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Crawford: Questions loom on political landscape
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Now that we are turning the corner on summer and moving into the fall season, let’s try to answer some of the questions hanging over Georgia’s political landscape.

Question: Do media scandals harm a politician?

In the case of some politicians, maybe not. Several months ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published hard-hitting articles detailing how more than $100,000 in political contributions were funneled to Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, a Republican candidate for governor, through political action committees set up in Alabama.

The story hinted that Oxendine, who has regulatory authority over insurance companies operating in Georgia, was shaking down the companies for campaign contributions, an allegation that has followed him throughout his tenure as insurance commissioner. The AJC’s reporting was solid enough that Oxendine agreed to return $120,000 in questionable donations.

The resulting publicity, however, does not appear to have hurt Oxendine’s standing in the Republican primary for governor. Recent polls have consistently showed him well ahead of the other GOP candidates with 38 or 39 percent support among his party’s voters.

Another Republican candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal of Gainesville, was the subject of another front-page article in the AJC that described how he allegedly tried to influence state officials to continue with a profitable business arrangement involving Deal’s auto salvage business.

The story said Deal even was able to have his close friend and political ally, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, haul revenue commissioner Bart Graham into a meeting with Deal in Cagle’s capitol office to discuss the matter.

The article did not reflect well on Deal, but it’s too early to tell if he will emerge unscathed in the polls, as Oxendine did.

Question: Does money deliver the votes?

There does seem to be a very strong correlation between lobbyist money and congressional opposition to the health insurance reform bill that is coming up for debate this fall.

The health care industry and its lobbyists, according to some estimates, are spending an average of $1.4 million every day to try to defeat several aspects of the proposed health care plan, including a "public option" that would provide government-funded health insurance coverage for people who don’t have it.

The biggest recipients of health care industry dollars among Georgia’s congressmen are Republican Rep. Tom Price (who has received nearly $2.4 million in campaign contributions from the health care sector) and Rep. Phil Gingrey (who’s received $1.87 million from the same source). Price and Gingrey have been the most outspoken opponents of the health care reform bill, along with Deal (who has received more than $1.5 million in health care industry contributions).

Reps. John Barrow and Jim Marshall are Blue Dog Democrats who have opposed the Democratic version of the health care plan. They have also received a lot of money from the health care sector ($462,000 for Marshall and $360,000 for Barrow).

The Georgia congressman who most strongly supports a health insurance bill with a public option is Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson. Johnson has also received less campaign money (only $51,752) from health care lobbyists than anyone else in the delegation.

Look at the numbers and draw your own conclusions.

Question: We’ve heard a lot of bad news about the state budget. Is there any good news?

Over the past week there have been some positive developments here.

The seven justices of the Georgia Supreme Court have agreed to take three furlough days without pay between now and Dec. 31, as regular state employees are already required to do.

The state constitution prohibits judges’ salaries from being lowered, but it does not prevent judges from voluntarily returning a portion of their pay. That gesture will save the state a few thousand dollars, at least.

Attorney General Thurbert Baker also announced a settlement of fraud allegations against the drug manufacturer Pfizer that will result in Georgia receiving $21.7 million that presumably can be used to pay Medicaid expenses.

Baker said the $21.7 million would be enough money to pay for Medicaid coverage for more than 8,900 non-disabled children or take care of all treatment costs related to treating Medicaid cancer patients between the ages of 18-44.

In the overall context of an $18 billion state budget, neither sum represents a lot of money, but at least it’s a start. Sometimes, small victories are the best you can hope for.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays.