View the full interview between reporter Carolyn Crist and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle or watch a short highlight video from the interview.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle believes he has achieved the American dream, and he wants to help Georgia residents do the same.
Cagle is taking on his second term as the No. 2 official in the state, knowing this year’s priorities will focus on budget cuts amid increased demand for education, water and transportation solutions.
“Obviously the state has less revenue, and we have to tighten our belts, shrinking government and making it more efficient and more effective,” Cagle said during a recent interview at the Capitol. “We need to outsource more, privatize and cut out duplicate services. There’s a lot of it. Government is big, bloated and this is our moment in time to redefine the way state government will look for generations to come.”
As lieutenant governor, Cagle presides over the state Senate and will oversee the day-to-day operations of the 40-day legislative session that starts Jan. 10. Cagle sees his position as a “great platform” to talk about his top priorities for the state — job creation and education.
“I’ve experienced the American dream. I was raised by a single mom and had the great opportunity to be in business and have some success and now be in the No. 2 position in the state,” he said. “It’s about making sure every person has the same opportunities.”
After 12 years as a Republican state senator for District 49 and four years at the 11th lieutenant governor, Cagle decided to go for another campaign.
“It’s to continue the efforts we’ve undertaken. The campaign was exciting, but the best parts, as I tell people, are when it’s actually over and you’re victorious,” Cagle said with a laugh. “You like to be done because campaigns are brutal. It’s a different environment than it was a decade ago. There are a lot of personal attacks, and it’s tough for you and tough for your family.”
Former Sen. Lee Hawkins, who battled his own tough campaign this election season, said he is looking forward to watching Cagle’s leadership at the Capitol.
“I’ve always been impressed with his ability to relate to people and understand subject matters,” Hawkins said Monday.
“He works tirelessly on projects, and he’s spent more time in that office, even between sessions.”
Hawkins met Cagle in the Gainesville area before Cagle first ran for the Senate, and he’s seen firsthand how Cagle handles his presiding position in the chamber.
“He’d often come into the Senate caucus before we went to the floor to discuss legislation, and sometimes he’d give his opinion, but he’d always tell us that if the caucus felt differently, then we should express it on the floor,” Hawkins said.
“Last session was tough, and this session will be tough for passing a balanced budget. It’ll affect citizens, and it takes great responsibility, but it’s something we must do and look forward to the future. I know they will accomplish it.”
As an incumbent, Cagle is picking back up at the Capitol where he left off. His transition period isn’t as daunting as the governor’s, but he’s trying to help where he can.
“I’ve been meeting with Gov.-elect (Nathan) Deal and Speaker (David) Ralston on a regular basis,” Cagle said. “We’ve tried to stay consistent in meeting as we talk about issues that are important to each of us. We want to work together to move this state forward.”
These issues will all come back to the budget, which will include cutting services and possibly even state jobs, Cagle said.
“Real certainty comes from the expense side of the ledger, not the revenue side. Any time you try to raise taxes or raise revenue, you don’t always know how that’s going to come in,” he said. “We need to downsize state government ... and get out of some services we’ve been involved in during previous years.”
That’s why Cagle’s solution boils down to job creation.
“That’s what everyone is most concerned about when we have a 10 percent unemployment rate, which is unprecedented.
People are concerned about whether they’ll have a job and what the prospects are for generations to come,” he said.
“Georgia has the 10th largest economy, and we’re sitting in a state ripe for opportunity.”
Job creation hinges on education, which will prepare students for the hot jobs in the future.
“We need to move away from this one-size-fits-all model to a model centered around the needs of our individual students and allow flexibility at the local level,” said Cagle, who has supported charter schools and career academies across the state. “Career academies are the wave of the future, and if we really want economic opportunities, we should put the focus on getting students on a path that motivates and challenges them and addresses our dropout rate.”
Cagle plans to stay dedicated to his goals, pushing aside the notion that his leadership duties were stripped during the Republican Senate Caucus meeting in Macon just a few days after the Nov. 2 election.
“In politics, nothing stays the same. It’s always a fascinating process under the Gold Dome ... you do have egos and individuals rising to the occasion,” Cagle said about the formation of the Senate Committee on Assignments. “Only one guy was elected to be lieutenant governor, and that happens to be me.”
Until the next election, Cagle plans to keep fighting for his issues — which includes keeping the Capitol in Atlanta.
“Gov.-elect Deal early on wanted to move the Capitol to Gainesville, and I told him we couldn’t do that,” Cagle said with a laugh. “No, the truth is this is history by having the governor and lieutenant governor from the same county. Reality is, he’s his own man, just like I am.”
Though Cagle, a seventh generation Hall County resident, is connected to Deal by location, he believes both will fight for the state.
“We are connected geographically and philosophically in many respects, but at the end of the day it’s less about where you come from and more about the issues you want to champion and how you bring meaningful solutions,” he said. “But Gainesville will always be home. It’s all I know. I love Gainesville, and I always will.”
After taking up triathlon training this year, Cagle also keeps health and fitness on his mind. He has run five triathlons this year, including two in Gainesville, and he said he hopes it sets an example for his Lieutenant Governor’s Healthy Kids Challenge.
“After my neck surgery, which was a very, very big deal for me, I had the realization that I take things for granted and take my health for granted,” Cagle said. “It was a turning point physically, spiritually and mentally to change a lot of my lifestyle ... I’m in the best physical shape of my adult life, and it gives me something to wake up for every morning and get busy doing.”
His sons — Jared, 21, Grant, 18, and Carter, 15 — may laugh at their dad for wearing spandex, but they’re proud he’s taken up a new athletic challenge. The Healthy Kids Challenge brings a national program to 200 Georgia schools to change nutrition and physical activity in the classrooms.
“We have an epidemic in this state with childhood obesity, and we need to change that,” Cagle said, referring to the state’s 33 percent obesity rate. “I won’t stop until every school is focused on stamping out childhood obesity. It’s so easy to eat healthy, and it doesn’t require that much more effort to build a routine for physical activity.”
As he looks toward the future, Cagle said he is eager to set guidelines for the “contentious” reapportionment discussions that will start as census numbers are released.
“Everyone is looking out for themselves and their district. It’s hard for the lieutenant governor who presides over 56 senators to ensure fairness and equity,” he said. “We need to keep communities of interest aligned and not split counties and precincts, which lends itself to gerrymandering.”
When Cagle was first elected as a state senator, his mentor Sen. Johnny Isakson joked with him during the redistricting talks.
“He told me he had good news and bad news. The good news was I still had a district, but the bad news was that I didn’t know anybody in it,” Cagle said. “Obviously, that was only a joke, but the truth is these things do happen, and when we look at the demographic shift in Georgia, we’re going to see fewer districts in the southern region because of population growth.”
Sen. Butch Miller, who first met Cagle when volunteering with him at their children’s schools, said he is looking forward to his first session under the lieutenant governor.
“Here’s a guy who took on one of the best known names in Georgia politics — Ralph Reed,” Miller said. “Nobody gave Casey a chance, but he demonstrated that he was willing to outwork his opponent, and now he’s legendary in Georgia politics.
Cagle’s leadership will especially peak during upcoming tough budget talks, Miller added.
“If it were easy, anybody could do it,” Miller said. “It reflects on his leadership and commitment. In past sessions, we’ve seen difficult issues, and he’s faced them head on.”