We Do Things Our Own Way

Does Governor Perdue's smashing re-election victory set the stage for a triumphant second term?

Never mind that the rest of the country was going heavily for Democrats and voting to kick Republicans out of the U.S. House and Senate.

Here in Georgia, voters go their own way and do their own thing – and never mind what the other 49 states might think. Georgians overwhelmingly gave their Republican governor another term in office, affirmed GOP control of the Legislature and installed Republicans as lieutenant governor and secretary of the state for the first time. They came very close to booting two Democratic congressmen, Jim Marshall and John Barrow.

In other states, the corruption and criminal charges associated with powerful Republican politicians outraged many voters and motivated them to cast their ballots for Democrats.

Here in Georgia, the newspapers broke story after story in the weeks before the election that exposed lucrative land deals involving Gov. Sonny Perdue and rich developers, as well as tax legislation that was quietly amended by Perdue’s real estate attorney to give the governor a $100,000 tax break – a bill that Perdue signed into law three days before his taxes were due.

Democrats had hoped that the media disclosures and attack ads focusing on Perdue’s business activities would hurt him with the voters. The voters yawned and gave Perdue 58 percent support on election day.

Those misguided Democrats obviously aren’t familiar with the state’s political history. A governor accused of ethical misconduct? Big deal. It’s been more than 70 years since Eugene Talmadge famously told his critics, “Sure I stole, but I stole for you.” The voters kept re-electing him governor, too.

Perdue was blessed with a deeply flawed opponent, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, whose operatives ran one of the most incompetent statewide campaigns in history. But give Perdue some credit as well. He maximized his financial resources, kept his explosive temper in check during the debates and helmed a tightly disciplined campaign organization that stayed on message all the way.

Whatever his critics might say about him, Perdue had a message that people wanted to hear. A large majority of Georgia’s voters were happy to make their state a shining red beacon on an election night that went blue in much of the country.

The question for Perdue now becomes: Does his smashing re-election victory set the stage for a triumphant second term filled with substantive accomplishments, or is it a high point from which Perdue, like other second-term governors and presidents, slides slowly into lame duck status?

While Perdue was successful in deflecting or minimizing questions about his real estate dealings prior to the election, the media spotlight on those activities won’t go away, particularly the circumstances surrounding the sale of the Oaky Woods wildlife area in Houston County to a group of developers. Reporters are going to keep digging into that transaction, which could create a whole new set of challenges for the governor to deal with in his second term.

The 2010 race for governor also got under way at approximately 8 a.m. on Nov. 8. House Speaker Glenn Richardson, newly-elected Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Congressman Lynn Westmoreland are all going to be elbowing each other for strategic advantage in the Republican primary.

They could be joined by the new secretary of state, Karen Handel, a well-spoken politician with an ability to attract swing voters. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a popular figure among Republicans and more than a few Democrats, is said to be weighing a race for governor as well so that he can finally put an end to those wearisome commutes between Washington and Marietta.

The point is, each of those would-be candidates for governor is going to have his or her own agenda to push as they position themselves for the big campaign. Their issues will take priority over anything suggested by an incumbent governor who can’t run for that office again. They’re not going to particularly care if Perdue wants to get something passed – they’ve got their own race to think about now.

Perdue will have to be a very persuasive salesman indeed to advance his policy proposals in the second term, given all the obstacles he’ll be facing. But then, he’s done a pretty good job of selling himself to the state’s voters for two elections in a row. I wouldn’t bet against him.

Tom Crawford, editor of the Capitolimpact.com news service, covers politics for Georgia Trend.

Categories: Political Notes