This week’s Courier Herald column:
The vast majority of airtime and newsprint dedicated to the 2014 election has been dedicated to the race for Governor and U.S. Senate. Ironically, these races that have received the most attention are also the most likely to go beyond next Tuesday and give us negative ads and direct mail into and possibly through the holidays. Yea us.
Looking a bit further down the ballot, however, may well give us a clue as to what the near future of Georgia elections will be like. Casey Cagle is the clear front runner for re-election to Lt. Governor. A recent 11Alive Survey USA poll showed Cagle 7 points ahead of challenger Connie Stokes – the strongest lead of any statewide candidate polled.
Cagle will become the de facto front-runner for the Georgia GOP nomination for Governor regardless how the current Governor’s race ends up. Governor Deal is of course term limited. In the event there is a Governor Carter, it will be Cagle along with House Speaker David Ralston that will be the face of Republican rule.
The future of David Ralston was largely decided by a May 20th primary. Not only did he win re-lection by the voters of his home district, but his team faced down primary challenges across the board. Cagle, however, currently runs statewide. And presumably, will be again in four years, though likely for a different position. As such, the tea leaves from this election will likely tell us a lot about the GOP agenda from the Senate will look in the immediate future – as well as a potential body of work to be presented in four years.
Cagle used the weekend GPTV/Atlanta Press Club debate to articulate a need to better match education with skills needed by employers. Specifically, he hopes to expand workforce development efforts among high schools and technical colleges to train workers for skills that Georgia employers currently have difficulty hiring employees.
Saying that “education drives the economy” Cagle noted that Georgia currently has 29 College & Career academies that blend high schools and technical colleges to provide skills matched to local employers. He went on to say graduates of these programs make twice the amount of money than with a regular diploma.
It remains a hallmark of GOP responses to education questions that goes beyond additional tax dollars. Republicans are willing to talk about specific changes and programs such as career academies and charter schools while their opposition seems content to say fully funded schools must come first. This despite the fact that no Governor has “fully funded” QBE since its inception, nor the fact that Governor Deal’s last budget puts education at the highest percentage of the state budget in 50 years.
Connie Stokes, meanwhile, seems to be representing the Democratic party of Georgia’s future. While most Democrats currently seem willing to allow Jason Carter to vote for a “guns everywhere” bill and Michelle Nunn to run commercials featuring George H. W. Bush, there is anticipation of a day when a Georgia Democrat no longer has to quickly plan a fishing trip when a Democratic president comes to visit. Stokes seems much closer aligned to the national party platform than those in the top ticket races.
Stokes favors traditional Democratic initiatives such as an increase in the minimum wage and Medicaid expansion. She also took issue with tax cuts used to lure businesses here to add jobs, saying there’s no accountability. She keeps the party line of “invest in education” without specifics offered in the debate beyond hiring more teachers. And of course, she wants full funding.
Where there is perhaps less philosophical disagreement is also an area where it appears there may be movement in the next General Assembly: Transportation. Cagle called it “a huge issue” noting the continued decline of the motor fuels tax. Telegraphing what will be heavily debated beginning in January, Cagle said “We have to look to alternative funding. … It does need to be big and it needs to be bold.”
And that, perhaps, may be a line that shows how the next four years could be the most different than the last four from a GOP controlled legislature. “Big” and “bold” have not often been used with expensive programs, much less revenue streams. And yet, there’s the reality that Georgia is a large and rapidly growing state which has underfunded transportation infrastructure for decades.
That growth will be part of the ongoing “changing demographics” story we’ll be hearing a lot between now and the 2018 election. “Big and bold” may not be a message tailored to the 2014 Georgia electorate. But it may be the first salvo in what will be needed to win statewide in 2018.