This was the legislative session the wheels fell off the GOP juggernaut in the General Assembly. Few significant bills advanced as party poo-bahs jockeyed for political advantage and House Republicans divided into competing camps headed by wounded Speaker Glenn Richardson, ambitious Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter and Jerry Keen, the insidious majority leader.
A game of budgetary chicken between new Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House leaders helped drag the torturous session well into April, contributing to an overall sense of sausage-making anarchy. And, puzzlingly, while Rome burned, Sonny fiddled, or, as the case was, went fishing.
We're not complaining, mind you. When these folks are busy fighting among themselves – or out to lunch, like the governor – they do much less damage.
Join us for some heapin' helpings of good-ol'-boy grandstanding, backbiting, bloviating and buffoonery under the Gold Dome. Together they make up the ...
The Gone Fishin' Award
To Gov. Sonny Perdue
The biggest mystery under the Gold Dome this year wasn't why the Legislature was still in session in mid-April, nor even who'd blink first over the state budget. Instead, it was: What happened to Sonny?
Here was a Republican governor coming off a landslide re-election in the reddest state in the Union, a politician with national aspirations, a guy hoping to carve out a reputation as a doer. So, imagine our shock when his top priority to kick off a second term turned out to be encouraging folks to spend more time down at the fishing hole.
Perdue has been the invisible man this session, poking his shiny head out of his office only long enough to ride a motorcycle around the Capitol with John Travolta and to anoint "Buster the Brown Trasher" as the state's official anti-litter mascot. Though his proudest achievement – the "Go Fish Georgia" initiative to build boat ramps for bass fishermen – was approved, much of his legislative agenda (such as it was) unraveled with scarcely a whimper. His highest visibility in recent weeks was a humiliating trip to Washington to beg the Democratic Congress for more PeachCare funding after having crowed that Georgia was awash in tax revenue. And there's no evidence that the slacker lifted a finger to help break the budget impasse.
This lamest of lame ducks makes lackadaisical Gov. Joe Frank Harris look like FDR on a crank binge. Even Republicans are mortified by their party leader's couch-potato idleness. The silver lining is that Sonny has demonstrated that the gubnership can be a part-time job. Now if only we could adjust his salary accordingly and rent out half of the Governor's Mansion ...
The Taking Away Tiny Tim's Crutch Award
To Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram
Where to begin? Mr. "Will it strengthen our traditional family structure?" started the year accused of laying pipe with a comely young gas lobbyist. And if you think that delicious nugget of innuendo originated with the Democrats, then we've got 19.5 acres of Florida swampland to sell you.
Instead of being humbled by his ordeal, the speaker went into full-blown Tom Delay mode, having Rep. Mack Crawford, R-Concord, perp-walked out of his own subcommittee because the GOP foot soldier hadn't contributed sufficiently to his caucus coffers.
Halfway through the session, Richardson took the unprecedented step of banning reporters from the House chamber in apparent retaliation to bad press and pesky questions. Yes, that'll win us over.
But the speaker's most churlish move came when he took the well to assault PeachCare, the mostly federally funded health-insurance program for children of working-class families. Richardson justified his bill to toss thousands of kids – mostly in rural areas – off the PeachCare rolls by implying that many of them are from South of the Border.
"The people of Georgia are tired of paying for health insurance for illegals," he said, ignoring the fact that the law already bars illegal immigrants from receiving state benefits. (At press time, his bill had been scuttled in the Senate.)
All told, Richardson displayed a reckless arrogance that seemed odd for someone expecting to return as House speaker. That alone may tell us something.
The Grandiose Inquisitor Award
To Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah
We can sympathize with the president pro tem's angst at becoming Sen. Second Banana since Casey Cagle claimed the lieutenant governor's podium.
However, Johnson tried to regain the spotlight this session by assuming the role of Torquemada in the case of Genarlow Wilson, a black Douglas County High athlete whose 10-year prison sentence for consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl has earned Georgia national scorn.
In an overheated speech, Johnson used a litany of half-truths and outright fibs in arguing that Wilson should not be freed – even though the law that put the 17-year-old behind bars for child molestation has since been changed. As a CNN piece later noted, Johnson falsely claimed that the minor with whom Wilson had sex at a party was given alcohol and drugs until she passed out and then was raped, despite the fact that a jury cleared Wilson of rape charges. Nonetheless, Johnson got the vote he wanted.
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