Martin best choice for Georgia

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In his almost six years in the U.S. Senate, Saxby Chambliss has built a reputation as a loyal defender of President Bush and his policies and as a champion of corporate interests.

The people of Georgia now have to decide whether that’s the senator they want for the next six years as well.

On his seats in the Senate intelligence and armed services committees, Chambliss strongly backed the president’s decision to invade and occupy Iraq and rejected charges that Bush misused intelligence to convince the country to follow his lead. On the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chambliss fought reforms of farm subsidies. In fact, in one of his rare disagreements with Bush, Chambliss fought the president’s efforts to limit government subsidies to the wealthiest of farmers. Unfortunately for taxpayers, Chambliss won that fight, ensuring that income limits for farm subsidies were so high as to be meaningless.

That attitude was most blatantly on display in a Senate committee hearing this summer into the deaths of 13 workers in an explosion at a Savannah sugar plant. A company whistleblower testified to the repeated warnings he had issued to top executives, including explicit written warnings that executives ignored. Rather than laud the whistleblower, as senators of both parties had done, Chambliss questioned his sincerity and integrity and tried to imply that the true villain had been the whistleblower, not his superiors.

To his credit, Chambliss has on occasion tried to slip the leash. He joined a bipartisan effort to craft a humane but effective approach to illegal immigration and more recently took part in a bipartisan Senate effort to find common ground on energy. He also did the responsible thing in voting for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, a step that angered some of his conservative supporters.

Chambliss is being challenged by Democrat Jim Martin, an attorney and former state legislator, and Libertarian Allen Buckley.

Martin, a University of Georgia graduate who volunteered to serve his country in Vietnam, has pitched his campaign at his opponent’s weak spot by focusing on protecting the middle class. He advocates lower taxes on the middle class, stronger consumer protection laws and an end to corporate welfare. He has also criticized Chambliss’ vote on the Wall Street rescue package, a position that frankly smacks of political opportunism.

However, Martin has a long record of public service in the state Legislature, where he earned respect from Democrats and Republicans alike for his intelligence and willingness to buck party leaders if necessary. He was appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes, a fellow Democrat, to head the Department of Human Resources, and was asked to remain in that post when Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue took office.

He is what he seems like, a smart guy who wants to help his fellow Georgians and doesn’t care who gets the credit.

Buckley, an accountant and tax attorney, doesn’t have the broad range of political experience demanded of a U.S. senator. However, he does offer fiscally conservative Georgians a viable third option. He is an intelligent, honest, and well-informed advocate of fiscal sanity — on both the spending and revenue sides — with a message of responsibility that both parties would do well to heed.

Overall, however, the best candidate is Martin. In what look to be six difficult years ahead, he would do well for the people of Georgia.

Jay Bookman, for the editorial board (jbookman@ajc.com).

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