With the economy in the slump and myriad challenges ahead for the state, it’s a wonder anyone is interested in becoming Georgia’s next governor.
But 14 candidates — seven Democrats and seven Republicans— are seeking the top office in the July 20 primary.
Ross Alexander, an associate professor of political science at North Georgia College & State University, said a number of factors lead candidates to run for governor.
And, he says, many really are motivated by public service.
“People get into public service work, elected office, and I think we too quickly try to assume that it’s for their own personal gain,” Alexander said. “The majority of people are in it for the right reasons. They want to improve their state and improve their community. Even if it’s a bad economy or a tough political situation, they still are willing to do that.”
He pointed out that most of the candidates running for governor could make much more money if they were working in the private sector.
“They want to serve the public and serve their state,” Alexander said. “You almost have to respect their willingness to that.”
At the same time, some are motivated by the quest for power.
“For those people that are politically ambitious, the governor’s job is a major accomplishment,” Alexander said. “It’s a major, major political office. ... Georgia is a large state with a big population, and you’re in one of those few states that gets quite a bit of attention.”
Alexander said the governor could easily go on to become a U.S. senator or even president, as Jimmy Carter did.
This year, candidates were motivated to run by the problems facing Georgia.
Democrat Carl Camon, mayor of Ray City in South Georgia, said running for governor was never something he considered in the past.
But he decided one night that he wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines any longer and be disappointed by candidates who broke campaign promises in Georgia’s time of need.
“I could have chosen easily to support another candidate; I could have chosen to stay home and complain. But rather than do that, against all odds, I decided to run so at least the everyday, average Georgian could say we had a representative that was looking out for us,” Camon said.
Camon said he was lying awake in bed at 2:30 a.m. when he felt God calling him to write.
“I believe he woke me up and said ‘go downstairs,’” Camon said. “I started typing out of the blue and two-and-a-half to three hours later, I had a governor’s announcement speech. I’ve used that speech throughout the state.”
Gainesville’s Nathan Deal left his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after 18 years of comfortable re-election to seek the governor’s mansion.
He said he decided to run because he felt Georgia needed his political experience on the tough road ahead.
“I think in hard times, leadership is more critical than in the easy times,” Deal said. “You have to make the difficult decisions.”
Deal said he had been encouraged to run for governor in the past, but didn’t decide to do so until Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a fellow Hall Countian, stepped out of the gubernatorial race early last year.
“I felt with his dropping out of that governor’s race that there was a void created. I had the background and experience and desire to serve and fill that void,” Deal said.
John Oxendine said he decided to step down as insurance commissioner to contribute his skills to the state’s top office.
“It’s something I have thought about from time to time, but seeing the current situation made it more of a necessity,” Oxendine said. “It was something that needed to be done and it was the right thing to.”
He said he is motivated by a desire to change problems within the state.
“I believe state government is completely broken,” Oxendine said. “And in order to fix it, you have to understand it.”
Alexander said the economy also changed the way candidates are campaigning.
Voters are looking for real solutions to the economic problems they are facing, he said.
“Every candidate is going to be for job creations and lower taxes,” Alexander said. “Some of those economic issues might be more in the foreground than in previous eras.
“People need jobs; people need some sort of relief. They want answers about the budget and state programs ... The economy is the No. 1 issue.”
Alexander said a good example of Georgia’s campaign evolution is the 2002 race between Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue. The major issue that year was the state’s flag, which Barnes had supported changing in order to remove the Confederate battle emblem. Perdue campaigned by offering Georgians a chance to vote for their flag of choice.
“The social issues are not nearly as important as the economic issues,” Alexander said. “I don’t think the flag controversy today would get nearly the coverage or the emphasis because of the economy.”