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Former Gov. Roy Barnes is mad — but is he mad enough to run for governor?

Former Gov. Roy Barnes has gotten pretty good at deflecting “the question.”

He’s enjoying his thriving law practice in Marietta, and he loves spending time with his five grandchildren. So why would he want to enter the 2010 governor’s race?

But when Barnes is asked about the current state of affairs at the state capitol, his political passion quickly bubbles to the surface. We were speaking Friday morning as he was giving me a tour of the Mable House and his family homestead in Mableton.

“I’m appalled at what I see happening,” Barnes says. “I get up some mornings and ask myself, what has happened to my state?”

Barnes said he’s not just appalled at Republicans, but also at some Democrats. It’s obvious he believes Georgia would have been a much different state today had he been re-elected as governor seven years ago instead of losing to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

All those hundreds of thousands of acres of timber land that got sold off? Barnes said the state under his leadership would have bought every last acre.

Whatever the subject — be it transportation, the environment or economic development — Barnes clearly remains fully engaged in the issues. More importantly, he continues to have ideas and positions on what should happen; and he shows great concern in his belief that most of our current top state leaders are off key.

“They don’t realize that North Carolina is eating our lunch in economic development,” Barnes said. “North Carolina has had a bipartisan effort to improve education.”

North Carolina’s foreclosure rate is half that of Georgia. And North Carolina has a cohesive economic development strategy and a forward-looking transportation policy, he added.

“I can go to Charlotte and travel to Raleigh by train, but I can’t go from Alpharetta to Atlanta by rail,” said Barnes, who is disturbed by how Georgia’s national stature has slipped in recent years.

“We’ve stopped emulating progressive states like North Carolina, and we’ve started emulating lesser states like Mississippi,” Barnes said. “And in some ways, Mississippi is ahead of us.”

And don’t get him started on how Georgia Power has been able to push through its plan to get ratepayers to pay upfront for a nuclear power plant, a proposition that will disproportionately hurt homeowners and small businesses because larger industrial users are exempt.

“It’s outrageous,” Barnes said. “I’ve never been madder. I’m just shocked.”

But Barnes wants to make it clear he’s a capitalist through and through — he’s just calls himself a democratic capitalist who believes our society can share its prosperity.

Late last fall, a group of business leaders invited Barnes to the Commerce Club to talk to him about running for governor (but he won’t name names).

“I consider myself as having pro-business support,” Barnes said. “I’ve been approached by the business community. I told them: ‘I thought y’all were all Republicans.’ ‘We are Republicans. We just want somebody who can run the train,’” Barnes said of their response.

Barnes is fond of saying that the “first duty of a governor in a southern state is to keep his name and his state off the front page of the New York Times. You don’t want to feed into their sterotype.”

That’s just what happened when state legislators tried to allow people to carry guns at the airpor, a story that ran in the Times.

“It’s affecting our businesses. It’s the perception we are having nationwide,” Barnes said. It doesn’t help when some state politicians argue against stem cell research. “With all that rhetoric, [companies] aren’t going to invest in a state where they think the leaders are anti-science and controlled by an ideologically narrow group.”

Losing the $300 million Solvay Pharmaceuticals plant in 2007 was particularly painful for Barnes. (Solvay ended up picking Birmingham, Ala. over Athens. The project was put on hold last year).

“We blew it with Solvay; it should have been the anchor for us,” Barnes said. “And they wanted to come here, but the governor and his team did not pay enough attention to them.”

So you tell me, is he or isn’t he?

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Ken B. March 7, 2009 12:38 pm

    Lets hope he runs. He was an outstanding governor.Report

  2. Tony Moore March 9, 2009 3:21 pm

    It sounds better that a 50/50 chance that he’ll run, especially the closer we get to the election next year. Georgia really needs someone like Roy Barnes to get us back on the progressive track we were on from the 70’s through the 90’s. He’s on the money with issues ranging from transportation, to attracting new businesses and technologies, to the environment. Let’s hope he stays mad.Report

  3. ProudToBeAmerican March 16, 2009 12:03 pm

    I have been wondering where the heck Gov. Barnes was.
    Georgia desperately needs his leadership again. The current Gov. Perdue and his backwoods antics have rolled Georgia back into the stone age and is prohibiting the states’ growth. It was Gov. barnes that started building and funding the water reservoirs that would have stabilized Lake Lanier and Perdue stopped the construction and funding when he took office and now you see where we are every summer (in a drought). Last summer we only had a 60 day supply of water due to Perdue’s lack of foresight all the while he poured millions of tax payer money into having fishing tournaments-talk about out of touch! Perdue was slow to extend unemployment benefits for out of work Georgians and now he wants to put the brakes on stem cell research! It would be an opportunity to put Georgia on the map in a positive to be in the forefront of stem cell research, let alone the Bio Chemical companies that relocate here and work in conjunction with the CDC, Emory…etc! Perdue has done nothing to curtail the traffic problem that cripples the city and surrounding metro areas. Major companies have passed on moving jobs into Georgia because of the traffic issue even when they have been given tax incentives because they fear their employees won’t make it to work without sitting in traffic jams day after day! IF BARNES RUNS FOR GOVENOR, HE HAS MY VOTE ALREADY! I WISHED THERE WAS AN ELECTION TODAY!!!!!!Report

    1. Maria Saporta March 16, 2009 2:50 pm

      Dear Proud to be American (but not so proud about being a Georgian),
      If Gov. Barnes is on the fence about running, your comments could certainly help him make a decision. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Dick McMichael March 19, 2009 10:18 am

    I like Barnes and thought he did a good job as governor, but he really blew it with Georgia’s public school teachers, which is a big reason he lost his reelection bid. Where does he stand now on educational issues? Does he support No Child Left Behind? If I remember correctly, he emphacized test scores and punishing teachers who couldn’t produce good scores, which made them start teaching to the test, which has not improved our education system at all. In fact, it has hurt it. Also, his education program – again, if I remember correctly – issued unfunded state mandates. I think we need to get his thoughts on immproving education before we jump to supporting him for governor.Report

    1. Maria Saporta March 19, 2009 4:33 pm

      Dear Dick McMichael,
      If Gov. Barnes decides to enter the governor’s race, he would need to make peace with the teachers to end up back at the Capitol. I’m sure that education would be one of the first issues he would address if he were to run.
      Thanks so much for writing.

  5. Michael K April 3, 2009 6:26 am

    I sure hope that he runs. When Roy Barnes was Governor – he had vision and intelligence and that is what we need now. He was also an inspiration for the way Government should be run and managed with both a short- and long-term view.

    To your earlier comment about comments pushing him to decide – we started a little group on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=74805739185&ref=mf to encourage him. In 3 days, we added 235 people and are going for a thousand.Report


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