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January 10, 2003


Count Cleland Out
While local pols are already steeling themselves for a round of musical chairs over Zell Miller's senate seat, one well-known possibility — Max Cleland — looks content to pass this one up.

Cleland, according to a friend familiar with the ersthwhile senator's thinking, had more than his fill of smashmouth politics with the 2002 campaign. Now that he's set to get married and take a break from public service for the first time in his adult life, he's of the opinion that politics can wait. After the deplorable Republican campaign he went up against, one can hardly blame him.

Observers who still have Roy Barnes in their order of battle should scratch him off, too. Saith a spokesman: "[H]e will not be running for the Senate seat in 2004."

Greg G. @ 4:07 PM | # |

January 08, 2003


Hot News from the Gold Dome
A bevy of developments in Georgia politics today:
  • It looks like Shirley Miller has finally convinced her husband to head back to Young Harris for good — Zell's out of the 2004 Senate race. Names to watch for as possible replacements:
    1. Georgia secretary of state Cathy Cox, fresh from a succesful revamp of the state's voting machinery with an electronic system;
    2. former senator Max Cleland, hardly a spent force in Georgia politics — though he may want to settle down for good with his new bride;
    3. Outgoing governor Roy Barnes, already down to the business of rehabilitating his image;
    4. Labor secretary Michael Thurmond;
    5. New congressman David Scott, who rang up a surprisingly easy win in the 13th District;
    6. Jim Marshall, another new congressman — though his departure could put the Democrat's hold on the 3rd District in jeopardy.
But wait! There's more!
  • According to the rumor mill, state representative Terry Coleman (D) looks set to announce tomorrow that he's secured enough written commitments to beat GOP-backed rival Larry Walker (D) in the race for House speaker. If Coleman wins, a few reps could be in a world of hurt — the name of Karla Drenner, an openly gay rep from an inside-the-Perimeter district who was spotted at a meeting where Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue (R) pitched woo on Walker's behalf, comes to mind . . .
  • Talk about a role reversal: with Georgia's budget basting in red ink, insiders report that some Republicans lean toward raising taxes on cigarettes and liquor ? prompting Democrats to promise to fight them tooth and nail.
  • Is the Northern Arc, that $2.2 billion road to nowhere, dead? Well, the incoming governor looks set to give it a good Christian burial: by all indications, Perdue intends to pump more cash into the state's transportation budget . . . by selling off the right of way amassed by the State Road and Tollway Authority across the northern rim of the Atlanta region. You can't put the kibosh on the project more effectively than that.
Let's recap: Democrats are categorically ruling out taxes, while Republicans are putting the brakes on sprawl. Ladies and gentlemen, these are strange days indeed.

Greg G. @ 6:40 PM | # |


Ga. Politics: Flag Change Unlikely Anytime Soon
Last week on WXIA-TV, Governor-elect Sonny Perdue (R) reavowed his interest in holding a referendum on the state flag. But he may have a hard time pulling it off.

The promise of throwing the flag question open to a vote turns out to come with a catch: for the moment, the state constitution probably won't permit it. State courts have never had to rule on the subject, but in a 1993 opinion letter, a former state attorney general declared that "a statewide referendum would be an abdication of the exclusive authority of the General Assembly to enact laws."

That statement, oddly enough, came from Michael Bowers, a Republican who informally advised Perdue during his campaign. The connection hardly shows whether Perdue knew, as a candidate, that the notion of a binding flag referendum was legally suspect — but it certainly invites curiosity.

At any rate, the governor promises to hold fast to his word — but when asked about when he might hold a flag referendum, he demurs on setting a date. "[M]ost people feel like they should have had some say and input into that," he told the station, "and I plan to give that to them."

In an offhand comment sure to make Karl Rove reach for the Pepto-Bismol™, the governor added that he wouldn't mind holding a referendum in 2004 — which observers speculate would be the first plausible date for a statewide vote — even though the White House has reportedly expressed unease over having to share a ballot with a measure on reviving the Confederate flag. WXIA reported two weeks ago that the White House had ordered Perdue to keep his distance from the flag issue in 2004.

"No, I wouldn't have a problem" with a referendum in 2004, Perdue said tonight. "I think we should do it as soon as possible. The sooner we begin healing, the better off it will be."

Before he can move forward with that, he'll need to get past a couple of obstacles: the Democratic secretary of state, Cathy Cox, who controls the state's election machinery, and the state constitution itself.

Cox has already signaled her intention to wield the constitution like a cudgel against against any referendum effort — her office has said that having a referendum would require passing a constitutional amendment first. Since the state only allows votes on amendments during a general election, that would force Republicans to hold two flag votes: one on allowing a referendum, in 2004, and another about the flag's design sometime later — probably in 2006.

Republicans regard that as a worst-case scenario, and Perdue has hinted at a way of avoiding it: a non-binding referendum used largely as a pressure tactic against Democrats in the legislature.

"I think a non-binding referendum would certainly be legal at any time, and I think, I don't want to forge any constitutional issues here," he told the station. "I think the people of Georgia can express their opinion and I believe the legislature is willing to listen to their opinion."

To make that happen, of course, Perdue would have to muscle language that authorizes a non-binding poll through the state legislature. No need to speculate about that now, though — let's wait to see what happens when the legislative session starts on Jan. 13.

Greg G. @ 12:27 PM | # |


Ga. Politics: House Speaker Contest Coming Down to Wire
Georgia legislators have to choose a successor to the nation's longest-serving state House speaker in less than a week. The tussle between the Democrats' anointed candidate and a Republican-friendly renegade over who gets to replace him, however, is just getting hotter.

The state's Democrats, already smarting over the loss of the governor's mansion and defections that cost the party the Senate, settled on Rep. Terry Coleman, chairman of the appropriations committee, at a mid-November caucus. It didn't take long, however, for that consensus to fall apart — in fact, a senior Democrat bucked the party even before the meeting had come to a close.

Representative Larry Walker, who dropped hints about a challenge before the closing gavel, made his intentions official within a week. He set out to win the contest, however, with an unorthodox strategy: rather than attempting to sway the Democrats, he locked down committments from the chamber's Republicans. With the GOP holding 73 of the House's 180 seats, a Republican-backed Walker would need just 18 Democratic votes to send Coleman to the sidelines.

Walker lives in the south Georgia town as Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue (R) was born, and represents Perdue's current hometown — a connection that helped him broker a deal with Republicans in short order. Since then, Perdue has thrown his weight behind the campaign, in hopes that Walker as speaker would appoint Republican chairmen to key committees. Coleman, however, maintained throughout December that he had more than 100 commitments to vote for him — enough to turn back Walker's challenge.

Walker, of course, claims to have abundant commitments as well. The contest has even given rise to a joke:
In the race for House speaker, Terry Coleman has 109 firm votes. The punchline? Larry Walker has 106 . . . .
This morning, however, political columnist Bill Shipp, usually a solid source of information, broke word that Walker had sewn up 16 Democratic votes, which would put him within striking distance.

Coleman dodged a bullet, however, when voters in a northwest Georgia district re-elected a Democrat yesterday in a special revote. A Democratic loss, combined with those 16 Democratic votes, would have put Walker on the threshold of power.

Whether Perdue and the Republicans can win effective control of the House remains unclear. One thing is certain, though: this one won't be over 'til it's over.

Greg G. @ 12:24 PM | # |

January 07, 2003


Georgia Politics Update
People, I need to level with you. I've been messing around with another blog.

Hey, don't get your backs up at me! It isn't as tawdry as it sounds. =, Here's the story: over the last few weeks, Kos has cooked up a new commuity website about political goings on outside Washington. He calls it the Political State Report. The site launched last week, and to help get things rolling, I've contributed a couple of posts about the latest gossip from the Gold Dome. Let me point you to them:There you have it. Look at the bright side: now you've got two places where you read my sage wisdom! What could be better than that? =,

Greg G. @ 11:25 PM | # |

January 06, 2003


Edwards Argues His Case
What happened to the flub-prone John Edwards the commentariat wrote off a few months back? He was nowhere in sight today, when Edwards swung through Atlanta for a quick fundraiser near the state capitol. Instead, what the crowd got for its money was a candidate who knew the issues, knows how to gladhand, and gives a great speech. He got off some great lines about Bush on foreign policy and health care — to wit:
  • "[H]e promised us purpose without arrogance. Instead, he gave us just the opposite — arrogance without purpose."
  • "But everyone always says, 'the HMOs say this,' or 'the HMOs say that.' Who cares what the HMOs say?"
Given how low I had set my expectations, I have to count the experience as a surprise. I won't slap a bumper sticker on the car just yet — but he managed to convince me that he's contentious and smart enough to give Bush a scare.

Which brings up another point: where's Kerry? I don't expect to meet the man; I don't live in New Hampshire. Aside from his speeches on the failings of Bush's foreign policy — which hardly count for much anymore, because all Democrats harp on Bush's foreign policy — what ideas has he come up with? What's he running on — a platform or a resumé?

Greg G. @ 5:55 PM | # |