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Crawford: Georgia voters are very forgiving
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The people we elect to Congress and the General Assembly will make important decisions each year that affect the taxing and spending of billions or even trillions of dollars.

In a logical world, you presume that voters would want to elect people who know how to handle money and can be counted upon to make wise decisions about allocating our tax dollars. If someone could not balance their own checkbook or stay current on their taxes, voters surely would consider them unqualified to handle our state and federal budgets.

In Georgia, strangely enough, that often is not the case. You would be surprised — maybe even shocked — at the number of people who aren't very good at handling their own money but get elected to office anyway so they can make decisions about handling everybody else's tax money.

This became an issue in the recent governor's race when it was reported that Nathan Deal had invested and lost a large sum of money in a business venture involving his daughter, was on the hook to pay off some sizeable bank loans and might be pushed into filing for bankruptcy at some point next year.

Deal's track record at managing his money didn't bother voters a bit - they elected him governor by a margin of more than 250,000 votes and put him in charge of balancing an $18 billion state budget.

Then there's U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, the state legislator who ran for Deal's old congressional seat in North Georgia.

In the middle of Graves' campaign, he and another legislator, state Sen. Chip Rogers of Woodstock, were sued by the Bartow County Bank over allegations they had defaulted on a $2.2 million bank loan to buy a Calhoun hotel known to locals as the "Methamphetamine 6."

The Bartow bank alleged in its court filings that Graves was "insolvent in that his liabilities exceeded his assets and he was unable to pay his obligations as they matured." The bank also accused Graves of a "fraudulent transfer" of property to frustrate the bank's efforts to pursue the debt.

Did this financial history prove troubling to voters in the 9th District? Evidently not. They elected Graves to the U.S. House twice - once in a special election and again in the general election.

This is what Graves said shortly after he was sworn in as the state's newest congressman: "The message from the hills of North Georgia to the hill of this great building is very clear: That it's time to curb spending, it's time to balance the budget."

I guess he would know something about that.

Some of our elected leaders also seem to have problems paying their income and property taxes on time.

In 2006, it was reported that state Rep. David Ralston of Blue Ridge had been slapped with a $347,318 tax lien from the IRS, with the feds alleging that he owed individual income taxes, penalties and interest from as far back as 1996.

Ralston says he has cleared up his tax situation. "I had a problem in my law office a number of years ago with an employee who was in charge of handling my finances," he told a reporter. "It didn't get handled properly. I dealt with them, paid them. Paid in full."

Those tax issues did not cause Ralston any problems with the folks back home; they kept reelecting him to the Georgia House. He also was elected speaker of the House by his legislative colleagues.

There are numerous other legislators who've drawn media scrutiny in recent years because of their tax issues, including Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, Rep. Al Williams, Sen. Vincent Fort, Sen. Lester Jackson, Sen. Robert Brown, Rep. Willie Talton and Rep. Winfred Dukes.

Each of those legislators has something in common: they were all reelected to office and will be sworn in for a new term in the General Assembly session that starts in January.

That's always been one of the most interesting aspects of Georgia politics. Even if you're not very good with money, that will never prevent you from being elected to public office. Quite the contrary: it seems to make voters more sympathetic to you.

In this season of thanksgiving, our politicians should all give thanks that voters are so forgiving.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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