Several days have passed since April Fool’s Day, so this is no joke: This is my last column for the AJC.
It was not quite nine years ago I began, a Georgia native returning home. It was a great adventure, one that alternately exhilarated and humbled me. On Monday I’ll start a new adventure, as head of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a think tank dedicated to free markets and limited government.
I’ll still be writing in the new job, and I hope you’ll see that writing often. But for now, this is goodbye. An accounting is in order, so here’s what I think I was most right about, and most wrong about.
I was most right about the 2012 T-SPLOST vote, which failed spectacularly, and deservedly. It wasn’t because I’m a sage political prognosticator -- read on for examples to the contrary -- or because I’m an expert at transportation planning. It was because the plan was obviously and fatally flawed, and I declined the urge to adopt a solution, any solution, just because the problem was great.
It has been said that what is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important. We live in a society that forgets that, all the time.
Is traffic a problem in metro Atlanta? Absolutely. A problem so bad that it’s worth spending billions of dollars illogically, just to “do something”? No. Great problems demand great solutions. Sometimes that means passing on the first proposal.
After all the urgency, and warnings there was no Plan B, the 2015 follow-up to T-SPLOST was an improvement: a tax levied (mostly) on motorists via the gas tax, rather than a general sales tax on all, with projects prioritized to relieve the region’s worst bottlenecks. This year lawmakers began addressing transit regionally, also bettering the T-SPLOST (if not quite as much of an improvement as they might have made).
Speaking of lawmakers, I was wrong often about them and their campaigns. I thought Donald Trump would lose the presidency, after thinking Mitt Romney would win it. But I was most wrong about the man who became our governor.
Nathan Deal wasn’t even in my top two back in 2010. I viewed his congressional record as unimpressive and his demeanor as, to borrow from a later election, “low energy.” He left Washington under a cloud, to boot. I expected a caretaker government, when Georgia needed much more.
Yet, we did get much more from Deal. His fiscal stewardship has been sure, enabling Georgia both to continue addressing its needs and to cut tax rates. He shepherded the charter schools amendment through passage and aimed high with his Opportunity Schools District, even if that vote came up short -- all while seeking to improve all public schools. The economy has blossomed in the business climate he has fostered.
All that said, his legacy will be for something unexpected. Deal’s commitment to criminal justice reform was a revelation. It not only has saved taxpayers millions but has given thousands of Georgians a second chance at life. The process he implemented to conceive the reforms is also a blueprint for problems that await his successor, such as health care access and affordability.
All the while, he has maintained an air of civility and gravitas. That’s not something to take for granted, as we’ve learned.
Whether I ended up being right, wrong or somewhere in between -- not everything is cut and dried, as we also tend to forget -- I’ve always tried to give you my honest best effort to show how Georgia can become just a little bit better. I thank each of you for returning to this space time and again to see how I did. That work for me changes, but it doesn’t stop.