It’s put up or shut up time in the Georgia Senate. As nothing new has been put up by the malcontents, you can see where I’m heading.
I refer to the 14-month-old dispute between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and the GOP senators who stripped him of most of his powers. Ordinarily, such an intramural power play would interest only the true political junkies. But the Senate’s cold war is getting hot enough to matter to ordinary Georgians.
Some background: Days after Cagle was re-elected in 2010, Senate Republicans resolved to change the chamber’s rules to put two of their own, Tommie Williams of Lyons and Chip Rogers of Woodstock, in charge. Cagle argued, not without merit, that a majority of Georgia’s voters thought they’d just elected him to lead the Senate. But he lost that debate.
The 2011 session moved along fairly smoothly almost until the end, when an alliance of Democrats and pro-Cagle Republicans made a move to restore the old order. It failed, as has a series of GOP truces since then. The most recent cease-fire was brokered Monday night by none other than Gov. Nathan Deal, only to be rejected about 12 hours later by a majority of senators.
Now, re-read those last four words: “a majority of senators.” Those words explain why this mess has gone on long enough.
Regardless of whose side one takes — and none of the actors are angels — the basic facts on the ground haven’t changed in 14 months: 1) a majority is needed to change the rules; and 2) a majority favors the current rules.
Period, paragraph, end of story.
Cagle and his allies had upward of nine months to assemble a majority; goodness knows they tried. If they had a majority, they would have changed the rules by now. They don’t, so they haven’t. Deal with it.
I don’t say this as a partisan of the anti-Cagle faction. I have no grudge against the lieutenant governor, nor any loyalty to Williams or Rogers. All three support issues I support. This isn’t personal.
Well, it isn’t personal for me. But it quite clearly is personal for them. And that’s where the interests of ordinary Georgians come in.
Lawmakers like to say they’re performing “the people’s business.” As long as they’re feuding in this way, they aren’t. The leadership struggle colors every matter that comes before the Senate, even ones on which the two sides agree, because every matter is a potential tool for gaining or keeping leverage. Georgians deserve to have those issues considered on their own merits.
At the same time, I’m not bemoaning the perceived lack of efficiency in the Senate. In a state government controlled wholly by one political party, a little inefficiency is no bad thing. (Republicans said these kinds of things back when Democrats were that party.)
Government, on any level, is best when changes in the law are thoroughly vetted and debated. So it also behooves Georgians if the process is slowed down somewhere along the way.
I understand Speaker David Ralston’s frustration when he complains about not having a counterpart who speaks for the Senate and can deliver its members. “We can’t have 36 different leaders, or however many they have on any particular day,” he lamented last April.
But “speaks for” and “deliver” can be statehouse code for “lords over” and “bully” — not always, but often enough to give an outside observer pause. (Let’s also note that a tougher-to-please Senate arguably gains power at the expense of the more spoken-for House, which also might bug Ralston.)
Unless facts on the ground change, the two sides would do right by Georgians to put their spat aside until sine die. And primary season.
Let Cagle and his allies recruit fellow Republicans to run against the thorns in their side (though I’d like to see how successful they’d be with a pitch that amounts to, “Vote for this guy, because he’d help put us and, er, the Democrats in charge”). Let Williams and Rogers field challengers to the holdouts in their caucus.
May it be a long, nasty primary season. Then, after November, may the winners hold the reins of power.
Until then, may all of them simply get to work.
– By Kyle Wingfield