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POSTED: February 9, 2009 11:21 a.m.
Roy Barnes has not even announced for governor, yet the ex-guv has already offered a sound proposal for protecting the people from their lawmakers. It ought to be topic No. 1 in the coming political campaigns, even if lawyer Barnes decides not to toss his fedora back into the ring.
In a long essay in the AJC, Barnes writes:
“I, for one, have come to the conclusion that since gifts blind the wise, the only way we the people can combat the growing influence of [special-interest lobbyists] with our elected officials is to hire our own ‘People’s Lobbyist’ and make sure that he or she has an expense account with enough money to be able to ply the General Assembly with the finest food and wine, tickets to any event they desire, and maybe even a jet aircraft so our elected officials can make sure they will not be tardy for their junkets.”
Of course, Barnes is just being facetious. His idea of people’s lobbyists to compete with the corporate guys sounds a bit crooked to me. Besides, what sane Georgia legislator would dare be seen in a five-star restaurant with an arm-twister representing public interests?
In addition, our General Assembly is too busy to dabble with such foolishness. Just look at their full plate.
The Legislature is saddled with revoking millions in property tax breaks for Georgia homeowners. Our elected leaders say the state treasury needs that $500 million in little people’s tax breaks to repair a growing state budget deficit.
As you know, the budget deficit is becoming larger because lobbyists and lawmakers in more salad days decided to give special interests extra-special tax breaks to show appreciation for the good wine, football tickets and all.
A people’s lobbyist, if we had one, with a little black book might head off the Legislature’s notion to wipe out property tax relief.
A second bill that the Legislature is considering would allow Georgia Power to charge customers for construction of a nuclear power plant  —  seven years before the plant goes into operation.
No matter how many perks and pleasures a people’s lobbyist could offer, it wouldn’t be enough. The Capitol grapevine has it that anything goes to induce our Legislature to give the power company a prepaid nuclear outfit. It shouldn’t cost more than $25 billion, though the power company refuses to estimate the tab. Not even a people’s lobbyist armed with hundreds of concert tickets could slow down the power company’s high-speed digging into our wallets.
Alas, we have no such person. Gov. Barnes is just whistling in the dark about hiring a lobbyist for the people  —  or is he?
You might say the University of Georgia is already moving in that direction. In 2008 UGA hired at least four lobbyists to work the Capitol. One arm-twister was the former top aide to Zell Miller; the other was Sen. Johnny Isakson’s and Speaker Romeo Richardson’s No. 1 handyman.
Those persuasive Bulldogs spent more than $35,000 on lobbying activities in 2008, and that sum included no salaries. It must have gone for tickets to the ballet, because the football team wasn’t that good.
Just a few weeks ago, the Bulldog lobbying team reserved flying time for Rep. Doug McKillip, D-Athens, and state Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Hull, to travel to Orlando, Fla., to watch the Georgia football team win the Capital One Bowl.
While not delivering a blowout victory for their honored guests, the lobbyists did pay for first-class hotel rooms, meals and, of course, the best seats in the stadium.
Please don’t misunderstand. Having a lobbyist for the Bulldogs is not a bad thing. The Dawgs need all the help they can get. Besides, an argument can be made that the red-and-black influence peddlers were handing out bowl tickets to make lawmakers feel friendlier toward our colleges. That could be counted as lobbying for the people, couldn’t it? Well, sort of.
So Barnes may have discovered a winning platform plank. There’s just one problem. A few voters are bound to claim that we already have a high-priced team of people’s lobbyists. They’re called legislators and congresspersons. They’re supposed to represent us, and maybe they would do so if they were not so busy supping at the corporate trough.

You can reach Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.
 

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