Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Barnes Picks a Diverse Team Governor's Appointments Include Minorities Who Rose through Ranks

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Barnes Picks a Diverse Team Governor's Appointments Include Minorities Who Rose through Ranks

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- In some ways, Marjorie Harris Young looked like dozens of bureaucrats before her as she was sworn in at the Capitol last week to head Georgia's massive personnel agency.

But the company she kept was special.

The state's leading black politicians proudly stood by to watch the 25-year state employee receive the oath of office and Gov. Roy Barnes take another step toward keeping his campaign promise to diversify state government.

In the past few months, he has appointed an Asian bank president to the state industry board, a Hispanic consultant to head the juvenile justice system and a black former health care executive to run the $2.2 billion-a-year human resources agency.

He has been careful to balance task forces and governing bodies with minority executives, educators and politicians, and he's expected to follow the same course on judicial appointments.

It's good politics for Barnes, who courted black support during last year's campaign like no other white gubernatorial candidate and was rewarded with heavy minority backing at the polls.

But his job has been made easier by the fact that minority Georgians have been rising through the public and privatesector ranks for years and, like Young, have been poised for such leadership roles.

"We have a good base of experience, and the governor is drawing on that," said Eugene Walker, a former state juvenile justice director who was recently appointed to help make up the first black majority on the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles.

"Roy is committed to the doctrine of fairness, and I think he will make sure state government is reflective of our society," remarked Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, the state's first black Senate majority leader. He is no relation to Eugene Walker.

"His first priority will be to get qualified individuals, and I support that," Charles Walker said. "Then, after making sure everyone is equally qualified, then I think he will make a concerted effort to make sure all segments of our society are included.

"To do that is good for our economy, good for our state. He can do that without discriminating against any segment of our population."

Black lawmakers and activists have complained about employment and contracting practices for years, at the same time minority voters have shown devout loyalty to the Democrats who run the state.

Still, there have been a growing number of "firsts" in state government during the past decade, from the first black Georgia Supreme Court justice, Robert Benham, appointed by Gov. Joe Frank Harris in 1989, to the first black attorney general, Thurbert Baker, chosen by Gov. Zell Miller in 1997.

Benham and Baker went on to win statewide elections to retain their posts. So did black Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, whom Miller appointed to run Georgia's welfare department during the mid-1990s. …

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