There is a saying in politics that "perception is reality" and my perception of Gov. Sonny Perdue is that he hasn't exactly shot the lights out in his two terms as Georgia's chief executive.
There are the publicity stunts too numerous — and too embarrassing — to recount, touting his "Go Fish, Georgia" program in the middle of one of the worst economic periods in decades and some eyebrow-raising land deals which the governor still might be trying to explain if our state's media had an aggressive bone in its investigative body.
Does this sound to you like someone who is running the state well?
"Yes," says Eric Tanenblatt.
That's not a surprising answer coming from Tanenblatt. He served as Perdue's first chief of staff. Today, Eric Tanenblatt is senior managing director-Atlanta at McKenna Long and Aldridge, one of the nation's premier law firms and perhaps best known for their stellar government relations practice.
In addition to Tanenblatt, a man widely respected by both Democrats and Republicans, others on the firm's roster include former Gov. Zell Miller; Howard Dean, former chairman of the national Democratic Party; former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden; longtime Democratic operative Keith Mason; Gordon Giffin, Ambassador to Canada during the Clinton Administration; and former Republican state legislator and opinion polling expert Matt Towery. It is an eclectic group of savvy political pros.
To Tanenblatt's credit, most of the shenanigans of the Perdue Administration occurred after he stepped down and he is too much a gentleman — and politician — to say if he would have allowed these things to happen on his watch.
"I don't think it is fair for me to be a Monday morning quarterback," he says. Instead, he rattles off a list of accomplishments of the administration that he thinks members of the media, including yours truly, have ignored while frothing over "Go Fish, Georgia."
"First off," Tanenblatt asserts, "Sonny Perdue came into office in a tumultuous time with events beyond his control. The House of Representative was still run by the Democrats. The state flag was a big issue and there was a $1.65 billion hole in the budget. I'm not sure anyone else could have worked through these matters better than did the governor."
One of the best things Perdue did, according to Tanenblatt, was to organize the governor's office on a business model. Instead of everybody reporting through the chief of staff as had been the case in past administrations, Perdue established a chief operating officer and a chief financial officer, and reported them directly to his office along with his chief of staff, executive counsel and the state director of Homeland Security.
"The various state agencies report to either the COO or the CFO," says Tanenblatt, "and have quicker access to the governor. That is better for the citizens they represent."
Tanenblatt points to the arrival in Georgia of the Kia plant at West Point and NCR's new headquarters in Gwinnett County during Perdue's term.
"The future benefit of those relocations will be incalculable to the state," he says. The governor also streamlined the Department of Motor Vehicles and reorganized the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Mental Health.
In the area of transportation, Perdue initiated the biggest transportation bond project in the state's history. When he saw how the money was being managed — or mismanaged — by the Department of Transportation Tanenblatt says Perdue changed the governing structure of the DOT.
"It isn't what he wants," Tanenblatt says, "but it is better than it was."
Finally, he reminded me that unlike many states, Georgia still maintains a Triple-A bond rating.
Tanenblatt makes an impressive argument for the improvements brought about during Perdue's administration, but, alas, Perdue's accomplishments will likely be less remembered than the silly photo ops that have drained the governor's office of its dignity, his love affair with "Go Fish, Georgia," a marginal economic development program at best and a "let 'em eat cake" attitude toward his sweet land deals.
Perdue's good works have been overshadowed by his insensitivity to public perception that has sometimes bordered on astounding. And he has forgotten that perception is reality.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com; Web site, www.dickyarbrough.com