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Bill Shipp - Why I'm glad to be a Georgian

If you're a Georgian, you are probably still in shock at what has happened in Illinois.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been arrested on charges of trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Federal wiretaps suggest that Gov. Rod thought the seat would bring a pretty penny. The FBI eavesdropping device also indicates that Rod and the First Lady of the Land of Lincoln are a couple of potty mouths.

The Chicago press has plainly set out to pillory Gov. and Mrs. Blagojevich. I don't believe I have ever seen such an uncouth and ill-mannered mob of reporters. They'll say and ask just about anything, usually at the top of their voices. There's not a lady or gentleman among them.

A new wrinkle in the Illinois story breaks almost daily. Aren't you glad that you don't live in that state and would have to put up with such embarrassing stuff?

Federal prosecutors in Chicago and Springfield ought to be ashamed of themselves. Can you imagine a Georgia governor being collared for trying to sell one of his appointments?

I can't. I don't believe it has ever happened. Come to think of it, selling a state job may not even be against the law in Georgia. Perhaps that is reason that no Peach State prosecutor would dare pursue such a case.

Back in the old days (meaning before my time), a couple of governors (Talmadge and Rivers) were accused of selling prison pardons, but it was just politics. Besides, there's a big difference in selling a pardon for a few thousand dollars and offering a Senate seat to the highest bidder. I have never heard of such a thing in Georgia.

Wait. I'm mistaken. I have heard of such a thing.

Back in 1971, when Sen. Richard Russell died, there was talk that then-Gov. Jimmy Carter could sell the appointment of Russell's successor. There was little doubt that Carter needed the money to pay off his gubernatorial campaign debts.

Nothing ever came of the story. Carter handed the Senate appointment over to David Gambrell, an Atlanta lawyer who had been the finance chairman of Carter's successful bid for governor against ex-Gov. Carl Sanders. As it turned out, Gambrell, a plenty smart guy, just wasn't meant to be a politician. A backbench legislator, Sam Nunn, beat him in the next election.

No one, except perhaps a couple of Carter's enemies, ever mentioned that the guv could have traded the Russell chair for gold. Such things just weren't done in Georgia. At least that is what the state's leading lights (all good Democrats) assured us.

No one ever accused Gov. Roy Barnes of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by the death of Sen. Paul Coverdell in 1998. If the notion of selling the seat even entered his mind, he never would have sold it to former Gov. Zell Miller, who, according to some, went crazy after Barnes gave him the Washington job. Miller won the Senate election of 2000, and got even crazier. But that is another story.

Of course, the talk of selling public offices is not restricted to the U.S. Senate. During Barnes' term as governor, some disgruntled job applicants said the governor favored applicants for judicial posts who had contributed cash to his campaign. However, that is not the same thing as selling an appointment, is it?

In fact, most of Barnes' predecessors as governor appointed their financial supporters to judgeships. After all, nobody but a nut would put one's political enemies on the bench.

It has even been said that the exchange of cash figures prominently in the selection of the Georgia speaker of the House. That must be a joke. Rep. Glenn "Romeo" Richardson would never entertain such a notion.

Yes, it is true that Richardson solicits some of his leading allies for campaign cash to go into a special kitty to help out some Republican legislators who have attracted opposition.

After Richardson parcels out the cash to needy colleagues, he expects their support in his bid to remain speaker. House committee chairmen are always cheerful about chipping into the speaker's pot. Romeo is not a maverick in the cash department. He is simply carrying on an established tradition. The money practices of the House leadership also explain why several leading lawmakers roll their eyes when anyone mentions ethics.

In any case, when you observe the shenanigans in Illinois, it makes you proud to be a Georgian, where publicity-hound prosecutors are rare and rude and ruthless reporters are unheard of.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.