Georgia Can Be Great

Cali blogThe Atlanta Journal Constitution wrapped up a three part series today about Atlanta maintaining its competitive position is the South. While flying back to Austin last week from Los Angeles, I read the latest Delta Sky Magazine, themed LA Stories. Flipping through the pages I read about what makes Los Angeles special. Delta CEO Richard Anderson reminds the reader “ with more than 10 million residents and six Fortune 500 companies, Los Angeles County is among the world’s 20 largest economies… second only to New York in population (in the US).”

Driving around Los Angeles, visiting the Getty Center and talking with people you get a sense the city and the state are moving in the right direction for everyday people who believe that government cares enough about them to support higher minimum wages, promote small business investments, fund innovation in business. Cheers to Governor Jerry Brown and the other California political superstar, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. The state’s success is as much the fruit of their labor and political genius as anyone’s in the last century.

At the very back of the Delta Magazine is an ad touting Georgia’s #1 ranking for business according to CNBC, Site Selection and Area Development. It states “more than forty Fortune 500 companies thrive in Georgia” and implies other businesses could succeed as well. This sounds terrific until you remember other Georgia statistics: high poverty rate, average per capita income, health access, and high school or college graduation rates. Our other southern state neighbors don’t compete well in these categories either.

So what does California have that has made the difference in that state? Let’s start with bold political leadership from Governor Brown (who was Oakland Mayor and California Attorney General) to Willie Brown (whose leadership as Speaker of the California House is legendary) to Congresswoman Maxine Waters (who has served in the House of Representatives for 25 years) to two women Senators – Feinstein and Boxer whose leadership in the Senate is undisputed.

These are political leaders who take the fight to be best in class seriously, who champion sweeping public policy to expand rather than limit access to higher education, jobs, business, healthcare and clean air and water. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, when he was San Francisco mayor led the city to adopt the Health Choices Plan in 2007 to provide San Francisco residents with universal healthcare. Newsom gained national attention when he directed the San Francisco city–county clerk to issue marriage licenses same-sex couples in violation of state law.

Georgia sits, maybe is stuck, in the bottom quartile in the competition for greatness. Too few students graduate high school and too few complete college and post-secondary degree programs. For too many years the state has reduced per capita funding for k- 12 public education. Wages and family income are low. State investment in transit and integrated transportation solutions is minimal. The state has preferred to push regional transit and transportation issues to the local leaders. Economic development funding is minimal.

For instance, every governor for my 40 years in Georgia has proclaimed his support and the importance of robust and successful public education but the results for children haven’t changed much. Some have done more than others to fund and promote a legislative agenda supporting education reform. The HOPE scholarship is an example, though not perfect or fully accessible to the lowest income and most challenged Georgia youth. Even HOPE was adopted by referendum when it could have been established by legislative action with bold state leadership.

The legislators seem to want the credit for the policy but not the challenge to their “no tax” record. Instead of plugging the state budget with a couple hundred million dollars for K- 12 education this session it would be brave, courageous and even sensible for the governor to assess how much is needed to bring every student up to top quartile national test performance. Anything less simply shortchanges Georgia’s children and families and at this rate many of our grandchildren’s children will not live to know Georgia as the best of the best in the world.


  1. Shirley – You are absolutely on spot. This state’s government remind me of a Salvation Army Band marching backwards.