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Barnes: What might have been



Not counting when he's arguing in court, ex-Gov. Roy Barnes has kept a relatively low and, for him anyway, quiet profile since his loss to Gov. Sonny Perdue more than three years ago.

Lately, though, Barnes has started to speak out against the Perdue administration, especially when it comes to transportation and growth issues.

On Jan. 3, during a Georgia State University College of Law symposium on redevelopment, Barnes publicly shared for the first time specifics on what he would have done to ease traffic and expand MARTA -- if only he'd been re-elected.

Barnes began his speech to the crowd of roughly 200 planners, lawyers and law students by saying: "I want to talk just a little bit about what I see must be done and what I tried to start while I was governor -- before I was so rudely interrupted."

He then went on to slam the Republican-led General Assembly for failing to adequately plan for the region's growth. "I think that I've kept my mouth closed long enough," he said.

Of course, Barnes has the benefit of three years of hindsight to fine-tune his vision. There's no telling whether he would have reached the same revelations had he remained in office.

What's more, he didn't once mention in his impassioned speech his highly criticized decision to support the now defunct "second Perimeter" highway project, the Northern Arc.

Barnes' candor suggests he's not about to re-enter the political arena. The man himself even says he's not planning on seeking public office again.

Instead, Barnes is now in a position where he can speak as radically as he wants, without having to worry about upsetting potential voters.

For example, Barnes said that, if he'd been re-elected, he would have taken over MARTA, given it state funding, and run a rail line up into Cobb County. He even joked he'd rename MARTA "Rebel Rail" to appease the voters mad at him for changing the state flag.

These days, however, it might be a gamble for a gubernatorial candidate to vow on the campaign trail to give state funds to financially strapped MARTA. That's because focusing on intown Atlanta is frowned upon in just about every corner of the state -- except intown Atlanta.

Thus the speech, in the end, was vintage Barnes: down-home oration tailor-made for his audience, in this case smart growth junkies and mass transit fans.

"If he'd given more speeches like that while he was in office, he might not have lost," says Natalie Foster, the Appalachian region representative for the Sierra Club. "I was impressed."

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