Perdue not quite a lame duck

During Gov. Sonny Perdue's first term, his legislative allies were so thrilled to have a Republican in the Governor's Mansion that they readily got in line behind virtually everything he proposed.

But with Perdue safely re-elected, some early signs are starting to show that GOP leaders in the General Assembly have minds of their own.

A couple even let the "lame duck'' phrase slip in describing the governor's new status after he had trounced Democrat Mark Taylor to win a second term.

But if it's good to be the king, as Mel Brooks once intoned while playing Louis XVI in one of his movies, it's also good to be governor. Perdue has more than a few powers at his disposal that should help him get his way during the next four years.

Just a week after Election Day, legislative leaders were openly disputing the governor's approach to two important issues.

In the House, Republicans called for getting rid of the state income tax and replacing the lost revenue by clamping down on a host of sales tax exemptions provided in current law.

Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, said such a move would offer broader tax relief than Perdue's campaign proposal to eliminate taxes on retirement income.

On another front, GOP leaders in both legislative chambers gave a cool response to a recommendation from a task force created by the governor that Georgia form an independent commission to handle redistricting.

It's no surprise that legislative leaders now in charge of drawing their own districts would be less than thrilled at giving up that power to an independent body that might not consider protecting Republican incumbents.

But striking out on their own on major policies like tax reform could be a sign of things to come.

That, too, however, should be expected given Georgia's new political dynamics, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

He said Republican politicians like Richardson, Lt. Gov.-elect Casey Cagle and others are likely to start positioning themselves for 2010, when the term-limited Perdue can no longer run for governor.

"They well know that three years from now, we'll be launching a campaign to choose Sonny Perdue's successor,'' Bullock said.

With that in mind, would-be gubernatorial candidates need to start building a record that voters will notice, Bullock said.

"You can be very well known under the Gold Dome and not be known at all five blocks away,'' he said.

But there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of in crossing a powerful governor like Perdue in an effort to ramp up one's own image.

Politically, it's hard to miss the huge post-election mandate Georgia's soon-to-be second-term governor enjoys.

Not only did Perdue swamp Taylor in winning the most one-sided gubernatorial contest in 20 years, he also occupied the top of a Republican ticket that won big while the rest of the country was electing Democrats.

With the governor's race well in hand far ahead of Election Day, Perdue also had the luxury of spreading much of the state Republican Party's campaign cash to other candidates.

That helped the GOP take most of the statewide races, including openings at lieutenant governor and secretary of state, increase the party's majority in the House and maintain control of the Senate.

Perdue's largesse should help build good feeling among his Republican colleagues for his efforts to build a legacy during the next four years.

But if gratitude's not enough, there's also fear of Perdue's power as governor.

"He has a veto pen, and, even better, the fine quill of the line-item veto,'' Bullock said. "He can strip from the budget a pet project of a particularly obstreperous legislator.''

Another budget-related weapon in Perdue's arsenal is his constitutional duty to set the annual revenue estimate - in effect a cap on state spending.

"(Legislators) can move money around, but they can't exceed that cap,'' Bullock said.

Combine those budgetary powers with the bully pulpit that always gives the governor the ear of the public, and that lame duck walks rather well.

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdaily-post.com.

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