Trick plays over free sports tick­ets

The Covington News - - OPINION - DICK YAR­BROUGH COLUM­NIST

It looks like our leg­is­la­tors are about to lose one of their most cher­ished perks: free football tick­ets. Bless their hearts.

This is the last year lizard-loafered lob­by­ists can give leg­is­la­tors free ac­cess to see our scholar-ath­letes do their thing on Satur­day af­ter­noons across the state. A pro­hi­bi­tion against this long-revered tra­di­tion be­gins Jan. 1, as a part of an ethics re­form mea­sure that passed in the last ses­sion of the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

Let’s not give the solons too much credit here for their ran­dom act of kind­ness. Had it not been for your in­ces­sant calls and let­ters and gen­eral hell-rais­ing, I sus­pect our in­trepid pub­lic ser­vants would have punted this is­sue into the un­fore­see­able fu­ture.

But like a pos­si­ble Hail Mary pass, don’t think the game is over yet. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port by the As­so­ci­ated Press, Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem David Shafer (R-Du­luth) has asked for a le­gal opin­ion on whether em­ploy­ees of Ge­or­gia’s higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem are legally con­sid­ered lob­by­ists. If they are not, they would not be sub­ject to the new rules and per­haps could per­haps still pro­vide politi­cians with free tick­ets to ath­letic events.

If the rul­ing is that uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges in Ge­or­gia can, in fact, con­tinue to dole out free tick­ets to games that are not avail­able to rank-and-file Ge­or­gians (i.e., vot­ers), will Shafer use his con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence to elim­i­nate that loop­hole? The se­na­tor notes that he buys his own tick­ets to Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia football games. Good for him. So why wouldn’t he want to make sure the play­ing field is level for all of us — politi­cians and ple­beians?

My vote for MVP (Most Valid Per­spec­tive) goes to State Rep. Mike Cheokas (R-Amer­i­cus), vice chair­man of the House Sub­com­mit­tee on Ap­pro­pri­a­tions that over­sees the bud­get for higher ed­u­ca­tion in Ge­or­gia. Given his key po­si­tion, I sus­pect Cheokas would be a high-pro­file can­di­date for free tick­ets, but he isn’t in­ter­ested. Cheokas says he is al­ready fol­low­ing the new rules that go into ef­fect in Jan­uary.

“Yeah,” he told the As­so­ci­ated Press, “I could go ahead and ac­cept tick­ets, but what’s the point? I feel like I would not be abid­ing by the spirit of the law.” Touch- down!

Let’s as­sume that free­bies to football games are go­ing the way of the Sin­gle Wing for­ma­tion. I have a nag­ging sus­pi­cion that our leg­is­la­tors will con­sider the mat­ter of ethics re­form over and done with. What has been ac­com­plished to date came pri­mar­ily as a re­sult of your un­hap­pi­ness — to put it mildly — with re­ports of House Speaker David Ral­ston’s (R-Blue Ridge) ill-con­sid­ered trip to Ger­many with staff and fam­ily over the 2010 Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­days, courtesy of an un­reg­is­tered Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist.

Ethics re­form was not a fun topic for our in­trepid pub­lic ser­vants. You might say their hearts weren’t in it. And they got a lit­tle testy at your med­dling. I still have the names you sent me of leg­is­la­tors who ei­ther ig­nored your calls and let­ters dur­ing the de­bate or gave you a con­de­scend­ing re­sponse that bor­dered on in­sult­ing your in­tel­li­gence.

Left pretty much un­touched is the is­sue of cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. As we get closer to the next ses­sion in Jan­uary, I am go­ing to give you the steps you can take to get on the web­site of the Ge­or­gia Govern­ment Trans­parency and (ex­hale) Cam­paign Fi­nance Com­mit­tee and see who is con­tribut­ing money to leg­is­la­tors and how much. You will find a num­ber of pow- er­ful in­cum­bents rak­ing in tens of thou­sands of dollars from cor­po­ra­tions and spe­cial in­ter­est groups with­out any pos­si­bil­ity of op­po­si­tion in their next elec­tion.

Why? I sus­pect you are way ahead of me on this. The money isn’t for the leg­is­la­tor’s re­elec­tion cam­paign; it is to buy ac­cess and in­flu­ence. For ex­am­ple, watch who leads the fight in the next ses­sion against our pub­lic schools in Ge­or­gia and see who is con­tribut­ing to their cam­paigns.

Forbes Mag­a­zine re­cently did an ex­cel­lent piece on what a big busi­ness for-profit ed­u­ca­tion is be­com­ing. It is not about “school choice” and the kids. It is about the bot­tom line of ed­u­ca­tion man­age­ment com­pa­nies and their po­lit­i­cal cronies.

As for ethics re­form, giv­ing up football tick­ets is no big deal. There are still plenty of ways to in­flu­ence politi­cians. All it takes is money. If our leg­is­la­tors think the clock has run out on our in­ter­est in stronger eth­i­cal be­hav­ior, they are badly mis­taken.

They had bet­ter strap on their hel­mets be­cause We the Un­washed are still in this game.

You can reach Dick Yar­brough at yarb2400@ bell­south.net or P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ga., 31139.

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