Skeeter Skates, owner of Skeeter’s Tree Stump Removal and Plow Repair in metropolitan Pooler, called me this week. That was an historic occasion; maybe not man-landing-on-the-moon historic, but pretty close to it.
Skeeter rarely ever calls. I think it is because he thinks he knows everything. Being an industry leader in the tree-stump removal and plow-repair game can do that to a person.
“Hoss,” Skeeter said with no preamble, “my associates around the state and I have formed an industry group, ‘The Tree Stump Removal and Plow Repair Association of Georgia,’ and naturally, they appointed me president, since I am the acknowledged leader in the industry.”
“The reason I’m calling,” Skeeter said, “is that the boys wanted me to find somebody that knows a little politics, and I told them you knew as little politics as anybody I had ever read.”
I’m not sure if that was a compliment or an insult, but I let it pass.
“The tree-stump removal and plow-repair business didn’t fare well in the Legislature this year,” he said, “and we figure we need to start lobbying the politicians and see if we can’t get us some tax breaks like the car dealers and the airlines. Tell me what you know about lobbying them big shots in Atlanta.”
Well, I said, the first thing is you better have some money available to spend. No matter what you read, if you don’t contribute to legislators’ re-election campaigns and wine and dine them, you don’t have much chance of getting face-to-face time to explain the challenges that confront the tree-stump removal and plow-repair business.
Skeeter said that would be no problem. The association already had planned on that and put $58.62 aside for the effort.
“We knew it would be expensive,” he said.
I told Skeeter that he might want to plan to add a few more dollars; $58.62 wouldn’t buy two decent seats to an Atlanta Braves game.
“Who is talking about baseball?” he said testily. “We ain’t interested in ballgames. We’re interested in tax breaks.”
It was clear this wasn’t going to be a very pleasant conversation for either of us. I told Skeeter that while he might not care about sporting events, a lot of legislators do. They like to go to see the Braves play and watch the Atlanta Falcons in the fall and even take in an occasional monster-truck jam, courtesy of lobbyists.
In addition, the Tree Stump Removal and Plow Repair Association of Georgia should budget for an annual meeting at some place like Sea Island and invite key legislators down to talk to the group about trends in the industry so they can go play golf. Of course, you will have to pay their airfare down and back. Or the association might want to buy a private jet. I didn’t think legislators like to fly commercial.
“Well, I’ll be a son-of-a-tree spade,” he muttered, “I never knew all that.”
Talk about historic. I’d never heard Skeeter Skates admit to not knowing something. It was beginning to dawn on him that being president of the Tree Stump Removal and Plow Repair Association of Georgia was going to be harder than grinding a red-oak stump.
Pressing on, I said the association should be prepared to feed legislators often. I mentioned that one association lobbyist bought House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones 13 meals during the past session.
“Good gravy!” Skeeter exclaimed, “I wouldn’t buy 13 meals for Boxcar Willie, and he’s my hero.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him Boxcar Willie had been dead for a number of years. He wasn’t ready to hear that.
“Besides” he grumbled defensively, “I keep reading that legislators say buying their meals and giving them campaign money don’t influence their vote.”
If that’s so, I asked, why do lobbyists keep doing it?
Skeeter sighed, “Maybe me and the boys should forget the lobbying idea for now,” and then he quickly became the old grouchy Skeeter Skates we know and love.
“Hoss, I’m expecting you to raise a pig-in-slop stink about Georgia’s lobbying laws,” he barked, “and talk about how the little guy doesn’t have a chance. Then you make them change the law.”
I wanted to tell him I would try, although I wasn’t optimistic, but he had already hung up. Skeeter Skates may know a lot about tree stumps and plow shares, but he has a lot to learn about politics.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga. 31139.