Legislative session can help or hurt careers

ATLANTA – Even before the final gavel falls Thursday night to close out the 2013 legislative session, evidence suggests some participants will come out ahead and others will have some ground to make up.

A legislative session is a magnet for competitive people. Every legislator took a chance to run for office and only the winners get in the door of the House and Senate chambers.

That competitiveness serves them well in the hurly-burly atmosphere of the Capitol where only one of them gets to be speaker, governor, or chairman of a given committee, although each is certain he could do a much better job than the current occupant. And only about one-tenth of the bills introduced each session will wind up passing.

So, they know intuitively that nothing happens by chance. Every accomplishment takes determination, work and skill. The lobbyists, many who are former legislators, the clerks and the other observers recognize this as well.

The Capitol community is a ruthless judge of political talent, respecting those who have it -- even philosophical opposites -- and dismissing those who don’t.

For example, when House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey sparred with House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams over the tabling of eight local bills, Rep. Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, said afterward that she enjoyed watching the back and forth.

“It was like watching a tennis championship,” said Smith, who is an avid tennis player herself.

Lindsey and Abrams both helped themselves by putting on a good show.

On Friday, the opposite was the case when freshman Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, challenged a ruling of Speaker David Ralston and lost 1-167. That’s embarrassing, and legislators were openly laughing at Gregory as the watched his future in the House evaporate.

Even the other freshmen -- except for one -- knew instinctively the danger of such a move without the prior legwork to assure a successful coup. The one exception, Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan, wavered, alternating between Y and N before a kindly veteran put a hand on his shoulder and said something along the lines of, “Don’t be stupid over a hopeless cause.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp has felt the sting of lost respect. During last session, he rolled out a sweeping reform bill of the 40-plus professions licensed and regulated by his office. It was roundly opposed as a naked power grab and he eventually withdrew it, losing face in the process.

Then, after that session, he ordered the state archives closed to the public because he said Gov. Nathan Deal cut his budget. The governor intervened, but instead of supplementing the budget, he took the archives away from Kemp with a bill sailing through the legislature this year.

Another bill heading toward easy passage will remove three professions from his oversight, and even he admits many other professions will seek the same thing if the trio succeeds.

As a former senator, Kemp should understand what scale he is being measured by. He also appreciates that signs of vulnerability begets disrespect.

Rep. Jeff Chapman is feeling that, too. He was a maverick in the Senate before he resigned to run for governor in 2010, finishing behind the pack in the GOP primary. That put him at a deficit coming into the House with less political capital than the average freshman.



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