While national politics continue to churn after the historic passage of Obamacare on Sunday and President Barack Obama’s signature on same yesterday, some states are showing signs of exploding into partisan warfare over Obamacare, notably including the State of Georgia. In Georgia, Attorney General Thurbert Baker has tonight officially refused to join in with over a dozen other states that have filed federal lawsuits against President Obama regarding the unconstitutionality of the individual mandate in Obamacare:
ATLANTA – Georgia’s attorney general won’t sue the federal government over the controversial health care bill President Obama signed into law yesterday.
Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, announced his decision in a letter to Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, who had urged the state’s top lawyer to file the lawsuit. Nationally, more than a dozen states are questioning the Constitutionality of the law, which requires all citizens to have health insurance.
“While I understand that the new law is the subject of ongoing debate here in Georgia and around the nation, I do not believe that Georgia has a viable legal claim against the United States,” Baker said in his letter to Perdue. “Considering our state’s current severe budgetary crisis, with vital services like education and law enforcement being cut deeply, I cannot justify a decision to initiate expensive and time-consuming litigation that I believe has no legal merit.”
But, Baker’s decision not to sue doesn’t mean Georgia won’t file a lawsuit. Perdue could decide to proceed with a lawsuit without Baker’s cooperation, a number of media reports indicate.
“His refusal to participate doesn’t preclude us from moving forward,” Perdue’s spokesman Bert Brantley said, according to a report on WXIA-TV’s Web site. “We’ll make a decision on how to move forward and whether that means Georgia filing a lawsuit on its own, going by itself, or whether we join other states that have already filed.”
As noted above by the Atlanta Examiner, and a local TV station report, Governor Sonny Perdue (R-GA) is examining his options to override Baker’s decision to pass on a lawsuit against Obamacare. The heightened GOP pressure on Attorney General Thurbert Baker may be the first major shot fired in a new GOP plan to strategically use Obamacare to “nationalize” state-level races in states where Obamacare is particularly unpopular, such as Georgia.
Most immediately, Perdue is planning on holding a news conference with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich tomorrow morning to explain why Georgia Republicans feel it is important for the State of Georgia to join in the multi-state litigation challenging Obamacare’s constitutionality. Additionally, state House GOP members are looking at Articles of Impeachment for Baker as “there is a movement inside the House to suspend the rules and introduce Articles of Impeachment against Baker for failing to uphold his oath of office.” PeachPundit has the details late this evening of the hardball being played by the GOP over Baker’s defiance of Governor Perdue’s request:
The resolution had around 30 signatures and things were moving forward. Apparently, the sponsor agreed hold off until legislators meet with Gov. Perdue in the morning to further discuss options.
The basis of the Articles of Impeachment are that Baker has violated Article V, Section 3, Paragraph IV of the state Constitution and OCGA §45-15-35, both of which direct the Attorney General to take on matters of the state in court at the direction of the Governor.
Impeachment of a public official would take a simple majority in the House, but a 2/3 majority in the Senate.
Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that Thurbert Baker is also engaged in the contested Democratic primary for Governor with former Governor Roy Barnes. Baker is presently a heavy underdog in the Democratic primary against Barnes, while GOP Gubernatorial candidates Karen Handel and Nathan Deal are slightly ahead of Barnes by 3 points each in recent polling while GOP Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine is tied with Barnes and GOP State Senate President Eric Johnson is behind Barnes by 2 points. Baker trails all GOP candidates by a large margin and is far behind Barnes in the Democratic primary race. Accordingly, Baker needs to shake things up to have any chance to become Georgia’s next governor, and he may have chosen Obamacare to make his move considering the dramatic rejection of Perdue’s request this evening.
Just resigned US Congressman and now full-time GOP Gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal has been trying to take advantage of the situation, urging his supporters to contact Baker by email, phone and fax to urge Baker to file suit as noted in the Atlanta-Journal and Constitution:
Republican candidate for governor Nathan Deal, freed from his Washington job, has passed the office number, fax number, and e-mail address of Attorney General Thurbert Baker to supporters, urging them to call and demand that Baker join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new health care law.
Baker, of course, is a Democratic candidate for governor. It’s fine sport to bait a rival.
Deal, of course, has recently come under an ethical cloud for his involvement in state contracts for his salvage business, and Deal also started a mini-firestorm in national GOP politics in early March by attempting to resign from the House of Representatives before the all-important House Obamacare vote on Sunday, with the Wall Street Journal suggesting that Deal was resigning to avoid further developments in the House Ethics Committee probe into his salvage company. After that, GOP House leader John Boehner (R-OH) personally appealed to Deal to stay on to cast a vote against Obamacare, and Deal quickly reversed himself and voted against Obamacare and then immediately resigned Sunday night. Accordingly, the aggressive push by Deal may be in part an attempt to exorcise those earlier missteps on the Obamacare issue.
For his part, AG Baker told the AJC Monday night there is no Constitutional violation emanating from Obamacare as the supremacy clause clearly authorizes the statutory language, foreshadowing tonight’s formal rejection of Perdue’s request:
“We’re not interested in political gamesmanship in the office of the attorney general. We’re not interested in making political points. The role of the attorney general is to follow the law, and where we feel there have been violations, we need to address it….
“There’s a little thing called the supremacy clause. Federal law supercedes state law. And so I’m very interested in knowing, at least from those who think there’s a basis is, at least what they think the basis is.
Baker has also pointed to the money that would be expended by an Obamacare suit, money Baker claims would be wasted. It appears that “every GOP candidate in Georgia” is pressing hard on Obamacare, attempting to “nationalize” every statewide race in November 2010 with the unpopular Obamacare, while former Governor Roy Barnes is staking out ground as critical of Obamacare in contrast to his opponent AG Baker, as notes the AJC:
And Democrats, just like in the old days, suddenly find themselves worrying about being tied too closely to a president and a ruling Washington regime.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has been eager to help. “It is imperative that current candidates for elected office publicly state their plans to either support the Obama-Pelosi legislation or fight for the people of Georgia,” the Republican governor declared, shortly after the Sunday night vote.
Perdue has loudly pressed Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democratic candidate for governor, to challenge the constitutionality of the health care law.
But so far, Baker and other Democrats haven’t risen to the bait.
Every GOP candidate in Georgia, down to your half-hearted handshaker for county land surveyor, has generated at least one press release vowing not to rest until the health care law is undone.
But Democrats — particularly those seeking a place on the November ballot — have been much more cautious. Many have been here before, and understand the game.
In health care, as Perdue recognizes, Republicans have an issue that could nationalize every statewide race in Georgia.
Baker, the attorney general, rejected the governor’s lawsuit challenge on Wednesday. “This litigation is likely to fail and will consume significant amounts of taxpayers’ hard-earned money in the process,” he wrote in reply.
Former Gov. Roy Barnes was the most critical. “This health care bill is a failure of leadership on both sides. It’s what’s wrong with Washington and it’s what’s wrong with the state Capitol,” Barnes said. “My greatest disappointment is that the insurance companies were not regulated further — which means the special interests won.”
It may be that Baker considers a highly publicized fight over Obamacare with Perdue the best move he can make in his effort to make up ground in the Democratic primary against heavy favorite Barnes, especially as Barnes is lukewarm at best regarding the Obamacare package. A high profile fight with Perdue over Obamacare would also surely please President Obama, and Baker may be counting on drawing Obama into the Democratic primary by eliciting a statement of support from Obama for Baker’s refusal to file suit, as well as perhaps garnering a surge in donations from Obama’s liberal base. Indeed, Baker may believe his expressions of public backing for Obamacare will move some of the liberal base of the Democratic Party in Georgia into his column in his contest against Barnes.
Beyond the politics, it is highly questionable, under the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling of Perdue v. Baker, whether AG Baker as chief legal officer for the State of Georgia can legally ignore a direct command from the Governor, as occurred here over the requested Obamacare lawsuit. Perdue v. Baker was decided by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2003 pursuant to a prior fight between the Attorney General and Governor related to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Late Wednesday, in reaction of Baker’s official snub, Perdue’s spokesman noted that Perdue may find a way around Baker’s resistance “citing the voter ID law and the water wars with Florida and Alabama.”
The Republican Governor was out of town Wednesday, but spokesman Bert Brantley told us they will challenge the federal health care plan with or without Baker’s help.
“His refusal to participate doesn’t preclude us from moving forward and we’ve done that on a number of cases,” Brantley said, citing the voter ID law and the water wars with Florida and Alabama.
“We’ll make a decision on how to move forward and whether that means Georgia filing a lawsuit on its own, going by itself, or whether we join other states that have already filed,” he added.
As for the cost, Brantley says the governor has already heard from several lawyers willing to take the case for free.
Although the Georgia General Assembly did not pass a constitutional amendment “that would have declared Georgians immune from the reach of the federal health care law” as the Senate came just short of the 2/3 vote required, it is possible that the General Assembly could consider legislation to modify and/or clarify the powers of the Attorney General to prevent the Attorney General from abusing his authority, as the state House GOP clearly believes Baker is doing now by refusing to file suit. Arguably, the Perdue v. Baker decision prohibits the Attorney General from ignoring lawful commands of the Governor such as the Obamacare lawsuit request, and new legislation may clarify the issue as the Obamacare debate intensifies.
The Gingrich-Perdue press conference tomorrow morning on why the State of Georgia should challenge the constitutionality of Obamacare in federal court may be the start of the Georgia GOP’s “nationalizing” strategy regarding Obamacare and state races. Additionally, the presence of national political heavyweight Gingrich, who may be attempting to build support nationally for a possible 2012 campaign by becoming engaged in the Perdue-Baker fight over Obamacare, is sure to add to the focus on Georgia as perhaps the first state in the union to reflect the new hardened, partisan atmosphere existing nationally after the passage of Obamacare. We may also be observing the first major state-level skirmish of many to come in the states where the GOP has decided to pursue a strategy to “nationalize” state-level races around the issue of Obamacare.
All told, it appears that the statewide political scene in Georgia is about to break out into all-out partisan battle over Obamacare. Talks between the state House GOP and Perdue before the press conference tomorrow morning with Gingrich and Perdue may determine whether impeachment proceedings move forward against AG Baker in the Georgia House of Representatives or other legislation related to the AG’s powers. Starting tomorrow, in the wake of tonight’s official rejection by AG Baker of Perdue’s request to sue, Georgia may become the first state to truly experience the same sort of brass-knuckles partisan warfare that has dominated national politics for over a year regarding the Obamacare initiative.