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THE HOOP DREAMS AWARD
Rep. Rahn Mayo, D-Decatur
While it'd be unfair to criticize the second-term lawmaker — who's also the son of Whitman Mayo, best known as Grady on beloved '70s sitcom "Sanford and Son" — for introducing only a single bill this year, it is disappointing to find such a back-bencher suckling so enthusiastically on the lobbyist teat. Of the $1,400 worth of perks and refreshments lavished on the Democrat this session (by contrast, Earl Ehrhart, the former House Rules chairman, only merited $384 in lobbyist lovin'), $800 of Mayo's swag came in the form of Hawks tickets. And this tally doesn't even include the $500 worth of food a school voucher lobbyist donated to feed Mayo's constituents one afternoon. Mayo is smart, young and charismatic. It'd be nice to see him step up his legislative game rather than just sitting courtside.
THE SUCKING UP TO INDUSTRY, WHETHER IT WANTS IT OR NOT AWARD
Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville
You know who always gets shut out of the political process? Mom-and-pop businesses with names like Southern Company, Atlanta Gas Light and AT&T. But Balfour, who, as the powerful Senate Rules chairman, has become the utilities' chief water-carrier, does all he can to ensure these companies' voices are heard. Two years after he — assisted by a team of 70 lobbyists — successfully pushed a bill allowing Georgia Power to charge customers in advance to build two nuclear reactors, he sponsored legislation to allow regulated utilities to make direct campaign contributions. Should Balfour's bill pass — it awaited House approval as CL went to press — companies could blatantly bankroll candidates in order to win even more favor under the Gold Dome. Balfour has been quick to note that Public Service Commissioners, who set the rates power and cable customers pay, would be excluded. Big deal; the utilities already have the PSC in their back pocket. Besides, the Legislature can go around the PSC's back any time it wants, as it did in granting the nukes windfall. Balfour should listen to Georgia Power, which apparently doesn't favor the bill because it means even more lawmakers will come begging for contributions, and spike this bad idea.
THE OUT WITH THE MESSICANS! AWARD
Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City
Meet the architect behind the one anti-immigration bill that promises to send Georgia careening into the ditch. Similar to the notorious Arizona law that kicked off a national firestorm over illegal immigration, Ramsey's legislation would, among other outrages, allow police to check the immigration status of people caught Driving While Brown and threaten prison time for folks who offer aid to undocumented aliens. Just what we need: more priests behind bars. Despite opposition from chambers of commerce, farmer associations, restaurants, the ACLU and virtually every other group with an interest in not seeing Georgia fall apart, it did find one supporter: D.A. King, the rabid anti-illegal immigrant activist who could seize the chance to sue local governments if he thinks they failed to follow one of the law's provisions. If Ramsey stopped surfing nativist websites and read a newspaper, he'd know that Arizona's business leaders say that state has lost tens of millions in tourism and convention business since the law's passage. He'd learn that lawmakers in Arizona and other states have already backed off passing more xenophobic laws. And he'd understand just how dependent Georgia's biggest industries are on cheap migrant labor. But nothing beats gettin' yer bill passed, huh?
THE THIS SHOULD GET ME SOME SKYMILES AWARD
Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla
Delta is doing pret-ty well for itself. When the Atlanta-based airline hit financial turbulence in 2005 and filed for bankruptcy, legislators came to its aid by approving a temporary tax break on jet fuel. Despite the fact that Delta has recovered nicely — even absorbing Northwest Airlines to become the world's largest passenger carrier — Roberts saw fit to push a two-year extension of the tax break through the House. You heard right: A company that racked up $593 million in profits last year would get a $20 million exemption in the upcoming fiscal year and $10 million the next, most of which would come out of the pockets of Delta's home county of Clayton, a Democratic stronghold that claims it would lose $26 million in annual tax revenue if the measure goes through. Roberts defended the move as an effort to keep Georgia's largest private employer from leaving the state. Not that they said they were going anywhere.
THE DANKE SCHOEN, LOBBYISTS! AWARD
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge
While you spent last Thanksgiving cooking Spam on a hot plate, Ralston, his family, his chief of staff and the staffer's wife were giving thanks to a D.C. consulting firm for treating them all to a $17,000, week-long trip to Germany. The lavish outing, which constituted the largest single lobbyist expenditure since at least 2005, was purely educational, of course. Ralston says he learned much about how European countries have merged rail transit with roads and commerce. Thanksgiving was the only time he was available, he claims, and, really, can we begrudge him wanting to spend the holiday with his family? Actually, we can. It's also worth noting that, just last year, Ralston softened a House ethics package by removing a limit on lobbyist spending.
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