For Different Reasons, Fewer People Want To Be A Senator This Week

December 7, 2012 13:00 pm

by Charlie · 20 comments

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Politics has a cruel way of demonstrating that just when you think you have everything figured out, the rules and situations change.  December is usually a time where public politics is relatively quiet.  There are behind the scenes preparations for legislative sessions that begin anew in January, but it is usually the time when the political class attempts somewhat of an armistice to allow for a bit of decompression from an election season and to recharge for battles that are about to begin anew.  Usually.

This week, two from Georgia’s legislature and a national political heavyweight from South Carolina decided they no longer wished to have the title of Senator.  These are, to say the least, unusual events. Each, as best we can tell, are for very different reasons.

On Thursday, State Senator John Bulloch of Ochlocknee in Southwest Georgia surprised most everyone with his departure.  In a body that has spent the last two years locked in an intense war with itself, Bulloch was seen as someone with the trust and respect of those within all sides of the various factions of the chamber.  He did have a lengthy recent hospital stay which may have made him rethink his priorities. 

Former Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers did the same earlier in the week, leaving the Senate to accept a position with Georgia Public Broadcasting.  This, it appears, was much more of a negotiated exit, with Governor Deal reportedly offering Rogers the position prior to Senate leadership elections last month.  Rogers ultimately withdrew his name from consideration for Majority Leader, ceding the position to Ronnie Chance of Tyrone.  Rogers’ role at GPB will be to promote Georgia’s economic development activities.

Rogers’ open seat in Cherokee County produced another resignation in its wake.  State Representative Sean Jerguson will be running for the Senate, requiring him to resign his seat in the House.  Georgia has a “resign to run” law mandating elected officials leave office if they qualify to run for another elected position that begins before the conclusion of the term for which they are currently elected.

The result of all of this, plus the earlier resignation of Senator Bill Hamrick, is that there will be an election on January 8th for three State Senate Seats and one state House seat – thus far.  There is talk that at least one House member may take a run at Bulloch’s seat, which would also necessitate another special election.  The Governor may call for a special election as soon as 30 days from a resignation, so there is still time to call for additional elections as needed provided the resignation is received today or tomorrow.

30 days is a quick turnaround to identify candidates, design a campaign plan, recruit volunteers and donors, and execute.  Add a degree of difficulty for the number of holidays that occur during this window.  The calendar will benefit those currently in office or who have recently run a campaign – as those who have been the first out of the gate to announce for these seats.

The race to replace Rogers thus far is between Rogers’ opponent from July, Brandon Beach, and Jerguson.  Scot Turner, who ran against Jerguson this summer, was the first out of the gate to announce for that seat.  Mike Keown, a former state Rep who narrowly lost to Sanford Bishop in 2010, is being promoted as a replacement for Bulloch, with supporters noting that he handily won the counties in Senate District 11 in that race.

This will be significant for Republicans, as the supermajority they believed was wrapped up last month must now be defended in January.  There is little concern that Republicans will win Rogers’ former seat, or the runoff also held on January 8th to replace Bill Hamrick who is now a Judge.  But Southwest Georgia remains fertile territory for Georgia Democrats.  Republicans must pick up all seats to maintain two thirds of the seats in Georgia’s Senate.

A word must also be added about the surprise resignation Thursday from South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.  At a time when Southern hard right conservatives are scrambling to find folks that would be like minded with DeMint to join forces with him in the Senate, DeMint has instead decided to join the Heritage Foundation, Washington’s most prestigious conservative think tank.

Champions of DeMint claim that this will make him and his brand of the conservative movement stronger.  Critics will note that it takes him out of the direct arena where decisions are made and moves him into the area of the theoretical – making it hard to extrapolate how that translates that hard line conservatives are interested in governing.

David Staples December 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Saw the confirmation on Facebook that Brian Laurens is running for the seat to replace Jerguson.

Three Jack December 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm

He needs a job, his only client just left the senate.

Tiberius December 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I know the word “qualified” has become a negative word in politics b/c it denotes being an insider and a member of the evil “establishment” but Brian is nowhere near qualified for this.

troutbum70 December 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm

You know it’s a shame to see comments like this. At least Brian is stepping up to the plate and decided to run in hopes of providing public service we can all be proud of. Can most of you say that that sit behind a screen name and take cheap shots? I know Brian from a professional standpoint and he’s always been above board. I would say he’s got or has had more skin in the game in terms of working with his local political party than a lot of you. He loves his wife dearly as well as his new daughter. My suggestion, cut him some slack.

TheEiger December 7, 2012 at 10:18 pm

You obviously do not know him that well. Some of us know him better than others. Let’s just say that I do not live in the district, but I will be donating to Scot Turner to help keep Laurens out of the State House.

Tiberius December 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Agreed. I have known the guy for a long time and he only knows campaigns. Legislating or leading beyond a door-to-door operation or a direct mail piece, he can not do. He simply is not ready.

Three Jack December 10, 2012 at 10:58 am

troutbum70,

I know Brian well and am quite sure he is not ready to run for public office. Give it a few years, become more mature and sure of himself, then maybe, but definitely not now.

David Staples December 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Just for arguments sake… what makes someone “qualified”? So what if he doesn’t become part of the leadership in the house? Let’s just assume he only has a vote. If he seeks advice from his constituents on the various bills that come before him and votes in favor of limited government, is being just a standard voting member of the House really all that difficult? (No offense meant to past, current, or future House members.) Members of the General Assembly have been elected from all walks of life and various backgrounds. Though it may require long hours, surely it can’t be that hard?

Tiberius December 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm

David, your argument reminds me of that famous quote during the Harrold Carswell nomination to the US Supreme Court. When a Senator called him “mediocre,” another Senator defended him by saying “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?” But I digress…

You ask me what qualifies for a legislative seat. One word: achievement. Achievement or accomplishment in a life outside of politics. Legislative leadership is tough; not everyone is set up for it. When you represent 40,000 people you have to be able to balance, to consider, to weigh and represent yourself in a thoughtful, deliberate manner. This can come from leading in a business, a large community organization or simply leading a group of men and women in a concerted, successful purpose. Laurens has not yet done this.

Legislating is not the same as “politiking.” We’ve all known good candidates who would make terrible elected officials and vice versa. Brian’s background is purely political. He has yet to view an issue or examine a question outside a campaign’s lens. He will have no experience with dealing with other Reps, of either party, who may disagree with him b/c he has no training or experience in dealing with an intelligent opposition who he can not demagogue or attack as in a campaign. What is he going to do, campaign from the House well or “politik” from the steps in front whatever reporters bother to show up?

I do not believe Brian has yet to learn there is more to civil service or representative democracy than the constant campaign.

David Staples December 12, 2012 at 9:02 am

That’s a reasonable explanation. I don’t live in that area so I don’t have a vote. I’ve talked to Brian a couple of times, but don’t know Scot at all. Whoever wins, I hope they’re going to focus on limited government and fiscal conservatism. :-)

novicegirl December 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Is it true that there are free Krispy Kremes and Varsity Hot Dogs (with extra chili, onions and cheese) available in the House Cloak Room?

Andre December 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I’m sorry, but that information is classified.

SallyForth December 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Only four weeks after being elected, these two dudes jump ship. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars? Who cares? Certainly not Rodgers and Bulloch, nor the others who have said buh-bye so cavalierly. No matter what their reasons, there is no way they didn’t have a clue before November 6th – but doing the statesman-like thing never seems to appeal to the R’s running Georgia these days. Spending our money like a bunch of drunken sailors is what they do best.

Charlie December 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Qualifying was back in April. Bulloch’s medical issues were in October. I’m not sure that, assuming health is (part of) the reason, you can say that he should have known, and by October, I’m not sure there was much he could have done about getting a new name on the ballot anyway.

Lawton Sack (GATA Eagles!) December 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm

We (GAGOP Executive Committee) added Micah Gravley’s name to the ballot on September 5 in place of Bill Hembree resigning to run for a Senate seat. I don’t know what the exact deadline was, but it was right around there for finalizing ballots due to early and absentee voting. After that the opponent would win by default.

SallyForth December 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Thanks for trying to shed some light, guys. I understand the election year calendar and the desire for a state party to be sure they have a candidate on the ballot – but I still maintain that is for the politicians (elected and unelected), not in the taxpayer’s best interest. A party should recognize that sometimes one of your own candidates throws you a curve ball and just suck it up. Sometimes the opponent wins. Don’t do fancy footwork to stick taxpayers with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Re Bulloch, if he had an unexpected catastrophic illness in October that rendered him now physically incapacitated to serve, he gets our condolences and a bye as a rare situation. But normally one has months of gradually escalating health problems, under which circumstance a conscientious public servant would have known to step aside in time before the general election. Not knowing the details, I’ll give him a pass. But not Rodgers and the rest of the people who’ve done this to us over the past year or two!

Harry December 9, 2012 at 10:09 am

Chip Rodgers didn’t get the offer until it was settled that he had been renominated/reelected. There’s no doubt he went for the money, damn the torpedoes. What I question is why the offer was extended immediately after the election and who was behind it.

The Last Democrat in Georgia December 10, 2012 at 3:45 am

Rogers likely didn’t get the offer until after the election so as to not run the risk of doing (anymore) severe damage to the Georgia GOP over the long run by disrupting the re-election campaign of a very-high profile, albeit dysfunctional, member of the Senate to a very important seat in the State Legislature.

Forcing Rogers out of the State Senate before his re-election would have caused a noticeable amount of upheaval, particularly amongst his base of supporters on the hard right of the party which includes many volatile Tea Partiers and rock-ribbed conservatives.

They did not want to run the risk of suppressing the turnout in a vote for a crucial State Senate seat in North Metro Atlanta by appearing to hastily pushout the unquestionably favorite candidate of those volatile Tea Partiers and rock-ribbed conservatives.

Even though State Senate District 21 is seemingly a pretty safe seat for the Georgia GOP, the party did not want to take even the slightest chance of not gaining a supermajority in the Legislature by alienating a base that was fiercely loyal to Rogers and pushing him out before his imminent re-election.

novicegirl December 10, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Be careful, there is a black helicopter hovering over your house.

Dave Bearse December 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm

“For Different Reasons, Fewer People Want To Be A Senator This Week” That’s gonns change when it’s realized that the Senate provides two paths to $100k full time state employment—reward for support, or payoff to go away.

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