Note to readers: This marks my last post of 2012 — I’ll be on vacation the rest of the year. My AJC colleague Daniel Malloy in Washington, email@example.com, has graciously agreed to take on blogging duties and keep you informed as we stray ever closer to that fiscal cliff. Best holiday wishes to all.
Much has been written about the sudden departure of Chip Rogers for a custom-made job with Georgia Public Broadcasting, four weeks after his re-election to the Legislature and three weeks after he was forced to withdraw his bid for a second term as state Senate majority leader.
But too heavy a focus on Rogers detracts from the larger development: The return of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle as a figure of consequence in the state Capitol and the rise of two new Senate Republican leaders — David Shafer of Duluth and Ronnie Chance of Tyrone — dedicated to ending a two-year battle for control of one half of the General Assembly.
“When I was seeking votes for president pro tem, I told my caucus members that I wanted to end the infighting that has plagued this chamber for the last two years and find a way to work constructively with the lieutenant governor,” said Shafer, a 47-year-old investor and businessman who in January will become the No. 1 ranking senator.
Shafer replaces Tommie Williams of Lyons, who had decided not to seek another term. Chance, who has served as Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leader, will become majority leader — and replace Rogers.
Rogers’ exit and the rise of the Shafer-Chance team are two sides of the same coin.
Both Rogers and the governor would have us believe that his new job at GPB, reporting to President and Executive Director Teya Ryan, was a happy coincidence. Please feel free to accept this if you like. It’s the season for Hallmark-style miracles.
We do not yet know what Rogers will be paid. Whatever his salary, the governor is apparently satisfied that it’s worth the removal of the Woodstock lawmaker from the dysfunctional hothouse that has been the state Senate.
Rogers is the fellow — a media-savvy tea party favorite — who jumped up as the face of opposition to this summer’s transportation sales tax referendum. It’s altogether possible that Deal didn’t want the same thing to happen next year, when the Legislature takes up Medicaid and the all-important extension of the so-called “bed tax.” Failure would open up a $300 million-plus hole in the state budget.
Removing Rogers from the scene also emphasizes the end of a brief, tumultuous era in the Capitol.
In 2010, on the heels of Cagle’s first re-election bid, a band of Senate Republicans, led by Rogers and Williams, led a revolt that stripped the lieutenant governor of much of his vast authority over the Senate — in particular, his power to appoint committee chairmen and thus control the flow of legislation.
While the state constitution names the lieutenant governor as president of the Senate, GOP senators demanded authority over their own chamber. But the result of the coup, consummated on the campus of Mercer University in Macon, was something close to chaos.
Big issues became impossible to address. Neither the governor nor House Speaker David Ralston knew who was in charge of the Senate — and thus, who to negotiate with. But until November, efforts to end what Ralston called the “little experiment” had been futile.
This weekend, at a conference for state lawmakers in Athens, Senate Republicans are expected to approve a new power-sharing relationship with Cagle — who has deferred all comment until the arrangement is settled.
“Not even the lieutenant governor is suggesting that we go back to the pre-Macon rules, when that power was vested in the lieutenant governor alone,” Shafer said. “I’m committed to preserving the integrity of the Senate, but I believe that can be done without waging a war of attrition with the lieutenant governor.”
The Capitol is a place where the word “friendship” has many meanings, but Shafer and Cagle have ties that stretch back 20 years. “When I was executive director of the Georgia Republican Party in the early 1990s, I helped recruit [Cagle] to run for the state Senate. When I was elected to the state Senate, he was my seat mate,” Shafer said. “But more important than him being a friend, he is the lieutenant governor of the state. And the constitution provides that he’s president of this body.”
Shafer says that, for now, he has no personal legislative objectives. “My focus is going to be on ending the infighting and developing a good working relationship with [Cagle],” he said.
But the new Senate leader hinted that an unwritten rule of the Republican caucus — that no major legislation would advance without the majority approval of all GOP senators — might be relaxed.
“I want to make sure the process is respected, the rules are followed and issues are decided on their merits,” Shafer said. “I think we’ll allow the committees to work.”
In summation, Shafer uttered a thought that has been forbidden for the past two years. He declared that part of his job is to make sure voters think the lieutenant governor is worth re-electing in 2014. “I don’t believe there’s any way that Casey Cagle can fail and that the Senate Republicans can succeed. I believe that our success is tied up with each other,” Shafer said.
He added that the same goes for the governor, who also stands for re-election in two years.
Which is one more reason why Chip Rogers has suddenly become a crucial part of the public television industry.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider