Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: No excuse for meddling in airport


Since its inception, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been the invention and creation of the City of Atlanta. City leaders envisioned it; city taxpayers funded it; city workers built it and run it, and the state as a whole has prospered immensely as a result.

Under city ownership, Hartsfield-Jackson has served more passengers than any airport on the planet for 20 consecutive years now. It's an economic dynamo that will play a central role in metro Atlanta's future, and it continues to earn top efficiency and management awards from the international airport industry as well as praise from the airlines that depend upon it.

All of which means, in the eyes of some, that state government must take it over. They don't want the airport because it's doing so poorly; they want it because it's doing so well.

Toward that end, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle appointed 13 state senators to a committee this month to study formation of a state-created authority to steal -- I mean, assume responsibility for -- the airport. In Cagle's words, the panel "will work diligently to give our state’s economy every competitive edge by adding value to this tremendous asset." Notably, none of the 13 committee members represents a city district.

Between now and December, the committee will try to cobble together an argument that the state could do better than the remarkable success produced under city leadership. It will be interesting to see what they produce.

As some have pointed out, it is certainly true that Atlanta was put in a bad light by last December's shutdown of Hartsfield-Jackson after a fire destroyed both its main and backup electrical supply systems. That cost taxpayers and business millions of dollars and raised questions about management competence. It was bad, very bad.

You know what else turns out to be bad, very bad? Storing flammable material beneath a critically important section of interstate highway, as state government did. The resulting April 2017 fire forced the collapse of a 100-foot section of roadway and shut down I-85 for weeks, costing metro taxpayers and businesses millions of dollars and raising questions about management competence.

It is also true that Atlanta continues to struggle with the nexus of campaign donations to city officials and contracts at the airport. However, if you look at campaign finance disclosures, you'll also find state contractors, nursing home operators, road builders and others dependent on state government dumping large amounts into Cagle's campaign for governor.

And earlier this summer, Cagle was caught on tape admitting that he supported legislation undermining public education in Georgia because he wanted to deny millions of dollars in campaign contributions to a competitor. At best, a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson wouldn't alter the game; it would merely alter the identities of those playing it, which is one big reason it is being pursued.

In the end, this has nothing whatsoever to do with boosting Hartsfield-Jackson. It is about envy and jealousy and coveting thy neighbor's goods, or in this case, thy neighbor's honeypot of campaign contributions and patronage. It's also no accident that it comes in election season, with Cagle struggling to claim his party's nomination for governor. It's an old game in Georgia politics, ginning up white rural votes by attacking black-governed, liberal Atlanta.

To quote Cagle from a similar context, “It ain’t about public policy. It’s about (expletive) politics."


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.