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Thanks, Glenn, for the show

As Thanksgiving approaches, we should find a way to show our appreciation to House Speaker Glenn "Romeo" Richardson and his loyal House members.

They have given us a most entertaining year. Richardson is easily the wildest and woolliest speaker in state history. His personal behavior has been a wide-open scandal. His professional conduct raises questions about his lucidness. By any standard, Romeo has been a barrel of fun, leaving us without a dull moment in the Statehouse. His House members, Democrats and Republicans, deserve recognition too. Any other state House in the country would have sacked and silenced a speaker of Romeo's stripe.

Not Georgia's House. Its members see the value of keeping around a guy who has us laughing or crying all the time. When someone sends in a complaint about Richardson's conduct, the Legislative ethics boys shred it immediately, and the show goes on.

Now let's consider a gift of thanks for Glenn, one that will show our lasting gratitude, yet also provide him benefits and improve his life.

How about the latest edition of "The Saltpeter Diet"?

Nah. Most of the guys in the Legislature wouldn't want a gift like that. They'd just stick it in a hotel room drawer right next to the Gideon Bible and keep on truckin'. I mean, why do you think this crowd fights so hard to win elections? It's so they can continue to rock in Atlanta. Sometimes the partying gets a bit rowdy - like the last legislative romp in which one lobbyist chopped another's ear off with a broken beer bottle.

There is only one gift truly suitable for Glenn, one that would keep on giving, and one that his colleagues must help provide.

Listen closely, because this may shock you. Speaker Richardson should be handed a scalding defeat of his GREAT tax bill - the most far-reaching tax reform offered in Georgia since Lord Oglethorpe offloaded a cargo of English deadbeats in Savannah.

As presently envisioned, Richardson's GREAT bill would eliminate property taxes. An "enhanced" sales tax would finance government. The bill would eliminate nearly all sales tax exemptions and impose a tax on most services.

We wish we could give you more precise details. However, the GREAT tax bill is like the Blob from outer space. It keeps changing shape and growing bigger with every passing day.

You may ask how dumping Romeo's GREAT tax plan would help and honor the speaker.

Think about it. Glenn would walk away from such a defeat as a martyr. I can see the news now: The man who tried to kill property taxes is cut down by his treacherous colleagues. The brave soul who tried to defy the status quo is left beaten and bloody. Of course, Glenn would rise up bigger than ever and return to the political scene by popular demand. As a candidate for governor, he would never let voters or his opponents forget: "I tried to lower your taxes, and they wouldn't let me. Elect me governor, and I promise to wipe out the evil property tax."

See what the gift of defeat would give Glenn: a golden key to the governor's office. No more dull old Sonny Perdue. The curtain would rise on Fun Time with Romeo in the Gold Dome. The ghost of Huey Long would wander the halls. Glenn's guys would bring on the dancing girls and get a bigger shredder for the ethics complaints.

Ah, but there is a risky side to our gift-giving. Suppose our plan is too complex for your average House member to comprehend. Suppose your hometown legislator decides that the best way to honor Glenn is to pass the GREAT tax plan, vote again to override any veto and then support a referendum to implement it.

That would be the worst thing that could happen to Romeo - and perhaps to all of Georgia. Overnight, chaos would reign. With the GREAT tax plan in place as law, most tax collecting and appropriations would be handled in Atlanta. Our local commissioners and school superintendents would need to travel to Sin City South with hat in hand to beg Glenn and his crowd for more dollars to meet the needs of expanding communities. In addition, strong evidence exists that the GREAT tax would not produce nearly enough revenue to meet the state's needs.

Immediately after the tax-passing session, Glenn might be hailed for his wonderful victory. Before long, however, mean men with bags of feathers and buckets of tar would stalk the back alleys, looking for the pariah, former House Speaker Glenn Richardson. His GREAT tax act would have screwed up the tax system so badly that Coca-Cola moved to New York. Oaky Woods turned into a landfill and the Atlanta Falcons were reborn as the Birmingham Barons.

So, dear lawmakers, do not be misguided into supporting Glenn's tax bill. Vote against it. Your nay will help turn Romeo into Caesar. The Mansion on West Paces Ferry will become the biggest party house in Georgia, and happy days will be here again.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at shipp1@bellsouth.net.