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09 March 2010

The Unfiltered Five With Roy Barnes

Several weeks ago, I posed five questions to Georgia's gubernatorial candidates about their respective campaigns, and why they want to lead our great state.

Former Governor Roy Barnes is the latest candidate to answer "The Unfiltered Five."

Why are you running?

I am running for Governor because I believe that our state is on the wrong track, and it's time to make Georgia work. We must restore the Georgia values and strong leadership that once brought our state growth, opportunity and far-reaching prosperity. Together, we can rebuild a solid foundation in Georgia – one that will support a better life, stronger communities, and a brighter future for our families. To make Georgia work, we must focus on water, education and transportation. Above all else, we must create jobs and economic opportunity in every corner of our state. We simply cannot take full advantage of the opportunities of the future without strengthening our economy and getting back on course in these key areas.

What are the 3 major issues you're hearing from Georgians on the campaign trail?

Georgians want jobs, they want access to quality schools for their children, and they want water and transportation solutions. Our current leadership’s poor policy priorities have resulted in the deterioration of our state’s economic strength. Economic opportunity that was once present in Georgia is now flowing to other states and regions. Businesses want the security of knowing that their water won’t dry up, that they won’t get stuck in traffic jams, and that the communities they move into will have qualified and well-trained employees to support and build their companies. This is why we must address the issues of job creation, education, water and transportation.

What is your plan to put Georgians back to work?

Georgia desperately needs more jobs. Given our concerns about water, education and transportation, it comes as no real surprise that businesses are reluctant to locate and grow here. Frankly, we are fighting a losing battle with neighboring states for preference with companies that are establishing a presence in the South. We need to train a workforce that will attract high-tech, high-paying jobs to Georgia – jobs that will not be outsourced to the lowest bidder.

First of all, we must make high-tech skills training an educational priority. Businesses need capable workers, and they are more likely to move to Georgia if we can provide a qualified workforce. Over the past several years, budget cuts to our k-12 and technical college systems have crippled Georgia’s economic development and significantly reduced the field of highly skilled workers. It is crucial that we reinvest in our higher education and vocational training system. Education is closely linked to job creation, so we must do all we can to equip Georgians to take advantage of the job opportunities of the future. For instance biomedical research and development could be a stepping-stone to the future. Policy makers should act now to create incentives for medical research initiatives based in Georgia. The United States still has a comparative advantage in scientific technology – we can seize the opportunity now to be at the forefront of medical breakthroughs.

Georgia’s legacy of agriculture is also our future, but just selling raw materials is not enough. Georgia produces a wide variety of agricultural products, but we lose revenue when we export only raw goods. We must develop the capacity to take Georgia’s raw agricultural products and process them in-state, so that more of the chain of production employs and benefits Georgia workers. This type of value-added agriculture will result in products that are ready for consumers and therefore more valuable by the time they cross the state line. In addition, we should expand our “Georgia Grown” program to promote our diverse agricultural products to our own citizens. Families and schoolchildren can enjoy the freshest fruits and vegetables available, grown right here in Georgia, while supporting our family farms. We should all be encouraged to “Put Your State on Your Plate.”

Green jobs are also an area we can expand in. Pine trees are to Georgia as oil is to Saudi Arabia. Georgia has the ideal climate and rural space needed for the growth of renewable resources such as pine, corn and switchgrass. By strategically maximizing the use of our own homegrown natural resources, we can usher in the age of biofuels. If we move now to get ahead of the curve on green energy, Georgia has the potential to be a leader in this field. Doing so would stimulate trade; reduce pollution; and, most important, create jobs.

What is your plan to get more Georgians out of their cars, and on to mass transit?

People aren’t averse to mass transit solutions, if they’re accessible and convenient. Traffic is a nightmare in Atlanta, and rural areas are stranded from urban centers because of a lack of transportation options. It’s time to get serious about mass transit.

We must implement a mass transit plan that addresses Metro Atlanta’s tremendous population growth and unique challenges. MARTA is convenient for Atlantans who want to travel short distances within the city, but it is completely unusable for suburban and exurban commuters. An elevated light-rail system running over Metro Atlanta’s interstates, rail lines and existing rights-of-way would move commuters to outlying suburbs more efficiently, unclog our interstates and reduce our reliance on foreign oil.

Additionally, we need to connect Georgia’s major cities with high-speed rail, which will improve ease of access for businesses, workers and visitors. Rail is currently underused within the state, but a commuter-friendly rail system would encourage growth, tourism and economic opportunity outside of Metro Atlanta.
Our transportation troubles have been looming for decades, but we have now reached a breaking point. Policy makers must get serious about a cohesive, long-term transportation plan for the state, or the prosperity we have enjoyed since the 1960s will quickly diminish. We will lose the ability to maintain industry and attract new business. Georgia needs real leadership on this issue: innovative solutions and the political will to make a significant investment.

What is your bold and visionary idea to maintain Georgia's status as the capital of the new South.

What Georgia needs most right now is leadership that understands our state’s needs and has the determination and persistence to get back to basics to make Georgia work – leadership that is not going to be distracted by politics or pet projects, and who won’t be overwhelmed by a steep learning curve. The issues at stake in this election are not minor ones. Together, let’s make Georgia work.

Roy Barnes is one of five individuals vying for the state Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination July 20th. For more information on Barnes' candidacy, visit