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The Arnie Awards 

Doing the right thing is rewarded

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Named for progressive, '40s-era Gov. Ellis Arnall, the Arnie Awards recognize lawmakers who took risks in the service of Georgia citizens. They often serve to remind us that, in the Legislature, no good deed goes unpunished.

The Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves Award

To the women of the Senate. It was one of the few times you'll ever see Nancy Schaefer, R-Turnerville, and Steen Miles, D-Decatur, working as allies. Led by Renee Unterman, R-Buford, the Senate's seven female members -- five black Democrats and two white Republicans -- stuck up for Georgia mothers by amending a bill that was backed by powerful Rep. Earl Ehrhart and designed to allow dads to pay less in child support.

The original bill sought to reduce payments for non-custodial parents -- usually fathers -- for spending weekends and vacations with their kids, but the amendment called for an extra month of quality time before dad gets his break.

Unterman explained that when it comes to raising children, "The womenfolk have to do the grunt work."

The Vengeance Is Mine Award

To Rep. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody. The crusty, tell-it-like-it-is moderate was the only Republican with the guts to vote against two theocratic bills that made it to the House floor. One, to safeguard our sacred right to wish each other "Merry Christmas," was "poorly worded and unnecessary," he told CL. And, concerned with the potential legal cost to the state, Millar even went to the well to oppose the bill to allow courthouses to post the Ten Commandments, explaining, "If we live by them, it shouldn't matter where we hang them."

click to enlarge Rep. Jerry Keen - JIM STAWNIAK

A couple of weeks later, Millar wound up in the hospital after suffering a mild heart attack.

Coincidence? You tell us. But at the risk of pissing off the guy upstairs, we're hoping Fran never loses his independent streak.

The Closet Progressive Award

To Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton. Scott broke ranks with fellow Republicans, first with a heartfelt plea against a mean-spirited (and possibly illegal) tax on wire transfers by illegal immigrants, then by standing up for open government.

"I believe what we're about to do is to tax people who are trying to provide for their families, and I have a moral problem with that," Scott announced in defiance of the fact that the wire-transfer bill had the support of the GOP leadership.

He also floated a measure to punish government entities that wrongly withhold public documents by forcing them to pay the legal costs of those who successfully sue under state open-records laws. Scott even went to bat for a Democrat-authored bill to protect government whistle-blowers. Keep up the good, if lonely, work.

The Burgeoning Leadership Award

To Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur. In only his second year in office, Jones is emerging as a strong presence in the Senate. As the Legislature's only car-dealership owner, he made a cogent, authoritative case for reigning in stratospheric title-pawn interest rates. In the end, however, he was undercut by fellow Democrats and overpowered by Senate Majority Leader Eric Johnson, who made a rare trip to the well out of apparent concern that Jones might peel away GOP votes and threaten a contribution gravy train from that sleazy industry.

Later, Jones successfully amended SB 529, the immigration bill, to crack down on document forgers, a provision welcomed by all sides.

The Swim Against the Tide Award

To Rep. Robert Mumford, R-Conyers. Mumford, an attorney, had concerns that the sexual predator bill pushed by Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons, was so broadly written that it could end up wrongly sending people to prison for 25 years -- even teens like Marcus Dixon, the star high school student from Rome convicted of child molestation for sex with an underage girlfriend.

So Mumford persuaded fellow committee members to approve an amendment giving first-offender status to some violations. Of course, Keen, not one to play fair, went behind the committee's back and had the amendment stripped out by Rules Committee Chairman Ehrhart.

Mumford later gave a floor speech in favor of the bedrock legal tenet of informed consent that helped scuttle Gov. Perdue's overly harsh DUI bill. Hmm, principles above partisanship -- now there's a novel concept.

The Strange Bedfellows Award

click to enlarge Sen. Sam Zamarripa - JIM STAWNIAK

To Sens. Sam Zamarripa, D-Atlanta, and Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock. When Rogers dropped the first of his immigration bills, one horrified lawmaker summed up its intent: "If you're brown, get outta town." But instead of simply going on the rhetorical attack, Zamarripa, the Senate's only Latino, spent long hours consulting with Rogers to minimize the most divisive, disruptive aspects of his legislation.

At press time, it was difficult to say whether Rogers would withstand House pressure and stick with the compromise bill. But at least in drafting it, he heeded his Democratic colleague's advice, even though Sam Zam made it clear he planned to vote against Rogers' bill.

Was much of their give-and-take driven by politics? Sure, but in a session where a GOP immigration bill was a given, these guys put in the effort to avoid extremism.

17th Annual Golden Sleaze Awards

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