Over the last several years, we've seen the politics at our state Capitol become more and more like the system that has afflicted Washington, D.C., since the Nixon administration.
Members of the Republican governing majority, while certainly exhibiting increasing acrimony among themselves, still put the health of their partisan majority ahead of just about any other concern. Their focus is on building a culture that surrounds them and their supporters with the aura of government authority, and sustaining their dominance with money and manpower.
When Gov. Perdue took office, his then-chief of staff, Eric Tanenblatt, a former aide to the late Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell and close associate of the Bush political machine, introduced many of the trappings of political power to the Gold Dome culture.
Gov. Perdue began to use state aircraft to fly just about everywhere, including when he was traveling for personal or political reasons, rather than on official taxpayer business.
The man he appointed "inspector general" issued an opinion justifying the use of state aircraft, citing "security reasons" to justify taxpayers footing the bill for the governor's use of state aircraft, just as the president flies on Air Force One whether he's on official government business or not. Tanenblatt also created a system where state troopers drive the governor's official government vehicle ahead of his flights to be ready to pick him up on the runway when he lands, just like POTUS' armored limousine.
Sonny Perdue would have nothing of his predecessors' habit of hitching a ride with a local state trooper or a supporter. Only the official luxury SUV would do.
We've also seen Republicans adding staff to executive and legislative offices. Perdue employs a chief operating officer and chief financial officer, with six-figure salaries commensurate with their lofty titles. Republican legislative leaders now have functionaries running around under the Gold Dome sporting business cards that announce them as "chief of staff" - who of course, need a staff that they can chief. Don't you wonder what a legislator's staff does when the General Assembly adjourns in mid-April and doesn't return until mid-January?
Republican constitutional officers have followed suit - creating positions like "general counsel" and "inspector general," even if they are redundant with existing state government positions. Republicans may campaign on "smaller government," but now that they control the state, it's fair to wonder what "smaller" refers to.
Along with the expanding political ranks of government comes an increase in the numbers of those paid to influence our representatives on behalf of their clients. In fact, the whole system that Gold Dome Republicans are creating requires an inflation of the ranks of political aides and the lobbyist corps.
There's more money to be raised if there are more lobbyists cruising around with their meters running. Lobbyist spending on freebies for elected officials (up to and including the governor, despite his "gift ban") has soared. Those same lobbyists know that big donations to the GOP are expected, and their clients dare not appear on Democrats' campaign finance reports.
The lobbyists need more people to schmooze, so more aides are hired. To close the circle, people hired in these newly created positions ultimately move on, so more lobbyist jobs are created to give erstwhile lackeys a place to land. They leave the government payroll to return as Republican lobbyists who serve their special-interest clients by providing access; their elected former bosses are graced with campaign cash and perks like trips, restaurant meals and event tickets.
During the last six years, the revolving door has been spinning faster and faster than Linda Blair's head in "The Exorcist." Tanenblatt went back to lobbying after leaving Perdue's employ. Robert Highsmith, once deputy executive counsel in Perdue's office, now collects retainers from all sorts of special interests to lobby his former boss. Another Perdue staff lawyer, Jud Turner, just left to enter the world of special-interest flacks, and the man who replaced him came from a well-connected lobbying operation. Perdue's current chief of staff, Ed Holcombe, is a former lobbyist for Georgia Power, and will certainly return to the lobbyist ranks some day.
Perdue and his fellow Republicans like to talk about how they are modernizing state government. That appears to be true. Unfortunately for the taxpayers who shoulder the bill for Republican staffs and for individuals who can't compete with the army of special-interest lobbyists, updates to the Gold Dome political scene should bring on a case of nostalgia - and not the warm, fuzzy kind.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.