Before this week, no one would have lumped Tiger Woods together with Glenn Richardson. Now, like the golfer, Georgia’s just-resigned speaker of the House finds himself a new member of an undesirable club.
The institution of marriage has been bruised before by politicians’ infidelity — the charge that Richardson’s ex-wife, Susan, leveled against the speaker during a television interview Monday. Mark Sanford, John Ensign, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards: List all of them, and it starts to sound like a new verse to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
For some other institutions, namely Georgia politics and specifically the state’s Republican Party, the fires of purification could be ignited soon.
I lived out of state for the vast majority of the Richardson era, which ended Thursday after Susan Richardson’s revelations.
What I have heard since returning about the House under Richardson, however, is not good: intraparty fights and retribution against noncompliant members; squabbles with the governor and the Senate; and most important, a failure to make progress on many of the state’s most pressing problems.
Like Richardson’s affair — which House Minority Leader DuBose Porter described as something “everyone around the Capitol knew to be true” — this unspectacular record was bubbling just beneath the surface of Georgia politics. The question was whether Democrats were poised, in terms of both leadership and voters’ partisan leanings, to take advantage in the 2010 elections.
Before Susan Richardson’s interview, the answer for House and Senate races, and perhaps the gubernatorial contest, appeared to be a solid “no.” That may have changed.
And, frankly, Republicans will deserve what they get if it’s proven that GOP leaders ignored Richardson’s dalliance with a lobbyist while he supported a push by her company, Atlanta Gas Light, for state permission to build a new pipeline.
This is the most serious allegation that Susan Richardson raised, and it will take more than her interview and Porter’s common knowledge to prove the speaker guilty. Here are some key questions: Who knew what, when, and how did this information affect (or not) the ultimately unsuccessful pipeline bill and the handling of a subsequent ethics complaint against the speaker?
Republican leaders may have good answers to these questions. But they need to clear the air.
What won’t work is the counterargument that Democrats had their own ethical problems back when they held power. That rings fairly hollow right about now. Voters have already punished Democrats.
There will be charges of hypocrisy that a member of the Republican Party, which champions family values, didn’t live up to that standard.
For me, however, failure to govern appropriately is much more damning than any such charges of hypocrisy.
Any cause suffers when it is let down in this way by one of its proponents. But that doesn’t mean the GOP needs to drop family values. (What would the party be afterward, anti-families?) Good causes need champions. What the GOP needs to do is drop the members who make a mockery of those values.
While they’re at it, they might reflect on the tendency of power to corrupt — and ask whether they have dedicated themselves sufficiently during their time in power to the goal of limiting state government, and therefore the risk of malgovernance by imperfect individuals.
Now is another good time for Republicans to rededicate themselves to that cause.