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Deposed committee chair: President pro tem a socialist, lt. gov. a dictator
A defiant Preston Smith today posted this fascinating speech, in which the Rome Republican acknowledges he was removed as chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee for refusing to support the so-called hospital “bed tax.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue offered the 1.45 percent tax on hospitals’ revenue to help plug a $600 million deficit in the state’s Medicaid budget. Smith, who pledged to never support a tax increase, would not vote for it.
Smith said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle ordered the GOP leadership in the Senate to get the votes to pass the tax. President Pro Tem Tommie Williams then called for a caucus vote that he said would obligate every Senate Republican to vote for the bed tax if 2/3 of the caucus did.
That Thursday, when the votes for passage were uncertain, the Lt. Governor suspended our action and recessed the Senate for a hastily called meeting in the office of the President Pro Tem. He ordered the Majority Leader and President Pro Tem to go get the votes and to tell the members that their chairmanships were at stake.
The President Pro Tem used to tell me that he would never ask me to vote against my conscience or my district. But, at the meeting, President Pro Tem Williams spontaneously called for a motion for a “caucus position” on the bill. This means that if two-thirds of the caucus vote to support it, ALL members of the Senate Republican Caucus must vote to support the bill. No definition of the so-called “caucus-position,” nor any punishment for not following it, is found in any caucus rules. There was no discussion. There was not opportunity for dissent. He did not even ask for the members who were voting no. He simply announced that 2/3 having voted, we all must vote the same way. Although there have been others who have voted against ‘caucus positions’ in the past, like a scene from ‘Lord of the Flies,’ the group marched back in to the Senate to follow the order.
Williams, he said, sounded like a socialist when he took to the well to argue for passage:
Moreover during the debate on House Bill 307, the President Pro Tem argued that we should take from those who have two coats and give to those who have none. This is almost as pure a definition of wealth redistribution and socialism as you can possibly craft. And the fact that such a system is passed under threat of the government penalizing you with a worse result is also a central tenant of a socialistic system. If a person voluntarily surrenders his coat to someone less fortunate, that is an example of Christian charity. But, if they are forced to do so in some ‘Robin Hood’ scheme by the government, that is a nearly perfect example of socialism in action.
And he compared Senate leaders who took away his chairmanship to disgraced ex-House Speaker Glenn Richardson:
I have watched my leaders stand aghast at the past dictatorial display of power in the House of Representatives in years past where members were banished for failing to toe the line. Yet, now our leaders are doing the same thing. Last year when House members voted their convictions for their district, they were stripped of their positions by former Speaker Richardson. My leaders decried that dictatorial response. But today, they do the same thing on a bill that they already won!