Let me introduce Kristen Wyatt of the AP if you don't already know her. - K. Wyatt on what to expect (& not expect) from GOP this legislative session.
In my first post I described Kristen Wyatt as "a young reporter with the AP who knows her Georgia politics." That much is true. But I could have written much more.
Kristen has two qualities that contribute to her being a future (if not already) star in the world of political reporters and commentators.
First, she is as knowledgeable about Georgia politics as anyone I know, excepting Bill Shipp of course. She is truly a study on Georgia's fascinating past, and it is a ball discussing this with her.
Second, Kristen has a feel for what is going on, the big picture, and placing current events into their proper historical perspective.
How did I get to know Kristen? She called me this past summer for an interview as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. What was supposed to be a 5 minute interview ended up lasting 30 to 45 minutes, and I enjoyed every second of it (and think Kristen did as well).
We talked about Sid some for sure, but most of the time we spent discussing what was going on, what was going to happen, and why it was going to happen, both on the state and federal level.
And we didn't miss anything on our predictions. Kristen is good, very good.
I was hoping that I would get a lot of early press out of my new made friend, but lo, she was subject to dictates of the press. That summer the news wires, press (including endorsements by such organizations as the ajc), decided that since there were three GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate, they would concentrate on only three Democratic candidates.
Thus if your name was not Denise Majette, Cliff Oxford or Mary Squires, press coverage was slim to none.
One friend who I felt tried to break the mold a bit in this regard -- not in my direction but just break the mold -- was Ben Smith. Ben was with the ajc and is the author of the bit that appears above under Cracker Squire.
He has an excellent feel for Georgia politics, and I have missed seeing his articles in the ajc since late summer.
I did get a little ink from Kristen, hid as it was near the end of a lengthly story that gave the three "leading" candidates 90% of the story. Although only a little, I very much appreciated it, especially as I learned later about her inability to write more about me was dictated from above.
I put her article on my Web site. The following is what Kristen had to say about Sid (taken from page 1 of my Web site):
"KRISTEN WYATT, a young ASSOCIATED PRESS reporter and student of Georgia history and politics who loves discussing such topics, on June 22, 2004, writes in an AP release:
Sid Cottingham, an attorney and former state court judge from Douglas, [has] been active in the state party for many years but this is his first campaign [where he is the candidate rather than serving as campaign manager for someone else]. He running as a conservative, traditional Southern Democrat.
A clever wit, Cottingham scoffs at suggestions that the Democratic Party is dying in Georgia, although he warns fellow Democrats not to try to bash Bush: 'He could use his mama's pearls to beat Laura to death on the Capitol steps and he'd still carry Georgia.'"
That was it, but as noted, I very much appreciated it. I would later get to know another expert on Georgia politics, Dick Pettys, also with the Associated Press, and told him how impressed I was with Kristen.
With Republicans in charge, what can the social right expect?
By: Kristen Wyatt
December 29, 2004
They've toiled in the vineyards for years, and now social conservatives in Georgia can rest assured their work will pay off. Republicans control the full Legislature and the governor's office. Surely, some may think, the laws long yearned for by the social right will have no trouble breezing through the Capitol.
Or will they?
The GOP, set to begin its historic first session in full control of Georgia's government since Reconstruction, is getting a barrage of requests for conservative social measures when they take office.
Ideas that include waiting periods for women seeking abortions. A law to shield county courthouses that choose to display the Ten Commandments. A boost to faith-based charities by repealing a state ban on spending tax dollars on religious groups. Maybe even a renewed ban on gay marriage, that is, if a judge throws out the constitutional amendment resoundingly approved by Georgia voters in November.
But political watchers and even Republicans themselves warn that all will not be smooth sailing for the religious right, even if they feel they've been good and faithful servants to the GOP for so long that they're due a payback in the form of socially conservative laws.
That's because Georgia Republicans have a long wish list of things they'd like to get done, not just social matters. And they may be looking to attack less controversial bills first while they get their lawmaking legs under them.
"I think the average voter is more concerned with, 'How am I going to get to work down Georgia 400? And what about my rising property tax bill? And my child's education?' That's a lot more important to most people than whether there's the Ten Commandments in the courthouse," said Rep. Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican who is entering his eighth year in the Legislature.
Republican lawmakers were vague about what social matters they would be willing to tackle. The so-called Women's Right To Know Bill, which would mandate a 24-hour waiting period for any women seeking an abortion, is likely the first on the list.
The measure has passed the Senate, which has been controlled by Republicans for two years now, but stalled in the Democrat-controlled House. Now that the GOP is also in charge of the House, lawmakers said to look for that bill to be quickly revived.
Another likely topic for debate will be a faith-based charities measure first pushed by Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue. That would be a constitutional amendment repealing the state's prohibition of tax dollars going to religious groups, which prevents religious charities from competing for state grants.
The federal government has already changed its rules to allow religious charities to compete for public funds, as long as the money is not used to proselytize. Georgia's proposed rules would be similar.
Lawmakers seemed less likely to take up a Ten Commandments bill, for several reasons.
First, it was pushed last year by a Republican lawmaker (Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Newnan) who has left the Legislature for Congress. Second, the proposal would call for the state attorney general to pick up the defense tab for any lawsuit filed over a Ten Commandments display, an idea some may support in principle but not want to enact given the state's tight budget. Finally, state lawmakers are inclined to sit back on the issue now that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take a Ten Commandments case, probably by next February.
The Georgia GOP is unlikely to run away with a batch of social bills, even though their conservative stances helped put them in power, said Mike Digby, a political scientist at Georgia College & State University.
"Every party is a coalition of a lot of different groups," Digby said. "While the Republican majority is due in part to the votes of the Christian right, it's also due in part to votes that are much more secular."
In other words, evangelical Republicans who consider social matters like abortion to be the most important will have to compete for attention with Republicans who think a smaller state budget or civil-lawsuit reforms are more pressing.
"Some parts of the coalition are not nearly as tuned in to the Christian right," Digby said.
Even a former head of the Georgia Christian Coalition agreed. Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, who once led the coalition and recently was elected state House Majority Leader, said anyone who expects his religious leanings to drive his agenda would be wrong.
"The first priority is going to be the budget," he said, then disputed the idea that Republicans owe legislation to religious voters who have supported them. Even very religious voters, Keen said, were wooed to the GOP slowly, by more than a promise of action on abortion or some other matter.
"This is not something where everybody got up one Sunday, ran to the church pews and got them to vote," Keen said.
Still, the Republicans cannot afford to ignore their religious base. For years the GOP has taunted that ruling Democrats were afraid to let social matters come to a vote, a charge that was mostly true. Now the GOP needs to walk the walk, as it were, and allow debate on social matters even if they don't all agree, said the Rev. Ray Newman, a public affairs specialist for the Georgia Baptist Convention.
"Some of these things have been introduced and reintroduced and never had a chance to come out and be debated or to come to a vote," Newman said. "So that's what I'm hoping will be one difference. It remains to be seen whether that will happen."