Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Fresh off elections where at least four Senators now face ethics complaints over an incumbent protection program, one incumbent lost despite the “protection” with another fighting for survival in a runoff, and two others barely survived challenges by a couple hundred votes, outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams is quietly informing GOP Senators who has been tapped to continue this record of success.
Senator Williams invited several new and returning Senators to meet the new Senate Republican Leadership team at the Capitol on Friday. It appears he is using the “assumed close” sales method as no vote has even been called for leadership elections. It is not even known at this point if Bill Heath or Bill Carruth will win the runoff for the Senate seat West of Atlanta later this month. It also remains to be seen if Hunter Hill will join the caucus should he defeat Doug Stoner in a general election battle this November.
Regardless, those currently in power are wasting no time in trying to wrap up the caucus’ newest members to support their leadership slate.
Their proposed slate – reportedly handpicked by Williams on the grounds of no marital infidelity, no lobbyists, and no “leakers” – has current Caucus Chairman Bill Cowsert of Athens as the presumed President Pro Tem. Cowsert ran for his current position with the platform of taking Senate power “back” from the Lieutenant Governor, so this slate seems assured to keep the dysfunctional rivalry between the Senate and Lt. Governor going for another couple of years.
Chip Rogers remains on the proposed slate as Majority Leader, apparently earning an exemption from Williams’ “no lobbyists” criteria. Rogers has previously worked with the PETA affiliated Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates “plant based diets” while serving as Senator.
Continuing the slate is Charlie Bethel as Majority Whip. Cecil Staton who currently holds the post discovered Friday he was not on the leadership’s slate, despite his intention to run for the post again. Staton barely survived re-election last Tuesday, and faces an ethics complaint for his involvement in the Senate Republican Trust’s use of funds transferred to an “independent” political committee. Staton is believed to have only received one mail piece from the proceeds, whereas Rogers – who won his race convincingly and is also facing an ethics complaint – is believed to have received seven.
Others tentatively pushed for the remaining leadership positions include Caucus Chairman Lindsey Tippins, Caucus Vice Chairman Barry Loudermilk, and Caucus Secretary William Ligon.
There are still others believed to be running for the President Pro Tem position, and possible other leadership posts. Ross Tolleson is a close ally of Lt. Governor Cagle, and is believed to be the candidate leading a coalition that would return most if not all of the Lt. Governor’s powers over the Senate.
Other candidates said to be seeking “peace” between the caucus and the Lt. Governor are David Shafer and Ronnie Chance. Both Senators are generally close to each other, and it is presumed as this unfolds one is likely to remain a candidate for President Pro Tem and the other for Majority Leader unless a greater compromise within the caucus is first formed.
Left open at this time is who will select Committee assignments and chairman, which leaves open the question of whether Don Balfour will continue as Chairman of the Rules Committee – a position with arguably more power than any of the others listed. Balfour continues with ethics charges before the Senate regarding improperly claiming reimbursements for false expenses, as well as failing to maintain an audit committee as a sub-committee of his Rules committee which Georgia law requires.
The current leadership team not only turned a blind eye to Balfour’s problems since first discovered in 2010, but continued to claim throughout the 2012 session that they were powerless to do anything about it, despite the fact that the Committee On Assignments which appointed Balfour was the creation of the caucus, led by Williams and Rogers.
It is clear from Friday’s meeting that despite Tuesday’s election results that demonstrated distrust in the status quo, the Senate prefers to maintain it as much as possible. Georgians should loudly tell their individual Senators that the status quo is not acceptable. Significant leadership changes are required, rather than current leadership anointing whom they believe will best preserve their legacy.
The next generation of Senate leadership needs to originate from the caucus, not from this failed team.