By Joel Hall
Former Gov. Roy Barnes spoke before a friendly audience in Morrow on Monday, during a regular meeting of the Clayton County Democratic Party.
During the meeting, Barnes shared his reasons for seeking a return to the Governor's Mansion and outlined his platform of focusing on water conservation, education and transportation.
He said that, since losing the governor's office to Sonny Perdue in 2002, he has desired to take the state in a different direction. "I am living proof that there is life after political defeat, and it is very pleasant," Barnes said. However, "I have beliefs that are diametrically opposed to the people running this state. I believe we have a duty to the least of these."
During his speech, Barnes drew comparisons between Georgia and North Carolina, which, in the last ten years, has invested heavily in commuter rail systems and education. He said if Georgia doesn't begin to invest more in transportation solutions, and in rewarding excellent teachers, the state stands to lose the prosperity it has enjoyed since the 1960s.
"How long are we going to talk about [transportation] before we do something about it," he said. "We are losing the ability to attract and maintain business. We need intra-state, high-speed rail. We need light rail. We have to do everything necessary to attract and keep businesses.
"You can't cut $2 billion over seven years [from education] and expect something sufficient," he said. "We need smaller classrooms. We need to increase our ability to teach math and science. We must reward those great teachers who change lives. Where there is no vision, the people perish."
Barnes said that 12 percent of the teachers in North Carolina are "national board certified" and that he would like to create monetary incentives to encourage more Georgia teachers to get certified.
In addition to education and transportation, he spoke about water conservation. He said the state needs to build more reservoirs and proactively use state funds to repair water infrastructure.
"There are great cities all over the world that have less water than we do," he said. "We need to take up and conserve better. Not all problems can be fixed with money, but we can use money to fix leaky pipes."
In the past few weeks, the Clayton Democratic Party has hosted other Democratic candidates for governor, including David Poythress and DuBose Porter. While the party did not openly endorse any candidate, there was language to suggest Barnes is highly favored in the race for governor.
"We hope they didn't move any pictures off the wall [of the Governor's Mansion], because he will be moving back in shortly," said State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood), during his introduction of Barnes on Monday.
Party Chairman Mike Thomas said the purpose of hosting Barnes, as with other Democratic candidates, is to make sure Clayton voters are as educated about the governor's race as possible. "This race is so important, and it is important that people know where he [Barnes] stands on the issues," Thomas said. "We have an opportunity to turn this state blue. In doing that, it's important that we get the information straight from the horse's mouth."
Glanton, chairman of the Clayton County Legislative Delegation, said Barnes' visit to the county is indicative that Clayton County will play a key role in the next election. "I'm excited about all the candidates considering Clayton County to be important enough in the next election cycle to take the time to come down here," he said. "I think President Obama's administration set the course, and if we continue on that course, we will more than likely have good results in the state of Georgia."