A Betrayal of Veterans

April 9, 2009

On Apr. 1, 2009, a majority of the members of Georgia’s state Senate won themselves an indelible place in the annals of betrayal. As reported on the Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s web site, Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown (D-Macon) introduced an amendment to the 2010 budget to divert $2.14 million from $25 million in bonds, authorized for Jekyll Island development, to keep open the Milledgeville domiciliary unit of the Georgia War Veterans Home. The veterans unit, a casualty of budget cuts, was home to 81 elderly veterans in fragile health who’re now stashed elsewhere. The amendment was defeated largely along party lines with 31 Republicans voting against, 19 Democrats and two Republicans voting for, two members not voting and two members excused. Senator Cowsert voted with the majority and Senator Hudgens didn’t vote. Not content just to defeat the amendment, Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) retaliated against Senate Democrats by pulling funding for projects in their districts.

So the veterans were kicked to the curb for education? Health care? Transportation? No, nothing as urgent as that. The $25 million bond authorization from which Senator Brown wanted to divert less than 10 percent was the second such package that had been approved to upgrade Jekyll Island’s convention center and to fund other town center projects. The Jekyll Island Authority hadn’t even requested this second infusion of public funds, finding the first $25 million bond issue adequate. But the Senate, in an expansive mood, nonetheless decided to put Georgia’s taxpayers on the hook for $25 million more that nobody requested while wielding the budget axe with abandon elsewhere, bloodying the veterans in the process.

Perhaps the senators who defeated this amendment were cowed by Mercer and Jamie Reynolds, among Georgia Republicans’ most reliable campaign contributors, whose company Linger Longer Communities is the Jekyll Island Authority’s anointed private “partner” for island revitalization. The long-term contract that the Reynolds extracted from the Authority gives Linger Longer the right to bail on the “partnership” if $25 million in bond funding isn’t forthcoming from the state to subsidize Linger Longer’s town center project, bonds which are backstopped, be it noted, by you and me. It’s a measure of how craven the senators voting in the majority are that the funds that Senator Brown’s amendment would have allocated to the veterans is chump change compared to what Linger Longer stands to make on their “partnership” with the Jekyll Island Authority.

Whatever the reasons for the craven behavior of the majority on this measure, the result is that, for all their flag waving, they can no longer claim with a shred of credibility to belong to the party of Bob Dole, of duty, honor, country. Our entire inventory of American flag lapel pins can’t make a fig leaf big enough to hide the fact that the Georgia Republican Party has abandoned those values for squalid backroom deals where the Gold Dome is on the auction block, on sale to the highest bidder. Why else was it so easy for the Senate majority to make a mockery of the tribute that travelers pay when they stand and applaud our soldiers for their service and sacrifice as they pass through Hartsfield-Jackson?

Incredibly, Senator John Douglas (R-Social Circle, District 17) had the presumption during the debate on the Brown amendment to lecture the veterans that they had to make sacrifices just like everybody else in these straitened times! Senator Douglas is obtuse on two counts. For one, veterans aren’t called to sacrifice. They’ve already answered that call. That’s how the lucky ones, anyway, came to be veterans. The unlucky ones lie in silent graves. For another, it’s not true that the veterans are sacrificing just like everybody else. Far from sacrificing, the Reynolds crowd will make out handsomely at the expense of elderly, sick veterans. Eager as the Reynolds are to leave a “legacy” on Jekyll Island, theirs will now and forever rest on the backs of defenseless war veterans.

It’s hard to imagine what would redeem the senators who sided with Republican Party insiders and donors against our veterans. But it would be a start if when they show up at this year’s Memorial Day observances they refrain from further insulting veterans and their loved ones with empty patriotic blather, but instead beg their forgiveness.

Leon Galis

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