The state Senate’s two-year experiment with self-rule may be about to experience a major correction.
In a private meeting held at the edge of the earth – well, Little Ocmulgee State Park down in south Georgia – the Senate Republican caucus voted 25 to 10 to make David Shafer of Duluth the president pro tem and No. 1 leader in the chamber.
On the losing end was Bill Cowsert of Athens. He had been at the top of a slate of candidates put together by outgoing President pro tem Tommie Williams of Lyons and other GOP senators who banded together two years ago to strip Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of his authority over the chamber.
From the official press release:
“I am humbled by the support shown by my Senate colleagues in today’s election,” said Senator Shafer. “With the upcoming legislative session less than two months away and with several critical issues needing immediate attention, it is imperative that we begin work now.”
In that same press release, Cagle – whom the state constitution names as president of the Senate — expressed “great confidence” in Shafer’s leadership. “This is a united team and together we will do great things for Georgia.”
The fact that Cagle’s name was included in the press release may be more important than what the lieutenant governor said. The breach with Senate leadership has been that wide – to the point that Gov. Nathan Deal was quietly drawn into the machinations that resulted in Thursday’s vote.
The fight for control of the Senate has disrupted the first two years of Deal’s governorship, and threatened a third.
After Shafer’s election, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers withdrew his bid for re-election, allowing Ronnie Chance of Tyrone – the governor’s floor leader – to be elected in his stead. Other candidates on the slate withdrew as well, we’re told.
New faces emerged in the counter-coup, which could portend new spheres of influence when the Legislature convenes in January. Renee Unterman of Buford, whose district abuts Shafer’s, was a key force in gathering up votes for the new leader. Josh McKoon of Columbus – whose push for a cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers has made him unpopular in many quarters of the state Capitol – served as parliamentary strategist during the Ocmulgee takeover.
Butch Miller of Gainesville was named chairman of the Senate GOP caucus. Cecil Staton of Macon retained his position as majority whip.
Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour of Snellville did not attend the meeting. But his vote was placed in the hands of Williams and was cast by proxy. This puts Balfour on the wrong side of an important battle, and could indicate his time as chairman of the Senate’s most influential committee is about to come to an end.
Now, what does this mean for Cagle? We’re told the caucus will gather again next month in Athens to hammer out a power-sharing agreement with the lieutenant governor. One hint was offered up by state Sen. Ross Tolleson of Perry, via the Gwinnett Post:
”I think what you’ll probably see is a real balance of the lieutenant governor having some of the authority and the floor having some of the authority,” Tolleson said. “I think people want a balance.”
Senate Democratic Leader Steve Henson of Tucker said he received word of Shafer’s election last night. He, too, said the relationship between Cagle and the chamber has yet to be determined.
“In all probability the new Republican leadership will probably work more closely with the lieutenant governor than they have in the past,” Henson said. As for Shafer, Henson – whose caucus will probably make up only one-third of the Senate come January — offered up this prayer:
“David Shafer is a conservative Republican, but he ran his committee in a respectful manner, and I’m looking for him to do the same in his new position.”
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss criticized potential secretary of state nominee Susan Rice for carrying White House water on the Benghazi attack in September, but stopped short of calling the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations a liar. Via Politico:
“I’m not saying she lied,” he said. “I’m just saying she didn’t tell. She put a softer touch on what the real facts were. That’s not lying. She just didn’t get out there and say, ‘Look, this is a terrorist attack. Somebody screwed up. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it.’ That’s where we were two days later, not five days later, and I think the American people would have been better served, and they would have a better feeling about what happened in Benghazi if the White House had just been forthcoming very quickly.”
Republicans emerged from last week’s vote without their man in the White House, but with 30 governors. Many are in Las Vegas this week for a gathering of the Republican Governors Association. Among them were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who was highly critical of Mitt Romney’s post-election assertion that he owed his defeat to “gifts” President Barack Obama offered to blacks, Hispanics and young people:
Republican and Democratic congressional leaders gather at the White House this morning to discuss how the “fiscal cliff” might be avoided. Key to any deal will be House Speaker John Boehner, whose maneuverability on the issue is restricted by a conservative GOP caucus. But the Washington Post has these paragraphs today:
One potential wild card in the GOP caucus might be at least 29 Republicans who are retiring or lost their elections and could provide support for a deal.
“The vast majority of Americans think that is the way to get this country back on track,” said Rep. Charles F. Bass (R-N.H.), a more moderate member who lost his election last week and said he is prepared to accept higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy, provided a deal also included major spending cuts.
Rep. Nan A.S. Hayworth (R-N.Y.) said her defeat had done nothing to change her belief that higher taxes are a bad idea. But, she added: “We’ve had an election in which there was a Senate majority that was chosen, for whatever reason, and the president was reelected. And the president has been adamant on raising taxes. So some form of a tax increase will probably occur on the wealthiest — quote, unquote — will occur.”
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, a retired obstetrician, said he thinks further House votes to repeal “Obamacare” its entirety would be useless. From The Hill newspaper:
Gingrey, a co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus, said Republicans are beginning to recognize that the health care law — formally knows as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — isn’t going anywhere with Obama still in the White House.
“It would be pointless, in my opinion, to have a vote on repeal of PPACA, but we know enough egregious aspects of the law that can and should be repealed, and very likely — well, somewhat likely, I should say, in a bipartisan effort,” Gingrey told reporters Thursday.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider