Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 10, 2012

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority has this morning approved terms for moving forward on a new Atlanta stadium.

The board, at a special called meeting, OK’d a 24-page non-binding term sheet that will be the basis for further negotiations toward a more definitive, binding agreement between the GWCCA and the Falcons.

The plan is to build a retractable-roof stadium, with a potential cost of around $1 billion, on the GWCCA campus in time for the 2017 NFL season.

Key business terms approved by the board include:

  • The GWCCA, a state agency, would own the stadium.
  • The Falcons would operate the stadium under a 30-year license agreement, with options to renew for an additional 15 years.
  • A portion of the construction cost would be funded by revenue from the hotel-motel tax in the city of Atlanta and Fulton County; that portion has been estimated at around $300 million. The rest, including any cost overruns, would be the Falcons’ responsibility, although that could be offset by the sale of personal seat licenses.
  • The Falcons would pay annual rent of $2.5 million, increasing 2 percent per year, to the GWCCA.
  • The Falcons would be responsible for all of the stadium’s operating expenses and would retain all revenue.
  • The Georgia Dome would be demolished, and many events held there would move to the new stadium.
  • The new stadium would be built on the GWCCA campus, with the final selection from two sites – one just south of the Dome and the other a half-mile north of the Dome – deferred until the negotiation of a more definitive memorandum of understanding early next year.

The phrase “around a billion dollars” always makes me uneasy.

U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss predicted that President Obama will out-negotiate Republicans as they approach the “Fiscal Cliff.”

“I think the president’s probably going to get his way,” the Georgia Re­pub­li­can said to members of the state Legislature on Sunday.

Chambliss said that based on his experience in the House and Senate, he believes a deal will be struck at the last moment. He said negotiations in Washington usually don’t gel until a deadline approaches, such as the coming Christmas vacation.

State lawmakers met at the University of Georgia on Sunday for issue briefings as the Jan. 14 start of the legislative session nears.

Chambliss has drawn criticism from conservatives for saying he is no longer bound by a pledge he signed as a candidate 20 years ago not to raise taxes. He and the Gang of Six are calling for eliminating most tax credits and deductions.

“When I said that I had a problem with the pledge, it had nothing to do with me wanting to raise taxes, but it had everything to do with the fact that I know we’ve got to begin paying down that (federal debt),” he said. “I’m not going to have some lobbyist in Washington tell me, ‘Here’s the way you’re going to do it.’ ”

Two serious contenders have emerged in the Special Election to fill the seat vacated by State Senator John Bulloch.

First, we note that Senator Bulloch has released a statement on his decision to resign from the State Senate shortly after his reelection.

“It has been an honor to serve District 11 as a Georgia State Senator since 2003.  I’d like to thank all of my constituents, colleagues and staff for their support during my years at the Gold Dome.

However, no one deserves more appreciation and recognition than my wife and family. Their unconditional love and encouragement was a constant reminder of the reason why I ran for this office—because I wanted to create a better and brighter future for this state.

As a farmer by trade, it has been a special privilege to serve as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs committee. Very few farmers get chances like this, and I am grateful for the opportunity to play a pivotal role in strengthening Georgia’s ag industry.

I am looking forward to spending more time with my family and sharing the wealth of fond memories and life lessons collected during my time in the Georgia Senate.”

Former State Rep. and Second District Congressional Candidate (2010) Mike Keown was the first to announce his candidacy:

“After prayer and careful consideration, I have decided to run for State Senate,” Mike said. Senate District 11 includes the counties of Colquitt, Decatur, Early, Grady, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole and Thomas. Keown has appeared on the ballot or served in elected office in 7 of these 8 counties and carried these counties with 62% of the vote during his 2010 bid for Congress.

A special election has been called for Tuesday, January 8th, one week prior to the start of the 2013 Legislative Session. Commenting on the surprise announcement from Senator Bulloch, Mike said “John is a good friend and to be running for the seat that was held by him is an honor. My priority will be to maintain the commitment he had to serve the people of South Georgia and to always do what was right. The six years I spent in the Georgia House have provided me with the knowledge and relationships to continue the tradition of effective representation from day one.”

Mike ran for Congress in Georgia’s 2nd congressional district in 2010. His campaign was the closest anyone has ever come to unseating the 20 year incumbent Democrat, Sanford Bishop. Mike’s campaign was very well organized across the 11th Senate District. “Many of my former supporters in this District have already pledged their support for this campaign. We have a strong infrastructure of County Chairs, grassroots volunteers and supporters in place who are ready to get to work,” said Mike.

Mike will qualify to run in the special election Monday morning, December 10th at the State Capitol.

Keown also ran for Thomas County Commissioner in 2011.

Brad Hughes from Blakely, GA in Early County resigned as Second Congressional District Georgia Republican Party Chair in order to enter the race.

“After much encouragement and prayerful consideration, I am announcing my candidacy for the 11th Senate District of Georgia. I am running because our South Georgia families and farmers need a bold voice for our conservative values, for limited government, and for our way of life in the Senate.”

Hughes, who worked for Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the State Capitol, resigned his post on Friday to prepare for the race.

“While I will work hard to continue his legacy, no one can fill the shoes of Senator John Bulloch. He is a larger than life figure whose starched blue jeans and cowboy boots, coupled with his South Georgia no nonsense approach, makes him an unmatched fixture in the General Assembly. Though I may not perfectly match those attributes, I am committed to replicate the Senator’s leadership and conservative ideals.”

Hughes is known in political circles for his conservative values. He believes in a strict interpretation of the Constitution and Federalist approach to a strong state government. He is unapologetically pro-life and pro-family.

“Along with my conservative approach, I am also extremely committed to strong ethics reform. Georgians have made their voices clear, and District 11 doesn’t need any career politicians who love the lobbyist funded entertainment culture.”

“I humbly ask for the vote of every person in District 11 with the pledge to always do what is best for them.”

Expect more candidates for this election.

Republican political consultant Brian Laurens has announced he will be a candidate for State House from the district being vacated by Sean Jerguson. If I were a voter in that district, I’d ask whether Brian Laurens has the temperment to be a member of the State House given this incident:

According to the police report, John Marinko, the county’s vice chair for events who was serving as the sergeant-at-arms during the convention, told the officer that arrived in response to a call for help that Laurens did not follow the rules during the meeting.

Marinko said in the police report that Laurens, 29, was asked several times to “conduct himself in a proper manner,” but refused to do so.

The report alleges Laurens refused to sit down and, when asked to do so, began yelling and “causing a scene.”

Fellow sergeant-at-arms Lawrence Mrozinski, who told police that he spoke with a “final authority” at the convention who wanted Laurens removed, offered Laurens one more chance to calm down, but he refused.

Mrozinski told police Laurens became physical when Laurens “body checked him with his chest and stomach,” and placed his hands on Mrozinksi’s shoulders.

The report indicated Laurens was informed he could return to the proceedings if he calmed down.

When reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, Laurens said the incident “wasn’t really anything.”

“The sergeant-at-arms was being a little bit outside of his power of what he thought he could and couldn’t do,” he said, noting that’s all he wanted to say about the incident.

We noted one week ago that the Augusta Chronicle had identified a number of voters who were registered at addresses that turned out to be vacant or abandoned lots. The Richmond County Board of Elections asked Executive Director Lynn Bailey to investigate the reports.

Bailey told board members that she was able to confirm that several of the voters on the Chronicle’s list were registered and voted from addresses that turned out to be vacant lots. She said a few of those voters have updated their addresses in recent months, but most have not.

One voter was stopped at the polls Tuesday and asked to update his address before casting a ballot in the runoff election for District 1 commissioner, Bailey told the board.

She said the voter declined to update his information and cast a provisional ballot instead.

“That address we have, in fact, been able to determine that is a vacant lot,” she said. “He did not avail himself of the opportunity to provide correct address information.”

Board members voted to reject the ballot based on the ineligible address before certifying the election results.

Bailey said the newspaper’s articles uncovered problems she wasn’t really aware of, but also gave her ideas about how the issue could be addressed.

“This has started a very interesting conversation with the code enforcement people and others about how we can use the data that exists to look into this,” she said.

The Chronicle’s investigation used Augusta government databases and matched them with voter registration data to find lists of voters with suspect addresses. Checks of the addresses found some registered at vacant lots and others who used a business address to vote. Georgia law requires voters to register at their place of residence.

Some of the voters interviewed by The Chronicle admitted to living in other counties or even outside the state.

But according to liberal AJC Columnist Jay Bookman, “the GOP fixation on voter fraud is explainable only as a case of mass, self-induced hysteria.”

Speaking of delusional, Librarian Libertarian James Camp thinks he can win the Special Election for State Senate District 30.

Camp faces Republican Mike Dugan in the Jan. 8 election, following Dugan’s runoff win over former state Rep. Bill Hembree this week.

Camp said his election could prevent a single-party, super majority in the state Senate, which he believes is close to happening as the Republicans near the two-thirds majority level.

“When you have a super majority, it takes away the will of the people and replaces it with the will of the party establishment,” he said. “I can help stop that.”

However, he acknowledges that some voters distrust third parties, and see anyone who’s not a Republican as an outsider, and not capable of having conservative views.

“At a GOP meeting a couple of months ago, I had a man come up to me and tell me he’d vote for the devil himself if the devil had an ‘R’ next to his name,” Camps said. “But Libertarians have very conservative views and some are more to the extreme than Republicans.”

Despite such voter concerns, Camp still feels his chances are good for a Jan. 8 victory, “probably equal with Dugan.”

Dugan finished second in a field of four candidates in the Nov. 6 special primary before winning the Dec. 4 runoff.

“I think the runoff returns were very telling,” Camp said. “The people have spoken and said they want a new voice in the Legislature. Now it’s come down to January to find out which patriot they want to represent them in the Senate. Regardless of who wins, it’s a brand new start, with brand new ideas and I’m excited about that.”

In addition to three Senate seats, and at least on House seat, there is an additional Special Election currently slated for January 8, 2013. Baker County will hold its election for Sheriff unless something changes in the current litigation over the last election.

 

Weeks after judge order a recall in the Baker County Sheriff’s race due allegations of voter irregularities an appeal could affect the new election.

It’s currently slated for January 8th but Sheriff Dana Meade appealed to reverse the decision that tossed out results of the August runoff.

Meade beat Tim Williamson in the August runoff by 39 votes, but Williamson sued.

The results were tossed out after Judge Gray found evidence of vote buying and altered absentee ballots.

Now Williamson is waiting to find out if he will get the chance to campaign again for Sheriff, a position he says he can do better than Meade.

 That appeal is in the hands of the state Supreme Court. County officials tell us until further notice, the January 8th election will go on as planned.
State Senator Renee Unterman has been busy recently. Last week, Unterman was in Washington discussing preventing sex trafficking, after Georgia became a leader in combatting the systematic exploitation of women and children.

The Buford state senator spoke at a White House event, asking states to strengthen human trafficking laws at the National Conference of State Legislators fall forum.

“I am deeply appreciative of the NCSL for hosting this meaningful discussion and recognizing the continued need for protecting women and children against human trafficking,” Unterman said. “It is my sincere hope that legislators and interested stakeholders will be empowered with the tools and resources necessary to bring about positive reform in their respective states.”

During her time in Washington, Unterman participated in a series of events aimed at combating human slavery, including the NCSL human trafficking forum, a luncheon with actress and former U.N. goodwill ambassador Mira Sorvino and a meeting with one of the nation’s leading human trafficking advocacy organizations, Polaris Group.

She also met with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Georgia.

“The establishment of government-run health care is new territory for the states and requires a strong, interconnected relationship with our friends in Washington,” said Unterman, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “I am very pleased that Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is open to receiving feedback as we begin implementing key provisions within the Affordable Care Act. Together, we can provide affordable, quality health care for the people of Georgia.”

Unterman will chair two public town hall meetings this coming Saturday in which citizens may give their input on issues affecting Lake Lanier.

The first will be held from 10:30 to noon at the ballroom of the Gainesville Civic Center. Another session will begin at 1 p.m. at Buford City Hall.

A woman ordered to wear a sign saying “I made a fool out of myself on a Bibb County school bus,” is serving her sentence today.

Freeman chose wearing the sign instead of spending four weekends in jail.

Shortly before 7 a.m., Freeman walked up to the corner outside Lynmore Grocery where TV news crews were waiting. “I knew y’all was gonna be here,” Freeman said.

Freeman said later, “It’s not an embarrassment. … I hope that it’s a lesson learned.”

When a cameraman said to her, “At least it’s fun,” Freeman corrected him.

“It’s not fun.”

I’ll give Democratic Congressman John Barrow credit for this one: he’s donating 79,000 frequent flyer miles to sick and wounded veterans.

U.S. Rep. John Barrow was scheduled to visit the Fisher House at Augusta’s VA medical center Monday to donate his 79,000 frequent flyer miles to its Hero Miles Program.

The program gives free airline tickets to wounded and ill service members who need to travel to undergo treatment. Officials say the program has donated more than 30,000 airline tickets worth more than $45 million.

Next month, local elected officials in the Augusta area will meet with the local legislative delegation to discuss priorities for the 2013 Session of the General Assembly.

The delegation is scheduled to meet Jan. 7 at the Evans Government Center auditorium, according to a media advisory sent by the Georgia House of Representatives.

After holding an organizational meeting at 8 a.m., members will then have pre-legislative session meetings with local elected officials from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The Republican delegation consists of state representatives Ben Harbin (Evans), Barbara Sims (Augusta), Tom McCall (Elberton) and Barry Fleming (Harlem). Senators Bill Jackson (Appling) and Jesse Stone (Waynesboro) round off the group.

File under “best intentions”: property tax refunds for disabled veterans are being held up in Columbia County due, at least in part, to the process.

Disabled veterans who own property in the county are owed refunds because of an increase in the level of their homestead exemptions. The federal government made the change in 2007, but county officials around Georgia say either the federal government failed to notify the states, or the state failed to notify county officials.

That’s forced counties to recompute the tax exemptions for those years, and refund the overpayment from veterans who were residents. County commissioners announced the refunds in July, with the hopes that the checks would go out around Thanksgiving.

At the time, officials said they expected the checks to average about $1,100.

The Stockbridge City Council meets this morning under extra security to determine whether to remove Mayor Lee Stuart from office.

The hearing could be the climax in a running battle between the mayor and city council over mayoral power and how the town of 25,000 should be run. The three-year-old strife has taken a nasty turn in recent weeks, escalating into physical fights and shouting matches at council meetings, and has drawn police attention.

“It is unusual,” Henry County Police spokesman Sgt. Joey Smith said of the recent dust-ups among elected officials in Stockbridge, Henry County’s largest town. “I can’t remember seeing this level of friction. It doesn’t happen very often at all. We’re just waiting for the hearing to be over with and whatever the outcomes are.”

Monday’s hearing, set for 9 a.m., will delve into seven violations alleged by an outside investigator who told city officials they had grounds to get rid of Mayor Lee Stuart based on his findings.

Atlanta attorney Chris Balch, hired to investigate nearly 22 allegations from residents and city workers, said Stuart had created a hostile workplace for city workers and had disclosed sensitive information about a city office at a public meeting. In one case, Balch’s findings say Stuart cost the city $60,000 because he failed to adequately investigate the background of a consultant.

Balch said he spoke to 17 witnesses, reviewed 2,000 pages of documents and videotapes from council meetings and surveillance cameras. On Monday, once both sides have presented their arguments the council will go into a closed session, then come out and vote on whether to remove Stuart.

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