State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is a politician who’s had a lot of things going his way.
He enjoys an enviable public image as a legislator who worked successfully to legalize medical cannabis as a means to ease the suffering of chronically ill children and bring displaced families back to Georgia.
He is the chairman of a blue-ribbon commission exploring the possibility of cultivating marijuana in-state so that people who need cannabis oil for medical treatments can more easily obtain it.
He has moved up the leadership ranks in the Georgia House and was exploring the possibility of running for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Those political plans will have to be reassessed, however, after the recent disclosure that Peake once had an account with the Ashley Madison website that was created to help married people have extramarital affairs.
After computer hackers stole data about Ashley Madison clients and posted the information online, Peake sent an email to friends and family members explaining his situation. It didn’t take long for the email to be leaked to the media.
“Several years ago,” he wrote, “I was on this site during a very difficult period in my marriage. It was stupid and I was an idiot for going on there. Two and a half years ago I told her (his wife) about every detail of my involvement on this site.”
Peake said he and his wife have been able to save their marriage. His political career is another matter — he indicated he would decide by early next year whether he will run for another term in office.
This incident is another reminder that elected officials are human beings, just as susceptible to temptation as anyone else. There have been other instances when Georgia politicians got involved in controversies involving sex or money.
Sometimes the voters can be very forgiving. Sometimes they are not.
When former Attorney General Mike Bowers ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 1998, he acknowledged having a long-term affair with a woman who had been his secretary. Although Bowers would have been a strong candidate against Roy Barnes in the general election that year, voters in the GOP primary chose Guy Millner instead.
Glenn Richardson, the first modern-day Republican to serve as speaker of the Georgia House, was ruined in 2009 when his former wife told a TV reporter that Richardson had an affair with a female lobbyist.
Richardson was forced to give up the speaker’s job and resigned from the legislature. When he tried to make a comeback by running in a special election for the state Senate, he finished third in a four-candidate race with less than 15 percent of the vote.
Two other legislators, by contrast, didn’t suffer any political damage from the publicity resulting from an embarrassing lawsuit their bank filed against them.
Tom Graves, who was then a member of the Georgia House, and state Sen. Chip Rogers borrowed $2.25 million in 2009 from the Bartow County Bank to purchase and renovate a dilapidated motel in North Georgia that had the nickname of the “Methamphetamine Six.”
Their business project did not go well, however, and in 2010 the bank sued both of them for allegedly defaulting on the loan. The bank’s lawsuit also charged 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.”
The Bartow County Bank subsequently collapsed and was closed by regulators. The bank chairman later told a reporter that the money loaned to Graves and Rogers “was one of the larger loans, and it contributed significantly (to the bank’s failure).”
The media coverage of this financial controversy did not end the political careers of either of the legislators. Rogers was re-elected to the Georgia Senate and Graves won a special election for a congressional seat that he still holds.
If the voters were upset by the financial problems of either Graves or Rogers, they did a good job of disguising it.
Peake is a very likable person who has accomplished some positive things for Georgians in the political arena. If he should decide he wants to continue in politics, perhaps the voters will agree to let him stay. It has happened before.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.