Georgia Democrats have little power these days. They hold no statewide offices, and have forceless minorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
So when House and Senate Democrats rolled out their agendas in separate press conferences Thursday, it’s not an exaggeration to say little of what they proposed will come to pass. Much of it will fail to even garner a committee vote, much less make it to the floor of either chamber for a vote.
Here’s what they’re proposing:
*Ease voting registration rules; the Senate Dems want to repeal Georgia’s voter ID law while their colleagues in the House want online voter registration.
*Raise the minimum wage; Senate Democrats are proposing the state nearly double it to $10.10.
*HOPE scholarship changes, part two; House Democrats are proposing increasing tuition payments for recipients of the HOPE technical college grants.
Have We Mentioned Medicaid Expansion?
And of course a general refrain among Democrats is: Expand Medicaid so that 650,000 Georgians without healthcare can gain coverage. Gov. Nathan Deal reiterated his opposition Thursday even though, under the Affordable Healthcare Act, the federal government would initially pay for new enrollees. Privately, some Democrats concede Medicaid expansion may never happen in Georgia.
But the two caucuses gamely pledged to work for their constituents because, in the words of Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat, “You never win a battle by sitting down.”
Orrock continued, “We’ve made changes even though we didn’t have the majority vote and we’ve shamed some people into making changes.”
Orrock’s colleague on the House side echoed that idea.
Rep. Carolyn Hughley, a Columbus Democrat told GPB: “If we have a really good idea, someone will take it, repackage it and move it forward.”
She added, “We aren’t blind to the fact that we are indeed in the minority but we have a responsibility to our citizens to bring forth those initiatives and those ideas that we think will be good for Georgia.”
HOPE Is Their Only Hope
Nonetheless, Democrats know the only bill that will likely advance is the HOPE measure because it has bi-partisan support. And there’s a precedent. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta), proposed a measure last year to lower the grade point average for grantees, and it was adopted by Republicans and passed.
For Georgia voters who pull the lever for the Democrats, the agendas rolled out Thursday can be dispiriting; they range from the mundane to the impossible.
But there is one Democrat who may have the power to wield real influence during the legislative session and even alter the agenda of Gov. Nathan Deal.
That’s Sen. Jason Carter. The Decatur Democrat who’s running for Governor was conspicuously absent from the press conference Thursday morning (Sen. Steve Henson, a Tucker Democrat, when asked about it, said, “Sen. Carter is running for Governor,” and “He has his own agenda.”). Carter was seen leaving the Capitol area shortly before the event (accompanied as ever by Ben, the young tracker retained by the Republican Party to follow Carter’s every move).
Carter has yet to file any legislation, and has kept a low profile this session. But he has been seen in the House chamber more often this session, and he’s giving Georgia Democrats and national Democrats a reason to hope (and open their checkbooks).
‘Thank God Jason Is Running’
The party’s chairman, DuBose Porter, told GPB before Carter gave his response to Deal’s State of the State address last week, “Thank God Jason is running.”
That one short sentence says a lot about the power Carter has in his own party. But Capitol observers say he’s also having an impact on the GOP. They point to even something as small as hiring a young man to shadow Carter’s every move (if you want to have a private conversation with Sen. Carter in his Capitol office, forget it. Ben is outside of the door listening in on every utterance).
Tom Crawford of the Georgia Report, an online political digest, says Deal is burning through campaign contributions with media buys, polls and other expenditures. He’s already spent half of the $7 million he’s raised. There’s “a level of concern that might not have been there six or eight months ago,” he said.
“The fact of the matter Jason does have a shot at winning,” Crawford said in an interview Thursday. “Certainly he is an underdog and certainly it is very hard to beat an incumbent Governor in a Republican state like this. But he does have a shot at winning.”
In conversations, Carter vows he can win and he says it with such heartfelt sincerity and conviction that it’s as if he sees something many Georgians don’t. As if the light in the torch of the statue atop the Capitol’s golden cupola glows for him.
Ladies and Gentlemen of Georgia, we will find out before the end of this whether or not Carter is a hopeless dreamer sacrificed to bring the state’s Democrats back from the dead. We will find out how solidly Republican Georgia’s deep red core of conservative voters is (from where your GPB News Now correspondent sits, it appears unequivocally solid).
And if you’re passing by this space by chance and haven’t been following Georgia politics, start doing so now. This year, Georgia’s political world promises to be worth your time.
No Casual Fridays Here
The House will vote Friday on the amended $20.1 billion 2014 budget. It adds about $300 million -- mostly for schools -- to the budget lawmakers passed a year ago.
Also, more details are expected to emerge about a controversial gun carry bill that would allow firearms on college campuses and in churches. Legislative counsel has told lawmakers that a provision in the bill allowing universities to decide if students can carry weapons on campus would be unconstitutional. So, it will likely be struck from the bill.
Will the measure pass? Tough to say, but the state’s highest official, Gov. Deal, pointedly told GPB Thursday that with all that Georgians are dealing with, loosening the state’s gun carry laws “isn’t part of the Governor’s agenda.”