Golden Sleaze Awards - The 2015 Arnies Awards

Reason, on rare occasion, can prevail inside the Capitol

There’s no shortage of bad decision making and baffling politicking under the Gold Dome. But there are exceptions each legislative session. A select group of courageous lawmakers each year take a stand for their constituents’ best interests and for the state of Georgia. To those officials, we present the Arnies, named after Ellis Arnall, the state’s last true progressive governor.

The “Unsung hero” Award

Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta

Many bills don’t make headlines, but that doesn’t mean they lack merit or importance. Case in point: Orrock’s Senate Bill 44 would’ve let immigrant students who are protected from deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — and who already have work authorization — to qualify for in-state tuition. If passed, the measure would’ve not only helped some Georgians, but also improved the economy through providing education to intelligent people who might not otherwise be able to afford college. Or who might head elsewhere to receive a diploma in a more welcoming state. The bill had no shot of passing due to Republicans’ anti-immigration politics. Orrock probably knew that. Yet she introduced it anyway. She deserves to be commended for offering a solution to an actual problem, which, as we all know, is uncommon. And for legislating for the right causes, no matter the odds.

The “Bad Bill Killer” Award

Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven

Some Republicans had hoped to fast-track state Sen. Josh McKoon’s “religious freedom” legislation this session. Progressive activists and politicians used it as a political chip in the state’s transportation funding conundrum to slow the harmful bill. Once the Senate swiftly passed the “religious freedom” bill, the House Judiciary committee became the biggest battleground for the state’s LGBT community. The bill appeared well on its way to passing. But then Jacobs, a Jewish attorney who represents parts of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs, shocked nearly everyone by proposing changes to McKoon’s bill. Jacobs added language into the bill to explicitly prevent “discrimination on any ground prohibited by federal, state or local law.” His courageous action forced “religious freedom” supporters to table the bill. In doing so, he crossed his party members to prevent the rights of minority Georgians from being crushed. The amendment has resulted in far-right backlash and could trigger potential retaliation against Jacobs. There’s a small chance the “religious freedom” bill could be tacked on to another measure before Sine Die. But Jacobs’ near-fatal blow to a bill that could have legalized discrimination should be lauded.

The “Dusty vs. Goliath” Award

Rep. Dusty Hightower, R-Carrollton

It’s nice to see that sometimes, just sometimes, lawmakers don’t do whatever the business community demands. On March 12, House reps turned to Hightower’s complex, bipartisan piece of legislation that would have put penalties on insurance firms’ failure to pay if a court finds they acted in “bad faith.” The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business vocally opposed the legislation. But Hightower, an attorney who has seen his clients get screwed by such cases, stuck his neck out and became the face of a bill interpreted as a “fuck you” to many of the well-heeled groups that write the checks keeping the lawmakers in office. Passing the bill would say “I’m not going to support big business at the expense of the blue-collar worker,” Hightower told lawmakers, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lawmakers listened. The bill passed the House 153-14. Business lobbyists, you got your ass whupped.

The “Go green or go home” Award

Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Norcross

For the second legislative session in a row, state lawmakers aimed low when writing medical marijuana legislation. They wanted a bill that would only allow limited use of cannabis oil, a nonsmokable form of the drug; stipulate limited conditions that could be treated with THC; and prevent Georgia from ever becoming Colorado, which is swimming in tax revenue thanks to legalized weed. They’re scared, basically. Kudos to Thompson, who reminded them there’s an alternative: legalizing medical and recreational marijuana and taxing the plant to fund education and transportation. Not only would it allow people access to the plant for medical relief, but it’d cut down on space to house low-level drug offenders, potentially curb organized crime, stop derailing lives with drug charges, and pay for needed infrastructure improvements. Sure, it was a long shot, but thanks for showing a spine.

The “Speak the Truth” Award

Rep. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome

Deal’s decision to reject Medicaid expansion has devastated rural hospitals by forgoing federal funding. Four medical institutions have already shuttered, with another 15 facing closure, due to the lost funds. GOP lawmakers’ politicking has led to more than 400,000 Georgia residents living without health care access. Many officials are loath to admit it. But not Hufstetler. Last year the physician assistant was the only Senate Republican to vote against a harmful bill that made it more difficult to expand the health care program for low-income people. He’s not a fan of the Affordable Care Act. But he knows that hospitals, and more importantly uninsured people, need help. “These are the working poor,” Hufstetler said at a January event held by consumer group Georgians for a Healthy Future. “We’ve got to find a way to help our working poor.”