Feb. 27, 2006: Advice to Legislators: Don’t Insult Our Intelligence

I had planned to write a column this week on the bizarre decision by the Bush administration to turn over management of six of our major ports to the wonderful folks at the United Arab Emirates. You remember the UAE, don’t you? This country was one of only three to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. It was also home base for two of the Sept. 11 terrorists and, according to the Justice Department and the 911 Commission, the place from which a number of sources funneled money to the hijackers. Terrific choice. Sort of makes you wonder who they would select to manage the ports of Savannah and Brunswick. The Dixie Chicks?

But I dropped the idea. First, everybody and his brother/sister/significant other has written reams on the subject, and second, there is a little matter pending in our state Legislature that needs public airing, because it stinks. It is House Bill 864.

The measure, depending on who you are talking to, is either a “comprehensive consumer-friendly bill” (the bill’s sponsors) or a bill that will move the caps from annual interest rates on car title loans beyond the current 300 percent and severely impact those who can least afford it (according to those who oppose the bill).

The bill isn’t what bothers me. What burns my backside is the cavalier way in which the bill’s sponsors say that the fact the title pawn industry has showered them with gobs of money will have nothing to do with how they vote on the measure. They must think we are a bunch of village idiots. (Maybe we are. We keep sending these people back to the Legislature.)

One of the bill’s sponsors is Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Ehrhart received $15,652 from title lenders last year. One of the biggest firms, Select Management Resources, of Alpharetta, flew Ehrhart on one of their private planes to Dallas and gave House Speaker Glen Richardson a lift to Las Vegas. I guess the poor slobs paying 300 percent on their car title loans couldn’t get their jets gassed up in time.

The paper also reported that the industry doled out $328,310 to 75 politicians in Georgia and three political action committees, (PACs) last year. That is more than two times the amount the industry had donated the two previous years combined, according to the AJC. Rep. James Mills

(R-Gainesville), chairman of the State Banking Committee and another bill sponsor, got $17,000, including $10,000 for speaking to a title pawn industry meeting. When asked about the donations, Mills declared it was much ado about nothing. “I don’t give preferential treatment,” he told the paper. “I give fair treatment.” Oh, please. We didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. Money buys influence. Otherwise, the title pawn industry wouldn’t waste their time with you.

Even State Senate President Pro-Tem Eric Johnson, a Republican from Savannah (and one of the better lawmakers in the Legislature), was quoted as saying that getting money from the industry — he got $10,488 — “shouldn’t affect how you vote.”

Come on, guys. You know damn well it affects how you vote. Are members of the Legislature, who got a third of a million dollars from the title pawn business, going to make nice with the industry, or will they side with the poor, unsophisticated people who get sucked into these bad-idea loans and have neither money nor influence? Care to make a wager?

Pass the bill, if you want. I don’t care. I’m not going to borrow money from these bottom-feeders anyway. As far as I am concerned, they don’t exist. Sadly, they do exist for poor people who don’t know any better than to do business with them. But please don’t tell us there is absolutely no correlation between campaign contributions and how you vote. Don’t insult our intelligence.
Leave it to The Woman Who Shares My Name to put it in proper perspective. After reading the column, she mused, “What these people are doing g may be legal, but it doesn’t sound ethical.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.