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"The Chamber does not officially support candidates," Williams adds. "Our members decide what they are going to do. A lot of the members of the business community appreciate his leadership."
The flag change burned up a lot of Barnes' political capital, and he knows it.
"It cost," he says. "There's no question about it."
But Atlanta's top CEOs are now solidly behind him, which may have been what Barnes was after all along. Democrats and Republicans alike say Barnes has all but been handed a blank check from the Atlanta business community. Now, he has more than six times the campaign money as his closest competitor. That means his war chest will remain stuffed for the duration of the campaign. More importantly, it means the state's big money bags won't be open for bankrolling Perdue's, Byrne's or Schrenko's campaigns.
Nothing -- not the flag change, education reform or power mongering -- comes close to infuriating Republicans as much as the way Barnes and Democratic lawmakers ruled over the redistricting process in August and September of this year. As if his flag change in February wasn't brazen enough, he and his Democratic operatives pushed through the General Assembly legislative and congressional maps that disregard nearly all county lines and existing districts in the interest of manipulating demographics to maximize Democratic seats.
Over the next year, Republican lawmakers are taking the redistricting maps Barnes and the Democrats came up with on a tour of the state.
"Until you stand there and actually look at it, you can't see what they did to this state," says House Minority Leader Lynn Westmoreland. "Regardless of what the court says and law says, citizens of Georgia will ultimately decide if the maps are fair or unfair."
Republicans have a reason to be miffed. Of the 180 state House districts, 102 are predicted to elect Democrats and seven of the 13 Congressional districts are expected to elect Democrats.
Republicans again whined about King Roy.
"What we've got is a governor who has tried to elect for every citizen of Georgia the person who's going to represent them in Congress, the state Senate and state House," Westmoreland says. "That's not what people of this country have in mind for a democracy. They don't want somebody choosing their elected officials for them. That's Barnes' big weakness -- strong arm politics."
Scott, a young South Georgia Republican, became a symbol for the ruthlessness of the session. He'd placed his political career on the line by backing Barnes' flag change. In return, he was royally screwed when his district was snatched from under him.
"I think the redistricting session hurt the Democratic Party just because what was done is easily seen as unethical," he says. "Ethics in government is important to people, conservative or liberal. People want their governor to do what's good for the people, not what's good for politics."
Does Machiavellian politics lead to great progress for the state? At first glance, Barnes' accomplishments seem substantial. But when it comes to passing legislation that actually does some good, for things like transportation, air quality and water quality, Barnes tends to dance around the problem. The end result is that he's generated a lot of publicity with limited progress -- so far. Nowadays, with a recession forcing budget cuts in state government, dramatic advances will be even more difficult.
Though he's denounced bad teachers and come up with new incentives for teachers to get more training -- both to well-publicized fanfare -- his office recently proposed to cut $14 million from the state Department of Education's Professional/ Staff Development budget.
"Of all the things that you could cut that would not directly affect students or teachers, there are so many more areas that should have been cut besides this one," Schrenko says.
Christmas, the candidate for superintendent, agrees. "Any time we're implementing new school improvement and test score programs, staff development is a component of that," she says. "The heart of improving a school is professional development and learning how to meet the needs of low-achieving students, those that are hard to teach to read."
In defense of the proposed budget cut, Barnes says he's only taking away a half- percent increase that he added to the professional/staff development budget two years ago.
"It doesn't affect the number of teachers in the classroom, the size of the classroom or direct instruction," he says, adding a quick jab at Schrenko, "If you can't absorb a change like that, then you're not a very good manager."
It's another case of Barnes going for a touchdown with a big play. But because of a bad block, or maybe a late snap, he only picks up a few yards.
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