Roy Barnes is a familiar face in the Governor’s mansion, but that doesn’t mean he’s had an easy time during this campaign. Since winning the Democratic primary, he’s been part of a media street fight with Republican opponent Nathan Deal, from campaign commercials to debates. We caught up with him last week by phone to talk about what will make the difference on election day.
What do you see as being the most important issues for the state right now?
Roy Barnes: I think that the two issues that are inextricably woven are jobs and education. Jobs because we need to get the state back on growth mode and going in the right direction rather than the wrong direction; and education because the skills and education levels that we have are what we need to fill the jobs that we can attract. Those two issues together are the major issues.
In a year when everyone when everyone is talking about jobs and the direness of our economic situation, what specifically would you like to see happen if you’re elected and what differentiates you from your opponents?
Roy Barnes: First, I have a proven record of creating an atmosphere in which jobs grow. During the time when I was governor, Georgia was the fourth fastest growing state in the union even though we had September 11th in the midst of that term. There were 235,000 jobs created while I was governor. I have a proven track record.
Here are the specifics. One, Georgia should give preference to contracts from state and local governments to Georgia companies that employ Georgia workers.
Two, we should disqualify and not allow tax credits to American companies who ship jobs overseas.
Three, we should expand the Georgia Works program where if you’re drawing unemployment compensation, an employer can hire you and pay you $100 per week and you can continue to draw unemployment so you can have trial employment for up to two months. 63 percent of those who’ve gone through this pilot program have found permanent employment.
Number four, we should give a two year tax incentive for new employment by the state of Georgia paying the federal payroll tax for every new employee for a period of two years.
Lastly, we should suspend the Georgia capital gains tax for two years if you’ll agree to do several things: Invest in a Georgia company that creates a specified number of new jobs, invest in a Georgia start up, invest in a Georgia community bank that needs re–capitalizing, or purchase a parcel of Georgia real estate. I think those things taken together will jumpstart our economy.
One of the criticisms that’s been floating around is that your plan is unrealistic and will require tax increases. Is there any truth to that?
Roy Barnes: We debated this last night. When I pushed, they say, “You’re proposing $2.4 billion in new spending.” I said, “Where? Show it to me.”
The only thing that Congressman Deal could point to was that I said we should have a full school year of 180 days and that we should stop the furloughs of school teachers.
Let me tell you, if we can’t fund that, then why do we exist as a state? These are baseless attacks.
I’ve said all along, you create priorities. You make sure that you run the state properly and you have enough money. Have I been critical of some special interest tax breaks? I have been, and I think some of them should be rolled back.
But at the same time, I’ve never voted for a tax increase. Congressman Deal voted for the largest tax increase in Georgia’s history, that was an increase in sales tax in the late 1980s. I never sent a tax bill to the General Assembly when I was governor because we worked the state from the expense side rather than the revenue side.
You can’t give away to special interests all of the tax revenue. When you cut taxes for a special interest, you cut the school year and you cut teachers. That’s not a good thing.
This has been one of the more brutal governors’ races that I can remember so far as the campaign is concerned. Does the mudslinging obscure the bigger issues or are some valid points being raised in all of this?
Roy Barnes: I think you have to define mudslinging. I don’t think it’s mudslinging to take the position that a full time elected official should not do business with the state of Georgia and receive a monopoly that put a million and a half dollars in his own pocket. I don’t think that’s mudslinging. If he does, I’m sorry.
I don’t think it’s mudslinging when you say you should disclose all your income tax returns including schedules and explain why you only pay two percent tax on $400,000 of income over a two year period.
I don’t think it’s mudslinging to ask why did you use your position in Congress and staff to try and get you a private road paved and to get a landfill.
Those are matters of integrity and the over–reaching touchstone of every governor ought to be that he be fully transparent and in his financial and tax dealings. I think those are legitimate issues.
Do I like the misconstruing of my record, saying that we had the highest job losses in Georgia history? That was one month, right after September 11th. That is the reaction I got when I said you should come clean about your finances.
I think there’s some legitimate issues here about integrity, truthfulness and transparency. I think the people of Georgia see that.
Is it sort of dumbfounding to see the polls and see that Deal has a lead or that you’re running neck and neck despite the number of scandals that aren’t just alleged, but are clearly documented over the course of his career?
Roy Barnes: I think it is. It’s not surprising. The Republican Governors Association has spent four or five million dollars down here trying to obscure the true facts. Any time you have that amount of media it’s going to make things close.
I have great faith in the people of the state of Georgia. They see through all of this. I’ve watched them over the years. They ferret out the truth.
In the years between now and 2002, there’s been a lot changes in how people get their information, with social networks and all that. Have you noticed a change in how the campaign works because of those technologies?
Roy Barnes: Absolutely. The transfer of information is instantaneous. With the tweets from debates and everything else, it’s just "bam," it’s there. We’ve used it heavily. In 1998 when I ran, we were one of the first campaigns to use a website. Now, just look how it’s come.
Is it helping to create a more informed citizenry or is it creating spheres of like–minded people who become echo chambers for certain points of view? Is it helping the political process or hurting it?
Roy Barnes: I think it helps it. The more information that is available, even though it may be of different opinions, the better the electorate.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2.
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