Are you sitting down, dear reader? House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has announced he will propose a full ban on gifts from lizard-loafered lobbyists in the next session.
Before you fall over in a dead faint, let me remind you that politicians are crafty sorts. They excel at saying one thing and doing another — “another” being whatever is in their self-interest. That is why we need to wait and see if the speaker really means it, and if the General Assembly really does it.
The speaker told Atlanta newspapers that voters “spoke on the issue” in the recent primary voting and that he is “committed from the House side to making sure we have some real, serious ethics reform.” Admittedly, I am a product of public schools, but “real” and “serious” say to me that what we have had to this point has been neither real nor serious.
That is where you come in. You have been determined to make sure our legislators understood your unhappiness with their cavalier attitude toward ethics reform, and every time they trotted out the term “gimmick,” that only made you madder. It seems the shade is going up for our intrepid public servants, and they are realizing that you just might shorten their political careers if they don’t listen to you instead of marching to the speaker’s tune.
You have shared with me your letters to your representatives on the topic of ethic reforms, as well as the replies you received in return. I found their responses fall into three general categories: (a) The “bug letter” that says nothing except to thank you for writing and ignores the frustrations you express; (b) a lecture and/or whine about how little they get paid to do their difficult job and how much they learn while they (and their spouses) eat at some fancy restaurant, courtesy of a lizard-loafered lobbyist; or (c) no response at all.
I have been told by a couple of trustworthy souls under the Gold Dome that David Ralston and his minions don’t care much for me or my opinions. Cry me a river. It probably was those same minions who saw nothing wrong with their boss taking his family on a $17,000 all-expenses-paid excursion to Germany courtesy of a non-registered Washington lobbyist a couple of years ago to see a magnetic levitation train he could have seen in Cobb County.
They can consider me a bump on a log, but they can’t ignore you. One knowledgeable political observer goes so far as to give you, dear reader, a lot of credit for rattling their cages on the issue of ethics reform. I choose to believe that. Special-interest groups are busy patting themselves on the back right now, but politicians know how to finesse those groups. What they fear most are individuals like you who take the time and effort to write a personal note or to make a phone call.
Given his antipathy for your humble servant, I am sure Mr. Ralston won’t mind if I update you on his social activities for June and July. As you will recall from my last report, the speaker had received $4,145.21 in goodies through mid-June. Since then, the State Ethics Commission reports another $563.92 in June, including a $450 membership to Delta’s Sky Club courtesy of the airline, a $34.52 dinner from Evonne Stellato of Allegran Inc. at a bistro in Charleston, W.V., and a $52.40 dinner from Rudy Underwood of the Georgia Chemistry Council.
In July, Jon Howell of the Georgia Health Care Association spent $603.42 wining and dining the speaker. His niece Sarah Denise Ralston, who works for the aforementioned Georgia Health Care Association, bought Uncle David two dinners worth $46.27. The Georgia Chamber provided the speaker lodging at their government-affairs conference for $431.63. Georgia Power sprung for a $104 dinner. The state architect association spent $24.95 for dinner. Yvonne Williams of Perimeter CIDS bought him a cake that cost $48.06. This brings his total to $5,971.99 for the year and we still have five months to go. Nice.
Now, all of a sudden, the speaker sounds as if he is willing to unload his gravy train. I’ll believe it when I see it. If it does actually happen, you may be sure that you had a hand in that decision. I couldn’t be more pleased. Take a bow, dear reader. You deserve it.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga. 31139.