Ten years ago in the 2002 elections, the Republican Party in Georgia made history by claiming its first elected governor and control of both the state House and Senate. The new faces promised a new, open government and more jobs. As we face the decade mark of their rule, how should we rate their turn at governing? The phrase “dismal failure” has come to mind.
On the jobs front, the state had more workers before the Republicans took over than they do now. In fact, you have to go back to 1999 to have the same number of jobs in Georgia as in 2012, despite the fact that we now have about one and a half million more people than we did in 1999.
As far as ethics, the mark is even worse as Georgia was recently ranked 50th in the nation in ethics reform. All the legislatures will say they’re for reform, but despite large majorities in both houses, they can’t seem to get the legislation passed. State officials have stripped the ethics commission of its funding and the legal power it needs to do its job. Also, they have passed laws that discourage private citizens from filing complaints with the commission.
In covering their tracks, they have even gone so far as to change the ethics commission of the title “ethics commission,” renaming it the “Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission” because who worries about getting in trouble with a transparency commission?
Their contempt for ethics reform is best shown in the story of House Bill 875. It was a simple Game and Fish bill, but on the last day of the session, they tacked on amendments that would have kept the public from knowing about ethics violations and late filings by Legislatures. It passed the Senate but failed in the House.
In Georgia, there is no limit on the amount a lobbyist can give an elected official. Yes, the lobbyists have to report the expense, but that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that we’re asked to believe that they’re doing the people’s work and not influenced to do political favors for special interest groups.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called one bill a “big payoff for the special interest and lobbyists.” It gave sales tax relief to manufacturers on their purchases of fuel. Delta Airlines alone saved $20 million dollars. To make up for the lost revenue, the state cut out the sales tax holiday for back to school kids in the fall. That had “cost” the state $12 million in lost revenue (but stayed in the parents’ pockets). They also cut the state’s unemployment benefits to the second shortest time in the nation.
Another ethically questionable bill gave the governor “sole discretion” to decide which potential new developers get (and how much they should get) regarding tax breaks for developing tourist attractions.
Finally, given the state’s transportation problems, wouldn’t you want a person with a master’s degree in civil engineering and decades of experience in the transportation department to run the state’s agency? Well, that could be Todd Long, who briefly held the position but was forced out of the job to make room for Toby Carr. Carr (despite his name) has degrees in finance but gets the job because he’s the ex director of the state Republican Party. It seems instead of competence in the department, we get another place to put political friends for political favors.
The state republicans can act this way because they have no fear of the voters. With their new districting, they’ve assured their lock in power for at least a while. If Georgia is to retain its motto of “Empire State of the South,” we must demand better.