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Posted: April 21, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Politicians don't finish the drill

It is a phrase that UGA football Coach Mark Richt uses often with his players: Finish the drill. In other words, get the job done, do it right, and do it all.

That message seems to have been lost on some of the people serving in political office. The trend now is to get elected to something and then resign. A good example is Sarah Palin, who quit before finishing her term as Alaska's governor. Palin seems to have been an inspiration to a lot of Georgia politicians.

Three candidates in the Republican primary for governor resigned halfway through their terms in elective office: Karen Handel (who was secretary of state), Eric Johnson (a state senator) and Nathan Deal (a congressman).

Since the 2008 election, legislators who have quit midstream include Glenn Richardson, Tom Graves, Lee Hawkins, Robbin Shipp, Celeste Johnson, David Adelman, Ed Tarver, Kasim Reed, Hardie Davis and Buddy Carter. Davis and Carter soon returned to the capitol because they won special elections to replace resigned senators. The others have departed the Gold Dome, presumably never to return.

Here's how bad it has gotten: in the space of eight months, nearly 10 percent of the Georgia Senate - five of its 56 members - resigned from the Legislature early.

Some lawmakers resigned to campaign for other offices. Reed was elected mayor of Atlanta. Hawkins and Graves are running in the May 11 special election to serve out the remainder of Nathan Deal's congressional term.

The State Transportation Board has become an irresistible magnet for legislators. In the past three years, Johnny Floyd, Bobby Parham and Jay Shaw all quit their House seats to serve on that board. Vance Smith left his House seat after 17 years to become the DOT commissioner.

Other legislators were appointed to federal positions: Adelman is now the U.S. ambassador to Singapore while Tarver is the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Georgia.

Those are all valid reasons for resigning and we probably shouldn't stand in the way of someone who is looking for the opportunity to advance their professional career.

Still, if you're going to run for political office, it would seem that you owe it to the people electing you to be honest with them. When a candidate is campaigning, he or she should say: "Vote for me - I'll only be here for part of the term." Or: "If you don't like the way I handle the job, I'll quit early and you won't have to throw me out of office."

These early resignations are an indication of another trend in state politics: it isn't much fun to serve in the Legislature anymore. The massive cuts in state spending caused by the recession have forced everyone to vote for eliminating popular programs or laying off state employees. That does not sit well with constituents and they are quick to let legislators know they aren't happy about it.

There are numerous members of the General Assembly who, while not resigning early, have already announced that they won't qualify to run for another term in office.

Senators Seth Harp and Ralph Hudgens are running for insurance commissioner, Jeff Chapman is running for governor, and Gail Buckner is running for secretary of state. Don Thomas and Dan Moody decided not to run for another term.

On the House side, Tom Knox is running for insurance commissioner and Melvin Everson is running for labor commissioner. DuBose Porter and Austin Scott are running for governor. Mike Keown and Clay Cox are running for Congress. Jim Cole, Bob Smith, Burke Day, Jerry Keen and Mark Burkhalter are leaving the General Assembly.

Of the 56 senators who were sworn in for a two-year term in January 2009, at least 11 will have been replaced by January 2011 when the next batch is sworn in. That's not counting incumbent senators who might be defeated when they run for reelection later this year.

Over in the House, it is already certain that at least 20 of the members who took office in January 2009 will be gone because of retirement or early resignation by the time January 2011 rolls around.

It will be a very different General Assembly next year. We'll see if it will be a better one.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at tcrawford@capitolimpact.net.


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