Here’s how the scenario was supposed to play out:
State Rep. Tommy Smith, a Republican from Nicholls in southeast Georgia, was supposed to go to the House well Tuesday to announce introduction of a long-awaited ethics-reform bill, which includes a $100 gift limit. Smith planned to use the occasion to invite fellow legislators to come to his desk on the House floor to sign on as co-sponsors of the legislation.
Despite a strong lobbying effort from the Tea Party and other conservative grassroots groups in favor of the bill, not a single one of Smith’s fellow Republicans was willing to defy House Speaker David Ralston by publicly supporting the legislation.
As a result, the public signing ceremony was canceled and the legislation was introduced later in the day without fanfare and with only one solitary Republican, Smith, listed as sponsor.
Officially, only one Democrat — state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver of Decatur — is listed as a co-sponsor, but there’s a story there as well.
Apparently, more than a few House Democrats had volunteered to sign onto the bill. However, supporters understood that a long list of Democratic co-sponsors could do them more harm than good by making it easier to portray the bill as partisan legislation. So Oliver’s name is the only one listed.
And yes, that’s ridiculous in light of the strong support expressed for the bill by Tea Party groups, Georgia Right to Life, the Eagle Forum and the Christian Coalition, among others. But political attacks don’t have to be factual to be effective.
(In the nonpartisan spirit in which this legislation was crafted, I should acknowledge that it is easier for Democrats to embrace such legislation. As the party out of power, they are not generally the target of lobbyist courting and thus have less to lose by a gift limit).
In another sign of just how strongly Ralston opposes the bill, the speaker did not assign it to any of the committees of usual jurisdiction. He didn’t give it to the Ethics Committee, the Governmental Affairs Committee or either of the two judiciary committees, where the bill could at least theoretically be given a hearing on its merits.
Taking no chances whatsoever, he assigned it to the House Rules Committee, which will never hold a hearing on its merits and where such bills are kept under lock and key, never to be heard from again.
In other words, it doesn’t matter to Ralston that 72 percent of Georgians and 82 percent of Republicans have told pollsters that they support a gift limit. It doesn’t matter that legislators in every surrounding state have imposed gift limits or outright bans on themselves, often after a major scandal has shamed them into it. It doesn’t matter that an impressive bipartisan coalition of groups have joined together to champion the reform.
What matters is that our elected leaders have decided that they like accepting gifts. They believe as a result of their wonderfulness they are entitled to be showered with trips, meals, parties, golf outings, etc. And they’re pretty much defying the people of Georgia to do anything about it.
So … whatcha gonna do about it?
P.S. A list of Georgia House members is available here.
– Jay Bookman