By Michael Davis
Interim Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn on Thursday blasted Gov. Sonny Perdue's actions during his first 13 months in office and called his 2002 election campaign "racist."
Taking the podium before a crowd of reporters, the newly installed Democratic leader said the governor was "hamstrung" during his election campaign, pressured by controversy over the state flag and education reforms.
"They inherited a $1 billion surplus, raised taxes and blew through the surplus," Kahn told a gathering of Georgia Press Association members. "They talked about how the governor's office wasn't going to push legislation ? that was his excuse for not being able to get anything done."
Kahn also likened Perdue to controversial former Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker, alluding to Rocker's inflammatory remarks to a magazine following a visit to New York.
"What we have is John Rocker as governor," Kahn said.
Kahn also attacked the governor's ethics, citing recent controversy over his alleged private use of a State Patrol helicopter.
"That helicopter has become his personal play toy," Kahn said.
Asked if "back room" politics regarding Gov. Roy Barnes' flag change cost him the 2002 election, Kahn said, "I think it did cost him the election and part of that was the racist campaign by Governor Perdue."
Georgia Republican Party Chairman Alec Poitevint, defended the governor.
"The governor of Georgia, despite all the things that Bobby said, is very popular with the people," Poitevint said. "And Sonny and Mary Perdue, as long as I've known them, there has not been the least racist bone in their bodies ? I think to make this reference is insensitive ? and should be discontinued."
Some say that Perdue ousted Barnes by promising voters a referendum containing the choice of a flag with the Confederate battle emblem. Flag activist groups have been lobbying lawmakers to add the 1956 flag, with its prominent Confederate emblem, to the ballot in the March 2 referendum, but so far, have made little headway.
"I think it is time to put this issue behind us and move forward," Poitevint said.
A spokesman for the Southern Heritage Political Action Committee could not immediately be reached for comment.
Jeff Davis, Chairman of the Georgia Heritage Coalition, said that supporting a referendum on the flag is not racist. A referendum would allow the people to make the decision, he said.
"It's a popular thing these days, when someone doesn't agree with you, to call him a racist," Davis said.
But some Democrats said that the state flag certainly is a "racist issue."
Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, said he was surprised that Gov. Perdue made the flag an issue in his campaign.
"I never thought, when we first changed the (1956) flag, that anybody would run a campaign saying he'd bring the old flag back," he said Thursday.
On March 2, voters will decide between the 2001 flag and the 2003 flag. Only the 2001 flag bears the battle emblem, though not prominent enough for some.
"This issue will never go away until they get their fair vote," Davis said. "We want the people to choose."
Staff writer Billy Corriher contributed to this article.