Today’s Courier Herald Column:
There is a certain lack of subtlety in the headline that is intended to ensure that the day to day intricacies that occur during a campaign do not obscure the much bigger picture that is Georgia’s political landscape. The July primary will decide many races and change the political future of many Republicans. Among those with the most at stake is Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. Cagle, however, is not on the ballot.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers is on the ballot and faces a primary challenge from within his own party. As qualifying closed last Friday, a news story appeared on the Atlanta Unfiltered website detailing in excruciating detail Rogers’ extensive employment history with John Edens. Edens is the man to whom Rogers sold his interest in a failed Calhoun hotel which triggered a long public battle with the bank that was left holding the debt.
Rogers spent years working with Edens in various ventures that promoted sports betting via 1-900 numbers, using the name Will “the Winner” Rogers. Rogers, whose legal name is William Rogers IV, claimed that he was only being paid to read a script, and not personally endorsing the claims his “character” made.
The revelation that Rogers spent roughly a decade pitching gambling activities prompted Jerry Luquire, President of Georgia’s Christian Coalition, to distribute an email asking for Rogers to resign as Senate Majority Leader. Luquire stopped short of asking for Rogers’ outright resignation as a Senator, stating he would defer to voters in the current primary to make that determination. His request was based on Rogers’ “knowledge some years ago of the gambling industry” combined with his leadership of the Senate which “may be discussing gambling”. The letter makes no suggestion that Rogers has committed any act of impropriety.
Luquire responded to a follow up email confirming that he nor his organization have at any point asked Senator Don Balfour to step aside as Rules Chairman nor Senator Jack Murphy to step aside as Senate Banking Chair. Balfour currently is facing ethics complaints for abuses of expense reimbursement accounts and failing to properly create the audit committee to oversee such expenses as is required by Senate Rules and Georgia Law. Murphy is currently being sued by the FDIC for gross negligence and breach of fiduciary duty in his role as a director of the failed Integrity Bank. Balfour and Murphy also face primary challenges.
If there is justified criticism over Rogers’ job performance as Majority Leader, it is that he is the Leader of the caucus which created the Committee On Assignments which stripped Lt. Governor Cagle of his powers over the Senate. The Committee left both Murphy and Balfour in place as Committee Chairmen despite their obvious impediments in their ability to effectively preside over those bodies. Their continuation as chairmen is now a direct reflection on Rogers.
Yet the call for Rogers to step down as Majority Leader isn’t over his performance, and as earlier noted, isn’t suggested as the result of any impropriety. It is instead over a past employment.
Were the call to be over Rogers’ silence with respect to Balfour and Murphy, then any challenger would be presumed to be in favor of removing those men as chairmen as well. The cascading effect would add extra power to the challengers in those two primaries as well, and would likely extend to the other contested Senate Republican primaries.
Murphy is considered to be among Cagle’s closest allies in the Senate, and while Balfour has remained mostly neutral during intra-Senate power struggles, is also close with the Lt. Governor. Rogers, meanwhile, has been among the most willing to publicly clash with the Lt. Governor both before and after the stripping of his powers.
While the 2011 session featured many public battles between the Lt. Governor and Senate Leadership that ground the Senate to a halt during the final days, a meeting moderated by the Governor on the opening day of the 2012 session forced a temporary cease fire. It was agreed that 2012 would be a working session and issues would be settled at the ballot box afterward. The Republican caucus who will serve next year will have the opportunity to maintain the status quo with current leadership and presumably maintain the limited powers of the Lt. Governor. Or, they may make wholesale changes.
And thus, the request from Luquire for Rogers to remove himself as Majority Leader must be viewed from the larger prism of the battle for control of the Senate and not within the confines of Rogers’ direct primary challenge. Luquire was an early supporter of Cagle during his 2006 race against Ralph Reed, another race where gambling interest weighed heavily. As such, one should not suggest that Luquire is insincere over his concern for the expansion of gambling interests in Georgia.
His decision to weigh in now over the position of majority leader while remaining on the sidelines when other powerful allies of his Lt. Governor must be balanced against his request. He would have a former employment arrangement disqualify a Majority Leader from service, but not a charge of breach of fiduciary duty disqualify a Banking Chairman. He would have the potential of future gambling legislation cause the need to change Majority Leaders, but sees no problem with a Rules Chairman who breaks Senate Rules and ignores Georgia law.
Intentional or not, Luquire’s request for Rogers’ resignation directly serves the interests of the Lt. Governor. Because of the stakes involved, every outside influencer that weighs in on a contested Senate Republican primary must be judged in the same manner.
Casey Cagle isn’t on the ballot this year. But he will be assumed to have one of the hardest working campaign organizations in the state this season.