So far, watching Georgia politics in 2008 has been like having a ringside seat at a professional wrestling match. Legislating sound laws and presenting calm and prudent budget plans have been replaced by threatened body slams and real flying chairs.
We can thank for most of the entertainment our entrenched Republican Party and a speaker who learned manners in a Hiram poolroom. The speaker's wild temper tantrums have all but eclipsed the name-calling among conservatives, "real conservatives" and moderates in the presidential primary battles.
At Gold Dome Entertainment Inc., the main event features Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, and his various attempts to build a personal political empire and wreak vengeance. The highest-profile fight picked by Richardson so far has been his all-out drive to pass a state sales tax to include services (everything from haircuts to doctor visits) and re-impose it on groceries (the grocery tax was eliminated by Democrats in the mid-1990s).
Romeo Richardson's proclaimed GREAT tax would replace school taxes and most county property taxes. It would have the additional benefit (in Richardson's mind) of letting sales-tax revenues flow to state government. The General Assembly, led by Richardson, would then parcel out the receipts to counties and local school districts. Imagine the power such an arrangement would bestow on a House speaker. Consider new incentives for lobbyists to visit the speaker's office, bringing along their checkbooks to write campaign checks, as well as their bleached blonde hair and good looking legs.
Most politicians of both parties have been fleeing from the Richardson plan. Romeo is said to be raving most about the GOP's lack of enthusiasm. He's brazenly wielding his power as the controller of the budget-writing House to twist arms, impose his will and issue wholesale threats.
Beyond the tax plan, Richardson is on a tirade about the state Department of Transportation board. The powerful board is a unique institution in state government, with its members elected by General Assembly members in caucuses representing each DOT district. Richardson is furious that board members voted against his candidate for DOT commissioner, Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain. Richardson has launched a political terrorism campaign against anti-Richardson board members. He is openly and loudly trying to force Republican House members to expel the anti-Richardson rebels in favor of the speaker's choices. His attempt to remove board chairman Mike Evans, who represents the 9th District, in favor of former Rep. Stacey Reece, a Richardson ally, failed when several Republican House members bucked Richardson's ticket.
Richardson has started stripping committee assignments from House members who crossed him in the board election. He's been kicking those members out of their office space in the Capitol and moving them to relative purgatory in the Legislative Office Building. Most of the members in Richardson's crosshairs are close allies of Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. The get-even battle is igniting fiery tensions inside the House Republican leadership. All of this is getting in the way of legislators spending their time on matters that we pay them to deal with - passing a responsible state budget and legislating solutions for water issues, traffic and our slow economy, for example.
Beyond Richardson's entertaining, if appalling, circus act in the center of the ring, we have other spectacles to behold. At this point in his term, just about everyone at the Capitol is tired of Gov. Perdue, who seems equally weary of them. While he squeaked out a victory in his DOT clash with Richardson, Perdue's influence over and interest in what is happening in the Capitol appears to be dwindling. He is spending more and more time on national political trips, traveling the country raising money for Republican gubernatorial candidates. His extracurricular activities may suggest that Sonny has mentally moved on from his main Georgia duties and is laying the groundwork for a national political move, whether it be the vice presidential slot on this year's Republican ticket, or maybe a cabinet post if John McCain wins the White House.
As the Republican presidential field continues to narrow, McCain may need Perdue to go to work elsewhere. Don't be surprised to see the presumptive nominee ask the Georgia governor to heal divisions in the Georgia GOP wrought by Speaker Richardson running amok, and a primary battle fraught with internecine wars between conservatives and moderates.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.