A bunch of small-government Republicans sure are learning to love life in the public sector.
Chip Rogers, the recently deposed Senate majority leader, last week became the latest GOP lawmaker to leave the Gold Dome for a job at a state agency. Rogers resigned his seat to accept Gov. Nathan Deal’s offer to work for Georgia Public Broadcasting.
One guesses he won’t use his new perch to take up Mitt Romney’s crusade against government subsidies for Big Bird.
If Deal ever holds an all-agencies employee picnic, Rogers won’t lack for familiar faces. He’s the seventh Republican legislator in the past two years to take a job with the state.
There are former representatives Timothy Bearden, now head of the Georgia Law Enforcement Training Center; James Mills, now a member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles; Hank Huckaby, now chancellor of the University System of Georgia; and Mark Williams, now head of the Department of Natural Resources.
Then there are ex-senators Mitch Seabaugh, now deputy state treasurer, and Jim Butterworth, now adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard.
Normally, when good-government advocates bemoan the “revolving door,” they mean legislators, regulators and their aides moving on to jobs working or lobbying for the companies they used to oversee – not people leaving the Legislature for the full-time state payroll.
There also are, of course, a number of GOP legislators-turned-lobbyists. Nor should we ignore that, as with lobbyists for private companies, these ex-legislators’ experience and relationships in the General Assembly are coveted by the agencies that hire them.
And it’s true certain state jobs are appointed by the governor, and it’s true the governor has the right to fill them as he sees fit. That includes appointing legislators to them.
And perhaps we shouldn’t read anything into the fact that, by my count, these seven appointees represent more Legislature-to-bureaucracy career moves in two years than we saw in eight years under Gov. Sonny Perdue. (Technically, Perdue recommended Williams for the DNR job, in consultation with then-Gov.-elect Deal.)
But if there is concern about these moves among Georgians, particularly those who consider themselves small-government conservatives, there are at least two justifications for it.
First, there’s the obvious worry that legislators will spend their time angling for state jobs rather than doing the jobs they were elected to do – particularly when the sluggish economy is still making it tough to make a living in the private sector. But we might wave off this notion as overblown: We are talking about seven legislators in two years, and there are 236 members of the General Assembly. It’s a trend, but not yet a stampede.
The second concern may be less obvious but more pernicious: A big problem with chumminess among lawmakers and lobbyists is it’s harder to say no to one’s friends. It’s no different when those friends work for state agencies, with their annual budget requests.
That’s bound to enlarge government. And how many legislators would vote to close an obscure board, knowing it might one day hire them at a six-figure salary?
It would be nice to think the effect might be reversed, that these former GOP legislators might be just the ones we need to filter into the bureaucracy with their conservative principles in tow. It seems we’re due for an object lesson in whether you change the Leviathan, or it changes you.
– By Kyle Wingfield