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Business Casual: Turning Up The Heat

 

So it’s getting a little warm in the kitchen of public office-holding? Well, it’s supposed to. When democracy works well, the energy generates heat and light. When it doesn’t work so well, you get a surplus of hot air.

This go-around, some of the heat is likely produced by citizens’ frustration with the people who so ardently sought their votes then proceeded to act as though constituents and their needs were pesky little irritants that take them away from the important business of posturing and bickering and pontificating.

Congress couldn’t pass fiscal cliff legislation until New Year’s Eve, but members sure had time to speechify and call names – and the gall to flaunt their inability to get anything passed.

Georgia’s lawmakers of late have managed to do some good things – judicial reform last year and saving the Hope Scholarship the previous year come to mind. But they have also done some bone-headed things – HB 87, for instance, the anti-immigration law that is colossally anti-business and anti-lots of other things.

As the 2013 session was getting started, it appeared that some repair work might get done on that law to resolve some of the unintended consequences that have hairdressers, veterinarians, nurses and some business owners caught in the tangle of proving and re-proving their citizenship so they can get their licenses renewed. Not too likely the legislators will address other parts of the flawed legislation.

There are signs some ethics reform legislation may finally get passed this session – and not a minute too soon. It’s way past time to turn off the lobbying spigot splashing out free meals, free football tickets and free family vacations.

There is reason to worry about knee-jerk reaction – some of it well-intentioned – on issues of school safety following the horrific events in Connecticut in December. Several gun laws were pre-filed, although Gov. Nathan Deal indicated prior to the session that he would not get involved. Sometimes it seems our legislators have two settings – do something, anything – or do nothing. Missing, too often, is the middle ground of thoughtful debate.

Ordinary citizens are generally disgusted and disenchanted and increasingly distrustful of elected lawmakers on all levels.

Congressional approval is several notches below carnival barkers or late-night TV pitchmen hawking kitchen gadgets.

In Georgia, many see last summer’s rejection of the T-SPLOST by nine of the 12 regions in Georgia as a sign that voters were not convinced officials would spend the money allocated for transportation improvements as they were supposed to.

The charter school amendment that passed in November surely was an indication that many citizens do not trust their local school boards to spend money wisely. Board members in Clayton County and DeKalb County seem to be doing all they can to feed that distrust.

Despite past experience and evidence to the contrary, I am an optimist. Always have been. (I didn’t think Bambi’s mother would die.) I actually think I see some encouraging signs.

On the national level, there was broad bi-partisan support for scuttling Congressional salary raises in the midst of the fiscal cliff debate. (Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson has been a leading opponent of higher pay for lawmakers.) A part of the fiscal cliff deal blocked such raises.

Here at home, there were lots of off-season leadership changes; there are several new faces in the General Assembly and perhaps a sense that some lessons have been learned and some things need to change.

Ethics legislation would be a great start. The line of reasoning that goes something like, “Do you think I can be bought for a steak dinner?” is tired. Maybe you can and maybe you can’t. But let’s remove all doubt. If lawmakers can’t afford to buy their own meals, they should pack a lunch like the rest of us do.

I think most of our lawmakers are basically good people. Some of them come to office unprepared for the complexity of the issues they will be confronting; some of them are overwhelmed. I suspect it’s easy to lose touch with the real world of Georgia citizens when it seems that everyone coming your way wants something and is full of flattery and money.

Governing isn’t supposed to be easy or financially rewarding – but I’m naïve enough to believe there should be some satisfaction in a job well done. If it gets too hot in the kitchen, bring a fan.

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