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Perdue simply kept the train on the track
Jones on Georgia

ATLANTA --- Sonny Perdue's approach to being governor wasn't what people expected.

As the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, he could have been a radical departure from 13 decades of Democratic predecessors. He was not.

His conservative rhetoric foreshadowed tax cuts and the elimination of government agencies. Yet his first recommendations were to raise taxes, and he wound up creating new agencies, including the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities.

As someone who had become the highest-ranking member of the Senate, he was expected to have the savvy and inclination to charm the Legislature into rubber-stamping his agenda. But the clashes started immediately and continued until he essentially decided to have little to do with the General Assembly.

When Republicans took control of the Senate and later the House, it seemed likely that he would have an open field for his initiatives, but he was tackled time and again by members of his own GOP team.

His background as a veterinarian and entrepreneur did not suggest that he would focus so much energy on big-business-type management. However, his proudest accomplishment is his effort to improve the operations of state government.

During his two terms, he modernized many agencies, adopted corporate standards for serving "customers" in a timely manner and saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by implementing recommendations from the private-sector experts he had appointed to the Commission for a New Georgia.

Most of the recommendations seemed like common sense. Still, before Perdue, Georgians couldn't call one toll-free phone number to get connected to any agency in government; wait times for driver's license renewals were measured in hours; and no one knew how many buildings the government owned, let alone how many vehicles.

Other governors had complained about the same sloppy operations, but it was Perdue who made things better. And he created ways to continue to improve operations, such as ongoing training for managers and the first routine meetings of the heads of agencies with overlapping authority, such as corrections and law enforcement.

He often said he never wanted to build monuments to himself by launching grandiose tax-paid enterprises. And he held to that. He remained aware that the Republicans' turn in office could end with him if he let voters down. As a result, he was careful not to back fringe issues, chose his words carefully, never cheated on his wife and maintained high ratings in the polls for eight years.

A moment that illustrates his approach came on a trade mission he led to Israel in 2005. As the head of it, he could have been the center of attention. But while on a sightseeing tour, he quietly listened to the guide, not cracking jokes or asking questions to prove he was as informed as the guide.

Throughout his tenure, he took the same approach. He stuck to business with a certain economy of effort and out of the limelight unless necessary.

Like any man, he has his rough edges, a low tolerance of fools and a weakness for gadgets -- namely helicopters. Voters forgave him and even dismissed accusations that he enriched himself through his office, and they would have re-elected him to a third term.

In some ways they did because Nathan Deal is similar to Perdue in temperament, philosophy and even the part of the state they hail from.

Perdue might not have met the goals that others set for him. He met the goals he set, and even if future generations will assume renewing a driver's license online is natural and logical, the first Republican governor will know the mark he left was all the more profound by how little it is noticed.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News. Reach him at or (404) 589-8424.)

Web posted on Thursday, January 13, 2011

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