David Ralston, the speaker of the Georgia House, is 10 times or 100 times the leader that his predecessor was. He is smart and level-headed, which may not sound like high praise until you remember how rare that latter trait can be among state leadership.
All of which makes this deeply disappointing:
House Speaker David Ralston and his family spent part of Thanksgiving week in Europe on a $17,000 economic development mission paid for by lobbyists interested in building a high-speed train line between Atlanta and Chattanooga.
Commonwealth Research Associates, a D.C.-based consulting firm, paid for the trip, which also included Ralston’s chief of staff Spiro Amburn and his spouse, to Germany and the Netherlands the week of Nov. 21-27, according to records filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the State Ethics Commission.
The trip was the most expensive single expenditure reported by a lobbyist since at least 2005.
Ralston said the trip helped him understand how European countries have succeeded in merging rail and roads with commercial development. He said took his family with him because it was over Thanksgiving.
“I wanted to be with my family during Thanksgiving week and that was the only week I could go due to my schedule,” he said. “I wanted to be with my wife and kids. I don’t apologize for that.”
… Since the Nov. 2 election, Ralston has accepted nearly $22,000 total in gifts and meals from lobbyists, including numerous dinners, Falcons and Thrashers tickets, and a Christmas dinner for himself, his staff and their spouses.
Ralston justifies the junket by calling it “a working trip.” You don’t take your family on a working trip.
If you do happen to take your family on a working trip, you pay for them.
You often hear the admonition that government should be run more like a business. In private industry, would your employer allow you to take an all-expense-paid $17,000 trip to Europe with your family, courtesy of a potential supplier or customer? No, and the reasons are obvious.
As speaker, Ralston sets an example and an attitude that other members of the Legislature will now follow, just as Glenn Richardson set an example and attitude that his members followed. The decision shows extremely poor — surprisingly poor — judgment.
It is the act of a man in danger of becoming what he had claimed to oppose.
– Jay Bookman