Ups And Downs

Some Georgia political figures who were on top of the world mere months ago – including Saxby Chambliss, Shirley Franklin and Sonny Perdue – are finding that things have changed.

Some of Georgia’s best-known politicians may be humming the lyrics of a Frank Sinatra song. I’m especially thinking about Old Blue Eyes singing, “That’s life, that’s what all the people say … You’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.”

So it is – politicos who were on top of the world mere months ago are finding that the view from their current vantage point is not quite so pleasant.

It wasn’t so long ago that Sen. Saxby Chambliss was rocking and rolling toward his 2008 reelection race as one of the reddest guys in a red-leaning Republican state.

Democrats were still incensed at Chambliss for a TV commercial linking Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but the best the Dems could throw at him as a potential opponent was a guy from DeKalb County whose past record included accusations of violence against women. Life was good.

But then Chambliss went before the TV cameras in May as one of the bipartisan sponsors of an immigration reform bill. Even worse, he had signed on to a bill negotiated by none other than Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, a name long reviled by Georgia Republicans.

All of a sudden, life wasn’t looking so good. Chambliss was booed by party activists at the Republican state convention. His office was swamped with thousands of phone calls from anti-immigrant Republicans, 80 to 90 percent of them mad at him for sponsoring a bill they perceived to be “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Chambliss’ approval numbers started dropping to the 50 percent level – the territory where incumbents become vulnerable and start sweating out elections.

Over on the Democratic side, it would have been hard a year ago to find a person who had more going for her than Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Franklin was getting high marks for trying to drain the political cesspool that her corrupt predecessor, who’s now enjoying a vacation in the federal prison system, had left at City Hall. She finally confronted the multibillion-dollar problem that past mayors such as Maynard Jackson and Andy Young had ducked: fixing the city’s crumbling water and sewer system. She was a politician who appealed to both parties and all races, possibly as a future candidate for some statewide office.

But things began to go awry last November when Franklin made a campaign commercial for Fulton Commission Chairman John Eaves that was perceived by some to be somewhat racist in tone. That angered Republicans who had previously helped push some of her issues through the General Assembly.

Then the Atlanta police made a botched drug raid in which a 92-year-old woman was shot and killed, an incident that triggered a federal investigation and indictments that are still rocking the department. Throw in media reports about Franklin’s daughter and a former spouse who is now a federal convict, and it’s no wonder that Franklin said she probably would not run for political office again.

Gov. Sonny Perdue was also riding high a year ago. He was headed for a decisive victory in his re-election race, he had helped consolidate the Republican Party takeover of state government, and he was positioning himself as a possible candidate for vice president.

But Perdue also stumbled. An Atlanta newspaper reporter produced front-page stories about land deals with developers and a $100,000 tax break that Perdue gave himself by signing a bill into law, activities the governor has never fully explained to everyone’s satisfaction.

Perdue also let his temper get the best of him in a dispute with legislative leadership over a property tax rebate, vengefully vetoing dozens of bills and budget items that lawmakers had expected to pass. The governor’s Republican cohorts are now so angry with him that they can barely wait for next year’s legislative session so they can start overriding his vetoes.

Sonny for vice president? He may be lucky to survive as governor.

Frank Sinatra knew it: Just when you’re riding the highest, the bottom can suddenly drop out.

But downs can also turn into ups, and politicians can take heart from these Sinatra lyrics: “Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race.”

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