Sometimes, It’s nice to be wrong.
When Austin Scott entered the race for Governor of our fine state, I first ignored him. And when he insisted on being taken seriously as a candidate, I ridiculed him. He was a relatively unknown House member in a field of candidates that included a sitting Congressman, two statewide elected constitutional officers, and the former President Pro-tem of the Senate. I wrote him off as either someone that didn’t know what he was getting himself into, and/or someone on an ego trip.
Yet, he persevered. His work ethic has been demonstrably strong. He has an energized group of staff and volunteers that believe in him and his mission. His message is one that Georgia has a strong need to hear. And many, myself included, have started to pay attention. Serious attention.
It was late last fall when I had my first sit down with Rep. Scott. He requested a meeting during the week when the Republican caucus was trying to select their nominee to be the new Speaker. I assumed that he may be throwing his hat in that race, and decided I could meet him for 15 minutes to find out. Worst case scenario, I would have more insight into what was going on within the Republican House during a huge leadership vacuum. And then, I could get back to evaluating the serious candidates for Governor.
So on a crisp mid-December day when I was not wearing a coat, I sat outside a Buckhead Starbucks to talk to Austin Scott. And the fifteen minutes became an hour, and then another. And after more than two hours of frank, blunt, and open discussion, I had a much better insight into who Austin Scott was, but more importantly, had begun to develop what is now a strong appreciation for what Austin Scott represents.
Austin is a thoughtful man, who will talk about the major issues of the day to a level of minutia that a time-efficient candidate should not. He is a man who doesn’t speak in soundbites, and if elected, will not govern by them either. While he has many positions that are clear and strong, he also understands the complexity of issues that require the appreciation for shades of gray.
But there is one issue where gray is not an option, and his words are blunt and concise. Austin has been about ethics reform before it was cool/politically expedient to be. And it was on that cold December day I heard for the first time Austin say a now familiar refrain:
“I am running because I want to fundamentally change the way this state is governed.”
While young at the age of 40, Austin has spent more than one third of his life as a member of the House of Representatives. And on that day, he told me that what he observed in his days under “Republican” leadership sickened him for the constant sellout of conservative principles.
I’ve written before of this conversation without attribution to Rep Scott, but it was he who told me that many of those leaving the House and Senate were doing so because they were sick of seeing their efforts to move conservative legislation get hijacked at the last minute by a competing bill that was being pushed courtesy of a $25,000 campaign contribution bundle, or by an attractive female lobbyists with an exceptionally short skirt. And it was his goal, and in many ways, his duty, to see that the system was changed.
We’ve talked fairly regularly as the last five months have progressed. I have a new appreciation for someone that understands the budget to a level that would make my late accountant father proud. Austin is not a fan of many of the smoke & mirror solutions that have been proposed to fix the budget gap, and many times, have caught attempts to double count revenue or move expenses off budget.
And, as I watched him in debates, I’ve been quite impressed to see that he can tighten his answers to the required time limits, and land body blows that have sent many of his opponents with higher poll numbers back on their heels. He can handle himself against the big dogs.
But, Austin also honored his commitment to his constituents and did not resign his seat to campaign full time. And thus, while he has been able to generate positive earned media during the session, he has not raised money as is restricted by law. And thus, with relatively low name ID and a thin bank account, most experts still write him off, most polling firms are not including him in their surveys, and most pundits do not see a scenario where Austin becomes the Republican nominee for Governor. Regrettably, I share this skepticism.
However, rumors began circulating a few weeks ago that appear to have been fueled by one or more of the other gubernatorial campaigns that Scott may switch to the Lt. Governor race, and challenge incumbent Casey Cagle. As the Senate’s dysfunction became public over the last few weeks, more and more folks have privately and publicly encouraged Scott to switch races.
Challenging a statewide incumbent is an uphill, quixotic quest. Yet, so is running for Governor as a underfunded rural house member in a 7 person race.
A race against Cagle is a head to head proposition, and raises the profile of Scott overnight. And, it makes Scott’s message and mission – to fundamentally change the way the state of Georgia is governed – a direct referendum on the job performance – and personal conduct – of Lt. Governor Cagle.
In doing so, Scott can immediately pick up support, and much needed funds, from various groups who are already known to be frustrated by the leadership, or lack thereof, from the Senate. House members do not believe Cagle is an honest broker as a result of the hospital bed tax debacle. Preston Smith has made it clear how at least a few of the Senators feel, though I would expect most to quickly close ranks around their own.
There are groups outside the General Assembly who may be willing to jump in as well. Some Chamber and business interests have let it be known that they have been disappointed by the slow pace of transportation reform and funding, and may be willing to sit out or back a challenger. Social conservative groups, some who are still upset with a primary 4 years ago, some upset with a more fiscal emphasis on Senate priorities, may take a strong look at Austin as well.
I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’ve not been the biggest fan of our current Lt. Governor, and if the race remains as it is today, I intend to give strong consideration to Carol Porter.
But Austin Scott is someone I would actually like to vote for. And in the Lt. Governor’s race, I would proudly do just that.
I expect a decision on this race to be made over this weekend, with an announcement of Scott’s plans very early in the week if not before. Should he remain where he is, I’ll continue to pay attention and give him serious consideration. But I fear he is likely to remain my and many others “honorable mention” candidate.
I want Austin to fundamentally change the way this state is governed. But for him to do that, he has to win. And I believe he can win the Lt. Governor’s race. As such, I encourage him to change races so Georgia itself can be changed.
Should he chose to do so, he will have my vote, and my support.