Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge started his Tuesday morning with visits to schools in Fayette and Clayton counties.
He ended the day just outside Smyrna City Hall as an officially announced candidate for governor.
“We must make education a priority,” Barge said. “Education must be perceived as an investment and not as a line item on our budget.”
About a dozen supporters, including some who have known the schools chief since he was an ambitious middle-schooler, looked on as Barge said he wanted to use public education as the fulcrum to pivot the state toward economic success. Barge also took a shot or three at Gov. Nathan Deal, the fellow Republican Barge wants to unseat in what is expected to be an intense intraparty battle.
And Barge’s shots won’t go unanswered.
“In tough budget times, Gov. Deal has reduced the size of government but increased education spending in all three budgets he’s submitted,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. “He’s prioritized education, even as he’s cut everywhere else. Gov. Deal can proudly run on his record and on his vision — and he’ll do it with specifics that were noticeably lacking in today’s announcement.”
There were no campaign signs heralding Barge’s candidacy, no band. The candidate’s wife and daughter, a high school senior, weren’t there, either, having pledged to participate in a school fundraiser instead. Barge was born in Smyrna, and his mother, who lives in the area, was there for her son’s event.
Barge’s announcement, which he had strongly hinted at for weeks, illustrated what a Barge adviser said the campaign will be like: low frills, grass-roots, direct.
Deal has already amassed more than $1 million for his re-election run. Barge has not raised any money yet, but an adviser said the superintendent has firm pledges of $100,000 and commitments from supporters to raise another $900,000 to get the campaign going. All told, the campaign expects to raise $3 million to $4 million, far less than the incumbent governor is likely to pull in.
Barge discussed his career as a teacher and principal in arguing that public education has taken an unfair beating in Georgia both verbally and financially in the past few years.
He offered up few policy specifics beyond the realm of education. And Barge’s kickoff did include one notable goof: His campaign website told viewers he is running for “govenor,” a misspelling sure to draw chuckles, given that Barge is pinning his candidacy on his long track record in and his ardent support of public education. The mistake was corrected.
Barge said he will run a broad-based campaign, but he singled out educators as a group from which he can depend on support.
Officially nonpartisan, teachers groups have praised Barge and were particularly pleased with his opposition to the charter schools amendment voters approved last year.
C.B. Stratham, a retired middle school teacher who taught Barge, said her former student will get the support he seeks.
“We’re just thrilled that he is taking this step,” she said. “People that know the man and know his background and his successes will vote for him. I think he will have very strong teacher support.”
Current job: Georgia superintendent of schools
Family: married (Loraine), one daughter
Education: bachelor’s, Berry College (1988); master’s, University of West Georgia (1994); specialist’s, University of West Georgia (1997); Ed.D., University of Georgia (2004)
Political experience: three years as Georgia schools superintendent