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09 December 2009

Veteran Columnist Says Johnson's Gubernatorial Hopes Effectively Over

Dick Yarbrough, a long-time Georgia political columnist, says the lingering stench from the ethics problems of former House Speaker Glenn Richardson may end up irreparably tarnishing the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Eric Johnson.

If, as Yarbrough suggests, it was common knowledge around the Gold Dome that Glenn Richardson was tip-toeing through the tulips with an AGL lobbyist while supporting a $300 million pipeline project, then the question becomes what did Eric Johnson know about Richardson's ethical lapses and when did he know it.
In 2007, Johnson served as chairman of the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee; a committee that received an ethics complaint from then-Democratic Party of Georgia chairman Bobby Kahn. The complaint alleged that Speaker Glenn Richardson "abused his office by entering into an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist and acting on behalf of that lobbyist’s employer." Days after the charges were filed, Johnson's panel unanimously dismissed them citing "insufficient evidence" to warrant further action.

In a lengthy statement to the press, Eric Johnson defended the former House Speaker with a declaration that "there is no evidence of any wrong doing."

"The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee must not allow itself to be used for partisan political purposes," Johnson's statement read. "The fact that the Chairman of a political party makes vague accusations against a leader of the other party on the weekend before the inauguration and the opening day of the session clearly indicates the motivation behind the charge. It should insult the people of Georgia and embarrass those who take the political process seriously."


"I am confident that Chairman Kahn’s next script will claim 'whitewash' and 'cover up.' That is what he planned all along. He knows we cannot pursue undocumented charges. He is simply manipulating the process and the media. All I can ask is that the media treat rumor as rumor and fact as fact. The fact is there is no evidence of any wrong doing. The fact is the claim came from the Chairman of the opposition party, not a concerned citizen with firsthand knowledge. The fact is that this Committee cannot allow itself to be used to perpetuate rumors or be used for partisan purposes. The fact is there are no facts!," the statement concluded.

Recent events have proven Johnson's words to be incorrect. The fact is that Glenn Richardson did indeed have an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist while co-sponsoring legislation that would have benefited that lobbyist's employer.

Columnist Dick Yarbrough says, "I have many friends in the Legislature, but I doubt one of them can look me in the eye today and tell me truthfully that Ms. Richardson’s comments about her husband’s liaison with the female lobbyist was a surprise. It was the worst-kept secret on the planet and the dilly-dallying was going on while the speaker was pushing a $300 million pipeline project for the company." [Yarbrough, Dick (2009-12-8). Yarbrough: Investigative reporter turns state politics on its head. Macon Telegraph. Retrieved on 2009-12-9.].

Writes Yarbrough:

Johnson said at the time of the dismissal: “To qualify for a conflict of interest, there has to be a quid pro quo. In this case, there is no ‘quid’ and no ‘quo.’ ” With due deference to the senator, Sheila the Family Wonderdog could have sniffed out the ‘quid’ and ‘quo’ of this one and never missed her routine 22-hour nap. That explanation doesn’t wash any better than a pig.

If, as Yarbrough suggests, it was common knowledge around the Gold Dome that Glenn Richardson was tip-toeing through the tulips with an AGL lobbyist while supporting a $300 million pipeline project, then the question becomes what did Eric Johnson know about Richardson's ethical lapses and when did he know it.

To date, Johnson has made no new statements to the press about his role in dismissing the ethics charges against a former top Republican in the Georgia House. Yarbrough is right. Questions about Eric Johnson's involvement in a possible cover-up will continue to dog him on the campaign trail unless he comes clean.

Expect Johnson's two page statement about the dismissal of the ethics charges against Glenn Richardson to be a regular occurrence throughout the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.