Georgia Once Again a One-Party State

On Tuesday, as the rest of the nation witnessed political upheaval from an electorate frustrated with two solid years of economic hardship, Georgia rather methodically returned to its history, following a path that it has taken since reconstruction.  Georgia is, at least for the time being, once again a one party state.

Having been led by a Republican governor and state senate for the last eight years and a Republican state house for the last six, yesterday voters filled every statewide constitutional office with a Republican.  In addition, by picking up an additional Congressional seat with the defeat of Rep. Jim Marshall by State Rep. Austin Scott, Republicans now hold both U.S. Senate seats and 8 of the state?s 13 U.S. House seats.

Little has changed in Georgia.  The state is still a conservative, pro business state, evidencing the same values it has held throughout its history, in spite of the fact that the population has practically doubled in the last 30 years - with much of that growth having been fueled by relocations from other parts of the country and from around the world.  What has changed is the party label that most of our elected officials now carry.  Historically the Democrats who governed in Georgia were both fiscally and socially conservative, and their politics were more likely to agree with the opposing party?s national goals and objectives.

For the last 20 years Georgia has largely been a two party state, with elections fiercely fought and issues hotly debated.  It was just 18 years ago that the first Republican was elected to a statewide office in 120 years.  Bobby Baker, running as a Republican, won a seat on the Public Service Commission in 1992.  Two years later, as then-Congressman Newt Gingrich led the Republican takeover of the U.S. House, more Republicans were elected in Georgia.

Tuesday?s election finalized the process of relabeling when the electorate filled the slots for Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner and Labor Commissioner with Republicans Sam Olens, Gary Black and Mark Butler.  These positions are currently held by Democrats who did not seek reelection to those seats.  No Democratic candidate in any statewide race garnered more than 44% of the votes cast.

Being a one party state has, for whatever reason or reasons, largely served Georgia well.  The new leadership team will have an opportunity to work on some of the state?s most daunting challenges in a cohesive and cooperative manner.  And with the slate now filled with Republicans the state?s leaders can firmly focus on the mission of getting the job done as opposed to engaging in election rhetoric.

Admittedly, labeling Georgia as a one party state is a bit simplistic.  The General Assembly is still home to some very able and capable Democrats.  A number of these individuals are thoughtful, insightful policy makers with a keen understanding of multiple issues and an unparalleled institutional knowledge base.  At times many of them will serve the vital role of providing an opposing perspective, and some of them will be extremely effective in creating change and getting things done in the current political reality.

And make no mistake about it; Tuesday?s election did not signal approval for any political party.  Americans and Georgians alike are genuinely concerned about the economy and their own economic well being.  As U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson was quoted in today?s AJC, the election was a rejection of what has happened nationally over the last two years, ?but not necessarily a ratification of Republicans. We?ve got the wind at our backs, but now people want to see results.?
Isakson Returned to U.S. Senate

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson was returned to the Senate for a second term on Tuesday when he received more votes than any other candidate in any race in Georgia.  As a successful businessman, former member of the State House and Senate, former Chairman of the State Board of Education and a former member of Congress, Isakson has long been respected by members of both major parties.

His committee assignments include the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. As Senator Isakson?s seniority grows, look for him to take a more active role in financial and economic issues, including initiatives to jump-start the housing market, revise the mark-to-market accounting rules and rein in the power of regulators under the recently adopted reforms of the financial services industry.
Governor-Elect Nathan Deal

After perhaps the most brutal gubernatorial campaign in the state?s history, former Congressman Nathan Deal emerged as Georgia?s 82nd Governor on Tuesday, winning handily with 53% of the vote over former Governor Roy Barnes? 43%.  

A former prosecutor and state legislator, Deal will confront one of the state?s largest budget deficits ever, along with an outdated and inadequate tax code riddled with loopholes.  With an unemployment rate of 10 percent statewide, Georgians will also be looking to Deal to deliver on campaign promises of cutting taxes and stimulating economic development to spur job growth.

The new Governor, along with Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston are expected to have an excellent working relationship ? an important asset given the challenges the state faces in the budget, transportation, water, and education.  All three men hail from the same Congressional District in North Georgia, with Deal and Cagle being from the same home town.
Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and the State Senate

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle cruised to reelection to his second term with 54.6% of the vote, compared to Democratic challenger Carol Porter?s 41.9%.

Cagle will be first in line to succeed the Governor and will head the State Senate, in which the Republicans picked up one seat giving them a 35 to 21 majority over the Democrats.   Cagle is also likely to have an expanded role in the Deal Administration.

Although there has been discussion in the past on removing the state exemption of sales tax on groceries, Cagle is likely to be a hold-out in such a move.
Speaker David Ralston and the House of Representatives

Oftentimes matching the hectic schedule of a gubernatorial candidate, Speaker David Ralston crisscrossed the state in support of the campaign efforts of his fellow caucus members.  At the end of the day, the House Republican Caucus picked up four new seats and lost one, giving them a 108 member majority over 71 Democrats and 1 Independent in the Chamber.  Ralston and his leadership team exceeded expectations in raising money and energizing the electorate on behalf of the Party?s Congressional and statewide candidates.

When he enters his second year in the post in January, Speaker Ralston will bring a focus on economic development and a thoughtful review of the State?s tax policies.  The consummate negotiator and diplomat, Ralston will continue to reach across the aisle to engage Democratic lawmakers and to bring harmony and focus to his colleagues in the State?s leadership.  Expect the Speaker and the House leadership team to come forward with their own legislative package focused on addressing some of the State?s most challenging issues and enhancing the business environment in an effort to attract jobs to the Georgia.
Attorney General

Georgians and the people who do business here can expect a much more activist Attorney General in Sam Olens.  Throughout the campaign he emphasized his background as the chairman of a large county, managing a budget in excess of $800 million, and shared his view that the attorney general?s office should function as more than a defense firm for state agencies.  Olens actually made history on Tuesday.

Olens is the first person in more than sixty years to fill an open seat as the state?s top lawyer, and he is the first Jewish candidate elected to statewide office in Georgia.  Since the 1940s, Georgia governors have appointed attorneys general following the death or resignation of the incumbent, resulting in no open seat elections until this year.
Insurance Commissioner

Ralph Hudgens, the Chairman of the State Senate?s Committee on Insurance and Labor, will be Georgia?s new Insurance Commissioner.  Hudgens, a self-described small business person from Hull, Georgia, will come into his job as Commissioner well-prepared, having been active in national groups focused on insurance policy in the states, including the National Conference of Insurance Legislators and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Hudgens has already indicated that he will rely more heavily on the professional and experienced staff at the Department of Insurance.  He is expected to have a strong team around him.

He has been a strong proponent in the past for the adoption of model insurance legislation in Georgia and will likely continue this stance as Insurance Commissioner.  The industry can expect Hudgens to work his way up through the leadership of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and to have an influence on policy far beyond the borders of Georgia.
Secretary of State

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a former state senator who has served since being appointed by Governor Perdue at the beginning of this year, easily held on to his seat with 56.3% of the vote to Democrat Georganna Sinkfield?s 39.5%.

Kemp is expected to focus more and more on the business practices of the Secretary of State?s office, striving for greater efficiencies.  He will no doubt apply this approach to the myriad professional licensing boards that fall under the auspices of the office.

A conservative by nature, Kemp will be very thoughtful when he reviews the need for regulation in any industry.  The Secretary of State’s office will not be the last stop in Kemp’s political career.

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