Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Wednesday was Sam Olens night at the Republican National Convention. While the headliner was Paul Ryan and the show was stolen by Condi Rice, Georgia’s Attorney General was featured in a prime time speech just after the 2008 nominee Senator John McCain.
Truthfully, the speech itself will not be the subject of many headlines. Olens was teamed with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi for a heavily scripted back and forth on the Constitutionality of Health Care Reform as well as a general theme of executive power overreach. Olens was able to get in a line questioning the administration’s lack of transparency over the Fast and Furious gun running program and apparent coverup, pleasing those who still call for more attention to the issue.
Olens presence in and of itself is a significant one. He was the only Georgian given a prime time speaking slot, one that was preserved when the lineup was truncated to three days.
The speakers lineup itself was reflective much more of the Republican Party’s new leadership network than homages to the past. With former Secretary State Rice as a notable exception, most of the speakers that connected with the audience were those who are more the Republican Party of the future than those whose days are behind them. Rice, with topics much more broad ranging than foreign policy, hit chords with the party’s base that indicated that she too has elective potential in the future should she choose.
Olens was the only statewide elected official to back Mitt Romney for Georgia’s Super Tuesday primary. Most of the state’s establishment was in (or back in) the Gingrich fold last March, with another sizable contingent backing Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. As such, Olens has secured not only his speaking position, but a spot in Romney’s circle of trust. This is potentially a large advantage for him if there is a President Romney for several Reasons.
Olens is likely the “go-to guy” for early interactions with a Romney administration. Those wanting to be placed on a list for potential political appointments know that his voice will be louder than many other Georgians when counsel is sought on potential candidates. Thus, being a Friend of Sam is now essential for those with eyes toward political transition in Washington.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that Olens himself would be short listed for an appointment from a Romney administration. The bigger question is whether or not that is where any future political career ambition lies for the first term attorney General. Most speculation on Olens future isn’t about him moving to Washington, however. Olens is also considered a top contender to eventually replace Governor Nathan Deal who would be term limited in 2018.
Olens is sitting in the catbird seat if this is his goal, as being able to curry favor from D.C. for the state would help him firmly establish and grow his Georgia political base during a Romney administration. The visibility afforded to him in such a roll would be mostly behind the scenes, yet clear to the political and fundraising network required to run an expensive campaign for the top of a ticket in a state with almost 10 million people.
Olens is still young in his political career. As such, it’s only clear that he has open doors and many options for his future. He will also have plenty of time to sit back and evaluate those options while he remains an effective Attorney General delivering results through his office’s actions.
The Romney victory in the primary alone has boosted Olens’ visibility and political stock, as evidenced by his Wednesday appearance. A Romney victory in November would increase the value of that stock significantly more.
There’s no rush to sell this stock either. Olens has a good future ahead of him in Georgia politics. The biggest question now is whether or not that also includes national politics too.