When the phone rang, I knew who was on the other end: Skeeter Skates, owner of Skeeter's Tree Stump Removal and Plow Repair in Greater Metropolitan Pooler. I can't tell you exactly why but the phone always sounds more urgent when Skeeter calls.
One thing about Skeeter Skates. He gets right to the point. Niceties aren't his style.
"Hoss, I been busy sharpening plow shares for spring planting and ain't kept up with the politicians in Atlanta," he said. "They gone home yet?"
I told him that, yes, the legislature had finished its session and that I thought everybody was back home by now, telling their constituents what a difficult session this had been and what long hours they had put in on the people's behalf.
"Oh, my granny's knickers," Skeeter snorted. "They say that every year. The reason I called you is I heard the politicians finally passed some kind of law putting spending limits on those lizard-loafered lobbyists that feed them. I find that hard to believe, but I figured you'd know since your fancy newspaper boys keep up with that kind of stuff while the rest of us have to work for a living."
Skeeter Skates doesn't have much respect for anyone that doesn't have grease under their fingernails, including those of us in the media.
I affirmed that the legislature had passed legislation claiming to tighten up on lobbyist expenditures but that it was a rather shallow exercise. I told Skeeter the House and Senate seemed to care less about our attitudes toward ethics reform and more about one-upping the other body and guaranteeing themselves convenient loopholes.
If signed into law, lizard-loafered lobbyists could still spend $75 "per occurrence" on a state official, which means as many times as they like.
They can buy unlimited food and booze where entire legislative chambers or committees and caucuses are invited, once every calendar year.
Lobbyists will also be able to pay for trips for public officials and their staffs within the United States and a lot of goodies don't even have to be reported. Oh, and I added, lawyers who lobby are exempt from these rules. Go figure.
I paused, waiting for an explosion. Instead, Skeeter chuckled.
"You got to hand it to those folks," he said, "They are slicker than a quart of SAE 5W-20 synthetic blend motor oil."
I concurred although I had no idea what he was talking about.
"You know they ain't gonna jump off that gravy train. They just went through the motions so they can come home and tell us how they heard us fussing about all the money lobbyists spend on them. They can say they did what we told 'em to do and then they can keep on getting wined and dined and take fancy trips like they used to. Dang, they are sharper than a set of stump-cutting teeth, ain't they?"
I didn't say anything because I know less about stump-cutting teeth than I do motor oil, but I agree with Skeeter Skates. Politicians aren't going to give up any more goodies than they have to, no matter how mad we get. They consider this stuff an entitlement.
"Hoss, I know you ain't never done a hard day's work in your life," Skeeter said.
I have quit trying to convince him that writing columns is not as easy as he thinks. Every time I do, he invites me to come to Pooler and grind an oak stump with him.
"But you just might be able to finally do something worthwhile." I was all ears.
"The politicians think they have pulled a fast one over on us," he said,
"I want you to keep this issue on the front burner. Tell your readers which politicians are being wined and dined by lizard-loafered lobbyists. Let them know that the people of Georgia ain't as dumb as they think we are and that they haven't heard the last of us. Keep your readers fired-up and fearsome. I am counting on you, son."
I thanked Skeeter profusely for the idea and wasn't about to tell him I had already thought of that. Being a stump removal and plow repair professional, Skeeter Skates doesn't like to think anyone is as smart as he is.
As he hung up, it occurred to me that most Georgians are probably as disappointed and disgusted as he is. What a shame. And what the legislature didn't do about ethics reform is even more shameful.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139. Yarbrough is a part-time resident of Dawson County.