I wouldn’t classify him a Southern political character the way I would Lester Maddox or George Wallace but Barnes has become somewhat fascinating to watch. I had not heard of Barnes prior to 1990 when he first made a run for Governor.
Not being familiar with Cobb County politics, I learned of Barnes when he decided to make a move statewide that year. I admit to being impressed. He was a conservative leaning Democrat, one of five primary candidates that year along with Zell Miller, Andrew Young, Lauren McDonald and the aforementioned Maddox, who was making one final stab at political glory.
Barnes pushed the right buttons for me and with it being a historical election for yours truly (the first time I was eligible to vote) I jumped on board his campaign. As it turned out, Barnes finished third in that primary behind Miller and Young. It would be the first in a long line of voting disappointments for me but I felt good about who I had voted for and hoped perhaps one day my candidate would try again.
Eight years later Barnes did decide to try again (only after briefly flirting with a run for Lt. Governor). I was set to support him again but an odd thing happened in the spring of 1998 leading up to that year’s primary. Barnes had performed quite the U-turn. Many of the positions he stood for years earlier were not positions he stood for during his second run for the governorship. I found it a turnoff and ended up not supporting him that year. Not surprisingly I guess, he won that election.
The Barnes governorship was not a complete disaster (certainly not the disaster that the two terms of Sonny Perdue have been) but he was voted out for various reasons in 2002. Barnes was certainly humbled by the experience and he has regrouped and has decided to make a go of it again this summer. He certainly is the Democratic frontrunner and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win the party’s nomination without a runoff.
Politics is a funny thing at times. So much has changed in our state since 1990. The lottery has pumped millions upon millions into our education system yet most local school systems are now saying they have no funds. It has gone so far locally that teachers can no longer have coffee pots in their classrooms because it uses too much electricity.
Miller, who was elected governor back in 1990, went off the deep end after a career as a Democrat. We fortunately don’t hear anything more from him these days.
As has been mentioned in this space before, the man who voters replaced Barnes with will go down in as the least effective governor we’ve ever had. Sometimes when you vote for change for the sake of change then you end of crippling your state. It is going to take at least a decade to recover from the mess Perdue has left us with.
In 2010 we have numerous candidates running for the highest elected office with various ethics issues. Is this really the best we can do?
And for Barnes? Well, not only do I think he will easily win the Democratic nomination, I think he will be elected our next governor. Do I think he is the best choice? Likely not. However, his war chest is unmatched and when it comes to winning statewide elections, that is often what matters most. Some things never change in politics although I hold out hope that one day they just might. Then again perhaps one day I will be the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.
Chris Bridges is editor of the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.