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Shipp: Will Johnny come marching home?

POSTED: March 30, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Golly, Johnny, are you serious?

We kept hearing the rumors, but we never quite believed them. Johnny Isakson is thinking of giving up his U.S. Senate seat to run for governor. Now we know the stories are true.

Isakson’s folks say the senator will announce his plans after the 2008 election. If it’s a go for governor, he had better get busy. Only seven months are left until his announcement deadline. Johnny will need at least that long to outline his "Where do we start?" speech.

At the moment, a wide-angle photo of Atlanta’s tornado destruction appears to be the perfect logo for Georgia’s government and economy. The Peach State is a wreck, and no one seems to know what to do about it.

Georgia’s junior senator may need a week to call the roll of prospective rivals in the 2010 governor’s race: U.S. Reps. Lynn Westmoreland of Grantville and Jack Kingston of Savannah, trial lawyer Jim Butler of Columbus, state Sen. Kasim Reed of Atlanta, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of Gainesville, Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson of Savannah, and on and on ...

A U.S. senator returning to Georgia to run for governor would create a unique situation. The last time a Georgia senator even thought of coming back occurred in the 1970s. Longing to return to the Gold Dome, Herman Talmadge reportedly had his bags packed when he received a call from The Coca-Cola Co.

"Have you lost your mind?" the caller asked cordially. "Unpack your bags. Settle down. We need you in Washington. Sugar prices need tending." Talmadge obeyed and stayed in D.C. until 1980 when the voters called him home.

The late Ronald "Bo" Ginn gave up his coastal congressional seat in 1982 to run for governor. He was a splendid candidate who directed a nationally acclaimed campaign. Ginn was defeated in the Democratic Primary runoff by Joe Frank Harris, who promised to outlaw abortions.

That was then. This is now. An impeccable source says a group of business leaders has organized a "Draft Johnny for Governor" movement. Now if only a similar assemblage would offer incumbent Gov. Sonny Perdue an early-out package. Generous state flying privileges could be included through 2011. Georgia needs changes quickly in the executive suite because Main Street is losing confidence.

When Sonny took office in 2003, he announced grandly that Georgia’s water wars would be settled amicably "at the gubernatorial level with Alabama and Florida." When we looked in on the peace talks again last month, Sonny was in Washington to try a diplomatic approach. He appeared on TV to assert that Georgia’s water needs were more critical than those of Alabama and Florida. He also has extended a Georgia water-rustling plan to Tennessee. His agents are hoping to "annex" a stretch of the Tennessee River and pump Chattanooga water into Atlanta.

Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne stepped in to say the feds were taking charge of the water negotiations and would announce the solution.

Compared to other elements of the Peach State pileup, the water fight seems frivolous. K-12 education has been allowed to slip badly. Higher education is on the ropes. Georgia has forfeited its competitive edge not just with the nation, but with most institutions in the already-lagging Southeast.

Over the weekend, Georgia lost its brightest academic star, Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough. He has been hired as president of the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution. Clough is the second "big three" school president to exit the Georgia system in recent months; Georgia State President Carl V. Patton is retiring on June 30.

Then there are the tried-and-true, left-undone issues of traffic congestion, dirty air and dirty water, prison overcrowding, indigent child care, economic development, government corruption, etc.

Golly, Johnny, you better think hard about this governor’s race. As senator, you may not enjoy all the perks of a governor. You might not have helicopters at your disposal around the clock, but you also won’t have to worry about a 3 a.m. phone call to report that the World Congress Center roof just collapsed.

Bill Shipp’s column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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