The 2009 Georgia General Assembly was supposed to be 40 days of restraint and careful action.
The state, stuck deep in a $2.1 billion hole, would barely have scraps for the lobbyist vultures to feast upon. There would be little time to quibble over ridiculous resolutions or political grandstanding. It wasn't an election year, either – meaning mistakes and accomplishments by these extraordinary men and women would be quickly forgotten. So let's solve some problems, huh?
How wrong we were. The legislative session produced another outstanding display of ineptitude, lack of vision, and battles between rural and urban interests, topped off with post-election showboating and chicanery. And what it lacked in terms of last year's theatrics and implosions – a former state representative losing his seat thanks to federal prison, House Speaker Glenn Richardson's plan to eliminate property taxes – it made up for in idiocy.
Embarrassing national headlines about stem cell research. A bald-faced sweetheart deal for the state's largest utility company. The usual assortment of divisive bills. The mantra going into such sessions is "do no harm," but the state's most powerful lawmakers proved they can't do anything but.
And because their foibles and foul-ups deserve to be preserved in perpetuity, and no stupid deed should go unnoticed, we hereby proudly present the 20th annual Golden Sleaze Awards. If the list seems short on (um, devoid of) Democrats this year, consider it a reflection of the minority party's lack of clout – and corresponding ineffectiveness at inflicting damage.
The Contented Underachiever Award
Rep. Matt Dollar, R-East Cobb: Seriously, dude? You've spent seven sessions at the Capitol and this is all you've got to show for it? For those not familiar with Dollar – and there's absolutely no reason you should be (that goes for his constituents, as well) – this 31-year-old lawmaker has long been considered the House party boy, a guy so besotted with the perks, freebies and social opportunities associated with his office that he rarely finds the time to actually, y'know, make laws. Well, lightning struck this year. Now "serving" his fourth term, Dollar managed to get a bill through the House for only the second time in his legislative career. What was it? We were afraid you might ask: It's a measure to create license plates for folks who want to support the Georgia Aquarium and wild dolphins (although, in the latter case, the proceeds would go to an out-of-state marine advocacy group). Last we heard, the bill was expected to sink in the Senate. Oh well, Matt, have another brewsky. There's always next term.
The What's the Matter with Cherokee? Award
Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton, and Rep. Charlice Byrd, R-Woodstock: A situation that most lawmakers with a shred of dignity would chalk up to an embarrassing misunderstanding proved instead to be an excuse for a week of grandstanding by these two exurban pols. Early in the session, Hill, one of the holders of House purse strings, railed about state universities using public funds to offer classes on such subjects as oral sex and prostitution. Turns out Hill had mistakenly assumed a GSU "experts guide" – a publication colleges routinely send to journalists to promote the breadth of faculty expertise – was a course catalog. Doh! But even after the AJC pointed out Hill's blunder, fellow Cherokee legislator Byrd posted a YouTube video – at public expense – to bluster about how schools should get rid of professors who "provide services in these 'so-called' [air quotes hers] special-interest areas." Hill seems content to ride the right wing's anti-intellectual bandwagon. Byrd, however, is driving the anti-intellect short bus.
The Them Feudin' Hatfields Is At It Ag'in Award
Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross: "I believe this bill will encourage reasonable, rational conduct," said one lawmaker during a committee hearing on a measure to allow juries to consider seat belt usage when determining damages in personal injury lawsuits. Talk about magical thinking. Moments after the bill passed by a 2-1 margin, Hatfield – who'd sat scowling and whispering throughout the discussion – leapt to his feet with clenched fists and got up in the grill of Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, a fellow Republican nearly three decades his senior. "You better back off!" Hatfield seethed before he stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Legislators who witnessed the outburst variously described Hatfield's behavior as "totally inappropriate," "out of control" and "off the reservation." Ordered later by Speaker Richardson to apologize, Hatfield lamely regretted his "overzealousness" – an apology witnesses unanimously described to CL as "half-assed." If this loudmouthed hothead gets so worked up discussing a seat belt bill, imagine what might happen if he had any real responsibilities.
The Don't Take This Personally, Adolf Award
Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome: Thanks to Smith, Georgia won't be turning into the Island of Dr. Moreau any time soon. Of course, nor will we become a hub of the biotech industry. Smith overhauled the anti-"octo-mom" bill by wingnut Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Hull, turning a doomed piece of holy-roller legislation into a GOP juggernaut that tells those evil stem cell researchers to steer clear of Swanee. Smith bravely took to the well to inveigh against human cloning and the "creation of human-animal hybrids" – not that anyone has proposed these activities. Then he dropped the N-bomb – Nazi, that is. "I don't believe in the destruction of human life in the interest of science," Smith said. "I don't think it was right when Dr. Mengele did it and it's not right now." When outraged Democrats challenged Smith for comparing Alzheimer's researchers to a genocidal sociopath who performed horrific experiments on concentration camp prisoners, he said, "I'm not making a comparison." Well, now that we've got that straight, let's get back to building that wall to keep out science.