Named for Ellis Arnall, the reformist governor who led Georgia in the '30s and '40s, the Arnies Awards celebrate those state lawmakers who rose above the muck and tried to make Georgia a better place.
THE COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATIVE AWARD
Rep. Jay Neal, R-Lafayette
Georgia loves locking people up. Proof perfect: the $1 billion a year the state spends keeping more than 60,000 prisoners behind bars. So human rights advocates were gobsmacked when Neal, an evangelical minister from North Georgia, proposed legislation to create a panel to study ways to keep some law breakers — in particular, low-level drug offenders and the mentally ill — out of prison. The bill found support on both sides of the aisle and with both Gov. Deal and Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein. In addition, Neal has been praised for following the Innocence Project's recommendations in drafting a bill that says DNA shouldn't be taken from a suspect until conviction. Because of Neal's thoughtful, holistic approach to criminal justice, we're willing to look past his bill to ban "narcotic bath salts."
THE WELCOME FRESHMAN AWARD
Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur
When David Adelman jetted off to become ambassador to Singapore, the Senate lost one of its smartest and most able lawmakers. While it's too early to say if his successor can fill his shoes, Carter has shown strong potential. The 35-year-old attorney and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter was the donkeys' public face on the controversial, but much-needed, reform to the HOPE scholarship. Rather than simply oppose the measure, Carter combed through data to convince his colleagues that Gov. Deal's proposal would've meant fewer scholarships in rural areas. It was enough to wrangle concessions from the GOP and prove that Democrats still have talent rising through the ranks.
THE LOYAL OPPOSITION AWARD
Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, and Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone
Congratulate the Democrats — who could've tried to be the party of "no" this year — for taking a smarter approach to battling bad bills. Leading the pack were Orrock, a veteran who's stuck to her guns in her 23-year Gold Dome career, and Fludd, a sharp and savvy African-American lawmaker. While Republicans were prepping their Arizona-esque illegal immigration bills, the two Dems convened a committee to actually study the role that undocumented immigrants play in Georgia's economy. Sure, they didn't have a chance in hell of stopping the legislation. But, years from now, when employers searching for laborers wonder whether state lawmakers ever stopped to consider the likely impact of this overreaching legislation, Orrock and Fludd will be able to say, "Hey, we tried."
THE GOOD DEAL AWARD
Gov. Nathan Deal
When Deal took the oath of office, we instantly got a better spoken, more statesmanlike upgrade from Perdue.That's a low bar, of course. But Deal has impressed in other areas: his comparatively light touch on Atlanta's school accreditation crisis; his willingness to work with the capitol city on solving the state's water woes; his backing of the proposed regional transportation tax and other initiatives sought by Mayor Reed; and his vocal support for reforming Georgia's lock-'em-up approach to criminal justice. But Deal may have won the most fans when he signaled that, unlike his self-righteous predecessor, he was willing to let Georgians decide for themselves whether their communities should be dry on the Sabbath. As he explained: "I don't drink. I simply believe in democracy."
THE BIG DADDY AWARD
House Speaker David Ralston, —R-Blue Ridge
We know. We also gave Ralston a Golden Sleaze Award for what we hope was an isolated lapse of ethical judgment. After that ding, the speaker bounced back to lead a strong, orderly session for the House, in sharp contrast to the chaos in the Senate and to his head-case predecessor, the erstwhile Glenn Richardson. We've got to give Ralston props for keeping a lid on fringe-y extremism within his own party, as when he let it be known that a birther bill wasn't likely to reach the House floor or when he threw cold water on legislation that would have made it easier to sue abortion providers. He's also been openly friendly to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, talking up regional transit and setting a tone of cooperation that put the kibosh on years of Atlanta-bashing by the Legislature. And, when he finally got fed up with the clown-car antics across the hall, Ralston didn't simply insult Senate leaders as Richardson was wont to do, but was firm in calling for them to get their act together. It's nice to have an adult in charge for a change.
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