I seem to have an innate ability to make folks mad. Usually, it is the humor-impaired and special interest twits. Today, I hope to make everybody mad, no matter your race, creed, color or university affiliation. This diatribe is for all.
It is about our friends in the General Assembly and their astonishing arrogance and disconnection from the voters who send them to Atlanta to represent our interests. Georgia is one of only three states in the union that has no limits on how much lobbyists can spend on legislators, be it meals, ballgames, junkets, whatever.
But that is not likely to change, primarily because of one man - House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). Published reports show that lobbyists spend about $1.6 million on Georgia legislators annually. Ralston is one of the biggest beneficiaries.
Ralston, as you will recall, took his family and his chief of staff and the chief's wife on a $17,000 "working trip" to Germany over the Thanksgiving holidays in 2010, courtesy of a Washington lobbyist to inspect Magnetic Levitation trains in Europe, conveniently forgetting there is also a MagLev train available for inspection in Cobb County. The speaker never saw fit to apologize for his poor judgment and showed us how out-of-touch he is with the common people he purports to represent. The late and legendary House Speaker Tom Murphy would never have done such a thing. Then, of course, who would ever compare this guy with Tom Murphy?
Nor does Ralston seem to see anything wrong with lobbyists spending unrestricted funds on legislators to influence their votes. Says the speaker "Let the people be the judge about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable." Georgians have already spoken, Mr. Speaker. A poll by the Atlanta newspapers found that 72 percent of registered voters in the state and 82 percent of Republicans want lobbying limits. What more proof do you need?
However, there is a big difference in "wanting" and "doing." This is where I hope you get mad and take Ralston up on his dare and tell him unlimited spending by lobbyists is NOT acceptable and that you want to see the law changed. He and his minions don't believe you will do it because they think you are too apathetic and have too low an opinion of politics to make the effort.
I've been around politics most of my adult life and I can tell you for a fact that if legislators tell you that getting tickets to ballgames, golf outings, meals and the like doesn't have some influence on their decisions, they are being deceitful. If it didn't make some difference, why would lobbyists shell out over a million bucks a year? Lobbyists are in this game for the long haul and building good relationships and having an inside with influential politicians is an important part of the game.
And don't buy the argument that if limits are placed on lobbying - as is done in 47 other states - somehow the freebies would move underground and away from public scrutiny. In other words, lawmakers would be inclined to break the law. That insults the integrity of the vast majority of the good men and women in the Legislature who don't have their hand out like some of their colleagues.
A couple of brave souls, Rep. Tommy Smith (R-Nicholls) and Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) have introduced bills this session to place a limit on lobbyist expenditures but the effort will go nowhere because there is no pressure to change things. Well-meaning groups like the Georgia Tea Party and Common Cause Georgia are trying to help, but they are spitting in the wind because they don't have the power to make legislators hop off the gravy train. Only you can do that.
You need to write and call and bug the dickens out of these people and don't take "no" for an answer. They will likely send you a nice letter, thanking your for taking time to give them your opinion on this "important matter," but they don't mean it. They will only mean it when they realize you mean it.
In the meantime, the wining and dining and ballgames and golf outings will continue unabated in the Legislature and David Ralston will continue to thumb his nose at you and presume you have nothing better to do with your time but comb through lobbyists' expenditure reports while he enjoys the good life. I hope this makes you very mad.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.