“You can only stick a stick in somebody’s eye for so long before enough is enough” says Representative Richard Smith, a Columbus-area Republican. He was referring to the lightning-rod Senator Josh McKoon.
An article from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer details the affair, in which six of the eight million dollars requested by Columbus State University and two million requested by the National Infantry Museum were removed from the budget on the 39th legislative day. Three million dollars apiece had been budgeted for Columbus State in the House and Senate backed budgets. “We lost all of that in conference” according to Representative Smith.
Representative Smith was twice told that funding would be denied as a signal to the area’s bellicose senator. During a January meeting with the National Infantry Museum’s leadership and the governor’s team, Governor Deal made clear that the museum could not count on the requested two million dollars in funding to build a memorial for the Global War on Terror.
Towards the end of a session in which Senator McKoon played an antagonistic role to the speaker, Chief of Staff Spiro Amburn met Smith in his office to let him know six million in funding for Columbus State University had been cut as well. Amburn indicated it was a result of McKoon’s actions and presented a united front, promising “if the money was left in, the governor was going to do a line-item veto.
“If Richard couldn’t get the House to sustain his position, whose fault is that? It’s not my fault” says Senator McKoon, noting that Representative Debbie Bucker (D – Junction City) claimed previously the eight million dollars was the responsibility of Representative Smith. Senator McKoon went on to say that Representative Smith should have told him of the promised cuts so that action could be taken in the senate.
Neither commented on what tensions created this strangely uncommunicative relationship between natural political allies.
Eliminating doubt on the motivation for the cuts, Speaker Ralston said in an interview last Friday “the budget process involves the House, the Senate, the governor’s office, and in this case the Board of Regents. Showing a cooperative spirit is part of that political component. If you are constantly tearing things apart, it can have repercussions in this area.”
“You have two of the finest members of the General Assembly in Richard Smith and Calvin Smyre. Richard is a rock” Ralston said. Representative Smyre (D – Columbus), for his part, blamed the cuts on “harsh comments attributed to a member of our legislative delegation regarding the governor.”
$100,000 in funding for the National Infantry Museum did make it into the final budget, but Representative Smith told the Ledger-Enquirer he expects a line-item veto from the governor.
It has long been suspected that Senator McKoon undertakes his energetic lawmaking with an eye to move beyond his current elected office. It appears that if he were to do so, the people of Columbus would be the primary beneficiary.