Your morning jolt: For the first time, Senate leaders explain the Casey Cagle coup

On Wednesday, President pro tem Tommie Williams and Majority Leader Chip Rogers sat down to discuss at length, for the first time, the motivation behind the Republican caucus decision last year to strip Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of his authority over the state Senate.

The Senate is now formally ruled by an eight-member Committee of Assignments, chaired by Williams, a Republican from Lyons.

Among the points made by Williams and Rogers:

– The Nov. 5 vote by the Senate GOP caucus in Macon was motivated not by anger of last year’s arm-twisting over the hospital bed tax, but a fresh reading of the state Constitution.

Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. AJC file

Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. AJC file

– That their 2006 decision to award Cagle authority over the Senate – the lieutenant governor’s powers had been taken away from his Democratic predecessor, Mark Taylor – was a mistake based on their affection for Cagle. Which they still have.

– And that they have not, over the last three months, explained themselves very well. And plan to do better.

The interview began with Williams alone. Rogers, bogged down in a committee meeting, arrived in the midst of the conversation. As much as possible, I’ve stuck to the verbatim transcript.

The ranking member of the Senate began with a reading of the state constitution, which says that the powers of the lieutenant governor shall be assigned to him by the governor. Which hasn’t happened, Williams quickly added:

Williams: “So the lieutenant governor sought to have powers from the Senate. And got them. But they were not supposed to get them. …

“The lieutenant governor’s in the code section with the executive [branch]. In the code section where the Legislature’s established, it says the legislative, executive and judicial powers shall forever remain separate and distinct. And no person discharging the duties of one shall at the same time exercise the function of either of the other.

“We had our differences on issues. I would take one position, maybe the lieutenant governor would take another position. His position was oftentimes – I won’t say clouded. It was that he was running for governor. And that came out.

“So my concern [was], not knowing what the Georgia Constitution said, just thinking on the federal level, [Vice President] Joe Biden doesn’t run the Senate, even though Democrats are in charge. Because there is a separation of powers there…..

“This started to trouble me. That we had given up all of our legislative branch powers, contrary to the Georgia Constitution, and to the spirit of the U.S. Constitution, which we also hold, over to an executive.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock. Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock. Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com

“Taking it back is not an easy task. Nobody gives up power easily, especially when you like the person. That made it doubly hard for all of us, because we genuinely like [Cagle]. We tried to find a way within the constitution to try to share some of the powers. Frankly, it was not received well.

“I will admit there were one or two who had got crossed up with Casey. Maybe they had other motives. But not the leadership. We simply believed that we, as senators, ought to govern the Senate.”

It was pointed out that, two years earlier, the Senate Republican caucus – led by Williams – had granted Cagle those powers over the Senate.

Williams: “I’m telling you, we didn’t read the Georgia Constitution until a freshman pointed it out to us [last] year. You’re right. And had we known, we probably wouldn’t have done that. Except that Casey had been in the Senate. We were all friends with Casey. I didn’t realize at the time that a person who’s in the executive and thinking about being a governor in the future has a different agenda.

Rogers, joining the conversation: “We made a decision – which I think was an improper decision – based on personalities, based on people, in 2006, and not based on what’s constitutionally right. And what is even in our rules….

“I don’t know how you read the rules or the constitution, and come to any conclusion other than the one we came to.”

Williams: “We’ve said that. But nobody has ever said that for us, as being our motivation.”

Insider: “But you folks haven’t explained that.”

Williams: “We should have. We should have. I should have done an op-ed on it or something.

“I had a lobbyist approach me yesterday and say, ‘Senator Williams, I know that in that deal, you may not have gotten everything you wanted.’ And I went, ‘I don’t understand exactly what you’re talking about.’ Then she went into this long thing about Casey’s history.

“And I said, ‘Hold on. Casey’s a good man, in my opinion. This has nothing to do about Casey. This is about who controls the powers of the Senate. Is it the executive, or us?’

“And she said, ‘What are you talking about?’

“I said, ‘Well, the Georgia Constitution says this, this and this.’

“She says, ‘Why aren’t y’all saying that?’

“Well, we want to say it….

“I called Chip a few days after we did this [last November]. I said I’ve never felt so bad about doing the right thing. Doing the right thing was for the people of Georgia to have a Senate run by senators and not by the executive. But Casey’s my friend. And I don’t like this, probably, any better than he does, on the personality side.

“And a lot of members, even today, don’t like the fact that it became personal. But the constitution is not based on personalities. So we’ve had some healthy debates and some disagreements about it.”

Was the hospital bed tax passed last year the motivation for asserting power?

Williams: “Anytime you govern in a bad economy, if you’re in control…there are going to be conflicts. Members are either going to get mad with us or get mad with Casey. Because you’ve got to have 29 votes. You have to get the team together to get across the finish line.

“But whether he was in control or we were in control, those problems would exist. My own opinion is Casey did a good job. Chip and I would often realize his agenda was tempered by the fact that was going to be running for governor – as every lieutenant governor [has.]

“I don’t begrudge those things, but that doesn’t make it the Senate agenda. As the legislative branch, we’ve got to get elected in the small district that may be completely different from his [statewide] district.

“It was painful to make that happen, but when you’re trying to fill a whole in the budget….”

Both men acknowledged they were part of Cagle’s effort to recruit votes for passage of last year’s budget deal.

Williams: “We were. Even though we thought there was a different answer.”

Rogers, returning to the topic of motivation: “To answer your question, I can’t point to any single event, and most certainly it was not that event. I think the recognition of the proper balance was made way before that. And each person who supported us came to that conclusion at a different point in time. But there’s a reason why these guys wrote it like this.

“And maybe we were blinded by our friendship and our desire to see our friend succeed when he had won a historic election – the first Republican lieutenant governor.”

Williams: “I told Chip at the time this was probably not the best idea.”

Rogers: “I can still tell you the date, the time, and the exact spot where I was when I got that phone call. But again, personalities set aside, the way this thing functions right is when the people that are leading the Senate are accountable to the Senate. The same way the person leading the House is accountable to the House.

“Casey’s got great accountability, but it’s to 9.5 million people in Georgia, not to the body itself.

“I want to say something about the Committee on Assignments. There’s this narrative that somehow these actions empowered us two. If we argue on one side that the powers have been given to the Committee on Assignments, then by definition it empowers the eight members of the Committee on Assignments. No given two members of that. In fact, Tommie has the least amount of power, because he doesn’t have voting rights on that committee.

“So I get curious about this statement that this is just Williams and Rogers attempting to get power, when if anything, [in Macon] the rules were changed first, and then the elected officers were voted on.”

Williams: “We intentionally did that so folks couldn’t say that we got elected and then tried to change the rules.”

Although the Senate president pro tem said no further moves to address Cagle’s remaining powers is planned. But he hinted strongly that a final balance has yet to be struck:

Williams: “Governing is no fun. It’s a pain. You deal with everything from people’s secretaries to their parking places. It’s not something that I, frankly, desire. Having the powers does not enthrall me, excite me or build my ego. I have to work to keep all that in check, but it – really and truly, this is what we are swearing to. This is what the history of America is about….

“We had given him absolute control of the Senate, and felt like it was necessary, for the good of the legislative body, that we have a say.

“Now, we didn’t, frankly, take it all. And we’re trying to work with him on the powers that are left. Some of those, you could probably say, are executive. You could say that appointing bills to committees are presiding duties. It’s a little bit of a stretch – but we’re trying to work with him, and hopefully, it works out so that we can carry out the business of the Senate.”

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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30 comments Add your comment

History Will Teach Us if We Learn

January 27th, 2011
10:13 am

Reporter: ” Tell me Senator Brutus if it wasn’t your intention to kill Mr. Caesar, why did you have a knife?”

Aquagirl

January 27th, 2011
10:25 am

Tommie Williams says this whole mess is because he didn’t even READ the Georgia Constitution until last year? He’s either a complete idiot or a complete liar.

I wonder if we’ll get a tweet from Paul Broun today on how his fellow Republican shows such disrespect for the State Constitution.

I was there and they were warned

January 27th, 2011
10:26 am

I was there and they were warned this was a bad decision. The constitution was brought up and the arguments made but what is true is that the boys in charge had a serious man crush on Casey.

Oh what being blinded by love and lust will lead young boys to do….

Jack

January 27th, 2011
10:42 am

I think it would be a great idea to require both houses to have a requirement to read the entire Ga Constitution at the beginning of each session…… And another Great IDEA would be to reduce the convening of tthe legislature to once every two or three years,,, It would save a great deal of paperwork and would save us taxpayers some money……

Douglas

January 27th, 2011
10:49 am

@Aquagirl, I wouldn’t hold my breath wating for that!

Douglas

January 27th, 2011
10:51 am

@Jack, how about they still convene every two years, but every other sesion is reserved for reading the State Constitution. 40 days JUST ought to do it. Good Gummint types ought to be clamoring for a new state constitution that is no longer in the number of words that the federal one. Then put all that other stuff in the State Code, where it ought to be anyway.

No "executive power" until LG becomes gov.

January 27th, 2011
10:56 am

Paragraph III. Lieutenant Governor. There shall be a Lieutenant Governor, who
shall be elected at the same time, for the same term , and in the same manner as the Governor.
The Lieutenant Governor shall be the President of the Senate and shall have such executive
duties as prescribed by the Governor and as may be prescribed by law not inconsistent with
the powers of the Governor or other provisions of this Constitution.

Paragraph I. President and President Pro Tempore of the Senate. (a) The presiding
officer of the Senate shall be styled the President of the Senate.

(b) A President Pro Tempore shall be elected by the Senate from among its members.
The President Pro Tempore shall act as President in case of the temporary disability of the
President. In case of the death, resignation, or permanent disability of the President or in the
event of the succession of the President to the executive power,

No "executive power" until LG becomes gov.

January 27th, 2011
11:10 am

If the gov. does not prescribe executive duties to the LT, then his sole function is President of the Senate, until he lawfully succeeds to the office of governor.

Skeptic

January 27th, 2011
11:13 am

Williams and Rogers have no credibility on this issue if for no other reason than when a politician nowadays is trying to be persuasive, he or she is perceived as lying or trying to cover up something. (I wonder if politicians have any idea of the utter contempt that the general public has for them.) I suppose that one thing that comes out of the statements by Williams and Rogers is that when the Senate does its usual do-nothing job, the public will know to blame them and not Cagle since they claim to hold the power and in turn the responsibility to wisely exercise it.

janet

January 27th, 2011
11:16 am

I love a good laugh on a Thursday. Thanks to the GOP in Georgia I had one.

No "executive power" until LG becomes gov.

January 27th, 2011
11:29 am

Ambiguities or disagreements in the interpretation of laws lies with the judicial branch; a “coup” should not be considered an appropriate means to resolve disputes. We are “a nation of laws, not of men.”

GaBlue

January 27th, 2011
11:33 am

HAHAHAHA! Funny stuff, Mr. Galloway! Hahaha! Thanks for sharing.

truth

January 27th, 2011
11:34 am

Skeptic, my sentiments exactly.

Tax Man Cometh

January 27th, 2011
11:37 am

for sale: Georgia

just pay Williams and Rogers. maybe you can get a loan from Murphy.

Diogenes

January 27th, 2011
12:04 pm

Skeptic and truth,

What makes either of you think “the people” will make the correct attributions of blame or credit? It is all about the parties that hold power to those people. They do not care what happens so long as a Republican does it…then they are on board. Chip Rogers and Tommie Williams, like 90%+ of the state legislature, can do pretty much whatever they like so long as they campaign on being “conservative” and “republican.” That is it. Plain and simple. They do not even have to bring up state issues…most politics has become nationalized in our times and that spells a good deal of trouble for the quality of politics and the legislative outcomes we receive at the state level.

Douglas

January 27th, 2011
12:08 pm

The problem, Tax Man, is that with these politicians, you can buy them but the don’t stay bought. Humph.

findog

January 27th, 2011
12:09 pm

Must be something with the weather
Hall County GOP has the same rabid cannibal problem within their county commission
I’d like to personally thank the unidentified freshman senator for doing his part for democracy by actually reading our state constitution

Framer

January 27th, 2011
12:55 pm

Lets not jump to conclusions about whether this freshman senator from is correct.

There are many whackos on the right-wing that adhere to all this garbage about framer’s intent…or original intent. Unlike our US Constitution many of the framers of the Constitution of the State of Georgia are still alive. Perhaps these “framers” should be consulted about what their intent was when writing the document.

Or is that inconvenient for too many people that are bent on rewriting history to suit their ends rather than committing themselves to the intellectual pursuit of fact?

Michael

January 27th, 2011
2:28 pm

For you north Georgians (yankees) that don’t know, Lyons is like Winder.

johndawgg

January 27th, 2011
3:27 pm

If this was an attempt at damage control … well, think Tommie Williams just dug a deeper hole. What an inarticulate idiot.

JP

January 27th, 2011
3:43 pm

Glad to know a veteran lawmaker had something in the state constitution pointed out to him by a freshmen. Plus they changed the rules in 2006 because they had “affection for Cagle.”

What is this grade school?

Cheerio Salesman

January 27th, 2011
4:10 pm

Tommie and Chip – how stupid do you think people are?

It was all about the constitution that you recently read for the first time?

Which makes sense why you’re sneaking rules changes in at the last minute….

http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2011/01/24/a-senate-crisis-to-interrupt-bacon-eggs-and-grits/

Buckhead Resident

January 27th, 2011
5:22 pm

So bascially all this interview says is that Chip and Tommie stripped Casey of his power to neutralize him when Chip Rogers runs for Governor in 4 years.

Chip knows that leaving Casey powerless dries up his fundraising base- instead lobbyists will be lining up outside the offices of him and Tommie.

RBN

January 27th, 2011
5:49 pm

I’ve never read so much baloney in my life. God help Georgia with these guys in charge. It may be blashemy, but I long for the days when Lester Maddox was Lt. Governor. At least his only antics were riding bikes backwards and selling fried chicken. Hey, education budgets even were increased.

truth

January 28th, 2011
11:55 am

I suppose a piss-poor explanation is better than none. NOT!

The Real insider....

January 28th, 2011
5:31 pm

These guys are a sham. They want to say they are all about the Senate ruling itself, but it’s really about who they need to step on to get in front of a camera, a microphone OR on the stage at the Eggs and Issues Breakfast! Think about the people they are stepping on, everyday. Here are a few names that should have been mentioned in this article by Rogers and Willams but, ofcourse, are not: Cowsert, Goggans, Shafer, Staton, Mullis, Butterworth and the (intentionally) un-named Freshman Constitution reader is… (drumroll) Ligon. These guys specifically and the Senate as a whole should be upset at the ongoing weak leadership being provided by Williams and Rogers. If you’re a Senator, FIRE THEM NOW! You tried it and it didn’t work… give it back to the LG before it’s too late!

Another perspective...

January 28th, 2011
5:44 pm

Apparently it’s also about sitting up on the Rostrum during the State of the State address… I heard the Senate Pro-Tem wasn’t invited by the Speaker to sit there… Also- Did you notice Senator Hooks Presided over the Senate this week? Why didn’t the Pro-Tem preside? I will bet a month’s paycheck that the Senate Pro-Tem doesn’t preside over the Senate for one second this year… This is fun to watch but it’s painful to think how much time these two are wasting for their egos!

The Other Side of the Capitol...

January 28th, 2011
5:49 pm

When are we going to start hearing about the fight going on in the House? I hear the Speaker and House Pro-Tem are in the middle of a battle as well… the media just hasn’t had time to pay attention yet…

Ed

January 28th, 2011
11:27 pm

Tommie Williams and Chip Rogers are morons…not that Casey is not a moron, too! But, I am sure Casey is just waiting for the right opportunity to exact his revenge on these two plus others. More scandal to come.

Mike

January 28th, 2011
11:31 pm

@The Other Side of the Capitol…you are probably right. The House Pro Tem is not part of the team. She meddles with stuff on her own. She has her own private agenda to include pulling Milton County back out of Fulton to give the rich like her a riff-raff free residence; creating charter schools so wealthy kids can get away from the riff-raff in training in public schools; etc. She is clueless!