Stand Ready Tea Party, They Know You’re Serious
Your vote in Tuesday's primary affects the building struggle between Georgia's grassroots conservatives and the long-standing political machine.
Conservatives across Georgia have enjoyed a renewed sense of activism since the onset of the tea party movement sometime in early 2009. Georgia in particular has enjoyed an ever expanding roster of tea party minded people in leadership positions in the General Assembly and in local governments across the state. Some were already serving, but found themselves fighting a losing battle against the powers that be; others have stepped into public service for the first time in their lives and have been elected and promoted from within the movement. Thriving and influential tea party and 9/12 groups operate in dozens of cities, counties and regions across the state. As a movement that started off primarily as a national-issue movement inspired by bank bailouts, auto bailouts and a runaway federal debt, the new-found conservative activists have long since turned their eyes toward mass education regarding the history and original intent of our founders and have come to realize that our responsibilities as citizens cover every level of government from dog catcher to president. The basic stated platform of the movement is smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and open and free markets.
The Georgia political machine has morphed over the years from the Democrat controlled monster that fought so hard in the sixties to stop equal rights legislation and integration to a full slate of Republicans in every constitutional statewide office and a vast majority of local offices. Most Georgia politicos know, however, that one needs only look back a few voter rolls to see who was once a Democrat before either having a genuine conversion to the Republican platform or trading in their D for an R because the writing was on the wall and their drive for power was otherwise over. Mix the moderate Republicans (RINOs) with the finger in the wind converts and power hungry Dems, stir in some big money power brokers who regularly contribute to whomever they believe will bring the best return on their investment and you’ll have yourself one very formidable political machine. The Dems bring with them the traditional media like the AJC and most local papers and TV stations. All of this considered, in years passed it was very, very difficult for a meager handful of constitutional conservative law makers to have any real impact.
Fast forward to the 2012 General Assembly where the true conservatives managed to get through a plethora of solidly sensible legislation and made some good headway on even more. With the new-found support of an active Tea Party movement the constitutional conservatives in Georgia have begun actually shrinking Georgia’s government and restoring a sense of fiscal responsibility and common sense. This does not resonate with the machine. It’s that simple. They thought the Tea Party movement was a flash in the pan, but have now come to the full realization that their power base is in real jeopardy and make no bones about it, they don’t intend to let it slip away.
Enter the lieutenant governor saga that started early on in Sonny Perdue’s first term. Below I will lay out the details of the debate regarding the constitutional power of Georgia’s lieutenant governor, but suffice to say that it is right now ground zero in the fight to beat back the conservative movement and the machine has recruited an entire slate of candidates to challenge their perceived “enemies” and return power to its rightful owners. Tea Party favorites like Chip Rogers, Bill Heath and even a newly empty District 52 seat vacated by solid constitutional conservative, Barry Loudermilk, are square in the cross hairs of the anti-Conservative effort and the alliance of RINOs and Democrat power brokers is as plain as the nose on their faces. Most of the Cagle-endorsed candidates have even gone as far as bragging about endorsements from liberal groups like the Georgia Association of Educators, whose president is a staunch Obama campaigner and the Georgia Conservation Voters, who’s chairman ran in the Democratic primary for attorney general on a platform of supporting Obamacare. I believe this blatant advertising of leftist endorsements is an attempt to lure Democrat crossover voters in the primaries. Tea Party leaders across Georgia need to recognize and understand that defending the constitution with regard to the lieutenant governor’s office has far reaching implications regarding what we will be able to accomplish going forward; defeating the hand picked slate of the machine is paramount.
During the 2010 session of the General Assembly a bill was introduced that would raise taxes on hospitals to fill the budget gap caused by plummeting revenues. Several conservative members of the General Assembly, who not only campaigned that they would not raise taxes but also were committed to holding to their promises, refused to vote for this legislation. A few members of the House and Senate stood firm on their principles while Speaker Ralston and Lt. Gov. Cagle threw their full political weight against those members.
In the House, conservatives like Barry Loudermilk, Charlice Byrd saw legislation they had worked on throughout the session, their bills, held in Rules Committee or sent back to the committee from which they had been previously passed. There were some other punishments handed out to House members who didn’t cave to the pressures from leadership, but since the House had the votes they needed only a few were mildly punished.
However, the Senate was an entirely different story. Lt Gov. Cagle had been secretly negotiating a compromise with Gov. Purdue and Speaker Ralston without including the elected leadership of the Senate on the deal. When they finally reached an agreement to raise taxes on hospitals, Cagle reported the deal to the Republican Caucus and demanded that all the members of the caucus vote for the bill. It was made clear by Cagle that anyone voting against the bill would face punishment.
When Cagle was elected as the first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction, the Republican majority of the Senate decided to hand over to him certain powers over the Senate that would give him parity with the powers that the Speaker held. At the beginning of every two-year term the Senate adopts rules which in part establish how members are assigned to committees, how chairmen of committees are assigned, who directs legislation to committees and how conference committees are appointed. Since these powers are given to the body of the Senate by the Constitution of Georgia, the Republican majority adopted rules that extended all of these powers to the lieutenant governor.
While this put the lieutenant governor on a more equal footing with the speaker, it violated the separation of powers clause in the state constitution by giving the executive branch total control of the Senate. The Speaker of the House is in fact a member of the House of Representatives and is elected by the House to serve in that capacity and is accountable to the members of the House. On the other hand, the lieutenant governor is not a member of the Senate and is not accountable to the Senate since he is elected to the executive branch.
When the Hospital Bed Tax bill came before the Senate for a vote, a few members of the Senate wouldn’t cave and voted their principles. Immediate and harsh retribution was taken on these members by the lieutenant governor, even though the elected leadership of the Senate protested his action. State senators Preston Smith and Judson Hill were stripped of their committee chairmanships and Mitch Seabaugh was forced out of his leadership position as the Majority Whip.
It became clear that Lt Gov. Cagle was in total control and the elected leaders of the Senate had absolutely no authority.
When the new Senate convened in 2011, it was decided that instead of centralizing all this power with the lieutenant governor, a committee comprised of members of the Senate would be created to make committee assignments and appoint committee chairmen. In the spirit of cooperation, the Senate decided to extend the power to assign legislation to committees and appoint conference committee members to the lieutenant governor.
Since then the lieutenant governor has continued, through various means, including collaborating with Democrats, to oust the elected members of the Senate and restore these powers to him.
However, any casual reader of the state constitution can clearly see that there is to be a “distinct” separation of those powers. Below are the sections of the state constitution that address the separation of powers and the role of the lieutenant governor.
Article I of the Georgia Constitution states:
ORIGIN AND STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT
Paragraph III. Separation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers. The legislative , judicial, and executive powers shall forever remain separate and distinct; and no person discharging the duties of one shall at the same time exercise the functions of either of the others except as herein provided.
Article III, Section III
Paragraph I. President and President Pro Tempore of the Senate. (a) The presiding officer of the Senate shall be styled the President of the Senate. (b) A President Pro Tempore shall be elected by the Senate from among its members. The President Pro Tempore shall act as President in case of the temporary disability of the President. In case of the death, resignation, or permanent disability of the President or in the event of the succession of the President to the executive power, the President Pro Tempore shall become President and shall receive the same compensation and allowances as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The General Assembly shall provide by law for the method of determining disability as provided in this Paragraph.
Paragraph III. Lieutenant Governor. There shall be a Lieutenant Governor, who shall be elected at the same time, for the same term , and in the same manner as the Governor. The Lieutenant Governor shall be the President of the Senate and shall have such executive duties as prescribed by the Governor and as may be prescribed by law not inconsistent with the powers of the Governor or other provisions of this Constitution. The compensation and allowances of the Lieutenant Governor shall be as provided by law .
For anyone to believe that a member of the executive branch can wield controlling power over the legislative branch of Georgia’s General Assembly simply doesn’t understand the phrase separation of powers. They simply want to use this office to control the agenda and in turn control us.
To sum all this up let me just say this. Get ready Tea Party people, they now realize that we mean business and they’re about to flex their muscles to try and shut us down. Stand strong, stand together and stand for what’s right.