It was supposed to be a new day for Peach State Republicans. Fresh off their landslide election victory, the new governor and a passel of Tea Party freshmen unschooled in the dark arts of the Gold Dome were expected to roll into Atlanta on a Reagan-esque mission to slash taxes, scare off brown people and stand up for fetuses (feti?). But as Georgia lawmakers are wont to do, they got, uh, distracted along the way.
Even before the General Assembly began, there was all-out mutiny in the state Senate, long considered the more orderly of the Legislature's two chambers, resulting in a leadership vacuum that slowed progress to a crawl. An attempt to overhaul the state's outdated, exemption-laden tax code was largely conducted behind closed doors — not that the secrecy prevented the ultimately failed endeavor from turning into a clusterf*&k. And a simple measure to allow communities to vote on Sunday alcohol sales was a near-disaster. About the only thing everyone could agree on was slashing a chunk of the HOPE budget.
Throw in the usual assortment of wingnuts, anti-immigrant ranters and nest-featherers and, Boom! — another 40 days best forgotten. But before the lawmakers slink out of town, we want to honor the dunces, sleazoids and outright scoundrels among their rather rank ranks. In keeping with tradition, we've also recognized the rare legislator who went above and beyond to help make Georgia a better place. Without further ado, we proudly present the 22nd annual Golden Sleaze Awards.
THE I'M NOT ONLY CHAIRMAN OF THE BANKING COMMITTEE, I'M ALSO A FAILED BANKER AWARD
Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming
Any lawmaker charged with overseeing complex legislation dealing with Georgia's banks should have some hands-on familiarity with financial institutions, doncha think? You wouldn't, however, want that lawmaker to have been banned by the federal government from working as a bank director. Such is the case with Murphy, who late last year was sued — along with other former officials of the ironically named Integrity Bank — by the FDIC for more than $70 million for "gross negligence" and various "breaches of fiduciary duty." (In turn, he blamed the FDIC's "lax oversight" for not stopping his bank from making bad loans.) One might have hoped Murphy would have the, um, integrity to step aside as chairman of the Senate banking committee, at least until the lawsuit is resolved. (Of course, this is the same guy who suggested that, if illegal border-crossers fight back while being arrested, border agents should "shoot to kill them, like you would any other criminal.") Failing Murphy's recusal, was it too much to expect Senate leaders to replace him in an attempt to preserve public confidence? Don't make us LOL. The good senator remains in his perch.
THE BLEED 'EM DRY FOR A WALLY WORLD AWARD
Rep. Kip Smith, R-Columbus
What better way to reignite Georgia's dismal economy than to create $100 million-plus tourist attractions to lure folks from other states? And how better to help private companies build these aquariums, theme parks and indoor ski slopes than with sales tax increases? And, finally, how much easier would it be to enact such taxes if you didn't have to give local taxpayers a say? Such were the corporate-giveaway dreams of Smith, who apparently wants his first term under the Gold Dome to be his last. Under his ballsy bill, cities or counties could tack a "tourism tax" of up to 3 percent onto the existing local sales tax, without needing approval from voters. Revenues generated by the tax increase would be handed over to some lucky company to help develop — Smith is sketchy on details here — an awesome attraction certain to lure out-of-state tourists in droves. Despite his status as a Legislative Legacy — Daddy is DOT Commissioner and former lawmaker Vance Smith — Smith's bill never even made it to committee.
THE IN THESE TOUGH TIMES, POLLUTERS DESERVE A BREAK AWARD
Rep. James Epps, R-Dry Branch
Every year, at least one state lawmaker treats Georgia's waterways like the Turner Field urinals during a seventh-inning stretch. In 2011, it was James "Bubber" Epps' turn. The middle Georgian, who joined the GOP after the November elections, sponsored a bill that would relax the penalties for the DOT and its private contractors who allow dirt to clog streams during road projects. Under Epps' bill, sediment and erosion pollution fines would drop from a max of $50,000 to a downright affordable $5,000. What's more, scofflaws would have a 30-day grace period to fix the problem. Considering the DOT's dismal record of paying fines on time and its history of violations — it's racked up more than $2 million in penalties since 2000 — it seems like a bad idea to lengthen the agency's leash. Unless, that is, your wife owns a paving company, as does Epps'. Though the bill died in the House, it was revived as a Senate amendment before again being stifled.
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