ATLANTA - Eric Johnson spent most of his career as a political bomb-thrower. A Democrat-skewering, politically incorrect, tax-hating bomb-thrower.
But Georgians saw another side of Johnson in early 2003, when the Senate Republican leader announced he would back new Gov. Sonny Perdue's plan to raise cigarette taxes.
The state was in a recession, and Perdue had called for a tax hike that was immediately opposed by many Republicans. Johnson's support helped keep the increase - and Perdue's first budget - from going down the tubes in the GOP's first year in power since Reconstruction.
"It would have been easy to say, 'we're not going to do it,' and leave a brand-new governor in the middle of a recession hanging out there all by himself," said Johnson, a Savannah Republican who resigned from the Senate last year. "That's not leadership," he said. After a decade of being the Statehouse's most quotable member of the opposition, the outsider became an insider responsible for setting - and defending - the leadership's agenda.
And now he's seeking to make that transformation complete by becoming governor.
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