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Tom Baxter

‘Dropping bills as fast as Legislative Council could draft them’

By Tom Baxter

The Georgia House has a long tradition of upstart bomb-throwers with a burning desire to change the world in a hurry and a knack for getting under the skin of leadership. One of them once so infuriated the late House Speaker Tom Murphy that he pinned him against the wall of the House anteroom. Some have been one-termers, while others — I’m thinking here of Brian Joyce and Bobby Franklin — stuck around long enough to become elder statesmen of a sort.

But it’s hard to remember any rules-waving freshman making a bigger stir than Rep. Sam Moore, who last week provoked a parade of Republicans to denounce Moore’s bill abolishing the state’s loitering law, including that portion which pertains to sex offenders hanging out around school yards.

It’s interesting that the denunciations were aimed at this bill, and not another introduced by Moore which would outlaw no-knock warrants and give people the right to use deadly force against law enforcement officials who don’t knock. Lowering the threshold for when it’s okay to shoot a police officer is a pretty radical step.

But especially in a viral world, nothing could strike deeper fear in the hearts of most politicians than the idea of being identified with a bill to loosen the rules for sex offenders in an election year. Republicans from Speaker David Ralston down to freshmen denounced Moore for the offensive bill. State GOP chairman John Padget even chimed in with a press release, lest there be the suggestion that any corner of the GOP sanctioned such an idea.

In the past, many of the bomb-throwers were religious conservatives, willing to short-circuit the system to force action on abortion and other issues. Moore, who recently won a special election for the seat held by the late Calvin Hill, is from a younger, more libertarian-leaning generation, and it was clear when he took to the well Monday morning to explain himself that this was a different sort of bomb-thrower than most of his elders were used to.

In language that sounded more HR department than church, Moore took responsibility for the problems he had caused with his “rookie mistake,” but blamed  the House leadership for not “mentoring” him upon his recent arrival.

“For example,” he said with jaw-dropping candor,  “I only found out about the rules book after dropping legislation. I found out that Crossover Day was fast approaching, and that bills introduced after Crossover Day would be basically dead on arrival.

“Therefore, I started dropping bills as fast as Legislative Council could draft them.  I was afraid that if my bills were dropped after Crossover Day, then they would not be vetted in the Committee process.  I wanted my legislation vetted in Committee so I could start the conversation, learn from the process, improve my legislation with sage feedback, and push my legislation ‘for real’ the following year after I had learned the system.”

He had “no idea,” Moore said, that anyone beside the committee members assigned to the bill would be looking at it.

“If I had known that the media would be looking at my legislation, I probably wouldn’t have dropped any of my bills without additional consultation,” Moore said.

Moore said he also could have used some advise in advance of the media “horde,” which almost knocked down a niece visiting the Capitol as a page last week when the firestorm broke over the loitering bill.

He said he had been reached over the weekend by a senior member who convinced him to “reboot” his approach. He said he’d asked this senior legislator to find him a mentor — “someone outside of my current delegation, with a different ideology and with solid experience.”

Presumably, some of a different ideology might advise the newcomer that more than mentoring and message control stand in his way.

Moore got a laugh — no small feat, considering the trouble he’s in — when he said that he’d dropped a bill which would force the speaker to assign a mentor to all incoming freshmen.

“Just kidding,” he said. After the other stuff he’d just said, it was a useful clarification.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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