Cover Story: 12th Annual Golden Sleaze Awards

A compendium of duplicity, hypocrisy, idiocy and outright theft in the Georgia General Assembly

Only one-fourth of the way through 2001, the new millennium has already proved tumultuous.

From California’s gosh-darned energy “crisis” (“Stop me before I raise prices again,” wailed energy magnate P.T. Barnum III as he rushed off to his new job with the Bush administration) to Washington, D.C., (where things got so bizarre that the solons of the Supreme Court jumped off the bench, stripped to their skivvies and engaged in a feverish ideological Chinese fire drill) to upscale coffee-bars everywhere, where dotcom tycoons and riches-to-rags stock-market cowboys commiserated and filled out job applications, the Natural Order was rattled and upended.

But in Georgia, a dawning century found a citizen Legislature going about its business gravely and in earnest, our governor genially overseeing a convocation of diligent lawmakers working harmoniously in concert. Few divisive battles roiled the Capitol waters. Scarcely a whiff of partisan rancor befouled the tranquil atmosphere.

Is this a reflection of the high caliber of Georgia’s elected representatives? Has a Confucian concept of selfless public service finally permeated the paneled chambers of the Statehouse, putting to rest the long-standing perception that the Georgia Legislature is largely an assemblage of self-serving corporate shills, otherwise-unemployable hacks, bigoted bumpkins, political poltroons, glad-handing opportunists and certifiable loonies?

Could be.

On the other hand, it may just be the Ice Cream Effect. As any parent knows, the quickest, most effective way to quell a gang of squalling young’uns is to give ‘em all ice cream. That way — at least until the biggest kid wolfs down his Super Nutty Chunk Doodle and starts eyeing Sis’ — everything’s quiet, and the trip to Dothan can proceed with a semblance of decorum.

Similarly, the 2001 session of the Georgia General Assembly was able to draw on several years’ worth of economic success to allow lawmakers to do what they do best: Divvy up the loot.

And divvy they did! Bankers and builders, non-farming farmers and fast-food franchisers, well-connected developers and well-developed lady lobbyists — all and more were aboard the quietly chugging Georgia Gravy Train this session, and a fruitful trip it was. Yessir, it’s boomtime in Dixie and everybody’s gettin’ some!

And, just so our readers don’t feel left out, even something for you. Once again Creative Loafing and its cadre of watchful Capitol insiders steps forward to recognize those who’ve achieved the pinnacle of legislative endeavor, the top dogs among a kennel of splendidly mangy curs, the creme de la crud. That’s right, it’s time for the Golden Sleaze Awards — an array of accolades in recognition of those lawmakers whose greed, hypocrisy and shameless self-interest place them head and flea-collar above the rest of the pack.

Remember: If it’s tacky, useless and likely to break — it’s a Sleazie!

As always, CL also takes this opportunity to recognize those who have genuinely striven to act in the public interest — the good apples uncorrupted by their proximity to the compost-bound — with a small selection of plumes, plaques and citations appropriately titled and targeted.)

So heads up, you governin’ guys and gals. Incoming Sleaze!

The “Only Nixon Could Go to China” Award: To Gov. Roy Barnes and his down-home Greek chorus of mush-mouthed cracker backers, who felt obliged to compensate for helping usher the guv’s blitzkrieg bill to change Georgia’s flag through the Legislature by reminding everyone just how Dixie-fried these proud sons of the South really are, suh. “Ah lahk collahd greens and streak o’ lean ... cathead biscuits and red-eye gravy,” drawled Foghorn Guvhorn as he boosted the bill. Not to be outdone, House Majority Leader Larry Walker bragged of “the thickest and most pronounced” accent in the House (since Barnes left, anyway). Across the hall, Sen. George Hooks (whose own accent seems much more pronounced at certain times, especially reeeal early in the morning) regaled his rapt audience by tracing his Georgia bloodlines all the way back to 1751, “... and I believe I am the only one in this body that can claim such an honor,” quoth he. You win, Senator. Salut.

The “Dukes of Hazzard” Fancy-Driving Trophy: — To that crafty cabal of flag conspirators — Boss Barnes; Reps. Calvin Smyre, Tyrone Brooks, Larry Walker, Austin Scott; and Sen. Charles Walker — whose deft maneuvering powered that surprisingly not-too-bad flag — the committee substitute, if you will — into reality. In addition to sparing the state a costly, racially divisive struggle that would have certainly poisoned the entire session (even taking into account the extra little budget goodies pro-change lawmakers found penciled in for their districts), the Flag Brigade also knocked the ideological stuffing out of a bilious rabble of opponents (see above) who were spoiling for a fight.

The “Fergit? Hell!” Award: To the motley assortment of opponents to the flag bill, which included history-minded, dyed-in-the-wool Old Dominion devotees; pinheaded peckerwoods concerned that striking a 150-year-old relic from the flag was a cowardly subordination to “them”; savvy Republicans like Sens. Eric Johnson and Rusty Paul who bitched mightily about the bill even as they conceded that it was the best thing to do (the sudden introduction and passage just robbed ‘em of the opportunity to milk it for all that pungent partisan juice); and a truculent gang of race-baiters and wacked-out neo-Confederates (both home-grown and Yankee imports) determined to “protect our proud heritage.” From us? Or from them?

The Uncommon Valor Citation: And a special nod to the brave Republicans and rural Democrats who risked political oblivion to support the flag-change measure. Austin Scott, we’re lookin’ at you.

The “Murder by Proxy” Award: To Reps. Bobby Franklin and Brian Joyce, for sabotaging a bill providing public access to disciplinary actions, lawsuits or malpractice rulings against Georgia doctors. This dim-witted duo succeeded in adding the number of abortions a doctor has performed to the list of public information, thereby creating a “hit list” for the anti-abortion nutcase contingent. (Five doctors who performed abortions have been murdered in the last six years.) Franklin and Joyce — occasionally assisted by Rep. Mike Coan, another deep thinker of the Bomb Shelter Brain Trust — also produced such legislative gems as a bill to remove sales & use tax on dried food (these guys really took a bath on all that freeze-dried crap they loaded up on for the Y2K swindle), allow jealous spouses to sue third parties for “alienation of affection” if their marriage goes sour (even if no sexual or romantic contact has taken place), do away with child labor laws if a parent signs a waiver, and — of course — a bill to allow the teaching of Creationism in public schools. You just can’t beat the classics.

The “Cheaper to Cheat” Award: To Reps. Larry Walker, Lynn Westmoreland, Jimmy Skipper, Calvin Smyre, Earl Ehrhart and Terry Coleman — a bipartisan band of brigands who teamed up in an effort to weaken even further the pathetic State Ethics Commission. The Commission — already a castoff, one-toothed mutt of a state agency that’s been moved as far away from the Capitol as possible without basing it in Alabama — is charged with “enforcing” ethics rules that are among the weakest in the nation by occasionally levying pocket-change fines. But this bunch — most of whom have been the subject of ethics investigations themselves — worked to ensure that larcenous legislators are unhindered by petty ethical concerns. To wit: they moved to bar Commission employees from commenting on ethics cases, to scrap a rule requiring candidates to total and report contributions and expenditures under $101, and to slash the statutes of limitations for reporting ethics violations.

The “Don’t Fuck With My Family” Award: To Rep. Billy McKinney, who wrote a new chapter in the Arrogant Abuse of Authority Handbook by blocking a grant to a DeKalb County facility for troubled youth started by a minister who very publicly campaigned against McKinney’s daughter, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, during last year’s elections.

The “Jonas Salk Real Good Science” Award: To Reps. Ben Harbin, Jimmy Lord and the rest of those hard-nosed, science-minded types who opposed a bill that would provide cervical cancer screenings for women. Why the opposition? On the grounds that the tests are not 100 percent reliable — the same line taken by the insurance lobby and Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which pushed mightily to kill the bill. Odd that the Chamber — which years ago conned the Legislature into offering “Drugs Don’t Work” tax breaks to Georgia employers who refuse to hire workers unless they hand over bottles of piss to the hucksters of the notoriously error-prone and unreliable drug-testing industry — would suddenly be so dedicated to “full accuracy or nothing.” It must be reassuring for Georgia’s women to know that the tests they get will be foolproof or, by God, they just won’t get ‘em.

The “Ain’t Too Proud to Pander” Award: To Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who continued his tried-and-true method of achieving legislative success by backing taxpayer-funded giveaways and non- controversial feel-good bills rather than using his position to really hammer out needed legislation. Sure, a computer-based protective order registry is a great idea. Yes, drought-stricken farmers could use some help. But do we really need the considerable weight of the lieutenant governor to help push this no-brainer stuff? Maybe Taylor’s taking a page from the local daily newspaper’s “How to Win an Award” playbook — you know, find some heart-rending can’t-miss “issue” like shoddy child protective services, kiddie prostitution or teen driving, hype hell out of it, get some “no shit, Sherlock” legislation passed, then strut around like you’ve done something.

The “Serve Yourself a Side of Sausage” Award: To Rep. Terry Coleman, the high-powered Appropriations Committee chair who helped craft and pass legislation easing the contractual requirements placed on franchise-holders — guys like Coleman, who holds franchises on two Huddle Houses.

The “Wet Blanket” Award: To the excitable Rep. Kathy Cox, who tried to kill Rep. Stephanie Stuckey’s bill raising the allowable alcohol content of beer, which would have permitted a handful of currently prohibited foreign brews to be sold. Cox fretted that underage drinkers would flock to load up on 12-buck-a-sixpack Carlsberg Elephant Beer, instead of chugging malt liquor like they do now. Uh-huh. Yes. Tell ya what, Kathy — on behalf of the Golden Sleaze Awards Committee, just leave our beer alone, OK?

The “Chamber of Horrors” Award: And another slew of Sleazies to Sens. Michael Meyer von Bremen, Carol Jackson, Rooney Bowen and others who helped the Georgia Chamber kill or gut every bill and amendment that might have possibly improved the quality of Georgia’s water — accompanied by some of the nastiest arm-twisting, back-biting and outright bald-faced lying in recent Statehouse memory. (And that’s saying something.)

The “Jethro Bodine Higher Cypherin’” Award: To Rep. Vance Smith, who ably demonstrated the evils of “social promotion” (passing kids to the next grade despite failing scores) during discussion on Barnes’ bill to end the practice in Georgia schools with this question: “On those test scores, is that based on percentiles or is that, like, 70 out of 100?”

The “Pocket Protector for the Poor” Plaque: To indefatigable Sen. Vincent Fort, who continued his fight to rein in high-interest lenders, midnight mortgage companies and assorted scam artists and corporate buzzards with his predatory lending legislation. Neither rain nor snow nor the banking lobby could stay Fort from his quixotic quest to harpoon loan sharks.

The “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That” Award: To Rep. Ben Bridges and his muttering party-mates who kicked up a dust-storm when they noticed that freshman lawmaker Karla Drenner had listed her same-sex partner in the legislative directory in the section normally used for spouses’ names (believe it or not, House Rules make no accommodation for such relationships). To their credit, even most of the Republicans shied away from pressing their attack on the brainy, soft-spoken Drenner; not for them any gratuitous gay-bashing. Heaven forbid.

The “Beware the Brown Menace” Award: To Rep. Steve Stancil, who opposed allowing non-citizens to purchase hunting and fishing licenses, and even got a majority of the House to buy into his boneheaded speculation that those sneaky illegal aliens might use a fishing license to slip into a voting booth, threatening the sanctity of the American electoral system. Uh-huh.

The “Boys Will Be Boys” Award: To the House pranksters — could those above be among them? — who set up the desktop computer of freshman Rep. Joe Wilkinson so that, when he touched the keypad, the screen filled with a large pink-and-black “I AM GAY” banner. A red-faced Wilkinson (who, as far as anybody knows, is not) quickly slammed the laptop closed as his neighbors hooted. What a bunch of cutups. Hoo, boy.

The “You Cops’ll Get Nothin’ Outta Me, See?” Award: To Rep. Douglas Dean who, when a police officer found a bag of coke in his wallet, rolled like a ticklish puppy, hastily fingering his son as the dope’s true owner — and making damn sure everybody knew it. Thanks, Dad.

The “Beavis & Butthead” Award: To Rep. Clint Smith, who just couldn’t seem to get enough technical detail on a bill easing restrictions on breast-feeding in public. Hungh. Hungh. He said “breast.” Hungh.

The “Payback’s a Mother” Award: To Gov. Barnes who, while watching a vote on his educational reform bill, reacted to a well-wisher’s comment that the tally board was overwhelmingly glowing with green “yes” lights by responding: “Yes, but I’m only interested in the red ones right now.”

The “What Would Jesus Do?” Award: To Sen. Tommy Williams, R-Lyons, the conservative Christian lawmaker who conceded during debate on the bill to change the flag that “Jesus would vote for this bill ... but Jesus doesn’t live in my district.” He voted “no.”

The “Mathew Shepherd Defender of the Downtrodden” Award: To House Minority Whip Earl Ehrhart, who was so concerned that Gingrey’s Boy Scout bill might die that he worked feverishly to amend the same language to another bill. Why? Because the Boy Scouts are “being discriminated against.” Oh.

The “A Scout Is Honest” Award: To Sen. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, who, concerned that Boy Scouts might be barred from meeting in publicly-owned buildings by local officials concerned over the Scouts new “no gays” policy, authored legislation mandating Scout access. Met with a barrage of criticism that the bill was not only unnecessary, but might also provide legal grounds for hate groups like the Klan to demand such access, Gingrey promised to let the bill die in the Senate Rules Committee — then immediately moved to have it voted out.

The “Let ‘Em Eat Waffles” Award: To Sen. Don Balfour, the Waffle House buffoon — er, tycoon — who mightily opposed raising the state minimum wage from its current princely rate of $3.25 an hour to an obviously extravagant $5.15 an hour.??