The directors of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce should hire professional headhunters right now to interview candidates for governor in 2010.
The decision of anticipated gubernatorial aspirant Johnny Isakson to remain in the national political realm and run again for U.S. senator is a terrible blow to Georgia.
His announced decision to stay put left us without a first-rate candidate for governor, one with presence and an understanding of our needs, one who firmly believes that all roads from the Gold Dome should lead to the economic well-being of the Peach State.
Such a candidate would be Isakson, but he won't be available. Who can blame him for deciding to stay in Washington? To us outsiders, he seemed a shoo-in as the next governor, but that is not quite true. Johnny has a load of political baggage. We just don't hear the negatives because other would-be candidates see no reason to bring them up.
Why start chanting "soft on immigration" when that issue has slipped out of sight for the moment? Then there's the whispered "but he's from Atlanta" smear, and the ...
Aw, forget about it. Let Johnny keep his Senate seat even if he is doomed to minority status in the upper chamber for the next decade or so. Let's start thinking about the next governor.
The state Chamber of Commerce represents most of Georgia's business interests and usually has the most leverage in the Capitol. Though members' interests are sometimes at odds with one another, the chamber as a whole believes in working toward a prosperous state.
So having the chamber compile an A-list for governor seems perfectly natural. It has happened several times before. Here's the kind of governor we may be seeking in the 2010 election:
The 1962 Carl Sanders model would work just fine as a modern-day governor. Georgia's first popularly elected governor was (and is) smart, articulate and ambitious. He possesses strong leadership qualities, and, in his heyday, he looked like a governor from HBO central casting. Betty Foy Sanders, the artist and Sanders' perfectly poised wife, gave Georgia the right image to help sell the state to clean, well-paying industries hoping to expand. Sanders would still rate 9.5 points on any 10-point scale on any interview for a new Georgia governor.
The Georgia electorate decided in 1970 that Carl was just too smooth to be their governor again. So they turned to the Lon Chaney of Southern politics: Jimmy Carter. As a candidate for the Democratic primary for governor, Carter hit it off with a majority of voters. He avoided that white-shoe lawyer appearance and told folks he was just a dirty-foot peanut farmer. He also understood the Southern code language on race. Unfortunately, the next 21st-century guv may need the same talents.
Regardless of who winds up carrying the mantle for the two parties in 2010, the candidates ought to understand the necessity of and the mechanics for moving Georgia ahead again.
A re-emphasis on improving higher education should be near the top of their official "to do" list. No, we don't mean another million-dollar bacchanal to celebrate bowl championship football teams. As hopeless as enhancing K-12 sometimes seems, the next governor needs to return to the days of promoting public education. He or she needs the ability to tout, with a straight face, a personal agenda of becoming Georgia's "education governor."
Priority items for a new governor must also include paying attention to transportation, plentiful water and clean air. Holding on to the status quo in these areas will not help anybody in Georgia's future.
Wouldn't it be wonderful lf the next governor could truthfully tell a new industrial prospect the following:
"Georgia will soon have the best transportation system in the country. Our schools are improving every day and the university system is changing its emphasis from football and committing felony assaults to computer engineering and finding cancer cures. Sure, we know that the big money comes from sports and sports are fun, but they are not our main mission.
"Thanks to long-term planning, we have abundant clean water to serve our new businesses and growing communities. So you won't have to worry about the annual crisis cry over water.
"And, oh yes, we are trying to recruit public employees who believe that dishonesty is shameful. We will make locating new industry in Georgia a quick and easy process. No bulging white envelopes will be required."
Isakson's goodbye to the draft for governor showed just how empty the Georgia bench for governor stands. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle looks OK and several little-known lawmakers might like to move into the mansion on West Paces Ferry. Not many of those aspirants appear to have the qualities of an Isakson or Sanders toward attaining for Georgia the titles of "Best State in South, Best for Education, Health and Transportation. Best for business."
Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published May 14, 2008.