Feb. 5, 2001: Harry Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

In case you haven’t noticed, Roy Barnes has the burners going full blast and hasn’t even broken a sweat. You are witnessing one of the most politically astute, bright, active, gutsy governors in our state’s history – and he isn’t even through his first term!

I make a lot of speeches around the state and for the past year, I have been telling audiences that the state flag was political dynamite – too hot to handle until after reapportionment. I predicted Governor Barnes would have a tough time getting the Legislature to change the current flag because of pressure the legislative leadership – many of whom are from middle and south Georgia – would feel from constituents opposed to the change. While I was pontificating, the Governor was quietly putting together his plans to change the flag. He blew it by the opponents – and me – so fast that nobody saw it coming. I can’t recall a more potentially divisive issue being managed with more political skill than Roy Barnes’ handling of the state flag. You may not agree with the decision but you have got to admire the precision with which he got it done.

Now, of course, the losers are vowing revenge at the polls, which is their right, but they are wasting their time. In truth, the only person who can beat Roy Barnes is Roy Barnes. Too many CEO’s surrounded themselves with people who are afraid to tell their leader the truth. When you have had as much success as Barnes has, it is easy to start believing in your invincibility. I trust his advisers like chief of staff, Bobby Kahn, won’t let that happen to their boss. Hopefully, they learned a lesson with their heavy-handed “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to education reform last year. In their effort to do the right thing, they angered a lot of hard-working teachers and, as a result, caught the flak they deserved.

The thing that impresses me most about Governor Barnes is his willingness to take on the complex and politically unattractive quality of life issues that our rapid expansion has brought us over the past two decades. While we can hyperventilate over what the new flag looks like – and it looks ugly as a pig to me – our future rides on more substantive issues, like getting our state’s transportation problems under control, cleaning up the air we breathe, spreading development around the state and insuring that we have enough water to support the current and anticipated growth in our state. There is no city or county in the state with the resources or political will to solve these problems individually. It is going to take the strong hand of Roy Barnes.

Barnes has that hand firmly on the political throttle. He managed to keep both urban black and rural white Democrats together and got the flag changed. He is helped immeasurably by a Republican leadership in the Legislature that can’t find their backside with both hands. Example: Republicans were told by their leaders to stay away from the flag issue and let the Democrats handle it themselves. They did. It was the political equivalent of asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

Georgia has been blessed with a string of able, honest governors going back to Ernest Vandiver. Prior to that, we had the powerful Talmadge political machine that dictated just about everything that happened in the state. Roy Barnes is a combination of both. He has been in politics for almost a quarter of a century with no questions of impropriety and has amassed more power in his three years in office than any governor since Gene Talmadge.

I hear people say that Barnes will have a tough reelection given the anger of pro-flag proponents and the residual resentment in the educational establishment. Forget it. Roy Barnes will easily win a second term. The large majority of Georgians like what they see in the Governor’s office — someone willing to take on tough issues and make things happen.

Chances are that Governor Barnes is going to experience a few bumps in the road in his second term, particularly if our economy falters and expansion slows. If that happens, his detractors will be on him like white on rice, hoping to even the score on a number of issues, including the state flag. They won’t have far to go to find him. He will be in the kitchen – enjoying the heat.