People around the state, including Northeast Georgia, had different reactions to U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ announcement Friday that he won’t seek re-election in 2014.
Many state and local leaders honored the Georgia Republican’s 20 years in public service. But one Gainesville conservative said he’s had concerns about some of Chambliss’ recent decisions, including his vote to support the “fiscal cliff” deal earlier this month.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said Chambliss’ impending retirement opens an opportunity for a field of hopefuls already lining up as possible replacements.
Chambliss said in a statement that he was proud of his conservative record and that he had no doubt he would have won re-election.
“This is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of nation’s economic health,” he said in the statement. “For our nation to be strong, for our country to prosper, we cannot continue to play politics with the American economy.”
Bullock said that by not running again, Chambliss can devote his time in the next two years to his work on cutting the federal deficit and other fiscal challenges the U.S. faces by helping both parties make unpopular decisions. The debt ceiling debacle of 2011 and the recent fiscal cliff vote showed Congress at its worst, Chambliss said in his statement.
Chambliss already faced some conservative blowback for willingness to compromise. Kris Yardley, chairman of the Hall County GOP, said his radio comments and his fiscal cliff vote upset some people.
Chambliss was a member of the bipartisan “gang” of senators that were trying to work out a compromise to address the nation’s deficit. In an interview around Thanksgiving, Chambliss implied that he might change his stance on taxes, saying “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” referring to the vow endorsed by anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist.
Gov. Nathan Deal highlighted the senator’s leadership during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent U.S. war on terror, and said history will remember Chambliss as a great Georgia leader. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said the retiring public servant “is a true statesman.”
“I will remember him as a friend,” Deal’s statement said.
Loree Anne Thompson, communications director for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said the congressman wishes Chambliss well in his next endeavor.
“It has been an honor to have him represent our interests in Washington,” Thompson said.
Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he knows Chambliss and wasn’t surprised by the decision. Rogers said he thinks Chambliss feels that he has done all he can and wants to pass the torch.
“He’s burned out and ready to come home to Georgia,” Rogers said.
The open seat will allow some people to move up the political ladder, with names are already being floated by media outlets. Atlantic magazine already has reported that U.S. Reps. Tom Price, Phil Gingrey and Tom Graves, all Republicans, were possible contenders.
Democrats also see Chambliss’ retirement as opportunity for the party to pick up the seat in 2014.
“There is no question that Georgia is on the way to turning blue,” said Mike Berlon, Democratic Party of Georgia chairman, in a statement. “We’re looking forward to next year.”
So is Bullock.
“The 2014 election looks far more interesting than we thought it was going to be,” he said.