Local officials and the party that always wins
What relation do stated political party affiliations have with positions taken by many — maybe most — local elected officials?
Answer: No relationship whatsoever to the votes and non-votes that matter the most.
For example, forget that all five Fayette County commissioners run on the Republican ballot. At least four of the five are really joint members of the real but unnamed party that controls Fayette County: The Government Party.
Three of them responded last week to a bid to remove Fayette from regional mass transit plans by becoming official hypocrites or government-funded prostitutes, take your pick.
Government Party rogue Steve Brown exposed the deep cynicism displayed by many local officials addicted to the government money needle.
Brown won election last year by pointing out that then-Commission Chairman Jack Smith — as well as Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele — had a long record of voting in Atlanta in favor of stuff they swore to the local rubes that they stood four-square against.
Over and over again, Smith and Steele voted for mass transit plans they told folks back home they opposed. Why would they do that? you ask. Read on.
When Brown asked the holdover commissioners to consider a resolution to remove Fayette from those plans, commissioners Frady, Horgan and Hearn demurred, saying they wanted more time to study the impact and worrying that future Fayette trips to the big money trough might be imperiled by actually standing for something they professed to stand for.
That means either that they knew of and condoned the Smith-Steele hypocrisies, or that they have been out to lunch for the past several years. Either way, they flunk the test for serving their constituents.
This screed is not intended to make a case for or against regional mass transit. It is intended to show that our exalted leaders often mislead and outright lie to their constituents about some important stuff.
Mayor Ken Steele of Fayetteville is the de-facto leader of the local Government Party. Once a populist rebel against local government corruption in the form of a massive annexation with questionable motives, he now has become a slicker, more efficient version of that which he once abhorred.
Steele loves that public trough, and he loves his place at the Big Table that decides who gets their snouts deepest into the trough. Jack Smith loved it, too. Smith got a regional award recently for representing the “Atlanta region” so ably. Problem is, Smith was elected to represent the residents of Fayette County, not the “region.”
Many local government officials have been shooting up on other people’s money for so long that they look at you as if you just sailed in from Mars if you suggest that maybe they themselves are the real, deep, underlying problem. They believe it’s OK to lie and mislead local constituents so long as the chosen few can keep the Government Party money flowing into their coffers.
I give you a bunch of new sidewalks in Fayetteville (and one fancy new walking bridge out on Ga. Highway 92 North) as exhibit number one.
Steele and the Fayetteville Council are as proud as new papas over those expensive stretches of concrete that few citizens had ever asked for. But they will tell you with puffed-out chests that they got those sidewalks built mostly with government grant money, some state, some federal (http://www.thecitizen.com/articles/01-26-2010/f%E2%80%99ville-authorizes...).
It never once occurs to them that Fayetteville is paving un-asked-for sidewalks with tax money extracted from taxpayers outside of Fayetteville, outside of Fayette County, outside of the state of Georgia.
I say bluntly, why the hell are taxpayers in South Dakota or in Waycross, Ga., being forced to pay for unneeded sidewalks in Fayetteville, Ga.?
Steele and crew would be astonished that someone would even ask the question. Their starting position would be, “That’s the way the game is played. Somebody is going to get that money. Why not the citizens of Fayetteville?” And they think that settles the issue: “Somebody’s going to steal money from other taxpayers. We might as well get our share of the stolen loot.”
Steele has become a master of that game: bringing other people’s money into Fayetteville.
That’s the Government Party’s world-view: “The pot of taxpayers’ money is there. We just want our share.” (A spelling lesson: “Other people’s money” is spelled “SPLOST” and “government grants.”)
Their addiction to other people’s money is so pervasive that they cannot even entertain the notion that maybe their mindset is at the root of this nation’s financial problems.
I said at least four of the five commissioners are members of the Government Party. Yes, Virginia, rebel Steve Brown is a member of that party, too. His main beef is that he wants to spend other people’s money on things other than what Frady, Horgan and Hearn want.
Once he gets effective control of the Government Party money, he has his own agendas, not always in sync with those who elected him. Case in point: The last three years of his one term as Peachtree City mayor.
Brown is best for ordinary citizens when he is out of power, digging up embarrassing truths that Government Party officials would rather be kept hidden from public view.
The problem is, when Brown gets control, we taxpayers need a Steve Brown clone to keep tabs on him and his ad lib governing style.
Where will new Commissioner McCarty come down? Give him a couple of years. Odds are, I’m afraid, he’ll become a Government Party convert as well.
I wish I could say that won’t happen to many, if not most, of those earnest reformers we keep electing and sending off to change the way things are done.
But I’ve been doing this for a long time. Human nature never changes much. Elect a firebrand reformer, and elect him long enough, and he will become just like what he ran against.
Cynicism? I’d call it long-time observation.
Exhibit number two: The Peachtree City Council. What can one say about this bunch? How about, “One term”?
Exhibit number three: Our local so-called Republican legislators. (Forget the Democratic legislators; they proudly trumpet their taxpayer-dollar-stained snouts.) Check the GOP votes on setting up a regional transportation sales tax trough.
It’s the same-old same-old. The Government Party wins every election. Just watch the spineless back-pedaling of GOP lawmakers in Washington, D.C., in so-called “budget showdowns.”
My point: We don’t need to just change the rules of the “game” being played so well by the Government Party. We need to change to an entirely new and different game — with taxpayers’ rules.
Where are the principled adults who will say, “Enough! It stops here!”? Who can get elected who will not eventually be seduced by and turn to “the dark side”? Know anybody like that?
So who’s cynical now?
[Cal Beverly is the founding editor and publisher of The Citizen.]