Nothing says 'I'm sorry' like $1,000

Georgians ought to cheer state Republican Sen. Casey Cagle's political behavior - if he is telling the whole truth.

He says he gave Democrat Mark Taylor $1,000 in 1998 as a token of apology for the Republicans' dirty campaign against Taylor in the contest for lieutenant governor. Taylor won the election.

"Horrible, horrible," Cagle said of the anti-Taylor TV ads sponsored by Republican candidate Mitch Skandalakis. Former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed directed Skandalakis' campaign and is now seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor. Cagle is running for the same office. Taylor is going for governor.

Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah says he too gave Taylor $1,000 to show he had nothing to do with the bad-ad campaign, which alleged Taylor was into drugs. The anti-Taylor commercials also contained heavy doses of racism.

If these guys indeed forked over $2,000 to a Democrat because of guilt feelings about TV smears, they set a new standard for running for office in Georgia. Voluntarily paying reparations for mudslinging is unheard of.

Imagine how much such guilt-ridden politicians might have contributed to legendary Gov. Eugene Talmadge in his long-ago failed campaign for the state Senate. His enemies accused him in court of having a romantic relationship with his mule.

Though Talmadge was cleared, I would bet that he did not receive a dime's worth of sympathy from his adversaries, and I'm sure they never said they were sorry, either to Talmadge or his mule.

Of course, one might wonder why Cagle and Johnson did not continue their unprecedented redemption campaign into the 21st century. Why did they not dispatch sorry-about-that checks to Democratic Sen. Max Cleland?

Talk about smears. In the 2002 election, Saxby Chambliss' campaign posted disabled vet Cleland's picture on TV alongside Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The Cleland-and-terrorists display represented a shocking effort to show that the brave old soldier was weak on securing America. Reed had a hand in that ad campaign too.

Or why didn't Cagle and Johnson feel compelled to contribute to the restoration of Gov. Roy Barnes' reputation? Barnes was depicted in a 2002 Republican video as a filthy rat wearing a hip-hopper's gold chain around his neck.

Of course, there were differences in those contests, the greatest one being that key Democrats lost. The smears worked. Chambliss beat Cleland, and Perdue whipped Barnes. Cagle and Johnson probably figured correctly that no reward waits in GOP heaven for people who felt sorry for Cleland and Barnes.

Reed denies any connection with Skandalakis' dope-and-race advertising. Reed says Skandalakis developed and scheduled the ads without his knowledge.

The truth is Skandalakis could have depicted Taylor as a billy goat (or a rat), and it would not have mattered. Taylor was destined to win in 1998. Skandalakis' campaign never got off the ground.

The smear ads probably helped Taylor win by an even greater margin. Taylor clobbered Skandalakis, 56 percent to 38 percent of the vote. Skandalakis later went to prison on corruption charges related to his tenure as Fulton County commission chair.

Four years later (2002), the same genre of dirty rumors surfaced against Taylor in his bid for re-election. He won easily again, even as fellow Democrats Barnes and Cleland crashed in defeat.

So why did Cagle and Johnson contribute cash to Democrat Taylor nearly eight years ago? Probably not because they were good and generous people who felt the Big Guy had been wronged. They gave money for the same reason that Roy Barnes' financial supporters flocked to Sonny Perdue after his stunning victory: They wanted to "get right" and maintain at least a modicum of influence in a new administration.

As I recall, the Republican "get right" ploy did not work with Taylor. He scrapped the GOP outreach policy started by his Democratic predecessor, Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard. Taylor slammed the door on Republican lawmakers, even as he accepted their cash offerings.

He probably sensed that Republicans would come after him with guns blazing in the not-too-distant future, regardless of how he welcomed them after his first victory as lieutenant governor. And they did. They stripped him of all power as soon as they captured a majority of the state Senate.

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TV trivia: Gubernatorial candidate Mark Taylor's first 2006 commercial features recycled footage from Taylor's 2002 campaign of "the Little Guy," a cute infant who, in fact, was played by twins, Noah and Blake Law, members of a Republican-voting family from Albany. Noah and Blake, now age 4, played bit parts in a 2004 film thriller, "The Clearing," starring Robert Redford.

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A Georgia Soprano?: A high-ranking Georgia Democratic official who asked not to be identified has sent the following sinister-sounding reminder to party-switching state Reps. Butch Parrish of Swainsboro, Richard Royal of Camilla and Mickey Channell of Greensboro: "As long as you were Democrats, we kept in the family certain information pertaining to you. Please understand that you are no longer members of the family."

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.