Every January, state lawmakers from all corners of Georgia gather in Atlanta for 40 days of grandstanding, shenanigans, and occasional policymaking. This year was no different.
Despite being what's considered the quietest 40-day Georgia General Assembly in recent memory, there were plenty of opportunities for back-scratching and embarrassment. There were proposals to give Georgia gun owners more places to tote their shootin' irons, battles between the state House of Representatives and Senate over how much they could suckle on lobbyists' teats, and efforts to expand Georgia's already heinous immigration law. Lawmakers fought tooth and nail to pass a bill pushed by telecommunications companies that would keep the state's rural towns in the Internet dark ages. And in the eleventh hour, lawmakers unveiled a plan to prevent state employees from getting abortions. Yes, it was quieter than previous years. But it was just as sleazy.
Per tradition, CL sifted through the muck to highlight the bad, the worse, and the unimaginably grotesque. Without further ado, the 24th annual Golden Sleaze Awards.
- Joeff Davis
The "Die, Bambi, Die" Award
Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen
The last time you went hunting, while you were perched high in a deer stand, armed with a long-range scope rifle, wearing night-vision goggles, and slathering doe urine on your face to attract bucks, did you think, "I could sure use an advantage?" Heath, a Bremen Republican, heard those thoughts. This year, he proposed allowing hunters to use silencers. The measure would reduce forest noise pollution and prevent gunshots from scaring off other animals, thus helping hunters cram more kills into their busy schedules. See, it's a win-win. Should you wish to track down Heath to discuss the proposal, don't bother emailing. Or even asking him in person. The lawmaker, frustrated over emails complaining about former Sen. Chip Rogers landing a $150,000 gig at Georgia Public Broadcasting, started responding with form letters. And when TV crews asked him about that standoffish tactic, he ran and hid in a Gold Dome office.
- Joeff Davis
- HIGH-SPEED FAIL: State Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, wanted to keep rural communities in the Dark Ages.
The "Dial-Up's Good Enuf for Y'all" Award
Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming
The Forsyth County Republican inadvertently showed that the Other Georgia — the foreign land lying far outside metro Atlanta — still matters. Hamilton tried to tell small towns that if they want access to Internet service with enough bandwidth to stream an HD movie, they must wait for the likes of AT&T or Windstream to deem them worthy, instead of laying their own fiber. Trying to save citizens from the threat of public Internet, he ignored a parade of small-town mayors, residents and city managers testifying that private companies are failing to offer them Internet fast enough for a single school or hospital. But rather than die waiting for the phone company, Democrats and rural Republicans rejected Hamilton's handout to Big Telecom.
The "Guns at Pep Rallies" Awards
Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, and Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw
After the recent rash of mass shootings, Colorado and other states made efforts to restrict easy access to guns. In Georgia, it's just the reverse. In addition to actually making it easier for the mentally ill to get hold of firearms, a Jasperse-sponsored bill would've opened bars, churches, parts of college campuses, and even some courthouses to licensed gun owners. Alas, the milquetoast GOP nixed turning those places into free-fire zones. Gregory, the obvious heir to the late Bobby Franklin's title as wackiest Gold Dome politico, called out his party on its tyranny for failing to protect his God-given right to carry heat pretty much anywhere, any time. Gregory's own proposal — to waive the license required to carry a concealed weapon — went nowhere. Maybe that's because he filed his bill a mere five days after the Newtown school massacre. Too soon?
- Joeff Davis
The "Cell Yes in Your Backyard!" Award
Sen. Don Parsons, R-AT&T
Telecommunication companies and local governments have played tug-of-war for several years over where cell-phone towers can be located. Parsons found a way to give the AT&Ts, Verizons, and Sprints of the world a break — and the ability to silence their opponent with paperwork. Under his bill, counties would need to respond to a telecom company's application to erect one of the eyesores within 150 days. Sounds reasonable. Only in this case, if the deadline wasn't met, the request would automatically be approved. In addition, the bill would limit the amount companies could be charged by counties and cities in consultants' fees. A former Bellsouth executive-turned-telecom consultant couldn't have written a better bill. Oh, wait — Parsons is a Bellsouth executive-turned-telecom consultant. Bet his clients would be thankful for all the help!
- Joeff Davis
The "Meme Machine" Award
Rep. Earnest Smith, D-Augusta
Smith co-sponsored a proposal that would've made it illegal to Photoshop a person's head onto someone else's body that was nude, engaging in sexual conduct or otherwise obscene. If passed, offenders could be charged with a misdemeanor and/or a $1,000 fine. "No one has a right to make fun of anyone," Smith told Morris News Service. "You have a right to speak, but no one has a right to disparage another person. It's not a First Amendment right." Unfortunately, Ernie, it is. The only attention the lawmaker's efforts received came from conservative blogger Andre Walker, who digitally slapped Smith's shiny round skull onto the body of a well-endowed male porn star. A meme was born. When later asked how it felt to be a victim of something he sought to ban, Smith replied: "It's clear that we need to do something."