SUMMERVILLE, Ga. -- Gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes told Chattooga County residents the state needed to focus on transportation and education so it could continue to compete with Charlotte and Tampa as well as Berlin and Beijing.
The former governor, a Democrat, hammered current leaders for "cheating the next generation" by cutting education.
"If we have to scrape the gold off the gold dome, you make sure that education comes first," Mr. Barnes told the group.
Mr. Barnes spoke as part of the Chattooga County Chamber of Commerce annual meeting Friday night. He singled out a 100 mph rail line from Chattanooga to Atlanta as well as improvements to technical colleges as keys to moving the state forward.
Georgia candidate for governor
* Nathan Deal, U.S. representative
* Karen Handel, ex-state secretary of state
* Eric Johnson, president pro tempore of the state Senate
* Ray McBerry, candidate in the 2006 Republican primary
* John Oxendine, state insurance commissioner
* Austin Scott, state representative
* Jeff Chapman, state senator
* Thurbert Baker, state attorney general
* Roy Barnes, former governor
* Carl Camon, Ray City mayor
* DuBose Porter, state House minority leader
* David Poythress, former commander of the Georgia National Guard, state secretary of state and state commissioner of Labor
* John Monds, president of the Grady County NAACP and first Libertarian candidate to receive more than 1 million votes
* Al Bartell
"Rail is part of it and it's not rickety old rail that's too slow," said the Democratic front runner.
Mr. Barnes said the state owned the Westen Atlantic rail line from Atlanta to Chattanooga and the lease was coming up in 2016. He said he would push to use that line as part of a network from Charlotte through Tennessee to Atlanta and eventually Macon and Athens.
Mr. Barnes began the evening by comparing the growth of Birmingham, Ala., to Atlanta. He said progressive leadership pushed the Peach State past its neighbor, but it could easily fall behind North Carolina as the leader of the new South. He mentioned the $500 million in federal funding North Carolina had gotten for rail travel and compared it to the $750,000 Georgia received.
"If you were a business leader ... would you come here right now?" the candidate asked.
Summerville attorney Bobby Lee Cook introduced Mr. Barnes, setting a somber tone for the candidate's speech.
"There is a serious crisis of competence in this state -- we are in big trouble," said Mr. Cook, who has known Mr. Barnes for 37 years. "It's the most important race for governor in my lifetime."
Mr. Barnes told the audience that much of that trouble can be solved by boosting schools and improving test scores. He said North Carolina schools have overtaken Georgia schools in test scores.
"Education is the No. 1 job creator," Mr. Barnes said.