Human Behavior

There is definitely no logic to human behavior.

The scandals never stop

icon_pie_in_face.jpgA few days before Republican members of the Georgia House caucused to nominate a replacement for the lobbyist-romancing Glenn Richardson as speaker, a Democratic strategist summed up the worst-case scenario for his party:

“The worst thing that could happen to Democrats is for Republicans to elect someone honest as speaker,” he said.


Is that what happened on Thursday when GOP lawmakers picked Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) as their nominee for speaker? It’s too early to know. It appears that Republicans at least cut their losses when they opted for Ralston rather than Rep. Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire).

O’Neal is an amiable fellow on a personal level and one of the smartest attorneys serving in the House of Representatives. But he still is carrying a lot of personal baggage from events that happened nearly five years ago, when he engineered the passage of a bill that gave his friend and real estate client Sonny Perdue a humongous tax break worth an estimated $100,000.

That tax break became an issue in the race for speaker, with some lawmakers arguing that it was ridiculous to claim you were making a clean break from the scandals of Richardson if you then turned around and replaced him with someone who finagled a lucrative tax deal for a powerful client.

O’Neal tried to neutralize that argument, sending an email to lawmakers in which he revealed:

The IRS sent a team of federal auditors to conduct a full forensic audit of every aspect of this land issue transaction. It was a multi-week, full-blown, on-site examination.

The result was that the IRS made zero adjustment to the taxes involved [for Perdue] and exonerated me once and for all for any wrongdoing in this matter.

O’Neal was skirting the real issue here. The IRS may well have ruled that the tax break given to Perdue was technically legal, but that does not change the fact that the manner in which the bill passed was highly unethical and dishonest.

Ralston had some major tax problems of his own a few years ago, problems that he attributed to an embezzling employee in his law firm. Ralston ordered a forensic audit of his books and then paid the government the delinquent taxes he owed. That may well have given him just enough of a margin among House Republicans to defeat O’Neal.

Regardless of how Ralston’s tenure as speaker works out, this has not been a happy holiday season for Republicans who hold the reins of power at the capitol. One after another, embarrassing scandals have thrown a harsh light on the ethical shortcomings of the state’s political leaders.

Richardson’s divorced wife dropped the first bomb when she went on TV and confirmed that, yes, those rumors you heard for the past three years were true. The speaker had a “full-out affair” with an Atlanta Gas Light lobbyist while he was sponsoring legislation that would benefit the gas company.

It didn’t take long for pressure from within the House Republican ranks to force Richardson to step down as speaker. The second in command, Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter, at first indicated he would step up and replace Richardson on a long-term basis.

On the day after Richardson quit, Burkhalter granted an interview to Lori Geary of WSB-TV and was aggressively questioned about his own conduct. Burkhalter stumbled through his answer to the most pointed question.

Geary: “No skeletons in your closet that we should be worried about: lobbyist affairs, or children out of wedlock, anything like that?”

Burkhalter: “Everybody’s going to say something out there. You know, I — I’m very comfortable in my own skin and, and, uh, I sleep just fine at night and, uh, no, you won’t see any, any innuendo like you’re referencing there.”

Three days after that interview was aired, Burkhalter abruptly told his colleagues he had changed his mind and wasn’t going to run for speaker after all.

The disclosures kept coming. A Carrollton newspaper and an Atlanta TV station reported that Rep. Mark Butler (R-Carrollton) had an affair that lasted more than two years with a woman who worked as a lobbyist for the University of West Georgia.

When Butler learned that his girlfriend’s job had been eliminated, he got on the phone with a university official and warned him that he “had ticked off a whole political party” by dismissing the lobbyist. (In fairness to Butler, he was unmarried during his relationship with the university lobbyist.)

WSB-TV then aired a report about Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, the Republican frontrunner for governor, attending the 2007 and 2008 Oscar award ceremonies in Hollywood while an Atlanta doctor paid the expenses.

Oxendine’s expenses included a room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, limousine service, and meals at restaurants like Spago’s. The Atlanta doctor who picked up the tab for the trips, coincidentally, had also asked Oxendine’s insurance department to help him in a dispute with a health insurance company.

Oxendine’s campaign spokesman did not dispute the facts of the TV report, but said the expenditures did not violate any campaign laws.

“The only relevant part of the WSB story was the line where the reporter acknowledged there was nothing illegal on John’s part,” said Tim Echols, Oxendine’s campaign manager. “John continues to campaign across Georgia talking about the Contract with Georgia and offering positive solutions to the issues before Georgia.”

There seems to be a new scandal breaking every couple of days, with the end not yet in sight. Republicans may have made the best possible choice to replace the disgraced Glenn Richardson as speaker, but in the process they’ve put quite a lot of ammunition in the hands of Democratic Party operatives and campaign consultants.

Tags: David Ralston , Glenn Richardson , House speaker , Larry O\'Neal , Republican scandals

3 Comments

  1. Mouth of the South
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I consider the tax break that dogged O’Neal and prevented him from becoming speaker and giving us two Perdue’s instead of one to be the last victory of the Taylor for Governor campaign in 2006. Might not have one, but let the whole state know what kind of sordid mess the Republican party in Georgia is. It hurt Taylor to bring it up, but maybe it laid the ground work for a successful run this time around.

  2. J.M. Prince
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    “On the day after Richardson quit, Burkhalter granted an interview to Lori Geary of WSB-TV and was aggressively questioned about his own conduct. Burkhalter stumbled through his answer to the most pointed question”.

    Geary: “No skeletons in your closet that we should be worried about: lobbyist affairs, or children out of wedlock, anything like that?”

    Burkhalter: “Everybody’s going to say something out there. You know, I — I’m very comfortable in my own skin and, and, uh, I sleep just fine at night and, uh, no, you won’t see any, any innuendo like you’re referencing there.”

    It’s a very simple question that really deserves an answer, besides Burkhalter’s ‘Mmm…Hummna Hummna…’. (Cue a ridiculous looking shame faced Jackie Gleason trying to hide something from wife Alice on the old ‘Honeymooners’). But as of yet? There’s just been none. Just the standard issue GOP political crony cover-up. Which seems to be ever successful and effective with most of the media. As of yet. Years on. That’s the bottom line here. One of many. but thanks for noticing. JMP

  3. Mel
    Posted December 24, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I’m told the new guy has some “personal baggage” as well. Rumors of sexual misconduct and various mistresses (at least one of whom was given a house), are often repeated in his district. If true, look for him to fall into the same trap set for his predecessor.

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