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There seems to be a rash of quitters in politics

Posted: January 2, 2013 - 1:02am

Casey Stengel managed several baseball teams during his Hall of Fame career, but none of them were as bad as the team he took over in 1962: the original New York Mets.

As that Mets team bumbled and stumbled its way to a record number of losses, Stengel lamented: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

I thought of that quote as I watched some recent developments in Georgia politics.

In the weeks since the Nov. 6 general election determined the winners of 236 seats in the General Assembly, we have seen people resigning all over the state before they could even take the oath of office.

It’s not unusual to see someone resign from public office midway through a term – that happens quite often. In these instances, people are quitting before they have served one day in the office for which the voters picked them.

John Bulloch resigned after being reelected to his Senate seat in a southwest Georgia district, but he at least had a valid reason. He had some health issues related to his hospitalization for meningitis.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, stepped down from the Senate when he was offered a high-paying position with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

When Rogers resigned, a special election was called to fill his Senate seat. One of the candidates who qualified for that election was state Rep. Sean Jerguson, R-Holly Springs, who then had to resign from his House seat. That required another special election to replace Jerguson in the House.

The early resignations didn’t stop there. Robert Stokely, the Coweta County State Court solicitor, was elected to a House seat in the general election but resigned from that position six weeks later before he could be sworn into office.

“When I decided to run for state representative it was in good faith and with the intention of serving the citizens of District 71 to the best of my ability,” Stokely said. But an opportunity to take a full-time job as a magistrate judge came along and he chose that instead.

With Stokely’s departure, yet another special election will have to be held to fill a vacant House seat. There could be others. I’ve heard speculation that two or three other legislators are trying to get state jobs and might quit the General Assembly as well.

Can’t anybody here serve out their term?

This trend toward early resignation is catching on among people who haven’t even campaigned for office yet.

When the special election was called to fill Sean Jerguson’s House seat, Bill Fincher was among the candidates who qualified to run. Within days of qualifying, however, Fincher, an assistant district attorney in Gilmer County, withdrew from the race.

“I would have to resign from my job immediately to run, then I’d be out looking for a job,” Fincher told a reporter. “And it’s expensive to run for public office.”

Lisa Collins was one of the candidates who qualified for the special election to replace John Bulloch in the state Senate. She also withdrew from that race within a few days after she plunked down her qualifying fee.

It appears that people get caught up in the idea of running for the Legislature but find their enthusiasm waning when they look at what the job actually pays.

Being a lawmaker does not mean you are going to make a lot of money – at least not at first. All legislators are paid a basic salary of about $17,300, plus $7,000 a year for reimbursable expenses and a $173 per diem allowance for those days when the General Assembly is in session and for committee meetings that are held after the session.

That’s a total compensation package of roughly $32,000 for a freshman legislator. There are some people who might not want to take on a job that pays such an amount.

Let’s make it a New Year’s resolution that anyone who is interested in running for political office should first do some basic research into what the position pays. If you don’t think the compensation is sufficient, then don’t run for that office. Let someone run who would be willing to serve out the entire term of office.

The voters deserve some consideration here.

(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com.)

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