In Georgia senate, 3 Democrats cross the aisle to give Perdue sway over half the Legislaturegreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
Looks as if the South is going conservative in state government too.
Switchers put GOP in control
By JAMES SALZER By RHONDA COOK Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writers Georgia Republicans' roll continued Friday, as the GOP converted a third Democratic state senator and handed Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue control of half of the Legislature.
State Sen. Rooney Bowen of Cordele said in an interview he would leave the Democratic Party and join the Republicans because it would be the best thing for his South Georgia constituents.
Also Friday, Democratic Sens. Don Cheeks of Augusta and Dan Lee of LaGrange formally announced their decision to switch to the Republican Party.
Adding those three senators will give the Republicans a 29-27 majority, their first in the Georgia Senate since Reconstruction, to go along with their first governor since that era.
"We want a functioning, governing coalition of Georgians who want to work together," Perdue told a crowd in LaGrange, where Lee announced his switch at a stop on Perdue's airport "victory tour."
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor accused Perdue of "buying off" senators with choice leadership positions and local projects.
When Lee announced the switch, Perdue introduced him as one of his floor leaders. Cheeks acknowledged he was promised funding for a cancer research center in Augusta -- for which Perdue announced his support during his stop in the city.
"I would not have made the switch if I had not had the commitment the cancer center was coming," Cheeks said after announcing he would become a Republican.
Claiming a majority in the Senate would allow Republicans to wrest much of the power from the Senate's presiding officer, the Democratic lieutenant governor, when the Legislature convenes in January.
Senate rules give the lieutenant governor the authority to make committee appointments, but those rules can be changed by the majority party. Committee heads set the agenda on which bills are considered and which are not.
"The central power of the lieutenant governor is the power to appoint committees and to appoint chairs, especially the appropriations committee chair," explained former Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard, Taylor's predecessor.
Senate Republican Leader Eric Johnson of Savannah wouldn't say whether he expects his party to use its new strength to turn Taylor's job into a largely ceremonial one.
Senate Minority Whip Tom Price (R-Roswell) suggested not all committee chairmanships would necessarily go to Republicans.
An angry Lt. Gov. Taylor, in an interview Friday, said the party switchers should resign and run for office again as Republicans.
"This struggle is not over," said Taylor, who is striving to keep waffling Democrats in the fold. "I reached out to [Perdue] on election night, promised his agenda would be treated fairly in the Senate. At the same time, he's cutting all these backroom deals. This is a continuing process and I can assure you this process will continue right up until the Senate organizes."
Democrats hold 106 of the 180 state House seats, but the GOP is targeting about 10 rural Democrats in the House to switch, Republican officials said.
"This is about building a coalition, not partisanship," the governor-elect said.
Perdue said some Democrats who aren't switching parties will still support his agenda.
Sen. Regina Thomas (D-Savannah), who attended Perdue's appearance in Savannah on Friday, said she wasn't switching parties, but that she would likely vote with the new governor at times.
"We are going to have to work together to make things better," Thomas said. "It's going to be different, but it's not going to be a bad different."
Perdue, a longtime Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in 1998, tapped Sen. Bill Stephens (R-Canton) as his floor leader Friday. Floor leaders carry the governor's legislation in the Senate and line up votes for his initiatives.
Lee and Cheeks were strong candidates for switching from the start. Both have been at odds with the state's Democratic leadership over the last few years, notably over redistricting. Cheeks was upset that his Augusta district was loaded with minority voters under the latest redrawing of political boundaries, and Lee complained bitterly about his West Georgia district being divided up in an effort to strengthen Democratic candidates elsewhere.
Also, Cheeks said Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker (D-Augusta) tried to knock him out of the Legislature by running a candidate against him this year. The candidate withdrew from the race because she didn't live in the district. Walker was defeated Tuesday.
Lowell Greenbaum, chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party in Augusta, said Cheeks has often voted with Republicans, so his defection was no surprise.
"This is not so much a betrayal of the Richmond County party as it is a betrayal of Taylor and the good work he does," Greenbaum said. "We will put up a qualified candidate to run against [Cheeks] in 2004."
Since Perdue rode a strong rural vote to victory over Gov. Roy Barnes on Tuesday, he and Republican leaders have been working aggressively to court rural and small-town Democrats. While on the plane Friday between Albany and Savannah, Perdue was talking by phone with Bowen.
Bowen said he decided to switch to ensure that he could "bring more back to the community." He said he hoped to remain chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee.
Bowen won re-election Tuesday over Carden H. Summers, a Cordele Republican. Cheeks and Lee were re-elected as Democrats without opposition.
Speculation on who might switch next turned to state Sen. Jack Hill (D-Reidsville). Hill attended the Perdue stop in nearby Savannah, but did not acknowledge that he would go over to the Republican side. He said he showed up to support Perdue.
Some lawmakers are resisting Perdue. Sen. Peg Blitch (D-Homerville) said Friday she was sticking with the Democrats, despite pressure from Republicans.
"They haven't let up," said Blitch. "But I ran as a Democrat. Mark Taylor has done more for rural Georgia than any other individual I know. There aren't as many voters down here so they [Democrats] aren't doing it for political reasons. They are doing it because it's the right thing to do."
-- Anonymous, November 09, 2002