Charlie Harper: Time for something different

January 28, 2014 

My public writing began as somewhat of an accident. Almost eight years ago I made a wisecrack on a political blog under an assumed name in the middle of the night. Three and a half years ago I was named editor of that website, PeachPundit.com. Shortly after I began writing a daily political column which lasted for three sessions of the General Assembly and a few campaigns before I curtailed that to a weekly format.

As a student of economics, I can never forget that time is a fixed commodity. Opportunity cost is real. My date of birth tells me I can no longer pretend I am not middle aged. None of us knows what time we have left.

What began as a hobby and turned into an avocation now consumes the vast majority of my waking hours. It's often rewarding, sometimes frustrating, and frequently amusing. Every day is different. But every day is also more time. And at the end of the day, passing on opinions without setting in motion a plan of action is a use of time. Scarce, precious time.

This time is an investment that cannot be refunded. As such, there needs to be a return on the investment. It's time to strive for more than offering opinion. It's time to get some results.

In short, with the help of some trusted friends and acquaintances, I will now be the president and executive director of an advocacy group known as PolicyBEST. My goal is to narrow my concentration to subjects where we need more focus and frankly, more governing. In the areas of business growth, education, science medicine and technology, and transportation we have too often let the debate get distracted by either shrill dissent or complete misdirection.

All politics is local, and PolicyBEST will have a Georgia focus and flavor. While I've been spending a bit more time than usual in Washington lately, the one thing I've found most interesting is that the political climate here locally affects decisions there as much if not more so than Washington's decisions affect us. As such, our focus will be not only on the decisions that are made here, but which topics are receiving an insufficient part of the political discussion there.

The education debate has become sidetracked by the issue of Common Core, of which so much misinformation has been disseminated that it will be difficult to get a productive conversation back on track. Lost in that discussion is that too many of our students continue to graduate unprepared for the job market of the 21st century, and too many more still fail to graduate. It's time we took a deep breath and figure out what would get Georgia's students best prepared for the future they want to have and for the workforce that we need.

Georgia has amazing assets in the scientific and medical communities that should be better utilized in our economic development assets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coupled with the research being done in institutions such as Emory, Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, and Georgia Regents University provide more research output than the "Research Triangle" of North Carolina. Georgia needs an honest effort to harness these synergies, while adopting policies at a public level that promote, rather than hinder, this research community.

In addition, we have a crisis of health care delivery in rural Georgia. Doctors will not relocate to an area where they will be compensated below cost on the vast majority of patients, and there is a thinning safety net of rural hospitals to shoulder the burden.

As for transportation, it is time to refocus. Georgia is growing again after a brief break. Traffic congestion in our metro areas is destined to get worse, not better. While some regions of the state passed a T-SPLOST referendum two years ago, other more congested areas including the Atlanta region soundly rejected the proposal. This does not mean voters did not believe that there isn't a problem or that the problem is gone away. It means there needs to be a direct conversation about how to move forward. PolicyBEST will launch with this discussion as its first focus topic.

What we will also do is demonstrate that PolicyBEST will not be yet another ideological ivory tower academic exercise or hyper-partisan campaign machine. We will instead do something that might not always have been as obvious in my writing: We will start from a point of forming consensus.

At the end of the day, rigid opinions are fine. But to change things in government we must first have some sense of common ground. That's the difference in being "right" and getting results.

If results matter, it can't be about personal opinions or healthy egos. It's about finding the right positions where enough people agree that an issue can be moved forward. Hopefully, that's where we're headed. I hope you engage, and hold me to it.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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