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This article is from the Macon Telegraph

April 24, 2002
GOP gubernatorial hopefuls clash over flag
Perdue says he supports taking issue to voters
By Andy Peters Telegraph Staff Writer

ATLANTA - The three Republican candidates for governor all said during a debate Tuesday night that they favored a referendum to change the state flag, although Sonny Perdue appeared to take a less rigid stance on the emotional issue.

Perdue, a former state senator from Bonaire, said he didn't like the way Gov. Roy Barnes changed the flag, and he would support taking the issue to voters. However, Perdue didn't say that he wanted Georgia to adopt its previous flag, with the Confederate stars and bars predominantly displayed.

"Georgia deserves a flag that unites us rather than divides us," Perdue said during a debate at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel sponsored by Cobb County Young Republicans. "Many would say the new flag continues to divide us. We want a flag we can all rally around."

That response drew criticism from one of Perdue's opponents, Cobb County Commission Chairman Bill Byrne. Byrne, a former Marine, said while he'd also support giving Georgians a chance to vote on the flag, Perdue was avoiding the issue and not giving a straight answer.

"I would vote to keep the (previous) flag," Byrne said.

State schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko said she'd support letting voters decide whether to adopt one of Georgia's previous flags.

The three Republican gubernatorial hopefuls face a daunting challenge in unseating incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes. Barnes, a Cobb County Democrat, has raised about $11.3 million for his re-election campaign. Perdue is the top Republican fund-raiser with a $1 million war chest, while Byrne's kitty totals about $279,000 and Schrenko has raised about $145,000.

The candidates were quizzed Tuesday by a panel of journalists on issues ranging from raising the minimum age for driver's licenses to the so-called Northern Arc, a controversial proposed highway stretching across Atlanta's northern suburbs.

When asked to identify the first bill he'd introduce in the General Assembly if elected governor, Byrne said he'd eliminate Cynthia McKinney's name from a portion of Interstate 285 that runs through his home in Cobb County and re-name the section "Republican Boulevard."

McKinney, a Democrat, is the first black congresswoman from Georgia and represents a large part of metro Atlanta.

Byrne's comments about McKinney drew thunderous applause from his hometurf crowd. Byrne also stirred the passions of the room of Republicans with his attacks on Barnes.

"Barnes defined his agenda right up front and had courage of his convictions," Byrne said. "But that's the last damn thing I'm going to applaud him for. His biggest mistake has been his dictatorial style."

While Byrne said Perdue was responsible for the state's "catastrophic" deregulation of the natural gas industry, Perdue said that Georgians favor fewer regulations and increased competition among companies.

Schrenko, who's from the Augusta suburb of Grovetown, echoed her opponents' Barnes-bashing theme. Schrenko said that during her first meeting with Barnes, she went into the governor's office to find him sitting with his feet propped up on his desk, a cigar in his mouth, and was told: "Let me tell you how it's gonna be."

"I haven't thought much of him since then," Schrenko said.

Perdue, a Houston County businessman who holds a degree in veterinary medicine, joined the Senate as a Democrat in 1991. He rose to the position of Senate president pro tem, but after switching parties in 1998, Democrats stripped Perdue of his power.

Byrne in January criticized Perdue for resigning his Senate seat, as Perdue's departure allowed the Democrats to widen their majority in the Senate. Michael Moore, a Democrat, beat Republican Jay Walker in a runoff for the District 18 Senate seat.

Primary elections will be Aug. 20, and the general election is on Nov. 5.

Copyright 2002 The Macon Telegraph

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