Special to SEGAZINE
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
There was a time (which clearly isn’t quite over) when being elected to political office in Georgia could amount to a lifetime sinecure for all but the most ineffective and unconnected officials.
In fact, state law once allowed for an automatic lifetime pension for state workers who got laid off. “Years ago at the state Capitol,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Political Insider” Jim Galloway wrote last week, “if you truly wanted to do a friend a favor, you fired him.”
But the saga of former state lawmaker and now-former Georgia Public Broadcasting employee Chip Rogers is a a curious variation on the theme.
As reported this week by the Cherokee Tribune and Fox 5 in Atlanta, an April 18 letter to Rogers from GPB officially fired the former Senate majority leader for violation of “several employment policies of GPB relating to political activity, outside or dual employment, time and attendance, teleworking and the code of ethics.”
According to the letter, Rogers was warned a year ago that political or lobbying activity would constitute a conflict of interest, and stressed “the importance of making your job here at GPB a priority and a full-time effort.”
Certainly the $150,000-a-year paycheck Rogers received for his GPB tenure should have been enough for full-time work. But that’s another story.
Rogers, R-Woodstock, was something of a political burr in Gov. Nathan Deal’s saddle. Among other problems, he began aligning with tea party groups embracing fringe positions (he once sponsored a Capitol seminar on “Agenda 21,” supposedly a nefarious international plot to strip Americans of private property rights), and posed a potential challenge from the right to Republican leaders.
Then suddenly, an “executive producer” position appeared out of nowhere at GPB, and Rogers resigned his Senate seat to take it. (One veteran GPB producer, making little more than a third of what Rogers would be paid, resigned in protest.)
What ultimately cost Rogers the cushy GPB position was the belated revelation that he was also being paid — at least since 2012 — as a “government affairs” adviser to the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. In other words, Georgia taxpayers were paying part of Chip Rogers’ six-figure salary to lobby for the hospitality industry.
Bert Brantley, former media representative for Gov. Sonny Perdue and now a GPB board member, addressed the necessity for GPB’s editorial independence on a recent broadcast: “It’s state-owned media, but not in the sense you’d see [in] other countries, where the state runs the media and delivers the content.”
Neither the manner in which Rogers got that job nor the reasons for which he was forced out of it can pass the most basic test of public accountability. Galloway sums it up succinctly: “So there’s the good news. We’re not a re-creation of the Soviet Union. But we may be reliving Machiavelli’s Italy.”