Charlie Harper: Georgia’s Clout Increasing in Washington
Tuesday, November 29th, 2016
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve taken a look at the national and partisan implications of the surprising win for Donald Trump. Today we’re going to focus on what this means for Georgia.
Access is power in Washington. Several prominent Georgia Democrats are now rethinking their future, as their work in or influencing of a Hillary Clinton White House is a career path that vaporized during the early hours of November 9th.
In their place is a long line of Georgia Republicans who suddenly have found themselves with a direct ear to the President elect. There were many Georgians who endorsed or gave legitimacy to the Trump campaign long before it was considered safe to do so. In a traditional administration, these would be the folks that either get appointments if desired, or get to influence who does.
Early speculation was that David Perdue would get tapped for Commerce Secretary, though Perdue himself has downplayed such rumors. Still, Perdue’s early and consistent support for Trump has established himself as a potential deal maker on behalf of the White House in the Senate, where the President elect has few relationships. Add the clout of Johnny Isakson – a third term Senator known to be able to reach across the aisle to make deals – and Georgia will be the place to make a deal in the US Senate.
Those with connections to the Perdue organization – both Sonny and David – are in positions to leverage Georgia’s position throughout DC. Nick Ayers spent several years as Executive Director of the Republican Governor’s Association under Sonny Perdue. He’s an advisor for Vice President Elect Pence, who brought him into the Trump campaign team where he now serves as an advisor to the transition team.
Another Perdue alum, Paul Bennecke, now holds Ayers’ old job at the RGA, while former adviser to Karen Handel Rob Simms is the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which runs the national political operations and strategy for House Republicans.
Then they’re sometimes Georgian Newt Gingrich, who was an early and sometimes shameless supporter of the Trump campaign. Initial talk of a cabinet position has been dashed by Gingrich himself, instead openly lobbying for the position of “senior planner”. It’s likely that whatever job description that entails, it won’t have the limits on outside incomes that a cabinet position would bring.
Gingrich’s attorney and Georgia GOP National Committeeman Randy Evans also played early interference for Trump and spent a good bit of time counseling “establishment” Republicans to accept the inevitable fate of the Republican primary contest. This also gives Evans a bridge between those seeking influence and the President. It also has him in the discussion of those who may replace Reince Priebus as Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Other Georgians that were early getting on board the Trump Train include a couple of the first state legislators to endorse Trump, Senators Michael Williams of Cumming and Bert Jones of Jackson, along with Representative Steve Tarvin of Chickamauga. They along with Georgia Public Service Commissioner Bubba McDonald are in line to ask for a favor or two, whether for themselves as an appointment, for their friends, or for their constituents.
Bruce LeVelle was one of the first African American Republicans to back Trump, and became part of the national minority outreach program on Trump’s behalf. Look for him to continue to be part of the Trump White House in some form.
Billy Kirkland took over campaign operations late in the campaign for Georgia, and is also an alum of the early Perdue Governor’s administration. His influence as an operative and/or lobbyist has increased greatly with the election of Donald Trump.
Perhaps the biggest name currently in contention to join the Trump Cabinet from Georgia is that of Congressman Tom Price. Price has met with the Trump transition team in Trump Tower, and is rumored to be the front runner to become Secretary of Health and Human Services. This would transition Price from being the author of the bill to repeal Obamacare to the representative of the Executive Branch in charge of implementing what’s next.
Should this appointment come to fruition, it changes the political landscape for 2018 in Georgia (as Price has been showing signs of entering the Governor’s race) as well as shakes up the Georgia legislature for 2017. State Senators and/or Representatives that would want to run in a special election to replace Price would have to resign their offices to run, presumably in the middle of the session.
Georgia’s going to have clout in DC come January like we haven’t known in a while. In Congress, the Executive Branch, and in the organizations that pull the levers of power, there will be many that have a little red clay on their shoes.
Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.