Today’s Courier Herald Column:
“It is better to remain quiet and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln
Casey Cagle has been quiet for a while. Perhaps he realizes he spoke up a bit too much after being stripped of his power soon after being re-elected by one of the widest margins of any statewide Republican. Perhaps he realizes that the year he spent publicly battling Senate Republican leadership didn’t help his image. Or perhaps, he realized by being quiet the focus of the dysfunction in the Senate would be directed to the Senate’s leadership.
Rather than publicly pick sides in most other Senate battles during 2012, Cagle has been the anti-Cagle from 2011. The combative Cagle that spent the first year trying to restore his power has spent the last year largely behind the scenes.
Cagle has remained largely quiet during the Senate ethics investigation and now GBI investigation into false expense reports submitted by Rules Chairman Don Balfour. After all, Balfour is not his problem. He no longer serves as Rules Chairman at the pleasure of the Lt. Governor, but by a Committee On Assignments installed by Senate leadership.
It appears that the year of relative silence has made Cagle look a bit smarter. This is, of course, a relative comparison to Senate leadership. Their year has been marked by blocking ethics reform, ignoring an obvious problem with their Rules Chairman, having a majority leader claim his pitches for a sports book operation weren’t him but a character he was playing that coincidentally had his same name, and attempting to appoint freshmen to a new leadership slate and asking senior senators to tell the freshmen what committees they would like to be considered for during the 2013 session.
And then, there’s the not inconsequential matter of the Senate Republican Trust. The trust is a PAC that raises money to help protect incumbent Senators outside their own campaign activities. Problem is, much of the money held in the trust was transferred to an “independent” expenditure group. The bigger problem is that the group was funded by donations raised by members who directly benefited from the group. The expenditures of the group were directed by Senate Leadership, as evidenced by an email sent to explain the group’s independence. The group’s existence and operation appears to be a violation of state law, and has resulted in multiple ethics complaints still pending against Senate recipients.
The Senate Republican caucus will meet Wednesday and Thursday at the Barnsley Gardens Resort in Adairsville. The event is a fundraiser to replenish the funds in the trust. Casey Cagle will not attend, but his year of silence appears to be over as well. Instead of fighting in the trenches of Senate legislative battles, however, Cagle returns this time occupying the moral high ground.
As reported by the AJC’s Jim Galloway, Cagle informed Senate Republicans via letter that the trust has been tainted, and that his attendance would “wrongly legitimize conduct and decisions which are wholly unacceptable.” Perhaps Cagle’s money quote, however is “We do not have to cheat to win in November.”
Senator Josh McKoon, also a member of the Republican caucus, a staunch supporter of ethics reform, and the lone member of the Senate Ethics Committee that continues to push for additional sanctions against Rules Chairman Balfour will also not attend.
Cagle’s statement that he will not attend does not mean his presence will be missed at the retreat. This is likely the last meeting of Senate Republicans before they will meet to vote on new leadership sometime after November’s elections. Cagle will likely not have a slate of his own to challenge the one hand picked by current President Pro Tem Tommie Williams of Lyons, but rather is likely to support a “compromise” or “peacemaking” slate, depending on who is characterizing the group.
The balance of power between the sides is likely found at the moment with the Senators who have been elected to the body since 2010. Those with two years or less seniority now comprise a majority of the caucus.
It will be an interesting couple of days in Adairsville, for those who are there and those who are not. While rumblings will likely make their way outside the north Georgia resort, it may be mid-November before we can tell who looks the smartest after the last two years of battle.