When the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity recently ranked Georgia last in the U.S. for anti-corruption laws, I felt a weird sense of relief. It was the same sense of relief I feel when, after being sick for a few days, I get a clear diagnosis from a doctor. Being sick is miserable. Being sick, but not knowing why, adds anxiety to the original injury.
I’m not happy to live in a state with uniquely feeble anti-corruption protections. But knowing it’s the case helps explain to me why the state government is so bad at its job. The big problems ailing Georgia are no mystery. They are, in no particular order, crises of economic development, transportation, education, and water. Yet, in the waning minutes of the legislative session yesterday, our elected representatives focused instead on limiting women’s reproductive rights, cutting jobless benefits, and banning union activities that, as far as anyone can tell, no one is actually engaged in. The state legislature couldn’t seem more detached from the state’s needs if it tried.
If Georgia makes any progress towards addressing any of its major needs this year, it will be because voters pass a sales tax referendum on July 31. The state could allocate money to important metro Atlanta transportation projects if it wanted to, but it refuses.
Is ignoring the state’s most pressing issues the same as corruption? Not in a legal sense, no. But detachment and corruption come from the same source: inaccountability and insularity.
The most infuriating news story I read this week wasn’t about the awful bills that made it out of the legislature. It was the AJC’s Jim Galloway’s item Wednesday about the GOP leadership’s move to exact political vengeance on a fellow Republican who stepped out-of-line by supporting a cap on lobbyist gifts. It’s a pathetic story: a little bit mafia, a little bit frat house, a little bit Office Space. But its also a revealing story, showing how corruption begets itself.