State Sen. Chip Rogers, until recently one the state Legislature’s most visible leaders, will step down from office Wednesday after accepting a new “dream” job with Georgia Public Broadcasting that he said will also allow him to spend more time with his family.
The decision came only weeks after Rogers decided not to seek re-election as the Senate’s majority leader, one of the most powerful positions in the chamber. He held the title for four years, including a tumultuous break with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for control of the Senate chamber.
The move also came after a series of missteps, including a failed bank loan and public disclosure of Rogers’ work for a sports gambling network.
“It was a combination of an opportunity I never thought could exist with a point in life where you recognize some of the responsibilities you’ve taken on for yourself begin to conflict with others that are of higher priority,” Rogers told AM 750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB Radio.
Rogers did not respond to requests for comment from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which broke the news of his decision Tuesday morning.
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Beginning in January, Rogers will report directly to GPB President Teya Ryan as he leads a new programming effort to cover Georgia’s jobs and economic development push. Many details of Rogers’ job have yet to be decided, including his salary, GPB Vice President Nancy Zintak said.
Rogers credited both Ryan and Gov. Nathan Deal for “bringing this opportunity to me.”
Deal’s office said the governor knew Ryan wanted to expand economic programming and suggested she and Rogers meet, but it said Deal played no role in Rogers’ hiring.
Zintak said the new initiative was created before Rogers became involved.
“Between the governor’s office and (Rogers’) broadcasting background and Teya, it was one of those things. … It all came together at the right time,” Zintak said.
The new program is a return of sorts for the agency, Zintak said. GPB previously held statewide jobs fairs, had a workplace show on Fridays and other local programs that focused on careers and jobs.
GPB will pursue contributions from private companies and other donors to help pay for the new program. State money “was made available for this,” although Zintak could not say how much.
Deal is expected to call for a special election in 30 days to fill Rogers’ Senate seat. A successor could take office before the Georgia Legislature convenes for its next session Jan. 14.
“As a former state senator myself, I know how serving as a part-time legislator becomes full-time work that keeps you away from your family too often,” Deal said in a statement. “Chip’s experience in broadcasting combined with his many years of work on Georgia’s economic development match up well with the exciting plans that executive director Teya Ryan has for GPB.”
Cagle called Rogers “a passionate advocate for his constituents and the causes closest to his heart,” including lowering taxes, strengthening abortion limits and creating greater school choice for public school parents.
Rogers, first elected to the state House in 2002, worked as a television and radio reporter after graduating from Georgia Tech, and he owned WYXC, a small Cartersville radio station, before coming to the Legislature.
He won a Senate seat in 2004, rising rapidly through GOP leadership ranks. Voters re-elected him last month to Senate District 21, representing parts of Cherokee and north Fulton counties. He was among the most prominent members of the Legislature, a conservative Republican who at times veered unintentionally into the spotlight.
In 2007, Rogers and U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, took out a $2.3 million loan to buy and revamp a run-down hotel in Calhoun. As the real estate market collapsed, they struggled to make payments. The bank sued them, ultimately settling the debt with the pair for $1.2 million, according to court records, although Graves and Rogers won’t comment on the arrangement, citing a confidentiality agreement.
He was stung in May when videos surfaced featuring him as a pitchman, nicknamed Will “The Winner” Rogers, for a sports gambling network. First reported by the website Atlanta Unfiltered, the videos include an announcer saying Rogers had been “a handicapper for decades.”
Rogers told the AJC that he was paid simply to read scripts, did not make the picks himself and wasn’t promoting gambling, even though at least one offshore casino sponsored the show.
Most recently, Rogers received national attention after inviting his peers to attend a meeting at the Capitol about Agenda 21, a two-decades-old United Nations plan to promote sustainable development. Rogers’ invited speaker said the plan was a conspiracy to grab private property through rezoning and planned-use ordinances.
A 52-minute video of the talk was released by Bryan Long, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Better Georgia, who said Tuesday that Rogers’ departure sends a signal that “crazy’ doesn’t work in Georgia.”
Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker, questioned Rogers’ hiring and said the decision leads back to Deal, who often has filled key state jobs with top staff.
“I’m just amazed the governor once again tried to pick someone who he has political contacts to and lacks professionalism for the job,” Henson said. “Chip Rogers couldn’t win re-election as majority leader, he had the banking problems, problems working with the gambling company. Now, he gets promoted to a job at Georgia public television. It’s amazing.”
Rogers told Facebook followers last month that he made no apology for his goals as a legislator, which he summed up as a need to “lessen the impact of government in our lives, expand freedom and make Georgia the most fiscally responsible state in the nation.”
“I am quite pleased,” he said, “at much of what we accomplished.”