If you believe House Speaker David Ralston, ethics reform is a liberal cause backed by liberal groups and the liberal media, and conservatives who join the campaign for ethics reform are being played for suckers in an attempt to divide the Republican Party.
“In times of great majorities like we enjoy now, we must remember that there are those around us who seek nothing less than to divide us. There are those who would sow the seeds of dissension and discord in order to advance a self-absorbed agenda that’s not consistent with the best interests of our party.
Let me be very clear. Regardless of the course that others may take, as for me and the people’s House of this state, we are going to stand united, working hard, standing Republican shoulder to Republican shoulder, to make Georgia a better state — and not align ourselves with media elites and liberal special interest groups. …”
That statement — uttered by Ralston at the state GOP convention in Columbus Friday — is the biggest load of baloney I have seen from a Georgia politician not named Newt Gingrich. It is also a two-fold insult to the base of his party, suggesting that ethics reform is not a conservative value and that Republican voters and activists who support such reform are being duped.
Democratic candidates and strategists would no doubt be pleased by Ralston’s confession that ethics reform is a liberal cause, and they are no doubt eager to campaign on that idea. The only problem is, it isn’t true.
Liberal Americans and conservative Americans don’t agree about a lot of things. But they do agree about the impropriety of elected public officials taking $17,000 family vacations to Europe on a lobbyist’s dollar, as Ralston has done. They do agree that lobbyists shouldn’t be plying public officials of either party with $250 rounds of golf and $300 dinners and $500-a-night resort hotel rooms. There is no partisan divide among the citizens of Georgia on that question, and Ralston knows it.
Any doubt that might have existed about that fact should be wiped away by what has happened in Columbus this weekend. At the urging of the GOP rank and file, the party’s executive committee has voted unanimously to put an advisory question on the GOP primary ballot this July, asking primary voters whether they support a $100 limit on gifts from lobbyists to legislators.
The people who supported that measure are not liberals and they are not liberal dupes, as Ralston seems to suggest. The same is true of Republican primary voters who will vote overwhelming in favor of that measure come July.
Ralston’s attempt to make this a test of party loyalty is ludicrous. He has clearly decided that preserving the privileges and entitlements that he and his fellow elected officials enjoy is more important than honoring the opinions of his party membership and the people of Georgia.
The divide, in other words, is not between Republican and Democrat or liberal and conservative. The divide is between the people of this state and those who believe that the title of senator or representative is an entitlement to the spoils of power.
As the AJC’s Jim Galloway reports, a group calling itself the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Government has responded to Ralston’s statement, and they have put their case well:
“We strongly condemn the comments made by Speaker Ralston regarding ethics reform. Strong ethics and accountability are not a matter of right versus left. They are a matter of right versus wrong.
His comments imply that voters and activists should hide our eyes from the realities of ethics violations and the need for reform, and stand by everyone no matter what they do, simply because they have an “R” behind their name.
Rather than open his heart to the cries from citizens that we have the right to call for accountability, his comments reflect those of someone who seeks to divide our party by falsely accusing those who stand for our values of being divisive. His comments were arrogant and pompous and show an attitude that is anything but a humble public servant.”
It is also amusing to see Ralston once again trying to perform an exquisite ethical two-step. On the one hand, he argues that as speaker he “represent(s) a caucus that are basically good people doing good jobs,” and he feigns surprise that Republican voters and activists might question their ethical purity.
He then turns around and warns that if gifts over $100 are outlawed, those very same “good people” would begin to accept those gifts under the table, in violation of the law. He seems to believe that members of his own caucus would rather break the law than give up their goodies, and he seems to believe that members of his own party have become dupes of “media elites and liberal special interest groups” because they dare demand clean government.
Personally, I think more highly of his caucus and his party than the speaker does.
– Jay Bookman