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I did it.

After 42 years of keeping it to myself, I’m finally willing to publicly admit that it was me.

I’m the one who came up with the campaign slogan that rocked Port Wentworth Elementary School in 1966 and reaped havoc on the entire fourth grade class.  

Even though I’m willing to admit it now, to this day I remain steadfast in my belief that it had to be done.  

Being my first venture into politics, I remember it well. We were having elections for class officers and I was Ray-Ray Mixon’s campaign manager. Ray-Ray was more than just a candidate for class president — he was the torch bearer for all the boys in the fourth grade.

Our opponent was Robin Johnson, a nice enough girl but, after all, she was a girl.  Sure, she was one of the smartest students in our class and always had good projects at the science fair, but she had no idea how to throw a football and no clue who was leading the American League in baseball. Even worse, she didn’t seem to care about those things.

Ray-Ray, on the other hand, understood.  He was our guy.  

The battle lines were drawn and the stakes were high. We simply couldn’t afford to lose. So I did it. Even though it took me this long to admit it, I’m the one who came up the campaign slogan that was plastered over all campaign signs throughout the school.  

“Vote for Ray-Ray, Robin eats worms.”     

Thanks to the passage of HB 1112 this past legislative session, this same thing can happen in Georgia politics today.

A candidate, or someone working on their behalf, can attack another candidate without identifying themselves and make any accusation they want without any fear of being held responsible.  

HB 1112, legislation that started out as a simple housecleaning bill of the election codes for the Secretary of State’s office, ended up striking down the law that requires political ads to be accompanied with the name and address of the individual or group that sponsored the ad.

How could this happen? And how could it pass both the House and the Senate with only one “no” vote in each chamber?

Perhaps the answer to both of these questions lies in the legislative process itself.

Early on, we as legislators are warned to pay close attention to details. During my first year in the legislature, a veteran legislator called me aside one day and told me “Remember Buddy, what a bill means to say and what it actually says can be two different things.”

As originally passed in the House, HB 1112 did not include the provision of striking down the requirement of identifying the sponsor of a political ad. This provision was added when the bill moved over to the Senate, which is a common and perfectly legitimate occurrence. The then amended bill passed the Senate and was sent back over to the House, where it was again voted on and passed.

The problem is that all this happened during the last days of the session when we were frantically considering dozens of bills and trying to beat the ending bell.  

Even the original author of the bill in the House didn’t realize that the changes had been made until the bill became law.

While we all believe in freedom of speech, many of us believe that freedom of speech also carries a certain amount of responsibility. In my mind there’s a big difference in freedom of speech and anonymous freedom of speech, especially when it comes to political campaigns. That’s one of the reasons I intend to work to change this law during the next session.  

Ray-Ray ended up losing his race for fourth grade class president that year and Robin did a good job, in spite of her lack of sports knowledge.  

Here’s hoping for the same happy ending to a bad piece of legislation that slipped through the cracks.