Politics January 2007
As Georgia's Republican Party consolidated its control of state government over the last four years, GOP lawmakers were somewhat restrained in the types of issues they raised. There were two reasons for this:
They were still learning how to pull all the levers of state government, which was only natural for a party that had been out of power for 130 years.
They wanted to make sure that Sonny Perdue would get a second term as governor.
Mission accomplished. Perdue cruised to a crushing re-election victory over Mark Taylor; Republicans held the 34 seats they have in the 56-member Senate and added a couple more seats in the House of Representatives.
With the Democratic Party barely able to fog a mirror these days, the GOP looks like a good bet to remain in control for at least the next two or three election cycles. How far will they go in exercising this majority control?
Some predict they won't push the envelope that much.
"You can't have everything," Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said in a recent speech. "If a guy wants a bottle of bourbon and car keys, you don't give him both."
Johnson may be a little too subdued in his projections. At this point, Republicans no longer have any need to hold back on their legislative agenda. The floodgates are open. They can take a deep swig from that bottle of bourbon and turn the keys in the ignition at the same time as they address the issues important to their supporters.
Don't like income taxes? House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who wants to run for governor in four years, is already pushing for a comprehensive revision of the state's tax code that would eliminate the income tax, a move that would probably require a sizable increase in the sales tax.
Tired of paying property taxes? House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons) is still keen on the idea of eliminating local property taxes for schools and replacing them with an increase in the statewide sales tax.
Want some more tax exemptions for your business? The Legislature no doubt will be very willing to work with you on this - which means the state sales tax would probably have to be increased to as high as 20 or 25 percent to accommodate all of these tax cuts.
Want to outlaw abortion entirely? Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) has already pre-filed his annual bill to make it a felony offense for a doctor to perform the procedure for any reason - even if rape or incest is involved.
Franklin's abortion ban is much more likely to get a serious hearing and floor vote in the upcoming session than it has in the past, when it has died in committee. It's a measure of how conservative the Legislature has become that Franklin, who was once a lonely man out on the far-right fringe, is now firmly within the mainstream.
Perdue, who fancies himself a player in the vice-presidential sweepstakes for 2008, will have his own agenda to push. During his political career, Perdue has swung from being a moderately conservative Democrat to a Christian Right Republican and he'll want to do things that appeal to the party's evangelical base.
You could see Perdue make another try at government funding for religious organizations, as well as an attempt to pack the state Supreme Court with additional justices who would rule in favor of corporations and squelch all those pesky damage suits.
With Perdue and Richardson pushing the envelope to the right, that could leave some space toward the center for a politician like Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. If he chooses to go in that direction, Cagle would have room to maneuver in the middle between the governor and the speaker on hotly contested issues. Of course, Cagle is very conservative and religious himself.
What you're going to have is a lot of people grabbing the ball and trying to run with it, and they're all going to be running wide right.
What we don't know at this time is how the average Georgian will feel about all this. Voters haven't expressed any unhappiness so far with the Republican leaders. The next two years should tell us just how far to the right they're willing to go.
Tom Crawford, editor of the Capitolimpact.com news service, covers politics for Georgia Trend.