Following up on last week’s post about the state GOP’s chance to put ethics reform on the July primary ballot: Georgia Republicans did just that at their annual convention in Columbus, as well as approving a resolution calling on lawmakers to address the issue of lobbyist gifts in the next legislative session. It was a strong message from the party’s grassroots membership to the elected officials who wear the GOP label, and primary voters now have a chance to reinforce that message with a “yes” vote in July.
Speaker David Ralston was critical of this message, however, when he made his own remarks in Columbus:
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.
Because that last part wasn’t very clear, reporters asked him afterward whom he meant by “liberal special interest groups,” given that tea partyers have been at the forefront of the ethics push. (Yours truly, who is a member of the media but has never considered himself “elite,” was unable to attend the convention.) He cited Common Cause and Georgia Watch.
But the more interesting part of his explanation, in my view, was this:
There’s been some continuing chatter, and you know, every once in a while I think that part of my job as Speaker is to remind people that I represent a caucus that are basically good people doing good jobs. The inference by some on this issue suggests otherwise.
I, for one, find it hard to reconcile the speaker’s assertion that legislators are “basically good people” with his constant warnings that these “basically good people” will be party to illegal behavior — i.e., underground, unreported lobbyist expenditures on them — if the ethics laws are changed.
If the legislators are “basically good people” — and let me say that, by and large, I agree with the speaker’s assessment of them — why in the world should we expect them to go along with law-breaking? Yes, there could be some “gotcha” moments in which the tab ended up over $100 without their knowing it. But there’s a pretty easy way to avoid that: Don’t accept invitations to restaurants where the tab is likely to break $100 a person.
If I’m trying to avoid running up that kind of tab, I generally don’t head for Hal’s Steakhouse. As it turns out, I’ve never managed to spend $100 on myself at Chili’s or Longhorn.
The whole point of a $100 cap is not to catch someone being naughty or prevent legislators from interacting with lobbyists altogether, even socially; that’s why I personally support a cap rather than a ban. The point is to cut out the mentality among some of our “basically good” elected officials that they are entitled to a lifestyle of expensive dinners and entertainment while they’re supposedly doing the people’s business — a mentality that may make some of them confused about what exactly the people’s business is.
And that, I can assure you, is not a point that only liberals are interested in making.
– By Kyle Wingfield