Ga. su­per­in­ten­dent John Barge to run for gov­er­nor in ’14


AT­LANTA — State schools Su­per­in­ten­dent John Barge said he will run for gov­er­nor next year, set­ting up what will likely be a heated Repub­li­can pri­mary against Gov. Nathan Deal in which ed­u­ca­tion and school fund­ing will be ma­jor is­sues.

Barge, in a tele­phone in­ter­view, said he was proud of ac­com­plish­ments made within the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion since he took of­fice in Jan­uary 2011 de­spite chal­lenges brought upon him by Deal.

“There is more to be done, and I just don’t feel like I can get it done from where I am,” said Barge, a for­mer Bar­tow County school ad­min­is­tra­tor. “There needs to be some di­rec­tion and some bet­ter vi­sion from the other side.”

Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robin­son, said the gov­er­nor was in a strong po­si­tion for re-elec­tion and char­ac­ter­ized Barge as another weak chal­lenger who is un­likely to gar­ner much sup­port from vot­ers.

“You can tell the strength of Gov. Deal’s po­si­tion with the Repub­li­can pri­mary elec­torate by the qual­ity of the op­po­nents who have an­nounced against him,” Robin­son said in a state­ment.

Although Deal can still be con­sid­ered a fa­vorite, Barge’s en­trance into the race will force the gov­er­nor to spend more of his cam­paign cash dur­ing the pri­mary to de­fend his record.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Deal and Barge has been no­tice­ably chilly since the two were on op­po­site sides of the de­bate over a state char­ter schools amend­ment.

The mea­sure, op­posed by Barge as un­nec­es­sary, ul­ti­mately passed and was pop­u­lar among Repub­li­can vot­ers.

Mean­while, Democrats, who have been fo­cused on gear­ing up for Michelle Nunn’s bid for Ge­or­gia’s soonto-be open U.S. Sen­ate seat, have yet to field a can­di­date for gov­er­nor, though they are work­ing to re­cruit some­one for the race.

Dal­ton Mayor David Pen­ning­ton ear­lier an­nounced he would be chal­leng­ing Deal for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion by mak­ing the case that the gov­er­nor has not done enough to re­build Ge­or­gia’s econ­omy since the re­ces­sion. With Barge’s en­trance into the race, ed­u­ca­tion will join the econ­omy as the two big is­sues, and the su­per­in­ten­dent is clearly hop­ing that teach­ers — who have gone with­out pay raises and seen the num­ber of class­room days dwin­dle — will be mo­ti­vated to weigh in on the Repub­li­can pri­mary.

“I don’t think be­ing an in­cum­bent en­ti­tles you to a free pass to a sec­ond term. I think that has to be earned, and I don’t see that,” Barge said. “I think peo­ple in Ge­or­gia are re­ally look­ing for a leader who will gov­ern and not play pol­i­tics.”

Barge, 46, said he plans to stay on as su­per­in­ten­dent dur­ing the cam­paign.

He said he will fo­cus on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and make the case that one can­not at­tract busi­nesses to a state where two-thirds of schools have re­duced class­room days be­low the 180-day limit set by law be­cause of bud­get cuts.

“He has not even hinted at be­ing will­ing to re­store any of the cuts to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion that have taken place over the last 10 years,” Barge said of Deal.

With Deal al­ready hav­ing $1.1 mil­lion in the bank for his re-elec­tion bid, Barge will be start­ing at a dis­tinct fi­nan­cial dis­ad­van­tage. Barge re­ported no cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions so far this year and only had about $2,000 in cash on hand a few months ago.

In ad­di­tion, since he will be stay­ing in of­fice, state law pro­hibits him from rais­ing money dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion that be­gins in Jan­uary and could ex­tend well into April. With the pri­mary likely on May 20, that will pose a sig­nif­i­cant hur­dle for Barge in the crit­i­cal months just be­fore the elec­tion.

“It’s an up­hill bat­tle; I un­der­stand that. But, I’m will­ing to give it all I got,” Barge said.


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