The votes have been counted, the election over, thankfully. Weeks and weeks of ugly campaign ads, disembodied voices on the phone and the litter of campaign signs will fade into memory like leaves fluttering in the wind.
Now it's time for the candidates to become statesmen and stateswomen and get to work on the serious task of governing.
For our new governor in-waiting, the plate is more than full. Gainesville's Nathan Deal earned a solid mandate from Georgians, winning 53 percent of the vote and 120 counties from across the state. Voters see in him a leader who may not offer glitz and swoon-inspiring speeches, but one who knows how to roll up his sleeves and tackle our state's many problems.
Deal's road to victory wasn't easy, as we have chronicled. He never faced such a difficult race in all his years in Congress or the state legislature. Some politicians, we find, are better at campaigning than governing and never seem to stop running for office. Others are less comfortable on the stump but more at home when it comes to getting things done.
Now that the nasty work of winning office is past him, we think our governor-elect will fit in the latter category.
First is the economy and helping Georgia create and keep jobs. The state's budget problems are best solved through both spending cuts and more revenue. Putting more Georgians to work will bring in more tax money and make cuts less severe over time. That is, and should be, the new administration's top priority.
To do this, the governor will need to work closely with the legislature to create tax incentives that target job creation statewide. This points out another positive aspect of Deal's experience. Because he has spent his career as a legislator, he knows how those bodies work. He already has the support of the majority leaders in the General Assembly, and that should make for a strong working relationship.
House Speaker David Ralston has proven to be a pragmatic leader who will use the gavel of power to help the governor achieve his agenda, not to push his own and punish those who get in the way.
However, there already are early rumblings of unrest. Friday, a group of GOP senators stripped Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's ability to appoint committee members in what was termed "a power-sharing compromise." Similar steps were taken a few years back when the lieutenant governor was from a different party, rendering Democrat Mark Taylor a mere figurehead. Let's hope doing the same to Cagle won't lead to intraparty squabbling.
This is a chance for a fresh start across the board. With all new department heads and a new executive team, there should be no long-held power bases or sacred cows to overcome. The election offers a chance to rebuild state government from the ground up in every area, including policy, budgets and personnel.
Deal will head a new group of energetic leaders, and while his voice will be heard most often, he also needs to listen closely to those who have ideas to share.
He should touch base with his fellow governor-elects in Alabama (Robert Bentley) and Florida (Rick Scott) to lay the groundwork for water talks. It was nigh impossible for Sonny Perdue to get Alabama's Bob Riley and Florida's Charlie Crist to the table since both were lame ducks focused on other matters. A fresh start is needed to ensure that the states share our common river systems fairly and legally.
And time is of the essence: An agreement must be reached that Congress can approve before the July 2012 deadline on Judge Paul Magnuson's ruling to limit North Georgia's water access.
Deal should reach out to educators to ensure that our state's schools won't continue to feel the budget ax. While all state departments need to cut waste and limit excessive spending, education must remain a high priority and get the funding it needs. An educated work force will give our economy a much-needed boost, while good schools will help lure businesses and workers from other parts of the country.
Deal also needs to mend fences between warring factions in our state. Democrats are now a decided minority, with only five congressional seats and no statewide offices remaining in their hands. Yet a bipartisan atmosphere would go far toward creating a sense of common purpose as the administration seeks solutions to our state's biggest problems.
He also can help end the longtime feud between the city of Atlanta and the rest of the state over how resources such as water and transportation money are allotted. The city should not take more than its share, but those elsewhere in the state should realize that a strong, vibrant capital city benefits Georgia in the long run.
Deal needs to maintain strong ties outside of Georgia as well. This is where his time in Washington will come in handy, as his contacts in the federal government will be a plus. He will be in sync with his former colleagues in the state's GOP House delegation and be able to champion legislation that will help our state prosper.
A generation ago, another contentious race for governor turned on a single phrase: "Elect a workhorse, not a showhorse." That was the slogan George Busbee used to zoom past celebrity segregationist Lester Maddox and claim the office. He went on to serve two successful terms as just that, a hardworking executive who helped lay the foundation for the state's future growth.
Georgians elected another workhorse last week, one who won't shy from the difficult task before him to turn our state's fortunes around. It will be an uphill climb, but with new leaders in place with widespread support from the state's voters, there is hope for our state's future.