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Silence of the lambs
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By now, just about everyone in Georgia has heard about the disaster that was this year’s General Assembly session.
The lawmakers we elected and whose salaries are paid with our tax dollars did little of note but hurl insults at each other. In a near record-long session, the lawmakers failed to complete their most basic task: enacting a simple supplemental budget for the remainder of the 2007 fiscal year. They’ll have to return to Atlanta for a special session to finish their only mandated job.
Not a murmur of criticism was heard from the Democratic establishment, leaders of the loyal opposition.
The lowlight of the sordid session may have come when House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, gathered the Capitol press corps to tell them that Gov. Sonny Perdue had showed his “backside” by vetoing the Legislature’s supplemental budget bill.
No Democrat lawmaker even harrumphed at such doings.  
In between the unsightly brawling over the budget, the speaker was tarred by allegations of an “inappropriate” relationship with a female utility company lobbyist at the same time the speaker pushed a bill to build a taxpayer-funded gas pipeline for her employer.
The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee repeatedly issued summary dismissals of serious ethics complaints against Republican legislative leaders, generating charges of cronyism and cover-up.
The governor and Republican legislative leaders sat around waiting for a Congressional bailout of the PeachCare health insurance program for children rather than earning their keep by fixing the problem themselves.
And the most powerful law enforcement officer in the state, the Democratic attorney general, remained on the sidelines, causing one observer to wonder, “What does Thurbert do all day?”
While our Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican governor turned state government into the political equivalent of a professional wrestling exhibition, some Georgia pundits smiled. “Not to worry,” they said. “This can’t go on. The people won’t stand for it. Democrats will return to power.”
Some analysts drew accurate parallels between this year’s local shenanigans and the ethics scandals and legislative gridlock that tarred Congressional Republicans before the 2006 rout, which cost them majorities in the House and Senate. Like this year’s Republican General Assembly, last year’s Republican Congress was so dysfunctional it could not pass annual appropriations bills, much less deal with pressing national issues like the Iraq war, illegal immigration, jobs and health care.
When the 2006 election time rolled around, voters sent a message through the ballot box: “We are fed up with the Republicans.” Democrats won the Congress.
Don’t expect a similar coup in Georgia. The Legislature is not the Congress. And the loyal opposition Democrats have gone AWOL.
No matter how boorish and corrupt they become, Georgia Republicans will be defeated only if they have someone to lose to — and right now, they have no real opposition in sight. Democrats made nary a sound about the GOP’s self-inflicted wounds, and they did absolutely nothing to advance their own alternative agenda.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, (D-Dublin), who is already trying to put together a 2010 campaign for governor, was missing in action for most of the session. He passed up a golden opportunity to advance an alternative vision of where he and fellow Democrats would take the state.
Porter’s only real visibility came when he helped Richardson muster the votes to override Perdue’s budget veto and when he worked with the Republican leadership to pass a private cities bill that is a payoff to big developers who are also big campaign donors.
Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown, (D-Macon), is a talented politician, but he had no stomach for joining the Capitol fight. He is preparing a campaign for mayor of Macon.
While the Democratic legislative leadership dropped the ball, the Democrats’ three statewide constitutional officers huddled quietly together like shipwreck survivors in a life raft waiting for rescue.
Attorney General Baker could have pounced on the ethics issues raised by Republican leaders’ conduct, but he stayed silent. Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin and Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond could have spoken up on any number of issues during the session, but they too chose invisibility.
Even the state Democratic Party — once the bane and, in a sense, the public conscience of the GOP — appears to have closed up shop.
Reporters who cover Georgia politics used to think of the Democratic Party office as a fount of information about alleged misdeeds of Republicans, on policy matters as well as ethics. That source has dried up. Democratic Chair Jane Kidd, in office for only a couple of months, joined the silent chorus during this year’s legislative session, making not a peep about GOP-generated chaos at the Capitol.
Before Georgia Democrats get excited about opportunities offered by recent Republican travails, they ought to take stock of their own base and leadership. Being the opposition means opposing — and that means calling out the majority Republicans on their excesses as well as presenting a vision for where the Democrats would take the state. If Democrats fail to fulfill the opposition mission, the donkeys might as well get used to being locked out. Georgians will stick with the big-mouth, do-nothing devils they know rather than go with the meek and timid do-nothing devils they don't.

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

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