The unfinished fight over a warm bucket of spit

“Cactus Jack” Garner is the only man in American history to have served both as speaker of the U.S. House and — in his capacity as one of Franklin Roosevelt’s vice presidents — presiding officer of the Senate.

The Texan was in a unique position to compare the two positions. And Garner declared that in his judgment the job of vice president wasn’t worth a warm bucket of spit. Except he didn’t say spit.

No one enters politics to become a warm bucket of anything. Politicians become politicians because they want the clout to bend the world to their way of thinking.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, left, and Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. Chris Quinn, cquinn@ajc.com

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, left, and Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. Chris Quinn, cquinn@ajc.com

The problem is that power is often a zero-sum game. For one person to gain, another must lose.

This is the situation in our state Capitol. Last November, a mere three days after he was re-elected, the Senate Republican caucus stripped Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle — a fellow member of the GOP — of most of his authority over that chamber. The Senate was placed in the hands of an eight-senator committee led by President Pro Tem Tommie Williams.

What has been missing for the past three months is an explanation. Last week, the two ranking Republicans of the Senate, Williams and Majority Leader Chip Rogers, finally sat down to discuss the uprising.

Senators were not seeking revenge for the arm-twisting Cagle applied last year to pass the hospital-bed tax that balanced the state budget, the pair said. Rather, they were motivated by a fresh reading of the state Constitution — which, like the federal version, merely says the lieutenant governor shall preside over the Senate.

Only tradition, and repeated consent of the Senate itself, has given the lieutenant governor the power to name committee chairmen — the chief source of his hold over the chamber.

Now, before you scoff at the senators’ rationale, remember that the Georgia Constitution is a book several inches thick and dull reading. The temptation to skip whole chapters is always there.

Note, too, that this kind of feud isn’t limited to Georgia. GOP senators in Alabama have done much the same thing to that state’s first Republican lieutenant governor.

“[Vice President] Joe Biden doesn’t run the Senate, even though Democrats are in charge, because there is a separation of powers,” Williams said. “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, over to an executive.”

There is a local precedent. In 2002, after the GOP takeover of the state Senate, Republicans stripped the just re-elected Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor of his authority over the chamber. But Taylor was a Democrat.

And in 2006, upon Cagle’s victory, those same Republicans — including Williams and Rogers — granted the state’s first Republican lieutenant governor full authority over the chamber. A mistake, they now say.

“Maybe we were blinded by our friendship and our desire to see our friend succeed when he had won a historic election,” Rogers said.

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

The lieutenant governor on Tuesday beat back an attempt to remove the Senate purse-strings from his control. And the Senate leaders hinted that they were willing to push Cagle even deeper into that warm bucket of spit — if their friend didn’t behave.

“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 [assigning] bills to committees are presiding duties. It’s a little bit of a stretch — but we’re trying to work with him,” Williams said.

A similar attempt to sideline Lt. Gov. Zell Miller eventually collapsed. But if this coup holds, one consequence may be the tone of legislation. Already, the Senate is the more ideologically driven body of the Legislature. A chamber run by Republican senators from safe GOP districts is likely to be even more comfortable with sharp-edged issues.

On Thursday, the Senate voted to override former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s veto of a zero-based budgeting bill. Curiously, Cagle had stepped away from his presiding duties when the vote occurred.

But the coup also could change the job of lieutenant governor.

Taylor, the former lieutenant governor, thinks the position is necessary — and sympathizes with Cagle. “I would encourage the lieutenant governor to stay engaged and use his statewide mandate as a way to continue his agenda,” Taylor said Saturday.

But Taylor dropped a tidbit Republicans might want consider. You know that five years ago Taylor engaged in tense negotiations with Secretary of State Cathy Cox over which of the two should run for governor. (Neither Democrat would budge, and a bitter primary won by Taylor split the party.)

But as part of his effort to persuade Cox to drop down into the lieutenant governor’s race, Taylor had to make the job more than that warm bucket of spit. If she were elected, Taylor promised, he would put her in charge of a major swath of state government. The massive Department of Human Resources, or perhaps the Department of Transportation, Taylor said.

According to a fresh reading of the Georgia Constitution, the governor can do that.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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30 comments Add your comment

catlady

January 29th, 2011
5:44 pm

Oh, Yeah, I believe THAT! Not at all in retribution. Where’s that “deed” the the swampland?

Red neck

January 29th, 2011
6:16 pm

Yea, more power, more contributors, not blackmail, just good old Southern Political smarts to draw more donations to buy more power, and use people who owe the banks and try to beat the banks to run the system

Last Man Standing

January 29th, 2011
6:28 pm

Hang in there, Casey. Remember the cute words from the 80’s, “Never let them see you sweat”!

KenTanner

January 29th, 2011
6:40 pm

Actually, that’s Lt. Gov. Cagle on the LEFT, not the right. (He’s the one who looks like Woody Harrelson.)

tom mitchell

January 29th, 2011
6:45 pm

Last Man Standing…now you and Casey will have more time to party down with female lobbyists.

The Centrist

January 29th, 2011
6:53 pm

The State has gone to heck in a handbasket over the past 8-years, and the Majority Powerbrokers are showing that they are an absolute waste of carbon matter.

Michael

January 29th, 2011
7:27 pm

If Cagle has no legislative power under the constitution then why does he still have power in the legislature? Like that Senate purse strings thing from last week? Since the Senate has ceded its power to the executive all these years then maybe we have a bunch of invalid laws because they have been enrolled by a usurper. Soon we’ll be amending the constitution that says something patriotic like “In order that Georgia have the greatest American society ever under God and Apple Pie, you agree that the Lt Governor should have this power.”

Ga just makes this stuff up as it goes along, right?

Cutty

January 29th, 2011
7:39 pm

Forget water, transportation, and education, I needs my power!!!

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

Yeah, suuuurree you did. That just makes Williams someone who votes against their own beliefs.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

January 29th, 2011
7:40 pm

They are simply getting back to the vision of the founders..weak executive..strong legislative..

Hussein Obama’s abject incompetance is basically doing the same thing..weakening the executive..and strengthening the legislative..

Sally M

January 29th, 2011
7:54 pm

Eric Johnson’s word is now about as valuable as a bucket of warm spit. He just proved to every one of us who supported him for governor that we wasted our time and vote on him. His opinions mean nothing to anyone now.

The Snark

January 29th, 2011
8:04 pm

These guys have been in office HOW LONG, and they’re just now reading the state constitution and noticing who is supposed to do what?

What a bunch of amateurs.

No Dog in this Hunt

January 29th, 2011
8:35 pm

We’ve had a Lt. Gov. since WWII. How does Casey’s responsibilities differ from those?

The Centrist

January 29th, 2011
9:24 pm

On the federal level Trish, you will find out if Hussein weakling if the GOP sends a 50-page 2012 budget to the Senate. On the State level, would you say that Ervin was a weakling for producing the largest the budget deficit in Georgia’s history?.

fled

January 29th, 2011
10:59 pm

repuke disagreements always remind me of a family feud in the leper colony

TrishaDishaWarEagle

January 29th, 2011
11:17 pm

I always hope democrap disagreements end in the classic murder -suicide

Gerdeen

January 30th, 2011
12:01 am

With all respect, Garner was not the only man to serve as both House speaker and vice president. Schuyler Colfax did the same.

And Garner’s frustration with the vice presidency is understandable. He and President Franklin D. Roosevelt were never close personally or philosophically, but Garner hung on through eight years in the confident hope of being the Democratic presidential nominee in 1940. When Roosevelt broke with tradition and decided to run for a third term in 1940, Garner felt betrayed. He had given up the speakership for nothing.

Travis McGee

January 30th, 2011
5:33 am

The Republicans remind me of a kid with a new drivers license. Just as likely as not to race off and drive the thing into a ditch.

phil

January 30th, 2011
7:37 am

Casey has even less integrity than Nathan. Even if Deal’s daughter lied to him about her bankruptcy, Cagle’s bank had access to that information.

Total GOP Rule equals what?

January 30th, 2011
8:21 am

So, the Republicans control all of state government. What are they doing about the economy? What are they doing about improving education?

Capital Idea

January 30th, 2011
8:32 am

It took Tommie and Chip all this time to figure out a story and get on message?

They look like fools and make Casey look like the grownup.

Question Man

January 30th, 2011
9:13 am

Won’t only time tell if the overthrow was based on Cagle’s ineptitude or on hewing to the Georgia Constitution, as claimed by Tommie Williams? Would anyone bet on the latter explanation?

Last Man Standing

January 30th, 2011
9:17 am

TrishaDishaWarEagle:

“I always hope democrap disagreements end in the classic murder -suicide”

That is the perfect solution!

Bobby Lobby

January 30th, 2011
9:33 am

That all sounds nice, but there is a list of Cagle sins a mile long. I think they wanted to separate themselves from him. They realized that they had given complete control of the Senate to someone who is not that smart, and that being senators had become as worthless as a pile of spit.

Thomas

January 30th, 2011
10:06 am

Point…Counter Point.

pn

January 30th, 2011
10:35 am

So we taxpayers are going to pay CC to do nothing?
How could that be the intention of the GA Constitution?
That would be absurd.

Aquagirl

January 30th, 2011
12:23 pm

“Now, before you scoff at the senators’ rationale, remember that the Georgia Constitution is a book several inches thick and dull reading. The temptation to skip whole chapters is always there.”

That temptation is magnified because Georgia voters don’t give a flying fornication about their behavior. Like Georgia schoolkids, they’ll get social promotions no matter what they do.

I still think it’s incredible Chip Rogers and Tommie Williams are saying they parceled out power because that darn Constitution is just too bothersome to read, and they had mancrushes on Casey. It’s like watching 8th grade girls run the state. What’s next, they couldn’t finish their legislation because ZOMG! American Idol was soooo exciting last night?

Here we go again...

January 30th, 2011
12:46 pm

For Williams to be screaming that this was all about making the Constitution applicable is ludicrous. He had not even thought about that part of the dilemma until the meeting in Macon and even then it wasn’t his idea, but a newbie’s. Now it’s the whole reason for the overthrow? Ludicrous. “There’s no package smaller than a man wrapped up in himself.” That man is Tommie Williams.

Last Man Standing

January 30th, 2011
1:13 pm

Aquagirl:

Having read your posts for several months now, it has become quite evident to me that you hold a very dim view of the citizens, the electorate, the school systems and elected officials in Georgia. That is certainly your right to do so, but I can’t understand why you continue to live here. In truth, the electorate in Georgia is not very different than in most states. In fact, they might be a bit better than the more populous states. After all, Georgia did reject Obama at the ballot box!

GaBlue

January 31st, 2011
12:07 am

Last Man Standing:

Why does it bother you what Aquagirl thinks or why she chooses to live here? What are you, some kind of busybody? Since Georgia is still in the 19th century regarding equality for women, and overrun with people who don’t want the “gubmint” running their lives but have no problem letting the churches dictate when they can buy beer or whom they can marry, (Hucklebeee for Prez!) it would seem that Aquagirl’s opinions are no real threat to your super-perfect way of life. Unless you are so insecure that you need her to agree with you in order to feel good about your “decisions.” Just sayin’.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

January 31st, 2011
8:59 am

Poor Gablue…keep pushing that big blue boulder(shaped< ironically, much like john lewis) up big red K2