Naming highway after Perdue would put Ga. tradition on road to renewal

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In the final weeks of the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers are expected to reconnect to a long-standing tradition: renaming highways after former governors.

The Senate has passed and the House will consider a resolution honoring Sonny Perdue, the first Republican governor in Georgia since Reconstruction.

The resolution is sponsored by Houston County state Sen. Larry Walker III, son of longtime former House Majority Leader Larry Walker, who worked with Perdue when they were both part of the legislative leadership and was appointed by the governor to the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents.

The younger Walker's Senate Resolution 892 would name I-75 in Houston County the Governor Sonny Perdue Highway.

The Sonny Perdue Highway would run past the state fairgrounds, which Perdue helped spruce up, and past the exit for his $14 million Go Fish Georgia Education Center, which lawmakers called a "boondoggle" and The New York Times described as "a symbol of waste."

If it is approved, drivers heading south from Atlanta to the state fairgrounds would take the Sonny Perdue Highway to the Larry Walker Parkway, named after the elder Walker.

Georgia politicians have a long history of renaming roads in honor of politicians, alive and dead.

Most governors have, in the past, had parkways, highways, bridges and roads named after them. There's Savannah's Talmadge Memorial Bridge, named after Eugene Talmadge, who served as governor from 1933 to 1937 and again from 1941 to 1943. George Busbee, Joe Frank Harris and Zell Miller, three two-term governors who served from 1975 to 1999, all have parkways named after them.

The governor between Miller and Perdue, Cobb County's Roy Barnes, had the misfortune of being transitional — the last Democratic governor before the Republican takeover of state government.

Barnes’ chief of staff, Bobby Kahn, said his former boss never wanted a road named after him.

“Very insistent about that,” Kahn said. “(He) figures Cobb has enough named roads.”

Considering that Barnes was in the minority party after his defeat, even if he’d gotten a parkway, the General Assembly might have tried to undo the designation.

Republicans tried that in 2007, when they went after the James E. "Billy" McKinney Highway and the Cynthia McKinney Parkway. Billy McKinney was a longtime Democratic state lawmaker, and his daughter Cynthia was both a liberal firebrand state lawmaker and a congresswoman who was the bane of conservatives.

In 1991, more than two-thirds of the Democratic-led state House walked out of the chamber in protest when she spoke against the U.S. attack on Iraq and declared that then-President George H.W. Bush “ought to be ashamed of himself.” More than a decade later, McKinney called for the impeachment of Bush’s son for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Republican sought to switch the Cynthia McKinney Parkway back to its original name, Memorial Drive, partly to honor victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And part of the Bill McKinney Highway would be shared with a longtime Republican Cobb County commissioner.

Neither re-designation passed the General Assembly that year.

State Sen. Joey Brush, a Republican from Columbia County, tried for years to get lawmakers to limit the naming of state roads, buildings and bridges after politicians. In 2002, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the state had spent at least $1.25 million over the previous three years dedicating 197 roads and bridges.

About 500 facilities were named after various public officials and famous Georgians before Brush finally succeeded in 2003 in getting legislation through the General Assembly prohibiting the naming of property owned by the state after elected officials unless they were dead or out of office for at least five years.

The bill was signed into law by Perdue, who left office a little more than five years ago.