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Ethics code for dummies

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POSTED: May 15, 2007 5:02 a.m.

Wake up! Read this! Georgia needs a strict code of government ethics. Don’t roll over and go back to sleep. Listen! This is serious.
State government is broken down. We have put an all-star team of saps in charge of the Capitol — saps impaired by severe difficulties in separating right from wrong.
Forget whether these greedy little dupes are mostly Republicans or Democrats. They are all incumbents, and nearly all have been co-opted by the lure of the good life in the big capitals — Atlanta and Washington.
Many of these naive souls can still be saved. They need a modicum of no-nonsense, specific guidance on honesty. A real Georgia code of ethics ought to be more than a general statement on doing right. It should redefine bribery in unambiguous terms. It should include a specific set of “dos and don’ts” in the honesty department and a list of severe penalties for those who don’t pay attention to conflict-of-interest rules.
We’re talking jail time here for the offenders. A fine — even a big fine — hardly fazes a wheeler-dealer lobbyist or high-roller legislator on the take. It takes a red jumpsuit and the clang of a barred door to get real attention.
If Gov. Sonny Perdue spent more time on governance and less on Orlando real estate and Topeka turkey shoots, he could lead the way in Atlanta. He could include in his upcoming call for a special legislative session an order for the General Assembly to get busy on an ethics bill.
He promised tough ethics legislation in his election campaign. His promises evaporated when the polls closed.
Now he is in a shouting war with the Legislature, particularly the House, over whether to return to taxpayers a handful of pennies, as the lawmakers demand, or to have his way and stash the extra cash for a rainy day in state government. A showdown special session of the General Assembly —  a stupid and expensive idea  — will cost you and me at least $45,000 a day.
At that price, these bozos ought to throw in an ethics code. If the do-right law were properly written, it might prevent recurrence of some of the following:
• Out-of-hand dismissal of an ethics complaint House Speaker Glenn “Romeo” Richardson engaged in an improper relationship with a knock-out blonde lobbyist from the gas company while said lobbyist was promoting important legislation. Richardson wasn’t worried. He had appointed half the Ethics Committee members who dumped the complaint. In considering the complaint, the ethics panel spent most of its time poking Don Imus-type fun at the complainant, exiting state Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn.
• A lavish fund-raiser that raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from medical lobbyists. State Senate leaders billed the event as a “thank-you party” for enacting a law to make it difficult for you and me to file malpractice lawsuits against incompetent docs. The lobbyists got exactly what they were looking for, so the senators naturally wanted something in return. There’s a word to describe such a deal; you’ll find it in the criminal code.
• Another out-of-hand dismissal of an ethics complaint regarding a special House bill introduced by Gov. Perdue’s lawyer to provide a $100,000 tax deferment for the governor regarding another one of those real estate deals. Again, the ethics guys chuckled as they deleted the complaint.
• A huge after-hours “appreciation” party given by lobbyists for the legislative leadership at 3 a.m. in a Midtown Atlanta private club. Predictably, the party ended with a fight between two lobbyists, one of whom severed the other’s ear with a broken beer bottle. It is not known whether they were arguing over eminent domain or new state boat docks.   
Should not even a tepid ethics code outlaw expensive “appreciation” bashes from lobbyists? Such practices reek of corruption. When a knife assault occurs, complete with cops, flashing lights, sirens, medics and go-to-jail orders — hey, your hometown legislator may be running with the wrong crowd. On the other hand, maybe he is the wrong crowd.
If Perdue doesn’t want to soil his hands with ethics, let Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle take up the topic. After all, Cagle rode into office on the strength of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s Washington-based shenanigans with Georgia’s own Ralph Reed.
Remember Ralph? As a candidate for lieutenant governor, Ralph was taking his first small step on a journey to the White House.
Today, Reed could become the poster boy for an ethics-code campaign. Just think, a TV spot could show a crestfallen and defeated Reed as a voice intones: “Ralph was a good Christian lad on his way to the top in politics until ... until he met “Black Jack” Abramoff, who offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse. Don’t let what happened to Ralphie happen to you! Paid for by the Georgia Committee for a Less Tarnished Gold Dome.”

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net

 

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