Two candidates for governor - Secretary of State Karen Handel, Republican, and state Rep. Rob Teilhet, Democrat of Marietta - joined the reform surge created by revelations about House Speaker Glenn Richardson whose ex-wife says he was having an affair with a female lobbyist while sponsoring legislation to benefit her employer.
Both Handel and Teilhet support junking the useless setup that now allows members of the General Assembly to "police" themselves when it comes to conflicts of interest. Instead, the candidates propose that the state Ethics Commission have the policing authority.
Democrat Gary Horlacher, a Peachtree City attorney who is running for secretary of state, has a detailed plan that could bring change we can believe in.
Horlacher has been beating the drum for ethics reform in guest editorials, ticking off the brazen systematic steps by legislative leaders and the governor to control and/or disarm the state Ethics Commission.
Horlacher's plan would take the authority to appoint commission members from the governor, a Senate committee and the House Speaker, and vest the power in the Georgia Supreme Court; "restore and clarify the ... commission's authority to investigate and fine inappropriate legislative conduct, ....restore the independent rulemaking authority of the commission," and set up an independent funding source to eliminate political influence in the budget process, among other needed changes.
It's similar to the long-held position of Common Cause of Georgia which has been fighting in the trenches session after session to get real change in state ethics law. After the Richardson fiasco came to light, the advocacy group said:
"The General Assembly should revisit that issue in 2010 and enact laws which give the authority to investigate to an independent body. That provision was in Governor Perdue's ethics reform package in 2005, but was stripped out by the House under Richardson's direction."
Former state Rep. Charles Jenkins, Blairsville Democrat, cautioned via e-mail:
"Don't hold your breath if you think legislation will be passed eliminating lobbyist gifts to the legislators in the General Assembly. I served in the House for about three terms and made an attempt to cut gifts to legislators to zero.
"During my tenure, I did not accept any gifts of significant value.... If I decide to run in the next election, my campaign pledge will be to eliminate any gifts offered by lobbyists. As you know, a major problem in national politics involves contributions from PACs, gifts, free trips, etc., and this problem carries over to local politics. Until action is taken to correct this corrupt system, the problem will remain."
Another proposal came from Bill Poston who wrote:
"Georgia desperately needs ethics reforms, but why not push reform back to the Georgia 1945 Constitution?"
Section II, Paragraph 5 of the old constitution reads: "Lobbying is declared to be a crime, and the General Assembly shall enforce this provision by suitable penalties."
Now that's reform with real teeth.