Republican legislators (David Stover) pick early fight with Nathan Deal over lucrative appointments

By James Salzer – AJC

Rep. David Stover, R-Newnan isn’t waiting for the start of the 2016 General Assembly session to pick a fight with the statehouse’s most powerful politicians.

Neither is Senate Judiciary Chairman Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.

Stover this week prefiled a bill to prohibit lawmakers from being appointed by the governor to state jobs while they are serving in the General Assembly,  or within a year of leaving the General Assembly.

“It is time for the state of Georgia to bring real ethics back into the legislative process,” Stover said on his Facebook page. “The governor pays people back for carrying controversial bills – and for people’s voting records – by appointing them to state office.”

McKoon prefiled a bill to prohibit legislators who serve on conference committees – the panel of lawmakers who hammer out final versions of bills – from getting appointed or hired for a state job within two years of serving on a conference committee.

Governors have historically rewarded legislators with employment, but Gov. Nathan Deal has been particularly active in creating a pipeline for lawmakers to move into good-paying, taxpayer-funded gigs.

For instance, after the 2015 session, Deal appointed Rep. Mike Jacobs to be a judge on DeKalb County State Court. He appointed Sen. Ronald Ramsey Sr., D-Lithonia, to a newly created traffic court judgeship.

Only a few weeks after session ended, Deal named House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, to be the sole judge for the Georgia Tax Tribunal, a 2-year-old court program aimed at resolving disputes between taxpayers and the Georgia Department of Revenue. The state Judicial Nominating Commission had recommended three other lawyers for the post.

A few weeks later, he appointed state Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, as planning director of the Georgia Department of Transportation -essentially making him the governor’s man in the otherwise independent agency. As chairman of the House Transportation Committee last session, Roberts was the lead sponsor on the $900 million-a-year transportation tax hike that Deal signed.

While the funding bill won overwhelming support in the General Assembly, plenty of conservatives were upset both over the tax increases – including a new hotel/motel tax tacked on at the last minute – and the way the deal was struck behind closed doors. So Roberts’ appointment stung many critics of the bill.

Stover is part of a backbench, often anti-establishment group of Republicans who aren’t afraid to pick fights with state leaders on a range of issues, from last-minute, special-interest tax breaks to ethics. A classic example came in the waning minutes of the 2015 session, when House and Senate leaders rushed through a tax break for Mercedes-Benz that Deal wanted. One of the group’s members turned toward reporters and mouthed the words, “For shame.”

McKoon, meanwhile, has made a name for himself – and enemies of many statehouse leaders and lobbyists – by consistently pushing ethics reform and changes in legislative procedures in hopes of adding more transparency to the system.

Picking a fight with a fairly popular governor in your own party is seldom a winning proposition, and Stover’s and McKoon’s bills are almost certainly DOA.

Lawmakers were willing to pass legislation years ago to prevent legislators from quitting the General Assembly and immediately returning to lobby their colleagues. But legislators would be much less likely to back a bill that would prevent them from getting a lucrative appointment from the governor. And no governor is going to want to give up the power to reward friends, and punish enemies.

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