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Shipp: Sonny follows Russell’s flight plan

POSTED: October 15, 2008 5:01 a.m.

What would you do?

Georgia's gasoline pumps have all but run dry. Prices have soared at the few stations still in business. The state's unemployment rate is running ahead of the national jobless rate, which is over 6 percent and rising.

The state budget has a $1.5 billion to $2 billion hole in it, thanks to some unrealistic economic forecasting and a steep dip in revenue collections. And Georgia is among the top five states in home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies.

These are not the best of times, though they could be much worse. Take it from a child of the Depression. I know.

The last time we faced such a dire motor fuel shortage Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered the schools closed to conserve gas. This time he flew to Spain. Is that what you would do?

Perdue may have learned his lesson from the school-closing episode a couple of years back. When crisis strikes, leaving the country may be the best course. Just about everybody howled in indignation when Perdue closed the schools. Claimed the governor didn't know what he was doing, claimed he was creating more problems than he was solving.

So this time, Gov. Sonny just said, "To heck with it," and left for Spain, ostensibly to stir up new business for the Peach State. Hardly anyone said a word when the governor flew away, again. He's been to China twice this year.

Some folks crossed their fingers hoping he would find new jobs in China or Spain to replace the horde of high-tech jobs he has outsourced from state government.

Perhaps we've underestimated Perdue. His flight to Spain sounds as if he's been reading the life and times of the late Sen. Richard B. Russell, one of our state's greatest political figures.

Behind the scenes, Russell was an active leader of the ruling Democrats in Washington and one of President Lyndon Johnson's closest confidants.

At home, however, he was known as a staunch segregationist and a harsh critic of the liberal wing of the national Democrats.

When the presidential elections rolled around, Russell headed for Spain to inspect our military bases there. The journey kept Russell away from the domestic press and uncomfortable inquiries about where he stood on election issues and presidential candidates. It was a smart political move, and it helped Russell maintain his popularity at home and his power in Washington until the day he died in 1971.

So you have to wonder whether Perdue is trying a similar ploy, though I doubt that our Republican governor is torn between John McCain and Barack Obama. Perhaps he is just ducking questions about his fellow governor, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin of Alaska.

On second thought, that's hardly a reason to flee to Spain. Besides, Georgia seems safely in the GOP fold for this election, and a change in the congressional delegation seems unlikely.

Sonny may be cringing at the thought of having to deal with House Speaker Glenn "Romeo" Richardson and his sidekicks for another circus-like session of the General Assembly. So he's gone to Spain to meditate on that distressful problem.

Not to worry, governor. Romeo may lose his lofty perch in the House even before the 2009 session of the legislature begins. Also, by then, most lawmakers will regard you as a lame duck, and you'll be mostly out of the line of fire. You'll be sort of like President Bush. Notice how the media leaves him alone, now that we're on the verge of electing his replacement.

Clarification: In a recent column, we noted that Attorney General Thurbert Baker has not acted on a complaint from the state Ethics Commission for nearly two years. A spokesman for Baker says the AG only received the complaint last July, though it was filed nearly two years ago, and, no, he hasn't acted on it. In fact, the spokesman says Baker has a stack of aging ethics complaints on which he has taken no action.

Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can contact him at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30160; Web site.



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