Bill Cowsert may be the smartest politician we know. Throughout the entire redistricting hullabaloo, he’s kept his mouth shut, and as a result, the majority of the anti-redistricting attacks have been leveled at either the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce or their personal legislative gopher, Sen. Ralph Hudgens. While it’s a stretch to say that Cowsert is emerging unscathed, he certainly isn’t taking the same heat as Chamber President Larry McKinney, or Hudgens, or even ACC Commissioner Tom Chasteen.
The reason for Cowsert’s reticence is clear – he stands to benefit the most from the new Senate districts. While the current district, which encompasses all of Athens, has been pretty good to the GOP lately, his proposed new district eliminates just about any chance of a Democratic takeover of the seat.
Maybe, though, Cowsert is keeping quiet on this for another reason as well – because he knows that there’s a good chance that he might lose his Senate seat in two years. Don’t get us wrong here, we’re not predicting a massive Democratic victory in 2008; nothing we’ve seen or heard out of the local or state Democratic parties indicates that that will happen.
No, Bill Cowsert could lose his seat to a Republican in the 2008 GOP primary. Here’s how.
Given that the GOP tends to march in lockstep on just about every issue up in Atlanta, and there’s no dissent within the party, you can conveniently divide the Republican state legislators into two groups. You’ve got the folks who vote for every cockamamie piece of legislation the GOP leadership tells them to vote for (or else!), and you’ve got the few, the proud, the safely-districted, the wild-eyed zealots who actually conceive and write the aforementioned cockamamie pieces of legislation.
This is not to say that the first group doesn’t write bills, or that they don’t have an effect on the legislative process. But while senators from the first group are busy working out a budget compromise or trying to get real legislation out of committee, the senators in the second group are grabbing headlines by introducing feel-good (if you’re part of the GOP base), do-nothing bills that promote little more than controversy. Maybe the best example is the current bill that requires the Secretary of State’s office to provide every county with a copy of the Ten Commandments for exhibition in the local courthouse.
The problem with Bill Cowsert is that he is in the first group. While we don’t agree with his politics, we’ll be the first to tell you that Cowsert wants to go to Atlanta, and get his hands dirty working on the real issues. You won’t see Cowsert introducing legislation to ban homosexuals and illegal immigrants from listening to Tim McGraw, or whatever the next crazy bill is going to be. If he wins in 2006, Cowsert will roll into 2008 with a solid record of voting the right way on the right things (for the GOP, that is), but he’ll be vulnerable to any right-wing zealot with a war chest and an agenda.
Because of the way his district is drawn, Cowsert is going to be forced to go mano-a-mano with a string of right-wingers, and the name of the game will be, “Who’s More Conservative?”
“I voted to allow counties to display the Ten Commandments in their courthouses,” Senator Cowsert will say.
“Not good enough,” says his generic steely-eyed GOP challenger, “when I get to Atlanta, I’m going to introduce a law that forces all schoolchildren to recite the Ten Commandments every morning. In Aramaic. And I’m going to make sure it passes. And then I’m going to make sure that anyone who ever listened to Menudo will be cut off from being able to call the fire department, because immigration is bad.”
An exaggeration, maybe, but you get the point. Of course, Cowsert could surprise us. He could become a leader in churning out ill-conceived, useless legislation as well. But knowing Bill Cowsert, we wouldn’t say that’s likely. We don’t like his politics, but Cowsert understands that we’ve got serious problems that call for serious men and women to address them, and he’s going to devote his time to those, and he could care less about Menudo. And because of that, he could well lose.
Do you think that Bill Cowsert is Ralph Hudgens’ first choice to fill this brand new Senate seat that the Chamber of Commerce asked him to create? Absolutely not. As strange as it may seem to folks here in Athens, Bill Cowsert is too moderate for Hudgens and his ilk. We’d bet that Hudgens is already thinking about who he can groom to challenge Cowsert in the 2008 primary. But you redistrict with the candidates you have, not the candidates you wish you had.
Until 2008, that is.
Related: Athens Banner-Herald: “Opinion: State lawmakers are overreaching from Gold Dome,” 01/29/06
Athens Banner-Herald: “Winders: Duck, cover on redistricting question,” 01/29/06