Published Wednesday, January 16, 2013
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
State Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, started the 2013 Georgia General Assembly session off with a bang when he became the most vocal opponent of a set of rules that would restore much of the power that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was stripped of two years ago.
The Senate adopts its rules at the start of every two-year session. This year's rules included a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts, as well as restoring Cagle's power to appoint the members of committee and assign bills to committee.
The lieutenant governor is the presiding officer of the Senate and, for most of its history, has been in charge of assigning senators, and bills, to committee.
But in 2010, the Senate voted to instead vest that power in the eight-member Committee on Assignments.
The new rules create a five-member Committee on Assignments. Cagle is the chairman of the committee and appoints two of its other members. The other two members are the president pro tem and majority leader.
On Monday, Crane offered an amendment to the rules to remove the power from Cagle. He was blocked when the Senate voted to prevent changes to the rules, which eventually passed 42-12.
"This may be the end of my political aspirations, but I will never stop fighting for liberty," Crane said on the Senate floor.
Former Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, also spoke out against the changes.
Williams, who resigned from his leadership position last summer, was a major proponent of the old rules.
Williams warned that giving the power to Cagle was unconstitutional since the lieutenant governor is a member of the executive branch.
“Don’t give one person absolute power, even if you think he’s a good person,” Williams said Monday.
Afterward, Crane speculated that Cagle would assign him to insignificant committees and stifle consideration of his bills as punishment.
He was certainly right about the committee assignments.
In 2012, Crane's first session, he was appointed to several plum committees — Education, Economic Development, Finance, and Banking and Financial Institutions, where he served as secretary.
This year's committee assignments are Retirement, State and Local Government Operations, State Institutions and Property, and Special Judiciary.
On Tuesday, the second day of the session, Crane reiterated his position.
Crane addressed his colleagues and told them he would bring up the matter each of the remaining 38 days in the legislative session.
"Do you think freedom is at the helm of this body?" he asked.
After Crane's comments, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, expressed exasperation with his fellow sophomore. Both were elected in special elections to complete terms of men Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to state jobs.
"I think we need to decide if we're more interested in getting things done or in making a point," he said, noting that the rule empowering Cagle had already been voted on and was settled.
Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, stood up to add, "I just wanted to say 'amen' to what Sen. Wilkinson for what he said."
When the Senate adjourned for the day, Crane noted that many senators would not make eye contact while he was criticizing the power-shifting rule. But as he walked through the Capitol to his office, members of the public approached him and thanked him for speaking out.
Crane's predecessor, Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, was one of the senators who pushed for the rules stripping Cagle's power two years ago.
"We came to an agreement with the lieutenant governor on a good, well-balanced framework that will allow us to do the business of the Senate," Seabaugh said after the caucus meeting in November of 2010. With the new rules, "the Senate has some input into self-directing, as far as how we conduct our business. Now it is time for us to get to work on the issues that are before us in the state."
The lieutenant governor has some powers granted by the Georgia Constitution — presiding over the Senate and succeeding to the governor's seat if the governor dies or is otherwise unable to serve. But all the other powers are granted by the Senate.
In late 2003, after Republicans took control of the Senate, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor was stripped of nearly all his power. The 2010 action didn't go that far, Seabaugh said two years ago.
"We are on the same team," Seabaugh said. "We have got to work together, we in the Senate," he said.
"If you put all the power in one or the other," Seabaugh said, "we believe that makes the Senate a little bit weaker."
Crane could not be reached for comment Tuesday on this story.
Editor's note: A report from Walter C. Jones of Morris News Service contributed to this article.