As those of you who have followed this space over the years know well and those of you who are new to it will soon discover, I feed on the humor-impaired like a possum on a sweet potato, especially puffed-up politicians. I enjoy pricking their egos because you seem to derive a lot of pleasure from it and a large number of them don’t. That’s your classic win-win. So, it was with much glee that I recently reported on Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Garden City) and his junket to Azerbaijan, courtesy of the Atlanta-based Istanbul Center.
Soon after the column appeared, I was alerted by a friend under the Gold Dome —and, yes, I do have a few friends under the Gold Dome — that Rep. Stephens wanted to discuss the column with me. Fair enough. My snarky comments can engender strong responses. One legislator said my views regarding his public education-bashing colleagues in the General Assembly were “venomous.” That hurt. I thought my comments had been stronger than that. For a moment I feared I was losing my touch.
So I was totally unprepared when Stephens called me to say he thought the Azerbaijan column was very funny and so did his friends. A lot of people had mentioned it to him. He didn’t try to defend his junket to Azerbaijan, except to say he was glad we have freedom of expression in the United States which doesn’t exist in some other parts of the world. I wondered if he was encouraging me to go to Iran and poke fun at the guy with the turban and grubby beard who seems to be in charge of that bunch of barbarians and see what happens.
With a little investigation, I found that Stephens is well-liked by his colleagues in the General Assembly and obviously by his constituents, since he is in his 16th year in the General Assembly.
A pharmacist by trade, Stephens is chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. How did a druggist get such an important job?
“I was able to get along with the late House Speaker Tom Murphy, who hated most Republicans,” Stephens says, “Plus, people thought I knew what I was talking about and I didn’t tell them any differently.”
I like this guy. He seems to have parked his ego at the door.
One of the things of which he is most proud has been his efforts to help develop Georgia into a major player in the film industry. Our state now ranks third behind only California and New York. Stephens says since 2007, the film business has gone from a $200 million a year industry in Georgia to $3.1 billion and climbing. I like the fact that everybody working on a film here is required to pay state income tax and that there is a requirement that “Made in Georgia” and the state logo be a part of every film. Take that, Vermont.
I don’t want to put any undue pressure on Stephens, but I think I would be a natural for the movies, given my striking resemblance to Brad Pitt and the fact I would be a lot cheaper to hire. My only criteria are that my name be above the title and that I get some buzz — that’s showbiz lingo — for Oscar consideration. That’s not asking much. If the guy could wangle a trip to Azerbaijan, surely he could make this happen.
Beyond economic development matters, Stephens cites as one of his most satisfying moments a bill passed with the help of Speaker Murphy to award high school diplomas to veterans of the Korean War and Vietnam who dropped out of school to join the military. His dad was one of those who did just that during the Korean conflict. This November, the legislator and his family will get to see their 84-year-old father — who Stephens calls his hero and the hardest working man he’s ever known — walk across the stage and receive his diploma. That’s nice.
Rep. Stephens deserves mention in the Guinness Book of Records. He is the only politician that has called me to tell me I am funny. I hope his humor-impaired pals in the General Assembly don’t see this. I like it better when they think I’m venomous.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.