Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 7, 2012

“24593” is a large, friendly, senior female who the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter describes as a “Shepherd,” but I think she looks more like a lab mix. She is available for adoption today, and should be considered a likely candidate for eventual euthanasia as both black dogs and seniors are disfavored for adoption. There is nothing better than the love of a senior dog, and if you adopt her, you’ll have a friend for life.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

We are running an online survey over at GaPundit.com and hope you’ll take a few minutes to head over there and fill it out.Included are all five ballot questions adopted by the GOP State Convention, the actual wording of the T-SPLOST item, and both Public Service Commission seats that are up for reelection this year.

It looks like we’ll have enough responses for a 300-sample after today and will start discussing the results tomorrow.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Attorney General Sam Olens has filed suit charging that Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt violated the state Open Meetings law three times in a meeting in which he had a woman removed because was videotaping the meeting.After Tisdale filed her complaint with the state, Gravitt said the city was acting in the interest of safety by not allowing Tisdale’s video camera, which was mounted on a tripod.

The city later submitted a response to the complaint, saying there was confusion with the state’s new open meetings act rules, which had been signed into law earlier that day.

Olens did not agree. According to the lawsuit, “Mayor Gravitt and the officers and employees of the city of Cumming had an obligation to be aware of Georgia law at the time of their violations of its express terms.”

The suit continues: “Moreover, they were pointedly told about their legal obligations before violating them and proceeded anyway. The actions of the [city] were neither legally nor factually performed in objective good faith.”

Since filing its response to the initial complaint, the city has allowed what it refers to as “joint visual and sound recordings” at public meetings in city hall.

Olens will also speak at the Athens Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally on Friday at Noon at the R. G. Stephens Jr. Federal Building, 355 E. Hancock Avenue in Athens. Republican congressional candidate Martha Zoller will also speak.

Darryl Marmon and Robert Stokely will face off in the Republican Primary for State House District 71, to vacate Rep. Billy Horne, who is retiring. The Newnan Times-Herald has a lengthy profile of Marmon today.

Gwinnett County has set the date for the Special Election to fill the remainder of former Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter’s term, which runs through December 31st. The Special Election will be held on November 6th, the same day as the General Election for the term beginning next year.

The proposal to privatize Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field, which was rejected on Tuesday, has been released to the public. Propeller Airports CEO Brett Smith continued his temper tantrum, saying

“The real losers in this is not us. It’s the community.”

Smith said the company is “weighing its options” for suing the county, saying the process was not fair.

“I’m not sure what good that does,” he said of releasing the proposal after the decision was made. “Now people will see what they’ve lost.”

Propeller’s proposal reportedly scored 51 out of 100 in the county staff assessment.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said the ongoing FBI investigation into public corruption at the County Commission may stretch back eight years, to 2004, and involve additional politicians.

In his first public comments on the Lasseter investigation, Conway said Wednesday that he has been hearing “very credible accusations” since 2004 involving payoffs to certain commissioners and their associates.

He said he first approached the IRS criminal investigations division seeking assistance with an investigation, but the IRS referred him to the FBI’s Public Corruption Task Force. Conway said he has had a deputy assigned to that group since 2010.

The rumors I’ve heard about cash payments do not involve Commissioner John Heard, who has been chastised on another political blog.

Gwinnett County voters worried about the possibility of corruption can rest easy because an independent audit found the county’s books “clean.”

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has come under friendly fire from a former college friend, who has taken to YouTube to defend Rogers’s days as a television sports handicapper.

Jim Galloway has an interesting account of how the casino gambling ballot question is playing among candidates in Senate District 31. I wonder if the Georgia Republican Party intended casino gambling to become an issue in party primary elections this year.

Rogers expressed skepticism that a period in his life 14 years gone — “and completely legal” – constitutes a legitimate topic of discussion. No doubt the point will be settled by voters in north Fulton and Cherokee counties.

If nothing else, think of Rogers as a cultural marker. Republican attitudes toward gaming are in flux. On Tuesday, at a debate in Paulding County, state Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, declared that he not only opposes casino gambling – an issue that will be on the GOP primary ballot – but would vote to end the state lottery if given a chance.

Rogers is on the other side of that divide, a man who thinks there’s nothing wrong with generating a little ammunition for those about to buy into the office pool.

I don’t know if Chip Rogers agrees with that assessment of his attitude toward casino gambling.

Forsyth County funeral director Mark Musselwhite has joined two other candidates in a lively primary for Coroner; Musselwhite makes a compelling case for succeeding current coroner Lauren McDonald, as he works at McDonald’s family business.

The Sumter County Board of Elections is embroiled in a lawsuit over reapportionment of districts by the General Assembly. The Board’s attorney Bill NeSmith said, ““If the General Assembly did it, they must know what they’re doing.” Mr. NeSmith might consider visiting the General Assembly sometime if he’s going to continue making statements like that.

Former McDonough City Councilwoman Sandra Vincent has dropped out of the race for Henry County Commission District 3 because her federally-paid job with Fulton County prevents her from running in a partisan election.

Vincent resigned from the McDonough City Council last month, in order to contend for the District III county commission post, as a Democrat. She was unopposed in the primary, set for July 31, and political observers were speculating she would be a difficult candidate to beat.

District III Commissioner Randy Stamey, a Republican, did not qualify for re-election, but four other Republicans, all political newcomers, have qualified. They are Gary W. Barham, a former public works director for the City of McDonough; Kenneth David Sherman, a semi-retired business owner; William L. “Bill” Toney, Jr., owner of Jenco, a golf cart manufacturing company, and human resources manager, Laura Elizabeth Jeffares.

Upson County voters will elect a Board of Education member for District 3 in a special election held at the same time as the July 31st Primary election. The member holding that seat resigned to run for County Commission Chair.

The League of Women Voters for Carrollton and Carroll County will hold a series of forums for local candidates in advance of the July 31st Primary.

A Columbia County forum on the upcoming T-SPLOST vote became the latest outlet for the fear, uncertainty, and dread that voters feel about the transportation sales tax.

Lance Lambertson of the Cobb County Taxpayers Association called the T-SPLOST project list “wasteful” and recommends voting against the penny sales tax.

Members of the Dalton-Whitfield County consolidation commission who represent the county’s three smallest cities oppose the report favoring consolidation.

Ethics

Bob Irvin, who served as Republican House Leader and currently is a member of the Common Cause board opines that Georgia Republicans should reclaim the issue of legislative ethics regulation, and writes that,

When I first ran as a Republican for the General Assembly, 40 years ago, ethics and openness were already a core part of our party’s agenda. The very first partisan floor fight we ever organized was in 1975, for open committee meetings. Every year tha t
I was the minority leader in the House, and most other years, too, we made ethics and openness one of our major issues.

The only “No” votes [on the ethics ballot questions] at the Republican convention were from people who wanted a limit lower than $100 — preferably zero.

I’m not sure I agree with that last statement.

Tom Crawford writes with another historical perspective on ethics and lobbying reform.

There was a similar move for ethics reform in the General Assembly 20 years ago that ended successfully when legislators passed a law that for the first time required lobbyists to register and disclose what they spent in the course of their business.

The same arguments we hear today from veteran legislators — “You can’t buy my vote for the price of a meal!” — were the same arguments made in 1992 against that ethics bill.

The lawmaker at the center of that storm was McCracken Poston, a young attorney from Northwest Georgia who defied one of the most powerful men in state politics, House Speaker Tom Murphy, to get his bill passed.

“In my day with Speaker Murphy, it was not a battle of good versus evil,” Poston said. “We do a disservice when we make this into a good versus evil issue. Tom Murphy, individually, was a very ethical person. He would be very offended at the thought that someone was trying to buy him.”

Poston said that Murphy, like Ralston, understood that lobbyists helped the House leadership maintain control over the 180 individuals who make up that chamber through the money spent to entertain legislators.

“I realized I was challenging a very institutionalized lever he could use on committee chairmen,” Poston recalled. “By knowing which chairmen liked to eat at the Capitol City Club, and which ones liked to play golf, he could keep control of the place a lot better.”

“The lobbyists were the lever,” Poston said.

Finally, former State Senator Dan Moody disagrees with assessments that Georgia’s legislative ethics laws are weak:

Lobbyist spending has come under intense fire this past year in Georgia by watchdog organizations and tea party groups with the willing and able help of the news media, sometimes even making veiled charges of corruption toward our state legislators.

If anything, you can charge Georgia lawmakers with being too honest, based on how other states allow exceptions and lack of reporting requirements in their regulations on lobbyist spending.

I don’t believe the laws in Georgia are perfect, but they are much better than the media and others give them credit for, and much more transparent than those in other states.

Here we don’t hide behind cleverly designed loopholes and exceptions. Instead, lobbyists are required to report every instance of spending on legislators, so Georgians can decide what is appropriate and what is not. The statement that Georgia is one of three states without lobbying restrictions doesn’t give an accurate representation of the entire picture.

Twenty out of thirty candidates to represent parts of Cobb County in the Georgia General Assembly told the Marietta Daily Journal they would sign a pledge not to accept lobbyist gifts in excess of $100.

Michael Smith, who is running for the Democratic nomination for State House in District 41 owes $750 in unpaid fines to the State Ethics Transparency Commission, dating from a 2008 campaign.

Ray Henry writes that 12 incumbent state legislators who have signed the pledge to support a cap on lobbyist gifts declined to support similar legislation earlier this year. Do these born-again legislators need to be baptized for the conversion to take place?

Energy

The Buckhead Coalition and two members of the Georgia Public Service Commission will hold a public forum on alternative-fuel vehicles at the UGA Terry College building on Lenox Road in Buckhead on Monday, June 11th from 10 AM to noon. Join me afterwards at the Bucket Shop Cafe in the lobby for lunch. Or don’t.

US Department of Energy has extended the deadline for closing on an $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the construction of new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

Under the loan-guarantee program, the government promises to assume a company’s debt if the company defaults.

Because of the huge costs of new nuclear reactors, the loan guarantees were designed to make it easier for energy companies to undertake such projects.

More than two years after the conditional offer was announced by President Obama, however, the loan has yet to close, with proprietary details of the negotiations kept secret.

Southern Company pushed back on claims that the cost of the nuclear reactors is likely to exceed projections.

“We are in negotiations with the [construction] consortium, but it is the company’s position we do not agree with that amount and it is not the responsibility of the co-owners,” [Southern Company spokesman Steve] Higginbottom said, adding that the price increase should not be characterized as a cost overrun, since the project is still within budget.

Georgia Power’s PSC-certified cost – $6.1 billion – remains achievable, he said, and the company will be able to provide $2 billion in customer benefits.

The electric Honda Fit is the most fuel-efficient car on the roads, getting up to 118 miles per gallon. A price twice that of the gas-powered version means a drive may take 11 years to recoup his investment.

Customers don’t want to spend the extra money up front and wait for years for payback, said Geoff Pohanka, who runs 13 auto dealerships in Virginia and Maryland, including three that sell the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt electric cars.

“People are smart. They’re looking for the deal,” he said. “Is somebody going to fork out $15,000 more for something that gets them less range than their car now? It’s not happening.”

In March, a couple drove 1626.1 miles on a single tank of diesel in a 2012 Volkswagen Passat SE TDI, beating their previous world record. That’s an average of 84.1 miles per gallon in a car that doesn’t suck.

Neither of those cars is as cool as the Porsche 918 Spyder, a plug-in hybid producing up to 770 hp an fuel economy in the region of 78 miles per gallon.

Ends & Pieces

A biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says that reports of more snakes than usual this year are actually the result of more human-snake interactions, rather than a higher number of snakes. Enough is enough! I have had it with these monkey-fighting snakes!

Atlanta-based Porsche Cars North America reported May sales of 2852 vehicles, up from 2817 in May 2011. This is despite very low sales of new Boxsters from 331 last year to 49 this year, likely as new buyers wait for availability of the next-generation Boxster. Sales of the 911 sports car were up 43 percent over last year.

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