The following is a guest column written by Freshman Representative John Pezold. His opinions are his own, but strongly endorsed by the editor who is glad to post it:
Georgia State Representative Sam Moore (R-Ball Ground) has enjoyed quite a bit of press recently. While it began with his proposed bill to change restrictions on convicted sex offenders, much of what is being said about him is coming straight from the horse’s mouth. In his most recent newsletter, Rep. Moore proudly called himself “the most independent voice under the gold dome.” He went on to say,”In case you’re not aware, I’m the only representative who has not taken any lobbyist food, lobbyist money, or lobbyist gifts. Ever. Even a free Coke sitting in front of me during a long meeting, where I was both hungry and thirsty…I wouldn’t touch it. Lobbyist food and gifts are poison to me.”
On its face, the quote sounds admirable. Unfortunately, it is nothing more than a misrepresentation of facts to malign his colleagues while promoting himself. I can almost hear the narrator of this fictional drama in which he is the lead character. “Lone wolf defies the odds. In spite of tens of thousands of insider dollars contributed to his opponent, Sam did what no other candidate has ever done in the history of ever. And then proceeds to eschew all ‘perks’ when he gets there. He is a man who walks alone.” Cue the sad violin music and the lone tear falling down the cheek. It makes for a fantastic and compelling narrative, doesn’t it?
Hailing from Cherokee County, Representative Moore knows full well that not one, but two members of his own delegation, Michael Caldwell and Scot Turner, have politely refused all lobbyist donations and gifts. And there are others with similar standards. The difference is, Representatives Caldwell and Turner are simply living by the standard they chose without vilifying those who see things differently. Mr. Moore, on the other hand, infers that every other member is “poisoned” by lobbyist goodies. While Moore’s efforts to eliminate lobbyist influence from his own role as a legislator is commendable, he knows he is not alone in those efforts. Obviously, we have to guard against influence of any kind from anywhere, but denying ourselves a Coke during a long meeting does not relegate us to the status of martyr. It just leaves us thirsty.
Mr. Moore’s communications, along with those from Nathan Adams of
Campaign For Liberty Georgia Gun Owners Georgia Taxpayers United, would have you believe that prior to his arrival in the Georgia General Assembly, no elected official in the history of politics has overcome $30,000 in ‘insider contributions’ to his opponent (or taken a stand against Obamacare, or supported the Second Amendment, or suggested rules changes regarding conference committee reports - but I digress). Once again, he isn’t telling the truth. Several of his colleagues have beaten well-funded incumbents, including me. His own delegation mate defeated a four-term incumbent in spite of over $100,000 of ‘insider money.’ My opponent raised almost $80k of ‘insider money.’ One of Moore’s closest allies, Representative Charles Gregory, was victorious in a similar situation. Defying the odds clearly didn’t affect all of us the same way.
It would have been easy for all of us who unseated well-funded incumbents to come in with chips on our shoulders. It probably would have felt really good to rub victory in people’s faces and live in bitterness as if the world was against us. To be honest, I understand that feeling. But once we were elected, our focus had to shift from the frustration of a hard-fought campaign to doing the best we could for the people of our districts. At the end of the day, this is not about us. It’s about the people we serve. It’s about the people who elected us.
Soon after I was elected, I heard the words “team player” fairly often. Part of me assumed that I would have to compromise myself or “check my principles at the door” to get anything done. Doing that may be the easy route to success, but it is certainly not required. In many respects, politics is just like any other line of work. If we fail to treat people with respect, they won’t want to work with us making it tough to do business. Whether Representative Moore likes it or not, politics is a team sport. I suppose that’s why this whole situation puzzles me. Any of us can be successful if we are willing to put in the time and effort to build relationships rather than intentionally trying to destroy them. And for all the flack that Charles Gregory has taken the last two sessions, I will say this: I certainly don’t always agree with Representative Gregory, but I’ve always known him to be respectful of our disagreements. And he’s certainly not a liar. Judging by Mr. Moore’s antics in his first 20 legislative days, he has made it clear that he doesn’t want to play on anyone’s team. Not even those who agree with him most of the time.
In order to get a bill passed into law there are numerous hurdles that must be cleared. It must first maneuver the committee process. Then it must make it to the floor for a vote. Then it must gain 91 votes. Then it must maneuver the committee process in the Senate. Then it must make it to the Senate floor for a vote. Then it must garner 29 votes. Then it must be signed by the Governor. Clearing all of these hurdles is a complicated process. Is it more complicated than it needs to be? At times it is. But if you’re too busy throwing bombs to build relationships, the task is nearly impossible.
I could spend lots of time deconstructing absurd emails from candidates or outside groups pretending to be unbiased observers, but I’ll move on. In the business world and in politics, I have learned a few lessons. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. We have to treat people with respect regardless of differences of opinion. It’s just the decent thing to do. Swallowing our pride, admitting when we are wrong and asking for forgiveness is painful, but necessary. Last, and of equal importance, we can’t misrepresent ourselves to look like we are better than others. That is always a losing proposition. Obviously, we who serve in the General Assembly are not perfect men and women and we don’t always meet these standards. When that happens, it is crucial that people hold us accountable to be the kind of men and women worthy of leading our Great State.
While none of us is perfect, the overwhelming majority of the men and women with whom I serve in the Georgia House of Representatives are marked by a gracious and humble spirit. We sense the weight of the responsibility given to us by our constituents. Whether it’s ministry, politics, owning small business or any other profession dealing with the public, arrogance and ignorance are the perfect recipe for disaster. Humility and intellect produces the opposite. I sincerely pray that we all learn lessons from this and use those lessons to become better legislators, and more importantly, better people.