You could safely say that the past two years were probably not the best years of Casey Cagle’s life.
The lieutenant governor spent most of the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions in a state of limbo after a rebellious faction of Republican senators passed new rules that stripped Cagle of his powers to appoint committees and run the administrative affairs of the state Senate.
Although the fight was conducted largely out of public view, Cagle stewed for two years as the clique headed by President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, controlled the upper chamber.
The turmoil in the Senate made it harder to conduct legislative business, a development that was noticed by the people across the rotunda. House Speaker David Ralston derided the attempt by Williams and Rogers to run the Senate, saying: “The experiment has failed.”
In politics, as in life, things have a way of turning around. Cagle did a lot of work behind the scenes and was in position to benefit from a recent change in the Senate leadership.
Williams first decided not to seek another term as the president pro tem, opening up an opportunity for lawmakers loyal to Cagle. Rogers then resigned from the Senate to accept a $150,000-a-year job arranged by Gov. Nathan Deal with Georgia Public Broadcasting.
When Republican senators caucused in November, they elected a new leadership team: President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, and Caucus Chairman Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. The new leaders, who are much friendlier towards Cagle, had new rules written that restore many of the lieutenant governor’s former powers.
There were a couple of telling incidents during the opening days of the 2013 General Assembly session that demonstrated Cagle was once again in the driver’s seat.
On the session’s first day, Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, complained bitterly about the new rules restoring Cagle’s authority and accused senators of violating their oaths of office by adopting them.
“Don’t give one person absolute power, even if you think he’s a good person,” Crane said, holding up a roll of yellow crime scene tape to make his point. The Senate then voted 42-12 to restore Cagle’s powers.
Crane received his punishment a few hours later when the new committee assignments were posted. Last year, he was a member of such important committees as education, finance and banking. This year, he has been banished to the lonely outposts of the state and local government operations, state institutions and property, and special judiciary committees.
Other senators who had been part of the Williams-Rogers rebellion similarly found themselves demoted to less prestigious committee assignments by Cagle and the new leadership team.
Later in the week, the Senate considered Deal’s proposal to renew a Medicaid provider fee – also known as a bed tax – that is imposed upon by the state’s hospitals.
This fee is important to Georgia’s healthcare community because it will bring in more than $400 million in federal matching funds for Medicaid.
“I have been informed that 10 to 14 hospitals will be faced with possible closure if the provider fee does not continue,” Deal said in a speech to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “These are hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid patients.”
When the fee was first proposed in 2010, it triggered loud and furious debate in the Senate. While the bed tax was eventually approved, the anger and hostility generated by that close vote was part of the reason why Cagle was later stripped of many of his powers.
On top of that, Grover Norquist, an anti-tax activist based in Washington, D.C., was demanding that Republican senators vote against this Medicaid fee renewal because he classified it as a tax increase.
There was some grumbling and complaining during three hours of Senate debate, but the bill renewing the provider fee passed by an overwhelming 46-9 majority. Cagle and the members of the Georgia Senate effectively told Norquist to go stuff himself.
It was a good first week for the lieutenant governor. Cagle looked like a man who was much happier about his own situation and the state of the world in general.
Getting revenge on your enemies will do that for a person.
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com.)