Just in time for the tax-day "tea parties" in Augusta and around the rest of the country, Georgia conservatives just got someone to applaud.
And the state's status quo Republicans just got a kick in the pants.
State Sen. Preston Smith, of Rome, spoke on the Senate floor Monday and took the GOP leadership on a well-deserved trip to the woodshed.
Smith was furious because Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers stripped Smith of his post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Why? Was he womanizing, or arrested for DUI, or violating ethics rules? Or because he's previously used his position to block death penalty reform?
Nope. Those things don't seem to matter. What Smith did, for the Republican leadership, apparently was much worse: He refused to vote the way they wanted him to.
Smith voted against House Bill 307, a bill to levy a 1.45 percent "fee" on hospitals. It's a tax, and Smith promised his constituents that he wouldn't vote for a tax increase.
So he didn't. Yet because the GOP leadership had decided all Republicans should vote for it as a bloc, they punished Smith by stripping him of his chairmanship.
And boy, did he let them have it. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway reprinted Smith's speech, and it is a blistering indictment of the party and its leaders.
Among other things, Smith said:
"Of what purpose is it to have a majority if you abandon the very principles for which the voters entrusted that majority to you? If the Republican majority is going to start down the road towards raising taxes and even punishing their more conservative members who refuse to march like lemmings off that cliff, then why should Georgians trust them any longer to lead?"
"In the quest to consolidate power and rule over the Senate, the lieutenant governor has not only gotten his way to raise taxes but after winning his vote, he is punishing those who voted 'no' because he wanted to win the vote by a bigger margin. He is sacrificing his strongest and most conservative allies at the altar of his own hubris."
"Is this really America? Can you really condemn the backroom arm-twisting and deals cut in Washington, D.C., when you do the same thing here?"
Smith recalled how, when the Democrats controlled the Senate and now-imprisoned felon Charles Walker was majority leader, the Republicans in the minority were aghast at how Walker could give a bill the thumb's up or down and get lockstep Democrat votes.
Now, "the current leaders are less concerned about who they believe is a political prostitute than who they view as the pimp controlling him."
As the old saying goes: Power corrupts. By abandoning conservative principles and punishing someone who votes to uphold those principles, the Senate leaders have proven themselves corrupted by power.
It's just as well that Cagle decided against running for governor. He already faced ethics questions for helping Nathan Deal keep a lucrative no-bid state contract; doubts about his principles would have been the last straw.
Speaking of Cagle, he was one of many recognizable faces this past week during the Masters Tournament.
Amid the absolutely stunning beauty of the Augusta National, I decided that while watching some of the best golf in the world is enjoyable, it's entirely eclipsed by opportunities to people-watch.
Based on various reports, sightings included actor Johnny Depp and former University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, now with the Detroit Lions.
I didn't see anyone famous, but I did notice lots of young women wearing very high heels. That's only significant because it was a golf course, which is perhaps the worst place in the world to try to walk on stiletto stilts.
I guess they were just hoping to look good in case they saw Johnny Depp.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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