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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ga. GOP primary: A sad and soul-crushing spectacle

Remember how sad it was to watch Sen. John McCain grovel for right-wing votes during the presidential race, such as when he made nice with Jerry "Agent of Intolerance" Falwell? Well, get ready for more of the same here in the State that Time Forgot. Georgia is so far behind the political curve that Republicans running for statewide office feel they've got to act like the ink is still drying on the Contract for America in order to make it through the GOP primary alive.

And maybe they do, but it's still sad to watch. Take Secretary of State Karen Handel. She apparently felt as if her responsible, reasonable stint as Fulton County Commission Chairwoman didn't effectively position her to compete with fellow Republicans for higher office, so she's behaved like a partisan harpy ever since — trying to kick Democrats off the ballot, attempting a wholesale voter purge in clear violation of the Voting Rights Act, publicly reassuring Republicans that a surge in Obama-friendly voters was "a myth, ya'll." Yow.

The latest GOP soul-seller is Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, another gubernatorial hopeful who reminded attendees of the state GOP convention this past weekend that he was the one who caused the big ruckus the last week of the General Assembly by blocking a resolution by black Democrats to make Pres. Obama an "honorary lifetime member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus." Said Scott:

In the House, I was proud to lead the charge to kill the Obama Resolution that proclaimed him as a man of unimpeachable character. We are still one nation under God and no Resolution saying the president has unimpeachable character is going to pass as long as I have anything to say about it. In this race our party must be the party that offers the next generation of voters a governor that they believe in.

His action was such an unnecessary slap in the face to black lawmakers that they stormed out of the chamber. The incident made national news, as a symbol of lingering racial intolerance in back-asswards Georgia.

A few minutes after the big blowup, I'd managed to catch Scott headed to his office and followed him in to ask why he'd done it. After all, he's long been one of the most level-headed, progressive and fair-minded Republicans in the House — a man who's won two coveted Arnie awards from CL. And House "honoring" resolutions are a dime a dozen, typically meaningless bits of fluff that don't warrant anyone's attention.

Scott said the resolution contained too much rhetoric "about what a great job (Obama) is doing."

"It's language objectionable to us as Republicans because we as conservatives don't feel that way," he explained.

But frankly, I didn't buy Scott's explanation, because I believe I saw the real reason hanging on his office wall: a printed sign with the Confederate battle flag and the words, "Boot Austin Scott." The sign was a leftover from the "flag wars" of the Barnes era; Scott was targeted by the flaggers — the same group that came back later to proclaim, correctly, that "Sonny Lied" — as one of the few Republicans who voted to change the state flag.

So, a guy who voted to discard a racist emblem a few years back has now reversed course and gone out of his way to insult black lawmakers in hopes of ingratiating himself with enough right-wing voters to capture the GOP nomination for governor.

That's why I describe this process as soul-crushing. Which means Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine should go far — there's little visible evidence he's got a soul to crush.

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