At a meeting on ethics reform this month, State Sen. Josh McKoon reflected on the advice he was given two years ago when he entered the Senate.
“Sit down, shut up and listen,” he said.
Instead of taking a backbencher’s traditional role, McKoon agitated in his own party for ethics reform, a politically tricky maneuver even for a veteran legislator. And while it did not endear him to his caucus, McKoon’s retelling drew a chuckle from Democratic leader Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, an ethics ally who sat next to McKoon at the event.
McKoon, a conservative Republican from Columbus, and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, a group led by solid conservatives with political backgrounds, are among the leaders at the Capitol calling for ethics reform. But despite their Republican bona fides, sometimes they appeared to have more friends among Democrats than within their own party.
The political crossed wires make little impression on Julianne Thompson, co-founder of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots. At least not when it comes to ethics.
“This is not a partisan issue,” she said. “It’s about what is doing right for the citizens of Georgia.”
For the past two years, a loose coalition of tea party groups pushed the Legislature to end the practice of lawmakers accepting unlimited gifts from lobbyists. To get it done, they have aligned themselves with watchdog groups like Common Cause Georgia and Georgia Watch that do not share the tea party’s political outlook but do share their desire for ethics reform.
McKoon said he was told his approach would have political consequences.
“You can feel very lonely when you are up there,” he said of the Capitol. “But there are nine and a half million people who are not in that building.”
McKoon said he was encouraged by the huge majorities that voted in favor of restricting gifts in nonbinding questions on this summer’s party primaries.
“Those kind of things indicate we are really on the right track,” he said.
McKoon’s crusade provoked grumbling from more experienced members of his own caucus. McKoon heard it, but he said he is comfortable with the choices he’s made.
He said he believes his legislative colleagues work hard and are not corrupt, but the public’s trust in government is so low that action must be taken.
“That’s why we have to get this right,” he said.