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Crawford: Poythress testing the waters for 2010 run

POSTED: January 8, 2009 1:00 a.m.

When he retired as the commander of the Georgia National Guard in 2007, David Poythress could look back on a long and honorable career in military and government service. He had been Georgia's secretary of state and labor commissioner, as well as an unsuccessful candidate for governor.

Anyone else in Poythress' situation might consider retirement so that he could enjoy life at a more leisurely pace. He jumped right back into the political mainstream, getting the word out last August that he would run for the Democratic nomination in the 2010 governor's race.

Is he crazy, or what?

"I just enjoy politics," Poythress said. "I think I do it reasonably well, and that really has been pretty much my career -- public service in the broadest sense. I'd like to be part of creating a new Georgia."

Poythress was a revenue department official in the 1970s before then-governor George Busbee appointed him secretary of state after the death of Ben Fortson in 1979. When Poythress ran for a full term in 1982, however, he lost the Democratic nomination to Max Cleland.

He got back into politics in 1992, winning a special statewide election for labor commissioner. When Poythress stepped up to run for governor in 1998, he finished third in the Democratic primary. Roy Barnes, who won that governor's race, appointed Poythress adjutant general in 1999, a post he continued to hold under Gov. Sonny Perdue.

While Georgia voters have become more conservative and Republican in recent years, Poythress contends the electorate is becoming a little more independent and possibly open to the idea of electing a Democrat.

"I'm encountering a lot of people, who I've known to be Republicans in the past, who are now self-identified as independent," he said. "They're saying, ‘look, it's time to get beyond labels, we're looking for a candidate who is reasonably moderate with a proven record of leadership.' That is what I bring to the table."

Perdue has been a low-key, hands-off style governor over his two terms in office. Poythress thinks there could be a desire among voters for someone with a more active approach.

"There's a general sense of frustration, particularly at the national level but also at the state level, that nothing much seems to be happening," he said. "There's not any real strong leadership to be seen. Folks feel that, and they're feeling disconcerted, frustrated. More people are interested in the pragmatic capacity to lead the government than they are in ideology."

"A big part of it depends on how intense the Democratic primary is," Poythress said. "I think it's really important that the Democratic Party come together behind a consensus candidate pretty soon so we don't repeat the experience of Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox (in 2006). If we can get beyond that and get a candidate out of the primary without being bruised and broke, I think we can win it."

Unlike the current governor, who has signed budgets cutting more than $1.6 billion in state formula funding for K-12 education, Poythress wants to see more emphasis put on the state's public schools.

"Most everybody understands the importance of education to the economic development of the state," Poythress said. "There is a very practical, day-to-day connection between educating our work force and attracting good jobs to the state of Georgia."

There are already several GOP candidates in the governor's race: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine for sure, with possible entries by Secretary of State Karen Handel, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland and Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens.

Poythress so far is the only announced Democratic candidate. He may be joined by such figures as House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, state Sen. Tim Golden, or the 800-pound gorilla in Democratic politics, Barnes.

If Barnes gets into the race, would Poythress get out?

"Absolutely not," he vowed. "I'm in the race. I think Roy's future probably should be that of political mentor rather than a horse on the track. I can think of lots and lots of reasons why it wouldn't be a good idea for him to get into the race."

Whether it's a good idea for Poythress to be running can't be known at this time. He's convinced the race is worth it, and for any politician that's all that matters.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, which covers government and politics in Georgia.



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