales tax exemptions for two to three years,” Barnes said.

The state should look at some of its exemptions, which could add up to $6.1 billion, as an item it could recoup some money from.

He cited aviation fuel.

“Why should airlines not have to pay sales tax when your delivery trucks have to pay for sales and motor fuel taxes,” Barnes said. “Those are some of the things you can look at.”

Source of the problem

Barnes said the water issue is not one of water sources, but rather storage of water, especially since the state receives an average of 50 to 60 inches of rain a year.

He said the metro-Atlanta region needs to solve its water issues within its own watershed, and that there could be better conservation in that area and repairs to its aging, leaky water infrastructures.

“I will not allow for the aquifer to be pumped back up for Atlanta, and I’m not going to allow for a dam to be built on the Flint River south of Atlanta to form a reservoir,” Barnes said.

“The water problem is probably the easiest to solve. That sounds crazy, but all it takes is money. And it takes money to rebuild the systems, and it takes money to put in some conservation measure out there, and it takes money to build some reservoirs. Those costs could be carried by water customers. They may need some help with up-front costs, but generally those costs can be carried by water customers,” Barnes said.

He also said the state needs more time to resolve the federal judge’s ruling that basically says Atlanta needs to meet its water supply issues by 2012 without drawing more water from Lake Lanier.