ATLANTA -- All groups have ways to initiate newcomers, and in the legislature it’s with merciless grilling, as Sen. Tyler Harper learned first hand this week.
The south Georgia Republican, sworn into office last month, presented a two-line bill to his colleagues and asked for their vote, explaining that it would repeal a 30-year-old law that had never been funded. Senate leaders typically assign freshmen simple bills on behalf of the administration as a way to learn the system.
What would ordinarily be a routine matter turned into a 20-minute spectacle as veteran lawmakers took turns firing impossible questions at him.
“Do you really believe that after 17 days as a senator you have the experience to start repealing laws for the state of Georgia?” asked Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon.
Harper gamely offered a reply to each inquiry, such as telling Staton that every elected senator has the same authority.
Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, asked him why the bill didn’t specifically mention moral turpitude. Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, asked if his comment about the original law being unfunded was meant as an insult of the Appropriations Committee Chairman, a man who can hold the fate of local projects in his hand.
The episode started when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle instructed the short Harper to stand on a stool so he could be seen over the lectern.
Another short senator, Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, offered a little sympathy about his height but blasted him with unanswerable questions of his own.
Most freshmen undergo similar ribbing, but they usually retreat after just a question or two. Tyler hung in there, drawing a crowd of spectators from across the Capitol eager to watch the fun.
Finally, Cagle came to his rescue.
“Senator in the well, probably the best advice that I could give to a new senator like yourself is that there is a phrase, and if you’re a very wise man, you’ll repeat after me: Mister President, I yield the well,” the lieutenant governor said.
Tyler repeated it and left as the bill passed unanimously to cheers.
After the Senate adjourned for the day, colleagues and lobbyists congratulated him for being a good sport in a building where wit and grace are appreciated, especially during the long, tense sessions ahead.
“I did a lot better than I thought I would. I’m not going to lie,” he told the Senate’s longest-serving member, Steve Thompson, D-Marietta.
“You’re still standing,” Thompson quipped.
At least he’s through the ordeal and can watch the rest of the freshman class go through it now.