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.