Resolution to honor Obama comes to Macon

tfain@macon.comApril 22, 2009 

An issue that divided the Georgia House of Representatives and led to accusations of racism is coming to the Macon City Council.

Longtime Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, whose husband, David, is a state representative, wants to name President Obama an honorary member of the Macon City Council.

It's a formality meant to honor the president, Lucas said. But it's also about calling out the House for failing to do something similar, she said.

"The Georgia House of Representatives had an opportunity to pass this resolution," Elaine Lucas said. "They bottled it up."

The House version would have named Obama an honorary member of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. It was one of hundreds of resolutions honoring or congratulating someone that went before the House this year during the recently ended legislative session.

But the effusive language used to describe the president bothered Tifton-area state Rep. Austin Scott, who is an announced GOP candidate for governor.

Scott called attention to the resolution, and the issue degenerated into a well-publicized argument between black and white legislators, as well as a battleground for already feuding Republicans and Democrats.

Lucas' resolution is a little different but contains essentially the same clause Scott and other Republicans found troublesome: "Whereas, throughout his political career, President Barack Obama has enjoyed an unimpeachable reputation for integrity, vision, and passion for public service, and no one could be more worthy of special honor and recognition by the members of this body than this extraordinary leader."

With only two Republicans among the council's 15 members, the Obama resolution might not stir up much trouble on the Macon City Council.

But Councilman Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger with a flair for publicity, said he will put up a fight.

Erickson said he's preparing 100 amendments for Lucas' resolution, each one recognizing a different person who is "also worthy of honor." On the short list: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the country's first female speaker and a well-known Democrat; former President Jimmy Carter, the only president from Georgia; and Phil Walden, the late music producer who helped make Macon a well-known part of rock and roll history.

"May even throw in Chris Krok just for the fun of it," Erickson said, referring to the morning talk radio host who has engaged in a high-profile war of words with Lucas almost since his arrival in Macon.

Lucas said she didn't see why anyone would be against the resolution "other than being anti-Obama."

She said the House's failure to pass its resolution was based solely on "racial and political" motivations.

She also denied that the resolution raises the president to near perfect status by saying that "no one could be more worthy of special honor and recognition."

"It says he's worthy of recognition ... and there's no one else that we can think of that could be more worthy," she said.

Councilwoman Nancy White, the other Republican on council, said she'd reserve comment until Lucas presents her resolution to the council's Ordinances and Resolutions Committee.

The only action taken on the resolution Tuesday night was to refer it to that committee for discussion.

It's likely to come up again in a couple of weeks.

But Council President Miriam Paris, who technically had the job of referring the resolution to committee, expressed some reservations about it.

She called it "unprecedented." And naming the world's most powerful elected leader an honorary member of the Macon City Council "in some ways is demeaning to the office of the president," Paris said.

Others felt the same way, and opinions crossed racial lines.

White and black members said a measure honoring America's first black president is appropriate, but they'd also vote to honor others in the same way.

Paris and Lucas are both black. White and Erickson are both white. Councilman Virgil Watkins, the body's youngest member, is a 24-year-old black man. He said the resolution is not a major issue, but he'd vote for it.

"I'm more than proud of the president," Watkins said. "(The language) may be a little overboard, but I think the spirit is still valid."

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