Jan. 14, 2002: A friend once asked my advice about running for a seat on his county commission.

I strongly urged him not to. I suggested instead that if he wanted to get into politics, he consider the state Legislature. “If you are a county commissioner, your constituents will call you every time a streetlight goes out, there is a pothole in the road or their garbage isn’t picked up promptly,” I told him. “If you are in the Legislature, nobody will know or care.” I gave him that advice more than 20 years ago.

I thought about that conversation as I read a just-released poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution which says that more than eight out of ten citizens of metropolitan Atlanta think that the Georgia Legislature is irrelevant in their lives. Had the AJC chosen to survey the state instead of just the Atlanta area, I suspect the numbers would have been pretty much the same.

Of course, the respondents are incorrect. The Georgia Legislature is extremely relevant. They have a major say in how our children are educated. They make rules and regulations regarding the air we breathe and the water we drink. They see that highways are built and maintained and policed. They decide how our health care is provided. They also tax us. I would say that stuff is pretty relevant.

I think what those people polled are really saying is that, as a collective body, the Legislature doesn’t give a flying fig about what you and I think. A typical example of their arrogance is the way they handled redistricting this past year.

The whole exercise was predicated on keeping the Democrats in power until the next redistricting session ten years hence. Nothing that you and I could have done would have made a modicum of difference in the predetermined outcome. When people say the Legislature is irrelevant, they mean that the legislators clearly put their own interest ahead of their constituents’.

Let me hasten to add that many good, honest, hard-working men and women hold a place in the Georgia Legislature. The problem is that most don’t have any clout because of a system that allows a few members to wield almost absolute power over the rest. The powers that be are known as the Green Door Committee and it is the most exclusive of clubs. Unless this group says “Okay,” you couldn’t get a bill passed extolling the virtues of motherhood and apple pie. The poster boy for this little clique is, of course, House Speaker Tom Murphy.

Veteran political observer Bill Shipp says Murphy is in his Last Hurrah, but before he lights up one last cigar and toodles off into the Haralson County sunset, he is trying to decide who to beknight as his successor, House Majority Leader Larry Walker (D-Perry) or House Appropriations Chairman Terry Coleman (D-Eastman). Shipp says Murphy wants whoever becomes Speaker to appoint the other one chairman of the appropriations committee. I know you are all a-twitter over how this scene will play out. If you are putting together an office pool on the subject, let me give you a heads-up. It doesn’t matter who becomes Speaker. The same clique will still be in place with a new poster boy at its head. They will continue to pass whatever bills suit them and scuttle any that don’t, and they will continue to do business with state agencies, if they so chose.

That kind of environment spawned the opinions in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey. Maybe the Legislature thinks we are too dumb to understand how they operate. If so, they are mistaken. We are smart enough to know that no matter how hard we press our representatives or senators, they can’t do diddly-squat without the approval of the Speaker and the Green Door Committee. So, we shrug and go on with our lives.

Speaker-hopeful Larry Walker has a different slant on the poll results. He told the Atlanta newspapers the numbers “simply prove that we’re doing an excellent job.” His logic seems to be that it is only when constituents are angry that they think about the Legislature and because our elected officials are doing such bang-up work on our behalf, we tend to get complacent and forget they are there. If he really believes that is what the poll is saying, those guys behind the Green Door are smoking something stronger than Tom Murphy’s cigars.