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Crawford: Lawmakers leave job they vowed to do

POSTED: September 4, 2013 1:00 a.m.

When he was president, Ronald Reagan could often be heard urging his supporters to “stay the course.”

In the broadest political sense, it was a call to keep the ship of state on a steady course, no matter what political winds or storms it might encounter, until the ultimate goal was reached.

If he were still alive today, Reagan might be dismayed at what Georgia’s political figures are doing.

Rather than stay the course, some legislators are jumping ship at the earliest opportunity. They are quitting jobs they were just elected to a year ago to spend all their time running for a congressional seat in the 2014 elections.

Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, a six-term legislative veteran, announced last week she was resigning to “devote all of her energies” to the GOP primary in the 10th House District, where she hopes to replace U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Athens.

“I am very proud to have represented my community for 11 years in the House and grateful beyond words to my friends and neighbors who have been so supportive of me,” she said. But not so grateful that she would serve her full term in the legislature.

Sheldon’s resignation was quickly followed by an announcement from state Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, who’s running in the 11th District as a potential replacement for U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey.

“Our children deserve a better nation than what is being passed on to them, and that is why I am going to focus my full attention on winning this race and serving the people of the 11th District in Congress,” said Loudermilk, who evidently was less interested in focusing his full attention on the people who elected him to the Senate last year.

It will be interesting to see if legislators involved in other congressional races, such as state Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, and state Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, in the 1st District, make the same decisions that Sheldon and Loudermilk made.

In the midst of all this talk about resigning from office, Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, made headlines simply by saying he won’t quit (Lindsey, like Loudermilk, is running in the 11th Congressional District race).

“As a young man, my Dad always told me that, ‘the best way to get a job is to do well at the job you have,’” Lindsey said. “Sticking taxpayers with the enormous cost of a special election for the sake of advancing my political career is an example of the kind of self-centered politics that dominate Washington today.”

It is understandable why a legislator might want to leave office early. The primary elections are probably going to be held on May 20 next year, one of the earliest election dates we’ve ever had in this state.

A legislator who decided to stay in office would be stuck in Atlanta during the General Assembly session in January, February and March, unable to campaign in the congressional district while his opponents are out meeting voters and raising money.

On the other hand, resigning early from office is no guarantee you are going to win the primary. Karen Handel resigned early as secretary of state and Eric Johnson resigned early from the Georgia Senate to run for governor in 2010, but both of them lost in the Republican primary.

There is also the matter of living up to obligations you have made to your constituents, who theoretically are the people you are supposed to be serving.

The candidates who ran for legislative seats in 2012 were elected by friends and supporters who assumed that they would hang around to serve out the full two years of their term.

Instead, the lawmakers are resigning early and sticking the folks back home with the bill for the special elections that will have to be held to replace them.

I saw Rep. Terry Rogers, R-Clarkesville, last week and asked if he also planned to resign from the legislature.

“I wouldn’t resign for a very simple reason: I made a commitment,” Rogers said.

Rogers noted that a legislator who quits office is vulnerable to an easy line of attack.

“I’d ask her, ‘If you would leave your people halfway through your term, what would you do when you get to Congress?’”

Tom Crawford is the editor of the Georgia Report at gareport.com. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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