Sunday, March 21, 2004

Off today to Las Vegas for the annual Trauma and Critical Care meeting. Maybe I can win enough at the $5 blackjack table to retire. Posting to resume Thursday.

The tort refrom issue has claimed its' first political victim in Georgia, House Judiciary Chairman Tom Bordeaux...

House Speaker Terry Coleman abruptly removed the chairman of a powerful committee Thursday in a rare public show of political force.

Rep. Tom Bordeaux (D-Savannah) blamed his removal as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on disagreements with Coleman on several pending tort bills.

"Under this Gold Dome, politics is a contact sport," Bordeaux said. "When you stand up for those who are abused by the powerful, you can expect to be knocked down."

Coleman would say only that he ousted Bordeaux because of "philosophical differences." Coleman appointed Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) to the Judiciary chair.

Replacing a committee chairman in the midst of a legislative session is rare. Twenty years ago, then-Lt. Gov. Zell Miller fired Sen. Nathan Dean as head of the Senate Rules Committee after a political disagreement.

Bordeaux believes his reluctance to move forward on several tort bills in his committee contributed to his demise. "He told me I'd become a lightning rod on the issue and I assume he meant tort reform," said Bordeaux, who is a trial lawyer

And of course the Vast Medical Wing Conspiracy was to blame:

There's very little legislatively we can do to truly help the doctors," Bordeaux said. "There's a lot the Legislature can do to change the laws to make doctors immune from being responsible for their mistakes. That's what doctors want. I don't think, personally, that's fair."

In the background of all this is the recent redistricting map handed down by a three-judge federal panel, which is expected to give republicans control of the state house for the first time in 140 years. This would seem to give tort reform a easier road to passage.

Even more from the Journal-Constituion's political insider:

Wednesday's decapitation of Tom Bordeaux, the powerful House Judiciary chairman, was indeed about tort reform.


It was also a very public message sent to the more liberal side of a seriously split House Democratic caucus, to close ranks with the conservative members who lead it.

To that extent, the future of the man who wielded the ax -- House Speaker Terry Coleman -- now depends on how his 108 Democratic colleagues absorb the disciplinary measure.

"It's always effective to shoot a general now and then. I don't know that I'd have shot this one," said one relatively influential Democrat.

In the main, this sacking of a top House chairman was more about occupational loyalty than party loyalty.

The Legislature has 36 lawmakers who list their livelihood as "attorney." Eight of them attended the news conference held by Bordeaux, a Savannah lawyer.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, some 54 lawmakers include the word "business" in their job descriptions. One of them is the House speaker.

As much the 2002 election of Gov. Sonny Perdue, the rise of Coleman as House speaker 14 months ago led Georgia business leaders to launch an unprecedented campaign to limit the filing of liability lawsuits -- which they say is driving away business in general and medical practitioners in particular.

The Holy Grail is a $250,000 cap on the noneconomic worth of a human being.

Earlier this session, Bordeaux's counterpart in the Senate -- Charles Tanksley of Cobb County, another attorney -- bucked his Republican leadership when they tried to route tort reform legislation around his committee. He successfully forced the bills back to his committee, where they remain. Tanksley may yet lose his chairmanship over the episode.

In the House, Bordeaux moved no more quickly. And now has been removed.

The speaker chose state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) to replace him as judiciary chairman. She's an attorney, too, but has a history of flexibility on the tort reform issue -- in the Senate, she teamed up with colleague Sonny Perdue to pass a tort reform bill.

Have to go pack. Have a good week.
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