A freshly elected legislator with a mischievous grin bounded down the press hall across from the Capitol. His name was Sonny Perdue, and in a swamp of slow-witted, suspicious state senators, he was a breath of fresh air.
Sure, back in 1993 he was a conservative-as-hell good ol' boy. But the new senator from the tiny town of Bonaire understood how to joke with journalists and toss us off-the-record tips. Reporters liked him, most effusively and importantly the woman from the Macon Telegraph, his hometown paper.
Over the last decade or so though, something changed in Sonny. Maybe it was the bitterness that built up as he chafed under the petty leadership of Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and was forced to stomach the corruption of state Sen. Charles Walker, Taylor's top lieutenant. Perdue allies say Taylor and Walker drove him into the Republican Party.
Maybe it was switching parties. To get things done inside the Democrats' diverse caucus, Perdue was forced to temper his South Georgia conservatism. But Georgia Republicans almost exclusively represent a white, conservative constituency, so they tend not to govern according to the state's motto: "Wisdom. Justice. Moderation."
Maybe selfish mean-spiritedness always was struggling to spring free from the genial future governor. A few times in the Senate, his famous temper did get the better of him. But to me he still seemed a bit less mean and a bit more public-spirited than the average state senator.
Boy, was I wrong.
I don't think Sonny Perdue suddenly got stupid. He's not too stupid to understand that nobody wins when 1.7 million Georgians use the emergency room because they have no way of getting insurance. He's not too stupid to figure out that derailing commuter trains in favor of asphalt will only worsen metro traffic and pollution. He's not too stupid to recognize that cutting school budgets by $140 million isn't the best way to prepare young Georgians for the future.
Yet, on each pressing issue, Perdue not only hasn't come up with solutions. This session, he proposed or went along with ideas certain to make the problems worse.
Then, as Scott Henry notes in this year's Golden Sleaze Awards (see p. 30), the governor inexplicably crept away from the process and ... went fishing. Even fellow Republicans are miffed over Perdue's emulation of Nero.
I'm not sure whether Perdue's actions were worse than his inaction. I am sure that I'd like again to see the Sonny Perdue who appeared to be about straight talk and good government. But I don't hold out much hope that he exists anymore.
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