Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for February 4, 2013

CherokeeToddThis is, I kid you not, a 1-year old, 55-pound Pit Bull Terrier named Todd. He’s available for adoption from the Cherokee County Animal Shelter. Of course he hasn’t been neutered. We have a sponsor who will pay his adoption fee. Handsome beast, isn’t he?

CherokeeTodd2

CherokeePatches copyNext is Patches, a 4-month old, 13-pound brindle-coated terrier mix who wags his tail so fast it disappears. From the look of it he likes other dogs as well. Patches is available for adoption from the Cherokee County Animal Shelter.

CherokeeJamisonJamison is a 1.5-year old, 57-pound lab mixed with some kind of spaniel, pointer or setter, and is available for adoption from Cherokee County Animal Shelter.

To adopt any of the above dogs, please email [email protected] or call the shelter at 770-345-7270 opt. #2, for more information. The Cherokee County Animal Shelter is open Tuesday – Saturday, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

BainbridgePuppiesFrom left to right, we have Bo, Della, and Jessie, three cute puppies, who are available for adoption from the Bainbridge-Decatur County Humane Society.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Tuesday Special Elections

Senate District 11 – Voters in Southwest Georgia will head to the polls on Tuesday to vote in the runoff election to succeed former Senator John Bulloch. Dean Burke and Mike Keown meet in the second round of voting.

Mike Keown, a Coolidge Baptist minister, and Dean Burke, a Bainbridge physician, were the top vote-getters in field of six candidates, all Republicans, with the exception of one Libertarian. The sole Democrat candidate dropped out of the race.

District 11 encompasses Grady, Decatur, Seminole, Miller, Colquitt and Early counties and portions of Thomas and Mitchell counties.

Burke and Keown met in a debate in Cairo, Georgia last week.

Burke said his priority, if elected, is to be an effective legislator by working with legislative leaders and listening to his constituents.

“Rural legislators are outnumbered [in Atlanta],” he said. “How are you going to get anything passed if you’re not willing to work with folks up there? If I’ve heard anything from people I’ve talked to around this district, it’s that you have to be able to work together to get things done.”

Keown brought up a “jobs bill” that he said the legislature passed in 2010 but was vetoed by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue. According to Keown, the bill would have extended tax credits to large businesses who pledged not to lay off employees. The bill, which Keown said he would like to see re-introduced to keep Georgia competitive with other states, would have also reduced the state capital gains tax.

House District 21 – I frankly can’t recall an election in which a candidate was his own worst enemy to the extent that the bumbling Brian Laurens is. Just about a week after being videotaped running a stop sign in front of his own house, telling the officer he’s going to call the town’s Mayor and have the ticket “fixed” and later telling the officer and his supervisor that he intends to pull up the stop sign he ignored, Laurens is at it again.

On Friday, a direct mail piece hit voters in the District that implied that Brian Laurens was endorsed by Georgia Conservatives in Actions. The problem for Laurens is that not only did the group not endorse him, they’re asking for a retraction. From Jim Galloway:

As the weekend broke, Cherokee voters received a flyer carrying the name of Georgia Conservatives in Action, the group led by shouth Georgia GOP activists Kay Godwin and Pat Tippett.

Laurens [is] portrayed in stellar fashion.

Except that Godwin and Tippett say it ain’t so. They say the flyer is bogus.

If this is the particular kind of trainwreck that you can’t help looking at, here’s some more on the colorful political history of political consultant turned candidate Brian Laurens. Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone who claimed to be a professional political consultant do a worse job or self-sabotage their own campaign so thoroughly.

House District 71 – Voters in parts of Coweta and Fayette County will choose between six candidates in Tuesday’s special election to fill the unstarted and unexpired term of Robert Stokely.

A number of residents may still be confused about whether or not they live in District 71. The lines changed after redistricting, and the new lines first became effective in 2012.

There have been a few people who showed up to vote early who actually don’t live in the district, said [Coweta Elections Superintendent Jane] Scoggins.

Scoggins estimates that about half the people who came to the Voter Registration Office in the County Administration Building to early vote on Friday didn’t live in the district.

One reason may be that there are campaign signs located outside the district.

Early voting has been slow. But on Friday, the last day of early voting, things were busy.

The best way to find out what district you live in is to check the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page at www.sos.georgia.gov/mvp.

With that many candidates, it’s highly likely a runoff election will be held March 5, 2013. The candidates are:

  • Thomas G. Crymes, Republican, General Contractor from Sharpsburg
  • Michael Farbo, Jr., Republican, Retired from Newnan
  • Darryl Marmon, Republican, Lawyer from Sharpsburg
  • David J. Stover, Republican, Business Owner from Newnan
  • Richard Weisser, Republican, Real Estate Broker from Sharpsburg
  • Cynthia Conradt Bennett, Democrat, Educator from Newnan

2014 Jump Ball in Congressional Races

First Congressional District — 2014 will be the year of jump balls instead of slam dunks, according to UGA’s Professor Charles Bullock.

“Nobody thought much would happen in 2014,” said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. “Now we’re going to have a lot to think about. Instead of slam-dunks, we’re going to have a lot of jump-ball scenarios.”

Moreover, electoral shockwaves will ripple throughout Georgia — including Chatham County — as people scramble for posts various would-be U.S. senators abandon.

And, in Chatham and elsewhere, the chain reaction could continue as local politicians seek to move up.

“There definitely could be a domino effect,” said state Rep. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, who acknowledges his seat might be one of the dominoes.

Although Kingston’s been overseas on congressional business, he and his son, Jim, have been calling influential Republicans.

“He’s been talking to the right people and saying the right things to show he’s serious, unlike in the past,” Simons said.

As long ago as 1995, Kingston thought out loud about a Senate bid, but never followed through.

Former Savannah GOP state Sen. Eric Johnson, who’s helping Kingston test the waters, said he’s “98 percent” sure his old friend “is in.”

If he is, Johnson, the former senate president pro tem, says he might run for Kingston’s 1st District congressional seat.

“You’ve got to think about it if you care about the future of this country,” said Johnson, who ran a close third in the seven-way GOP primary for governor in 2010.

If Kingston runs — and Johnson doesn’t — that likely will trigger a local game of musical chairs.

State Sen. Buddy Carter, who’s long coveted a congressional post, said he’d take a hard look at running in the 1st.

If he does, watch Watson, who says he might seek Carter’s Senate post. And if he does, Chatham County Commissioner Patrick Farrell says he won’t rule out a bid in Watson’s district, which — like Carter’s — is lopsidedly Republican.

Although he compares such a move to “jumping from Triple-A into the majors,” Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman said he, too, is mulling a possible congressional bid.

By this weekend, other scenarios — and names — were wafting through the political chattersphere.

But one major local political figure — state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah — has sidelined himself from the field of speculation.

Tenth Congressional District – The first actual announcement we’ve see for 2014 in a Congressional District to come out of Senator Saxby Chambliss announcing his retirement is Newton County Commissioner John Douglas, a Republican former State Senator, who will run in the 10th Congressional District seat being vacated by Congressman Paul Broun (R-Pits of Hell).

According to CovNews.com,

Douglas will host a campaign kickoff rally at 1:30 p.m., Thursday [February 7, 2013] on the steps of the Historic Courthouse, where he’ll expand on his platform of cutting federal spending/the economy/jobs, strong support for the 2nd amendment, making the U.S energy independent and maintaining a strong military.

Douglas, who was just elected to the county commission in November, said he’s running because he wants to continue Broun’s fiscally conservative, Republican ideology.

Though he was just elected to the county commission [in 2010], Douglas said he’s running for U.S. Congress because there’s an open seat that just became available.

Douglas does not have to [resign] from his seat on the Newton County Board of Commissioners until he officials qualified to run for U.S. Congress, something he said he’ll only do if it appears he has a shot. Qualifying will not be until April 2014, Douglas said.

In 2010, Douglas ran as in the Republican Primary for the Public Service Commission seat eventually won in a runoff election by Tim Echols.

Other Potential Candidates

Congressman Tom Price appears to be ramping up fundraising in what may be a prelude to a 2014 Senate run, according to Jim Galloway. Here’s his breakdown of where the Congressmen mentioned for Senate stand in cash-on-hand:

  • U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta: $1.87 million
  • U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell: $1.58 million
  • U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah: $988,000
  • U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County: $425,000
  • U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens: $156,000
  • U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Augusta: $67,000
  • U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger: $56,000

Potential Democrats for Senate – From the Savannah Morning News:

Because the U.S. Senate seat will be open, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says, it will target the race for special efforts.

“Yes, definitely,” said Vincent Fort of Atlanta, a member of the state Senate Democratic leadership, when asked whether the seat is winnable.

“If we have the right candidate, the right strategy and enough money, we will be very strong,” Fort said.

Washington, D.C.-based Democratic campaign consultant Edward Chapman is more cautious.

“We can win,” he said, “if the Republicans screw up by nominating someone who’s too extreme and we have a credible candidate.”

Bullock and Kerwin Swint, a counterpart at Kennesaw State University, say the state’s burgeoning minority population eventually will help Georgia Democrats.

But probably not in time to win next year’s Senate race, they add, citing a decade of dominance by the GOP.

“It’s a few years off,” Swint said of the likelihood of a pendulum swing.

“My personal favorite,” said state Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, “is Mike Thurmond.”

But former state labor commissioner Thurmond drew only 39 percent of the vote against GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in 2010. That was the weakest performance of any statewide Democratic candidate that year.

Georgia General Assembly

Senator Bill Heath has set out to provide a series of cautionary tales for his current and future colleagues.

Kicked off by an automatic email response to online petitions generated by liberal Better Georgia, Heath appears to avoid a TV reporter seeking comment by running away and hiding.

I was in the Senate chamber on Friday, when WSB-TV’s Lori Geary recorded the first segment and you can see me in the press gallery behind her.

The “Hospital Bed Tax” that was at the center of the earlier internecine battles in the State Senate has passed the State House, though amendments mean it will head back to the senior body for another vote.

Jim Galloway suggests that the quick dispatch by the Senate of the first round of voting on the bed tax may signal a “post-Tea Party” milieu. Alternatively it may mean that management in the Senate is doing a better job getting the Republicans singing from the same sheet of music.

Ethics reform, however, may signal the first skirmish in the return to inter-chamber rivalry between the State House and Senate.

“This is not the Senate rule, so fraught with loopholes … that it really doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, said in defense of the House bill.

League of Women Voters Program Director Kelli Persons, a member of the bipartisan alliance backing a $100 cap, said the opposite is true.

“The legislation currently written has more exceptions and loopholes than the Senate rule that was passed,” said Kelli Persons, program manager for the League of Women Voters.

That’s what has Common Cause Georgia Executive Director William Perry concerned about Ralston’s plan. Ralston’s bill is longer and more detailed than the Senate rule, and Perry said it may give lobbyists more wiggle room.

Perhaps the warring factions might take note that the real enemy is in the press gallery and the hallway outside their chambers.

You can count on State Rep. Brett Harrell to take out the garbage. In this case, the Snellville Republican wants to remove any non-tax line items from property tax bills.

“Too often citizens across Georgia experience increased property tax bills, higher monthly mortgage payments, and, in some cases, liens against their property, all resulting from the addition of nontax fees added to their property tax bills,” Harrell said in a press release. “The type and number of fees continues to increase each year. This legislation will help ease the burden on Georgia households and increase government transparency.”

Harrell, who works for one of the garbage companies that sued the county over the service in 2010, leading to the current court-imposed settlement, originally introduced the proposal in 2011 with 60 co-signers. It would also apply to fees imposed for stormwater, which first appeared on Gwinnett tax bills in 2007, as well as street lights and speed humps.

In the release, Harrell said nontax fees can take up to 15 to 20 percent of the total bill. He added that the legislation would help clear up confusion for taxpayers, see property taxes can be deducted from income taxes but fees cannot.

Local Issues

The sad and bizarre end of Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett’s life has been ruled a suicide.

Glynn County Coroner Jimmy Durden told The Associated Press he was informed by phone Friday that the medical examiner concluded Commissioner Tom Sublett killed himself.

GBI spokesman John Bankhead would not confirm the finding. He said the investigation into Sublett’s death Dec. 11 remains open and agents still have “other items to look into.”

Authorities found Sublett’s body by a docked boat on St. Simons Island hours after he failed to come home from a poker game with friends.

Mark Johnson, an attorney for Sublett’s family, says the family does not believe Sublett killed himself.

Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson will present her State of the City address Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Civic Center Ballroom, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.

Ten judges in Chatham County have expressed “shock” and “profound disappointment” in the lack of progress on a new courthouse to be paid with local SPLOST funds.

The judges expected the construction bid for the additional courtrooms to go out in January but learned that would not happen, Karpf said.

“There is no money for it,” he said.

The plan includes the conversion of portions of the first floor of the courthouse into two courtrooms and three judge’s chambers. A four-floor trial court building is supposed to be built on the site of the old Chatham County jail next to the current courthouse.

Karpf said the additional courtrooms are needed to meet the heavy case load in the cramped facility.

“There is absolutely no flexibility,” he said.

County Manager Russ Abolt attributed the delays to inadequate funds, underestimated costs and an overly ambitious five-year schedule that was set in 2003. A number of elements of the plan exceeded estimated time requirements for completion, such as holding cells and tunnels connecting the garage to the courthouse for inmates.

Transportation & Energy Policy

A strike of East coast ports that would have affected the Port of Savannah has been avoided, as the federal mediator announced that agreement has been reached on a new contract between shippers and longshoremen.

A new threat to the Savannah Harbor deepening project may be the departure of Obama Administration Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who strongly favored the project.

Gov. Nathan Deal told business and civic leaders from Savannah Thursday that the Savannah port expansion is losing a key ally with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s resignation.

“There are some things we want him to sign off on before he leaves because he’s been so supportive,” the governor said.

LaHood, the only Republican in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, became close friends with Deal when they both served in Congress together.

LaHood visited Atlanta last week where he complemented the state’s plan to deepen the shipping channel in the Savannah River to accommodate the larger freighters that will be able to transit the Panama Canal once a widening project there is completed. He announced his resignation the next day.

Deal said LaHood would be around a few more weeks until his successor is in place.

Georgia officials hope to soon get the federal share of the $630 million project included in the federal budget. They also want LaHood’s support on the remaining administrative details before construction on the project can begin.

Georgia Power anticipates elevating the roles played in the state’s power generation portfolio by natural gas and solar, though more wind power is unlikely.

Coal produced 70 percent of Georgia Power’s electricity five years ago.

Today, the number is half that. And the percentage will continue to dwindle with last month’s announcement that the utility will retire 15 coal- and oil-powered generators in the next three years.

Natural gas is the new coal. Georgia Power has added three blue-flame turbines in recent years and now gets 47 percent of its fuel from the resource. The utility did not offer future projections in last week’s report, but the number is sure to climb at a summer-power-bill pace.

Natural gas is cheap. The expansive natural gas fields discovered in the Midwest and other regions have driven down prices, and the mining companies are constantly improving the efficiency of their extraction methods.

Natural gas will be, at a minimum, a bridge fuel.

Georgia Power’s new nuclear reactors won’t come online until 2017, meaning fission will continue to make up less than 20 percent of the power portfolio in the short term.

As for solar, Georgia Power has upped its commitment. Last week’s energy plan called for 210 megawatts of additional solar capacity, 209 megawatts more than the utility proposed in a 2010 plan. But efficiency remains an issue. One megawatt powers about 430 homes, and the freefall in the cost of solar panel materials is soon to end, according to industry groups.

Wind, oddly enough, is not easily harnessed. The earth’s original energy source won’t fill Georgia Power’s sails. Wind turbines won’t rise off the Tybee beach any decade soon, and conditions aren’t consistent enough elsewhere in the state to make a wind farm viable.

Part of the continuing move away from coal will be the closing of 15 coal- and oil-fired power plants by Georgia Power, as detailed in the Integrated Resource Plan filed last week with the Georgia Public Service Commission.

The PSC is expected to vote on the proposed IRP this summer. While Georgia Power files an IRP every three years, the plan covers 20 years of resource planning.

Decertifying coal- and oil-fired units at five plants is Georgia Power’s response to an upcoming federal crackdown on emissions of mercury and other air toxins. After crunching the numbers, utility officials determined that retiring the plants would be more cost-effective than installing expensive pollution controls.

However, the IRP also calls for spending more than $5 billion on a variety of pollution reduction technologies necessary to keep 13 other coal-fired units at four Georgia Power plants operating within compliance of tighter U.S. Environmental Protection Agencystandards due to take effect in April 2015.

Plant Scherer in Juliette, Georgia, is the subject of thirteen new lawsuits alleging health effects from the onsite storage of coal ash.

All the suits target Scherer and its unlined coal ash waste pond, and a handful also name Vulcan, said Brian Adams, partner with Gautreaux & Adams in Macon. All the lawsuits accuse Plant Scherer and its owners of harming its neighbors’ health and property.

“Their lives have been changed because of this,” Adams said. “They’re angry and they’re disturbed. And at the end of the day, we know it’s just not right.”

The lawsuits allege that the named companies engaged in racketeering, battery, fraud and negligence. The racketeering charge is based on claims that Plant Scherer owners, including Georgia Power and its parent company, Southern Co., conspired to avoid the cost of putting a lining in the 750-acre coal ash pond.

Georgia Power spokesman Mark Williams said in an e-mail Thursday that the company has not seen the lawsuits. He said Georgia Power complies with all state and federal air and water quality regulations and that water tests around the plant have indicated the water is safe.

The young Georgia solar industry will attempt to open competition to Georgia Power by allowing Third-Party Power Purchase Agreements, currently considered illegal under the Territorial Services Act, which establishes exclusive territories for selling electrical power in Georgia.

The new Gulfstream G280 has set 15 speed records between different pairs of cities, including the Kessel Run route between Savannah and Honolulu.

“Two of these new speed records are particularly significant because they demonstrate the G280’s capability to reach the East Coast from Aspen and to travel an exceptional distance,” said Scott Neal, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

The G280 is manufactured in Israel through a partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries in Tel Aviv and entered into service on Nov. 14.

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