The Political Insider blog is on hiatus until the new year.
Here’s something to ask yourself today: Is your house, and the land it sits on, worth twice as much today as it was in 2004? Probably not.
In fact, odds are that your little slice of heaven is worth a good deal less. No matter what your mortgage says.
But the real estate market can be a tricky thing.
On Wednesday, the Board of Natural Resources agreed to pay $28.7 million for 10,015 acres of Oaky Woods wilderness in middle Georgia. Six years ago, the price was roughly the same — for the entire 20,000-acre tract.
By passing on the property in 2004, over the protests of environmentalists, the state allowed the pristine black bear habitat to pass into the hands of Houston County developers — whose plans to build a private city did wonders for local land prices.
The assessed value of 101 acres adjacent to the Oaky Woods property, purchased by Gov. Sonny Perdue a year or so earlier, more than doubled to $750,100.
Oops. Sorry. I forgot to mention Perdue’s interest in the transaction. Just like the governor forgot to mention it in 2004. The same governor who appoints Department of Natural Resources board members.
The private plans for Oaky Woods went bust with the housing market. But while your home or your neighbor’s home may have gone to the courthouse steps for a sheriff’s auction, the owners of Oaky Woods Properties LLC again proved themselves as lucky as cats in a creamery.
With the DNR purchase, which still requires one more vote of approval from a State Properties Commission chaired by Perdue, the developers will be able to recoup most of the $32 million investment they made six years ago — and still hold onto half their purchase.
Unlike you or me, some people are simply recession-proof. They are too big to fail.
Tree-huggers, perhaps the most beleaguered and outgunned interest group in state politics, have been loath to criticize the transaction, out of fear that a rare and valuable half-victory will — poof! — vanish from sight.
Though she didn’t participate in the final 11-6 vote, even Jenny Lynn Bradley, chairman of the DNR board, expressed qualms. “It’s a good acquisition for this state,” she said. “I still personally think the property is too high. I think the state is paying too much money for it.”
A day earlier, a preliminary discussion of the Oaky Woods purchase by the DNR board was attended by Ray Boyd, the real estate executive and former candidate for governor.
Boyd has embarked on a solitary, perhaps quixotic campaign against sleaziness in the state Capitol. In front of the DNR board, he used the “C” word, which got a rise out of board member Dwight Davis.
“As far as I know there’s absolutely no evidence that there’s any corruption at all,” Davis said. “I think there are some greedy landowners involved in this. And people are taking advantage of a situation. Having seen so many times here where generous citizens have stepped forward and donated land or taken reductions, this really stands out as a bad example.”
It is a comfort to know that we are not burdened with corruption — only with greed and sharp dealing.
Because there is a myth in politics that says all past sins are washed away by large, watershed elections. Some victors assume that landslides are a sign that voters have carefully examined a candidate’s personal conduct and offered their approval.
It is an egocentric philosophy that leads to overreaching. Ask Jack Abramoff, whose commonplace wheeling-dealing in Washington — with Ralph Reed and others — was merely cagey one day. And a series of felonies the next.
There is significance in the fact that the Oaky Woods fiasco will be contained within the Perdue tenure. One suspects that Gov.-elect Nathan Deal put out word that he wants no part of the issue.
This may be a sign that Deal understands what voters did and didn’t say in November. Or that the governor-elect recognizes that he will quickly have his own fish to fry.
Over the past few days, Deal has passed out lists of those who will head up his administration — a mix of new names and holdovers.
One position the governor-elect has not touched — not yet — is the post now held by state Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham.
During a congressional investigation into allegations that Deal improperly used his office to protect his auto salvage business, Graham gave detailed descriptions of his meetings with Deal to federal investigators, and was later subpoenaed by a grand jury.
Deal isn’t saying whether or not he has asked for Graham’s resignation. Graham isn’t saying anything.
And the rest of us are just watching.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider