By Randy Evans – All indications are the Lieutenant Governor, Casey Cagle, will be a candidate for Governor of Georgia in 2010. Governor Sonny Perdue is term limited, opening the door for Lieutenant Governor Cagle, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, and others to seek Georgia’s highest office. With the rumors persisting that former Governor Roy Barnes is interested in getting his old job back, it could actually be a competitive race. If former Secretary of State Cathy Cox jumps in, it could be downright interesting in both primaries and the General Election. Yet, it could be the open Lieutenant Governor race that offers the most intrigue.
Unlike the President and Vice President, the Lieutenant Governor in Georgia runs on a separate ticket than the Governor. As a result, it is possible to have a Republican Governor (like Sonny Perdue) with a Democratic Lieutenant Governor (like Mark Taylor). If that was not odd enough, the Lieutenant Governor’s job (other than succeeding the Governor in the event of the Governor’s death) is to preside over the Georgia Senate. Yet, the Georgia Senate can be controlled by one party while the Lieutenant Governor is from a different party. Since the Georgia Senate can actually sets its own rules and picks its own committees (when it wants to), the Office of Lieutenant Governor has little meaning other than what the Governor and the Senate want to give it.
Interestingly, for an office with so little real power, there are a lot of folks who want to become the next Lieutenant Governor. Most of them come from the Georgia Senate and want to move up to presiding officer. Others see the office as the inevitable stepping stone to the Office of Governor. For Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller, twenty five years as Lieutenant Governor translated into a Democratic Primary win and a General Election win. For Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor, it did not work out as well.
So far, three Republican State Senators have expressed interest in becoming Georgia’s twelfth Lieutenant Governor. (The office was first created in 1945, and Zell Miller, Pierre Howard and Mark Taylor held the office for forty of those years.) There are no frontrunners at this point – just potential candidates.
President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson is the highest ranking Republican in the Georgia Senate to express interest in becoming Georgia’s next Lieutenant Governor. He is an architect from Savannah, Georgia. Notably, he led the Senate Republicans from minority status to the majority party with the help of Governor Sonny Perdue. When Lieutenant Governor Mark Taylor was in office, Eric Johnson was charged with running the Republican controlled Senate from the President Pro Tempore position. Since Georgia elected Republican Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, Senator Johnson has returned to his job of managing the Republican Conference. He has done a good job. For Georgia, if there is one person who would change the direction of Georgia education for the better, it is Senator Eric Johnson.
Republican Senator David Shafer of Duluth, Chairman of the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee and Vice Chairman of the Insurance and Labor Committee, Georgia will also be in the mix. Having served as the Executive Director of the Georgia Republican Party and as Governor Sonny Perdue’s Floor Administration Leader during the 2004 Legislative Session, Senator Shafer has built a network of support that extends around the state and throughout Georgia government. He has the experience of being a statewide candidate and has established himself as one of the most powerful Senators in the Georgia Senate. He has proven his skills as an effective Senator and as a result should have an inside track on building a consensus in the Senate as a presiding officer.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman and Economic Development Committee Vice Chairman Chip Rogers, a Republican Senator from Cherokee County, is also expected to enter the race. With oversight responsibility for the financial services industry, Senator Rogers has gotten first hand experience in state governance at the highest level. Most agree that Senator Rogers made his mark with tough proposed legislation dealing with illegal immigration issues. His dogged persistence earned him the reputation of being a stalwart for conservatives who could not be shaken by the rough and tumble politics down under the Gold Dome.
Democrat Senator Steve Thompson could also enter the race. If a strong Democrat steps up for the gubernatorial race, Senator Thompson might make a move up to seek the Lieutenant Governor slot. But the real dream ticket for Democrats could be a return by former Governor Roy Barnes as the Democratic nominee for Governor and former Secretary of State Cathy Cox as the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor.