Golden Sleaze Awards - The Breath of Fresh Air Award

Rep. David Ralston

From the moment Ralston took the gavel, it was clearly no longer business as usual in the House. Even Democrats who respected the north Georgia lawmaker for his integrity, fairness and moderation soon saw their fondest hopes exceeded. Soon after taking his oath, Ralston swept away the most egregious fixtures of the Richardson era: He nixed the "hawks" system that allowed the speaker to use minions to sway committee votes; he did away with Rules Committee substitutes that enabled party bosses to rewrite bills outside of public scrutiny; and he lifted the ban on reporters on the House floor. Later, he personally sponsored a substantial overhaul of the state's draconian sex offender law. And he prevented a cynical Senate bill to prohibit "coerced abortions" from coming up for a floor vote. Some critics blamed Ralston for softening a House ethics package by not calling for a limit on lobbyist spending, but that was an error in expectation – legislators have never been fond of reining in their perks. All in all, the Ralston era is a welcome change.