As often as we get hoisted by one, not a lot of people understand what a petard is.
The French word dates to the Middle Ages, when gunpowder was a new and unstable weapon in Europe. A petard was a small bomb placed at the entrance of a fortification.
Every now and then, the bomb would explode prematurely, “hoisting” its maker – and his friends — into the air and eternity.
We had at least two hoistings last week.
In 2009, state Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton, started a small furor with an attack on sociologists at Georgia universities who had developed sub-specialties on some racy topics – male prostitution, oral sex, and “queer theory.” Some topics were addressed in classrooms.
Hill argued, on CNN, that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding such studies. He later recorded a video that celebrated an award he received for weighing into that particular fight against sexual immorality.
“Our public colleges are not the place for our young adults and future leaders to experiment and experience these types of sexually explicit behavior,” Hill said.
Hill is the chief financial officer for Gila Distributing – Georgia, a small, family-owned mail order firm that specializes in promotional gadgets – anything you can slap a logo on. If you need a set of foam reindeer antlers for the holidays, this is the place.
Stephanie Webb is Hill’s Democratic opponent. One night, her husband/campaign manager was perusing the Gila Distributing web site and discovered more than antlers for sale:
– Foam “stress relievers” in the shape of a woman’s breast, or the male sex organ;
– “The Little Black Book of Sex Secrets,” allegedly by the author Dee Flower;
– A “safe sex” kit that includes a condom, anti-bacterial wipes, and two Lifesavers breath mints;
– And Gay Pride flag lapel pins.
Webb, a 50-year-old homemaker, has set up an Internet site displaying the products. “It wasn’t to be mean, but to show the hypocrisy,” she said.
Hill said he had no idea that such items were available through his web site – which he rents for the immediate connection it gives his firm to 3,500 manufacturers and their products.
“With 600,000 products, there is always a possibility that something slips through,” Hill said. “It’s certainly nothing we would sell knowingly.”
Hill scoffed at the charge of hypocrisy. “I see no relationship whatsoever,” he said.
House District 21 is in Republican-dominated Cherokee County, so the impact of this dust-up may not signify. But the same can’t be said in the heated 8th District congressional contest in middle Georgia.
Early this month, a Democratic activist in Macon filed a motion in Tift County Superior Court to unseal the divorce records of state Rep. Austin Scott, the Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon.
Scott was divorced in 2001. The court records were sealed on July 9, 2004, during a GOP primary challenge to Scott from Michael Spinks.
We don’t know what is contained in the records. Tift County Superior Court Judge Melanie Cross set a court date of Oct. 26 to hear the matter.
Almost immediately, Scott’s friends let it be known that Cross – then a practicing attorney — had given a $1,500 donation to Marshall in 2006. Which was true enough – though in the end, irrelevant. Another judge will conduct the October hearing.
But that tidbit prompted more digging. Cross and her husband, it turns out, had also donated to Scott — $150 in 2004, during Scott’s primary fight.
A woman named Betty McCorvey gave $250 to Scott as well, on July 2, 2004. Seven days later, her husband, Tift County Superior Court Judge Gary McCorvey, would sign the order to seal the Scott divorce records.
Sam Ray, spokesman for the Scott campaign, acknowledged Friday that the McCorveys are family friends of the Scotts. “Tifton’s a small town,” Ray said. He declined to address the 2004 donation from the judge’s wife.
On Thursday, during a debate in Perry, a reporter asked Marshall whether he was behind the request to open Scott’s divorce records.
The Democratic congressman said no. “It really gripes me that people accuse me of having something to do with that,” he said.
Marshall said the idea of pursuing Scott’s divorce records originated with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s “team,” while – during a few weeks this spring, when still a candidate for governor – Scott gave some thought to mounting a primary against Cagle, a fellow Republican.
A spokesman for Cagle called Marshall’s contention “flat out false and a desperate attempt to change the subject.”
But this illustrates the problem with petards and other explosive issues. You never know when they’ll go off – or who might be hoisted by the blowback.