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Oglesby: Georgia Senate race is key to Congress

POSTED: December 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.

It never has turned out well when the president's party also has a majority in both House and Senate for the Senate majority to be filibuster-proof. If the majority has 60 votes, it can overcome a filibuster and ram whatever it wants into law, regardless of how ill-advised on sober reflection it may be.

Our U.S. Constitution is remarkable for its deliberate checks and balances. The House, fully elected every two years, is supposed to reflect current popular sentiment. With catchy, simple slogans, lack of full information and context, etc., popular current sentiment often is not best in the long haul.

The Senate is the more deliberate body with only a third of its membership up for election every two years, thus somewhat insulating members from immediate popular political reprise.

That's why the Saxby Chambliss-Jim Martin Senate runoff election Dec. 2 is so vitally important. The Democratic Party has the president and sizeable majorities in both houses of Congress, including 58 senators with two races undecided in Georgia and Minnesota.

In Minnesota, Republican Norm Coleman led by a scant 215 votes before a legally required hand recount began Wednesday. It must be resolved by Dec. 5, after Georgia votes.

Should Coleman lose, Chambliss is the last chance to block a filibuster-proof Senate, giving Democrats a blank check to pass whatever legislation they want, confirm activist liberal judges and generate generally bad news for our country. Without a filibuster-proof Senate, President Barack Obama would have to nominate more middle-road judges.

Dismiss any thoughts I write out of partisan hopes and philosophy. I have written through many years that a filibuster-proof Senate, either Democratic or Republican, is bad for the country. That's the principal reason Republicans must turn out in great numbers to vote in this runoff despite anger at Chambliss. Democrats, sensing a chance to ensure they can ram their agenda through, will be voting with considerable Obama help.

On my partisan side, a big turnout also would give a needed run-off boost to GOP Public Service Commission candidate Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, who has longtime close ties to Hall County and significant experience. The longtime state representative chaired the House Appropriations Committee and has served before on the Public Service Commission where he is seeking to return. He already knows the ropes of this job. He married the former Sunny Nivens of Gainesville and was a partner in a local funeral home.

This may play out before Dec. 2, but as of this writing, Democrat Jim Martin's campaign may be desperate. A self-described "Democratic Party activist" lawyer has sued to force Chambliss to give a legal deposition in a charge Chambliss may have exerted influence to benefit a sugar refinery that exploded.

Never mind that Members of Congress specifically immune from legal action regarding legislative debate. They can't give such depositions. The lawyer is seeking to have this changed because he thinks they should.

The tip-off that it's all a political fishing expedition likely to be dropped after the runoff is that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee already has TV ads pointedly questioning Chambliss' ethics and integrity on this issue. The suit is needed to justify the waiting TV negative attacks.

Let's revisit the need for the runoff. Chambliss fell only two-tenths of a percent from winning outright. The reason nobody got a majority was Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley's 3-plus percent of the vote.

We don't know how those would have voted had the Libertarian not been on the ballot or if they even would have voted. Since GOP philosophy and values are close to those of Libertarians, it seems a safe bet they would not have voted for Martin.

Especially with the age of current justices, judicial nominee confirmations are vitally important. I can't comprehend how one who professes conservative views, is intelligent enough to realize a fringe candidacy has no chance and is only going to take votes away from an electable candidate of his own philosophy can vote for the fringe.

I do support their and anyone's right to vote as they please. However angry they are for whatever the major party candidate nearest their core beliefs did or didn't do, they are cutting off their own noses to spite their and fellow conservatives' faces -- no ifs, ands or buts. They can and should redeem their pique now.

Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. Reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly.



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