Ga. Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine is currently the frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
By John Fredericks / Staff
Several recent polls show Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine as the current frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next July.
Q: You have been elected to the office of Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner four times since 1994. Prior to running for governor, you had earned a reputation as a staunch consumer advocate. Do you think anyone believes your acceptance of insurance company PAC campaign donations is based on a quid pro quo for favorable treatment from you?
OXENDINE: The only people in Georgia who believe that sit on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial board.
Q: As governor, what would you do differently that is not being done now?
OXENDINE: We have an obligation to show the voters of Georgia what a real Republican governor is capable of accomplishing with a majority in the house and senate. There needs to be more of a focus on the big picture. We have many of the same problems today that we had decades ago. sat down for a candid interview with the commissioner to gain insight into his specific positions on various issues facing the state. The following are key excerpts from that interview.
I believe the governor should be the leader and drive the agenda, then allow the legislature to represent their local constituents accordingly and make their own decisions. But the governor needs to sit down with the leadership of both parties within the House and the Senate and say, this is where I think we need to go. Let's get away from: it's the house's agenda, it's the senate's agenda, or it's the governor's agenda. Instead, make it nobody's agenda. If the house and senate want to take credit for thinking up the idea, let them do it, I could care less. But let's sit down and work out the approach of how to get there, which is not happening. It's the results that count.
Q: You were a small businessman. Will that experience influence the tone of an Oxendine administration?
OXENDINE: People always come in and say, I'm going to run government like a business. Fine, dandy, it sounds good, it's a nice quote for the newspaper but it doesn't work. What you have to do is take private sector ideas and use a business approach in applying them to government, which is what I have done. I used to be a small business owner. I understand how business works. But you have to understand how government works if you want to fix it. One thing I really want to do as Georgia governor is change the culture of the executive branch to be more pro-active in tackling our major problems.
Q: What are your top priorities?
OXENDINE: Job creation, transportation, education and water. Businesses do not want to come to a state where they may face problems with poor transportation, a sub-par education system, and have to deal with water shortages. They are all tied together.
Transportation is a bigger problem today than it ever was, but it's not new. Education: every governor in the last 30 years has promised to fix education. We still lag near the bottom of the nation. Our water shortage is getting worse. The governor said he was going to build reservoirs [and hasn't]. The drought is going to come back again and it's going to be worse and worse each time. These are all directly related to job creation.
Q: Why do you think these problems remain unsolved?
OXENDINE: The real problem may very well be the politicians themselves. Often they take office and immediately it's all about them, it's about them getting credit, about their self-edification, about promoting their own political career. The big problems can't be fixed in a couple of years. Our problems in this state may take 10, 12, 15 year solutions. So the politician says why should I focus on fixing a problem when it won't bear fruit until after I am out of office and some other governor gets to take credit for it? So they put a band-aid on it, they put window dressing on it. It looks good in a press release and they say, hey, vote for me because I have done this thing, trust me I'll really fix it. But by the time people figure out the problem didn't get fixed, they are already re-elected to their second term and it doesn't matter and it ultimately never gets effectively addressed.
Q: So how would you be different?
OXENDINE: I realize I won't be governor when the problems actually are solved. The new governor gets to come in and take credit for my work. I want to put the things in motion to permanently solve the problems plaguing this state and I realize that the governor after me will probably receive all the credit for my work. I am okay with that. That is the way a statesman should act. It doesn't matter who takes credit as long as the job gets done. The politician wants to take credit; the statesman does not care who takes credit. The statesman wants the result.
Q: Can you draw distinctions between yourself and Gov. Perdue?
OXENDINE: If I had been governor I would have already been building freeways, I would not have waited until seven years into my administration to start saying transportation is an issue. We are seven years into a Perdue administration and roads are not getting built. The GDOT board can be governed better, [but] I am not sure the new transportation governance bill that was passed is the panacea. We need to focus on getting roads built; on securing the money and funding we need and then worry about how the GDOT board works. To me, all this insistence on changing the governance of GDOT before we can come up with a funding mechanism to start actually building roads is like cub scouts at a camp site arguing over the best way to stack the wood in the corner before they build a fire. They argue and argue and then realize that everybody forgot to bring matches. We have been arguing over how to govern GDOT, yet we don't have the matches. We need to focus on building roads and paying for the roads. Instead, everybody is [obsessed] with the inner workings of the government bureaucracy.
ECONOMY, TAX POLICY AND JOBS
Q: The state is mired in a historic recession, with unemployment now topping nine percent. What is your plan for economic growth in Georgia?
OXENDINE: Our tax code doesn't need to be changed, tweaked or modified. It needs to be completely torn up by its roots and rewritten in a way that will be fair to both businesses and taxpayers. We need a modern tax code that will promote and provide incentives for people and companies to come to the state. All of those things will bring jobs. You create jobs by making the state attractive to outside firms and by inspiring and [incubating] new local entrepreneurs. That's something I have done. When I became insurance commissioner, the biggest insurer was the state. Worker's compensation is now readily available, it is cheaper and the benefits are better than when I took office. Homeowner's insurance is now cheaper and more available then when I took office and automobile insurance is now cheaper and more available then when I took office. We focused on creating an environment where we could get more insurance companies to come to Georgia, and more small companies to launch their new business here. We made it more competitive and we made it cheaper for the consumer. It's the same thing with jobs, if you want to increase jobs, you have to make businesses want to come to your state to provide those jobs and develop an economic climate that encourages new companies to [emerge] and create those jobs.
Q: When Governor Purdue vetoed the jobs bill, you called it a travesty. Of all the candidates, you had the strongest comments on his veto. What are some of the other specific tax changes that as governor you would pursue?
OXENDINE: I would abolish the state income tax. Florida doesn't have one, Texas doesn't have one, and liberal Washington State doesn't have one. If we got rid of the state income tax, think of how many senior citizens that want warm land that is hot and humid and flat, would come to South Georgia instead of Florida? If we get rid of the income tax, we get lower taxes, cheaper insurance, cheaper land; we can start developing South Georgia and make it a great place for retirees. I am also an advocate of the fair tax. If you want to promote the fair tax nationally then the states should set an example. How do we tell the federal government to get rid of their income tax, when our state is not leading by example?
Q: Georgia is facing a mammoth budget crisis due to falling revenues. How do you balance the budget without a state income tax?
OXENDINE: I don't want to just abolish the income tax; I want to completely rewrite the tax code. Yes, the state has to have revenue to operate; I am saying we rewrite a new, modern 21st century tax code from scratch. That new tax code should not include an income tax.
Q: What is your specific transportation plan?
OXENDINE: First of all, everything intersects in Atlanta, not a good idea; Atlanta is not ancient Rome where all roads have to come through Rome. We have got to figure out how to move both people and goods and services around Atlanta- north to south, east to west-without going through Atlanta.
Atlanta's transportation problem is not just a regional problem, its not just metro Atlanta problem. It's a state problem.
We need two new highways. The first runs north south from Chattanooga through Dalton, bypassing Atlanta to the west and intersecting with I-16 in Macon to Savannah. The second runs east west from Augusta to Columbus, again bypassing Atlanta and intersecting with I-16 in Macon.
Q: How would you pay for these highways?
OXENDINE: I would put tollbooths on both roads, and I am not going to make a stupid promise like the one that was made with Ga. 400, to take the tollbooth down when the road was paid for. With 400, we need to take the tollbooth down, because that was promised and I believe in keeping your word. However, that was a stupid promise; I would never make such a promise. I will put tollbooths up on the new thoroughfares and I will leave them there permanently and keep collecting the money even after they are paid off. Then I would use the surplus money to build more roads. There is always going to be a road that needs to be built somewhere in Georgia. Let the free market decide who wants to pay a toll and who doesn't. Some do not mind a toll to save time in traffic. For those who don't they can use the current highway system in place. So it's freedom of choice and market-based. That is an example of using business principles to solve government challenges.
Q: Would you use P3's (public-private-partnerships)?
OXENDINE: I believe in tolls, I think these new freeways need to be toll roads. Whether or not it's a P3, which is where a private company builds it and charges a toll and after a period of time either all the money reverts to the state or a portion reverts to the state. The other alternative is for the state to float bonds and pay for the roads and then keep all of the toll money. You have to look at it case by case.
Q: What is your plan to improve education?
OXENDINE: Teachers currently are forced to spend too much time on bureaucracy filling out forms and reports -and less time on teaching. I want to further empower local school districts. The state tends to micromanage school boards. We need to go to a school board superintendent and say, this is what we want you to accomplish and this is the time period, and we are going to hold you accountable. We are going to let you figure out how to do it because the way to do it in Fulton County may not be the way to do it in Chatham County. You can't just turn them loose Clayton County is proof of that, so you have to hold them responsible. Let them succeed or fail on their own.
Q: What about water?
OXENDINE: First we need to preserve the resources we have and be more [judicious] with our usage. But we need to build reservoirs. The bottom line is the state of Georgia is growing and we have failed the people of this state by not preparing for the growth. Perdue has stood on the shores of Lake Lanier and said our water crisis has nothing to do with the huge growth in Atlanta and north Georgia. That is false, anybody can see the reason we have the problems is due to growth and development. God has given us rain, he has given us the ability to dig a hole and capture the water and we just have to do it. We have to do something for ourselves [and end the blame game].
Q: How would you define your gubernatorial candidacy?
OXENDINE: I am the true conservative in this race. Most of the other candidates are much more status quo. You can look at where they are getting their support either the state capital establishment or the Washington establishment is supporting most of my opponents. My support comes from grassroots Republicans. I want change. I want things done differently. I want results.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Ga. Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine is currently the frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.