Republicans have had a lot to smile about lately, and look for Cheshire grins to be on display in Athens as the epicenter of Georgia government to be in Athens today and tomorrow. The biennial meeting, hosted by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute, is a meeting held for all legislators and other interested members of GA Government, represents the first time for the newly expanded Republican majorities to meet en masse.
Moving beyond the obvious successes of a statewide constitutional sweep and the resulting parade of party switchers, however, there is still a bit of friction that must be addressed in-house. The Senate leadership and the Lt. Governor are still at war with each other, and bits of this fissure continue to show themselves publicly.
A story was floated again last week, this time landing in the AJC, regarding government affairs work Majority Leader Chip Rogers has done for a “plant based diet” advocacy group. While the work was not done to influence the Georgia legislature, nor when the legislature was in session, someone has been working hard to make sure you know that Chip Rogers has worked for a group that breaks neither state law nor (almost nonexistent) ethics rules, or worse, that he may be a vegetarian.
I say working hard because the first time this story was sent to Peach Pundit’s tip line, it was Good Friday afternoon. The tip had so many extraneous links and exposed html codes that I originally didn’t read it, until a local Atlanta political reporter texted me asking if I had gotten the “amazing” picture of Chip Rogers and Dennis Kucinich. (Kucinich’s wife has also worked PR for the same group).
After I went back and looked, there were a lot of links, a lot of pictures, but no real “news”. I would estimate that half the legislature has some corporate/government affairs tie that allows them to work “part time” while serving the legislature. There are many who walk up to and cross a line that use their position to steer contracts or other business to their employers, or the prime contractor to which they are a sub. So I called the reporter and had the next level conversation with him: Why would someone want to drop a story with no other reason than to embarrass the Majority Leader on Good Friday? Peach Pundit decided to pass on the story, as did he. GALiberal, now Georgia Politico, ran with it.
The unique thing about the timing of that tip, however, was that it was the day after Rogers had a very public meeting with Austin Scott, then candidate for Governor who was openly considering a run for Lt. Governor. Other charges of leaking information, specifically the shopping of Scott’s divorce record, are attributed to Lt. Governor Cagle because of that meeting.
While there is no evidence that Cagle participated or knew of these leaks, there is also now a pattern. The next time it appeared in our tip line was a couple of days before the Senate caucus meeting in Macon, when Lt. Governor Cagle finally acknowledged that the move to limit his powers was a real possibility. The third coincided with the Gang of 6 meeting at the 191 Club, the first meeting on the Senate’s power sharing Committee on Assignments, which did not include the Lt. Governor’s appointees.
The timing of these tips relative to the threats to Cagle’s power represent amazing coincidences, and most politicos don’t believe in coincidence. Someone with ties to Cagle appears to want to take the battle against Rogers and perhaps the rest of the Senate Leadership public.
Privately, however, things are not faring much better. Though the directive upon forming the Committee On Assignments was to have the Senate Leadership to immediately meet with the Lt. Governor, five weeks passed before Tommie Williams dropped in on the Lt. Governor last Monday, unannounced. Given the strain between the two that must be addressed, the timing is weak and the lack an appointment is tacky and denotes a lack of respect.
Given that even the likes of Doug McKillip is now claiming to be a conservative, this dysfunction within the Senate is not likely to cause an immediate threat to the permanent majority that Republicans hold. However, one should also be reminded of the story of a freshman legislator who called the other party “the enemy”. A senior legislator grabbed him and shouted, “The other party is the opposition, the enemy is across the hall in the other chamber.”
One year ago, the House was in total disarray. The Speaker and Speaker Pro tem were mired in ethical questions and unable to continue in leadership. The majority leader followed them out the door. A new speaker held the reigns gently in order to hold things together. He did a good job, and the House is now strong again.
The Senate, now, continues to fight among themselves, and the fight continues to bubble up in Public. This is not good for the Senate, for the party, and most importantly, for the people of Georgia. While the term “power sharing” was floated to save face, it is clear at this point that little has yet been saved. Republicans need to close the doors at their caucus meeting later today and settle some of these issues. Georgia needs their attention on the very real problems we face, not on trying to even the score of the inside baseball game.