If you believe President Barack Obama inherited a truckload of problems from George W. Bush, consider what the next Georgia governor faces.
Of course, the Peach State's problems won't be anything close to the magnitude of the US's issues - settling two wars, restarting the economy and getting millions of Americans back to work.
However, Georgia's concerns will be daunting enough.
· Soaring Medicaid enrollment due to unemployment. The present administration hopes to deal with that by taxing hospitals and reducing health services. As a result, the next governor will have to add closed hospitals to his problem list. Small hospitals across the state cannot survive a significant tax increase.
· An unemployment rate that keeps going up as more retail stores close and additional corporations go belly up. If you looked at a profile of Georgia south of Macon, you would suddenly believe we are one of the rust belt states with the myriad issues they are experiencing associated with a long-term downturn.
· The drought is still with us. No meaningful plans to deal with it have been offered.
Traffic, bad schools, a short-changed judiciary, an overflowing prison system, a skyrocketing public debt and a $2 billion deficit round out the list of major problems Gov. Sonny Perdue's successor will find. Plus, the current Legislature is considering a series of tax increases. Who in their right mind would propose raising taxes in the middle of a recession? The Georgia Legislature and the Perdue administration, that's who.
The next governor won't have to deal only with headaches. Sonny's bass fishing program and some of his brand-new boat docks may still be in place for a little time-out to fish and relax. Of course, Gov. X won't have much time to fish.
Unlike some other governors we know, the next guv may have to work full-time at being our chief executive.
Georgia can't stand another part-time executive constantly distracted by his private fertilizer and grain businesses, not to mention a $21 million personal note that falls due in March and a real estate portfolio that shows signs of souring.
If I were the governor, I'd have trouble concentrating, too. Sonny must think all the time about that $21 million loan bearing down on him.
Georgia has a plethora of candidates for governor in the next cycle: John Oxendine, Karen Handel, Dubose Porter, David Poythress and at least three others who are not ready to reveal their intentions.
Some of these folks would make fine governors, I am certain. Others wouldn't be much different from what we have.
The big question for all of these wannabes is this:
What will Roy Barnes do? Will the former governor run or not?
He showed in one term (1999-2003) that he has the right stuff to manage the state. He also demonstrated that many Georgians, including educators, don't want to rock the boat, and they'll vote against anyone who threatens the status quo. It doesn't matter that Georgia has some of the worst schools in the nation. Teachers voted en masse against Barnes and in favor of Perdue, who as a measure of thanks has whacked school funding by more than $1 billion.
Barnes also set out to solve the traffic problem and bring Medicaid under control. Voters didn't care. They weren't interested in a governor who opposed keeping a symbol of slavery on the state flag.
At a speech to a civic club the other day, Barnes spent 20 minutes describing the causes of the economic disaster that has befallen the nation. He mentioned Georgia government only once. He said the state was running up too much public debt and needed watching.
Beyond the experience of one term, Barnes has several assets as a campaigner. Raising money ought to be relatively easy. He knows what needs to be done to get Georgia out of the doldrums, and he is an eloquent speaker and storyteller.
So what else does a candidate need?
A little fire in the belly is my answer. In the shock of being defeated, Barnes and his wife, Marie, may have lost much of their zeal for public office, which leads me to believe that those of us who hope Roy will run again may be disappointed.
We may have to look for another hoss to go for governor - one with Barnes' vision, but not one who says Mexicans and other migrants are among our foremost problems. In other words, we need a creative thinker and doer, but not another nut. We have enough of those already.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.