Charlie Harper: State GOP's unforced errors

February 5, 2013 

When we elect our government officials, it's usually at the end of a campaign promising bold leadership and straight answers. What we get after the fact often is … a bit less than that.

There seems to be an annual ritual at Georgia's capitol now of one of those elected or appointed to serve the general public who not only avoids the press, but runs from them. While there are times when a full public statement may not be warranted, a "no comment" or "we'll have a statement ready for you later" said directly to the reporter or waiting camera is often better than hiding.

State Sen. Bill Heath provided this year's example of "what not to do" when being sought by the press, especially when the reporter is being followed by television cameras. Last Friday, WSB- TV political reporter Lori Geary was seeking explanation from Heath as to why Georgia Public Broadcasting hired former Majority Leader Chip Rogers as the organization's second highest paid employee.

Heath, obviously, didn't want to talk about it. So instead of talking to Geary, he ignored her and eventually hid in an office, saying through the Senate's press secretary that he didn't have time to talk because he was on his way to a committee meeting, yet remaining in partial view of Geary's camera for about 45 minutes, according to her report.

Heath was the subject of Lori Geary's attention because he replied to those signing a petition requesting Rogers be fired with a form letter informing them that they had been conned, their letters were annoying, and asking for responses was an abuse of his resources, according to the report.

Generally speaking, telling constituents that they are too dumb to avoid signing something they didn't understand and that bothering an important person while he tries to work is annoying is probably more important than not running from cameras and reporters. Doing so, especially in large volumes of pre-printed response letters, is quite likely to draw said reporters in the first place.

Heath, like many Republicans in the new super-majority, are themselves falling into a con of their own making. By condoning actions such as allowing golden parachutes for some special state employees, while the vast majority have endured furloughs and flat or reduced salaries, is hard to justify. It's better if the questions aren't asked. Because it's hard to answer a lot of them.

The group behind the petition is Better Georgia. While they have made much of their name pushing ethics reform, the group has more recently admitted that it is pushing for a "progressive" while still being hesitant to outright claim it's a new PR wing for the state's troubled Democratic party.

Regardless, their agenda is apparently to show Republicans in the most extreme and embarrassing light possible. Republicans appear all too eager to assist.

So when caught rewarding an insider to quietly go away with a $150,000 newly created but nebulously defined position, it's something Republicans would rather not talk about. Better Georgia, requiring only a bit of media savvy, generates a petition to have Rogers removed.

Instead of addressing the matter head on, Heath inflames the already existing problem by telling those on the petition that their concerns aren't valid and he is annoyed by them, presumably because Better Georgia was the vehicle used to collect them. This allows the media that too many fear are out to get them from the start to have a credible hook to ask about the matter on a new level. And instead of responding directly, the annoyed senator who believes his resources are being wasted ends up sitting next to a copier for 45 minutes hoping a reporter -- and this story -- will just go away.

There are individuals and groups who very much want to work at cross purposes for the Republican majority in Georgia's government. Being annoyed with that is no reason to give them or the press the ammunition with which to fire.

This entire situation was avoidable. But of course, that would require actions in the first place that withstand public scrutiny.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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