It wasn’t that unusual when I got a call from a State Senator last week with whom I hadn’t spoken in a while. We caught up on a lot of things – the conversation drifted all over the place actually – but I do remember a few pointed comments about Fred Cooper and what he’s done for the Republican Party in Georgia. I partially remember because when I got another call a couple of days later from a different person who also steered the conversation to talk about Fred Cooper. Had I been paying closer attention, I probably would have connected the dots a bit quicker. Especially had I noted the missed calls from other Senators this weekend.
When I started getting calls yesterday about Fred Cooper, the subtly was gone, the news was being openly discussed, and the charge was direct. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle had altered a document from the Governor listing his appointments which needed to be ratified by the Senate. In doing so, the Senators and others under the Gold Dome feel that Casey Cagle has violated the decorum of his office, the rules of the Senate, and possibly Georgia Law.
The timeline of events the final week of the session, as well as the background between Mr. Cooper and Lt. Governor Cagle, are critical to understanding these charges. Cooper is truly one of the “old guard” in the Georgia Republican Party. There was a time when you didn’t run for a major Republican office in the state without visiting him, and generally then only after receiving his blessing. Yet 4 years ago, Cooper was a strong backer of Ralph Reed, and Cooper was an early supporter of Karen Handel when Cagle still believed his back was strong enough to run for statewide office. I’m told that Cagle has open resentment toward Mr. Cooper for this.
Cooper was appointed to the Board Of Regents by Governor Perdue last summer, and assumed the position immediately pending the Senate’s ratification. It is almost always a procedural matter where all Governor appointees are listed in one transmittal and voted on together. This year, however, the Senate “forgot” to do this until Sine Die.
Another quirk of this year was that due to the long session, there was open talk of a primary challenge to the Lt. Governor, with a press release set for Friday morning “on the steps between the House and the Senate”. Only Thursday morning – during Sine Die – did it become obvious that there would be no credible primary challenge to Cagle. And it was on that afternoon that the Governor’s appointees were voted on – except for one.
The Governor’s office claims that Cooper’s name was on the list that Floor Leader Bill Heath submitted to the Senate. By Senate Rule, the Lt. Governor is required to submit for action, which he sent to the Rules Committee. The Senate Rules Chairman doesn’t recall any debate, the committee made no motions for changes, and other Senators remind me that the Senate Rules committee operates under very different rules than the House anyway, whereas the Rules committee can’t change the text of legislation. They either approve to move to a floor vote or send back to committee of jurisdiction for changes.
Thus, the change in text had to have happened between the Governor’s transmittal and the receipt by the Rules Committee. During this time, it was in the sole possession of Lt. Governor Cagle and his staff. The final vote without Mr. Cooper’s name was held after it was clear that there would be no party challenge to the Lt. Governor.
That same afternoon, apparently unrelated to this incident, the Senate Republican Caucus decided to have elections to fill the positions vacated by Dan Moody, Mitch Seabaugh, and Judson Hill. Bill Cowsert ran for Caucus Chairman on the platform of restoring the powers to the Senate Leadership that they held until 2006 – i.e, the “neuter Mark Taylor” rules. I’m told Cowsert actually told the caucus he was on the “get power back from the Lt. Governor ticket”. Cowsert won over Senator Chip Peason, perhaps Cagle’s closest ally in the Senate. Pearson then decided to retire rather than seek re-election.
The animosity toward the Lt. Governor was already strong over the leadership he provided during the session. When asked, the Senators – a group known to close ranks quickly – now openly describe their operation as “dysfunctional”. They talk of bush league strong arm tactics, petty revenge like the Cooper debacle, and being yelled at by 20 something year old staffers as if the neophytes hired by Cagle were the elected ones. But their gripes move well beyond the petty, and at their heart, many center on the lack of direction and conviction exhibited in legislation. While Preston Smith is thus far the one who has been the most outspoken, others behind the scenes are still openly bitter about the deal that was cut to support a hospital bed tax, and are openly looking for ways to curb the power of the Lt. Governor to avoid a repeat performance.
Now, to add further insult to the reputation of the Senate, the Senators feel that Cagle has diliberately misled them into voting for a slate of Governor’s appoitments designed to purposely embarass a friend to Georgia Republicans but an enemy to the sitting Lt. Governor. In doing so, they feel he has embarassed the Senate far worse than anything designed to embarass the Governor or Mr. Cooper.
I am disappointed that none of these Senators decided to openly challenge the Lt. Governor by qualifying against him, but that opportunity has passed. I’ll be paying close attention if I start getting multiple calls from these guys to talk about Carol Porter, however. With the tone of this week’s calls, I fully expect I will.
After all, if they’re going to “take the power back from the Lt. Governor”, there’s no reason to help prop up the current one who is willing to damage the reputation of the Senate to settle petty political scores.