In politics as in sports, it’s dangerous to get cocky.
And Georgia Republicans have gotten cocky. They have come to feel invulnerable and complacent, convinced that their constituents’ intense dislike of Democratic policies at the national level has given them a free hand to do as they wish here in Georgia, without consequence or backlash.
Ethical missteps, bad judgment, failure to govern — they believe that none of it matters as long as those magic words “Barack Obama” retain the power to distract and anger Georgia voters.
Want proof? Let’s review events just from the first eight months of 2011.
The year kicked off with the revelation that House Speaker David Ralston had taken his family and staff on a $17,000, all-expense paid holiday trip to Europe, courtesy of lobbyists for a high-speed rail company. In our much-reviled Congress, such behavior would result in severe censure or even removal from office, but here in Georgia it barely raised an eyebrow. In fact, Ralston continues to argue that limits on lobbyist gifts to politicians are not necessary given the fine, upstanding character of those we elect to public office.
There were also no repercussions when the chairman of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, Jack Murphy of Cumming, was sued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for being grossly negligent in his role as a director of a failed bank in Alpharetta. Murphy is now barred from involvement in any FDIC-insured institution, but inexplicably, he has been allowed by his fellow Republicans to retain his role overseeing the state’s banking industry.
Murphy’s counterpart in the state House, Banks and Banking Committee chair Greg Morris, was also fined $5,000 this year by the FDIC for violating regulations as a director of an Ailey bank. He too has been allowed to stay in his leadership role overseeing Georgia’s deeply troubled banking industry.
Not surprisingly, neither Morris nor Murphy has shown interest in investigating why Georgia continues to lead the nation in bank failures or whether the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance, charged with regulating state-chartered banks, failed in its duties. Given that 17 of the nation’s 68 bank failures in 2011 have occurred here in Georgia, costing the FDIC a total of $1.549 billion so far this year, their studied avoidance of the problem is appalling.
But again, they feel no public pressure to do better, so why should they?
Then there was the scandal in June, when the executive secretary of the state ethics commission was given her walking papers and her sole investigator stripped of her job. Those events occurred immediately after the two sought to subpoena records from the 2010 campaign of Gov. Nathan Deal. Again, there were no repercussions. Overall, GOP leaders have slashed the commission’s budget by 42 percent since 2008, even as they have burdened the agency with new record-keeping duties. They have also stripped the agency of rule-making powers available to almost every other agency in state government, all the while claiming to be horrified at alleged abuses of power in Washington.
I haven’t even mentioned the coup against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle by his fellow Republicans in the state Senate, which basically left that body rudderless, or the embarrassing financial shenanigans of Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and his business partner, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, or the continuing efforts of GOP legislators to empower themselves at the expense of local government officials. And who knows what the rest of the year will bring?
Once politicians feel themselves unaccountable, there’s no telling what they might do.
– Jay Bookman