If the governor's race has disintegrated into a slime-fest featuring similarly compromised candidates, at least the contest for lieutenant governor offers a distinct choice between very different political philosophies. In fact, Republican Sen. Casey Cagle and Democrat Jim Martin each effectively personifies his party.
Cagle has won a reputation for pandering to developers and industry to the point of undercutting supposedly conservative principals and Republican allies. He claims to be a proud defender of private property rights, yet his work to weaken stream buffers shows that his allegiance to big developers trumps the property rights of those who live downstream. Likewise, he ignored a common-sense measure proposed by his leader, Gov. Sonny Perdue, when he opposed increasing taxes on cigarettes, a plan that would have saved lives, eased the general tax burden and harmed only the killer tobacco industry.
Martin has a different vision, one that addresses the interests of the vast majority of voters. In his long legislative career and later, as Georgia's commissioner for human resources, he stood up for ordinary people by working to expand health care for the aged and infirm. He's been a principled yet pragmatic leader in efforts to preserve social programs, to protect the environment and to give everyone a fair shake in Georgia's courts.
Now, Martin's proposing a state-sponsored health care system to address the needs of 650,000 uninsured Georgians by enabling workers and small business owners to pay into a state fund. Martin argues that such a system would secure lower health insurance rates, benefiting both employers and employees.
His proposals for education and jobs are equally sensible. He'd tackle the state's atrocious 40 percent dropout rate by pushing for the full funding of schools promised under Georgia's old "Quality Basic Education" guidelines; and by providing incentives to teachers, in part by restoring Republican cuts to education. And he wants to require companies doing business with the state to meet minimum standards for wages and health care benefits, instead of dumping those costs on taxpayers.
The office of lieutenant governor is a limited one. If Perdue is re-elected and the Republican majority is preserved in the Legislature -- both of which seem probable -- then it's unlikely Martin would have much luck getting his initiatives passed. But even though GOP lawmakers may disagree with Martin, they already respect him. Throughout his decades of public service, Martin has demonstrated an ability to forge consensus with members of both parties, a talent especially vital to the effectiveness of the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate.
Beginning with his childhood battle with polio to his military intelligence service in Vietnam to his role as church elder and his work with the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, Martin has shown admirable intelligence and strength of character. He would be a lieutenant governor of principle, and for the people.
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