It shouldn’t be unusual, but it is. The Republican governor of Georgia has invited the Democratic mayor of Atlanta to join him Wednesday on a high-powered, one-day swing through Washington, D.C.
The agenda includes a strategy session with Georgia members of Congress, to update them on the state’s pursuit of $500 million in federal funds for the dredging of the Port of Savannah. There will be a meeting with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been critical of our state’s laissez-faire approach to road and rail infrastructure.
But Deal served nine terms in Congress. He knows where the bathrooms are in the U.S. Capitol, and needs no tour guide. Moreover, LaHood is an old Republican friend. No, the spokesman for the governor was very upfront on why Deal wanted Reed’s company.
“We’ve asked for a meeting with the president,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. “The mayor has strong relations with President Obama. But obviously, that’s up to the White House at this point.”
Any face-to-face meeting with the Big Guy is still up in the air. But it is just as important — because of the serious money at stake — that other ruling Democrats in Washington see both of these men together. And smiling.
From the outset of his term of mayor, Reed has focused on building a close relationship with the GOP rulers of the state Capitol. He counts House Speaker David Ralston as a friend. A former state senator, Reed regularly sits down with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Deal and Reed have so far spent little time with each other, but Reed says the new governor knows him by reputation.
“Gov. Deal knows…that I’m a person you can work with, and I will not harm you,” Reed said. “I stay very much in my lane. Because I came out of the state [Capitol], I think I understand in a different way the power of a governor. I have no illusion about who’s Batman and who’s Robin.”
Short-term, the most important meeting for the governor and mayor is with LaHood, who has been critical of Georgia’s failure to “get its act together” when it comes to transportation. Federal seed money for rail has languished. Roads aren’t being built.
“If we leave with that notion changed, or shifted, I think we will have made real progress,” the mayor of Atlanta said.
But cash for the Port of Savannah — now, that’s a longer and far more brutal game, the mayor said.
South Carolina and its Charleston harbor is Georgia’s chief rival. Reed judges that the contest will be won on intangibles. Fortunately for Georgia, South Carolina has U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who this February, in a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington D.C., said it would be a “mistake” to call Obama the national leader.
Another intangible: Atlanta’s reputation as a Southern beachhead for the Obama re-election campaign. Reed has held numerous fundraisers for the president’s campaign over the last few months — the latest an affair that coincided with first lady Michelle Obama’s visit.
It wouldn’t be too much of a leap to assume that Reed will spend much of 2012 serving as one of Obama’s several surrogates. At an Atlanta fundraiser several weeks ago featuring David Plouffe, Obama’s ’08 campaign manager, Reed showed off his stem-winding skills in front of a gaggle of younger voters – who will be very much needed next year..
That February appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press”? A screen test.
Such dues-paying, Reed said, should make Georgia worthy of a fair hearing when it comes to funding for the Savannah port.
“I believe we are going to beat South Carolina. I think it’s going to go 15 rounds. But it’s going to be driven by the fact that we’re a strong partner — unless I do something very dumb or bad,” Reed said. The mayor then rapped on his wooden desk.
Will there be a price for Georgia Republicans? “There’s going to have to be some compromise from our Republican friends on a matter that the president cares about,” the Atlanta mayor said. What that bargain may be is up for grabs. But it’s no secret that a confrontation on the federal debt ceiling is on the horizon. And there’s that bipartisan effort that U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss is leading to eliminate the federal deficit.
But the game is worth the candle, the mayor said. “I believe that if we don’t accomplish a series of big things, that we’re going to enter a period of decline,” he said. “I say ‘we’ meaning all of us. If we don’t have a second act — second to the Olympics — then we’re all going to enter a period of decline.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider