Mar. 7, 2005: Make Government More Open and Less Secretive

Rep. Ron Stephens, the author of an ill-conceived piece of legislation known as H.R. 218, was recently identified in this space as being from Garden City, near Savannah. Not so, say residents of that city. Even though most of the state’s media refer to him as representing Garden City, it seems Rep. Stephens has pulled up stakes and moved to an unincorporated area not far from Pooler. We can all rest better knowing that.

More to the point, H.R. 218 would shield from public inspection nearly all details of negotiations between all government agencies that recruit industry — including nearly 900 local and regional development authorities — and the businesses they deal with.

Since the public uproar, the bill has been amended to soften some of the more egregious portions of the measure, but it is still a piece of dog-poo that hopefully will never see the light of day.

Perhaps Republicans have learned a lesson that didn’t quite sink into the heads of the Democrats when they were in power. The people rule. Not the Department of industry, Trade &Tourism that was pimping for this legislation. Not corporations. Not developers. Not special interest insiders. Not chambers of commerce. Not lobbyists for all of the above. The people are in charge.

It is amazing that otherwise politically astute Republicans in the General Assembly let Craig Lesser, commissioner of the Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism, hang them out to dry with the voters by proposing his unnecessary piece of legislation. What were the Republicans thinking? Lesser has been on the job less than a year and no doubt still has a fair amount of moisture between his ear. To my knowledge, he has been unable to cite one example of a company that refused to relocate in Georgia because of our open-records law. Yet, he or Gov. Perdue, or both, decided to push a piece of legislation that resonated negatively with the public, and they put the poor legislators out from to catch all the live ammunition from angry constituents.

Ironically, Lesser was a radio broadcaster at WSB Radio in Atlanta earlier in his career, and he should have known how secrecy in government would go over with the public. If not, he should have called his old boss, Elmo Ellis, and asked him. I suspect Elmo would have told him in 10 words or less.

Instead of going out into the state and selling H.R. 218 as they should have done if they truly believed the bill had merit, proponents chose instead to circle the wagons inside the Capitol and blame the media for stirring up opposition to it. Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) even went so far as to suggest that reporters should be required to officially register as lobbyists. He later said he was joking. They must have a weird since of humor in Chickamauga.

Besides looking extremely foolish by his comments, Sen. Mullis obviously doesn’t know pea-diddle about reporters. Reporters would make lousy lobbyists. Reporters wear Hush Puppies shoes and cheap ties – if they wear ties at all – and no self-respecting lobbyist would be caught dead in Hush Puppies or cheap ties. Lobbyists wouldn’t recognize a cheap tie if it bit them in the behind. Reporters would just as soon have bamboo splints put under their fingernails as to make nice with a politician they think is a doofus. Lobbyists are not quite so discriminating. Reporters never have any money and always expect somebody else to pick up the check. That fact alone makes them totally unfit to be lobbyists.

I don’t believe Georgia will ever again allow one party to dominate for 130 years as did Democrats. And you will most likely never see another politician as powerful as former Speaker of the House Tom Murphy, who could make legislation happen or disappear depending on his personal whims. Fortunately, those days are gone with the wind. In the future, politicians – Democrats and Republicans – are going to have to earn our trust if they expect to remain in office. Making government less open and more secretive is a good example of how not to do it.