Political Notes – Don Parsons may have a bullseye on his back

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Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), an 18-year veteran of the Georgia House, appears to be the latest Cobb County legislator to be targeted in the editorial gunsights of the Marietta Daily Journal.

Parsons’ hometown newspaper has been carrying on an aggressive crusade against the Cobb EMC for the past few years and the Journal can claim some success in its efforts, stirring up a revolt among EMC members that helped oust several members of the utility’s board of directors.

The MDJ published an article over the weekend that took Parsons to task for supposedly standing in the way of legislation that would have reformed some of the management practices of the state’s EMCs. As written by Jon Gillooly:

The burning point for several of Parsons’ constituents relates to a piece of legislation that was born and died in the 2011 session of the General Assembly. Last year, state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) filed House Bill 316 that would have required all of Georgia’s electric membership corporations to comply with Georgia’s open meetings laws. Parsons said that while the bill did not specifically target Cobb EMC, he believes it was filed because of the local controversy in recent years.

As chairman of the committee to which the bill was assigned, Parsons said he formed a subcommittee to review it. A public hearing on the bill in March 2011 lasted about three hours with a few dozen people from Cobb, including members of Cobb EMC, speaking.

“It was the desire of the subcommittee to not do anything and not to move it,” Parsons said. “That was their decision, not my decision.”

That’s not how others recall it.

Fletcher Thompson of east Cobb, a former U.S. representative, said he himself drafted some proposed changes to the law and testified at the hearing.

“The Georgia code allows complete secrecy in the operation of EMCs,” Thompson said. “They can refuse to let members see any document” — which is what he wants to see changed.

Thompson said he presented his proposal to his representatives, including state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb) and state Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), among others.

“Sharon Cooper, she was very responsive and she put her name on Wendell’s bill, which I thought was very good, and she told me that she had more pressure put on her to take her name off that bill than she’s had on any other bill and she refused to do it.”

Thompson said he couldn’t get Cooper to tell him who was pressuring her so heavily, but he suspects it was House Speaker David Ralston.

“Somebody was lobbying very strongly the State Senate and the House of Representatives not to do anything about openness of EMCs. EMCs certainly have their own lobby and they do not want any changes in the Georgia law. They like the idea of being able to operate in secrecy and probably most of them are doing a good job,” Thompson said. “We had a bad apple here in Cobb County that’s cost us a lot of money and we haven’t had dividends that should have been paid to us. I cannot help but feel that some of the leadership … have been influenced by outside people to see that nothing is done.”

Pat Henry of east Cobb, a grandmother of four and a member of both Cobb EMC and the Georgia Tea Party, was also at that hearing and recalls Parsons as clearly “disinterested.”

“He wasn’t listening,” Henry said. “He wasn’t paying attention. Everyone who testified had all these papers and facts and figures and all. Everybody was testifying about not being able to be heard at board meetings, not hearing back from these people. Then the lobbyist for Cobb EMC went up to him at the end and said, ‘Everything you heard here is lies, and I’ll talk to you in private.’ I have lived here since 1980 and here is a man who has been my legislator since 1994. I’ve never once heard from him, and he’s going to meet with a lobbyist in private who I pay for? He’s got issues. He’s got real issues. A long time ago he should have been out.”

The tone of that article suggests that the Daily Journal could now be going to war against Parsons, which may be troublesome to his reelection efforts.

A couple of years ago, the Otis Brumby-owned newspaper mounted another journalistic crusade against state senator John Wiles, publishing a long series of articles about a teenage drinking party in Marietta that reflected poorly on Wiles. Wiles subsequently was defeated in the 2010 Republican primary by Lindsey Tippins.

‘Give up the goodies’

The Gainesville Times editorial page has added its voice in support of legislation that would place a limitation on the amount of money that lobbyists could spend to entertain members of the General Assembly.

Said the Times in its Sunday edition:

House Speaker David Ralston believes such limits are not needed as long as Georgians can check the bounty their lawmakers receive. That was the centerpiece of reform passed in 2010, Ralston’s first year with the gavel, and he seems to feel it is adequate.

In theory, maybe. But loopholes in how lobbyists report expenditures remain, and they don’t always get reported. Such was the case this year when $16,000 spent on the Wild Hog Supper showed up only as $7,677 because a nonprofit agricultural group paid most of it.

This shows why mere transparency is not enough, and why the best way to restore trust in government is to clamp down on such expenses at the source.

Yet Ralston believes it an insult to the good people of the legislature to assume they can be influenced by the meals, golf outings, sports tickets and other lavish items stuffed in their pockets by those who seek to guide legislation.

Fine. Then get rid of highway speed limits and assume the “good people” of Georgia will drive at a safe speed. Take the locks off all government buildings, knowing “good people” would not break in. If he feels legislators can be kept the honor system, that same code should suffice for the rest of us. But if we acknowledge that human beings can be tempted, it’s best to remove such temptation.

Ralston and those who share his views fail to see the public’s perception on this issue. No one is calling them all dishonest, but the public’s opinion of politicians is not very high right now. With 236 people serving in the legislature, it only takes a few wayward souls abusing their privilege to taint the whole assembly. He should know that and bow to the will of the majority; more than 80 percent of Georgians in a recent poll support limits on gifts.

Fish flopping

Former governor Sonny Perdue’s “Go Fish” initiative, which has been savaged in various media accounts for failing to live up to its highly touted expectations, comes under critical examination again from Wayne Crenshaw of the Macon Telegraph.

Crenshaw reported in Sunday’s edition:

When state officials announced plans to build the Go Fish Georgia Educational Center in Perry in 2007, they predicted annual attendance of 200,000.

By the time it opened in October 2010, the projection had dropped to 100,000. As it turned out, even that was too ambitious.

The center in reality drew about 15,000 in its first 12 months of operation, giving plenty of ammunition to those who criticized then-Gov. Sonny Perdue for spending $19 million on the center and statewide mega-boat ramp construction during a budget crisis. Cutbacks at the time included furloughs and layoffs of state employees.

The boat ramps, which included large parking areas, were intended to draw fishing tournaments to the state. Some argue the results of that have been dubious, with 14 of the 17 boat ramps completed and only five hosting tournaments. . . .

Some have questioned the economic impact projections the state has offered for the tournaments, but [Sen. Ross] Tolleson said even if those projections are off, he believes the actual impact is worth the investment.

Each ramp cost $800,000 to $1 million with the state putting up $400,000 and the rest coming from local communities. Tolleson said once constructed, the ramps do not carry any ongoing costs.

“There is big business in fishing,” he said. “The local communities can market those, and you have people coming in and eating in restaurants and staying in hotels.”

He said there has been no effort to remove Go Fish funding from this year’s budget.

Lawyer awards

The Anti-Defamation League gave out its annual jurisprudence awards Monday recognizing the work of outstanding Atlanta attorneys, including –

Lifetime Achievement Award: Joseph Bankoff, former senior partner of King & Spalding and current president of the Woodruff Arts Center.

Elbert P. Tuttle Jurisprudence Award: Teresa Wynn Roseborough, general counsel for Home Depot.

Stuart Eizenstat Young Lawyer Award: Payal Kapoor, staff attorney at the Health Law Partnership; and Michael Lucas, director of housing and consumer programs for the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation.

© 2012 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: ADL lawyer awards , Cobb EMC , Don Parsons , Go Fish , Marietta Daily Journal , Sonny Perdue