Today’s Courier Herald Column
This Friday, Republicans from across Georgia will gather in Columbus for a two day State GOP Convention. There will be a lot of speeches made, a considerable amount of mixing and mingling between elected officials and the grass roots leadership of the party, and the occasional stops within hospitality suites where those running or looking to run for office entice would be supporters with hors d’oeuvres and perhaps an adult beverage or two. Perhaps.
The official purpose of this gathering is to nominate the delegates and alternates who will represent Georgia in Tampa later this year when the Republican National Committee meets to nominate Mitt Romney, his chosen running mate, and hash out the details of the party platform. This will not take the two days allocated, and so there will be a bit of time that needs filling.
In between the speeches by most of Georgia’s Republican members of the congressional delegation and statewide elected officials, there will be resolutions offered. Providing that the resolutions committee sends to the floor one of the resolutions offered by various district conventions held last month, there will be at least one resolution asking if convention delegates agree that the Republican dominated legislature needs to get serious about offering meaningful ethics reform.
Because the nature of the convention is to project what the party stands for, and who shall stand for it, passing a meaningful and clearly worded ethics resolution must be a priority for the delegates. It should not be sanitized as a mealy mouthed statement affirming high ethical values from elected officials. It must instead embrace the reality that Georgia’s ethics laws are meaningless and unenforceable. It must demand action from the Republican elected officials who will be working the crowd of faithful Friday and Saturday.
As such, those faithful need to let their state level elected officials have an ear-full on ethics. Words should not be minced. The tone deaf approach to ethics is not what we promised when we were on the journey to becoming a majority. If the leadership of the grass roots and the party itself is silent on the issue, then we must accept the fact that ethical governance was merely sloganeering of convenience whose time has passed.
The GOP Chairman, Sue Everhart, herself ran for re-election last year on a platform of independence from the Governor and ostensibly other elected officials so that the party could remain a guiding force for Republican principles. As such, it is incumbent on her to reiterate the party’s demands that Georgia be governed according to the strongest ethics laws in the country, not the worst.
The Republican legislature has already proven incapable of self-governance. The response to a Speaker leaving under an ethical cloud was to gut the ethics commission, re-name it, and ensure that there are barely enough staff to even process required forms of self-disclosure. There are no remaining margins for initiative or investigation.
On the current ethics issue facing Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour, the Senate Ethics Committee met in secret, only to quickly decide along the narrowest definitions of Senate Rules that they did not have the jurisdiction to handle the complaint before them. Yet instead of then referring the complaint to a body that does have jurisdiction such as Georgia’s Attorney General, they chose to “continue” the meeting so as to not have to act on the complaint before them, nor let anyone else. They are, instead, “investigating” a complaint that they have already voted they do not have jurisdiction to handle. That, currently, is how we deal with ethics in Republican controlled Georgia Government.
Republicans will hear a lot of speeches Friday and Saturday. Many will deal with how the President of another party must be removed so that order can be restored to the government in Washington D.C.
The speeches that we need to hear in Columbus, however, have to do with how we deal – and don’t deal – with ethical transgressions of government and abuse of power here at home.
Republicans have a chance at their gathering this weekend to firmly and clearly say where they stand on the need for ethics reform for Georgia’s government. Failure to say anything will be the loudest statement possible to condone the status quo, and the pattern of practices for ethical failure that has become commonplace in this Republican Georgia.