Preston Smith out as judiciary chair, Seabaugh gives up Whip over hospital vote

When the Georgia Senate passed the so-called “sick tax” earlier this month who knew that the Republican Party would be left battered and bruised?

On Monday Sen. Preston Smith of Rome took the Senate well and confirmed what everyone else has been whispering for days – that he has been ousted from his powerful position as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Smith, the youngest member of the Senate, made no secret why he lost his position.

It was punishment, he said, for voting against the controversial HB 307, which would impose a hospital tax to help fill a $600 million gap in Medicaid funding.

Despite the fact the Republicans are spinning the bill as a tax cut, Smith said it is obviously a tax increase. He took the well to speak on another bill, but delivered a calm, yet blistering, attack on his party and its leaders.

“In retribution for my refusal to go along with the lieutenant governor and the rest of the Senate Republicans and vote for a tax increase, my role as chairman was stripped away from me by the lieutenant governor, majority leader, president pro tem and senate republican leadership,” Smith said to a hushed Senate. “I take the well today with a heavy heart – not because of a loss of any position –  but rather because of what is happening in state government and its larger implication for the legacy of our Republican party and the posterity of our state.”

The conservative Smith said he promised his constituents that he would never raise taxes.

“I wanted to be a different kind of senator – one who spoke his mind and meant what he said. I made that commitment. But the commitment was to my constituents, not to some outside group,” Smith said. “I gave my word – my bond – that I would not come down to Atlanta and raise taxes…perhaps you should take your chairmanship and give it to a puppet who will feel indebted to you and surrender his constituents’ voice. I don’t need your position to have respect. And I don’t need your title to have honor.”

Smith and two other Republicans, Mitch Seabaugh (R-Sharpsburg) and Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), voted against the bill that could raise $170 million based on a 1.45 percent tax on patient revenue.

Two other Republicans, Jack Hill (R- Reidsville) and Judson Hill (R-Marietta) were excused from the vote. The bill passed 31-15, but on the day it passed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle twice stopped proceedings to gather votes.

But Smith said it was more than that.

“He ordered the majority leader and president pro tem to go get the votes and to tell the members that their chairmanships were at stake,” Smith said. “[Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams] used to tell me that he would never ask me to vote against my conscience or my district. But at the meeting, Williams spontaneously called for a motion for a ‘caucus position’ on the bill.”

At that point, Cagle struck his gavel and ordered Smith to, “speak the truth.”

Smith went on to explain that if two-thirds of the caucus voted to support it, all the members of the caucus had to vote for it.

“There was no discussion. There was not opportunity for dissent. He did not even ask for the members who were voting no,” Smith said. “Like a scene from ‘Lord of the Flies,’ we marched back in to the Senate to follow the order.”

Although the Republicans carried the bill, the bloodshed over it was swift and brutal. Seabaugh resigned majority whip. Hill would not comment on whether he had been stripped of his chairmanship of the Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.

So Smith was left to do most of the talking, and he attacked the leadership block of Cagle, Williams and Chip Rogers, whom he said “used to be a champion of taxpayers.”

“He used to brag that he had never voted for a tax increase. But you cannot claim to be a champion of taxpayers when you vote to raise taxes and then punish those in your caucus who are convicted not to raise taxes,” Smith said.” For the rest of his political career, the Majority Leader will have to face voters who know that he not only sold out to vote for a tax increase but he fired some of his most conservative members because they refused to go along with a tax increase.”

Rogers said he was stunned by Smith’s comments.

“I started my day as a friend of the Senator from the [52nd] and I hope to end the day as a friend of the Senator from the [52nd],” said Rogers, adding that he would not comment on committee assignments.

But Williams said the party needed 29 votes to pass the bill and Republicans who voted no jeopardized the GOP’s position and threatened the bill.

Passage of the bill was actually helped by three Democrats – Ed Harbison (D-Columbus), Ron Ramsey (D-Lithonia) and Freddie Sims (D-Dawson) – who switched over and supported it.

“Twenty-eight Republicans thought it was a tax cut, and at the end of the day, we thought we had most everybody on board. We assumed Sen. Smith was good with the bill,” Williams said. “If we are going to get the job done, we need a team. This is not a business for the weak at heart. There are tough decisions we are going to have to make if we are going to govern.”

Smith said that at 8 a.m. Monday, he was called into Cagle’s office for a meeting, before the GOP caucus meeting.

“He asked me to resign and issue a state of apology,” Smith said. “An apology for voting against a caucus position.”

Jaillene Hunter, a spokesperson for Cagle, said he would not comment on private meetings. She added that the committee on assignments met last week and voted unanimously to “allow the vice chairman of judiciary [Seth Harp (R-Midland)] to serve as chairman.”

Smith is the youngest member of the Senate and is widely considered one of the more popular, visible and outspoken members of the GOP. A rising star.

After his speech on the Senate Floor, Smith walked back to his seat in the back of the Chamber in silence. No one clapped. Occasionally, a senator would come by and touch his shoulder. He then watched three senators, including Rogers, step up to the well to re-argue the merits of the bill. Not one of them commented on the validity of his claims.

The Democrats, were unusually silent on the most drama-filled day in the Senate thus far.

“There is an old African proverb: When Elephants fight, the ants run,” said Sen. Minority Leader Robert Brown (D-Macon), noting the irony of the what the GOP mascot is. “But this is a tax increase, conceived and delivered by Republican leadership. Sen. Smith just confirmed that and we feel vindicated in our position.”

By 6:30 p.m. Monday night Smith had 39 fans on a hastily constructed “Draft Preston Smith for Lt. Gov” Facebook page.

44 comments Add your comment

clem

April 12th, 2010
12:09 pm

The Republican Party in GA is in sad shape, full of crooks, bigots, and idiots. But we elect them so we get what we deserve.

Ray James

April 12th, 2010
12:13 pm

Republicans being republicans.

Ace

April 12th, 2010
12:26 pm

He should quit. They wouldn’t do me like that.

Good Repulican!

April 12th, 2010
12:31 pm

Preston Smith is an outstanding Senator. I like to see when a legislator has a back bone and stands up for the people he represents. The last think\g we need is for a Senator like Preston to quit. We need more politicians just like him. Way to go for standing up for what you believe in and not getting bullied or bought.

[...] The AJC’s Ernie Suggs has some excerpts from Smith’s speech: Smith said that for his objection to the so-called [...]

Joseph

April 12th, 2010
12:40 pm

Good for him. The GOP establishment is so screwed up, it’s not even funny. They deserve to be tossed in Nov.

matchtuff

April 12th, 2010
12:46 pm

Correction Ace he should switch parties. Now that would be something!

no use for a name

April 12th, 2010
12:50 pm

preston best be careful. He lives out of the district, has serious “intern issues”, and will get a primary challenge to be followed, if he wins, by a serious democratic challenge.
oh and then there’s the fact Smith works for the medical industry.

Bubba

April 12th, 2010
12:54 pm

He should have been out after his extramarital affair and messy divorce, just like Glenn Richardson.

Floyd County Resident

April 12th, 2010
12:57 pm

Glad to see that my senator stands up for me and my neighbors. I am glad he is not a puppet like most politicians. I am from Rome/Floyd County and Preston does live in the district!

The Cynical White Boy

April 12th, 2010
1:02 pm

Ulmm, and just how does one ever become a Committee Chair in the first place? By being a puppet of course.

You stop marching to orders, you lose your Chairman (or woman) -ship.

Have we learned anything new today class? I think not.

Draft Preston Smith for Lt Gov!

April 12th, 2010
1:05 pm

Based on today’s events, as well as Sen Smith’s history (and Cagle’s), there are some of us who think Preston Smith would be a better Lt Governor than Casey Cagle. If you agree with us, please consider becoming a “fan” of our FB page to Draft Preston Smith for Lt Governor!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by hometown, John Druckenmiller. John Druckenmiller said: AJC: Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, ousted as Senate Judiciary chair. AJC quotes Smith blasting Cagle, others. http://bit.ly/cI5dwh [...]

Peachtree Pete

April 12th, 2010
1:11 pm

If you think Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing then you don’t understand politics.

JOHN

April 12th, 2010
1:20 pm

You can’t preach about conviction and then run around on your wife.

Ace

April 12th, 2010
1:28 pm

Ya’ll know him too, it looks like.

No name

April 12th, 2010
2:11 pm

There are lots of things that go on behind the scenes in the GA general assembly that those in the district are unaware of. Those of you who think Sen.Smith hung the moon are sadly mistaken. If the district only knew the half of it their jaw would drop.

Mike

April 12th, 2010
3:23 pm

Then why don’t you tell us all about it, Mr. No Name ( and Mr. No use for a name). Obviously, you are part of the feeble Floyd County democrat crowd who hates anyone who stands for freedom, Constitutional values, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and the free market. Senator Smith did not “hang the moon.” Instead, he hangs in there for his constituents and those conservative principles that his constituents value. Preston Smith will get our votes and will remain in office as Senator….as well he should.

the american way

April 12th, 2010
4:22 pm

after almost 30 yr in the military I’m strongly considering retiring to Central America. Read Atlas Shrugged and you’ll see a vivid portral of our current government. Local politics is worse. Graft, corrption, the good ol boy system, hypocrits all. If there was ever a need for term limits, it’s now.

good bye, good luck

techengineer

April 12th, 2010
4:23 pm

Obumma got a check for me!!! He gonna look after me. Where’s my damn Obama money?? I needed it to go along w/ my welfare check so I can feed my 8 babies by 8 different daddies.. Dey be needing some free healthcare too.. And one of my babies daddy be needing some AIDs vaccine!! lol God Bless da USA…

Tucker

April 12th, 2010
4:27 pm

And whatever happened to the cigarette tax???????

Bryan G.

April 12th, 2010
4:31 pm

GOOD RIDDANCE. This guy has done more to wreck the Georgia court system during his reign than anyone. He’s burned more down than Sherman.

Steven Turner

April 12th, 2010
4:32 pm

I think we all hope Preston will be Governor one day and I think we all know that he makes no bones about representing his constituents. He makes tough choices. And He will have his day. I think we all know Casey is on his way out… And Chip Rogers will get his rear end handed to him if we ever meet in a statewide election. I’d sign my name to it. Your a good man Preston Smith. And your a good friend.

Marcus

April 12th, 2010
4:32 pm

Are you for real or just a complete idiot?

MotS

April 12th, 2010
4:35 pm

“freedom, Constitutional values, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and the free market”

Really, Mike? How is exempting Wal*Mart from electric bill rate hikes the rest of us have to pay the free market at work? How is that fiscally responsible? I don’t think renting out the job of Senator to whoever is currently paying him is “limiting” government. So short sighted. He is way more concerned with insurance companies in Connecticut than he is with people in Georgia.

common sense

April 12th, 2010
4:35 pm

Enter your comments here

Bobby

April 12th, 2010
4:42 pm

He should be doing what is in the best interest not only for his district but for the State. The debt has be paid someway. If he cannot do that he should resign as a Senator period.

Schadenfruede

April 12th, 2010
4:44 pm

Her highness got knocked off her pedestal. What other committee is she on that the repukes can remove her sorriness from. Yes, I have schadenfruede.

Voice of Reason

April 12th, 2010
4:44 pm

@ techengineer

That would be waaaaay funnier if you had saved it for a related post. Now when you use it on a post related to Obama and free money, it’ll be stale…. And go ignored, just like today.

You gotta know when to hold em buddy

ATLBoy

April 12th, 2010
4:45 pm

This is politics. Tom Murphy reigned in the Democratic Georgia Legislature like this for over 29 years.

stereotype response

April 12th, 2010
4:48 pm

techengineer are you serious..get over yourself and you hatred. Because as I checked and even in statistics done by whites you must have been talking about a white person beccause there are more whites on welfare than any other race. They also are the ones that do the school shootings and retaliation on their parents. So please take off your hood and leave the fire burning before you speak because I can tell you are very uneducated. This senator idiot is stupid and I know yoyu may overlook his past just as you do on your ignorant ancestors who are burning as we speak now. This is about this senator and him standing up is because he work in the medical industry and also he has a history of contradicting himself. wake up idiot and learn whats actually going on in the world and that doesnt include your klan pamphlet. You are an example of not thinking for yourself and allow yourself to be involved in hate.So i know you arentt a christian..its funny when hateful people claim to be christians..And I wanna know who you know that has 8 kids with 8 baby daddies? Could it be the white woman that hate white men and go running to Black men and Hispanics? Honestly in college thats all you saw so those are the only women I can think of with that many

GA Girl

April 12th, 2010
5:35 pm

Way to go, Preston!

[...] being stripped of his committee chairmanship by Republican leadership because he refused to vote for a tax hike, State Sen. Preston Smith (R-Rome) took the well today [...]

[...] those other two Republicans were silent, Smith was not. My AJC colleague Ernie Suggs has the back-and-forth from all parties [...]

GoodVoter

April 12th, 2010
10:41 pm

So very sad. The Rs just say if you don’t vote unanimously with us you are dead meat. How sad. I thought reps were elected to represent the people who lived in their district…NOT the Republican party. Guess they can’t think for themselves anymore. The state of Georgia is in a very sad state…no pun intended.

CN

April 13th, 2010
8:11 am

Those of you spreading rumors about his life and divorce should be careful about gossip. There are things the public doesn’t know about the demise of his marriage that he could make public that would cast him in a good light, but that he keeps quiet for the sake of his children. How many of you whispering about that have ever met the man or his family?

I deem him a hero

April 13th, 2010
8:39 am

I’ve known him since he was 5. I know his character and his heart. These cheap hateful things that people are saying are just more lies meant to tear down a good man. It saddens me that democracy is basically dead. I cheer Preston’s heroism and grit. You are a true man of honor. Too bad there aren’t more of you! Keep up the good fight and hold your head high. Bravo! Shame on all of you that don’t know him and yet are so quick to cast your meaningless opinion on the this public servant who is actually out there trying to do something he believes in. What are you doing to better our state? Hmmmmm.

I deem him a hero

April 13th, 2010
8:44 am

Oh, and one more thing…Smith did not construct the FB page for LT Governor. A fan did. He had nothing to do with it!!! FYI

Karl Marx

April 13th, 2010
10:27 am

Republicans are for Smaller Government and Lower Taxes…….NOT….Ha ha Ha ha HAHA ha. they are RINOS ALL, vote them out of office.

Base

April 13th, 2010
2:10 pm

What a bunch of clowns!

[...] The AJC’s Ernie Suggs has some excerpts from Smith’s speech: Smith said that for his objection to the so-called [...]

Steven Daedalus

April 21st, 2010
9:29 am

I don’t especially like Preston Smith, personally or politically, but he deserved better treatment than this, it just once again shows Republicans are nothing more than a bunch of bobble heads, just shake yes, no matter what, if one of the so-called leaders say so.

common sense

July 23rd, 2010
9:04 pm

Why doesn’t the AJC question and investigate Preston on his moral ie extramarital affairs, and rumors of being drunk on the senate floor.

[...] we have Casey Cagle, the Lt. Governor. He stripped Senators of their chairmanships and seniority if they did not vote for a tax increase. He also [...]