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Yarbrough: A public relations train wreck
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Things are in a mess under the Gold Dome and I may be responsible.

As previously noted, House Speaker David Ralston has infuriated a vast portion of We The Unwashed with his $17,000 "working trip" to Germany and the Netherlands last Thanksgiving with his family, staff members and a Washington lobbyist. (Common Cause Georgia has filed a complaint with the powerful and dreaded — I’m making that part up — Georgia Transparency and Campaign Disclosure Commission, saying the Washington lobbyist was not registered to lobby in Georgia and therefore could not fund trips to Europe, just football tickets, fancy dinners and quail hunts.)

Speaker Ralston says he went to see high-speed maglev (magnetic levitation) trains in Germany and the Netherlands and how they related to economic development.

Ralston defended the trip by telling the Marietta Daily Journal’s Don McKee, "I think it sends a message to Georgians that I care deeply about this issue." Since the Speaker doesn’t have a lot of people around him willing to tell him the truth, he needs to understand that We the Unwashed think it was a boondoggle and if he continues to give the matter the back of his hand, the peasants just might rise up and demand tougher ethics laws.

This is where I dropped the ball. I should have told the speaker the same kind of train he was looking at in Germany and the Netherlands is also available at American MagLev Technology in Powder Springs. Powder Springs is in Cobb County which is in Georgia. That means he and the family could have gone to Powder Springs on a day trip, seen what he needed to see, had lunch at Bailey’s Diner (that’s where the mayor and city council eat, so it must be good), gotten back to his hometown of Blue Ridge by nightfall and wouldn’t have needed his passport or a bottle of Imodium.

American MagLev Technology founder Tony Morris told the Marietta Daily Journal a couple of days after McKee’s interview that he has $400 million worth of agreements with Puerto Rico and Mexico to construct high-speed rail lines there and is also receiving attention from Canada, Spain and several other areas. Georgia, located in the United States, doesn’t seem to be one of them.

I am embarrassed that I didn’t alert Speaker Ralston about American MagLev. He might have avoided a swift kick to his reputation. I believe you would have been agreeable to kick in for the cost of the trip. Knowing that he cares deeply about the issue, we’d be petty not to do so.

The last time I looked, state employees are reimbursed at 44 cents a mile. From Blue Ridge to Powder Springs and back is about 170 miles. That would total $74.80. Divide that up among all the citizens of Georgia and it comes out to about .00000761 cents per person. That sounds reasonable to me.

Of course, you need to factor in lunch at Bailey’s Diner. A man has to eat. I’m not sure how many people would be going to lunch with Mr. Ralston, but I doubt he will invite that guy that took him and his entourage to Europe. This Washington influence peddler has done enough damage, thank you. Besides, I know quite a few people in Powder Springs and they don’t think much of lobbyists. Too slick, they say. Not our kind of folks.

Anyway, let’s be generous and figure about $50 for lunch at Bailey’s Diner (excluding tips.) That is another .00000509 cents we need to spring for. Again, not a lot of money. So we are talking about a total of .0000127 cents from each of us to let the speaker see a maglev train up-close-and-personal and without having to leave the state. We’ve got a new revenue commissioner, Doug McGinnitie, and when he has a minute I will ask him if we could write that off as a charitable contribution on our income tax. That assumes, of course, the commissioner ever figures out how to get us our current tax refunds without the checks bouncing.

If you happen to be talking to the speaker, please convey my apologies. Had I been doing my job, I could have saved him a public relations train-wreck. This is no excuse, but I just assumed he already knew that whatever Germany and the Netherlands can do, Powder Springs can do better.

Reach Dick Yarbrough at or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.