Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) is the longest-serving member of the Georgia State Senate, in office since 1980. But he received the lowest score possible from the Chamber, which grades legislators based on what they say are pro-business bills considered during the year’s legislative session. Thompson’s Democratic primary opponent is Michael Rhett, a retired Air Force veteran. The district includes much of south Cobb in addition to the city of Marietta.
State Rep. Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) also received a ‘U’ from the Chamber. His primary opponent for the northwest Cobb seat is attorney Bert Reeves.
“The bills that they looked at, I can say for sure that I would have voted for (some of the measures Gregory voted against),” Reeves said. “I haven’t reviewed SB 213. It did overwhelmingly pass, but I haven’t read it so I can’t comment one way or the other. The other three that he either abstained or voted down I would have voted for.”
Asked about his low score, Gregory said, “I believe that the only pro-business friendly policies is to get government out of business to lower taxes and have them applied evenly and fairly and less regulation. And as far as my score, I am in good company with conservative Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) and when the Democratic Majority Leader gets an A plus.”
Gregory said he’s not going to vote for a bill just because the Chamber wants it.
“As long as the Chamber supports crony capitalism and corporate welfare on certain bills, I’m not going to vote on those bills,” Gregory said. “There are other bills that they support that I am in favor of, for example SB 125, which protected private property rights.”
The Grading process
State legislators were graded based on their votes on several bills. Members that didn’t vote enough times were given an N/A rather than a grade. Everyone else received either an A, B, C or U. Some also received a plus or minus based on intangibles, such as sponsoring bills, speaking for or against bills or intentionally missing a vote that would be counted in the scorecard.
“Decisions Georgia legislators make at the Gold Dome have long-term impacts on our state’s economic prospects,” said Georgia Chamber CEO Chris Clark in a press release.
“General Assembly members’ overwhelming support for pro-business measures as reflected in this year’s scorecard prove that our Georgia lawmakers recognize the importance of passing job creation and economic development measures.”
The release from the Chamber said nearly every lawmaker in both the House and the Senate earned a passing grade. But out of Cobb’s 21-member delegation, three received a U. State Sen. Horacena Tate (D-Atlanta) also received the lowest possible grade, along with Thompson and Gregory.
Senator Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) received both an A+ and a favorable intangible rating.
“I’m honored to get their recognition,” Hill said.
“I’m grateful that the Georgia Chamber and the Cobb Chamber work every day to create a favorable work environment for the private sector.”
He said the Chamber is an insightful tool for legislators.
“They are a valuable resource on legislation and if and when they — or any other advocacy group — fail to be, they lose their effectiveness,” he said. “I can tell you I’ve not always gotten an ‘A.’ I don’t sacrifice my values for any one group, or frankly, for anybody.”
Rhett questions Thompson’s leadership
Rhett, who hopes to end his opponent’s 34-year run in the legislature, said the scorecard calls Thompson’s leadership into question.
“He touts himself as being the leader in the state senate, for the Democrats at least,” Rhett said. “I just think now he’s trying to pull people in different directions.”
Rhett said he would aim for a higher grade than Thompson’s ‘U.’
“I feel I’d get a better grade,” he said. “I would be aiming for an ‘A.’”
Efforts to get in touch with Thompson were unsuccessful at press time.
Party primaries will be decided May 20. Kennesaw State University professor Kerwin Swint said the scorecard is released right before the primary so the Chamber can let voters know where it stands.
“It’s their way of trying to help people get elected they think will help them,” he said.
“This will be most impactful in a close race where you have an open seat and two or three candidates trying to get a foothold, or in a hotly contested race where an incumbent is being challenged.”
He added that the scorecard may be more important in Republican races because that party is generally seen as being more pro-business. But he said in general, politicians hope they get a positive grade.