Golden Sleaze Awards - The few, the proud, the Arnies - 2008
Named for Ellis Arnall, Georgia's reformist governor of the '30s and '40s, the Arnies recognize lawmakers and other state leaders who held back just a bit of the buffoonery perpetrated on the public during the General Assembly session.
Gov. Sonny Perdue: Perdue indulged in his fair share of foolishness since we last doled out these accolades. But the state's head honcho has shown leadership in two areas: hiring and arithmetic. By tapping Gena Abraham to lead the Department of Transportation, he picked someone with managerial skills who wasn't indebted to the state's road builders. Within six months, Abraham tallied the number of projects the DOT has on its books and found nearly $848 million in the cluttered agency's couch cushions. The governor also served as an agitated adult, reining in the General Assembly's childish attempt to hand out $848 million in tax cuts while merrily increasing spending. He pointed out that piling tax cuts on top of the reduced receipts that come with a slowing economy would leave the spending plan unbalanced – a no-no, according to Georgia's Constitution. "They're here trying to figure out how to get elected," the governor said to InsiderAdvantage. "And I'm here trying to figure out how we balance this budget in Georgia because we must."
Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, and Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City: If you want to find a politician who caters to his constituents more than corporate campaign coffers, look no further than Chapman. The soft-spoken man from the coast fought tooth-and-nail to get a hearing for three bills aimed at protecting Jekyll Island from a massive development, only to watch them die in a hearing held in a basement room the size of a shoebox. He was accused by opponents of grandstanding – unfair flack from those who'd rather satisfy politically influential developers than preserve the idyllic state park for ordinary Georgians. After Buckner's similar bill met a similar fate, she gallantly tagged an amendment onto a Senate shoreline protection bill that would keep the public beach accessible to residents. Although Buckner managed to push her amendment out of committee, it seemed unlikely to work its way through a gauntlet of special interest opposition.
Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta: In only her second session at the Capitol, Abrams has emerged as an effective warrior against bad legislation. A former attorney for the city of Atlanta, Abrams has a firm grasp of legal issues. But she's also able to connect with the House's many legal ignoramuses and was fast-tracked this year into a Democratic caucus leadership position. She's an eloquent speaker, too: In battling a Karl Rovian English-only resolution, she described the potentially tragic consequences for a refugee woman seeking help in escaping an abusive relationship. The measure ultimately was defeated. She also took the lead for the Democrats in going to the well to speak against a bill to allow convicted murderers to be sentenced to death by a divided jury. That one passed the House. Well, you can't win 'em all.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga: How peculiar that a pro-sprawl politician does something for smart growth. Such is the case for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The gladhander from Gainesville and Mullis, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, pushed a constitutional amendment that would allow regions to impose a local option sales tax on themselves for transportation projects. Gov. Sonny Perdue criticized the idea — and lawmakers planning to vote for it — as a concept that caters unfairly to urban areas. That anti-tax mindset overrides common sense and ignores the transportation morass in which the state wallows. Diverse interests, ranging from environmentalists to big business, give Cagle, Mullis and other lawmakers political cover. And it's unclear whether the Atlanta region will be able to unite around a well-rounded approach to transportation or just use such a tax to build more roads. But at least Cagle and Mullis pushed other state leaders to finally take action. The resolution passed the House and at press time was destined for a conference committee, but it most likely will be yours to vote on come November.
Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta: Sadly, there are a bunch of conservative House members only interested in legislation dealing with guns, abortion, immigrants, flag-burning and other hot-button issues popular with certain talk-radio hosts. Then there's Cooper, who quietly focuses her efforts on improving the health and welfare of Georgia children and families. The soft-spoken Mariettan also shows backbone that's too often missing in the go-along-get-along Republican House caucus. When fellow GOPer Clay Cox brought forward a bill to effectively outlaw stiffer penalties for hate crimes – despite the fact that 45 other states have some form of hate crime statute – Cooper read him the riot act in committee, helping get the bill tabled.
Rep. Mark Butler, R-Carrollton: Butler is a real-estate appraiser with no real background in child-advocacy issues. But as new chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that oversees human resources funding, he's shown himself a quick study. Unlike colleagues who reflexively dismiss government programs, Butler seems genuinely interested in pushing the state's enormous Department of Human Resources to better serve working families by providing child-care assistance and making more effective use of federal grants. If he's not careful, people might think he actually cares about poor folks.