Insider Advantage: New Senate Rules Chairman Known for His Loyalty and Legislative Skill
By: Matt Towery: InsiderAdvantage/Creators Syndicate
This month’s James is a special edition that was rushed to print. It looks at the political fallout from the decision by Saxby Chambliss not to seek a third term in the U.S. Senate. Because the cover story left no room for “Floating Boats” in this special edition, we decided to highlight one “boat” right here in the Publisher’s Message: State Sen. Jeff Mullis. And he is “Rising.”
Mullis was elected to the Georgia Senate in 2000. That goes back to the days when Gov. Roy Barnes was still Georgia’s “king” (although he never acted like one, contrary to myth). The Senate was still run by Democrats.
There’s something about legislators who have had to survive politically as members of the minority party before finally becoming part of a new majority. Generally, they are a bit more creative and flexible as lawmakers than they might have been otherwise. Too, they are often more loyal to their friends as personal friends rather than as colleagues only. The example of Jeff Mullis makes a strong case for this view.
As the GOP began to take control of the Senate, Mullis had already become known as being not only loyal, but also for being a man whose motor never seems to turn off.
The key issues in those days included revenue, but the first modern-era Republican majorities at the Gold Dome were also about economic development, and later, improvements to statewide transportation. That put Mullis at the head of the train that drove many legislative initiatives. His policy-making creativity and his bounding energy were invaluable.
And loyalty? Mullis proved his mettle by sticking with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, even as many Republicans, heady from a round of victories in 2010, chose to strip their leader of his most important powers. Mullis demonstrated that sticking it out through tough times has its advantages; namely that when those you stuck with get to where they should be, they then recognize your talent. That’s what happened to Mullis in January of this year when he was named the new Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.
Maybe the biggest key to Mullis’ rise to the top in the Georgia Senate has been the tendency of many to underestimate him. He seems to relish it. He’s also usually upbeat and accessible, and in an age when too many political leaders operate in a protective bubble of their own making.
Mullis simply disarms those around him, allowing them to be candid – and to sometimes drop their guards. And yet, to his credit, Sen. Mullis doesn’t use the naivety of others against them. In fact, he has shown more patience and political aplomb than many have witnessed around the Capitol in years.
By now it should be clear even to the greenest of observers that Jeff Mullis, while loyal and approachable, cannot be underestimated for his skill and determination. It’s fair to say that he will work an issue to death if he believes in it. Those who know him understand that he can find a bridge to help a piece of legislation pass, or be a roadblock to hold it up faster than most can, all while keeping his personable ways about him.
There are plenty of genuine pros running the Senate these days. Cagle should never have been stripped of his powers. It made the entire GOP look silly. It also gave the new governor the impossible task of trying to coordinate with a disorganized and unreliable chamber. Fortunately, House Speaker David Ralston already had his ducks in a row, and the House has served as a dependable legislative home base for Deal.
With minds like Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, Majority Leader Ronnie Chance and Rules Chairman Mullis working with Cagle, the Senate is now in better order.
As for new Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, don’t look for him to be testy or dismissive to those who appear before his committee. But trust me, he will know where every single body is buried. And if someone isn’t working with him on the up-and-up, they just find themselves buried as well.