Opinion: The empty rhetoric of Georgia’s latest ‘outsider’

On March 3, too late for a bill to become law this year, state Sen. Michael Williams filed a constitutional amendment to mandate higher pay for local law enforcement officers. On Thursday, he blamed someone else for that bill not becoming law.

Next spring he’ll ask you to overlook, or perhaps embrace, such bad political theater and make him the GOP nominee for governor. It is not too early to start looking for a different candidate.

Specifically, Williams on Thursday pinned his measure’s failure on Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who also happens to be running for governor. Williams did so at a bizarre Capitol press conference that had promised “corroborating details” about Cagle’s “reprehensible actions.”

What were these “reprehensible actions”? Williams claimed — without details, corroborating or otherwise — that Cagle “actively worked to kill the legislation” but then, in a recent campaign appearance, indicated support for raising officers’ pay.

For today, let’s set aside the question of whether it’s all that conservative for either candidate to entertain either a) foisting an unfunded mandate for officers’ pay on cities and counties, or b) committing the state to a bottomless subsidy of their pay in service of a minimum wage, which soon would be demanded by other public workers. The point for now is Williams’ all-too familiar game of playing politics by accusing others of … playing politics.

I’ve only covered eight legislative sessions, many fewer than Cagle and several more than Williams, but even I know one needn’t work too actively to kill a constitutional amendment that wasn’t even filed until Crossover Day (the annual deadline for legislation to have already gone through the committee process and be passed by one chamber or the other). The companion bill for the amendment, known as the “enabling legislation,” was filed 12 days later, also missing the cut.

There is a chance Williams was talking about another of his bills; keeping with his theme, he didn’t say. But that one was barely filed in time for Crossover Day, and a contemporary news story by Maggie Lee of the Macon Telegraph indicates Williams quickly abandoned it for the amendment approach.

This was Williams’ third year in the Senate, so it’s probably not that he fails to grasp how the Capitol works. Still, he has done other things that make one wonder.

There was, to name another example, his wild accusation at the Georgia GOP convention in Augusta last month that he had been offered — again, no details or corroboration — the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee if he would drop out of the gubernatorial race. That might sound scandalous, but in reality it’s simply telling about Williams.

Leaders and members in the House and Senate alike always have a keen interest in the budget, trying to ensure funding for pet projects or programs. And the budget always comes down to difficult negotiations between each chamber’s appropriations chairman. The last thing either chamber would do is put those negotiations, and the fate of those pet projects and programs, in the hands of a second-term legislator who has never even gotten a major bill passed.

With Williams at the helm, senators might as well show up at the House with a white flag, wearing David Ralston T-shirts. And if Williams thought that either the appropriations accusation or the charge about Cagle killing the tardy amendment would hold up, it shows either his own naivete or that which he expects from voters.

The latter is most likely. Williams is trying to run as the “outsider” du jour taking on the “career politicians.” But being an ineffective insider does not make one an outsider. And it really does not make one the best conservative hope for bringing “more results, less talk,” as Williams promises.

Anyway, back to the details Williams omitted Thursday. Pressed by reporters for the promised corroboration, he demurred: “We have a very long race ahead of us,” he said.

Maybe. Maybe not.

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