After many years of observing the activities of Georgia’s politicians, I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that the state’s voters surely do like scoundrels. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t keep on electing so many of them to public office.
This tradition was best exemplified by Eugene Talmadge, the wild man from Sugar Creek who once told a campaign audience, “Sure I stole, but I stole for you!” Talmadge won every time but once when he ran for governor in the 1930s and 1940s.
This history of overlooking personal behavior and voting for someone anyway lives on today, as we have seen in several recent campaigns.
Consider the example of a couple of slick politicians from the northern part of the state, U.S. Rep. Tom Graves of Ranger and state Sen. Chip Rogers of Woodstock.
Graves and Rogers borrowed $2.25 million a few years ago from the Bartow County Bank to purchase and renovate a dilapidated motel in Calhoun that was known by the suggestive nickname, the “Methamphetamine Six.”
That project did not go well and by 2010 the Bartow County Bank was suing both of them for defaulting on the loan. The bank lawsuit also alleged that Graves transferred his home and other property into a revocable living trust “with the intent to defraud Lender in the collection of the obligations owed.”
In 2011, the bank collapsed and was sold off by regulators. The bank chairman told a reporter that the money it lent to Graves and Rogers “was one of the larger loans, and it contributed significantly (to the bank’s failure).”
This bank loan and resulting lawsuit were extensively reported by the media, but evidently didn’t cause a bit of concern among voters.
Graves won a special election for Congress in 2010 and had no opposition in the Republican primary when he ran this year. He does have a Democratic opponent in November — Fort Oglethorpe electrician Danny Grant — but Graves probably will be re-elected by a large margin.
Rogers easily defeated his primary opponent this year and has no Democratic opposition for a fifth term in the Senate.
Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, heads a company called Georgia Eagle Media that owes a substantial sum to a unit of state government that depends on Staton’s vote for its annual budget allocation.
Georgia Southern University officials have been trying for more than a year to get Georgia Eagle Media to pay $53,000 it owes from the radio broadcasts of GSU football games. Staton’s company has not paid up and the matter has been turned over to a collection agency.
Because of a Board of Regents policy, Georgia Southern is prevented from suing for the money it’s owed and could end up having to write off the debt as noncollectible.
Staton had a tougher time of it in his Republican primary, but the district’s voters still picked him over Spencer Price by a 203-vote margin. With no general election opposition, Staton has effectively won another Senate term.
We have talked in this space before about Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, who was recently fined $5,000 by the Senate Ethics Committee for submitting more than a dozen inaccurate expense claims with the state covering days on which he was actually being entertained by lobbyists.
Balfour easily disposed of two opponents in the Republican primary and district voters are expected to re-elect him over a Democratic opponent in November.
Then there’s the case of Johnnie Caldwell of Thomaston, who was once a Superior Court judge.
Caldwell resigned his judgeship abruptly in April 2010 over allegations he made sexually inappropriate remarks to a female attorney. After meeting with an investigator from the Judicial Qualifications Commission, Caldwell also signed a handwritten note promising to “never seek or accept judicial office again.”
Conduct that might force you from the bench, of course, doesn’t disqualify you from serving in the legislature.
Caldwell ran for an open legislative seat this summer and nearly 52 percent of the district’s voters chose him over Ryan Christopher in the GOP primary. With no Democratic opponent in the general election, Caldwell is assured of taking the oath of office in January to become a member of the Georgia House of Representatives.
I’m sure he’ll feel right at home.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report at gareport.com. His column appears Wednesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.