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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Yet Another Shoe Drops On Ralph

Tom Edsall’s Monday Washington Post article about the latest controversy involving the Man Who Would Be Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Ralph Reed, had the familiar sound of another predictable shoe dropping on the boon companion of Jack Abramoff and Grover Norquist. Seems that back in 1999, Ralph got paid by Abramoff to do a direct mail piece to conservative Christians in Alabama urging them to contact then-Congressman Bob Riley (now the Republican Governor of that state) to get him to oppose legislation imposing federal wage and worker safety laws on the U.S. territory in the Northern Mariana Islands. Ralph’s mailer focused especially on the concern that the legislation would restrict the recruitment of Chinese workers to NMI industries, denying these wards of the Godless Communist State access to the Word of God readily available in their new if temporary home.Anybody familiar with the arcana of the ongoing Abramoff scandal will laugh and laugh at the mention of the Northern Mariana Islands, a favorite cash cow for Abramoff and company, and a strange pet cause of the conservative movement for much of the 1990s. Here’s how Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift, quoting my colleague The Moose, put it a while back:

Marshall Wittmann, a conservative activist turned centrist, attended the first meeting in 1993 hosted by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, to rally conservatives of different stripes around a common agenda. “There were about a dozen of us wanting to stop this or that Clinton plan,” says Wittmann. “When the Mariana Islands came up, I wondered how did this become a conservative issue?” The Northern Mariana Islands were the first big project that Norquist and Abramoff worked on together. An American protectorate in the Pacific Ocean, the government there wanted help to resist certain U.S. laws, like paying minimum wage. Norquist talked up the Marianas as a model of free enterprise, and Abramoff collected $9 million in lobbying fees, smoothing the way for members of Congress to take fact-finding trips to the islands and play golf.“It was the first time I scratched my head and thought there’s something amiss here,” Wittmann told NEWSWEEK. “The seeds that were planted then developed into the fauna and flora we have now.”

Flora and fauna indeed. And it gets worse for Reed. Not only did his flacking for NMI entangle him even further with the Abramoff-Norquist money machine, but it turns out that great capitalist paradise in the Pacific engaged in practices even worse than U.S.-favored wage exploitation. Here’s how Edsall explained it:

A year earlier [than Reed’s mailer], the Department of the Interior — which oversees federal policy toward the U.S. territory — presented a very different picture of life for Chinese workers on the islands. An Interior report found that Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.

So it looks like maybe those Chinese workers in NMI weren’t exactly exposed to the Gospel in action after all. But Ralph took Abramoff’s bucks and did the sales job anyway, which might be described in biblical terms as trading his birthright for a mess of pottage.It’s still not clear how much damage all this accumulating flora and fauna of corruption is doing to Ralph Reed’s campaign; he’s still cashing his national chits and harvesting endorsements from people like Rudy Guiliani.But all across my home state of Georgia, from the Rabun Gap to the Tybee Light, and from Waycross to Cartersville to Ralph’s adopted home town of Toccoa, the shoes continue to drop. My guess is that sooner or later, the voters of this red state will recognize Ralph Reed as a classic Washington jiveass whose native son pretensions are as insubstantial as instant grits.

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