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Bruce Cook 

For putting ideology above public health

Bruce Cook has been a very busy man, confirming that running the Georgia Department of Human Resources is a tough job.

Oh, wait, that's right. As DHR board chairman, Cook doesn't run the huge state agency responsible for delivering health and social services to mostly lower-income Georgians; he only acts as if he does.

It's actually the DHR commissioner's job to run the agency, but the state hasn't yet hired a permanent replacement for Jim Martin, who was pushed out of that position last fall. That's made it easier for the DHR board to micromanage the agency in order to enact policy decisions that have right-wing zealot Cook's fingerprints all over them.

We're talking about the board's recent recommendation to close at least 34 of Georgia's 39 teen health centers under the guise of budget trimming. Like every state agency, the DHR is grappling with budget cuts, but the move to close the teen centers isn't about money. How do we know? Because about 80 percent of funding for the centers has come from federal grants that the state merely allocates -- meaning that, even without state funds, most of the centers could remain open.

So if this isn't about money, what's it about? Well, in addressing health issues affecting teenagers, some of the centers discuss such controversial topics as pregnancy and AIDS prevention, and have even been known to (gasp!) hand out condoms to sexually active teens.

Which brings us to Cook, who last fall was selected by Gov. Sonny Perdue to head the DHR board on the strength of his experience as founder and CEO of Choosing the Best, an Atlanta-based company that sells abstinence-only educational materials to public agencies and schools.

Now, wait a minute, you say. Does this mean that a guy who makes his living off government contracts -- such as Cook's big one with the Georgia Department of Education -- is effectively running a major state agency? And that he's in a position to implement changes in that agency that reflect the specific social agenda of his for-profit business? Isn't that a shocking conflict of interest? Now that you mention it, yes, we think it just might be.

Cook, however, argues that the DHR board decided to focus its budget cuts on prevention programs that don't show "measurable results" -- despite data that shows lower teen pregnancy rates in counties with teen health centers. Funny how that works.

-- Scott Henry

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