Originally created 01/03/06

Political battling can write war tales



ATLANTA -- When asked by legislators about the importance of a bill he was pushing, lobbyist James "Jet" Toney often told them "the freedom of Western civilization" wasn't at stake until the day Mr. Toney found himself on one side of the issue and a group of military generals on the other.

Mr. Toney was fighting a bill to crack down on payday lending. He said he believes that the bill would put "mom-and-pop" establishments out of business while failing to stop chain operations.

The generals, appearing not long after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said that many soldiers were finding themselves in a trap caused by payday lending.

"I turned to my cohorts, and I said, 'Well, I finally got an issue in which the freedom of Western civilization is at stake,'" Mr. Toney said recently.

Not unlike the generals Mr. Toney faced off with that day, lobbyists have their own war stories from years in the trenches, fighting for and against legislation.

Neill Herring, whose clients include environmental groups, recalls one frantic effort to make sure that associations of city and county governments fell under the state's open-records laws.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which was considering the bill, didn't have the quorum necessary to pass the measure, Mr. Herring said, so one of his colleagues went into the hall to find a committee member. Luckily, he did.

The hapless legislator found himself being rushed toward the room, with Mr. Herring's colleague saying: "Come with me, quick, come with me."

After the senator was in the room, those supporting the measure didn't waste any time giving him further instructions.

"Just vote 'yes,'" they said.

"We explained it to him, after it was over, (and told him) what a wonderful thing he had done for the people of Georgia," Mr. Herring said.

The tales are sometimes fond remembrances of former colleagues and legislators.

Mr. Herring cited Sen. Culver Kidd, of Baldwin County, a lawmaker whom Mr. Herring would often turn to. Occasionally, though, he wouldn't get a positive answer to his proposal.

"I believe that I'm already committed on that issue," Mr. Kidd would say.

There is a semiofficial outlet for lobbyist frivolity, the Golden Pigeon awards dinner, which takes place every January. There, the paid advocates share inside jokes and hand out "awards" such as the Homing Pigeon, given to the legislator who goes home early and doesn't do much entertaining.

The dinner is just one example of the sense of community that lobbyists share. Most of the time, lobbyists say, the battles under the Gold Dome don't become personal.

For one thing, it's practical. Lobbyists, obviously, are not able to be in more than one place at the same time. They often depend on one another for a warning if an issue is about to be considered.

"My skin has been saved two or three times by those kinds of heads-up," J. Clint Austin said.

It's also smart. Most lobbyists realize that alliances or rivalries are temporary but that today's opponent could be tomorrow's ally.

Of course, they also keep an eye on each other. From time to time, lobbyists have been known to try to slip a provision into a bill at the last minute.

"It's more eyes and ears looking at legislation," Mr. Toney said.