0

Bill Shipp - Will rebranding work?

Rebranding is the latest buzzword in political campaigns. Everywhere you look, some politician or politician's spouse is gearing up to play the rebranding game. They try to change who they are and reinvent what they've said. They're hoping voters have forgotten the old brand and will only remember the new trademark on Election Day.

Michelle Obama has lined up talk shows across the country to endure dumb interviews in which she tries to prove she would be just another Princeton-educated first lady instead of an angry black activist in the White House.

John McCain is trying to back away from his image as a George W. Bush add-on. Before that, he was the un-Bush. Now McCain is trying to take a position between the Bush battler and the Gore greenie.

Watch Barack Obama try to modify his image by picking a moderate white guy, possibly a Southerner, as his running mate. He's also changed churches. Be careful, Sen. Obama, you can take rebranding too far. Remember New Coke and the Ford Edsel?

Georgia's own Sonny Perdue may be attempting the most dramatic rebranding on today's political stage. You have to wonder why. He is not seeking re-election to a third term because the law prohibits it. The General Assembly dislikes Sonny too much to reward him with a crack at four more years. So why is Sonny suddenly so busy?

Why is he off in his helicopter just about every morning with a fistful of new promises and policies that should have been taken up six years ago? Sounds like a candidate for something, right?

When he first ran in 2002, Perdue promised to upgrade public education and "return local control" to schools. Instead, schools deteriorated steadily, and "local control" turned out to be another way of saying "cut, cut, cut." Perdue has cut schools' funds every year he has been in office, with reductions now totaling $1.5 billion. Nearly 100 school districts across the state have had to raise local property taxes to make up for the loss of state funds. Local systems have been forced to abolish "frill" education programs for students. French and fine arts are just too expensive for Bubba's kids, right, folks? Now, near the end of his reign, Perdue pledges to fix the schools. It's part of his great rebranding plan.

With less than two years left in office, Perdue has rolled out a gigantic transportation program that entails more than simply slapping another lane of asphalt on overbuilt interstate highways. Perdue's transportation plan would not be completed until he is long gone from the Gold Dome. The next governor would be saddled not only with implementing the plan but with financing it too.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce recently pointed out that Perdue has virtually wiped out the state's bonding capacity for roads. Georgia's debt service exceeds $1 billion for the first time in history, and it promises to grow greater by the year even without Perdue's master transportation plan. But two weeks ago, Perdue saw the light. He unveiled a transportation proposal to undo Democrats' old wrongs and oversights.

When he ran for governor, Sonny painted himself as an expert on the problems of indigent, troubled children. He assailed Gov. Roy Barnes for declaring blithely on TV, "Children die every day."

Georgia's program for troubled children is still a mess, producing a scandalous tragedy at least once a month.

At a recent press conference at which he tried to explain away more children dying while in state custody, an angry, red-faced Perdue declared:

"If the expectation is that we as a state are going to keep every criminal out there from harming or killing their child, that's probably an unrealistic expectation." Still, the new Perdue promised new reform.

Now, tell us again, Gov. Sonny, how you derided Barnes for saying pretty much the same thing you did last week - unattended kids, trapped in a nightmarish prison atmosphere, lose their lives from time to time.

Oh, there's one more thing that needs emergency attention. Georgia's mental health program is at its lowest ebb since the 1950s. Nearly 60 years ago, Gov. Ernest Vandiver received wide praise for cleaning up Georgia's "snake pit" mental hospitals. He also initiated plans to establish a model system of mental health treatment.

In time, that system collapsed, but the new Sonny recently promised to repair it. The rebranded Sonny is suddenly everywhere promising everything, just like in 2002. You have to wonder whether Georgians will believe him this time.

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