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The Arnies: For a few candles in the darkness

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In the tradition of former governor and progressive beacon Ellis Arnall, the following awards go to people who distinguished themselves during the legislative session. For some, it may have been one shining moment amid an otherwise forgettable term. Others are recognized for consistent do-gooding amid all the lobbyist dough and questionable intentions.

The "Gallows Humor" Award

To State Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Teddy Lee for pluck in the face of his own demise. When the guv'ner decided one of the best ways to improve ethics in Georgia was to, um, fire the Ethics Commission, Lee seemed to take it in stride.

"Now I know how an inmate on death row feels," he joked. "Only they don't have to get up and go to work every morning."

The "True Grit" Award

To Sen. Charlie Tanksley, R-Marietta, for protecting the rights of individuals instead of insurance companies. Tanksley crafted a compromise on tort reform that would allow justifiable reform. But Tanksley's substitute bill, which passed the Senate, replaced a provision that would have capped pain and suffering damages for victims of egregious medical malpractice errors at $250,000. As Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Powder Springs, so eloquently said the day the bill was debated: No one stands taller today than the 5-foot, 8-inch senator who is sitting down over there.

As of last week, the bill still sits in the House Judiciary Committee.

The "Even a Blind Squirrel" Award

To Sen. Don Cheeks, R-Augusta, for championing the little guy in the predatory lending fight. When Capitol insiders first saw the savvy operator fighting against the banking industry, everyone asked, "What angle is he playing?" Over time, it became clear that the angle was the issue and that the party-switching Cheeks actually had a little-used organ in his chest making the occasional da-dump.

And, as much as we hate to, we have to mention Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, for coming in a close second to Cheeks. Franklin has built an unmatched reputation for utter irrelevance during his years in the House (this session he proposed a bill that would have required pregnant mothers to go to court to get a death warrant before they had an abortion, for example). But the flag debate showed us a more thoughtful side of the Cobb right-winger. Franklin proposed a compromise bill that would have ended the flag controversy and followed a path laid out by black lawmakers years ago.

In explaining his conversion from the "Fergit? Hell!" crowd, Franklin wrote in an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Can we not have the grace and the sensitivity to be considerate of others' feelings?"

It may be the most sensible thing he has ever said.

The "Strange Bedfellows" Award

To Rep. Warren Massey, R-Winder, and Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, for co-sponsoring an anti-racial profiling bill. We thought we might have gone temporarily deaf when Brooks told us Massey had signed onto his legislation, or that maybe he had mistaken it for a bill that was pro-racial profiling. We were wrong. Massey votes the same way as Brooks about as often as AJC columnist Jim Wooten surprises us with his erudition, meaning just about never. But this time, he's on the right side of the right issue with the right guy.

The "Diaper Dandy" Award

To freshman Sen. David Adelman, D-Atlanta, who managed to get a number of his bills through the Republican-controlled Senate, including one that ensured the post-conviction availability of DNA testing for death row inmates. Adelman could always be counted on for thorough questioning on the floor and thoughtful words in the well. If he can put up with the tediousness of the Senate, we expect it won't be his last political stop.

Another first-year notable, Sen. Sam Zamarripa, D-Atlanta, nearly pulled off a vote that would have improved road safety by allowing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

The "Policy Over Politics" Award

To Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor for mending fences with the party-switching Cheeks to hammer out a compromise predatory lending bill. Spending day after day with his newfound enemy in an effort to assuage the concerns of the securities-rating agency Standard & Poors must have been a bitter pill for Taylor, but he swallowed and did the right thing for Georgians.

Too bad their version was defeated by legislators who think their job is to represent the sleaziest mortgage brokers and bankers instead of the people.

Sen. Vincent "I Never Met a TV Camera I Didn't Like" Fort, D-Atlanta, should also get a mention for tirelessly working to maintain as many protections in the Fair Lending Act as possible.

The "Unexpected Friends in Low Country Places" Award

To Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, for doing his damnedest to torpedo the environmentally unfriendly provision in Rep. Bob Hanner's, D-Parrott, water bill that would allow corporations to profit from the sale of water rights obtained for free from the state. Typical of this upside-down session, the head of the Senate Republicans proved a guiding environmental voice on the permit-trading issue.

The "Freedom to Choose" Award

To Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah, for bottling up the Senate's 24-hour waiting period abortion bill in his Judiciary Committee. Bordeaux recognized how patronizing the bill was to women across Georgia, and that it was a barrier to a Constitutionally protected right, not the public health matter it was dressed up to be.

kevin.griffis@creativeloafing.com

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