Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 13, 2012

This beautiful, blue-eyed, white husky-mix is described as sweet and is available from the Murray County Animal Shelter in Chatsworth. Without a rescue or adoption, he will be euthanized on Friday in the pre-dawn hours.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The United States Supreme Court will hear a challenge to parts of the Voting Rights Act that affect states that had a history of vote discrimination when the act was passed; this includes Georgia.

The challenge to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was launched two years ago, and the court added it to its docket just days after an energized minority electorate played a critical role in the reelection of President Obama, the nation’s first African American president.

The justices said they would decide whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized a requirement that states and localities with a history of discrimination, most of them in the South, receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.

Three years ago, the court expressed concern about subjecting some states to stricter standards than others using a formula developed decades ago. But the justices sidestepped the constitutional question and found a narrow way to decide that case.

Georgia State House Republicans re-elected their leadership team yesterday, with Speaker David Ralston, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, Vice Chair Matt Ramsey, and Secretary Allen Peake unopposed and Caucus Chair Donna Sheldon beating back an intramural challenge from Rep. Delvis Dutton.

The Democratic Caucus reelected everyone but Rep. Brian Thomas, who was beaten by Rep. Virgil Fludd.

Later this week, Georgia Senate Republicans will gather at Little Ocmulgee State Park for a group hug caucus meeting. Pro-tip to anyone attending: do not accept any offers of an “after dark swamp tour.”

Congressman-elect Doug Collins is preparing to take office in Washington, DC.

Collins, who won the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night, is looking at freshman orientation in Washington over the next few weeks, organizing a staff and otherwise setting up his office on Capitol Hill.

He said Wednesday he had spoken earlier in the day with other newly elected representatives.

“That’s been good, building connections and working together already,” Collins said. “I’ve worked with some of them before in different states, so that’s a good thing.”

He said he is gearing up for committee assignments “in working with not only the leadership but other members in our Georgia delegation to be part of that.”

Title loans and political contributions from title loan companies are becoming one of Georgia’s largest cash crops and exports.

Officials with LoanMax, a Georgia-based firm with branches throughout Wisconsin, poured $24,000 into the campaign coffers of more than a dozen Republican Assembly candidates in targeted districts during the past year.

Wisconsin had barred all loans secured with car titles because they were considered predatory. Low-income individuals with poor credit risk losing their vehicle if they are unable to pay off the debt.

But Assembly Republican leaders successfully led the effort last year to lift the ban on these loans and to ease state restrictions on payday loans – short-term deals with high-interest rates for which borrowers offer no collateral.

Rod Aycox, a wealthy Georgia businessman who pioneered the car title-loan business, did not return calls to his home or office last week. His family owns and runs Select Management Resources, which operates Midwest Title Loans, LoanMax and North American Title Loans.

Aycox has 20 stores offering title loans within 90 miles of Milwaukee.

 Since 2006, LoanMax officials have given $55,500 to dozens of state lawmakers, nearly all of them Republicans.

As part of a Veterans Day celebration in Hall County, Governor Deal said the best way to express our appreciation for our veterans is with jobs.

“Let’s try to address the needs of those men and women who are now coming back home as we see a downsizing in Iraq and … Afghanistan,” Deal said, speaking to Flat Creek Baptist Church congregants, as part of a Veterans Day service.

“One of the great tragedies is that when veterans return, especially wounded warriors, they have a great difficulty finding a slot back in civilian society. Mainly, they have a hard time finding a job.”

Deal went on to talk about state initiatives to help returns veterans to the workplace.

“As you may know, Georgia has one of the highest military populations of any state in the country.”

Although not mentioned by Deal, the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development has set up a special website for veterans, “Operation: Workforce,” that allows them to upload a resume and search and apply for jobs.

The State Board of Education will name the members of the new Charter School Commission that will rule on applications for state Charters under the Constitutional Amendment passed last week.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who headlined the list of supporters pushing the charter schools amendment, said his office began vetting potential nominees for the new commission on Wednesday.

House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said they will be ready with their names as well.

It’s unclear if there will be an opportunity for input by other Georgia General Assembly members. State Sen.-elect Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said the charter school commission isn’t on his radar yet.

The governor will propose a slate for three seats. The speaker and lieutenant governor will have two each. All of the nominees must have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The commission could begin its work as early as February, meaning new charter schools it creates could open for the 2013-14 school year.

It remains to be seen exactly how the staff support for the commission will play out. State Superintendent John Barge was the most high-profile opponent of the constitutional amendment. The new law states that the commission must be established “in collaboration with” his Department of Education.

Barge said Friday that he has not had any conversations with board members or anyone from Deal’s office about re-starting the commission.

“We do have a meeting with the Senate on Thursday, but we’re going to discuss the Senate leadership before we do anything else,” he said.

Duane Piper, a Republican, will take office as Forsyth County’s new Sheriff, having beaten incumbent Ted Paxton in the GOP Primary and turned back a write-in challenger who took more than 680 votes.

Maria Saporta continues to beat the drum for MARTA.

Understandably, Gov. Nathan Deal was upset the day after the defeat because he had stuck his neck out to support the regional transportation sales tax. On Aug. 1, Deal said he wouldn’t try that again.

“I have heard the voice of the public and respect that opinion,” the governor said. Then he made an assumption (that hasn’t been substantiated with facts) that voters had sent a message that they don’t want any more money going to Atlanta’s MARTA system.

Had the vote occurred during the Nov. 6 election, there’s a really good chance that the results in metro Atlanta would have been different.

In the 10-county Atlanta region, President Barack Obama won by a 56.4 percent (954,829) vote to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 43.6 percent (737,081).

So, at least during the general election, the Atlanta region actually was blue — a good indicator of a voting population that would have been open to passing a regional transportation sales tax and supporting MARTA and transit.

It’s a good thing that Maria’s tortured logic on behalf of MARTA has nothing to do with the taxpayer-funder $10,000 payment to her website by the agency.

Cobb County’s school board is considering whether to put SPLOST-IV on the March 2013 ballot.

Usually the mud-slinging ends after the election, but not in Cobb County, where Rebecca Keaton, Superior Court Clerk-elect and her predecessor Jay Stephenson, who is retiring, are trading barbs.

“He’s a crazy nut, isn’t he?” Keaton said Monday of Stephenson.

But Stephenson, who is retiring after 28 years, points out that Keaton hasn’t taken office yet.

“We have custody of the records and evidence and a lot of things, and so the only people who can have access to the working area in the clerk’s office are people who work in the clerk’s office, nobody else,” he said.

Keaton said Stephenson complained to the Cobb Sheriff’s Department after it granted her access to the clerk’s office, a department of 100 employees with a budget of $5.2 million.

“I didn’t know it was a problem until Jay pitched a fit about it and accused me of inappropriate behavior,” she said.

“He told the lieutenant that my job didn’t start until Jan. 2 and that until then it was his office, and he wanted no one to have access to that office,” Keaton said. “When he figured out that we were going to be bringing basically our own team in, and he had a bunch of people that were retiring so I didn’t see why it mattered anyway. He just is sour grapes, what can I say? It’s extremely petty.”

Keaton said it boils down to the fact that Stephenson didn’t want her to succeed him.

“He’s upset because I won the election,” she said.

Yet Stephenson, who dismissed Keaton’s comments as wholly inaccurate, said he tried to make the transition seamless

“She sat there and told me ‘this is a political office, and I’ve got a team that helped me during my campaign, and that’s the team I’m going to bring in to help me run the office,’” Stephenson said. “That’s the old-style, Chicago way of running an office. You bring in your buddies. My take on the office has always been that it’s a public office here to serve the public. The only person I brought in with me when I got elected was my chief deputy. We do hiring based not on who’s your friend or who you support in a political race, but on the question of ‘can this individual do the job we need done or not?’”

Stephenson said that on Friday, Keaton told the staff that if they liked him or her campaign rival, John Skelton and his chief deputy clerk, Elva Dornbusch, they could leave now, he said.

Power Hour

Walter Jones writes that Georgia’s energy policy is to diversify power sources, through diversifying the number of energy policy makers.

From reduced reliance on fossil fuels to expanded use of nuclear and the exporting of biomass, the state’s energy portfolio is on a path very different from the dominance of coal and imported oil of past decades. The shift is all the more remarkable because no single entity is responsible for setting Georgia’s energy policy.

The governor, legislature, Public Service Commission, researchers, federal regulators and private industry have say over various aspects — usually working independently but sometimes in conjunction.

Here’s an interesting point about deploying solar through increased purchases of power by Georgia Power from solar wholesalers.

Two different proposals seek to end Georgia Power’s monopoly to allow competitors to market solar power to retail customers, a question the General Assembly may face when it convenes in January.

The giant utility wants a different policy in which the independent solar producers sell limited amounts of wholesale electricity to Georgia Power.

“It’s not going to be a situation that I see where we go down the solar path in a big way,” said Steve Morton, Georgia Power’s energy-efficiency manager.

During last week’s conference a California-based expert endorsed the company’s approach.

Investors are skittish about backing competitors to a utility, according to Ryan Park, director of business development for REC Solar, a California-based installer of photovoltaic panels.

“But they’re happy if that power is going on to the utility, someone they believe will definitely be there for the decades to come,” he said. “So, the way this program is designed is the way … to really move this industry forward.”

Nowhere in Georgia Power’s response to the proposed “Georgia Solar Utility” does the term LOL appear, but it might well have.

Georgia Power filed its formal response with the Public Service Commission challenging a request by Georgia Solar Utilities Inc.

GaSU contends there is ample sunlight to produce electricity for much of the state during peak hours at a rate below what Georgia Power charges. It wants to sell electricity during sunny hours over lines owned by other companies like Georgia Power, the electric membership cooperatives and the city-owned utilities.

Georgia Power says GaSU isn’t equipped to become a utility.

“GaSU does not have any of the services typically provided by a utility. It has no customers, no existing generation resources, no distributions lines nor the ability to transmit or distribute any generation to any customers and no plan to offer safe, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week electric service to customers,” wrote Georgia Power attorney Kevin Greene, adding that the company expects all of the 94 electricity providers in the state to provide those services.
GaSU is seeking to get monopoly protection as the only solar provider and avoid having to bid for generation projects, according to Greene.

He also said GaSU needs to file other documents that Georgia Power routinely submits to the commission.

GaSU President Robert Green acknowledges that more documents would have to be filed but said his company is just seeking commission approval of the concept before submitting them.

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