DeMint, Rogers depart for more lucrative slice of public sector

By Tom Baxter

Even before they quit their jobs last week, Jim DeMint and Chip Rogers had a lot in common.

Both DeMint, the South Carolina conservative who raised money to defeat some of his Republican U.S. Senate colleagues, and Rogers, the Georgia legislator who was a leader in the coup which made Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle a spectator in the state Senate for a couple of years, cultivated the reputation of right-wing firebrands, unafraid of roiling the clubby sensibilities of their respective august chambers.

Like a number of the politicians who have positioned themselves on the Republican Party’s right-most post, both DeMint and Rogers came to politics from a background in the media, with just a wink at showbiz.

DeMint grew up over his mother’s ballroom dancing studio and owned an advertising and market research firm in Greenville which specialized in developing marketing plans for hospital groups. Anyone who has heard Rogers speak could guess his background is in broadcasting, including a stint for a sports handicapping service as “’Will the Winner’ Rogers” which would come back to haunt him.

Both of them harkened back to their media roots last week in explaining why they were leaving in the middle of their terms.

DeMint said his new position as head of the Heritage Foundation would enable him to communicate his views to a far broader spectrum than he would have in the U.S. Senate and give him a chance to use his marketing background. Rogers said he was a good fit with his newly created position at Georgia Public Broadcasting, in which he’ll be bringing Georgia businesses into contact with its schools. He’ll even host a weekly radio show.

“I assume that’s why they approached me about it,” he told WSB Radio’s Sandra Parrish.   This having been radio, there can be no verification of the expression on Rogers’ face when he said that.

Some might say money was the real reason they left. ‘Tis the season, after all, for Tea Party buyouts, with Barack Obama’s reelection providing suitable cover for a wave of retirements. Dick Armey also announced he was taking an $8 million parachute to leap from FreedomWorks. But DeMint, who claims a net worth of about $40,000 (!), makes $174,000 as a senator and stands to make $1.1 million a year at the think tank he will now call home, was airy in his dismissal of such a base motive.

“If there was time, I’d hang in there, be ranking member on Commerce for four years, and get a job making a few million a year at a wireless association or something.  But that’s not what it’s about for me,” DeMint told the Washington Examiner.

We can assume Rogers will also see an increase in his paycheck, since he makes less than $18,000 as a senator, and even at GPB they make more than that. But we don’t know exactly, because, scandalously, no one appears anxious to say what his salary for this new job will be. That is being “ironed out,” according to a GPB spokesperson. A state senator leaves to take a state job and the salary is being “ironed out?”

Another notable similarity between DeMint and Rogers is that neither of them left to return to the private sector they championed so passionately at their respective rostrums, any more than the six Georgia legislators who have preceded Rogers into state employment in recent years. The taxpayers will fund Rogers’ check, whatever that turns out to be. DeMint may claim he’s in the private sector because corporations fund his think tank, but the vast, tax-favored network of organizations like Heritage exist solely in order to exert influence on public policy. In DeMint’s opinion, Heritage is a step up from the U.S. Senate.

Rogers will to have to be mighty good at what he does to make him worth it to the taxpayers, no matter what he makes. A half-million dollars, which is about what the election to replace him will cost, buys a lot of Medicaid bed days and pays a lot of state teachers’ salaries. But removing a majority leader whose efforts to cater to the right were becoming a liability, and clearing the way for a peace treaty between the lieutenant governor and the Senate leadership, presided over by the governor? Priceless.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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