Originally created 03/10/02

Election politics arrive



ATLANTA - Officially, this year's election season doesn't start until the day candidates qualify in June.

But at the state Capitol, even more politics than usual are in the air as lawmakers begin positioning themselves for re-election, or to seek higher office.

Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in the state Senate.

Day in and day out, bills and resolutions that would normally be considered routine have turned into chances to debate and, sometimes, to break out "unfriendly amendments."

Taking pokes at the chamber's leaders isn't unusual at the Capitol. But the prospect of facing voters at the polls always ratchets up the rhetoric a few notches, experts say.

"It's more on the forefront of people's minds in election years because they're cueing up to seek election," said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. "The minority party is always looking for ways to trip up the majority party. But in an election year, more people have an individual reason to do it for themselves, rather than for their party."

Examples have cropped up frequently in recent weeks.

  • Last week, Sen. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, who is running for the U.S. House, tacked a pro-gun amendment onto a bill introduced on behalf of Gov. Roy Barnes aimed at protecting Georgia against a bio-terrorism attack.
  • The governor's supporters said the amendment wasn't appropriate and would possibly make illegal gun-running legal during national emergencies - but they urged members to vote for it to spare them from political repercussions.

    "You don't want to sacrifice good people to irresponsible political whims," said Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Powder Springs, Mr. Barnes' floor leader.

  • Two weeks earlier, Republicans amended - or threatened to amend - several Democratic bills, leading Senate leaders to send those bills back to the committees where they originated.
  • The next day, a routine vote on adjourning the Senate was challenged by Republicans.
  • Republicans say they can't get bills through Democrat-controlled committees, so amendments are the only way they can make their ideas heard.

    If Democrats don't like their ideas, they say, they should merely vote against them instead of dodging the issues.

    "If you're going to do something that's against the will of the people, it's easier to not vote on it than to vote against it," said Sen. Robert Lamutt, R-Marietta.

    Reach Doug Gross at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.