To arms! To arms! The legislature is coming, the legislature is coming!
I thought Paul Revere would have shared the news with you, but he seems to think it is more important that you know about the British, who can’t be anywhere near as prone to mischief as our intrepid public servants. Just to be on the safe side, you might want to hide the silverware from now until our boys and girls come back home from the gold dome in March to tell us what a swell job they did on our behalf.
If they mention that while there they did indeed take a trip to a posh resort to play golf with a lizard-loafered lobbyist and were feted several times at a swanky Atlanta eatery and accepted generous contributions to their campaign coffers from deep-pocketed, out-of-state special interest groups but that none of these trivialities in any shape, form or fashion influenced how they voted on any issue because they are there to serve you — throw up on their shoes.
Given that statewide elections are set to occur in 2018, you will see more than the usual amount of political posturing this session as potential candidates for higher office strut their stuff, trying to convince you and me that they have what it takes to be our next generation of leaders. Just remember that the more you see a legislator blathering on the evening news during the session, the more suspicious you should be. They are clearly running for something bigger than their current job and have their interests at heart, not yours.
Against this backdrop, Gov. Nathan Deal has presented his legislative agenda, including a long-awaited education reform package. As for what the governor is proposing in that regard, perhaps the overwhelming defeat of Amendment 1 last fall that would have authorized a state takeover of public schools deemed to be failing will have served as a learning lesson to the governor’s team this time around.
They don’t like to hear this — trust me on that — but they were outhustled by the opposition. The defeat was blamed on the national teachers’ union, but I suggest it was a combination of the Georgia PTA, civil rights groups, newspaper editorials and tired-of-being-a-punching-bag teachers that was most responsible.
I reach more teachers in Georgia weekly than any writer in the state. I write about public education issues as much as anyone in the state. I had the privilege of serving as a member of the governor’s Education Reform Commission. I have three public teachers in my family. Yet, I never heard from anyone on why Amendment 1 would benefit public education. The opposition covered me up with information as to why the amendment would not benefit public education. Go figure.
Deal no doubt will be well-remembered for his successful efforts to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system. (Note: I am a board member of The Department of Juvenile Justice.) Today, Georgia is regarded as a national leader in criminal justice reform and gets high marks from both conservative and liberal groups for its innovations.
I am sure the governor would like to do the same with education reform, but between a wary education community, Kool-Aid-drinking ideologues who are looking for any opportunity to dismantle public education and demagogues miffed that the “Religious Liberty” and “Guns Anywhere Except the State Capitol” bills were vetoed by the governor, education reform is going to be a challenge this session.
Know this about Deal: Underestimate him at your own risk. He may be winding down his second and final term and may be considered by some as a lame duck, but the governor of Georgia — any governor — has a lot of power inherent in the office to reward his friends and punish his foes.
On a personal note, this will be the first legislative session in 16 years without Rep. Joe Wilkinson of Sandy Springs, who decided to step out of the political sausage-making business and move on with his life. Good for him. Wilkinson never missed one day of the session in those 16 years, even when undergoing a series of radiation treatments for cancer which, thankfully, were successful. Wilkinson took his job seriously, but not himself. A rare breed in politics.
Now, if you will excuse me, I must go. Some guy in a cocked hat just rode by on a horse and told me the legislature is coming! Time to hide the silverware.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column regularly appears Saturdays. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; via his website; or Facebook.