Just a few years ago, Chip Rogers was a rising star in Georgia politics. He was a possible contestant for the lieutenant governor’s office if Casey Cagle sought higher office, and a sure-fire future gubernatorial candidate himself. Today, he said he’s leaving the Legislature altogether for a position at Georgia Public Broadcasting — a sharp, sudden end (for now, anyway) to a once-promising political career.
On the positive side, Rogers was strongly associated with the causes of school choice and property-tax reform. He pushed the first measure involving vouchers (for students with special needs) and tried unsuccessfully the last couple of years to expand that program to children of military and foster families. He helped reinstate the state’s Charter Schools Commission, after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, by maneuvering this year’s constitutional amendment through the Senate. He was a likeable guy, and he went after big ideas.
He also attracted his share of critics, and controversy found him time and again. Some of these controversies — for instance, a business deal (with U.S. Rep. Tom Graves) gone bad — were more serious than others — such as a much-ridiculed bill requiring consent for the implantation of microchips.
But the most politically damaging controversy, by far, was his role in the leadership putsch in the Senate two years ago. Rogers helped lead the group of senators who stripped Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of some of his powers so that they could run the chamber themselves. As the Senate’s majority leader and a telegenic, Atlanta-area legislator (he represented Cherokee County), he was a leading spokesman for a chamber that was criticized many times over the past two years for appearing rudderless. Neither Gov. Nathan Deal nor, more publicly, Speaker David Ralston, relished seeing their legislative priorities subjected to a Senate run by consensus within the GOP caucus.
Most bills, whether large or small in importance, ran the risk of becoming ensnared in the chamber’s running leadership fight. In the end, most of the more prominent bills during the last two legislative sessions managed to get through the Senate run by Rogers and President Pro Tem Tommie Williams. But the arrangement required their constant vigilance and, from my dealings with them, seemed to wear them down — both in terms of their energy and patience, and in terms of their standing with their own caucus.
First Williams announced he would not be running again for pro tem, then his chosen successor was defeated soundly in a post-election caucus meeting. Rogers dropped out of his own re-election bid, and rumors started circulating almost immediately that he’d be out of office before year’s end.
Rogers’ departure almost closes the book on the first era of the Georgia GOP’s rule under the Gold Dome; he took the majority leader position when Glenn Richardson was speaker and ran the House with Mark Burkhalter and Jerry Keen; Cagle was lieutenant governor and Eric Johnson was Senate president pro tem; and Sonny Perdue was governor. Only Cagle remains in elected office (at this point, you’d have to say he was the winner of the Senate’s two-year “experiment”).
At age 44, Rogers is too young to write off as a potential comeback candidate one day. But for now, like that first GOP-led era, Rogers’ legacy will be a mixed bag: Some big early successes, followed by less accomplishment even as the GOP’s majorities grew larger, and more questions and infighting than answers toward the end.
– By Kyle Wingfield