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Oglesby: Will cool heads prevail in DOT drama?

POSTED: May 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.
The kinder words I've heard from gleeful Democrats and longtime loyal Republicans about the 2008 performance of the state legislature and its key leaders range from disgust to outright outrage. I rank it closest to disgust.

Most responsible are the key leaders, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson. Neither would compromise when compromise was necessary. Each tried to undercut the other in their obvious quests for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in two years, putting political ambition ahead of their bigger responsibility to govern effectively. One result could be calls for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson to come home and run for governor.

Now comes Act Two of the highway board fiasco that well could cost Hall County dearly. Local level officials joined legislative leaders in betting political chips for naught.

In Act One, two good men who were good friends became political pawns in the Cagle-Richardson feud. Richardson vowed to replace Chairman Mike Evans on the highway board. After one Hall Countian rejected a candidacy, former Rep. Stacey Reece was asked.

His candidacy was a win-win for Hall County. Had Reece rejected it, Richardson had a willing candidate from the other side of the district. Evans had done very well for Hall County, lobbying local officials hard for support.They and the Chamber of Commerce endorsed him over Reece, and Evans won re-election. Had Reece not agreed to be a candidate and Richardson had prevailed with the other candidate, Hall would have lost its prized influence with the board then instead of possibly now.

Bowing to pressure from local officials and Cagle, Rep. Doug Collins, who Reece supported to succeed him, cast the deciding vote to re-elect Evans. Hall had retained its influence, and Reece wasn't upset.

Act Two could bring either that dreaded loss of influence (and accompanying blame) or a reconciliation, peace or cease-fire of sorts across the board if all involved at every level show they can put political pettiness aside for common good (and accompanying credit).

Reece has been mentioned as a possible candidate again. So has Rep. Ben Bridges of White County. As of this writing, neither had decided if they want to get involved in what could be another circus or fiasco.

Rep. Carl Rogers has expressed interest but would have to leave his seat, seniority and good committee assignments. A number of potential candidates on the other side of the district have announced interest and some already have announced candidacies. This will be a contested race. Scenarios and questions abound. Let's explore them.

Some local officials have said they want a Hall Countian. Reece and Rogers are the only ones mentioned so far who have the needed political connections. Last I heard, neither have decided if they want to get involved.

Would Richardson even support Reece again given the West's interest? If so, would Cagle allow the speaker to claim a win of sorts in their feud by also supporting Reece. Would either or both support Rogers?

A number of Republicans are upset with Richardson for punishing members. Would he be willing to reinstate those he punished, particularly Collins, as a gesture to Cagle and perhaps get back on the good side of his angry members? Will the governor get involved and if so, how?

More important, what will the local officials and our legislative delegation do this time? Sen. Lee Hawkins likely will follow Cagle's lead even if it means the seat moves westward. What about the House members? Will local officials let some petty personal agendas take precedence?

The point is, while many of us know past alliances, few of us know what all the players are thinking now. Without that knowledge, it's difficult for any of us to figure it out. What's easy to understand is if they let the seat go out of Hall County this time, those who face the electorate will have manufactured a top issue for any opponents.

If he was leveling about when his romantic interest began, I think Evans handled his departure responsibly. The governor, lieutenant governor and highway board did well reprimanding but keeping the director on board.

An added note: while the Tour de Georgia was a local success, there also were some real problems and substantial expense to government and individuals not readily apparent to many. We'll discuss this later.

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




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