Named for Ellis Arnall, Georgia's reformist governor in the '30s and '40s, the Arnies Awards celebrate state lawmakers who proposed positive reforms — and pushed back against the dunderheads.
The "Teach Your Children and Colleagues" Award
Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna
As the number of Democrats under the Gold Dome has dwindled, so has their power to pass legislation. Kudos are therefore in order for Evans, whose plan to lower the grade point average needed to be eligible for a HOPE grant to a technical school not only won over her colleagues, but the governor as well. Deal gave his blessing to the proposal, which could give thousands of students who left tech school because of poor grades the opportunity to get vocational training. The governor had a hard time giving credit where it was due — he told the Associated Press he was "glad they agree with us on this issue" — but it's Evans and other Democrats who deserve the credit for pushing the policy change.
The "Scholar and a Gentleman" Award
Rep. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn
During the "bed tax" debate, Thomas chastised fellow lawmakers for sidestepping tough issues that could invite political criticism — and which caused the governor to circumvent both chambers. "This approach to find the funding is somewhat of an indictment of the General Assembly's willingness to do its job," Thomas scolded. The Lilburn archaeologist noted that a bill which would allow parents to request that their local public school be turned into a charter school merely "danced around the edges" of a larger problem: Georgia's refusal to adequately fund education. When Thomas makes his stand, he usually offers an important insight that strikes at the heart of the issue — something all lawmakers should do more often.
The "Reasonable Republican" Award
Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs
Yes, he moonlighted as a sleazoid for helping stomp all over Fulton County and trying to change the state's historic zoning laws for the benefit of one developer. But Willard also has done his fair share of respectable work this session. The lawyer shepherded a bill to reform Georgia's overcrowded juvenile justice system, a move that could save cash and help rehabilitate young offenders. He also stuck his neck out by backing state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, in her efforts to pass a bill banning sexual-orientation-based discrimination in state government. In addition, he's often the first to co-sponsor good environmental bills, making him one of the Gold Dome's true Teddy Roosevelt Republicans.
The "Cost of Freedom" Award
Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus
Six days before he was scheduled to depart for U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in 1999, Columbus native Lathan Word was pulled into a robbery investigation and ultimately sent to prison — for 11 years. During a retrial, the victim admitted on the stand that his testimony was false. Word was released. Hugley, along with two other Columbus state reps, pushed hard for the innocent man to receive $400,000 in compensation. The measure was ultimately approved — but not before Senate Republicans basically put an innocent man on probation by stipulating that Word's payment would be cut off if he committed a felony.
The "Looking Out for the Little Man" Award
Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick
Lawmakers typically don't think failure should be rewarded. When it's Georgia Power, however, that's a different story. The Atlanta-based utility is currently in the middle of building two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta. And — surprise! — the project is already overbudget. Chapman, a soft-spoken lawmaker from the Georgia coast, introduced a proposal to prohibit the utility from making a profit on those cost overruns. You'd think that's fair, considering that the regulated monopoly already enjoys an 11.15 percent rate of return by law. And because ratepayers shouldn't be on the hook for Georgia Power's fuck-ups. Chapman's colleagues disagreed and, in an excruciating subcommittee meeting, blocked the bill. Still, he deserves a pat on the back.
The "Productive Pranksters" Award
The Senate Minority Caucus
Yes, it's unusual to bestow an honor on an entire group of lawmakers. But Senate Democrats, a group that's outnumbered and outgunned in the upper chamber, deserve some credit for calling out GOP shenanigans. Led by state Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, the pack has been "unusually united and effective this year," noted one Gold Dome insider. State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, cast some sunlight on language in an ethics reform bill to protect incumbents by extending the campaign fundraising ban during the legislative session to challengers. And state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, berated his colleagues for steamrolling a bill to allow gated communities to become voting precincts. The pack's shining moment, however, came when it tried to throw a wrench in the state budget debate by forcing discussion over whether Georgia Public Broadcasting's funding should be cut by $150,000 — the same amount as former Sen. Chip Rogers' salary at the state media outlet. The move went nowhere, but forced Republicans to revisit the sweetheart buyout that Gov. Nathan Deal gave their former colleague.
Send ole Hans an email, let him know he's doing such a great job, firstname.lastname@example.org
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