I stopped by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's office the other day to talk about what's going on in the state these days. I found him refreshingly candid.
Actually, I came to complain. State government is a columnist's dream when you have the speaker of the House accusing the governor of "showing his backside," the House rules chairman calling the lieutenant governor "Eddie Haskell" and the governor hightailing it to China in the waning days of the legislative session when things got hot.
Now that we have more problems in our state than a dog has fleas, everyone seems to be behaving. Why now?
Cagle admits the learning curve for governing has been a steep one for Republicans. He said, "A lot of people were cast into roles in which they have not had the proper amount of mentoring. Now, we are beginning to talk through our issues behind closed doors rather than in front of the television cameras."
Little did I know that as we were speaking, Cagle, Gov. Perdue and House Speaker Glenn Richardson were working on a major overhaul of the state's transportation bureaucracy. This may be the first time the three of them have agreed on anything except perhaps the time of day. Good for them. Bad for smart-alecky columnists.
What's on the lieutenant governor's agenda? "We have got to downsize state government," he says. "Government should do only what citizens cannot do for themselves: education, public safety and creating a safety net for the disabled and elderly. Do we need to be funding museums? Do we need to be in the golf course business? Do we need to be in the hotel business? A lot that government has gotten involved in, the private sector can do better. Get out of these things, and we will be leaner and more efficient."
It won't be easy, he says, because reality has not yet set in fully with some legislators. But it's coming.
The lieutenant governor took a shot at the governor's infamous fishing expedition. "When you've got a program like Go Fish Georgia," he says, "that is a program people simply do not understand. You are putting a fishing tournament ahead of core things government needs to do." Amen.
Cagle says a better idea for economic development in Georgia is to encourage investment in our university infrastructure. He cites Brussels-based Solvay, a chemical and pharmaceutical company with an office in Gwinnett County that has been working with Georgia Tech to develop solar panels. Cagle says the panels will be produced in Georgia and will create jobs for the state.
He believes our colleges and universities can be great incubators for economic development. That sounds a lot more practical than bass fishing.
Get the lieutenant governor talking about education, particularly charter schools and career academies, and his enthusiasm hits overdrive. He sees charter schools as the model for getting the state out of micromanaging public education. Instead of top-down dictation from the state on everything from how many students are in a classroom to how many hours are spent on a particular subject, charter schools employ a bottom-up management free of state mandates. This is a subject for future comment, but I like the concept.
Cagle says career academies that promote technical education have a 98 percent graduation rate and a 100 percent placement rate for the graduates. There are currently eight career academies in operation from Dalton to Savannah, with another 12 set to open their doors in the upcoming school year from Athens to Brunswick.
Cagle clearly has his eye on the governor's office in 2010, although he is predictably coy when asked. "This isn't the time to put myself ahead of issues," he says. "We have too many problems on our plate right now."
As I left his office, I thought how times have changed since 2006 when Cagle ran as an unknown against Ralph Reed, the darling of the Christian Coalition and Republican poobahs. A lot of political know-it-alls underestimated him, and he beat Reed like a drum. No more.
I think everybody knows now that Casey Cagle is going to be a force in Georgia politics for a long time to come.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. You can reach him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; Web site.