By Maria Saporta
MACON – The two top candidates for governor addressed the Georgia Forward forum Wednesday in separate telephone conversations broadcast to the whole group.
Both candidates were asked the exact same questions, but of course, they had quite diverse answers.
For example, they were asked if they feel there is one Georgia, two Georgias or more.
“Certainly there’s only one Georgia,” said former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, the Republican candidate. “We are a very diverse state. Some think it’s a sign of weakness. I think it’s a sign of strength. I think the role of state government is not to concentrate on whether we have one Georgia or two Georgias, it’s to make sure that we have policies that benefit the entire state.”
Former Gov. Roy Barnes, the Democratic candidate, had a different perspective.
“I think there are several Georgias, definitely two Georgias — one that’s grow into a large urban area and the other part of the state,” Barnes said. “But unfortunately, neither one knows much about the other. That’s one of the greatest failures that we have.”
Both candidates were asked what role they could play as governor to unite the state.
“I think that’s a primary focus of what the governor has got to do,” Deal said. “I will be a governor that will bridge those differences. I think there are some core issues we all agree on.”
Deal said there were core issues, first mentioning public safety and then education.
Barnes said it’s largely the governor’s responsibility to bring the state together.
“A governor has the responsibility to make sure that everybody has a fair hearing on unique problems that are local in scope are important enough to be dealt with at the highest level,” Barnes said, adding that he would make sure there were programs and forums “where feelings can be expressed, and make sure we are united as a state.”
His priorities would be education, spreading the growth throughout the state, investing in the state’s infrastructure (transportation, water, etc.), and public safety.
“Economic downturns are an appropriate time to sit down and talk about your core business,” Barnes added.
Both candidates were asked about their views of leadership and how they would create a common vision for the state.
“We have to deal with the realities of today,” Deal said. “We must have a balanced budget. People expect government to live within its means.”
Deal said he was the only candidate that has put forth a prosperity plan for our state, and he wants to make sure that Georgia is an attractive state for business.
“That’s what gets us out of this downturn,” Deal said, adding that he would turn to the business community to point out inefficiencies in the state.
Asked about creating a common vision, Deal said he would “start with elected representatives in the state.”
Deal said he had “been very fortunate during the primary season to have the overwhelming support on the Republican side of the House and Senate.” He also pledged to reach out to the Democratic side of the aisle.
Barnes defined “effective leadership” as someone who “accomplishes aggressive goals.”
Georgia is facing “monumental problems,” and “you have to make sure you set your goals high enough and that they’re aspirational enough. We have become timid in setting our goals, and therefore we have fallen behind.”
Asked about his failures, Barnes talked about the challenges he faced during his first and only term as governor — trying to reform state education and changing the state flag — two efforts that he believed cost him re-election.
So how would he build a common vision? Barnes said he would push the Atlanta region to build a “comprehensive mass transit system.”
But he said the main thing he would do would be to borrow an idea championed by his friend, former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt. Hunt has been behind the Institute of Emerging Issues Forum, which meets once a year to work on the major challenges facing the state.
Barnes said he would seek to have a similar conference at least once a year, if not twice — one meeting in metro Atlanta and the other one in another part of the state — “where the governor comes himself.”
The Georgia Forward initiative hopes that this gathering of statewide leaders from all different sectors will become an annual event.