Let me say up front that Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, who is running for lieutenant governor, and I haven’t been the closest of buddies. I didn’t like the way he and his cohort, Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, gutted an otherwise much-needed adoption bill last year with some end-of-the-session shenanigans, holding the bill hostage in a clumsy political effort to ensure mission-based adoption agencies did not have to place children with same-sex parents.
This year, the bill, under the pugnacious management of Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, passed overwhelmingly and has been signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal. Ligon has put his concerns into a separate measure, yet to pass, which he should have done last year.
Since that time, Shafer has resigned as president pro tempore of the Senate to make his run for the state’s second highest office. I know Ligon remains a busy guy because I read his screeds in the papers in which this column appears around the state, trying to convince you that I don’t know what I am talking about. The Woman Who Shares My Name could have told him that a long time ago and spared him the adjectives.
As for Shafer, I was on the floor of the Senate a couple of years ago when he paid tribute to the late Dick Pettys, longtime Associated Press reporter and a highly respected member of the state press corps. The occasion was the unveiling of a portrait of Pettys to be hung in the press room at the Capitol. Fittingly, he recognized members of the Pettys family but never mentioned the artist who stood proudly by the painting he had labored on for months.
The artist? Me. The guy whose column appears in his local paper and has for a number of years. I felt like a tree stump.
Of course, we all know he didn’t write a word of the perfunctory tribute and probably hadn’t seen it until someone put it in his hands, but having been around the political block a few times, I found that a bit off-putting. If I were planning on running for higher office, I’d be sure I knew me.
To his and his tone-deaf staff’s credit, he did discover me after I went ballistic on the Senate’s handling — or mishandling — of the adoption bill strongly supported by Gov. Deal and House Speaker David Ralston. Shafer wasn’t too pleased with my opinions and said so. At least he now knows who I am. I love happy endings.
As of this writing, Shafer has a bigger problem than the feelings of an opinionated thin-skinned columnist who can paint a lick. He has been accused of sexual harassment by a veteran female lobbyist. Shafer strongly denies the charge.
While the rumors have been swirling around for quite a while — even I had heard them — I find it interesting that the news broke the day after the senator announced his intention to run for lieutenant governor. A political “gotcha?”
The lobbyist, a 20-year capitol veteran, said that after helping her get a bill passed in 2011, Shafer made a number of explicit sexual suggestions to her. The lobbyist said his behavior became “brazen and alarming.” She has since hired noted defense attorney Bruce Harvey to represent her. Harvey says, “We stand behind every allegation in that complaint.”
Shafer says the lobbyist is “an attention-seeking wannabe trying to settle an old score.” His administrative aide says in an affidavit that the senator told her 15 years ago to never allow the lobbyist to meet with him without a staff member present.
So who is right and who is not? No rush to judgment, please. The last time I looked at the U.S. Constitution, we are all deemed innocent until proven guilty, and that includes Shafer.
The most disturbing aspect of this whole matter is that we have no way of judging who is telling the truth because the legislature plays by a different set of rules than the ones they impose on We the Unwashed. The Georgia General Assembly exempts itself from the Georgia Open Records Act. Complaints such as the one filed against Shafer are dealt with in secret. Think fox guarding henhouse door.
This doesn’t serve Shafer or his political aspirations well. He needs to get this out in the open and satisfy us that the charges are false or he needs to drop out of the race. I hope he is listening.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/opinion. Contact him by email or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; via his website; or his Facebook page.