(Note: My colleague Jay Bookman has his own post on the ethics reform and a brief explanation of our joint project during this legislative session.)
Skepticism is a virtue, as a magazine’s motto once had it, but the thought is incomplete without this corollary: Cynicism is corrosive.
That is particularly true in that realm which makes cynicism oh-so tempting: politics. Adopting a “they’re all crooks” mentality has the perverse effect of giving license to those pols who are crooked, by failing to distinguish them from the others. The best defense against that mentality is a good-government offense, and that’s where a renewed push for wide-ranging reform of state ethics laws comes in.
After a failed attempt in 2010 to cap the value of gifts such as meals from lobbyists to legislators, the issue is coming back up this year. This is the year to see it through.
“At a certain point, things get to the point that when the public sees what’s going on, they question the motives,” said Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus. “We need to take this issue off the table.”
McKoon and Rep. Tommy Smith, R-Nicholls, plan to sponsor a bill touching on lobbyist gifts and much more. It’s still being drafted, but the basis is the 26-point list of reforms championed by such groups as the Tea Party Patriots, Common Cause Georgia and the League of Women Voters.
That’s an unlikely alliance in some respects. But then, good government shouldn’t be a partisan or ideological issue.
(That said, Georgia Republicans, who have the votes to pass this thing anytime they want, might want to take note: While an impressive 72 percent of registered voters recently told pollsters for the AJC that they favor a limit on lobbyist gifts, the figure was even higher — 82 percent! — among self-identified Republicans.)
Nor should good government be only about naming names from the past. As many readers know, this newspaper has reported lobbyist-funded trips for certain legislative leaders that cost thousands of dollars. That reporting was important. But, going forward, so are these thoughts from McKoon:
“We don’t need to make this about personalities, we don’t even need to make this about what was reported in the past under the current law, because everything that has happened and has been reported is lawful,” McKoon told me Thursday after announcing the ethics push.
“The question that confronts us now is a public policy question. And my position on that question is that if we continue not to have a limit, that it damages this institution [the Legislature]. It damages our ability to be trusted by the public. So the way to show good faith and renew that trust is to pass a law that establishes a limit.”
While it’ll take more than that, as McKoon readily acknowledges, that’s a good starting point. But if he and Smith are to get their colleagues to that starting point, they’ll need the help of Georgians willing to demonstrate with telephones and keyboards that their healthy skepticism hasn’t disintegrated into unhealthy, apathetic cynicism.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle: 404-656-5030
Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock (Majority Leader): 404-463-1378
Sen. John Crosby, R-Tifton (Chair, Ethics Committee): 404-463-5258
Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain (Secretary, Ethics Committee): 404-656-0075
Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge (Speaker of the House): 404-656-5020
Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton (Speaker Pro Tem): 404-656-5072
Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta (House Minority Leader): 404-656-5058
Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs (Chair, Ethics Committee): 404-463-8143
– By Kyle Wingfield