The potential fallout facing John Barge

For those of you who are unaware, yesterday Georgia state School Superintendent John Barge voiced opposition to a proposed amendment to Georgia’s constitution. Set to be voted on in November, it would place that powers of authorizing and funding charter schools statewide into the hands of the state.

SHOT: It’s backed by the bulk of Republican leadership. Namely: Governor Nathan Deal, House Speaker David Ralston and a range of lawmakers from across the committee spectrum.

CHASER: Barge is now the sole high level Republican pol on record opposing the amendment.

In other words, there will be political ramifications. Of what sort? I have damn near as much of an idea as you do and that’s why I’m going to speculate.

Let’s establish a bit about Barge here. I’ve previously praised his approach towards reforming, and adequately evaluating, Georgia’s public school system. I think he’s taken an innovative approach in more than a few areas while doing a good job putting oft-overplayed stereotypes about the quality of our education system to bed. As much as a state’s School Superintendent can do at least.

But I’m not writing this to address the policy question of charter schools, per say. I’m talking about the impact of this move on Barge’s political career.

With that, the first thing to note is that Barge is not necessarily what one would dub a “strong” statewide candidate. Put bluntly: his fundraising capacity, to date, has been no word remotely resembling strong.

Barge raised roughly $111,000 during the entirety of the 2010 campaign (his first bid for public office to my knowledge). In a weak field, both primary and general election-wise, that was fine and dandy. Last month’s disclosure (dated June 30th) had him sitting not-so pretty with a meager $31,000 cash on hand. No matter how you slice it, that’s not a strong number for a constitutional position with statewide reach in Georgia.

More than once I’ve heard Barge dubbed the “accidental superintendent”. Point being, bucking the bulk of your party’s leadership on an issue that is dear to Republicans, activist or not, is not the smartest course to chart when it comes to ensuring that your campaign coffers are flushed come re-election.

Of course, 2014 will, in all likelihood, not bring serious competition to statewide GOP’ers from Democrats. Thus, the issue Barge may now face is a serious primary challenger. Put up against a credible candidate with serious financial backing, something the one-termer has not faced before, then you could see serious trouble. Further, given the geography of support for the charter schools amendment, I wouldn’t expect suburban parents in metro-Atlanta to think too kindly towards re-electing someone who opposed this amendment.

However, Barge’s decision is likely to earn him support from local school board members, regardless of party. My gut instinct and personal conversations make me think this will come from particularly rural areas.

So, the question that remains is whether or not such increased support from local school board members would be enough to propel him over a well-funded primary challenger who falls more in lockstep with the base on an issue that was a critical component of last session’s agenda.

That question  is, of course, contingent on whether or not a primary challenger emerges. But hey, it’s never too early to speculate.

Either way, I can’t say it wasn’t a gutsy move by Barge.

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About Brandon

All opinions are my own.
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