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Bill Shipp - Barnes hits back

Former Gov. Roy Barnes may have thrown more red meat on the table against Republicans than all the national Democrats put together at the Denver convention.

Maybe that's why Barnes didn't get much TV time. He sounded as tough as Zell Miller talking about Democrats. But Barnes didn't get around to challenging anyone to a duel as Miller did four years ago.

A newsletter report and interview on Barnes' performance this year will have to suffice. At a gathering of the Georgia delegation in Denver last week, "Barnes delivered a stemwinder to wake up the delegates at their breakfast meeting, excoriating the Republican-majority Legislature for the 'stench' it has caused at the Capitol, and slamming Gov. Sonny Perdue for mismanagement of the state budget," reported Tom Baxter of the Southern Political Report newsletter.

When I called Barnes to confirm his remarks, he poured oil on the fire.

"If (legendary former House Speaker) Tom Murphy were still alive and speaker, he would have asked Sonny Perdue, 'Are you drunk or what? Don't you know we're headed into a recession?'" Barnes said, referring to Perdue's most recent official estimate of 6 percent growth in state revenue. The state budget, based on that forecast, is headed for a $1.5 billion to $2 billion deficit, causing Perdue to slash spending across state government. Education has been hit especially hard.

Barnes ripped Perdue for moving to take away a tax break for homeowners to try to reduce the looming shortfall. He noted, however, that the Republican governor has done nothing to eliminate special-interest tax breaks that have benefited Perdue and his pals.

To hear such a fire-breathing speech and interview, one might think Barnes is preparing for liftoff as a candidate for governor in 2010.

"Some people have asked me to run," he says. "But, right now, I'm leaning against it."

His leanings did not dilute his remarks at the breakfast, which included a couple of would-be gubernatorial candidates, at least one of whom is noted as a get-along kind of guy.

Barnes said GOP lawmakers have become so beholden to special interests that they should be required to "wear patches like NASCAR drivers, with logos of the interests that have bought them out.

"The only problem is, they may not have a coat big enough to put on all those patches," Barnes said. The breakfast crowd was delighted, Baxter reported.

Barnes also delivered the obligatory plug for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. He asserted that Democrats have to win the state for Obama "because it is the beginning of us taking the state back for ourselves."

An Obama victory in Georgia would signify more than a return of Democratic power. It would constitute the beginning of the age of political miracles. We shall see.

Barnes' last presidential hoss, John Edwards, didn't run too well in these parts. And that contest occurred before Edwards was exposed as a lying, two-timing, hypocritical scoundrel.

However, Barnes sounds like a guy who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, at least not on his home turf.

Perdue has done little as governor, except dismantle Barnes' programs and blame Georgia's misfortunes on the former governor from Cobb County, whose administration vanished nearly seven years ago.

If your lowly correspondent were a gambling man, I'd say the chance of Barnes running for governor is about one out of five. Some people close to Barnes put the odds nearer to 50-50.

He already has the fire in his belly to make the race, but he probably needs more pushing and pledges of cash.

In any event, Barnes' little breakfast speech may have set the tone for the next campaign - an attack on a corrupt General Assembly and a do-nothing gubernatorial administration.

We haven't heard from Republicans yet. The Georgia crowd will undoubtedly have some harsh words for local Democrats when they convene in Minneapolis to nominate John McCain.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.