Senate and Cagle Fail To Lead; Are Failing Georgia

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Day 37 of the 2011 meeting of Georgia’s General Assembly didn’t go according to the script.  The major event of the day was planned to be the final negotiations between the House and Senate on a (less than) comprehensive tax reform plan, then to pass it through the House so the Senate could begin the process needed to get a final passage before Day 40.  By mid-afternoon, no one was talking about taxes. Instead, Senators were locked into an hours long caucus meeting considering reversing their pre-session coup on Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.

The Senate began the year with a coup against Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.  Despite being re-elected by a wide margin and with the public support of the Senate caucus, Cagle received the “Mark Taylor” treatment, stripping him of most powers in what ended up an awkward “power sharing” agreement. 

Cagle, retaining upward political ambition despite this setback and his aborted attempt to run for Governor, was left with little to do during this session, save for waiting for his opportunity to regain his authority.  Senators, however, began the session not only with much to do, but with the realization that they were not only sharing power with the Lieutenant Governor, but with each other.  The results have been less than elegant.

Central to the new power sharing arrangement was a “Committee On Assignments”, to which the stripped powers of Cagle were transferred.  Cagle was allowed but two appointments to this committee, and his appointees were not invited to the first meeting.  But the other members of the committee have found their own personal ambitions and/or distrust of fellow Senators and their motivations too much for efficient daily operations.  They have spent more time making sure their peers do not attain more power than themselves than they have coalescing the body into a cohesive unit.

The Georgia Senate has always been somewhat of a decentralized body, but one with an identified leader who was empowered to negotiate with the House (and frankly, lobbyists that control much of the operations at the Capitol) and speak on the Senate’s behalf.  No more.

House members have been openly grousing about their inability to cut deals with the Senate on legislation, and yesterday, even Speaker David Ralston went on record saying it was time for the Senate to end the experiment of committee management in the Senate, but stopped short of recommending Cagle have his power returned, or if all remaining powers should be centralized within a central figure within the Senate.

To most Georgians, this is just political “inside baseball”, and most will be more concerned with Jason Hayward’s leadoff home run during real baseball’s opening day.  But the cost is real, and must be understood. 

The legislature has been trying to negotiate a tax package to reform Georgia’s tax system from one that matched Georgia’s economy in the 1950’s to one for current economic realities.  Yet when this deal should have been receiving the full focus of leadership, they instead were playing internal games for either personal political advancement or even worse, juvenile and petty political payback.

Republicans swept all statewide constitutional offices in November’s elections and have near super-majorities in both the House and Senate.  It has been almost a decade since Democrats in this state have had any real power.  Republicans now own the state’s problems, and have a responsibility to fix them.  Failure to do so will leave no one to blame but themselves.

Georgians are worried about unemployment greater than 10%.  They continue to live with schools that are among the worst in the nation.  Mobility ceases to exist within parts of the state for hours a day as transportation infrastructure has failed to match Georgia’s growth.  And 37 days into the 40 days the Senate has to address these issues, they can’t even decide who runs their body, much less what their agenda is.

The Senate has been a failure in 2011. There is no positive spin to put on this fact.  Instead of spending this week at the Masters Golf tournament, Senate “Leaders” – Cagle, Williams, Rogers, Shafer – need to go find a room, and air it out.

They have three days left to work for the people of Georgia this session.  They need not spend one hour of that time jockeying for their own position.  Georgia deserves better.  Much better.

13 comments

  1. Calypso says:

    I’m going to plagarize myself from a recent post in another article as I think it is probably more appropos here:

    Republicans control the Governor’s Mansion. Republicans super-control the Senate. Republicans super-control the House.

    Since Democrats are hard to find anywhere, Republicans must feel compelled to turn on one another. Eating their own. I guess politics, by nature, requires one group to be in opposition to another. Since there is no longer any ‘Us v. Them’ to deal with, the Republicans have made it ‘Us v. Us’.

    Reminds me of the 2000′s when Republicans had the White House and both Houses of Congress. They couldn’t get a damn thing accomplished.

    I’m sure the handful of Democrats left in state government are getting a chuckle out of the Republican cannibalism, friendly-fire and ‘fragging’ going on now, except when they remember that they too are residents of this state. Then the story turns more somber. For all of us.

  2. debbie0040 says:

    If Casey Cagle had been in charge of the Senate, the intitial tax reform bill would have sailed to passage in the Senate and the GOP would have been responsible for raising the taxes of the middle class. Not having one person in charge in the Senate slowed down this bad legislation. No one should be allowed to create their own kingdom in the Senate or House for that matter.

    Things ain’t perfect now, but it sure is much better than the way it was.

    • Three Jack says:

      no matter the outcome of tax reform in this session, the gop should be held accountable for attempting to wreak havoc with the tax system. tax this, exempt that, might be revenue neutral, we don’t really know yet…that is what almost happened. how is that any different from the typical dem approach to taxation?

      you’re right debbie…ga was saved from it’s inept legislators by their collective ineptness.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        General Assembly “leadership” is poisoning the well, first perhaps on transportation, and now on tax reform, and they ought to be held accountable.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      “If Casey Cagle had been in charge of the Senate, the intitial tax reform bill would have sailed to passage in the Senate….”

      Cagle was in charge of the Senate in 2008 when T-SPLOST was breezing through the Senate. Oops Cagle’s “leadership” resulted in delay to enact a referendum to a problem identified year earlier, and that won’t be submitted to voters until the end of 2012, and without a Plan B. That’s what’s called an outhouse breeze.

      • Mama_grizzly says:

        Cagle sure breezed the fees bill/hospital bed tax through didn’t he? Went as far as threatening to take parking spots from Senators that did not support it. Cagle ran the State Senate like Atilla the Hun…

        I have seen reports of the Lt. Governor making a deal with Democrats in order to take back power and some GOP Senators went along with it. There are also the Lt. governor’s threats he made about the port in Savannah. Some Senators want the Senate to go back to the same business as usual that is was when Cagle ran it and are willing to make deals with Democrats in order to accomplish that. Really disappointing..

  3. Quaker says:

    I remember years ago Jim Wooten regularly bemoaned the evils of single party government and expressed longing for a true two-party system in Georgia. I haven’t heard those sentiments from him in a while. His guys are in charge so his outlook has changed. But the current situation proves that he was right then.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Wooten likewise used to never passed up an opportunity to slam transit and Macon-Atlanta intercity rail. He hasn’t written a word slamming Atlanta-Chattanooga high speed rail, though he countinues to slam commuter rail now and then.

      Atlanta-Chattanooga high speed rail would be intercity rail service to nowhere. Republicans are advocating for what will be a multi-billion dollar commuter rail system to serving Cobb and Bartow Counties. Quite hypocricial after the rejection of a half-billion dollars to establish service to Macon (where the benefit would be wholly Georgia’s) because it was deemed to expensive.

  4. Bert Loftman says:

    If Charley is implying the “comprehensive tax reform” is a good thing, I believe he is mistaken. It is billed as making things flatter but it does not do this. A comprehensive flat income tax of 5 percent is derived by dividing:
    Total GA Government Revenues = $16 billion (figures from http://www.wolframalpha.com)
    by Total Georgia Personal income = $319 billion.
    Any tax break to a group will increase this 5 percent flat tax rate for everyone else.

    Current legislations for Total tax reform bills it as a flat tax but it is 127 pages that picks winners and losers. The winners are the successful lobbyists. and the losers are everyone else. Please keep this in mind during the elections of 2012.

  5. Charlie,

    I agree the petty, personal politics hurt the people of this state. As I’m sure you know, the Lt. Governor has stepped all in that and now he wonders why it stinks everywhere he goes.

    My prediction is that Casey Cagle will never win another statewide office as long as he is primaried. And I hope he is primaried forever.

    Will Cagle attempt to cut a deal with Dems to regain his power through redistricting? Just as surely as his people were attempting to peddle dirt on a GOP Congressional candidate long after it was certain that candidate was not a threat to Cagle’s seat.

  6. gcp says:

    Eliminate the unnecessary, wasteful officer of lieutenant-governor and let the senate elect their own president.

  7. Dave Bearse says:

    Senate leadership failure may actually be a good thing for the GOP. The current tax legislation, and the last minute behind closed doors process by which it was developed from Tax Council recommendations, is bad for Georgia, and can’t be fixed within a couple of days.

  8. B Balz says:

    I do not disagree with any of these viewpoints, not one, and I think that is a first among threads.

    “Stewed prunes” – May not taste all that good, but they effect a dynamic outcome.

    Perhaps we could all go in for a case and send them to:

    240 State Capitol
    Atlanta, GA 30334

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