The former senator from Chestnut Mountain in Hall County assumed his new duties last week in Atlanta as the Georgia General Assembly convened for its annual 40-day session.
Cagle was elected to the Senate in 1994 and told his constituents at that time that he would impose on himself a 12-year term limit. He kept to that timetable, beginning his campaign to be the states No. 2 constitutional officer back in 2005.
He soundly defeated former Christian Coalition chairman Ralph Reed in a bitter Republican primary last summer, then defeated Democrat Jim Martin on Nov. 7 by nearly a quarter-million votes.
In an interview Thursday at his office on the second floor of the Capitol, Cagle fielded questions about Gov. Sonny Perdues recent State of the State address and inherent budget proposals. He also discussed aspects of his new job presiding over the Georgia Senate and his efforts toward a more civil and bipartisan upper chamber.
In his address Gov. Perdue proposed adding $50 million to the states land conservation fund, as well as $19 million to promote fishing in Georgia.
Im really pleased with what the governor is doing in his commitment to the outdoors, he said, adding that North Georgia in particular will benefit both economically and environmentally from a strong emphasis on fishing.
The Go Fish Georgia proposal even got a thumbs-up from the Sierra Club of Georgia, which usually is at odds with conservatives like Cagle. The group cited the benefits of having to keep streams and lakes clean to attract anglers to the state.
Protecting the environment and the resources we have goes hand in hand with the outdoorsmen, and certainly I consider myself one, Cagle said.
Another issue related to the environment is the development of less-polluting alternative fuels, and Perdue has proposed to exempt from state taxes the materials and equipment needed for building biofuel facilities.
Cagle agrees the state should contribute to helping the emerging biofuel industry grow. For his part the lieutenant governor is exploring incentive grants for service stations in key transportation corridors to offer the cleaner E-85 ethanol fuel that a growing number of flex-fuel vehicles can burn.
In addition to a 3 percent raise for teachers in fiscal 2008 (which begins July 1) and $176 million more for state employee health coverage, Gov. Perdue proposed a $100 million payment this year to the state employee retirement trust fund.
Cagle, who in his old job was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says this follows suit with what other states have done and protects Georgias triple-A bond rating. Its important that we make a strong commitment to take care of our states retirees, he said, and although its not all the money thats going to be needed, its certainly the first step.
Education and jobs
Cagle plans to reveal specifics of his legislative agenda soon the week of Jan. 15 but offered up a preview, starting with education.
Giving local school districts more flexibility in designing their educational curriculum is the basis of his plan. Not all children learn at the same pace, theyre motivated and challenged in different ways, he said. When we allow communities to focus on the need of individual students, thats when were most able to achieve educational excellence.
Specifically, Cagle wants to expand the states more independent charter schools into one complete system. He said this would provide a whole educational system (that) can be free of state mandates and have funds block-granted, that is to come directly from the federal government.
The lieutenant governor also proposes five more career academies throughout the state and more incentives to establish magnet schools. These schools have curriculums that focus on a specific career path such as information technology, mechanics, visual and performing arts, and science.
Cagle says its critical to move in this direction. In our technical schools we have a 98 percent pass rate and a 100 percent job placement rate. We need more kids to get on that because 80 percent of the workforce for tomorrow is going to need some kind of technical training.
Even before Cagle was elected it was considered likely that a GOP majority in the state Senate would restore certain powers to a Republican that four years earlier it had stripped from Democrat Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
Cagle ran his campaign on this assumption, and indeed is now poised to establish his office as the driving force behind a conservative agenda.
One of Cagles campaign promises was to promote a pro-jobs culture throughout state government, and so he plans to hire a state jobs advocate (he has shied away from his original term of jobs czar) who will be a conduit between state agencies, the legislature, and local communities and businesses.
This person will facilitate incentive programs that are out there for businesses as well as streamline the required permitting processes that are faced by new companies that we recruit to Georgia, he said. That can be a huge part of setting us apart from other states.
Across the aisle
Cagle has now made it apparent that he will seek to instill a more collegial atmosphere over his chamber. He has already extended a goodwill hand of bipartisanship by naming several Democrats to key Senate committee positions, even some to chair and vice chair seats.
(Bipartisanship) is a high priority for me, he said. I think Georgia voters are tired of partisan politics and bickering, and theyre looking for people who really want to make a difference.
He said he does not want to keep a bill from being voted on just because a Democrat authors it. This is what he calls the honor of being elected by the people, and he feels it will pay great dividends on helping Georgia become even more successful. I start with a premise that we respect every senator, and we do that by giving them the opportunity to represent their district.
He has expressed admiration for former Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard, a Democrat who presided over the Senate when Cagle was first elected. I served a lot of years in the minority, and that gave me a respect for what its like to be shut out of the process and not having the venue to be as helpful as youd like to be.