OPINION: Election 2018 arrives early in Georgia


A week ago we all changed our clocks to “spring forward” for daylight savings time. But if you only moved ahead an hour, I’m afraid to report you’re way behind: In Georgia, we have already flipped the calendar to 2018.

Next year’s state elections have dominated the current year’s legislative session, never more so than this past week. The contest got off to a semi-official start when the AJC reported Secretary of State Brian Kemp will jump into the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Nathan Deal. Next to enter the fray, most likely, is Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess how big the field grows, and how quickly. But you can expect April to be busy.

Speculation about whether Speaker David Ralston will run for governor as well is practically insatiable in the halls of the Capitol. Then there are figures such as Lynn Westmoreland, the former congressman whose name never fails to be mentioned in these conversations. I expect at least two state senators to run, and most observers anticipate an “outsider” from the business world as well, a la David Perdue in the 2014 Senate race.

Speaking of Perdue: Those associated with the senator and his cousin, ex-Gov. Sonny, are known to be seeking a candidate to back. As are those in Deal’s orbit. Expect a surprise entrant or two. The field won’t get as large as last year’s GOP presidential primary, or this year’s special election in the Sixth Congressional District, but it looks to be a full one. (That’s before we get to the Democratic side, a topic for another day.)

Given the foregoing array of possible candidates, not to mention the emerging scramble to replace them in the seats they now occupy, we could see dramatic turnover in the highest levels of state government. Imagine, for instance, that Cagle and Ralston not only both run for governor, but both lose. In that case, we would see a totally new group in charge of the House, the Senate and the executive branch. At a minimum, having two new faces in those three offices is very plausible.

In the near term, that probably means gridlock. Already, there’s a sense under the Gold Dome that personal ambitions, and efforts to thwart the same, are shaping the legislative process behind closed doors. If the recent trend of light lawmaking in election years continues in 2018, we could go three straight years without any major legislation on the state’s most pressing issues. Even the handful of relatively high-profile bills in play this year — on subjects from school choice to taxes — are temporarily stalled.

Beyond 2018, though, big turnover could mean a big opening for changes in state lawmaking.

Allow me to make some generalizations about the past several years. The Deal administration has been cool to far-reaching changes in tax policy. The Senate under Cagle has been reticent when it comes to school choice. Ralston’s House tends to pump the brakes more often on issues pushed by social conservatives. None of the three power centers has pushed very hard for systemic reforms to health care, though Cagle this year did launch a task force on that topic.

Taken together, the accumulation of pressing state needs on various topics, the relative inaction of recent years, and the potential of an electoral shake-up may spark a flurry of conservative reforms after the dust settles.

Maybe that’s why so many people are in such a hurry to spring forward to 2018.



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