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State boards, agencies lack appointments from Augusta area

Governors can smile on local areas or look the other way. In the case of Gov. Sonny Perdue, he has been smiling on Central Georgia -- specifically Macon and Warner Robins.

His favoritism can be illustrated from several avenues.

Take his travel, for one.

He has made 53 official trips to Macon since entering office, just two less than he made to the much larger Savannah, which hosts not only the state's giant ocean port but also dozens of state trade conventions yearly.

On the other hand, he has been to Augusta, the state's second-largest metro area, just 34 times, Athens 28 (not counting football games at his alma mater of the University of Georgia) and Brunswick/St. Simons Island and Columbus, 24 each.

Other cites saw less of him: Albany, 23; Gainesville, 17; Valdosta and Rome, 13 each; and Waycross just six. Heck, he's been to Washington, D.C., as often as he's been to Rome and Valdosta combined.

Or look at his political appointments. There are nearly 200 boards that governors get to appoint people to, from the powerful University System of Georgia's Regents and the State Board of Education to the Georgia Board of Architects and Interior Decorators.

His office recently announced his appointments to the new Board of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, the panel that will decide the fate of seven regional mental hospitals, including those in Savannah, Augusta and Rome. Two are from Metro Atlanta, one from Central Georgia, and two from South Georgia but none from the homes of the regional hospitals.

An analysis by The Augusta Chronicle showed Mr. Perdue had appointed 772 people from Metro Atlanta, and a tenth of that from the second-place metro area, Augusta. But Macon comes in third with 66, then Savannah with 58 and Warner Robins in fourth with 57. Athens with 51 appointees rounds out the top five.

But when you look at appointees' hometowns on a per-capita basis, the relative order changes. Macon is first, followed by Warner Robins, Athens, Rome with 26 and Brunswick with 23. Augusta falls to seventh, Savannah to 11th and Atlanta to 12th.

Mr. Perdue can be expected to lean heavily on people he knows and visit his home region often due to familiarity. But he wouldn't be a successful politician if he weren't in tune with political power, too.

For instance, Augusta not only comes behind Macon's Bibb County in appointments and visits, it also trails that Middle Georgia locale in campaign contributions to all candidates. Athens is not only ahead of Augusta in appointees but also in political giving.

Savannah doesn't follow the pattern in the sense that it's the No. 2 place for fundraising after Atlanta but much lower on the list of appointees. The explanation could be in the mindset of residents of The State of Chatham who may simply turn down appointments to boards meeting in Atlanta because they'd rather stay home.

Perhaps its no coincidence that Georgia voters elected Mr. Perdue from midstate.

It may have been a case of "our turn" after Roy Barnes from the north side of Atlanta, Zell Miller from North Georgia and Joe Frank Harris also from north of Atlanta. Before that were South Georgians George Busbee and Jimmy Carter and Atlantan Lester Maddox. East Georgia hasn't produced a governor since Carl Sanders, 47 years ago.

The campaign to succeed Mr. Perdue is already in earnest 11 months before the primary. As voters size up the platoon of hopefuls jockeying for their parties' nominations, part of their consideration is bound to include which will be the most favorable toward the voters' home cities.

Regions that have felt slighted may have a little more passion for a favorite son -- and they probably have good reason, since Mr. Perdue's habits are probably typical.

After all, every city likes to have friends in high places.

(Walter Jones is the bureau chief for Morris News in Atlanta and has been covering state politics since 1998).

Web posted on Thursday, August 06, 2009

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