Ominous signs from Democrats on GOP's education, transportation proposals

Macon - State Republican leaders are sorely in need of support for Democrats for their top two legislative priorities. And judging by Saturday's annual Democratic convention, it will be tough to come by.

Gov. Nathan Deal is pushing a constitutional amendment to give the state new powers to take over struggling schools or convert them to charters. And the Big Three - Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston - all want to raise significant new revenue this year for transportation projects.

Although Republicans hold significant majorities in the Legislature, both would likely require significant Democratic support. Deal's education initiative needs a two-thirds majority in both chambers, and transportation boosters expect a faction of Republicans to bolt over the prospect of raising taxes.

State Sen. Steve Henson, the chamber's Democratic leader, said the House GOP proposal to raise $1 billion amounts to passing the buck to local lawmakers. The legislation switches the state from a series of local and state taxes to a new excise tax that takes more than $500 million a year that local governments had used for transportation, schools and other projects.

Henson said it was akin to "stealing it from local governments and make them raise" the funding.

His Senate colleagues were more outspoken on Deal's initiative, which has not yet been introduced.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat, said it amounts to Deal's "tale of broken promises."

"Giving Nathan Deal a school system to run is like giving a drunk the keys to the car," he said.

And state Sen. Horacena Tate said it's a sign of what she said was misplaced education priorities by Republicans, who have long supported an expansion of charter schools and other school choice measures.

"They want us to be bankrupt," said Tate, D-Atlanta. "And they could care less about your child, your grandchild, or my child."

We should note here that House Democrats were far more conciliatory, signaling more room for compromise. They spoke of vetting the proposals and not making a rush to judgment, though they share some similar concerns.

"We want to take care of transportation but we don't want to disadvantage our cities and take away from education," said state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a House Democrat leader.


At the same meeting, shell-shocked Democrats re-elected the party leader who helped stabilize the party and then presided over November's GOP sweep.

You can read more about DuBose Porter's plans for the next four years here, but the meeting made clear that a stark divide remains within the party over its upcoming strategy.

Porter presented a mostly rosy vision of the last 18 months he's helmed the party, saying he helped turn it from a "national laughingstock" to a model of how a party should be run.

He handily defeated R.J. Hadley, a Rockdale County tax commissioner, who lamented the state party has drifted too far from the message of President Barack Obama.

"It seems like it's hard to hear the name of President Barack Obama here," said Hadley, who also suggested that Porter and other Democratic elites focused too on the top of the ticket and left the down-ballot candidates to wither.

"We're Democrats," he said. "We don't put someone up for the primary and then say this candidate is better than that one."

Despite a more than two-hour vote count, the result wasn't close. Porter defeated Hadley by a margin of 141 to 92. But more than a few Porter supporters told us they were impressed with Hadley's campaign.