Blessed Bipartisanship 

Under the Gold Dome, GOP and Dem "pals" draw blood

Hearty bipartisan camaraderie lasted, oh, about 40 seconds on Jan. 12, the first day of Georgia's annual legislative session, a peculiar ritual featuring various moneyed special interest groups performing tribal dances in which they stuff politicians' pockets with filthy lucre and are rewarded with ever more grand windfalls, all paid for by humble taxpayers.

As they say, no person's life or property is safe while the General Assembly is meeting -- but now, in the new Republicanized Georgia, there are subtle changes in the rhythms of the orgiastic revels under the Gold Dome. We don't tax and spend any longer. No suh, that would be evil. We righteously borrow and spend, and hope our kids can figure out how to pay the bills Republicans will cheerfully leave behind.

No longer do the Democrats have all the front-row seats at the feeding trough. Indeed, threatened with extinction, the ragtag Democrat survivors are just peachy happy to squeeze alongside the table as the cornucopia of taxpayer-paid-for treasures spills into the pockets of the winners. A few scraps are a darn sight better than nothing -- that's an old Southern homily, y'all hear.

That was the backdrop on opening day, when the subject of endangered children was given pious consideration. Forget, please, that Georgia is the last state to enter the 17th century and enact a law saying that parents who recklessly expose kids to death and mayhem should be incarcerated. Forget that the usual wackos have for three years undermined such legislation. The gun nuts tremble with fear that such a law might inhibit them from leaving loaded and cocked revolvers, shotguns, machine guns, bazookas, grenade launchers, flamethrowers or whatever around their trailers. And, the anti-abortion crowd wants to co-opt the law to equate women's choice with parental murder, manslaughter, torture, burning, scalding, beating, etc. of no-dispute-these-are-children.

Enter Gov. Sonny Perdue, part Boy Scout, part goober, part flinty sharp shrewd tactician, and 100 percent good ol' boy. OK, he was out to lunch last year when the child endangerment law crashed in the House. But now the guv, who genuinely has a good heart for kids, was presiding over a convocation of cross-party goodwill at the base of the Capitol's north staircase.

Rising up the ascending majestic steps were squadrons of Georgia law enforcement officers. They looked like a Smoky Bear hat-wearing choir. With all the bipartisan love-festing going on, I eagerly awaited the troops breaking into a down-home rendition of "Kum Ba Yah," with (nouveau Republican) Perdue and (stalwart Democratic) Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor hoisting a rainbow banner and showering each other with rose petals.

Nope, didn't happen. The officers, a sincere blessing on all of them, had participated in chasing one thoroughly bad dude, Jerry Jones, who killed four people and kidnapped three children. The police folk benignly smiled and shuffled feet as a little drama unfolded at the podium.

Perdue, at best an adequate orator, spent a minute or two giving the lowdown on the child endangerment law: punish bad parents, make it illegal to have kids around while mommy and daddy are cooking up methamphetamine stews, and strengthen Levi's Call, an alert system for abducted children. Plain stuff, sort of dull.

Then, graciously, Perdue introduced lite guv Taylor.

Taylor is often dubbed the "Big Guy" because he is, well, big. And it's clear that big is beautiful -- in Taylor's eyes. Coiffed, polished, buffed and spa-ed gorgeous. This man demands appellations such as "ornate." I swear that as he swung his SUV-scale flanks in front of the microphone, light flashed from his eyes and his teeth sparkled. Taylor's smile is so ubiquitous, you could tell him that the devil incarnate was waiting in his office to escort the lieutenant governor to the lowest circle of hell, and Taylor would beam, grin and chuckle, "Ain't that just like him."

Taylor began by slathering the honey on thick, praising the governor and adoring Georgia's first lady, Mary Perdue. Who would ever believe that Taylor would like nothing better than for his good friend Sonny to step in front of a runaway pickup truck? Who would ever believe Taylor plans to run against this man he is stro-stro-stroking?

Anyway, Taylor talked. And talked. AND TALKED -- upstaging the governor and giving every impression that this was "The Mark Taylor Show." The longer Taylor talked, the more Perdue's face fell from forced smile to grim acceptance. Mary Perdue's eyes narrowed -- what I would have given for a touch of telepathy right then.

Two days later, Perdue gave his "State of the State" speech, followed by a Democratic "response" (read: we're in a heap of shit) delivered by Secretary of State Cathy Cox. Anything else that happens in the 40 days of the session over the next two or three months will be anti-climax.

Taylor found himself in the GOP's gun sights in a re-enactment of "The Empire Strikes Back." Outshine the governor at the governor's own shindig? At your own peril.

The issue by which Taylor's well-padded ribs were barbecued was the HOPE scholarship. The problem is simple. The lottery funds that fuel HOPE have hit a plateau. After all, there are only so many illiterate, gap-toothed, gullible folks who can be conned into sinking their weekly paychecks into the fool's gamble.

Meanwhile, the state has cut $200 million from the University System, so tuitions will have to soar in order for the Board of Regents' chancellor and school presidents to give themselves gargantuan golden parachute retirement packages.

Factor in that HOPE, originally intended to ease the burden for less affluent but scholarly young Georgians, has morphed into a program where damn near every kid is all but guaranteed a B average in order to get the cash. And, for country-club scions, the scholarship has afforded them much more awesome cars to park in front of the frat houses -- that's a great state program!

Ergo, as they say on campus, HOPE is going kaput.

So Taylor wades in with his plan (tuition freeze), and the Republicans have theirs (minimum SAT scores, which would favor white kids, of course). The only sensible solution would be a family income cap, but HOPE has become an "entitlement" for the wealthy -- no chance that politicians will anger well-heeled voters by doing something strictly for middle-class kids.

But Taylor goofed in calculating tuition increases, and learned the lesson of Perdue's payback. A state Republican Party press release pilloried Taylor as a dummy. Perdue sneered that the lieutenant governor was clearly no HOPE scholar, heh-heh.

RIP bipartisanship.

In the waning hours of the third legislative day, Perdue, stating his "State of the State," promised us, "Raising taxes is not an option. That would only take more money out of the pockets of our citizens."

There he goes again.

What Perdue means is that he is slashing school budgets (while bribing the teachers' unions with a pay raise), slashing university spending, and slashing Medicaid money for children and pregnant women. State taxes won't go up. But the taxpayer's pockets will be lightened -- local school boards, hospitals and social service agencies will have to make up the shortfalls. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. Overall, the burden will shift seismically from the wealthy and the corporately blessed to the middle and working classes. This is, after all, the GOP of Bush.

Adding to the burden is a Perdue plan to borrow $1 billion for transportation and university construction -- a sop to developers. Who will pay the bill? They probably are still in school.

For a coup de grace on civil society, the big achievement of the week was a push to strike down a ban on feeding tax dollars to religious groups. Despite denials, it's a Trojan horse for school vouchers. More worrisome is the GOP frenzy (patterned after Florida's Gov. Jeb Bush) to open prisons, job training centers -- hell, maybe even driver's license offices -- to proselytizing by the holy anointed. (Let's see the reaction when the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Scientologists, Wiccans, etc., all want their cut of state dollars.)

Perdue and the state's rich white guys (plus the sadly fallen Andy Young) got a thrill Thursday when George Bush stopped by to collect campaign tribute. W had the taxpayers pick up the tab for the trip by making the call "official." He made an uninvited drive-by wreath-laying at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s crypt. For that man from that party to do such a deed, he should have brought along an appropriate honor guard. I'm thinking of Trent Lott and the reanimated corpse of the miscegenatin', anti-integratin' Strom Thurmond.

Still, King probably would have forgiven Bush's opportunism. He would have taught Bush, as he instructed Lyndon Johnson, on the lessons of peace:

"I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government."

The Most Rt. Rev. Dr. John Sugg, who says, "Where's the line for state dollars?" can be reached at 404-614-1241 or at john.sugg@creativeloafing.com.

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