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Crawford: Where is Perdue when state needs him?

POSTED: October 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.

For many Georgians living in North Georgia and metro Atlanta, last week would qualify as a crisis if not a disaster.

Because of the damage done to Texas refineries by Hurricane Ike, the state basically ran out of gasoline. Frustrated motorists drove for hours trying to find fuel for their cars, only to discover that every service station and convenience store seemed to have run dry.

In a state where so many people depend on their cars, that's bad news. Surely, you would think, our governor would be out there demanding that more gasoline be pumped through the pipelines or that oil companies send additional tank trucks to relieve this stress and suffering.

Not our Sonny Perdue. He had his press office issue a statement that there wasn't really a problem with gasoline shortages at all as long as everybody would just conserve a little. Then he hopped on a jet plane to Spain for an industry-hunting junket that will cost Georgia taxpayers an estimated $100,000.

It's easy to see why Perdue would have that attitude. Whenever he boards a state aircraft or climbs into his official SUV, they're gassed up and ready to go. He doesn't have to drive up and down city streets or state highways trying to find that one service station that still might have some gas to pump.

The governor's people argue that it's important for him to go overseas and try to persuade foreign businesses to relocate in Georgia. That may be the case, but Perdue is taking this trip at the same time that he's ordered state agencies to cut spending in the face of a $2 billion budget shortfall.

Most departments are eliminating travel budgets and making plans to lay off employees to help meet the budget crisis. The department of veterans services is shutting down an assisted-living facility in Milledgeville that will force 81 elderly veterans to find a new place to live by November.

What kind of example is the governor setting for his own department heads when he takes off on a $100,000 European jaunt while everybody else is expected to tighten their belts?

Perdue, the top elected official in the state's Republican Party, also is creating a huge opening for the opposition to score some partisan points heading into November's general election.

"Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle say a special session to address the collapse of state revenues and the perverted spending priorities spawned by the governor's budget choices would be too costly," said Sen. Robert Brown of Macon, the Democratic leader in the state Senate.

"But now the governor, just off the plane from a trip to Texas, is jetting off again to Europe," Brown said. "I wonder how many of Georgia's war veterans could be cared for with the money being used to fly the governor's party to China, Europe and other exotic locales?"

This is not the first time that Perdue has been out of the state when a crisis was brewing.

In 2005, Delta Air Lines filed for bankruptcy, a serious blow to one of Georgia's biggest and most important employers. Where was Perdue? He was in Louisiana visiting with the state's National Guard troops.

Last fall, a record-breaking drought threatened to leave metro Atlanta without enough water, a severe threat to the state's well-being. Where was Perdue? He was in Korea on a business junket.

As the General Assembly entered the final week of the session last April, lawmakers were attempting to pass legislation for a regional sales tax that would pay for badly needed additions to our highway system. Where was Sonny when this pressing issue was being negotiated? He flew to China and missed the last week of the session entirely, and the effort to pass the regional tax collapsed.

It's irritating a lot of people that in the latest time of crisis, Perdue's choice was to fly out of the state he was elected twice to lead. His aides contend that it's unfair to put any blame on him for this.

"There's nothing the governor can do sitting here to create more gas," said one of Perdue's spokespeople.

That's certainly true. But if he had stayed and actually tried to do something about the gasoline crisis, his constituents would at least see that he cared. We kind of expect that from our governors.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service at that covers Georgia government and politics. His column appears weekly.



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