Politicians tend to be a fairly predictable breed. Regardless of their party affiliation they all seem to be work from the same playbook, one that tells them to look out primarily for their own interests and those of their party and to do whatever it takes to win the next election.
But every once in a while they do something unexpected and throw us a curve ball. I think Gov. Brian Kemp surprised us all when he announced an open call to all interested Georgians to apply for the position of U.S. senator after Johnny Isakson unexpectedly announced his retirement from that position last month. Since the senator is retiring before his current term ends, the governor has the responsibility to name a replacement for him who will serve until the election next year.
Hundreds of Georgians from all walks of life have already submitted applications for the job, and those applications are available to be viewed by the public online. It seems to be the very definition of an open process.
I am not expecting the process of selecting the lucky appointee to be quite so open, however. I believe the great majority of those applying will be ruled out rather quickly when the governor gets sits down with his advisors to decide who will succeed Isakson.
In the announcement for the application process, Kemp stated that “we will carefully vet the applicants and choose who best reflects our values, our state, and our vision for the future.” That very pleasant and very vague sound bite raises a few questions about the selection process that I’m very curious about.
First of all, who is the “we” Kemp refers to who will be choosing the winner of this senatorial cattle call? Will the membership of the selection committee be made public, and will their deliberations also be out in the open? Or will it be a closed process carried out quietly by the Governor and his inner circle?
I am also wondering exactly whose values he is referring to when he says the applicant should share “our values.” There may be some values that all Georgians share (I’m sure we all move our momma, for example,) but when it comes to the values that drive lawmaking we obviously have strong disagreements. And these days our disagreements over the values that drive the political machine cleave almost exclusively along party lines.
I have looked through some of the applications, and there a lot of people applying who have no political experience and claim to have no partisan affiliation. I personally think it would be great for Kemp to select someone level-headed and non-partisan, but how likely do you think it is that he would appoint a complete unknown who might not be relied upon to vote the way the party prefers them to do once they get to Washington?
Kemp will want the fill-in senator to have two main qualifications – their political leanings should put them securely in the right-leaning, Trump-supporting wing of the Republican Party and they have to be seen as a good bet to retain the seat in the 2020 election.
That means his choice won’t be a politically neutral Walmart cashier from Bolingbroke, as good a story as that might be. Applicants who fit the above profile will go to the head of the pile and will be the only ones given serious consideration. I believe the whole “Anyone Can Be a Senator” sideshow is largely a publicity stunt, and in the end we’ll get the same nominee we’d have had if the governor had just picked his favorite party insider the old-fashioned way.
If I turn out to be wrong about that, however, and Kemp selects an average Joe or Jane to represent us in Washington, I will apologize with great contrition in this space and praise him for setting partisan politics aside and sending a true “citizen legislator” to the Senate. Your move, governor.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.