I read recently in the Atlanta newspaper that our intrepid public servants just keep on going — on trips, that is.
Despite a self-congratulatory swipe at ethics reform in the last session, there seems to be nothing stopping the boys and girls of the General Assembly and assorted state bureaucrats from continuing to zip around the globe, courtesy of foreign governments and big corporations like BP and Chevron.
Kudos to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Aaron Gould Sheinin for ferreting out information on these junkets that otherwise might have remained a secret to We the Unwashed. The politicians certainly didn’t volunteer the information. When will they ever learn?
One trip that caught my eye was Savannah Republican Rep. Ron Stephens’ journey to Turkey and Azerbaijan as a guest of the Atlanta-based Istanbul Center in late May. It is just as well I didn’t know he was going. I wouldn’t have slept a wink. There has been some unrest in Turkey in recent days with people demonstrating against the government and riot police and protesters throwing rocks and lobbing tear gas at each other. As cosmopolitan as he may be, I suspect Stephens is not familiar with this kind of behavior, unless he has been to a Georgia-Florida game.
The toughest thing he will have to deal with back home is Skeeter Skates, owner of Skeeter’s Plow Repair and Tree Stump Removal in Metropolitan Pooler. When Skeeter finds out about this trip, you can bet your John Deere MP312 Plow Moldboard BA681 that he is going to give Stephens an earful. Some of it will be Skeeter’s righteous indignation at a state legislator feeling the need to go to Baku, Azerbaijan. A little bit will be that he wasn’t invited to go, too. Skeeter probably thinks he missed a golden opportunity to get a foothold in the plow repair and stump removal business in Azerbaijan.
I will admit that I was a bit curious at what benefits accrue to our state by a legislator’s visit to Azerbaijan, so I called the country’s Minister of Glad Tidings, Heydar Hiyu, a most gregarious man, to get some more information.
“We have much in common,” Heydar Hiyu said proudly. “You are in Georgia and Azerbaijan sits right next to Georgia.”
I thought he was talking about our Georgia and that maybe I had dialed Boaz, Ala., by mistake. I have been known to do things like that. It turns out Heydar Hiyu was talking about the nation of Georgia, not the Great State of Georgia.
He says that our two cultures also share a common history.
“As your state was once occupied by hostile invaders from the north, so were we ruled by authoritarian forces from Russia,” Hiyu said gravely. “And like your Yankees, as you call them, Russians who moved here were loud-talking, know-it-alls who thought we talked funny, lived on dirt roads and married our third cousins. But they wouldn’t move back to Moscow because it snows there 10 months a year and all their buildings are rusted.”
Knock me over with a feather. We have more in common with Azerbaijan than I realized.
But, I persisted, why was a state legislator from Garden City invited to Azerbaijan?
“Ah, keci beyin,” he said with a chuckle. “We knew that if you found out about his trip, you would write a news story about it and people all over your wonderful state would read it and want to come here and spend many manats.”
The minister added, “Your article might even attract some new industry for our country. We are hard-working people but to become a mighty nation like you, we need more highly-skilled artisans in our work force, particularly those who can repair plows and remove tree stumps.”
I told Hiyu that I knew just the person but I felt sure he would not consider the idea now. He was still pouting over not being invited by the Atlanta-based Istanbul Center to participate in such a critically important fact-finding trip with Stephens. Skeeter doesn’t forget such slights easily.
Hiyu, minister of glad tidings for the government of Azerbaijan, said he now realizes the Istanbul Center blew it.
He sighed. “They should have realized that globe-trotting politicians are a dime-a-dozen but a good plow repair and tree stump artisan is as hard to find as a decent bowl of cheese grits.”
I am sure that Skeeter Skates would agree with that. I certainly do.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.