State Sen. Eric Johnson is a Republican, but for the moment no one can accuse the Senate's president pro tempore of being a right-winger.
Johnson fell recently and tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. So when he visited Columbia County for the Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Breakfast Tuesday morning, he wore his arm in a sling.
It was his first day off pain-killers, he told me afterward, so he joked that he was having to re-learn how to talk.
Even so, he did a fine job discussing the upcoming session of the Georgia Legislature. He never let the doom crowd out the gloom.
Johnson is an architect by trade. He wants to be the state's next lieutenant governor, running for the post when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle tries to step up to governor in 2010.
Johnson is building the foundation for that run now, and metaphorically Tuesday described the foundations the state must build on as it works its way out of its more than $2 billion budget deficit.
The "four corners" of that foundation, Johnson says, are education, infrastructure, quality of life and good government. Those categories pretty much encompass just about anything and everything.
But the big one, the one he got an earful about after the meeting from Columbia County School Board member Mickey Blackburn, is education.
"I am the voucher guy," Johnson described himself to the audience. Indeed he is. He wrote the bill allowing "special needs" students to get vouchers to spend at public or private schools.
Because "special needs" is getting to be about as big an umbrella as Johnson's foundation categories, expect those vouchers to become more popular in Georgia - and more expensive.
Johnson pointed out that the oldest school voucher system, in Milwaukee, Wis., is used by fewer than 10 percent of the students. What he didn't say is that such vouchers generally are helpful only to families already well-off enough to afford private school.
Right-wingers love vouchers because they subscribe to the foolish view that having them introduces "competition" into the public school system.
I have yet to run into anyone who can answer this question: If a voucher system for public education is such a great idea, why wouldn't it work for, say, police protection?
Don't like your cops? Get a rebate "voucher" from your local government and use it to hire security guards. Eventually you'd siphon enough money from the cops that everyone would have to pay for their own security guards - or go unprotected.
Such a plan would kill public police protection. Likewise, if voucher proponents want to kill public education, they ought to be honest enough to say so.
In any event, expect Johnson to have a lot to say about vouchers as he prepares to run for higher office in 2010. But I hope he knows he's going to need both wings to get elected.
Johnson, by the way, was praised for keeping his commitment to speak at the chamber breakfast rather than going to Atlanta to meet with the state Senate's Republican Caucus as the majority body voted on its officers. State Sen. Bill Jackson appeared at the breakfast via video so he could be in Atlanta.
What the folks in the room weren't told is that Johnson, a few weeks ago, announced that he wouldn't seek re-election to his post as president pro tempore of the Senate. He wants more time to focus on the race for lieutenant governor.
Visiting heavily Republican Columbia County was a much smarter move than singing to a choir of fellow elected officials in Atlanta.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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