Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 10, 2012

FultonBlessings

“Blessings” is a three-month old black-and-white lab mix who is available for adoption from Fulton County Animal Shelter. Her brother Blake is also available for adoption.

FultonBlakeGeorgia Dog and Cat Rescue advocates are asking for support in ensuring that LifeLine Animal Project be awarded the contract to provide housing and animal control in Fulton County.

At this very moment the County has a decision to make on whom to select to provide Animal Control and sheltering services. They have before them two bids to replace Barking Hound and can decide at any time!

One is a horribly regressive option, a for profit group not in animal welfare that is affiliated with Ron Totten, the director who killed over 80% of the pets in his care and was reviled for his lack of compassionate leadership during his past tenure. His past suggests he will be anything but rescue friendly.

The other is a renowned lifesaving ten year old non profit animal welfare organization, well loved and respected by many rescues called LifeLine Animal Project. LifeLine is headed by Rebecca Guinn who is nationally recognized as a hero to animals. Rebecca is also an attorney and as you may know she wrote the legislation that banned gas chambers in GA. Dekalb county has even proclaimed a “Rebecca Guinn Day” to honor all of her and LifeLine’s animal welfare efforts including a focus on mass low cost spay neuter initiatives.

Complete details regarding the situation and both groups here .

You can help save many lives immediately by simply letting Fulton County know they must choose LifeLine. If they hear from enough people and also voters that will sway them.

Click here for dates and addresses of Commission meetings where people can speak, suggested easy email and phone scripts plus contact info here.

 

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said last night that he will run for reelection in 2014. Hudgens has done a great job as Insurance Commissioner and we look forward to supporting his reelection.

State Budget

The 2013 Session of the General Assembly will feature difficult discussions about the state budget.

Starting next week, the Georgia General Assembly will convene for 2013 and the only bill required by law to be passed is a balanced budget, a budget that has a $700,000,000 shortfall.

Now Governor Nathan Deal is calling for department cuts to help make up for that loss.

“The governor has asked for a 3% decrease to all department and agencies with the exception of public education,” said Representative Ed Rynders.

Those cuts will be in vital areas such as public safety and mental health.

The legislature is unlikely to add transit funding.

The most lawmakers might do for metro transportation is to stave off collapse of the Xpress commuter bus service. Xpress is currently scheduled to go bankrupt and shut down in summer 2013.

MARTA, which is running low on reserves and has long asked in vain for operations funding, isn’t likely to get any from the state this year either, state leaders told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Flexibility is easier to offer schools than money in these economic doldrums, although superintendents often note that they can’t use it to pay teacher salaries or heating bills.

After 15 months of work, the State Education Finance Study Commission is urging the General Assembly to expand freedoms for districts that earn high marks under the Department of Education’s new grading system. (Beginning next year, the state will use a 100-point rating system to create a grade for every school in Georgia.)

“Public schools should be treated the same way we treat charter schools. We should tell them what to teach but not how to teach. We have been micromanaging schools for years,” said commission co-chair and state Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth. A former educator, Coleman also chairs the House Education Committee.

High performing districts would be freed from state regulations dubbed the big four: class size, teacher pay, teacher certification and the 65 percent rule. The 65 percent rule mandates that schools spend 65 percent of their revenues in the classroom. It was adopted by the Legislature in 2006 despite national data that student performance doesn’t noticeably or consistently increase at 65 percent. And that has proven true in Georgia, where the law has produced nothing but paperwork. (“Why do you remind me of bills that I wish I never carried,” said Millar, co-chair of the Finance Commission, at one of the meetings.)

Governor Nathan Deal has proposed adding 3% to HOPE funding.

Deal said that he intends to give HOPE recipients 3 percent more toward their tuition starting with the fall semester.

The governor told Geary that lottery revenues, which fund the program, are growing, allowing for the expense.

“We do have the money in the lottery. We are hopeful it will continue to grow. Maybe we can make even better announcements in years to come,” Deal said.

Legislature

The Georgia Senate is close to agreement on the outlines of internal rules to limit gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

Wednesday’s committee meeting was the last before this year’s legislative session begins Monday. Members are finalizing a proposal that outlines new ethics parameters for senators, which include defining what is a gift — a private dinner worth more than $100, for example — and what is not.

Among exemptions are memberships or subscriptions related to public office, and registration costs and “reasonable” travel expenses for out-of-state junkets, as long as they are related to a senator’s official duties. The rules would not allow lobbyists to give a group gift collectively worth more than $100.

McKoon said penalties for violating the proposed new rules would be at the discretion of the ethics committee, which is expected to continue its work during the session. Penalties could be anything from a fine to public censure.

The cap is expected to be voted on Monday by the entire Senate as part of a general handbook of rules governing the chamber over the next two years, which is the usual legislative cycle in Georgia.

Also Wednesday, Holly LaBerge, the state ethics commission’s executive secretary, testified before study committee members about the commission’s struggles to police campaign-finance reports and accurately assess fines for candidates or incumbents who file reports late or don’t file them at all.

According to the Associated Press:

Those rules are expected to get a vote when the Senate reconvenes Monday. If enacted, lawmakers who run afoul of the rules could be censured, fined or even expelled. Right now, there are no such limits.

“I’m very optimistic that the Senate is going to take action,” said state Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, the lawmaker who has spearheaded the push for setting caps. “…We’re out in the Wild West, there’s no regulation at all.”

If enacted, the Senate rule capping gifts would stand until the General Assembly adopts a law to that effect. While McKoon and his supporters plan to introduce that legislation, it appears less certain to pass.

At the same time, legislators show no interest in further limiting campaign contributions.

“That (gifts) is not where the influence is. There is too much money in the campaigns,” said Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, the outgoing Senate President Pro Tem and a supporter of lowering donation limits.

Williams’ replacement on the Senate leadership team, Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, isn’t sure campaign finance should be part of the ethics package.

“Campaign contributions are fundamentally different from gifts,” Shafer said. “Campaign contributions are already limited, subject to disclosure regardless of source and cannot be converted to personal use.”

William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, is part of a coalition working on an ethics bill that will include gift limits. Perry said campaign finance should be a “key component” of any ethics legislation lawmakers pass.

“It’s encouraging that we have a (fundraising) blackout period, but it’s tough when all this money is raised right before the legislative session starts and we don’t find out about who gave what … until the session is over,” Perry said.

In non-election years, like 2013, lawmakers don’t have to disclose what lobbyists gave them this week until July.

“I think it causes a horrible perception problem,” he said. “The people in this state have little trust in their government right now. So when officials come together and have campaign fundraisers right before the session, there is a bad perception problem.”

Another ethics issue emerging is whether to allow local officials an option of filing their disclosures locally.

Municipal officials have complained filing reports through the state’s central database is too cumbersome, and many of those officials fail to file or send reports late.

It’s unclear how many politicians are simply ignoring the reporting requirements on campaign spending. The state’s ethics commission is supposed to receive lists of local candidates from nearly 900 local election officials statewide, said Holly LaBerge, executive secretary of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. Only 540 of those officials have the computer codes necessary to send that information to LaBerge’s commission.

Of the roughly 540 election officials who have the necessary code, it appears 300 or fewer are regularly sending reports, LaBerge said.

Such a move might also lessen the strain on the Ethics Campaign Finance Commission’s filing system, which at times appears to still run on Windows 98.

Also Wednesday, Holly LaBerge, the state ethics commission’s executive secretary, testified before study committee members about the commission’s struggles to police campaign-finance reports and accurately assess fines for candidates or incumbents who file reports late or don’t file them at all.

The commission has suffered a string of budget and staff cuts since 2009, with legislators also stripping the agency of its rule-making authority.

 

 

A glimpse of how the federal government affects Georgia is seen in the end of extended unemployment benefits

Long-term unemployed Georgians will no longer get extended unemployment benefits under the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

Since Georgia’s unemployment rate has dropped below 9 percent, the state no longer qualifies for the extra money, but the benefits could kick back in if the economy worsens.

“If the rate goes back up and the 3 month average goes back above that 9 percent then the fourth tier will kick in again,” said Sam Hall, Georgia Department of Labor, Director of Communications.

Congress established the EUC program during the recession in 2008.

It’s set to expire at the end of this year.

Georgia’s tax collections for December were up 10% over December 2011.

Personal income tax collections increased nearly 12% to roughly $945 million, while the sales and use tax collections rose almost 10% to about $441 million.

While the increase in tax collections are larger than those seen recently, they are in line with trends in the national economy.

Tax collections are viewed as a rough measure of local economic health. The more money that people earn and spend, the more money that Georgia’s state government collects in tax revenue.

Wannabe Legislators

Newly-elected State Senator Brandon Beach will focus on job creation as he takes his seat next week.

“I’m going to work on what I said I was going to work on before the campaign: Foster an atmosphere that is a conducive environment to jobs, jobs, jobs,” Beach said a day after the special election to fill a vacancy created when Chip Rogers quit before he even started what was to be his next term.

“We need lower taxes and less regulation. I said that since day one of the campaign, and that’s what we are going to work on,” the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce president and CEO – and soon to be state senator – said.

I hope Dr. Dean Burke and Mike Keown got a good night’s sleep, as they’re back off to the races for the February 5th runoff election in Senate District 11.

Bainbridge City Councilman and OBGYN Dr. Dean Burke earned 42.6 percent of the vote.

Coolidge minister and former state representative and Congressional nominee Mike Keown got 37.4 percent. Both men say they are more than qualified for the position.

“With my background in medicine and in the health care system. My background as a business owner. My background in agriculture. My background and knowledge with the water situation in southwest Georgia. All of those make me the most qualified candidate,” said Burke.

“I am the only one is this campaign with any experience at the state level. So I’m the one that is job ready. I’m the one who is going to be ready to go to work. The session will already be started and will probably be at around day 15 by the time whoever wins this race gets there,” said Keown.

In House District 21, the leading candidate, Republican Scot Turner was upbeat and classy headed into the Feb. 5th runoff:

Turner congratulated Laurens on making it to the runoff and said he will spend the next month continuing to campaign.

“We came very, very close to winning this thing outright. I think now the debate needs to become about character, professionalism, who has the ability to lead this district,” Turner said, saying he would like to have a public debate with Laurens.

Turner said he wanted to thank those who supported and publicly endorsed him, including 40 volunteers that worked with his campaign.

As for second-place finisher Republican political consultant Brian Laurens, a couple of GaPundit’s friend share their thoughts on his candidacy.

PoliticalVine.com has compiled a compendium of the public misdeeds by Brian Laurens, probably because he’s noticed, like I have, a spike in Google search traffic related to that candidate. PV concludes:

ANY candidate that knows about this and allows this bullshit to happen over and over and over with Brian Laurens has even less class than Brian Laurens has. Brian Laurens is a sneaky and duplicitous sociopath…but, what’s the candidate’s excuse for not being able to recognize this and disengage himself from Laurens?

The Perspicacious Conservative put it more gently when she publicly told Brian Laurens that he’s not ready for leadership yet, but holds out the possibility that he may someday mature to where he deserves a chance.

I think we are all tired of dismissive and condescending males who think they have a shoe-in to public office because of who they know.  I think it’s clear that Mr. Laurens is not cut out forthis office at this time. Maybe after a little growing and a little humility, things will be different.

Cherokee County voters turned out in higher-than-expected numbers for the Special Elections this week. Let’s hope they come back out next month.

Georgia Republican Party Elections

We’ve heard unconfirmed rumors that former Senator Chip Pearson will not seek election as Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party this year.

Layla Shipman, who was named 2012 Young Republican Woman of the Year by the national organizations, will run for Chairman of the Floyd County Republican Party.

In Gwinnett County, activist Rachel Little will seek the Chair of the Gwinnett County Republican Party. Former State Rep. Gene Callaway is also running for Chairman.

Ends & Pieces

The Georgia Public Service Commission will consider two measures to combat allegations of fraud in the federally-funded Life Line (aka “ObamaPhone”) program.

The state Public Service Commission this morning will hold a public hearing on new rules to require recipients of subsidized cell phone service to pony up $5 a month, and to submit a photo ID that cell phone companies would have to keep on file for three years.

If approved – and passage by the all-GOP utility commission is highly likely — these would be the first restrictions on the federal Lifeline program adopted by any state. (A fee approved in California in 2010 has yet to be implemented.)

“I think [the poor] should have skin in the game. I’m not one of those who believe money should be confiscated from one group and given to another group,” said Doug Everett of Albany, the public service commissioner who proposed the $5 fee.

Some background is in order. Fact-checkers have pointed out that the federal program that offers a $9.25-a-month subsidy to provide phone service to the poor was started in the mid-1980s during the Ronald Reagan years, and was upgraded to include cell phones in 2005 under President George W. Bush. The program is financed by monthly surcharges that show up on most landline and wireless phone bills.

Until recently, Republicans have been widely supportive of the privately funded program intended to keep the needy in touch with family, friends, potential employers and medical providers. In August 2009, Everett and Gov. Sonny Perdue even hosted a news conference to encourage more people to take advantage of it.

“Access to local emergency services and community resources is vital to our low-income and elderly residents. The commission wants residents to stay connected and is reaching out to those who need phone service but can’t afford it,” Everett said at the time.

But that was before reports of widespread fraud surfaced, Everett said this week.

Lack of oversight and the cell phone explosion allowed many to cheat the program, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees Lifeline.

The FCC now requires phone companies to annually recertify recipients of free phone service, to prevent people from receiving multiple phones – as has happened. But Everett is not satisfied – hence his proposed $5 fee, which would apply only to cell phone service.

As an alternative, PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton proposed the photo ID requirement. But the utility commission is a mysterious place, and instead of picking one or the other, the PSC chose both.

Worth noting is the fact that neither Everett nor Eaton want to see the Lifeline program disappear – as do many tea partyers who think we have grown too coddled by safety nets in our society.

“There are some people out there that need this, and therefore I don’t want to totally end it,” Everett said. “There are people who are using it properly.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has $1.2 million in the bank for his reelection campaign.

The size of the campaign coffers is a clear barrier to any potential challengers considering a reasonably financed run against Reed, who has indicated he will seek reelection this year.

Reed enters the mayoral election year with about $200,000 more than he reported last summer, at the end of the previous reporting period. At that time, Reed reported cash on hand of just over $1 million.

Contributions to Reed dipped compared to the previous reporting period. In that report, Reed reported contributions of $446,000 and expenses were below $92,000, the report shows.

State Representative-elect Charles Gregory has secured the mantle of craziest furthest-right that had been unused since the passing of Rep. Bobby Franklin.

State Rep.-elect Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) said that during his campaign, he was targeted by the “incumbent protection program” in the Georgia General Assembly.

During the lively town hall, Gregory also fielded questions on gay marriage and gun rights from a friendly group of about 50 residents at the DogFather’s Hot Dogs restaurant near Town Center Mall.

This was the second town hall meeting he’s hosted since ousting state Rep. Judy Manning (R-Marietta) in the Republican primary last year.

Andrew Reaid of Canton complained about the popular practice among Georgia lawmakers who send dollars from their campaign war chests to fellow incumbents up for election.

“They’re keeping each other in office. How do we stop that?” Reaid asked.

In response, Gregory said, “That’s exactly what happens, and it’s already been referred to openly in the House by some individuals as the ‘incumbent protection program.’ I don’t like it.”

Gregory said House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) gave Manning $5,000 in her race against him.

One audience member asked when the bills would be voted on in the Georgia House.

“You know, realistically I’m a nobody to them, all right, so I’m a freshman,” Gregory said. “‘Who does he think he is putting bills in?’ Really it’s probably going to come down to if there is overwhelming grassroots support. They don’t want to take risky votes. They want safe legislation. They want budgets. They want things that they can’t get an opponent over, so it is not in their interest to put up bills that take a stand on something. So it is going to take a lot of pressure, and I’m going to be working as much as I can from the inside for that, and I’m going to be trying to build coalitions with other people because there is really broad support for this sort of legislation as well as other pro-liberty legislation, I can already tell that.”

Ralston and his leadership team are the ones who decide whether the bills will be voted on, Gregory said.

“Unfortunately, whether a bill comes up for a vote or not is pretty much at the discretion of the Speaker of the House and maybe a couple of other people up top there, and the rest of us are just either rubber stamps or, you know, I don’t know what,” Gregory said.

[Correction: an earlier version said State Rep. Michael Caldwell was the craziest, when I clearly should have written Charles Gregory. My bad. But it could really go either way.]

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