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GOP's core values being tested on budget

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POSTED: April 12, 2007 5:14 a.m.
The impending showdown between the Georgia House and the state Senate over the 2007 supplemental budget is far more than  just the usual political skirmish over who gets to take home how much.
This battle over how budget dollars will be spent and where, goes to the core values of Georgia’s ruling Republican party and could determine whether the current GOP House leadership survives to lead another year. It is a defining moment, too, for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, whose line in the sand over increased spending has sent House leaders into an unbecoming snit. How dare he, they complain.
It was last week that Cagle received the House version of the supplemental budget and — surprise — discovered his right-wing House brethren, who fire-breathe frugality on the campaign stump, had the distinct odor of free-spending on their breath when they staggered in with a budget laced with more than $50 million in pet projects.
Cagle, under a spell of naivete or misguided faith, had been under the notion his House counterparts would be toeing the conservative line they’d all campaigned on. After all, many of those in the House leadership today first cut their political teeth ranting over the Democrats’ penchant for packing pork-barrel legislation into the mid-year spending plan.
But, how silly can you get? Govern like you politic? Who really does that? Cagle may be trying to, but Georgia’s GOP House leadership makes no pretense. They’re finally in power and, past campaign rhetoric aside, their hands are in the cookie jar.
This really isn’t a complicated issue when you understand politics in the Georgia House. Simple explanation: That was then. Pork was bad. This is now. Pork is good. If you can’t see that logic you have no future in the GOP-controlled House.
The state’s leading conservative commentator, Jim Wooten of the AJC, has repeatedly warned GOP leaders: If they hope to keep their newfound power, they have to govern in a manner matching the philosophy they preached so many years as the minority — less government, more accountability (read Open Government) and a sharp pencil on spending.
Rep. Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island), the man reputed to be the most powerful legislator in the House (even more powerful than the speaker), obviously, missed Wooten’s message. He’s indignant that Cagle, or anyone, questions the wisdom of the House’s free-spending supplemental budget. Keen and his House buddies are enjoying the spoils of victory, which is more than just helping yourself at the state trough. They are soaking up special-interest dollars in record amounts. The Glynn County legislator reportedly doesn’t care how little information the taxpaying public has access to and works behind the scenes to keep prying eyes away from the process. (A skeptical press has the annoying habit of looking for connections between record campaign contributions and packing the budget.)
Keen dismissed Cagle’s attempt to put a rein on spending, saying: “Obviously, the Senate prefers to be cute than have sound policy.” He then threatened to “shut down” budget discussions, apparently until Cagle and the Senate agree to drink the same philosophical Kool-aid that has been intoxicating House leaders.
Both Cagle and Keen have their sights on the governor’s office, so that plays a role in all this posturing. And we all know the difference between “vital programs” (my spending) and “pork-barrel politics” (someone else’s spending).
We also know what eventually happens to politicians who make a practice of talking one way and governing another.
Keen and other House leaders may have that lesson coming.

Williams publishes weekly newspapers in Blackshear, Alma, Ocilla and McRae.
 

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