Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 5, 2012


Horace is a 54-pound, young male about 2 years old. He’s described as a chocolate lab/Weimaraner mix, and he’s available for adoption from the Cherokee County Humane Society. He is neutered, vaccinated and microchipped and the volunteers say he loves people and other dogs, is house- and crate-trained, and an all-around excellent dog.

Macon-Bibb County may soon have a spay-neuter ordinance requiring a higher license fee for pet owners who do not want to neuter their dogs and cats.

Macon City Councilwoman Nancy White is urging officials to attack the root of the animal-welfare problem.

She is preparing an ordinance requiring cats and dogs to be spayed or neutered, with an unspecified but substantial license fee for owners who don’t want their pets fixed. And she wants to see it passed by city and county governments.

“The sooner the better,” she said.

On Oct. 16 White e-mailed the proposed ordinance to Bibb commissioners, asking them to join her at a news conference supporting it.

“My hope is that we can pass mirror ordinances in both the city and county simultaneously so that this is county-wide,” she wrote. “It is something that has long been needed, and I feel our community is now ready, thanks in part to the grant you have to provide low cost/no cost spay & neuter services.”

In succeeding weeks White wrote again, saying she hadn’t heard back from commissioners, but that several council members had agreed to be co-sponsors.

There should be little, if any, actual cost incurred by enacting the policy, White said. But there are secondary costs.

“If you’re going to mandate it, you’ve got to make it available for people who might not be able to afford it,” White said.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Total spending on the 2012 elections has been estimated at more than $6 billion, an historic figure.

President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney both rejected federal public financing — another first — and each of them collected nearly as much as the entire field in 2004.

That’s largely due to many of the Watergate-era laws limiting campaign money that have been nullified or circumvented. The 2012 presidential election cycle marks the first since Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that swept away key restrictions on money from corporations and the wealthy.

As of this writing, on Sunday evening, Mr. Obama led by an average of 1.3 percentage points across 12 national polls that had been published over the course of the prior 24 hours. The range was quite tight, running from a tied race in the polls issued by Rasmussen Reports, CNN and Politico, to a three-point lead in three other surveys.

This happens to be a reasonably friendly group of polls for Mr. Obama, and it’s more likely than not that at least some national polls published late Sunday or on Monday will still show Mitt Romney ahead.

Nevertheless, there is enough data to conclude that Mr. Obama probably has a slight edge from national surveys, which until recently had pointed toward a tie — or perhaps a modest advantage for Mr. Romney in the immediate aftermath of the Denver debate.

RealClearPolitics has Obama ahead by 47.9 to 47.4, a meaningless difference.

Rasmussen has it deadlocked at 49-49, and in that kind of scenario, various third party candidates may effect the results in individual states.

In Georgia, voting is open from 7 AM to 7 PM tomorrow. You will need to bring a photo id. To check your polling place or for a sample ballot, you can login to the Secretary of State’s MVP webpage.

Politico.com reported that a poll by libdems Better Georgia shows Congressman John Barrow (D-12) with a 50-44 lead over Republican Lee Anderson.

Some counties will begin tallying absentee ballots before polls close.

If you recently registered to vote, you may not have received your precinct card yet. But as long as you registered by the Oct. 9 deadline, you should be fine.

Elections officials have been busy getting ready for the election — and for election night.

“We are going to start counting the absentee by mail ballots early,” said [Coweta County Elections Superintendent Jane] Scoggins. In the past, the ballots couldn’t be opened until the polls closed at 7 p.m. But Scoggins sent in a request to the state to be allowed to start early, and it was granted.

The elections workers will be able to start opening, sorting, and counting the ballots at 3 p.m. But they will be sequestered in a secured room, and unable to leave. “If you went in there, you wouldn’t be able to come out,” Scoggins said. They’ll have access to a restroom and a kitchen.

Scoggins said she hopes that the workers will be able to start the actual counting of the ballots by around 5 p.m.

“We’ll probably have 3,500, and that will take them a little while. It just takes so long to run the tapes at the end,” Scoggins said.

Muscogee County will also begin tabulating mail-in ballots early. Election supervisor Nancy Boren offers these tips:

• They may find local polls are busier in the morning than the afternoon, as typically a lull occurs after the lunch hour and before people start leaving work at 5 p.m.

• If they are told they aren’t eligible to vote, but believe they registered before the Oct. 9 deadline, they should not give up, but ask about filing a provisional ballot the local elections board will accept if it finds the voter was properly qualified.

• If voters think their ballots are incorrect or otherwise flawed, they should alert a poll worker immediately, before they tap “cast ballot” on the touch-screen voting machine. Once cast, a ballot cannot be recalled for inspection.

• If they plan to vote on the six city charter and two state constitutional amendments, they should study those in advance rather than causing delays by trying to decipher them at the voting machine. Each ballot is nine pages long, unless the voter magnifies it on the machine, and then it’s 19 pages.

• Voters in polls are not allowed to wear regalia (caps, buttons, T-shirts) advocating for or against a political candidate or cause. They will be asked to remove caps or buttons and turn shirts inside-out.

• No one is allowed to campaign within a perimeter sheriff’s deputies already have marked around each voting poll. Bumper stickers are allowed within that designated area, but large magnetic signs affixed to vehicles must be removed.

• As always, Georgia polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. But anyone who’s in line to vote as of 7 p.m. will be allowed to, so voters who feel they are running too late to vote should note whether they still have time to get in line before 7 o’clock.

• Also as usual, each voter must show a government-issued photo ID.

Some Republicans in the legislature look forward to a possible supermajority — enough elected Republicans to pass proposed Constitutional Amendments without a single Democrat.

The effort, however, faces uncertain outcomes in several key races. Among them, DeKalb County incumbent Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, faces a pitched battle to retain his seat in one of this year’s nastiest political battles.

Across town, Republican newcomer Hunter Hill faces off in a tight race against longtime Senate Democrat Doug Stoner for Senate District 6, a district redrawn last year to include Atlanta’s GOP-leaning Buckhead.

GOP supermajorities in both the House and Senate could have a profound effect on legislation in Georgia.

Constitutional amendments need two-thirds support in both chambers to get on the ballot. If Republicans no longer need the support of the minority, they could be freer to pursue everything from stronger limits on spending, taxes and abortion to the creation of private school vouchers, all issues that have been raised in recent years.

Even the effort to re-create Milton County out of what is now north Fulton County would get a boost, said University of Georgia professor Charles Bullock, an authority on state politics.

Bullock said this election may be one of the GOP’s biggest opportunities to reach its goal. The state has begun experiencing demographic shifts — an increase in African-American, Latino and Asian voters in some areas — that seem more likely to help Democrats in the future.

“Whatever comes out of this election, we’re pretty close to the high-water mark for Republicans in this state,” Bullock said.

Of course, with a supermajority, GOP leadership still has to herd enough Republican legislators together to pass their bills. This became more difficult as the GOP grew from a minority based in the Atlanta suburbs to a large majority representing all regions of the state.

Jeff Gill at the Gainesville Times writes about the role of redistricting in the turnover of Georgia’s legislature to Republican near-superdominance.

At a time when the GOP now far outnumbers Democrats under the Gold Dome, only 21.6 percent of General Assembly seats are being contested, according to an Oct. 17 report from the College of William and Mary’s Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy.

“Redistricting appears to have played a role in the decreased competition, though its impact is not consistent from state to state,” states the report, which shows Georgia as being the “least competitive” in terms of state legislative races across the U.S.

“In some cases, news reports indicate that (it) may have discouraged competitive legislative races, as the party in control of drawing legislative maps used their power to create smaller numbers of swing districts and more safe party seats.”

Charles Bullock, political scientist at the University of Georgia, said that redistricting — the redrawing of constituent boundaries, driven by U.S. census numbers — is a major reason for the partisan shift as it applies to congressional and state legislative races.

“Once these districts flipped, Democrats were unprepared for it,” he said. “They still remain weak organizationally, weak in terms of having candidate development and recruitment, and Republicans have been building toward this for years.

“Going back into the late 1980s, Republicans have been targeting individual state legislative districts, where, even though they were electing Democrats, they were voting for Republicans (in presidential races). … Those things helped position them once they began to get favorable maps.”

Georgians have traveled as far afield as Rittman, Ohio;

Mitt Romney may have a virtual lock on Georgia, but his most ardent supporters — and those of President Barack Obama — are still pounding the pavement to turn out every last friendly vote.

They’re just doing it hundreds of miles away, in states such as Ohio and Florida, where their efforts have the potential to tip a Spanx-tight election.

Near Akron, Ohio, Marietta Realtor Felicity Diamond and other Georgia Republicans braved temperatures in the 30s this weekend to talk to voter Carrie Hovest.

“We’re coming from a red state,” said Diamond, whose Southern drawl was noticeably out of place in the Midwest. “We’d just love to have you in our column.”

“I see (the United States) falling apart, and I see it no longer being the ‘City on a Hill,’” said Republican Linda Clary Umberger, of Dawsonville. She organized volunteers from the Atlanta area to canvass in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio. “When I wake up Wednesday morning I will know I did everything I have to do, and I’ll have no regrets regardless of the outcome.”

Both campaigns strongly covet the Buckeye State. Without it, they would need to win almost all the smaller swing states – Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia.

Romney, in particular, will have trouble amassing the necessary 270 electoral votes without Ohio. His late play in Pennsylvania, which he visited Sunday, is an attempt to increase the number of viable combinations to get him to that magic threshold.

“While there are paths around Ohio for Romney, it is tough,” emailed Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “And no (Republican) has ever been elected without Ohio and Ohio has picked the White House winner 27 of the last 29 elections.”

The state resembles the nation as a whole in many ways, though it is somewhat whiter, denser and poorer than the national averages, according to census data.

“There’s a mix of rural, suburban and city,” said Columbus-based Republican consultant Terry Casey. “It isn’t like one media market dominates the state, so that makes it more challenging and more interesting.”

I spent several years of my childhood in Wadsworth, Ohio, next door to Rittman, where my father worked at the time. Georgians who find themselves in small-town or rural Ohio will learn that they have much in common with these Ohioans, especially a passion for deer-hunting.

State Rep. Bill Hembree (R), in a campaign for Senate District 30, credits Reagan with inspiring his political career.

The year was 1983, the venue was the old Atlanta Omni. A 17-year-old Hembree went to see Reagan speak on free enterprise. Not content to merely watch the event, he took his high school energy straight though the front of the crowd, through security even.

“I got all the way down to the front of the stage where the president was going to speak,” said Hembree. “Suddenly, the secret service surrounded me and said, ‘Who are you, what are you doing and what are your intentions?’ I told them I was from West Georgia, my name is Bill Hembree and I’d like to meet the president to talk about free enterprise.”

Sure enough, Hembree’s drive to see the 40th president worked. He met Reagan backstage, and learned a lesson he hangs onto today.

“I said, ‘It’s an honor to meet you, what can I do to be a better American?’” Hembree recalled. “He said, ‘Be a public servant.’”

Hembree’s main opponent, former Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson, tells of a failed bid for Student Body President in elementary school.As a fifth-generation Winston native growing up on a street named for his family, Richardson ran for student body president at Winston Elementary School his last year there. It taught him a hard lesson.

Given time to speak to his classmates, Richardson made modest promises about things he would do as president, such as getting nice new curtains in the classrooms.

His opponent had other ideas.

“He said, ‘If you elect me student body president, I’ll cancel school every Friday!’” Richardson said. “I could hear the hooting and hollering up and down the halls, and I knew I was toast.”

Of course, school wasn’t canceled that Friday or any other.

“That’s when I learned some people running for office will say things they can’t possibly deliver on,” he said.

Contested local races are few and far between in North Georgia.

The counties with no local contested county races are: Banks, Dawson, Hall, Jackson, Lumpkin and White.

Banks County voters will be deciding the fate of a Sunday alcohol by-the-drink question. The same is true in Lumpkin County where a separate question deals with the Sunday sale of beer and wine by retail outlets, such as supermarkets and convenience stories.

White County voters, meanwhile, will be choosing between two candidates for the District 8 seat in the state House of Representatives and deciding on a Freeport Tax Exemption for certain manufactured goods.

There are five people running for the two city council posts in Dawsonville, seeking to replace two former councilmen who resigned earlier this year to run for mayor in a special election to fill the unexpired term of the late Joe Lane Cox.

No local issues or contested county races are on the ballots in Dawson, Hall, and Jackson counties.

In Forsyth County, though his name is not on the ballot, D.T. Smith is running for sheriff as a write-in candidate against Republican Duane Piper in a race to replace Ted Paxton, whom Piper defeated in the GOP Primary this summer.

Of the other counties: there are contested races in Gwinnett for two state legislative seats, court clerk and county school board district 1; in Habersham, two people are vying for the district 1 seat on the county commission; and, in Barrow County, there is a two-man race for sheriff.

The Savannah Morning News has endorsed Mitt Romney for President, and Republican Meg Daly Heap for Chatham County District Attorney.

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Howard Simms returns to the bench after a six-week stint in rehab for alcoholism. The entire story is worth reading.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Simms said counseling has helped him come to terms with a nearly two-decade-long drinking problem that many nights included him imbibing to the point of passing out.

Simms said a close friend and mentor’s suicide in 1993 was the crossroads in his life where drinking stopped being just for fun. It became a medicine.

“It became to me an almost perfect anesthetic,” he said. “I could avoid dealing with things by getting drunk enough not to have to confront them.”

Simms said he’s not sure how he’ll be received Monday when he goes back to work although he’s gotten support from a lot of people.

He plans to make an appointment to talk with the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission. He notified the commission — the state agency tasked with investigating judges’ conduct — of his stop at the license checkpoint and his plan to enter rehab in September.

Simms said he doesn’t know what to expect, but he wants to remain a judge.

“It’s a job that I love,” he said.

The judge said he expects he’ll have a different perspective on the bench as a result of his experience.

“If I were being judged by somebody for something I had done, I wouldn’t want a self-righteous person who thinks of themselves as perfect,” he said. “I would want a flawed man who has addressed his flaws and realizes that not only are other people flawed, but that he is.”

 

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