The Symbol Of A Wild Hog

Today’s Courier Herald Column:  

They’re back.  Members of the Georgia General Assembly are in the process of returning to Atlanta for another 40 business days of legislating and governing.  And as it has been every year since 1962, the unofficial beginning to the legislative session will be the Wild Hog Supper held at the Georgia Freight Depot.   The event is sponsored by the Georgia Friends of Agriculture trade association and the $20 tickets sold to the event support the Georgia Food Bank Association.

The event is symbolic in that the only knives out are those to slice pulled pork.  Those who will be adversaries the following morning gather in one room to eat barbecue, roasted corn, peach ice cream and other Georgia grown goodies.  Democrats and Republicans alike, the event is quite open and accessible to all.

Most of Georgia’s statewide elected officials, members of the Congressional delegation, members of the General Assembly, and many local elected officials work the crowd. Alongside them are voters of all stripes, party activists and leaders, and of course lobbyists.  There won’t be a gathering of this many officials without those whose job it is to influence them.  But lobbyists are generally not in the spotlight or the highlight of the event.  Quite the contrary, of all the events which government officials take part in each season, it remains one of the most open and transparent of them, with a feel that it represents the entire cross section of Georgians.

Any event with this many decision makers also draws the press, as news crews from across the state have an opportunity to get live interviews from a large number of officials all in one setup.  And with the open media opportunity, there are always bound to be some that want to crash the party.

A group calling itself “United for the People Georgia” plans to protest the event, saying the tradition “…is symbolic in that lobbyists and legislators openly engorge together on pork. For a government by and for the people, the influence of money in politics must be eliminated.”

It’s ironic that a group who wants to end the special access by the moneyed and well-connected chooses an event that is one of the most open, and which benefits Georgia’s food banks as their symbolism of the influence of money and politics.  But, as clearly stated by them, this is about symbolism.

In our current media age, a quick set of photographs in a 90 second TV news broadcast can convey whatever symbolism the brief framing allowed of our drive by news culture will allow.  Images of elected officials meeting with the public over supper – a very southern symbol in itself of putting food as the centerpiece of common ground – can be construed by the mere mention of a protest that somehow it is “us” watching “them”.  “Them” will be painted as those who are having a private party, making closed door deals, and making decisions that favor themselves rather than “us”.

Frankly, there are many of those events that will happen over the next 40 days.  Yet they generally won’t be on public calendars, won’t have the press present, and won’t involve any Georgian who wants to donate $20 to a food bank (or ask their legislator for a ticket).

There will be a lot of talk about ethics this session.  Hopefully, there will also be some action – and not just more window dressing of the topic.  But it is important to keep the topic and those who we seek to regulate in perspective.

Ethics reform is not about trying to punish everyone who is part of our representative government because we suspect that they’re all up to no good just by being elected.  It is about adopting processes and proper controls to ensure that our system of governing is open, transparent, and does not favor those on the inside at the expense of those of us who are subject to being governed.

The Wild Hog Supper is not a symbol of lobbyists and legislators openly engorging themselves on pork.  Frankly, it’s a generally well known secret that most of the legislators don’t have time to eat there.  That’s because they’re talking to those of “us” who take the time to visit with them, tell them our concerns, and ask what we can expect from them out of the next 40 days.

It’s important that in our quest to demand and achieve substantive ethics reform, we remember what it is about this system that we’re trying to save.  Opportunities for individuals to meet and greet their elected officials should be high on that list.


    • Charlie says:

      This year will be competing with a Falcons playoff game, which will make my ability to make an appearance questionable. Road Show still on, however.

        • Rick Day says:

          Although one of the organizers is a business associate and as close to a ‘brother’ that I will claim, I agree that given the fact, if ANYTHING, this benefits the Food Bank should be enough to put down the crudely drawn slogan-signs and join in on discussing face to face their concerns.

          Many of those activists are involved with cannabis reform, so it seems to make sense to ‘play nice’ and work the system (it’s their ball and their field, therefore their rules), rather than sit outside with Vincent Fort and whine about the ‘have nots’ not having.

  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    I may not always be a big fan of our Georgia Legislators, but I just absolutely love the name and the seemingly well-intentioned theme of the “Wild Hog Supper”….Awesome name.

    • IndyInjun says:

      The old axiom about a blind hog finding an acorn fits the rare good legislation that that bunch finds under the gold dome.

            • Ghost of William F Buckley says:

              It’s not a trifling matter to tramp on anyone’s best dress…

              What I find smarmy about the dinner are all the Boss Hogg, six-figure State regulatory employees being courted by vendors, lobbyists, and even elected officials. Nothing to do about it, but it is pretty lame to watch.

              We are rules by both legislation and regulation, the latter being administered by unelected officials.

              Last year, Occupy #Whatever made asses of themselves and never showed up.

  2. Dave Bearse says:

    I hope this isn’t so tangential as to constitute a threadjack, but I’d like to see legislation that begins prohibiting campaign contributions beginning the Monday prior to the General Election and lasting until the end of the session.

    Contirbutions during that period give the appearance of waiting until there’s a winner before spending to influence. Supporters may make contributions prior to the General Election. And if that was done, the officeholder doesn’t stand for re-election until at least nearly two years, and there is plenty of time between legislative sessions, and after the second session, to make contributions.

    It’s speculation on my part, but I suspect contributers/lobbyists are more likely to influence legislation in the first session when there are newbies amd another session and a year and a half for things to cool should the pot boil over..

    Also, contributions made between the General Election and start of the session are not reported until July, months after the session is over. Well after the fact transparency is of less useful when the typical Georgia voter has an attention span of a Honey Boo Boo episode.

  3. seekingtounderstand says:

    Please ask them all one question we all want to know “when you vote for a new stadium for the Falcons do you think that will harm your chances of a future in politics?”
    Would love to have their honest response on this issue.

  4. Stacey Hopkins says:

    As a member and organizer of the mentioned group, United For the People GA, I must point out that we are not behind the Wild Hog Supper event. That would be Atlanta Move to Amend; United For the People GA is doing an event at the Georgia Capitol on January 19th for MLK Day and to protest the Citizens United ruling on its 3rd anniversary.

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