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The four-corner offense
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Raving against the shortcomings of government is as easy as eating ice cream. Governing itself is as painful as walking on hot nails.
Republicans are beginning to feel the spikes. They realize the meaning of "what I would do, if I were running things."
As the 2008 legislative session demonstrated, the Republicans' big guns are trained on each other. Urban/suburban lawmakers are fighting for help from the Statehouse. Rural Republicans are fearful that monster Atlanta will use state aid to continue spreading its powerful tentacles.
Sam Olens, the Republican Cobb County Commission chairman, recently complained that the state GOP's lack of leadership is harming all of Georgia and particularly metro Atlanta. The elephants have fallen down on transportation and the quality-of-life issues in metro Atlanta, declares Olens.
Addressing the Council for Quality Growth, Olens contended that state government even lacks a plan to compete with other states in the race to attract and retain high-quality jobs.
Unfortunately, Olens' strong words represent the losing side in the Republicans' intraparty scrap.
To maintain majority control, Republican leaders must maintain their hate-Atlanta façade. Despising Atlanta kept elected Democrats in power for generations. Ironically, that same brand of demagoguery is keeping Republicans afloat now. The noisemakers in the Legislature have succeeded in choking off the state's money pipeline for health care and schools, and they are supporting some rural Georgians in issues that fight to keep Sonny & Co. at the top in popularity polls outside Atlanta. (See anti-immigration oratory, clamps on Grady Hospital, perpetuation of poor-quality public schools and bulging jailhouses.)
Gov. Perdue and his GOP associates ran into the opportunity of a political lifetime when Georgians elected Democrat Roy Barnes governor in 1998.
It is no coincidence that the Georgia GOP ended its 130-year drought in gubernatorial elections in 2002 when Republicans nominated a guy named "Sonny" from Bonaire instead of a representative of the broader business community.
Combined with then-Gov. Barnes' removal of the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, and Barnes' focus on Atlanta-oriented issues, the election that brought Sonny Perdue to power was the perfect alignment of circumstances to chill for years the historic affinity between the Georgia Democratic Party and rural white voters. The country precincts were packed with voters determined to turn out Barnes and end his go-go agenda.
Perdue displayed political skill in holding the new GOP together (and adding to it) for his 2006 re-election campaign. He avoided doing too much, or even much of anything.
In his only term, Barnes actually proposed and implemented programs to deal with the state's current pressing problems. He created the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, a new agency that won nationwide praise for its mission to help improve metro Atlanta's traffic by reducing sprawl and creating regional transportation plans. He proposed regional water planning, and he took on the teachers' unions and local school boards to pass a tough-minded reform bill meant to improve Georgia's embarrassingly poor public schools. While all the measures won high marks from experts inhabiting the nation's universities and think tanks, they only painted him into a corner as an increasingly metro-centered candidate.
After two placid terms by Gov. Perdue and acrimonious gridlock in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, metro Atlanta's acute growth-induced pains are becoming too much to ignore.
The state GOP-run Legislature is thus faced with a disaster of its own making. The lawmakers can address metro Atlanta's pressing problems -- primarily with transportation projects likely funded through a statewide tax increase and a statewide water plan that angers Georgia voters downstream from Atlanta -- and alienate their new rural Georgia base. Or they can avoid antagonizing rural voters by continuing to ignore metro Atlanta's needs, but they risk turning the growing Atlanta region into a Democratic stronghold powerful enough to deliver statewide Democratic electoral victories, similar to New York City and Chicago in their respective states. They do not have an obvious path that makes everyone everywhere happy (or even not steaming mad).
While Perdue's political version of basketball's four-corners offense, which slows an attack to a crawl, may have worked to secure him a second gubernatorial term, but it has neither addressed the problems facing the state, nor has it laid out a roadmap that will allow his political party to remain in power for a generation. As illustrated by the angry remarks of Perdue's fellow Republican Olens, the jig is up for politicians who merrily tread water as a way to avoid making waves that could wash them out of office.

You can reach Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail:, or Web address:
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