Originally created 05/03/01

Barnes travels state for bill-signings



ATLANTA - Coming to an airport near you: the governor of Georgia.

Since the General Assembly adjourned in March, Gov. Roy Barnes has held 23 news conferences in nine cities across the state to talk about legislation and ceremonially re-sign bills he championed during the session.

Taxpayers footed a bill of $8,802.50 for his travels in state aircraft. That amount is less than the $15,168 cost of same-day travel for him and a single aide on commercial flights.

And airlines don't serve Macon, for example.

Though he has made similar tours every year since his election, Republican critics say he has geared this year's trips toward shoring up political support and preparing himself for his re-election campaign in 2002.

"It's obvious that the governor is facing criticism from so many different quarters; he is in campaign mode," said Charles Shiflett, spokesman for the Georgia Republican Party.

Mr. Shiflett says Mr. Barnes is trying to mend fences with supporters of the former state flag and farmers annoyed about his veto of a bill requiring a producer be included on the board for the Department of Natural Resources. Plus, Mr. Shiflett said, teachers are upset about his ending of tenure for new teachers and streamlining of the hiring of instructors who don't have education degrees.

But the governor's office says the trips are legitimate.

"These fly-arounds provide an important opportunity for the governor and members of the Legislature to talk to people around the state about what happened during the legislative session each year," said Joselyn Butler, Mr. Barnes' spokeswoman. "As a policy, the governor tries to fly around the state regularly. He is the governor of the whole state and not just its capital."

The trips were to ceremonially sign bills setting up a computer bank of domestic-violence court orders, funding $468 million in classroom construction, ending social promotion, speeding up rural highway expansion, and toughening restrictions against drunken driving and "road rage."

Mr. Barnes made four visits to Augusta in April alone, with his last trip April 24 to Tobacco Road Elementary School to sign the funding bill for classroom construction.

Independent observers say Mr. Barnes is doing his job to visit each corner of the state, though they concede such trips also help him politically.

"Are there other things going on when he travels around the state to have these bill-signings? Probably," said Stephen Alford, the executive director of Common Cause Georgia. "He always needs to be telling the people what he is doing, but at the same time it keeps his name before the people."

In his April 24 visit, aides for Mr. Barnes said his trips to the Garden City were not politically motivated by state Superintendent Linda Schrenko's decision to run for governor.

Even the man who has filed more ethics complaints against politicians than anyone in the state, Rome bookstore owner George Anderson, says he sees nothing wrong with taxpayers covering Mr. Barnes' bill-signing odyssey.

"If the governor is doing something that involves his office, then I'm fine with that," said Mr. Anderson, who is preparing for an upcoming ethics hearing on a complaint he filed against Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell over his travel expenses and speaking fees.

Ms. Butler said Mr. Barnes' security detail determines whether he drives to a nearby event or hops one of the state's planes, usually a six-seat King Air jet. Normally, he travels with a press aide, a bodyguard, and his wife, Marie.

Taxpayers pay only when the governor is on official business, Ms. Butler said. For example, campaign events such as a speech Friday night in Columbia are paid for through campaign donations.

Since the beginning of the year, Savannah is the city Mr. Barnes has visited most. He was there for four legislation-related news conferences and for a wedding; a speech to the Hibernian Society on St. Patrick's Day; and a meeting today of the board of the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

He's been to Macon six times, and three times each to Columbus and Washington - including two visits to the national capital this week.

Other cities around the state have merited fewer gubernatorial appearances, such as Athens, which he has visited twice, for a tennis tournament and the renaming of a building.

Barnes' trips

Since the beginning of the year, Gov. Roy Barnes' public schedule has included 62 appearances outside of Atlanta, including 23 news conferences about legislation he had signed. Some visits were for campaign fund-raising or personal trips, such as attending weddings.

City..............Appearances.....Press conferences

Savannah..............9.................4

Macon.................6.................4

Augusta...............5.................4

Columbus..............5.................3

Washington, D.C.......5.................0

Dalton................4.................3

Albany/Leesburg.......3.................3

Norcross..............3.................1

Athens................2.................0

Marietta..............2.................0

Stone Mountain........1.................1

Cities visited only once and where no press conference was held include: Adairsville, Americus, Bainbridge, Cartersville, Decatur, Duluth, Forsyth, Glenville, Hapeville, Mableton, Milledgeville, St. Simons Island, Thomasville, Toccoa, Warm Springs, Waynesboro, and Columbia, S.C.

Source: Governor's Office

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.