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Lieutenants' war

Martin-Cagle race looks more competitive than the fight for governor

It's hard to tell Gov. Sonny Perdue and his Democratic challenger apart.

Perdue makes a show of getting tough on illegal immigrants. So does Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.

Taylor promises crackdowns on "sexual predators"; Perdue offers his own version.

While the top-of-the-ticket candidates channel Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum in their play for conservative votes, however, one spot down the ballot Georgians will find a clearer choice in the Nov. 7 election.

And unlike the governor's race, in which Taylor trails by double digits, the lieutenant governor's race appears to be closely contested. Independent polls are showing Jim Martin, the Democrat, only 6 to 10 points behind Republican Casey Cagle. That's less than half the margin that separated Perdue from Taylor.

"It's an open seat, so it doesn't have the power of incumbency," University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock says of the lieutenant governor's post. "No one looks at Martin or Cagle in the context of how they have performed in the office they are seeking. Not many people could tell you who they are, although Martin may be benefiting from the fact that his brother Joe ran two statewide races."

Cagle and Martin both are experienced, well-liked legislators, and both say job creation would be their top priority as lieutenant governor. But the way they'd create those jobs underscores their philosophical differences.

Cagle, a Gainesville banker who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and gained national fame by defeating Ralph Reed in the GOP primary, proposes to eliminate the corporate income tax. "If we [were] a state that had no corporate income tax, it would create a huge incentive for businesses to locate here in Georgia, and help existing businesses to continue to grow and expand," he says. (He admits the $500-million revenue hit would have to be phased in.)

Martin, an Atlanta attorney who served in the state House for 18 years and for three years as Georgia human resources commissioner, says he'd generate jobs by creating a state-run health-care plan for the 1.7 million Georgians who lack insurance.

"Basically the idea is that the state would provide the structure," Martin says. "It would be paid for mostly by employers and employees, who would have the benefit of a large pool of money to cover health-care costs. I think it would address health-care needs and create a renaissance of small business in Georgia."

A leading advocate for child-and-family services in the House, where he rose to Judiciary Committee chairman, Martin refuses to be characterized as a big-government "Atlanta liberal." Instead, he calls himself a "social progressive and fiscal conservative."

He points out that, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was forced to cut the Human Resources Department budget by $150 million. Despite their partisan differences, Perdue took the unusual step of keeping Martin on as commissioner a year into his term as governor.

Equally proud of his 12-year record in the Senate — where he says he never voted for a tax increase — Cagle likewise has an image to buck. His outspoken positions in favor of polluters earned him a place at the top of the Sierra Club's 2006 "Dirty Dozen" list of lawmakers. One of Cagle's bills that still galls Sierra Club lobbyist Neill Herring was legislation to allow developers to buy rights to build on natural stream buffers.

"The rights of downstream property owners [would have been] sacrificed to enhance the property value of upstream landowners — hardly a 'pro-property rights' position," Herring says. Although tempered from Cagle's original plan, the bill eventually passed.

While the environment hasn't been Martin's main focus, his record contrasts strongly with Cagle's. He's been endorsed by both the Sierra Club and the Georgia Conservation Voters.

Cagle's record — particularly his cozy ties to developers — might leave an opening for Martin to go on the attack. But Martin isn't known as a bare-knuckled campaigner, and it's unclear whether he'll have the money to hit Cagle hard in a TV ad campaign.

What Cagle and Martin do as candidates, however, may affect their fate less than how Perdue and Taylor do at the top of the ticket. "The reality of that race," former GOP state Sen. Chuck Clay says of Cagle-Martin, "is that it's hooked by a very short leash to the governor's race."



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