Senate Requires Wholesale Leadership Changes

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The takeaway from Tuesday’s elections is that trust in Government, specifically in the state government, must be restored before those who govern us will effectively be able to lead those of us who are governed.  Nowhere is this more true than the State Senate.

Dysfunction has been the modus operandi of the upper chamber for years.  Open power struggles, often fueled by little more than contests of ego, have trumped the process of developing sound public policy on too many occasions.

The last two years have been dominated by the power struggle between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and the Senate Republican caucus, who stripped him of most power over the body just after his very successful re-election.  While Cagle was equally responsible for the Senate’s inability to move big ticket legislation during the 2011 session, his decision to stand aside and let the Senators “lead” during the 2012 session was akin to giving them enough rope with which to hang themselves.  We now have a noose that is tied perfectly for all to see.  The question as always is how many will look.

Leadership took care of themselves quite well during the 2012 primary.  Don Balfour, set to be tried by the Senate for years of claiming false expense reports, received the approval of 63 percent of voters against two challengers.  Balfour’s arrogant statement that he’s been doing things his way for 20 years and keeps getting reelected holds true.  I guess it can no longer be called arrogant since he can back it up.

Senate Majority Leader Rogers also feathered his nest quite nicely, receiving 59% of the vote against challenger Brandon Beach.  All Rogers had to do to win re-election was disavow the T-SPLOST legislation that was a product of his Senate chamber in 2010, campaign against the project list that came from the unanimous vote of a committee of which he was a member but never attended a meeting, and then create an “independent” political committee, transfer the funds of the Senate Republican Trust along with instructions and his accomplishments, and then receive multiple direct mail pieces to benefit his campaign which would not have been legal without the “independence” part.  Nice work.

The farther from leadership positions a Senator was, the more difficulty they had with their primary challenges.  Banking Chairman Jack Murphy and Majority Whip Cecil Staton barely survived, with margins of 117 and 207 votes, respectively.  Both also received the extra “independent” mailings.  Both also return with ethics complaints filed against them, as did Rogers.

An additional recipient of mailers and the related ethics complaint is Senator Bill Heath.  Heath is now facing challenger Bill Carruth in a runoff election.  Senator Johnny Grant lost his bid for re-election, so there will be at least one, possibly two Republican senators who lost their seats in a primary.

While Rogers victory can be much more easily traced to turning his back on the major transportation initiative that was the product of his own body, the victories of Murphy and Staton, are more troubling because of the margin.  The Senate’s decision to launder money to an independent group that fails the test of being independent can easily be responsible for a couple hundred votes.  Trust is not maintained when powerful insiders are able to maintain power because rules are bent, broken, and ignored.

If there is hope for this very broken caucus, it is that more than half of the members  have been elected since 2010.  They have yet to receive the largess of the Balfours, nor have become addicted to power like those who are willing to circumvent rules to ensure their own re-election at the expense of the caucus, Senate, and the people of Georgia.

Senator Josh McKoon has already proven that those with little institutional experience can make a difference when they stand firm and articulate a clear point that resonates with the people, as he has done with ethics reform.  Others at his seniority level have a decision to make.  They may continue to follow along the path that the senior senators have taken, allowing themselves to be painted the same colors by a very broad brush.  Or, they can choose to reject the status quo of self-service first.

The caucus is now openly discussing future leadership, though formal votes will likely not be taken until November after the decision in contested races are known.  That provides little but sufficient time for the sophomore class to decide if they want to align with their constituents, or if they want to continue to condone the bad actions of those with leadership positions and seniority.

The Senate needs wholesale leadership changes.  The President Pro Tem position is already open.  The Majority Leader, Rules Chairman, and Banking Chairman need to be changed.  All have discredited the institution and the caucus.

This issue is no longer about Casey Cagle.  If the idealistic newer Senators wish to maintain their principles, they must assert themselves to instill trust in the body once again.  The class of 2010 must remove their training wheels.  They were elected to lead.  Now it is their time.

50 comments

  1. Mid Georgia Retiree says:

    Hopefully these young Senators will be strong enough to fight the status quo and bring order and honor back to the Capitol.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      If he lives in Don Balfour’s district I’d be all for it. Sadly, I think Balfour’s constituents must all be getting regular kickbacks from the Senator in order to re-elect such a blatant crook.

      • Calypso says:

        As an embarassed, ashamed, and pissed-off constituent of Balfour’s, I can assure you I have received no kickbacks from him. I am sure of this because I have yet to receive so much as a response to letters and emails I have sent him, let alone a kickback.

        Balfour is a pompous, arrogant and totally loathsome politician, AND WE HAVE RE-ELECTED THE SLIMEBALL FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS, as he so glibly brags in the media.

          • Calypso says:

            Balfour had two primary opponents this cycle and two last cycle. He also has 3/4 of a million dollars with which to blow smoke up our asses twice a week for a month before the primary.

            No Democrat will win a general election in this district.

            There’s a nice house in my neighborhood for sale. I’ll go put you name on it, Jackster.

                • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                  Yeah, I’ve seen Brookwood on that TV quiz show High-Q where their academic team beat the living daylights out of some unsuspecting private school as Brookwood really ran up the score on them.

                  • Calypso says:

                    Funny you mention that. My son was on that team, and on High-Q a number of times. They won it all his junior year.

                  • Stefan says:

                    That happened to us in high school – I can’t remember who delivered the beat down, but I think two of my team members were practicing civil disobedience and refused to answer any of the questions.

                    • Napoleon says:

                      My Chattahoochee High team was slaughtered by a private school. That was back in 1993. I did answer the first question correctly though…never said another word the rest of the show.

                    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                      Some of those teams on that show are really a sight to see, especially when they start answering questions before the host can even finish asking them.

                      I often just sit there watching with my mouth wide open in awe as one team runs up the score on another.

                    • Napoleon says:

                      I waited. I came from the era when you didn’t interrupt adults. Also Glenn Burns struck quite an opposing figure.

            • Dave Bearse says:

              “He also has 3/4 of a million dollars with which to blow smoke up our asses twice a week for a month before the primary.”

              Great way to characterize it!

        • Scott65 says:

          Honestly…as you are a resident of his district, are the other residents that ill informed? Do they see the (I) and just vote for him? Does he bring state money to the district? Why??? I just dont get it. What is your take on the other voters and what would it take to get them to vote him out?

          • Calypso says:

            In a nutshell, yes, many are ill-informed. The majority are apathetic. The rest of us want to run him out of town on a rail.

            Balfour has a boatload of money ($750,00+) he’s amassed over the past 20 years, rarely having to spend more than a minimum to win the primary (if any at all). It’s a heavy Republican district (surprise!) so he never has any competition in the general that he has to spend money on.

            No, he doesn’t bring state money into the district. He hides from the press and sneaks out the back of the Capitol when confronted about trips to Israel with a female lobbyist whom he falsely lists as a staffer. When hit with charges about misuse of public funds and lying about his expense reports he quips, “I’ve been doing it that way for 20 years and still get re-elected.”

            I don’t know who is the bigger ass, Balfour or the bulk of his constituency.

  2. ryanhawk says:

    I agree that the Senate needs new leadership, but I don’t quite get the “dysfunctional” Senate meme. Yes there is a certain level of dysfunction there that should be addressed, but on the issues that I care about (ethics, taxation, and education) the House needs some serious cleaning too. And from where I sit, the problems in the House are more difficult to solve than those in the Senate. Ralston doesn’t appear to be threatened at all despite obstruction of meaningful ethics, tax, and education reform in the House.

      • James Touchton says:

        Buckhead Conservative, How ballsy of you to sit behind a moniker and attack a good Senator and someone I worked for in the Senate and know on a personal level. If you had any proof, any shred of evidence to back up what you just said, you would not have to hide behind a screen name. This is one of the worst things about Peach Pundit; the ability to shred someone’s character behind a screen.

        • Blake says:

          The name does link to a facebook URL that reads in part “Clint Long” … so as nasty as the comment is, I’m not sure he’s completely anonymous. Unless it’s one of those fake facebook accounts that have been in the news lately.

            • Napoleon says:

              It’s still coming up for me.

              I agree Charlie. We need change at the wholsesale level. Politicians are MUCH cheaper to buy at wholesale then at retail. Of course, I really think this comes down to a supplier issue.

        • Spare me the “How dare you?!?!” nonsense. Every staffer under the gold dome thinks they’re working for their own personal Jeb Bartlett. I expressed an opinion and it doesn’t bother me a bit that you disagree. Josh McKoon was exceptionally dishonest in his opposition to Sunday sales, which should tell everyone all they need to know about the man. That’s just one example, but shouldn’t that be all one needs?

          Also, as covered below, my moniker links to my facebook profile. Not so anonymous. If my opinion pains you so that you feel you need to engage me personally, feel free to contact me there. I really just came here to read Charlie’s post, so I wont be following the action here in the comments section going forward.

          • JRM2016 says:

            I am not sure what was “exceptionally dishonest” about my opposition to Sunday sales. The proponents argued it would increase tax revenue because consumption would increase. I argued that the increased consumption would also mean the negative consequences of alcohol consumption would also increase such as fatal traffic accidents that are alcohol related. I am not looking to revisit that debate other than to refute the gentleman who I do not know who has seen fit to call me a liar in a public forum. Name calling is the last refuge of someone who has no facts to bring to a debate.

            Josh McKoon

            • Ya see, I always thought “the last refuge of someone who has no facts” was cliche tripe about “the last refuge of someone who has no facts.” You do realize that statement is patently false, yes? If someone lies, and I call them a liar, not only is that statement supported by the facts, but is itself a fact.

              Now, instead of directing your hallow, self-rightous drivel toward an internet commenter, shouldn’t you resume your fight against Georgia’s invisible menace: Sharia Law? That’s going to do more to get your name in the papers, which is the point, right?

            • Napoleon says:

              Buckhead Conservative: I can’t disagree with your post as I do not know what personal experiences you’ve had with Josh McKoon. I’m sure they couldn’t have been positive for you to post what you did.

              However, let me take a minute to defend someone I have considered a close friend long before he was in the Senate, heck, long before he was even chair of the Muscogee County GOP.

              Josh McKoon is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met. He takes the time to weigh out every issue and, when he finally makes a decision, he sticks with it. He might lean towards one side or another during the time he is looking at both sides, but that does not mean because he leaned one way and decided differently that he is a “liar.”

              Like any two friends, especially friends in politics, we have not always agreed. We’ve settled on different candidates, on different sides of issues, on different approaches to policy.

              I disagreed with Josh’s vote on Sunday Sales, but just because Josh has concerns about the arguements for does not mean he was wrong.

              I don’t know if your issue with Josh is just Sunday Sales or there was someother issue you have had with Josh, but the Sunday sales issue is over. Josh made a stand and took a vote and that vote failed. It would not have been the vote I would have taken, but we live in very different parts of the state with very different outlooks, even within the same party. Whether it was new information, respecting the wishes of the people he actually represents who do not live in Buckhead, or whatever the reason, Josh voted the way he voted. I would be more upset with him if he was the deciding “no” vote, but he wasn’t.

              Even on his latest issue, gift caps, I’ve talked with Josh privately that I do worry it’s about a lot of show and won’t do much to fix Georgia’s ethics issues. However, the devil is in the details and the one thing that does make me more confident about the bill is the fact that Josh is the one leading the efforts. I know he is not the type of person who will end up throwing up a spineless bill that makes it look like the legislature is doing something when it really isn’t. Of course, I expect it to be gutted in committee. That’s the faith I have in the rest of the legislature.

  3. jpmsouth says:

    Charlie missed a couple of key points, in my humble opinion.
    The first is the Georgia Constitution states specifically that a member of one branch of govt. can not serve in another branch of govt., AND specifically the Lt. Gov. is stated in the Constitution to be a member of the Executive Branch answering directly to the Governor. The only power in the Senate the Constitution bestows on the Lt. Gov. are the same powers the US Constitution gives to the US VP. Part of the 2011 Macon coup was to stop the Lt. Gov. from CONTINUING to have control within the Senate such as the power Cagle wielded setting committee assignments. So there is more to the power struggle than as presented as the Constitutionality issue is a dirty little secret the republican State leadership would prefer not to be noticed by the people.
    The other point was the choice of Beach vs. Rogers. Beach turned off a very large percentage of the Senate 21st voters with the mailings from the ficticious website ‘DontBetonChip’. Many people noted the mailers from Beach soliciting money and votes shared the same US postal permit number with the ‘DontbetonChip’ site…the lies and half truths turned a lot of us off. Beach’s ‘fiscal conservative’ statements did not jive with his past actions growing government at every level. One of his mailings even touted the much despised ’round abouts’ in Woodstock as a project he helped get funding for. Beach should not be construed as a palatable alternative to Sen. Rogers…Beach did not pass muster with the voters.
    One of the key strengths Sen. Rogers has always brought to the table in our District is a willingness to answer questions, no matter how tough the questions have been…I’ve been to a lot of town halls so I speak first hand. We have not been easy on the Senator – but he has always faced us. I wrote Beach 4 questions to understand his plan on his campaign promise to reduce govt. The ONLY response I received was a mailing asking for money. I even called 404 660-8268 on July 15th, and did not get a return call.
    To summarize and say all Sen. Rogers had to do was disavow TSPLOST is NOT accurate and neglects other REASONS why we rejected Beach. The outcome is far more complicated than presented.
    Lastly – TSPLOST came out HB 277. The project list went wrong not based on the legislation both Houses passed in a bi-partisan vote in 2010, but due to the wrong projects chosen for the wrong reasons by career politicians. Had the projects focused on the problems we would have passed it.

    • DeKalb Wonkette says:

      Willing to answer questions or read a script?

      If Will-the-Winner is retained as Majority Leader by his caucus it will serve as evidence that their contempt for voters and their own institution is complete.

      • jpmsouth says:

        Dear DeKalb Wonkette – In order to separate fact from fiction; in dozens of town halls over the years, I’ve never seen Chip Rogers read from a script. I’ve never heard any of his detractors that have talked with him ever accuse him of reading from a script. We may not always like his answers, and sometimes we do like his answers – but no one with knowledge on the subject can accuse him of reading a script.

    • BootChip says:

      If you think gambling was the only issue then you have your head buried in the sand like the rest of the Rogers Cronies. Let’s take the gambling off the table here as we all know he was more involved then he will ever admit. How do you explain walking away from 2.2 bank loan? How do you explain the two high school kids who sat in jail during the last election after they were directed by the Rogers campaign to steal the opponent’s signs? How do you begin to talk about the Incumbent Protection Program and the fact that not only did he direct a PAC on what to do he took monies away from other republicans? When his own church doesn’t recognize him before the election yet recognized Mr. Beach you know there are definite character issues. The voters in Cherokee either don’t read enough or don’t care to keep on electing a man like him! Brandon Beach carried Fulton County because the weren’t any or the Rogers’s cronies there and people studied the issues. Unfortunately that didn’t happen in Cherokee!

  4. gsujohn says:

    Charlie, the so called leadership does not care. In fact, I am of the belief that they hold the electorate in contempt. Problem is…most of the electorate does not care enough to keep track of what their representatives are doing. I do not want to come across as resigned to this fate, but having the likes of Balfour, Murphy and Rogers returned given what we know about them does not give one much hope for change. We did get rid of one of Chip Rogers allies with Charlice Byrd’s defeat and have high hopes for her replacement. Unfortunately, that place tends to change people.

  5. troutbum70 says:

    Just to answer a point of information on Buzz, he lives in Senator Unterman’s district. And Josh McKoon is a very down to earth guy, the type you wished all our representatives and senators could be.

  6. Cloverhurst says:

    Beach got 14,000 votes in 3 months running against the Majority Leader who got 7 extra pieces of mail by funneling money from the Senate Trust, leaving it broke and his colleagues pissed.

    I say its pretty impressive.

  7. wicker says:

    A problem right now is that Georgia is a one party state (whether Dem or GOP) and it is going to take a competitive situation to force the culture to change. But then again, there are competitive situations in other states and there is still plenty of corruption (i.e. Florida, Texas, Illinois, Utah, New York, New Jersey, Michigan).

    I know that we butted heads over this issue last night, but let me try again.

    1. People opposed the T-SPLOST even though that they knew that transportation was a legitimate – indeed serious – issue.
    2. People needed a reason for opposing the T-SPLOST even though that they knew that addressing transportation was necessary and there were a bunch of worthy ideas in this plan.
    3. Saying that they lacked trust in the state officials gave them a simple, responsible-sounding, noncontroversial reason for doing so.
    4. Listing this as a reason became more popular when the people leading the charge against it (Erick Erickson, TEA Party, NAACP, Sierra Club) used it as a talking point.
    5. This despite the untrusted people and the reasons for not trusting them were different. For example, a lot of the ITP folks didn’t have confidence in the elected officials precisely because they were conservative Republicans. And a lot of the OTP folks professed to not have confidence because these conservative Republicans worked with urban Democrats.

    Did the scandals help? Of course not. But get real: political and corruption scandals are routine in Georgia. The truth is that the reason why people lacked confidence in their elected officials because they didn’t like the list. Had they liked the project list, they would have had more confidence in their elected officials.

    Honest Abe Lincoln, good ole George Washington, General Douglas MacArthur (as well as Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant) and Ronald Reagan wouldn’t have been able to convince Cobb County and Gwinnett voters of the benefits of the Beltline and extending rail into their counties. A similar group of luminaries wouldn’t have been able to convince ITP voters of the merits of being double-taxed for mostly OTP projects: suburban highways and a lot of the transit projects that did exist were attempts to get suburbanites into the system, whether by expanding rail lines or express buses.

    A different list would have solved the problem? Maybe not. Eliminating the rail projects – like the suburbanites wanted – would have meant near universal ITP opposition, as well as opposition from the Democrats (who do exist in large numbers) in the suburbs. Add that to the anti-tax voters in general, and it still would have likely failed. It isn’t the economy. It isn’t the leaders and their scandals. It is a region that for ideological and other regions won’t cooperate unless they are forced to.

    The legislature should have forced that cooperation. Highways for the suburbanites because they are needed. Rail for the city because it is needed. And economic development for both because that is needed. And regional funding because the issue can’t be solved piecemeal and because no one county – or group of counties – has the financial resources to do it alone. Now Deal knows this, but he isn’t going to force the bickering sides to get along because he knows that there would be political repercussions in 2014. Perdue also knows it, which is why this thing was scheduled to go to the voters after he was safely out of office. But that is what it is going to take: someone willing to stand up and tell both the ITP and OTP folks what they don’t want to hear.

  8. Dave Bearse says:

    I respect this column because you’re a whole lot closer to these scoundrels than I am. And by closer I’m taking degrees of separation.

    And what’s scary is that Charlie couldn’t even make any mention of a other disreputable circumstances, running away from loans, running banks in the ground, Merkleson etc.

    • Charlie says:

      I have 700 words a day to write based on newspaper limitations. This one is 858. I pick and choose the best facts to make my point in the space that I have. There are many others, and I’ve been writing and we’ve been commenting about them for years.

      Tuesday was a tipping point. We (us Republicans) have to decide where we’re going to go from here, how we’re going to govern, and what we stand for.

      There’s a whole crop of folks who came to the Senate less than two years ago that had a good idea what they stood for when they were campaigning. They’ve now seen reality.

      It is their time to decide if they’re going to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Yes, that’s the point. 858 words and you don’t have the luxury of even inserting an explanatory phrase or two about important matters because of all the other ground that’s got to be covered.

        Good luck on the tipping point. I’m certainly no insider, and I’m a couple of degrees separation at minimum from any insiders, but I don’t see it happening.

        It’s pretty discouraging after nearly a decade that the talk is still “where we’re going to go from here, how we’re going to govern, and what we stand for.”

        No disrespect intended, but the GaGOP hasn’t yet demonstrated an ability to govern the state. There’s nary an issue were any leadership has been exercised (excepting HOPE scholarship maybe). Excuses like “it’s better than the Dems” (most recently trotted out in connection with redistricting) are plain lame when the GOP has every state office and 60% majorities in both houses.

  9. Scott65 says:

    We have so many problems in Georgia…and what will we get? Most certainly a couple of bills dealing with abortion, contraception, and most certainly a couple of gun laws (how about being able to carry concealed ak47s to your kids school play). Those things are the ones that infuriate me. As limited as their time is…every year they waste it on that BS instead of things they should be working on

  10. saltycracker says:

    Has the class of 2010 learned from the old guard to promote their side as winners or will they act in the best interest of all Georgians including those that elected them ?

  11. Groundpounder says:

    May the biggest Mudd Slinger win. That appears to be the only answer as issues that appear to be too challenging to take on, thus may develope into with one side blinding the other with mudd. It will be a circle the wagons and shoot at each other within the month. Both sides will position for trenches and once more into the breach.

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