Josh McKoon stops short of saying some of his best friends are lobbyists, but it might surprise you that this poster child for ethics reform thinks professional arm-twisters serve a purpose.
"I'm not trying to put anyone out of work," he said. "They have a place in a part-time legislature. I've rarely had a circumstance where a lobbyist didn't share both sides of an issue. My concern is where that exchange takes place."
McKoon, R-Columbus, wants lobbyists to do business at the state capitol, not on junkets to Las Vegas, in baited dove fields in South Georgia or in luxury sky boxes at the Georgia Dome.
That stance is popular among advocates for ethics reform, but around the General Assembly he's a marked man. He is questioning a Wild West culture that was in place before there was gold on the capitol dome.
Those who believe McKoon is politically naïve or a wild-eyed issue geek don't know him well. He's a sophomore in the senate but he has dabbled in politics since he was at Brookstone School, and, before he turned 30, he took his hometown to court over promises for a park around the public library.
When he ran two years ago, reform was among his issues.
McKoon reminded voters that Georgia was one of just three states that allowed legislators to accept unlimited gifts. Last year alone, lobbyists spent $866,747 on gifts for state lawmakers during the session. That is $9,525 a day.
His push for controlled giving has had results. Republicans supported reform at their state convention and 1.2 million voters said yes to ethics in a statewide ballot initiative. He also has the support of Senate leaders.
McKoon is not without scars though. He has battled Speaker David Ralston -- though the House leader is discussing a total ban on gifts compared to McKoon's proposal to limit them.
He has clashed with colleagues and been called out by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for scheduling a campaign fundraiser on the eve of the 2013 session that begins Jan. 14.
"Anytime you pursue something controversial you have short-term pain. But this issue is so important to so many people," he said.
"When Republicans were in the minority, we talked about the need for ethical government. Now that we control the governor's office and every Constitutional office, we're working hard to deliver competent government. Ethics reform will help us provide honest government."
He's in a hurry, and the idea that he has personal political ambitions is not far-fetched -- though that should not overshadow his convictions.
"They tell you when you get here to sit down, shut up and listen," he said. "I do a fair amount of listening so one out of three ain't bad."
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com.