State Rep. James Mills, the longest-serving member of Hall County’s current legislative delegation, can’t remember a year when there was so much change in the Gold Dome.
Of 10 statewide offices on the ballot, only two are being sought by incumbents. The rest call for new nameplates beside the doors of state Capitol offices.
For sure, when the next legislative session begins in January, Georgia will have a new governor, new attorney general, new school superintendent and new commissioners of agriculture, insurance and labor. The General Assembly, too, will see many changes.
“There’s tremendous turnover,” said Daniel Franklin, associate professor of political science at Georgia State University. “... There’s just a lot of shuffling going on over at the state.”
And Mills, who has served in the state House since 1993, says there is the potential for chaos if the new officers don’t agree on a common goal.
“I think the hardest thing is making sure everyone is on the same page because if you’ve got five different agendas going in five different direction, then chaos rules the day,” Mills said.
But Franklin is focused on the here and now.
“What does it mean for governing now? You’ve got an entire lame-duck administration, some of whom are running for office, some of whom are retiring ...” said Franklin. “There’s a lot of sort of stasis in government, because you’ve got people who are either preoccupied with doing something else, which means running for office, or retiring and it’s a typical sort of transition problem.”
No one will know until January how the transition will affect the way Georgia’s government is run, but former state legislator Wyc Orr says it might be a good thing for constituents hoping to have their issues heard.
Orr is a Gainesville lawyer who spent two terms in the General Assembly in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Newly-elected officials might be more willing to listen, he said.
“When somebody’s just been elected, I think they are more acutely aware of how they got there, that the voters put them there,” Orr said. “And I think often times they’re more receptive then than ever to citizen input.”
But new statewide officers also have a pretty large learning curve, Franklin said. To ease the transition, they usually integrate staff from the previous administration with new staff, Franklin said.
Lobbyists, who don’t usually change from election to election, also will be looking to “educate” newly-elected officers, Franklin said.
“They tend to have a lot of expertise and a lot of interest in what goes on in state government,” said Franklin. “So new constitutional officers and indeed the governor are going to have to be very careful who they listen to because they are going to be beset by lobbyists.”
The newness of the state’s constitutional officers could empower the General Assembly, he said.
“If the General Assembly is dealing with brand new people in these positions who are still getting up to speed on the new job they hold, those department heads won’t have some of the influence and heft, if you will, that a more experienced person would in that office, and I think that could generally empower the General Assembly in dealing with them,” Orr said.
But the turnover in the state’s legislature could also slow down the state’s budgeting process, Orr said.
“Some of them are going to have to feel their way as they go,” said Orr. “And do I think that could impede or slow the arriving at a budget? Yes, I do.”
Franklin said that since leadership in the state House and Senate is already established, new legislators likely won’t cause much of a stir.
It is likely new legislators will likely defer to leadership, he said.
“Probably the most stable institution in government, and I mean that in terms of leadership, is going to be the legislature,” said Franklin. “... The rest of the government is potentially going to (have) a lot of turmoil.”
Since constitutional officers such as attorney general and secretary of state are elected rather than appointed by the governor, Franklin said conflict between new officials is likely.
“I think our structure of government in the state of Georgia is designed to create conflict between the governor and his cabinet officers,” said Franklin. “... In the state of Georgia, the cabinet is independently elected. And not only that, many of the people who are independently elected as constitutional officers get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say ‘Morning, Governor.’”
“Even if they’re from the same party, they’re in some ways in competition with the governor and in some ways positioning themselves to criticize the governor for his or her failings.”
Orr also suspects there may be some marking of political fire hydrants under the Gold Dome come January. He mentions a power struggle between Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Gov. Sonny Perdue early in Perdue’s first term that was decided in the Georgia Supreme Court.
“When you have new people in positions, the tendency toward turf protection is probably greater than ever, because they’re unsure of themselves. They don’t want to be a new person on the block who develops a reputation for being a chump, being someone whose turf can be taken more easily,” said Orr. “There will be a lot of dynamics at work here of that kind, also.”