The financial problems of Republican Nathan Deal have dominated news of Georgia's gubernatorial race for the past couple of weeks.
Likely Republican voters have split into two distinct camps: The diehard denial camp, which collectively refuses to acknowledge the problems raised by Deal's crushing personal debt; and the buyer's remorse camp, with conservative voters desperate for an alternative.
Obviously the Democrats love this. They've been happy to sit back and watch the erosion of Deal's support - which was already very shaky, given his razor-thin primary runoff win against Karen Handel.
The biggest barrier to party mutiny, though, is the 800 pound gorilla: Roy Barnes.
Did you notice? In Richmond County Democratic Party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum's letter to The Chronicle the other day, he spent most of his space beating up on Deal. Only near the end of the letter did he toss in a couple of lines praising Deal's Democrat opponent for... (drum roll, please): releasing his tax returns.
Considering Barnes has actually held the job of governor before, wouldn't you think Greenbaum and Co. would spend more time talking about what a great job Barnes did before his ouster eight years ago?
Instead, they seem to be counting on Republican angst to hurt Deal, and collective amnesia to help Barnes.
Remember "King Roy"? Most people probably do. But memories are short, so few people likely remember why Barnes got that nickname.
Barnes remembers. That's why his ads this year started with a series of apologies for failing to listen to other people before ramming through his own (bad) ideas.
One initiative of his, particularly, should be remembered: The end of fair dismissal rights for teachers.
"Fair dismissal" is the formal term for what often is mischaracterized as "teacher tenure." It gives fired teachers an opportunity to defend their jobs with a hearing before their local school board.
That was the process former Lakeside High teacher Margaret Mudrak used when she was fired. If Barnes had prevailed, veteran teachers like her would still have been able to appeal because they would have been "grandfathered in." Newer teachers, though, would lose that right.
This is an issue on which I disagree with my wife, who is an elementary school principal. She believes certified school employees should be hired and fired just like uncertified staff members, who don't have the right of appeal if they're fired - just like most private-sector workers.
I believe, however, that teachers are in a unique position because so much of their evaluations are tied to the abilities and achievement of students, and based on purely subjective reviews from principals and their personalities. To me, the least they deserve is the opportunity to appeal if they're fired.
Oddly enough, though, while Barnes' view on the topic cost him the 2002 election - polling data showed teachers deserted him in droves - his view is not one with which most conservatives would disagree. That's how he was able to get it enacted in the first place.
In fact, most conservative voters likely would defend the free-market concept of treating teachers like any other workers.
Thus, strangely enough, one of the bigger complaints about "King Roy" is that his anti-tenure position was, well, too conservative.
Teachers' right to fair dismissal was reinstated by Gov. Sonny Perdue six months after he took office, thanks in part to our own then-state Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling.
Deal, meanwhile, often reminds voters that he is the son and husband of teachers - all of whom likely would favor retaining fair dismissal rights.
As for Barnes, he kissed and made up with teachers this year and landed endorsements from forgetful educators' associations.
Republicans might be nursing a seriously conflicted case of buyer's remorse with Nathan Deal. But teachers supporting Roy Barnes are exhibiting classic symptoms of battered spouse syndrome.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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