A season of law-making ends Thursday at the state Capitol. And the season of payback begins.
Climatologists tell us that the warm winter will result in a summer brimming with both ticks and tempers.
Payback is common in the male-dominated society that is the Legislature. You kill my bill, I’ll gut yours. It is the old Southern tradition of dueling, or feuding, reduced to code sections and committee meetings.
Usually, payback is confined to the Capitol. But trouble will follow a lawmaker home if the fight is too fierce, or the offender’s sin is too great.
The latter situation fits the case of state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. It was bad enough that McKoon, a rookie finishing out his first term, was one of the few Republican lawmakers to side with those who think that members of the Legislature ought not to accept gifts worth more than $100 or so.
But McKoon may have gone a step too far. When this newspaper noted last week that a new report judged Georgia to have the weakest anti-corruption laws in the nation, McKoon pushed out a photo of the front page headline via Twitter.
On Tuesday, the Senate Rules Committee gutted a measure sponsored by McKoon that merely paired a few lawmakers with citizens interested in tougher ethics laws to form a study committee. The civilians were stripped from the committee, and membership reshuffled to eliminate McKoon – a member of Common Cause at home.
“We wanted senior members of the Legislature to be on it,” explained Don Balfour, R-Snellville, chairman of the rules committee. And he saw no need for outsiders to be involved.
At the same time, a rumor took flight outside the Senate chamber. Ranking forces in the Capitol were recruiting a fellow in Columbus to run against McKoon in the GOP primary in July.
“There’s been a lot of mumbling. I’ve heard it down here,” said Seth Harp, a former state senator who pushed McKoon to replace him in 2010. Harp is now chairman of the Muskogee County GOP. “He’d be hard to beat – the folks down here really like him, and he’s worked really hard on constituent services,” Harp said.
Incumbents are always difficult targets. But defeating the other fellow isn’t necessarily the point of fielding a primary opponent. Opposition forces an otherwise comfortable candidate to raise extra campaign cash, to spend more time knocking on doors.
In that sense, it is more an act of vandalism — a brick tossed through a window, with a note attached saying, “We know where you live.”
But payback doesn’t have to be small.
The Peach Tea Party is an alliance of several groups in Georgia whose goal is to restore the waning clout of religious conservatives in the Capitol.
On Monday, the Peach Tea Party declared it would recruit primary opposition for 17 House Republicans – most of them veteran lawmakers in metro Atlanta.
Some had opposed HB 954, the session’s most aggressive anti-abortion bill, which would reduce from 26 to 20 weeks the period during which a woman could end a pregnancy.
Others simply walked away from the vote. Still other Republicans had put their names to HB 630, a measure to eliminate discrimination in public hiring by sexual orientation or gender identity.
“These members have been flagged as Republicans in name only,” the tea party group announced.
It was a bold statement, and something of a gamble. Should the threat be revealed as empty this summer, the Peach Tea Party’s influence when the General Assembly gathers next year will be considerably weakened.
“Of course, you take it seriously,” said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, one of those made the Peach Tea Party list. “You do have to raise money. But what they forget is that I like to meet people in my district,” she said. Cooper was targeted by Georgia Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, in 2010, and won her primary with 62 percent of the vote.
Cooper is chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, trained in a Catholic hospital and has taught obstetric nursing. She walked out of the vote for HB 954, the anti-abortion bill. The measure lacked an exception for rape and incest, which she might have tolerated. But it also omitted an exception for pregnancies in which the fetus has no chance of survival.
(After passage by the House, the Senate addressed Cooper’s concern for “medically futile” pregnancies, but the amended bill is now stalled.)
“What these groups forget is – they think that all districts reflect how they are,” Cooper said. The suburbs of metro Atlanta aren’t the bastions of Republicans that they once were. Rick Santorum finished third in her district in this month’s presidential primary.
“I’m probably more conservative than my district, because I am pro-life,” she said. Cooper, a 16-year veteran of the Legislature, doesn’t like to be threatened, but she’s also steamed because she sees her Republican party losing touch with the political center.
During her first eight years in the Capitol, Cooper said she saw Democrats pushed too far to the left – and out of the Capitol.
“If Republicans are pushed too far to the right,” she said, “it won’t be next year or the year after, but it will happen to them, too.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider