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Shipp: Is a heavyweight duel looming in 2010 governor's race?

POSTED: June 4, 2008 5:02 a.m.

In 1998, two Georgia lawyers dove into frontline political contests that could have made them national figures. Ten years later ...

Former Gov. Roy Barnes is running a heavy-duty law firm, building a mansion-sized house north of Atlanta and probably wishing he had the whole governor thing to do over again.

Former Attorney General Mike Bowers is also into big-time lawyering, sometimes as co-counsel with Barnes, sometimes as his adversary. Bowers specializes in representing citizens hurt by government corruption. His minions are spreading the word that Bowers is considering a re-run for governor.

A couple of weeks ago we moaned that the Democratic and Republican benches are bereft of suitable governor material. Johnny Isakson has said he will not run in 2010, so woe is us. If not Johnny, then who? Well, perhaps that candidates' bench is not as vacant as we thought.

Barnes denies unequivocally that he has any interest in an encore as governor. He says he had rather continue the good life away from the pressures of politics. Over in Buckhead, Bowers smiles sheepishly as he denies interest in a campaign for governor. Maybe he is sincere when he says no, but he obviously enjoys being asked about it.

Barnes, for the first time in a long time, delivered the traditional Confederate Memorial Day speech at Oakland Cemetery. In olden days, an appearance at this event was a sure sign of revving up to run.

You have to wonder what Georgia would have been like if Barnes had won a second term. Barnes would have been a big player in national politics. More than that, Georgia would not be making the top of everybody's snicker list for worst traffic, worst schools and worst health care.

If Barnes had put in a full eight years as governor, Georgia might be a far different place. His transportation plan was already being hailed as a national model when the teachers unions and gullible flaggers ushered him out the Capitol door in 2002.

Look where we might have been in transportation improvements alone if Barnes had remained:
More than 220 additional miles of HOV lanes with express bus service would have been built. Just think how that might have shrunk your gasoline bill and commute time.

Commuter rail connecting Midtown to cities north and south of Atlanta would be under construction.
Shuttle service to congested edge communities would have been up and running.

A new intermodal transportation terminal serving as a hub for the region with passenger rail service would have been nearly finished.

Vast improvements to the Ga. 400 corridor and the Ga. 316 path would already have been carried out.
A more dedicated and less unruly legislature would have approved special bond financing with the feds so the projects could go forward immediately.

Perdue swept all those grand plans under the rug as soon as he captured the Gold Dome. The biggest headlines to come from the Department of Transportation over the past six years have been picayune personnel fusses and stories of hanky-panky involving bosses and employees. One result: More work for Barnes and Bowers, attorneys at law and hanky-panky specialists.

Speaking of hanky-panky, in 1998 Bowers marched into a cheering state GOP convention in Macon as the king of the Republicans and an odds-on favorite to succeed Zell Miller as governor.

Bowers had been a whiz-bang attorney general. Elected officials suffered serious cases of the willies at the mention of Bowers and his intrepid corps of corruption investigators. The public adored the AG, a ramrod-straight West Point graduate with an impeccable public service record.

In the midst of the 1998 campaign, Bowers confessed to a romantic extramarital affair with his secretary. That was the end of Bowers' hope for governor. Businessman Guy Milner won the GOP nomination. Democrat Barnes won the governorship.

By today's standards, Bowers' indiscretion would rate no more than one or two mentions on daytime cable TV. The scandal and resulting fallout from the Bowers affair were so 20th century. More sizzling stuff from Washington and Hollywood would have booted Bowers right out of the news.

In any event, rumor has it that Barnes and Bowers, two colorful and visionary politicians from another era, may come roaring back to rescue us from chronic incompetence and apathy. For both gentlemen, the words "not a moment too soon" come rushing to mind.

Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published May 21, 2008.



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