Opinion: Georgia’s government needs a dose of ambition

The era of small-ball government is over.

That is a lesson from this year’s election that Republicans and Democrats alike ought to take to heart. Doing so would end an era born from the 2002 election, from which they learned a very different lesson.

Whatever else one might say about Roy Barnes’ one term as governor, it was active: curbing teacher tenure and ending social promotion; creating the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and building the Northern Arc; cracking down on so-called predatory lenders; and, of course, changing the state flag.

Not all of those efforts succeeded but, agree or disagree with them, they were part of an ambitious agenda.

Barnes’ tenure followed eight years under Zell Miller, another ambitious governor. Miller created the lottery and the HOPE scholarship, signed tougher sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders, led the state through Atlanta’s pre-Olympic build-up and tried, unsuccessfully, to change the flag.

He also was nearly voted out of office in 1994. Eight years later, Barnes lost his own re-election bid.

Since then, both Republicans and Democrats in Georgia have acted as if they held a common belief: Ambition gets you beat.

There was a lot of pent-up ambition among GOP supporters when Sonny Perdue unseated Barnes. For a time, progress was made: tort reform, a charter schools commission, school vouchers for special-needs students, a streamlining of state agencies.

But momentum soon slowed. Twelve years later, much of that ambition remains unrealized.

The tax code remains antiquated and geared toward special-interest breaks. School choice has spread slowly and unevenly. Meaningful reform for public schools has ground to a halt. Significant transportation projects are teed up with agonizing infrequency. I could go on.

Yes, the state was still rebounding from one recession in 2003 and was walloped by another in 2008. But there was a time in between that was ripe for bigger changes — and there’s time now to pursue what so far has been put off.

Bigger changes need not result in bigger government. Closing tax loopholes and lowering marginal rates wouldn’t grow government. Giving more families alternatives to the public-school monopoly wouldn’t grow government. Spending existing gas-tax revenues on transportation wouldn’t grow government.

Ambition shouldn’t be a dirty word.

This year’s election wasn’t as close as many of us thought it would be, but there are reasons to believe Republicans aren’t quite as strong as their final margins made them out to be.

The growth in the electorate was in metro Atlanta, and it tilted heavily toward Democrats. Thousands of voters stayed home in the rest of the state, and only slightly more of the no-shows voted Democrat than Republican in 2010. Some suburbs — Douglas, Henry and Newton counties — flipped to the Democrats. Gwinnett inched a few points closer to doing so.

Imagine if Democrats had run on a real platform, instead of a gimmick and a barrage of negative ads.

Two ideas Gov. Nathan Deal promoted during the campaign, an overhaul of the state’s outdated school-funding formula and state intervention in low-performing school districts, have the potential to move the needle on education.

But Georgia’s future success requires some equally ambitious thinking about other pressing issues. So does the Georgia GOP’s.

Reader Comments 0

24 comments
northgagop
northgagop

Perdue and Deal have been do no harm Governors.  As you stated there have been no bold ideas out of either one of them.  Unless you consider Go Fish to be a bold idea - NOT 

IReportYouWhineTheGreat
IReportYouWhineTheGreat

Kyle - Right above the comment box there are three buttons, "all," "comments" and "social." None of them do anything, at least on my end. I'm thinking that if one of the IT guys was to look into making them functional, a full page of comments would be one of their options. 

lvg
lvg


Excellent synopsis.Kyle is politely stating the obvious that  Sonny and Shady could care less about improving the state but had no problem with ambition when it came to their own finances and net worth. 

So where was Roy Barnes during recent election?

BLG2003
BLG2003

Kyle:

Thanks for the kind words.

REB

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Yes, recent Governors (Perdue, Deal) have such shallow ambition that it results in the state falling further behind. 


Transit? No leadership, only follow the worse leadership in the legislature - which tried to delegate leadership to the regions, and voters disliked that. 


Employment? No leadership, only following the bad leadership in legislature that cut funding to unemployment - hurting struggling citizens even worse. 


Education?  Bad leadership by playing politics with educational funds because he disliked John Barge.  Punishing the students of the state because of political payback is so low, it's surprising he's still in office. (But hey, he has an "R" by his name, so what's new?)


Too late for now, but the state needs a leader who can look out to 2050 and 2100 and make decisions on what is needed to be successful in the long term.  We do not need leaders who only stay in office to enrich themselves and their buddies - leeching off the state funds meant to improve the lives of citizens of this state. (and yes, this applies to all parties)

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

"Imagine if Democrats had run on a real platform, instead of a gimmick and a barrage of negative ads."



Erm, really?  So you think "Obama bad; Obamacare badder" is a "real platform"?  Hmm. 

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Your expectations of the GOP are way too high.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

In fact, only one of those items happened: the changing of the flag.


Maybe Deal should try devoting the government to the benefit of ALL citizens, instead of the select few.

HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

Ambition costs money Kyle. It seems to me the GOP approach is to cut taxes and services and hope everything works itself out.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

Apropos Kyle, 

So many issues, including especially the tax code need reworking. 

CommonSenseisntCommon
CommonSenseisntCommon

Nice article Kyle.


The lack of ambition is like the idea that motion is progress.

Claver
Claver

They need to get serious about transportation infrastructure.  Georgia has been coasting for a number of years and it is catching up with us in a big way.  They also need to figure out how to leverage the CDC and the universities in Atlanta and Athens to foster a biotech corridor.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I believe the opposite has been true.  I believe that Republican politicians in Georgia have had a very ambitious ideological agenda to cut Georgia's government services to the bone, including public education and infrastructure.

stands_for_decibels
stands_for_decibels

Imagine if Democrats had run on a real platform, instead of a gimmick and a barrage of negative ads. 


Funny, I was asking myself that same question over the weekend. Because really, Nunn and Carter didn't have actual "asks" in their statewide campaigns that I could see from their ads and soundbites, save to regard their opponent as less worthy than themselves.


straker
straker

"imagine if Democrats had run on a real platform, instead of a gimmick and a barrage of negative ads"


Get real, Kyle. Republicans did the same thing.


And, ambition has not gone anywhere.


Politicians of both parties, across the nation, showed their main ambition was to get elected or re-elected.

IReportYouWhineTheGreat
IReportYouWhineTheGreat

Imagine if Democrats had run on a real platform, instead of a gimmick and a barrage of negative ads.


What platform?


Think about it for a second, what positive pro growth ideas have they had in the last decade? 


If Republicans can foster their agenda and show success resulting from it, they could be unbeatable for years to come.


If.

WGA1990
WGA1990

239 years defending America. Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps and to all active, retired and former Marines. Semper Fi

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@IReportYouWhineTheGreat "Social" is supposed to show anything coming in from social media (not exactly sure how that works). "Comments" should show what you see. "All" should show both. What browser are you using?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg "Kyle is politely stating"

No, that's not what I'm stating at all.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "Bad leadership by playing politics with educational funds because he disliked John Barge."

This is not remotely what happened. Revenues plunged. Education makes up more than half the budget. Unless they were going to raise taxes by $1B-plus in the teeth of a recession, there was no alternative to cutting education. In any case, the Deal-Barge feud didn't really break out until the charter schools amendment, roughly halfway into their terms.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Tiberius-Constitutionus Well, I was talking about the race for governor, in which Deal offered much more substance (see QBE reform, recovery district mentioned in the OP) than Carter.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Wascatlady He created GRTA, curbed social promotion (there are tests at some grades, though not all), and had some legislative success on tenure and predatory lending that was later reversed. So his agenda wasn't quite as incomplete as you suggest.
The main point, of course, is that he had a full agenda -- that was for four years, remember, not eight.