Why am I not surprised that Sen. Saxby Chambliss' response last week to a whiste-blower's testimony about February's deadly Savannah sugar plant fire was to harangue the whistle-blower?
Not surprised either that Chambliss received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the Imperial Sugar Co., which ran the plant so unsafely that OSHA lobbed an $8.8 million fine at the company. All told, Georgia's senior senator has received $21,500 from the sugar industry in 2007-8 to fund his re-election campaign.
Thirteen employees died in the fire, which was caused by combustible sugar dust. Graham H. Graham, who was Imperial's vice president of operations for all of 90 days before the fire, testified that he tried to get Imperial to clean up the plant, but: "I was told that my passion was extreme and I had to temper it."
Chambliss apparently surprised the hearing room when he grilled Graham as if Graham was the culprit, which was contrary to OSHA's findings but precisely the company line.
Chambliss' behavior at the hearing was curious enough to cause Associated Press reporter Ben Evans to follow up. "This guy Graham knows he's on the hook," Chambliss told AP. The story continued:
Chambliss' questions raised eyebrows because no one aside from Imperial had publicly doubted Graham's claims. That includes Chambliss' fellow Georgia Republican, Johnny Isakson. The two rarely split, but Isakson says he has full faith in Graham's account.
Some of Chambliss' questions at the hearing were similar to a line of questioning that Imperial had suggested to lawmakers, but Chambliss said Friday he never saw any questions suggested by Imperial.
Chambliss also said he has not been influenced by any lobbyists for the ... company or by his son, Bo. The younger Chambliss is an in-house Washington lobbyist for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which also is represented by an outside firm that lobbies for Imperial Sugar.
I wonder how much special interest campaign money Chambliss who's allegedly the go-to guy for the sugar industry on the Agriculture Committee will get for doing Imperial's bidding. While the Savannah Morning News reported the $1,000 PAC contribution, some blogs are reporting that Imperial execs gave Chambliss more money.
Lest you think the senator was standing up for a Georgia company, Imperial's HQ and execs are in Tom DeLay's hometown, Sugar Land, Texas. The workers who died, though? They were Chambliss' constituents.
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