Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

The Political Vine is the home of political news, satire, rants, and rumors.

The $100,000 Question

by Bill Simon

There’s a whole lot of finger pointing going on with regard to the demise of Georgia House Speaker Glenn Richardson.

But, just like every episode of Columbo I used to watch growing-up…there’s some other place and/or some other people we (the audience) should be focusing our attention on that we are not. We are too distracted by the “obvious” stuff; that is right in front of our noses that we view on TV or read in a newspaper or read on a blog.

I recall the $300 million AGL bill fight in the 2006 Georgia General Assembly. I recall getting quite heated about it to the point of a series of angry e-mail exchanges with a few of the (male) lobbyists who pushed the bill.

Every current news article on the Web about Richardson’s resignation has the similar lead paragraph when it describes the events:

Dec 3, 2009 … Georgia House speaker to resign amid scandal … a co-sponsor of a bill that would have financed a $300-million pipeline for the company…”

“Dec 4, 2009 … Georgia’s powerful House speaker resigned Thursday after a suicide … lobbyist pushing a $300 million pipeline bill he was co-sponsoring…”

Everyone chatters about Richardson, the lobbyist, and the pipeline bill. But…there are SO many more subjects that should be explored (including the blockbuster of one on which I received several calls this afternoon about…I’ll get to that soon enough).

The 2006 $300 million gas pipeline bill was the predecessor to 2009’s Georgia Power’s SB 31 bill, which was rammed through both houses earlier this year. No doubt when that happened, AGL Resources big-wigs got together and asked “WTF? How did GaPower get theirs passed and we didn’t???”

One of the more interesting aspects of the 2006 AGL bill is who else was a “co-sponsor” of it. Do any of the following names ring a bell?

Lead Sponsor: Jeff Lewis (R-No longer in House)

#2 Sponsor: Mark Burkhalter (R-Speaker Pro Tem)

#3 Sponsor: Glenn Richardson (R-Speaker, Resigned)

#4 Sponsor: Jerry Keen (R-Majority Leader)

#5 Sponsor: Don Wix (D-Token Democrat Sponsor)

The bill was HB 1325. It passed the House on February 22, 2006 by a vote of 110 Y to 59 N. It died in the Senate, thankfully.

Who Knew & When Did They Know?

In one of the e-mails described in Dale Russell’s interview with Susan Richardson earlier this week is this little blurb concerning the lobbyist involved with Glenn Richardson: “the woman wrote that she was afraid her Atlanta Gas Light boss would fire her…”[Susan] Richardson said her ex-husband responded, “He will not fire you!! I can and will bring all hell down on them if they do.”

You folks are all concentrating on what Glenn threatened he’d do because that sounds quite outlandish. And, it is, of course.

But…more telling is the context in which the lobbyist was writing to Glenn about back then in 2006. Rumor has it that in some of those e-mails written by the lobbyist to Glenn, she describes what was going on at AGL Resources’ government relations department…and what was going on there was that an employee who worked in the PR department of AGL Resources had discovered the affair on his/her own and was making noises about blowing the whistle on it.

That employee is rumored to have been offered a $100,000 severance package with AGL if she kept his/her mouth shut and he/she signed a confidentiality agreement to not disclose what he/she knew about the affair, and he/she just happened to quickly find a new position to work…in none other than Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter’s office, fellow co-sponsor of the AGL bill (and, the man who claims he knew “nothing” about the affair in today’s papers).

Now, you may think that a $100,000 payoff is just “political business as usual.” I find it rather disturbing, actually. Disturbing to the point of wondering if this is legal for a public utility to use shareholder money to “hush” someone up while it is attempting to maneuver an entire state government to bend to its will?

If AGL did get knowledge of the affair between the Speaker and one of their female lobbyists, used money to pay-off someone’s silence, and did not remove the bill they were pushing forward…is there anything out of whack about this? One of my callers today suggested that a “bribe of sex is akin to a bribe of money…and if a bribe is involved, maybe the state or federal RICO laws have been violated.”

Hmmm…RICO? Well, I am not a lawyer. Nor a prosecutor. So, I dunno about silly things like “laws.” Maybe someone else does? Like, I dunno, a legislator? Nahhh…what an absurd thought.

While it may not have been the utility who directed the affair to occur, at some point when one discovers knowledge of the affair, and acts to cover it up (i.e., if the $100,000 severance was actually offered and paid), at some point it becomes incumbent on someone to “do the right thing.” And, based on the successful vote that occured in the House in 2006 for the AGL bill, it looks a lot like no one did the “right thing” except cover their own ass, kiss the ass of someone else, and, of course, enjoy someone else’s piece of ass. (Sorry, kiddies, the PV is X-Rated. If you are offended by this, you are too short to go on this roller-coaster ride to start with. Please step away, we’ve already left the station.)

Everyone, including Mark Burkhalter (who gave the departing AGL employee immediate employment), sought to cover-up the whole mess, all because the Speaker had a girlfriend…to the detriment of the ENTIRE state of Georgia. Even though the bill did not pass the state senate, it passed the House under the auspice that it was “good for Georgia,” when it was REALLY only good for the true beneficiaries: AGL and their lobbyists, who were promised beaucoup bonus money if it passed.

If You Love Corruption, & Want More of it, Vote For Burkhalter!

Those members of the House who think Mark Burkhalter will bring “stability” and “moral rectitude” to the assembly are, seriously, on dope. Replacing Richardson with Burkhalter is akin to replacing Newt Gingrich with Bob Livingston in 1998.

The AGL love affair cover-up is not the only example of Burkhalter’s involvement in something that stinks. I find it strange that Burkhalter is the only legislator I’ve heard the same consistent subject matter about over the years…and that subject matter involves something pretty sleazy. Every. Single. Time. And, it did not begin and end with the “Stripper-Gate” of the late 1990s.

BUT…I know…dumber moves have been made before…the world apparently has an infinite capacity for asinine political moves, so y’all have fun down there in Caligula’s Rome if Burkhalter becomes permanent Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.

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Today's Deep Thought

For mad scientists who keep brains in jars, here's a tip: why not add a slice of lemon to each jar, for freshness?


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