There were more than 13,000 bills introduced in the United States Congress last year. Only 347 of them were approved by both chambers. Hence, it’s not surprising that just 20% of Americans view Congress favorably. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Georgia’s legislature worked more like Congress? If the idea sounds awful to you, it’s time to worry about it. A pair of freshman lawmakers from Northwest Georgia show the General Assembly’s path toward DC-style government and politics. There are steps House and Senate leaders can take to avoid such an outcome and improve the legislative process at the same time.
When Mitchell Horner first entered the political scene in Catoosa county a few years ago, he was a complete unknown. Since he narrowly defeated a retired physician, people were at least aware of his existence. Strangely, despite the abundance of bluster and propaganda that was produced during the primary election season, little was known about Horner. Even now, few details are known.
Despite his boasts of “I’m a successful businessman”, he has been cagey about providing details regarding his company, including its name, industry, and founding date. Perhaps this is why he had to tell us he was successful. A claim like that would usually be judged based on the company. Additionally, he says he’s experienced in policy. We don’t know when, where, and what kind of subject matter this experience was in.
In May, he won the primary, but perhaps he anticipated questions would be asked. That would help explain the crazy things he’s been doing since then. In July, as the Catoosa county commissioners considered whether or not to raise property taxes, Horner decided that the best way to lend his claimed expertise and help them make a decision was to do the following:
- Create his own budget for the county without consulting with anyone in the finance office or any of the departments within the county government.
- Draft a handwritten message for each person, assuring them that he is available to assist and warning that he would make his budget public on Monday morning if he hasn’t heard from them by then.
- Put his copies of his budget and note/ultimatum/threat in five unstamped manila envelopes.
- Drive to each commissioner’s house on a Friday night to deliver a copy to their mailboxes. No matter that each action was a federal crime.
Unsurprisingly, His Budget Was Not Adopted. More Bizarre Events Follow.
At the Walker County Republican Party gathering in September, Horner was the invited guest. A masterclass in lousy and unprepared political oratory, his talk was a disaster. He didn’t discuss his scheme to strong arm the Catoosa commissioners and instead leveled false claims against them. Then, turning to the more imagined villains, he branded the parents of 900 children in his own district as lazy. Repeatedly.
The best was saved for last. In front of a crowd of voters who could not vote for him, he criticized Speaker Ralston and his future colleagues in the House. He told the crowd,
“They are not doing their jobs, they promise you they are, but they listen to the speaker. They aren’t representing your values.”
In contrast to his partner Horner (yes, partner. They teamed up as part of a GRA-led scheme to win the two open seats and to unseat incumbents Mike Cameron and Steve Tarvin in Northwest Georgia), Colton Moore served in the house from 2019 to 2021. He opted against running for reelection to the house in 2020 and instead ran against Senator Jeff Mullis.
Approaching the twilight of his career, the veteran senator seemed to relish the challenge. It allowed him to demonstrate that his political instincts and abilities remained as keen as they were twenty years ago, adding to his already impressive record of success and solidifying his reputation. Predictably, Moore was thrashed on election day. Fortunately for Moore, voters’ memory is short and his opponent from 2020 decided earlier this year to retire. Moore won the primary last spring by a few hundred votes.
Moore, like Horner, did not dally in giving us a taste of what to expect after the primary. He sensed an opening when the sheriff of Dade County had a high-profile encounter with a busload of illegal immigrants. Moore sent a letter to Governor Kemp—which he ensured reached the media—asking for a commission in the Georgia National Guard so that he could lead troops on the southern border.
To no one’s surprise, the governor ignored the letter. Unfortunately for Moore, many veterans and families of military members did notice it and saw through Moore’s demand for a commission that ought to be earned rather than handed out for the show it was.
His goal wasn’t to do anything in particular to help the situation, but rather to make himself seem better in the eyes of the public.
Moore’s approach in the Senate will be the same as it was in the House. To recap: After just a week in office back in 2019, he was one of a small group of Representatives to publicly criticize Speaker Ralston and demand his resignation. During his short time in the House, he did not establish any major coalitions or get any legislation passed.
Perhaps realizing his blunder, he decided to double down. When it came time for a vote on the budget Moore gave a sloganeering speech that hit on all the superficial right-wing sweet spots all while implying any yes vote was a RINO. Moore then cast his no vote. By itself that would be obtuse but of little consequence. But that wasn’t the end of it; a video clip of his speech taken from the official live stream of house activity was promoted by the libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty on their social media networks nationwide and in Georgia for weeks.
There isn’t much space for the actual work of a legislature when this is what legislators are doing. This might be the future of the Georgia General Assembly. These soon-to-be state legislators, rather than being deliberate and policy-focused as intended, reveal themselves as entertainers first and public servants second(maybe?). Georgia’s public institutions are used for their own gain and a platform rather than to better the welfare of the citizens of the state. Their only contribution is grandstanding and bombastic language.
As a pair, these two carnival barkers are the political equivalent of tweeting “Thoughts and Prayers” after an EF5 tornado has destroyed a town.
Similarly to the greater part of Congress these days, their whole performance consists of nothing but a steady stream of virtue signaling. “Look at me, I’m Here, I Matter!”
Unless Lawmakers Act Soon, The General Assembly Will Function Like Congress.
A big part of the problem in Congress is well known and the Georgia General Assembly has a similar element which pose the same risks. The C SPAN network has live and recorded video coverage of committee meetings, hearings, and floor activities. The best intentions went into its creation in the late 70s. However, it completely changed the incentive system for lawmakers. Speeches were no longer about persuasion. Hearings were no longer about finding out the truth.
Neither party had an incentive to build relationships with members of the other party. It changed the whole legislative process. Instead, we have what we have now. Every question asked during a hearing, every opening statement made, and everything that happens on the floor is regarded as a chance to put on a show for the cameras. In the age of the internet, and the possibility that a performance could go viral, outrageous and useless behavior in Congress has become ubiquitous.
Time To Act: Ditch the Cameras
A joint study committee should consider removing video and instead provide only audio recordings of legislature activity as well as look for other ways to instill a culture of continuous improvement in the operations of the General Assembly. Otherwise, be prepared for more freshmen like the Thoughts and Prayers Duo.
The debate over cameras in the Supreme Court is illustrative of the problem here. This problem was addressed by Justices Scalia and Breyer at the same time as social media was emerging as a major force in society.