PUBLIC OFFICIALS of the YEAR

Sonny Perdue 2010 HONOREE

Governor, State of Georgia

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, 2010 Public Official of the Year

Read more of the extended Q&A with Sonny Perdue.

The journey to Georgia's statehouse began reluctantly. "I wasn't one of those 16-year-olds who shook the hand of a president and was inspired to run for office from then on," says Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. "I was certainly tuned into current events, but I had absolutely no early interest in politics."

But if public service wasn't exactly a calling, the 63-year-old governor certainly got the hang of it quickly. Term-limited out this January, Perdue has developed a reputation for taking a state bureaucracy and working hard to make it leaner, smarter and more citizen focused, while keeping the state on sound fiscal footing.

"I think my experience in overall management of a small business -- where you do everything from sales, to operations, to accounting, to personnel, to finance, to strategy, to cleaning the bathrooms -- really helped shape what I wanted to do," Perdue says.

Two things in particular helped the governor get a handle on fiscal and administrative operations, thinks Rogers Wade, chairman of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Perdue created the Commission for a New Georgia, which Wade says didn't produce fat reports, but rather "made recommendations for fixing things as they found things to fix."

Since the commission was bipartisan and stacked with diverse interests from business, government and nongovernmental organizations, it was given heft and credibility. At the same time, Perdue added a chief operating officer and chief financial officer to the state's organizational chart, allowing him to get a better handle on overall state operations.

It's an approach to government that allowed Perdue to keep the state's fiscal house in order in the midst of the worst financial crisis to hit the nation -- and Georgia -- in generations. "At the end of the day," Wade says, "I think Sonny's legacy is that he's created a better managed state, and therefore, one that's going to be easier to manage in the future."

— Jonathan Walters
Photo by David Kidd