COVINGTON - Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine spoke about his 2010 bid for governor at the Newton County Republican Party's meeting Thursday night, emphasizing the need for change in government and revealing his plan for relieving traffic congestion in Atlanta.
Speaking before about 40 people at the Covington Woman's Club, Oxendine said everything from customer service to unnecessary bureaucracy in state government needs to get an overhaul.
Oxendine said its an emphasis on customer service that differentiates his office from other government agencies. The office remains open until 7 p.m. for customer convenience, he said, and helps residents collect about $23 million in unpaid claims per year.
Oxendine touted his recent accomplishment of starting a telemedicine network in Georgia, making it possible for people living in small and rural communities to get top-notch medical care through examination by a doctor via the Internet. There are now 87 telemedicine sites and 16 teleradiology sites in the state. The operation of the network has been turned over to a nonprofit organization, without government involvement.
"That's something I'm proud of. That's something government should do, help people with real problems," he said.
Oxendine said past governors have not been effective in changing the way state agencies are run, because they replace only top-level officials rather than middle management.
"Gov. Perdue is the third governor I've served under. He is a good, meaningful person, but state agencies do not function any differently under Gov. Perdue than they did under Gov. (Roy) Barnes or Gov. (Zell) Miller," he said.
It's middle management that needs to change, because those employees run the agencies, he said.
"We need to replace them, not one or two higher-ups," he said. "If you start firing a few people, people get religion."
Having been insurance and fire safety commissioner for nearly 15 years, Oxendine said he's got the inside track on how government works and is the best candidate to change it.
He said endless studies and red tape that local governments must go through to get reservoirs and road projects accomplished aren't necessary.
"It's not so important how we do it as just doing it," he said.
One project that Oxendine said needs to get done as soon as possible is construction of a bypass road around Atlanta, providing a "straight shot" from Savannah to Chattanooga.
Traffic now is so bad it's threatening the port of Savannah, he said, noting that anything transported north must go through Atlanta.
There also needs to be a separate freeway connecting I-75 and I-85, he said.
Oxendine also spoke out against state government accepting federal handouts. He said Gov. Perdue should have been more proactive in handling the stimulus money the state received.
"It's hard to say no, but maybe that's the thing to do," he said.
"I think the governor's got to say, 'Yes, you may be the federal government and ultimately you may have authority ... but I'm still the executive official of a sovereign state. We're not a political subdivision," he said, triggering applause from the crowd.
Newton County resident Gilbert Jenkins said he was impressed with Oxendine's bypass idea.
"I'm not sure it's his own thought, but if it is, he's smart," Jenkins said.
Jenkins also liked what Oxendine had to say about government bureaucracy.
"That's a home run there," he said.
Though Oxendine appears focused on being elected governor right now, Covington resident Trudy Showalter already has another political opportunity in mind.
Asked if Oxendine is a good choice for governor, she responded, "I think he's the best. He's a good choice for president."