Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 23, 2013 – The “Dixie Chicken Edition”

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29761 (male, top), 29762 (male, second), and 29763 (female, third) are white Lab mix puppies who are available for adoption beginning Friday from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

It’s a crisis situation at many animal shelters across the state as new dogs, puppies, cats and kittens are brought it. If you’ve been considering adopting or fostering, today is the day.

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Gwinnett2965529655 is a black, middle-aged Lab mix. Just old enough to start mellowing, but with his best years ahead, if someone will rescue or foster him. He’s available today from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

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The six puppies above were found outside, alone, in the freezing cold this week. They are at the Murray County Animal Shelter and need immediate foster or rescue, or they will be euthanized on Friday in the pre-dawn hours.

MurrayThreeBoxerPuppiesThese three boxer-mix puppies are bouncy fun, and are also in need of immediate foster or rescue from Murray County Animal Shelter.

Shane Wilson lost a leg in a motorcycle crash five years ago, and more recently, he lost his service dog, Lucy, when she jumped out of the bed of his pickup truck. Lesson one: dogs don’t belong in pickup truck beds when underway. Some folks found her roadside near a Cracker Barrel and returned her. Lesson two: always keep dog treats handy.

The friends were getting breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Commerce when they saw Lucy. They walked down the exit ramp to get to her.

“We pulled out the treats and she just let me put the leash around her neck,” Davis said.

When Scoggins called him to say that she found Lucy, he was leery because he has had so many false hopes over the past six days.

Wilson told Scoggins to hold a dog treat up and say “Lucy, speak.” She did and Lucy barked. “I heard her bark and I said I’m on the way and I kind of hung up on her,” Wilson said.

“He was so happy, he was hysterical,” Davis said. “He immediately knew and said ‘stay right there, I’m coming’.”

The Exchange Club of Albany will hold its first AKC Southern Heritage Hunt & Show, which is open to all coonhounds and their owners, after a national coonhound event held in Albany for twenty-five years, was moved to Mississippi.

Both the dog show and hunt are “world qualifying,” AKC officials state, with winners cleared to move forward to the World Hunt Championship or 2013 World Show.

While secondary to the main attractions, there will be an aspect to the show, Brown said, that was not included for the UKC events: Malaysian Semara chickens. According to Brown, the birds are small — less than 19 ounces — colorful and they “kind of strut” when they walk.

Here’s your morning music treat.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The Special Election runoff in Senate District 11 in the lower-left hand corner of Georgia is taking a turn for the nasty. Jim Galloway notes that abortion has become an issue in the contest:

Over the long weekend, Georgia Right to Life dipped into the race with an email that included this:

“Dr. Dean Burke has not been endorsed by the Georgia Right to Life PAC or the National Right to Life Committee PAC. The NRLC PAC does not make state endorsements and its state affiliate – GRTL PAC – has only endorsed Mr. Keown. Any claims to the contrary are false.”

Political consultant Mark Rountree, working for Burke, says there’s no substantive difference between the two candidates on the issue of abortion. Local conversation, he says, has focused more on the $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. Burke has pledged support for that limit, Rountree said, while Keown has not.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internet, anonymous cowards are suggesting that Burke is an abortionist and appear willing to lie to make the hit stick. It now appears to be the case that in Georgia Republican politics, an OB/GYN will always be labeled an abortionist whether it’s true or not. Just ask Dr. Carla Roberts.

Republican Scot Turner, who came in first with more than 48% of votes cast in the Special Election for House District 21, met political consultant Brian Laurens in a debate, and Turner claims victory.

“I feel confident that the voters in HD 21 saw a clear difference between the two candidates for this race tonight. As candidates, we have a very important obligation to present our values, understanding, and plans to fix what is broken in state government. I provided a message to the voters assembled with the clear choice to reform our ethics laws, implement economically-friendly tax reforms, and return the legislature to the citizens of Georgia with term limits. Those who participated in this public debate responded with overwhelming support, and I’m humbled by those responses.

“The serious issues facing our state and county all revolve around a cornerstone issue: fixing our broken government. On the one hand, my opponent gave his view of government, which maintains the status quo. I gave voters a vision for the future; a future where government serves the people and not special interests.”

Incidentally, today is Scot Turner’s birthday. You can wish him a happy one by donating online to his campaign, as long as you are a Georgia resident or business and not a lobbyist or PAC.

Another way of wishing him a happy birthday, if you live in House District 21, is to go vote early today in the February 5th runoff. As of yesterday morning, only 28 early votes had been cast.

“It’s extremely slow,” [Election Supervisor Janet] Munda added. “It looks like we may hit five percent this time.”

Munda was referring to the projection she originally predicted for the Jan. 8 special election for both the House and the Georgia Senate District 21 seats. The county ended up seeing a 10 percent turnout for that election.

Voters in the run-off will choose between Republican candidates Scot Turner and Brian Laurens, who came in first and second respectively in the January special election for the house seat.

Early voting started last Wednesday and will continue Monday through Friday through Feb. 1.

Voters who reside in the district, which encompasses Holly Springs, portions of BridgeMill, south Canton and parts of southeast Cherokee, can cast ballots between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Albert L. Stone Elections Building at 400 East Main Street in Canton.

No voting will be held on Monday Feb. 4, and voters in the district will cast their ballots at 11 precincts in the district on Feb. 5.

The Bainbridge City Council seat vacated by Dean Burke in order to run for Senate District 11 in the Special Election Runoff on February 5th will remain vacant until November 5th, when it is filled along with two other council seats and the office of Mayor in the Bainbridge general election.

Former State Rep. Sean Jerguson led in campaign contributions in his campaign for Georgia Senate District 21, which opponent Brandon Beach won.

Governor Nathan Deal presented his budget to the Joint Budget Hearing yesterday.

Three percent cuts across the board, and slightly more funding for the state pre-K program, the HOPE scholarship, and juvenile justice reform.

He also continued his push to renew a hospital tax aimed at shoring up the state Medicaid program.

“I think it is critical,” said Deal. “We cannot afford to have a $700 million hole in our Medicaid budget,” said Deal.

Otherwise, the governor’s budget projects 4.8 percent revenue growth in 2014. That’s compared to the 3.9 growth seen this year.

If the revenue projection holds true, Georgia in 2014 would be back to where it was at its 2007 peak, before the recession.

House Appropriations Chair Terry England said the numbers are reason for cautious optimism, but warned the state isn’t out of the woods yet.

“The problem with that is we’re a larger state than we were in 2007 so there’s more people needing more services and resources, so even though you have that growth, the demand is still greater than it was in 2007.”

Accordingly, the 2014 budget includes increased funding for education and healthcare, but most would be used to simply keep up with population growth.

Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Hill said ultimately the final budget won’t veer too far from the governor’s recommendations.

“In years where you’re spending a lot of new money, there might be more needs and more wants than there are dollars, but we have such a lean budget to begin with, I don’t know what we’d have to fight over.”

Here’s the TL;DR version:

“We have reduced per capita spending of state dollars for our citizens,” [Deal] said. “Using 2012 dollars, we are spending money at a rate of 17 percent less than we did a decade ago. And we now have 9,000 fewer state employees than we did five years ago.”

The Georgia State Fiscal Economist also presented predictions.

Georgia’s economy should see slow but steady growth over the next few years as the job and housing markets continue to improve, the state’s main economist told lawmakers Tuesday.

Heaghney said that tax collections — an indication of the state of the economy — will be up 3.9 percent the rest of fiscal 2013, which ends June 30. The economy will pick up during the second half of the year and revenue should increase 4.9 percent next fiscal year, allowing the state to add about $550 million in spending, he said.

Heaghney told legislators that the state’s job growth is outpacing the national growth rate, and that “housing appears to have turned the corner, both nationally and in Georgia.”

Georgia is seeing an increase in information technology, business services, manufacturing and transportation jobs.

“We’d expect growth to pick up in the middle of 2013 and then accelerate the rest of the year,” he said. “In 2014, we should see much more rapid growth than we’ve seen prior to this year.”

Higher taxes, a sluggish global economy and the federal debt crisis will continue to weigh on the economy, he said, dampening consumer spending and adding uncertainty to the equation.

“This all creates an environment where there is still a lot of economic uncertainty,” Heaghney said. “We try to plan for that, but there are a lot of different ways the economy could move.

Part of the $19.8 billion dollar budget will be $4.3 million for the State Archives.

Supporters are pushing for an additional $1.5 million to expand public access to the state’s important and historical records dating to at least 1733, saying the additional money would reopen the archives from two to five days a week.

Gov. Deal’s budget will also allocate funds to implement criminal justice reforms from the last Session, and possible changes to juvenile justice this year.

He’s asking for $11 million for so-called accountability courts that offer an alternative for drug abusers, the mentally ill and others.

He also wants $4 million for a regional detention center for young offenders and a new youth development campus.

Today’s budget hearings will include the Departments of Correction, Juvenile Justice, Transportation, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Labor and Economic Development. The agenda for the Joint Budget Hearings is available by clicking here. This link should have live video of the Hearings later today.

Retailers in the three regions that approved the T-SPLOST should start collecting the extra penny sales tax.

A local clothing boutique visited Friday by NBC 26 is still ringing up its merchandise the old fashioned way.

“We write up all the tickets by hand and then we add up the totals and the tax with a calculator,” Alex, a sales associate told NBC 26. She said the store is still charging seven percent sales tax.

“I didn’t know about it until you came in,” another associate said. “I didn’t know it was in effect starting January first. So, I haven’t started using it yet.”

We asked the Georgia Department of Revenue how it informed retailers in regions where the T-SPLOST passed.

“In December, we emailed an informational bulletin concerning T-SPLOST, concerning the TSPLOST going into effect to all businesses that e-file as well as other businesses who have signed up for that specific mailing list,” said Jud Seymour, communications director for the Georgia Department of Revenue.

Seymour said if stores missed the instructional email, they could’ve looked up the information online on the Georgia Department of Revenue’s website.

On December 27, 2012, my oath of office was administered by our Probate Judge (Keith Wood), with the final sentence stating, “. . . and that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”

Therefore, I will fully exercise the power of the Office of Sheriff to protect and defend the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Cherokee County. My position is best stated by fellow Sheriff Tim Muller of Linn County, Oregon in his letter to the President. “We are Americans. We must not allow, nor shall we tolerate, the actions of criminals, no matter how heinous the crimes, to prompt politicians to enact laws that will infringe upon the liberties of responsible citizens who have broken no laws.”

Along with Sheriff Muller, other sheriffs throughout the country (including Georgia) and I, will not enforce any laws or regulations that negate the constitutional rights of the citizens of Cherokee County.

Nor shall those laws and regulations be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Cherokee County, Georgia.

Commissioner Allen insinuated that some school board members may have benefited personally from deals with outside companies.“The investigation should examine any companies or firms […] doing any business with the BOE [Board of Education] where funds might have been used to directly or indirectly unlawfully benefit certain members of the BOE,” Allen read from prepared remarks.He declined to offer any evidence that would lead federal prosecutors to investigate such a question.“These allegations,” Allen said without specifying or attributing any allegations directly, “must be investigated immediately by a federal authority, as the facts show a possible misuse of federal funds, not to mention state and local money as well.”

The Marietta Daily Journal profiles Jennifer Rippner of Acworth, a member of the new State Charter School Commission.

Georgia Power’s evacuation plan for people living near Plant Vogtle was reviewed by federal regulators.

A study has found that Plant Vogtle’s emergency evacuation plan for people within 10 miles of the nuclear site is adequate. But the study says traffic control points and better highway infrastructure would improve it.

The updated analysis was filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was posted on the agency’s website last week.

Depending on the weather, time of day and other factors, Southern Nuclear’s consultants’ models found evacuations could take between 90 and 205 minutes.

At the Cobb County Commission meeting last night, a citizen was led out in handcuffs because he preferred to speak anonymously about backyard chickens.

During the first of two public hearings on a proposal to allow chickens on property under 2 acres in size, speakers on both sides of the issue provided emotional appeals to the board.

Banks Wise, 25, of Mableton, said he had planned to attend the board meeting just to listen to what others had to say about various code proposals, including the one on chickens.

But then he stepped up to the lectern to address the commissioners during the public comment period, and board chairman Tim Lee asked him to recite his name.

Wise declined. Lee asked several more times for him to give his name before the police officers escorted him out of the board room, handcuffed him and took him to a lobby elevator.

“The gentlemen was not following the rules of the commission,” Lee said. “I asked him multiple times. He did not, so the officers removed him.”

Wise said two things prompted him to speak to commissioners. One was a comment by a previous public speaker opposed to a code change for chickens. That speaker, Ron Sifen of Vinings, argued that homeowners had certain expectations with the zoning laws in place when they bought their homes. To allow chickens in their neighborhood was, therefore, wrong.

Wise said he wanted to argue that just because a law is on the books, it doesn’t make it constitutional.

“I’m saying that being able to have a chicken was always right. There was just at some point a very bad law,” Wise said.

Another point that bothered him was that Lee demanded that each speaker give his or her name.

Anonymous political speech is a revered tradition among those of us who love America; perhaps Mr. Lee should take a remedial class in the First Amendment.

Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee has also raised the issue that requiring businesses to use the IMAGE immigration verification program may be too unwieldy.

A documentary on urban chicken keepers, called “Mad City Chickens” will be shown in Rome, Georgia, at the Rome Area History Museum at 305 Broad Street on Saturday at 4, 7 and 9 PM.

McHaggee said the film is relevant locally, with the Rome City Commission currently wrestling with the issue of allowing chickens inside the city limits.

“We hope that this film will illustrate some of the issues our city has been discussing,” the couple said in a joint press release. “Furthermore, we hope that this film brings people together for a fun evening of entertainment and camaraderie.”

A supporter of small families owning livestock, McHaggee said she usually gets eggs from Morning Glory Farm in Cedartown and is concerned with the state of some of the breeds of chicken that need space to thrive.

“That’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about this,” she said. “There are some of the American Heritage breeds that are in trouble of becoming extinct.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November19, 2012

Biscuit (black-and-tan) and Mayflower (yellow) are lab-hound mix puppies who are approximately 3-4 months old and weigh about 15 pounds each; the littermates are available for adoption from Walton County Animal Control.

June is a happy , beautiful, adorable, playful, very affectionate lab mixed puppy, who is about 3 months old and weighs around 8 lbs; she is available for adoption from the Savannah Chatham Animal Control.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Because GeorgiaDailyDigest.com and GeorgiaPoliticalDigest.com have shut their doors, we’ve started GaNewsDigest.com to provide a wider variety of links to news stories about Georgia politics, business & economy, education and energy issues. The site is updated through the day.

On Friday, Governor Nathan Deal announced that he decided against setting up a state healthcare exchange under Obamacare.

“I remain committed to common sense health care solutions that empower consumers to take responsibility for their own health, motivate the private sector and drive efficiencies for consumers, employers and governments alike,” Deal said. “I continue to hope that we might finally engage in a serious conversation about restoring meaningful flexibility to states around health care programs.”

Deal said the federal government needs to loosen regulations that restrict states’ options.

“We have no interest in spending our tax dollars on an exchange that is state-based in name only,” Deal said. “I would support a free market-based approach that could serve as a useful tool for Georgia’s small businesses, but federal guidelines forbid that. Instead, restrictions on what the exchanges can and can’t offer render meaningless the suggestion that Georgia could tailor an exchange that best fits the unique needs of its population.

“I have joined numerous other governors seeking guidance from the federal government on establishing exchanges. We’ve yet to receive serious answers to our questions. I will not commit Georgia taxpayers to a project with so many unknowns.”

State Senator Vincent Fort (D) doesn’t like anything ever done by any Republican anywhere  Governor Deal’s decision.

“I bet this crowd, when the feds set up the health care exchanges, are going to howl about that,” Fort said.

Fort also said that putting uninsured people in the Medicaid program would decrease the costs that insured patients pay to cover the bills of those who need medical care but lack insurance to pay for it.

“It’s unfortunate that the governor’s chosen to put politics over the need of Georgians,” Fort said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a feature on the long, strange trip that is Glenn Richardson’s political career. The story is worth reading in its entirety.

In Senate District 30, where Richardson failed to make the December 4th Runoff, State Rep. Bill Hembree will meet Carrollton businessman Mike Dugan, and it’s a jump ball.

Hembree led the four-candidate field in all three counties of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding, which comprise District 30. He led Carroll with 12,173 votes, topping two Carroll County candidates — Dugan, with 9,703 votes, and business consultant Jim Naughton, who had 5,091 votes. Former Georgia Secretary of State Glenn Richardson of Hiram finished a distant fourth in Carroll County with 3,627 votes.

In the total district vote, Hembree got 27,565 votes; Dugan, 13,843; Richardson, 8,467; and Naughton, 7,043.

Hembree believes the upcoming advance voting will be important to his chances of winning — he said his campaign determined that he received roughly 15,000 votes during the general election’s early voting cycle. That would account for more votes than he received on Election Day.

“We received more in advance voting than we did on election day,” Hembree said. “With 15,000 voting for me early, if we can get that same type of commitment we feel like that is a real positive step for us.”

In 2011, a pair of Senate special elections held in November went into December runoff elections; in SD 28, Duke Blackburn led the first balloting but was overtaken by now-Senator Mike Crane in the runoff and in SD 50, former State Rep. Rick Austin led the first election but lost the runoff to Senator John Wilkinson. There was some spillover in those elections from the leadership battles in the State Senate that may be absent this year, but those examples should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone finding himself or herself in a December runoff.

Here’s what I told the Carrollton Times-Georgian:

“I could go on all day with examples [of December runoffs that reversed earlier results],” said Todd Rehm. “That said, Bill Hembree still has to be considered the leader in the runoff for SD 30. Hembree’s experience and ability to fundraise, along with the fact that Hembree carried Carroll County, make it his race to lose. But if there’s a lesson for candidates who come in first in November elections and head for a runoff it’s that they can’t afford to take anything for granted and Bill Hembree should be doing everything possible to ensure his victory.

“And remember, there’s yet another election in January.”

Speaking of Senate leadership, here’s an interesting inside tidbit: Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) punched above her weight at the Swamp Showdown in Little Ocmulgee State Park, where the Senate Republican Caucus elections were held last week.

Renee Unterman, another powerful senator from the Gwinnett delegation, said she was honored to nominate and second Shafer for the position [of President Pro Tem], during a meeting at Little Ocmulgee State Park. She had 19 proxies from the Reform Caucus to support her colleague.

“Our Reform Caucus is committed to uniting fellow senators with the lieutenant governor restoring order, transparency, and ethics to the Georgia State Senate,” she said of the group.

The appointment is a coup for the county, she said.

“Gwinnett’s prominence continues to rise with the state’s legislative leadership, as our delegation leads both in the Senate and the House,” she said. “Sen. Shafer is a shinning example of our talent in Gwinnett County.”

So, including her own vote, Unterman was voting for an absolute majority of the Republican Caucus.

Walter C. Jones of the Morris News Service writes about what changes in Senate leadership may mean for the state.

The leaders legislators picked says a lot about them and the coming two-year term of the General Assembly.

House Republicans made no changes. Most observers figure they didn’t need any. They had success on Election Day, during the last session passing major legislation and in negotiating contentious bills like the budget and tax reform with the Senate and the governor.

His loss continues the concentration of power in North Georgia. With the exception of mid-state residents House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal of Bonaire and Senate Majority Whip Cecil Staton of Macon, the leaders reside upstate.

The Senate Republicans did make changes to their leaders.

Winning the nomination for president pro tem was David Shafer of Duluth. Other winners are Ronnie Chance of Tyrone as majority leader and Butch Miller of Gainesville as caucus chairman.

Consider how their elections consolidate power. Shafer has been a long-time ally of Cagle, who’s from Hall County like Miller and Gov. Nathan Deal. Chance has been Deal’s Senate floor leader.

Having the bulk of the legislative leadership living close enough together to carpool to the Capitol could mean favoritism toward the region they all call home. But remember that two of Deal’s top projects are the deepening of the ship channel in the Savannah River and investing enough in Georgia Regents University in Augusta to make it one of the country’s premier medical schools.

At the very least, it suggests there will be close cooperation. It may not seem possible to exceed last year when Deal’s signature legislation, criminal-justice reform, passed unanimously and his HOPE reforms nearly did the year before. But other bills ran into less harmony, and Deal and Ralston reportedly held off on more ambitious legislation out of fear of discord, mainly in the Senate.

Now, a new combination of leaders will give their full attention to legislation. And as Shelton said, “Any organization is a reflection of its leadership.”

The image in the reflection is coming into focus, and it looks a lot like a soft-spoken grandfather, Nathan Deal.

Given Governor Deal’s leadership in bringing jobs to Georgia, and his respectful approach to working with the legislature, this bodes well for our state.

State Senate Democrats will meet today to elect their leadership.

Welcome to the 2013 season of Georgia Republican Party elections! I’ve already received a piece of direct mail from John Padgett, who is running for First Vice Chair. Here’s my two cents: if you want my vote, you have to ask me for it personally. The pool of eventual voters for Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party is small enough that you can identify frequent flyers from past convention cycles and start calling them personally.

The first rule I tell anyone running for office is that the best way to earn someone’s vote is to ask them for it personally; everything else, all mass media, are second-best ways of dealing with the fact that in most elections above the level of State House, you won’t be able to reach every voter personally. This is the most fundamental rule of winning elections.

Unfortunately, the last few cycles have seen GAGOP elections take on the aspects of large-scale media-driven campaigns featuring direct mail, robocalls, websites, and mass emails. But it doesn’t speak well of your promise to be the “Grassroots” candidate if you don’t personally contact the actual voters who make up the grassroots, tell them about yourself, and ask personally for their vote.

If you want a truly grassroots-drive Georgia Republican Party, join me in declining to vote for anyone who does not ask personally for your vote.

Speaker David Ralston will address the Nov. 28 breakfast of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce Marietta Chapter.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials has notified the Gainesville City Council that it objects to the at-large districts in which council members are elected.

“At-large voting processes have been undone by litigation in many jurisdictions across the county,” said Jerry Gonzalez, GALEO’s executive director. “We believe the city of Gainesville is not in compliance with the Voting Rights Act and we want to work to eliminate the at-large voting process with the City Council cooperatively.”

File under bad headline writing: “Gov. Deal to pay fees in failed ethics complaint” states the headline in the Rome News-Tribune, which might sound like Governor Deal was being fined for an ethics complaint filed against him. But the story is about the State Ethics Commission deciding against making Rome-based ethics gadfly George Anderson pay the legal fees incurred by Deal’s campaign to defend against a frivolous ethics complaint that was dismissed.

The Government Transparency Commission voted 3-1 on Friday against making Anderson pay a portion of the legal fees that Deal spent to address complaints from Anderson….

Anderson apologized for some of the language used in his complaints. But he said it’s unfair to ask citizens to pay for lawyer fees when their complaints against public officials are rejected.

The executive director of Georgia Common Cause, William Perry, said his group was concerned that forcing citizens to pay would discourage others from filing complaints.

File this one under “please don’t give the General Assembly any ideas.”

Moonshine distillers are making their first batches of legal liquor in this tiny Georgia town’s city hall, not far from the mountains and the maroon, orange and gold canopy of trees that once hid bootleggers from the law.

A handful of moonshine distilleries are scattered around the South, but observers say this is the first they’ve ever seen right in a city hall. The distilleries come amid an increased interest in the U.S. for locally made specialty spirits and beer brewed in homes and micro-breweries.

The Dawsonville moonshine makers and city officials say the operation helps preserve a way of life. It also carries on traditions of an era when moonshine meant extra income for farmers, medicine for their children and helped fuel the beginnings of NASCAR racing.

“Dawson County was, sure enough, the moonshine capital of the world at one time,” distiller Dwight Bearden said, as he checked on the still where the third batch of Dawsonville Moonshine was being prepared. “It was just a way of life back then.”

Last week, the distillery was delivering the second batch of moonshine it’s made to its distributor, which has orders from liquor stores and other businesses around the state. Georgia law prohibits the distillery from selling its liquor at the site, but allows a distributor to ship it to stores with a liquor license, where it can be sold legally.

Wood recently got approval from state officials to offer small samples for tourists to taste.

State Rep. Rusty Kidd of Milledgeville, who introduced that bill during the most recent session, said Thursday he believes there will be more legislation during the upcoming session that would allow the Dawsonville distillery and others in the state to sell a single bottle of moonshine to tourists who want to take one home.

Locally made and locally grown products are a key aspect of the business, she said. A batch of apples fermenting last week came from the north Georgia town of Ellijay, about 30 miles away, she said.

The local movement has been a successful one in north Georgia, where several vineyards dot the mountain landscape and offer tastings of wines made with locally grown grapes. In Blue Ridge, at least one apple orchard brews and bottles its own apple and peach ciders.

Corn used by the distillery is also grown locally, and the distillery sticks to authentic recipes and doesn’t use any sugar, Wood said.

“This ain’t sugar liquor,” she said, “this is the real deal.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for Oct. 12, 2012

Advance voting begins Monday for the November 6th General Election. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s early voting page has links to dates, times and places for your county’s advance voting. Remember to bring your Photo ID to vote; here’s complete information on which forms of Photo ID are acceptable.

Adoptable Dogs


If you’ve ever wanted one of those dogs you could take a picture of, add a funny caption, and make them famous on the internet, The Wise Buddah might be for you. This young blonde-haired, blue-eyed mixed breed is said to be very fun and playful and is available for adoption from the Fayette County Animal Shelter.

Tidbit is said to be a Doberman/Shepherd mix, but I’m thinking hound dog. Those ears aren’t stand-uppy enough to be either of those breed, but what do I know. He’s said to be a happy, affectionate pup and he’s available for adoption from the Fayette County Animal Shelter.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Voters in the CNN poll gave last night’s decision to Republican Nominee for Vice President Paul Ryan by a tight 48-44 margin.

Half of all debate watchers questioned in the poll said the showdown didn’t make them more likely to vote for either of the candidates’ bosses, 28% said the debate made them more likely to vote for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and 21% said the faceoff made them more likely to vote to re-elect President Barack Obama.

According to the survey, 55% said that the vice president did better than expected, with 51% saying that the congressman from Wisconsin performed better than expected.

By a 50%-41% margin, debate watchers say that Ryan rather than Biden better expressed himself.

Seven in ten said Biden was seen as spending more time attacking his opponent, and that may be a contributing factor in Ryan’s 53%-43% advantage on being more likable. Ryan also had a slight advantage on being more in touch with the problems of average Americans.

CBS News gave the win to Biden by 50-31.

Party-wise it’s a switch from last week’s presidential debate, which uncommitted voters handed easily to Romney over President Obama.

Both Biden and Ryan gained ground on relatability and knowledge. The percentage of voters who say they believe they can relate to Biden spiked from 34 percent before the debate to 55 percent; 48 percent think Ryan is relatable, up from 31 percent before the debate. Meanwhile, after watching the two candidates debate, 85 percent of those polled think Biden is knowledgeable about the issues; 75 percent say that about Ryan.

Ryan, though, faced a loss among voters’ opinions of which candidate would be an effective president, if necessary. Before the debate, he led Biden 45 percent to 39 percent; after the debate, 56 percent of those polled said Biden would be an effective president, with fewer – 49 percent–saying the same about Ryan.

Either way, though, it may matter little, as pre-debate polling by Rasmussen found that only 18% of American voters said that the Vice Presidential debate would be very important to their vote choice. History suggests that the VP candidate has very little influence on the eventual election results. Continue reading

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 11, 2012

Gwinnett County Animal Shelter runs a “Black Friday Sale” with adoptions of dogs and cats with black or majority-black coats costing only $30, a significant discount over the normal cost of $90 and a probably less expensive than the first set of vaccinations, which all of these dogs have received.
27904 above is described as “a treasure” by volunteers at the shelter, and “likes to retrieve a ball & lets you take it from his mouth. He doesn’t look to have been stray for long – appears well-kept, also he is non-reactive to other dogs. He’s small-statured and an absolute ball of fun! Would make a great companion all-around.” Unfortunately, he’s also listed as “urgent,” which means in danger of euthanasia. If someone adopts him today, a sponsor will cover the difference between the normal price and the “sale” price.

27978 is a black-and-white lab mix, who is a young, friendly female who is available for adoption today from the Gwinnett County Shelter and should be eligible for a discount tomorrow.

27851 is a majority-black German Shepherd male, who is friendly and is available today from Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

27733 is a friendly lab mix female who is available for adoption today from Gwinnett.

27904 is a friendly black lab mix male who is available today for adoption from Gwinnett.


Grace is a 3-4 month old Chihuahua who is not eligible for a discount because she’s at Walton County Animal Services, but their adoption fee is only $40 to begin with. We ran her photo yesterday, but are featuring her again because this is such a great photo.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

If you don’t get enough of GOP Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan by watching tonight’s debate, you might want to attend a pair of fundraisers featuring Ryan on October 24th at the Cobb Energy Centre.

Admission to a reception at which the Wisconsin congressman is due is relatively low-priced, just $500 per guest, but the cost for a grip-and-grip and roundtable discussion are considerably higher.

Donors have been asked to contribute or raise at least $10,000 for a photo opportunity with Ryan and $25,000 for a roundtable discussion.

The Romney campaign said Friday it was not immediately apparent if Ryan would hold any public events while in Georgia.

The Gwinnett County GOP will hold a barbecue on Saturday, October 13 beginning at 11 AM. I’ll be in Bainbridge, so will miss it, but if their recent events are any sign, it’ll be a great event. Continue reading

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 4, 2012

The General Election date is November 6th, 2012. The deadline for voter registration for the General Election is October 9, 2012, less than one week from today. Today would be a good day to email five friends with the following information, so they can make sure they’re registered.

To check your voter registration or view a sample ballot, please visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and use their MVP voter registration tool.

For questions about election dates, always check with the Georgia Secretary of State’s website or your local County Elections Office.

Advanced voting in person starts October 15, 2012; here’s where and when to vote early in person in your county. More than 10,000 voters are marked as having already voted in the November 6th General Election, according to data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

Adoptable Dogs

Tomorrow is “Black Friday” at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where black or majority-black dogs and cats can be adopted for $30, which is a $60 discount over most days. 27763 above is an adult, female lab mix who surely qualifies. She is large and friendly and will make a great companion.

27778 is a young, male Border Collie mix, and I think he has enough black fur to qualify. The shelter volunteers rave about how good a dog he is.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Not shockingly, Cobb County Republicans who gathered for a debate watching party thought that Governor Romney won last night’s debate.

Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson of east Cobb and Saxby Chambliss of Moultrie, declared Mitt Romney the winner in the first presidential debate between the former Massachusetts governor and President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

“I wanted to see the Romney that I hoped I would see, and I saw him tonight. He was very, very good,” said Isakson, who watched the debate from home.

Isakson said it was clear that Romney bested Obama in the Denver debate.

“Romney was clear in the definition of his vision, clear in what he planned for the future,” Isakson said. “President Obama was defensive on a lot of the issues.”

It was crucial that Romney perform as well as he did, Isakson said.

“I don’t think there was any question there were some questions out there in terms of where he was going to go,” Isakson said. “He was definitive. He was straightforward. He had a grasp of the issues, and I think he took on the president very well.”

Surprisingly, liberal NPR called Romney “dominant”. If you have nothing better to do with your time, here’s a complete transcript of the debate. And here are some experts deconstructing the body language and political communication skills on display by the candidates.

Georgia Democratic Party Chair Mike Berlon disagrees:

Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman Mike Berlon releases the following statement regarding the first Presidential debate:

“Tonight’s Presidential debate illustrated the incredible chasm and stark differences that exists between the policies of President Obama and those of Mitt Romney.

“Romney’s tax plan is not only unworkable but is nothing more than an absolute fantasy. His assertions that cutting taxes for the rich somehow equates to increasing revenue and benefits for everyone, including the middle class is simply impossible.

But whether he likes it or not, tax cuts do help create jobs or attract them to Georgia. Governor Deal has said that eliminating the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing helped the state land Baxter International and Caterpillar, two recent economic development triumphs.

Click Here

Campaign contribution disclosures are due today for the period ended September 30th. If you find yourself having filing difficulties, here are some tips for what I would do while I’m waiting for the disclosure system to reload.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens wrote to State School Superintendent John Barge about whether local school boards can publicly oppose the Charter School Amendment. The entire letter is available for viewing as a .pdf file here. Here are the important parts:

Local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters. They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong.

Counties may not use their resources to persuade voter to support or oppose a ballot question. Such electoral advocacy to voters is not permitted as an exercise of the general power to administer county government or otherwise.

The Georgia School Boards Association fired back:

Angela Palm with the Georgia School Boards Association says she wants more clarification from the Attorney General and is concerned the opinion could be in violation of the first amendment.

“If the intent of the letter is to say, no, you can’t talk about this in any way, then I think that’s a definite problem. If the intent is of the letter is to reinforce existing statute that says you can’t use public resources, okay we knew that, but thank you for the reminder, and it doesn’t change anything.”

 Maybe Ms. Palm didn’t read the letter, which addresses the First Amendment issue:
The [Georgia Supreme]Court acknowledged that [local elected officials] have the right, in their individual capacities, to support the adoption of [a] Constitutional Amendment,’ however they had no constitutional right of free speech to speak at county expense.

Republican state legislators will find themselves in a familiar place when they convene in January: caught between Grover Norquist’s no tax hike pledge that many signed, and local hospitals, who say that renewing the bed tax they pay is actually a good thing because the proceeds plus a federal match are used to pay for Medicaid patients.

Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Reform, recently told the Republican-dominated General Assembly in a letter that renewing the Hospital Provider Payment Program would violate the anti-tax pledges of about four dozen lawmakers.

Lawmakers adopted the tax in 2010 as state tax collections tanked because of the Great Recession. It uses tax money paid by the hospitals to generate an even larger pot of state and federal health care money that then flows back to the hospitals.

Hospitals with a large share of poor patients get more back in increased Medicaid payments – a government insurance program that covers the poor – than they pay in hospital taxes. Hospitals with a larger share of patients covered by Medicare or private insurance get fewer benefits than they pay out in taxes. Still, those hospitals get an indirect benefit. They don’t have to directly bear the costs of caring for the poor because the tax helps stabilize the budgets of hospitals serving poorer populations.

This may also present a leadership challenge for the new Senate leadership, as the 2010 bed tax vote is cited as a reason for the long-running feud between Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and the incumbent Senate leadership management.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs, who chairs the MARTA Oversight Committee, says that the MARTA Board failed to comply with open meetings laws, and is trying to derail an investigation by the Attorney General’s office.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, said he has evidence from other MARTA board members that director Barbara Babbit Kaufman falsified an affidavit he requested to show compliance with the Open Meetings Act during the search for a new General Manager.

“The problem is I’m being furnished documents that are false — they are being made up as they go along,” said Jacobs, who chairs the legislative committee that oversees MARTA. “I’m pretty red-faced angry about it. I’m dealing with a board that wants to create false documents to satisfy an oversight committee.”

Kaufman said she did not intentionally violate any law.

Jacobs wrote state Attorney General Sam Olens Wednesday to amend his initial complaint about possible MARTA board violations of open meetings, which focused on an email in which Kaufman asked board members to send her their “vote” on a new GM. Jacobs had also said the board’s search committee, chaired by Kaufman, failed to meet required procedures for meeting in private.

The Open Meetings Act requires a vote for a board to go into non-public session. It also requires a notarized affidavit by the committee chairperson stating the legitimate reason for the closure, such as to discuss candidates for a high-profile public job.

Jacobs’ latest letter to Olens essentially says Kaufman created that paperwork only after he complained.

Washington County State Court Judge Robert Wommack Jr. was privately reprimanded by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission after a March 2012 guilty plea to charges of DUI and excessive speed.

In March, Wommack entered a guilty plea in Laurens County Probate Court. Wommack was sentenced at that time to 12 months probation and ordered to pay a $945 fine, according to the JQC report. His driver’s license was suspended for 120 days, and he was ordered to attend a DUI/risk reduction course, participate for 40 hours in an Alcohol Anonymous program and serve 22 hours of community service, the JQC report said.

It also said Wommack had promptly reported his arrest to the JQC and voluntarily disqualified himself from all cases involving DUIs that were then pending in state court. According to the JQC report, Wommack also discussed with the JQC the facts of his arrest and the resolution of the charges.

The Macon-Bibb County consolidation transition team is recommending that joint operations begin two weeks earlier than originally planned.

Macon and Bibb County governments were scheduled to cease to exist on Jan. 13, 2014, before the new merged government takes effect the next day, Jan. 14. But the committee unanimously decided Wednesday to recommend to the task force that the new government instead go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, said Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. If the task force agrees, the state legislative delegation would be asked to legally change the official start date, she said.

Bibb County Commissioner Elmo Richardson, who made the motion for the earlier start, said waiting nearly two weeks into a calendar year to put the new government into effect could cause unnecessary inconveniences with everything from payroll, to accounting and insurance.

“From an accounting standpoint, it would be a nightmare,” Richardson said. “It’s just not a clean cut when you’re going to start the government on Jan. 14.”

Media inquiries prompted Augusta City Commissioner Grady Smith to pull a bid on providing plumbing services to the Sheriff’s department.

Smith, Super District 10 commissioner, said his company was building on a long-standing relationship with Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength when Smith Bros. Mechanical made a $24,000 bid last month to do plumbing work at the substation in south Augusta.

The move violated the city’s ethics code, which prohibits commissioners from substantially benefitting from city procurement contracts, unless they apply for an exception.

Smith said his company’s bid was the lowest by $12,000 and that he had an application for the exception on Monday’s finance committee agenda but withdrew the request Wednesday.

Savannah City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney is resigning, according to Mayor Edna Jackson.

Jackson asked for the resignation Sept. 25 after a flurry of management issues that included a $6 million backlog and complete staff turnover of buyers in Purchasing, a botched bid that could have led to a lawsuit and the termination of the emergency management director, a business associate of the city manager. Wednesday about noon, her supporters, dwindling but vocal, gathered for an impromptu press conference outside City Hall.

Chester Dunham, one of her more ardent supporters, said a “reliable source” had told him Small-Toney’s resignation would happen “before 5 o’clock.”

Dunham described Small-Toney as being “railroaded,” and supporter Marilyn Jackson said, “They just beat her down.”

Chatham County Democratic District Attorney Larry Chisolm and Republican challenger Meg Heap took questions from the audience at a joint appearance yesterday.

Heap cited an exodus of as many as 50 employees and the elimination of the elder-abuse prosecutor position as evidence that Chisolm does not deserve a second term. Instead, said the former prosecutor who worked under longtime DA Spencer Lawton, voters should choose her because of her passion for “bringing justice to people who have been victimized by crime.”

Chisolm — who said turnover in his office has been comparable to that of his predecessor’s and that there were not enough elder abuse cases to deserve a single prosecutor — said voters should reelect him because he’s drastically cut down a backlog of cases and has achieved very high rates of felony convictions at trial.

Ends & Pieces

The Augusta Chronicle’s Editorial Board brings us the shocking news that liberal mainstream media edit what they say to present their views as backed-up by facts, and to make Republicans look bad.

Democratic pollster Pat Caddell recently said the media have made themselves “a fundamental threat to the democracy, and, in my opinion … the enemy of the American people.

“And it is a threat to the very future of this country if we allow this stuff to go on. We have crossed a whole new and frightening slide on the slippery slope this last two weeks, and it needs to be talked about.”

Democrat commentator Kirsten Powers, speaking on the Obama administration’s oddly changing stories on who was behind the U.S. embassy attacks – and the media’s relative disinterest in the scandal – says: “In this case, lack of curiosity on the part of the American media very well may kill more Americans.” How? By letting the Obama administration off the hook vis-a-vis questions on security.

Retired newspaper publisher Sam Griffin of Bainbridge, Ga., writes of today’s mainstream media: “Through acts and omissions both subtle and overt, they continually tell us what is fact and what is not, what is important and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not, who won and who lost in every instance of the political day – the aggregate effect of which is an attempt to create self-fulfilling prophecies.”

As we near the one-year anniversary of the spectacular failure that was Occupy Atlanta, some hippies in Savannah held an Occupy Savannah rally that attracted one dude in a dour black dress.

Florida wants more water from Lake Lanier to protect its Gulf Coast oyster industry. Maybe they’ll go in with us on the invasion of Tennessee to get more of our water back.

Local NPR affiliate WABE has the firsthand story of an Atlanta attorney who who put her now-19 year old son up for adoption through an open process and the relationship they now have. It’s an excellent was to spend six minutes.

An historical marker was recently unveiled commemorating the the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival at Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron. A documentary called “Alex Cooley Presents Time Has Come Today” includes footage of that event and two others produced by Atlanta’s Cooley. Another film called Hotlanta, The Great Lost Rock Festival made a debut screening recently and we look forward to seeing it in wider release.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 1, 2012

In honor of the University of Georgia’s defeat of Tennessee, surely a precursor to our invading them and taking back our water from the Tennessee river, you might consider adopting this English Bulldog, 27718, from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

Or you might take pity on the vanquished and adopt one of the Volunteer state’s symbolic coonhounds. These seven puppies are all available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter beginning Thursday.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

In order to vote in the November 6th General Election, you must be registered by October 9th. Advanced voting begins October 15th, and mail-in ballots are on their way to voters who requested them. To date, more than 76,000 absentee ballots have been requested.

Candidates on the November ballot have a campaign contribution disclosure report due between now and October 5th. Plan early in case the Commission’s website is having problems yet again as the grace period closes.

After Democratic State Representative Rick Crawford announced that if reeelected, he will switch to the Republican Party, Speaker David Ralston made clear that the GOP will continue to back its nominee, Trey Kelley.

“I am fully committed to making sure Trey Kelley is elected to the House. He is an outstanding candidate who is working hard and is consistent,” Ralston said this morning. “While I respect Rick Crawford and appreciate his dilemma, the truth is that the [Democratic] Party didn’t just suddenly become liberal. It has been, is, and will continue to be a party that is far to the left of the great majority of Georgians.”

Also not impressed with Crawford’s claimed change of heart, the Georgia Democratic Party, which will seek Crawford’s removal as their nominee. Georgia Dems met via a teleconference of their leadership, who voted to:

a) Accept Crawford’s resignation from the party. (Crawford has submitted nothing in writing, but had communicated his change of allegiance in conversations with several Democrats;

b) Withdraw its support from Crawford; and

c) Authorize party Chairman Mike Berlon to seek Crawford’s removal from the ballot.

It’s the last item that’s news – or could be. We don’t know that it’s ever been done. Look for Berlon to quickly petition Secretary of State Brian Kemp for Crawford’s dismissal as the Democratic nominee for House District 16 in west Georgia.

Could Democrats replace Crawford? Good question, for which we don’t have an immediate answer. If they can’t, Republican Trey Kelley, a 25-year-old manufacturer’s rep, would be the automatic winner in the race come Nov. 6.

Georgia Republican Party Chair Sue Everhart told Georgia Tipsheet the Crawford will receive no assistance from the GOP.

Trey Kelley is the only Republican that will appear on the ballot in HD 16, and the Georgia Republican Party will proceed accordingly,” Everhart, through a spokesman, told Tipsheet. “We are excited to work with Trey over the next 40 days, and are looking forward to electing a Republican to represent Georgia’s 16th State House District on November 6th.”

What’s got the incumbent Democrat so worried? Maybe the shellacking that Kelley’s about to unload on him. GaPundit’s parent company ran a poll of likely voters in HD 16 over the weekend, and it shows that Kelley leads Crawford by a decisive margin of 61 to 31.5 with a margin of error of +/- 5.2 points.

Last week, I told Winston Jones of the (Carrollton) Times-Georgian newspaper that State Rep. Bill Hembree is the hands-on favorite in the Senate District 30 Special Republican Primary Election held the same day as the General Election.

“I think, realistically, you have to consider Hembree and (former House Speaker Glenn) Richardson to be the major candidates,” said Rehm, who publishes the GaPundit.com political column. “Hembree has a solid career in the state House and is widely thought of very well. Richardson has his supporters and detractors.”

Hembree resigned his House seat this month to campaign for the Senate seat.

“What jumped out at me from the poll was that Hembree has good support,” Rehm said. “It’s not a majority, but a commanding plurality. He has a lot he can brag about accomplishing and he’s not going to have a downside that Richardson has. Unless something shakes up the race in a major way, I’d expect Hembree to win. The question is whether the race has to go through a runoff. There’s a good chance of a runoff and then it’s really a jump ball. Anything can happen in a runoff.”

Rehm noted that 55 percent of the district’s electorate live in Carroll County. But, he said, neither of the Carroll candidates are “real politicians.”

“One of the candidates from Carrollton could make himself a major candidate, but I haven’t seen it yet,” he said.

We also ran a poll this weekend on the Senate District 30 race. We’ll post full details tomorrow on the website and email, but suffice it to say, nothing has happened to cause me to change my prediction of a Hembree win in November. Media writing for deadline can email me for an early copy.

Walter Jones writes that Librarian Libertarian candidates for Public Service Commission may tap into anti-incumbent sentiment this year.

the party has candidates in the only two statewide races, both for the Public Service Commission. In one, Libertarian David Staples is the only alternative to Republican incumbent Stan Wise. In the other, the Libertarians have nominated an openly gay telecommunications consultant, Brad Ploeger, who is drawing new voters to the fold in his bid to best GOP Commissioner Chuck Eaton and Democrat Steve Oppenheimer. For different reasons, both contests offer hope to the Libertarian Party in Georgia, which normally only claims 2 percent to 4 percent of the vote.

“This year, the anti-incumbent sentiment, even among those most closely associated with the majority party, makes both of our candidates in the Public Service Commission races even stronger,” notes Brett Bittner, chairman of the Georgia Libertarian Party. “Ethics issues have dogged both Republican incumbents as primary challengers, the various tea party groups, and ethics watchdogs turned their attention to that area of elected officials’ job performance.”

For many voters, Staples’ main advantage is not being Wise. “While some would prefer to vote for a major-party candidate, there isn’t one in this case. The choice is a vote for someone who looks to be bought and paid for by the industries he is supposed to regulate, or someone who is running on principle,” wrote The Albany Journal in its endorsement of Staples.

The Libertarians are hoping to break the 33 percent won when their nominee John Monds was the only challenger on the 2008 ballot against GOP incumbent Doug Everett. While that left Everett with a landslide, it still gave the Libertarians their best showing ever.

Also working to the party’s advantage, according to [PSC candidate Brad] Ploeger, is the likelihood that GOP nominee Mitt Romney will easily prevail in Georgia’s presidential voting. That frees up Republicans and Democrats with libertarian leanings to vote their preference without fear that doing so will help a candidate they don’t want to win.

Unfortunately, the national campaign has drawn many local parties and activists into support the Romney-Ryan ticket by ignoring state races, instead making phone calls into Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. This has the potential to risk local races and even force a runoff for Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton, who is seeking reelection, if GOP voters fail to turn out because of perceptions that Georgia is not in play nationally.

Bibb County Superior Court Judge Howard Simms, who was not arrested despite driving with a .083 blood alcohol level, may face charges and his judicial career may be in peril.

If a Bibb County Sheriff’s Office internal investigation confirms the judge’s blood alcohol was 0.083 on the night of Sept. 22, deputies will talk with the county solicitor to determine whether criminal charges will be filed.

Set to be complete by Monday, the results of that investigation will be released to the public after Sheriff Jerry Modena has a chance to review the findings, Chief Deputy David Davis said.

Whether Simms is arrested, his career is likely in the hands of the State Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Simms has notified the commission of the traffic stop and his plan to enter an in-patient alcohol treatment facility, according to a statement he issued Tuesday.

The commission is the only agency with the power to remove judges from office, said commission Chairman John Allen, a Superior Court judge from Columbus.

Allen said he can only remember three judges being removed from office in the past 20 years.

“Very rarely is a judge removed,” he said.

Commission statistics show that 21 judges with a complaint filed against them have resigned from office since 2005.

In May, Governor Nathan Deal removed the entire Miller County School Board. On Friday, Deal named new members to serve out the terms of the removed members.

Cobb County Solicitor General Barry Morgan, a Republican, has changed his mind and will seek reelection in 2014.

The south side of Augusta is the key to Republican success in the Richmond County Sheriff election, according to GOP nominee Freddie Sanders.

“That’s the battleground area of Richmond County,” said Sanders, who is running as a Re­publican in a county still dominated by Democratic politics.

“The south side is more integrated than the west side or the east side,” he said, explaining that he can likely count on strong support in “more Re­publican, more conservative” west Augusta.

His opponent, Richmond County schools Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, will have distinct advantages in east Augusta and the city’s urban center, he said.

Voting in Richmond Coun­ty has a history of falling along racial lines. About 53 percent of registered voters are black and about 37 percent are white, according to Board of Elections statistics. Generally, the majority of blacks tend to support Democratic candidates.

Sanders said he understands that is the pattern, but not necessarily a rule.

“There are some black people who will only vote for a black candidate and there are some white people who will only vote for a white candidate, but those are the fringes,” he said. “Everyone else is in the middle.”

He thinks a large portion of that “middle” can be found in the neighborhoods south of Gordon Highway – primarily commission districts 5, 6 and 8 – where there is a more diverse mix of voters.

The election for Augusta Commission Super District 9, which represents half the city, will see a head-to-head matchup between two former local elected officials and seasoned politicians in the General election.

the Augusta Com­mission Super District 9 election pits former Richmond Coun­ty State Court Solicitor Harold V. Jones against former two-term Com­missioner Marion Wil­liams, probably one of Augusta’s most recognizable politicians.

Williams, 64, got on the commission by beating former Com­missioner Freddie Han­dy by a slim margin in a 1999 runoff for District 2, then beat him again in 2003 for a second term.

Term-limited, Williams set his sights on the Senate Dis­trict 22 seat in 2008 but lost in the Dem­ocratic primary to Ed Tarver, now a U.S. attorney. He lost again in a 2010 effort to unseat District 2 Com­mis­sioner Corey Johnson.

Jones is far from inexperienced in Augusta politics and won nearly 60 percent of votes against Ben “Swain” McElmurray for State Court solicitor in 2004. He had lost an earlier bid for office, a 2002 state House race to Rep. Quincy Murphy..

Now 43 and practicing mostly criminal law with She­pard, Plunkett, Hamilton & Boudreaux, Jones remains active in politics. He had a hand in the voter turnout efforts that led to Richard Round­tree’s upset victory over Scott Peebles in the Democratic primary runoff for sheriff.

Unopposed for a second term as solicitor in 2008, Jones resigned the next year to run for state Senate against Hardie Davis. Davis won District 22, boosted by success in many white precincts, but Jones outpolled him in the 71 percent black District 9 portion of the Senate district by 1,132 votes.

The DeKalb County Republican Party invites you to “An Evening with Chris Boedeker,” the GOP nominee for State House District 81, currently held by Democrat Scott Holcomb. The reception will be held on Thursday, October 4th from 6 to 7:30 PM at DeKalb GOP HQ, located at 3583 Chamblee-Tucker Road, Atlanta, GA 30341. If you are attending, please R.s.v.p. to Linda Smith at 770-451-4174.

Coastal Georgia can look forward to a new $100 million resort that includes an adventure park, and 800 new jobs, if a developer is successful in plans for 575 acres near Kingsland, Georgia.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 26, 2012

Harley is obviously a big, scary Pit Bull right?

Or maybe he’s the awesomest-looking little low rider brindle basset mix. He’s pretty popular with the volunteers at Walton County Animal Services, where he’s available for adoption for $40. They write that he’s very friendly, good with other dogs and loves to play.

Someone emailed me yesterday to ask what the connection is between rescue dogs and Georgia politics, and frankly there isn’t much of one until now. It’s appalling that Georgia has so many dogs and cats that thousands are euthanized every year in shelters across the state. FixGeorgiaPets.org estimates that 300,000 dogs and cats are put down in the state every year at a cost of more than $100 million to taxpayers. In a civilized state that’s not okay.

Meanwhile, other states like Minnesota must not have enough shelter dogs because they’re importing ours.

So here’s the Georgia Pundit Policy Challenge for 2012-2013. Help us come up with a proposal or two that can be taken to members of the General Assembly that would reduce the number of euthanasias performed, promote pet spay/neuter, or make it easier to rescue and adopt. The best chance of getting something that will be taken seriously is for it to be a conservative idea that relies as little as possible on the state’s police powers, or saves taxpayer dollars, or reduces regulations. Email me your ideas and we’ll see if we can come up with something.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Governor Nathan Deal announced 150 new jobs and $150 million in investments in Floyd County, GA when Foss Manufacturing Company opens a new manufacturing and distribution center.

“Northwest Georgia remains a strategic home for the textile manufacturing industry, complete with the business environment and skilled workforce to help this industry continue its recovery in our state,” said Deal. “I am encouraged by the commitment Foss Manufacturing is making in Floyd County, and look forward to the contributions this company will make to one of Georgia’s major industries. I am glad to welcome Foss to Georgia.”

Foss is one of the world’s largest needle-punch based manufacturers, and supports its customers’ needs with patented technology driven solutions. The company has strong relationships with a diverse range of customers including major retailers and leading automotive brands.

“We are very excited about our decision to expand our operations and locate in Rome, and look forward to great success,” Foss CEO AJ Nassar said.

At its Rome operation, Foss will manufacture and distribute medical masks, hospital apparel and linens and automotive and filtration products. The company will occupy the former Mohawk building in Floyd County.

“It is always great news for our community when we secure a new company with such a diverse customer base,” said Rome Mayor Evie McNiece. “We are happy that at least 150 people will directly benefit from this positive use of a former manufacturing building.”

Near Savannah, Matson Logistics is expanding its warehouses and adding 40 jobs.

Matson’s expansion locally is a testament to the economic value of the Georgia Port Authority’s Garden City Terminal, said Curtis Foltz, the port’s executive director.

“Increasingly the Port of Savannah area is a strategic market for third-party logistics warehouse and distribution operations,” Foltz said. “Locating in proximity to the ports makes for a more efficient business model, allowing greater flexibility and utilization of company assets.”

Logistics operations are a growing sector of the Savannah economy. Several companies have built, expanded or announced plans to do business in the area in recent years.

The Judicial Nominating Commission named four nominees to a short list for Governor Deal’s consideration for the Gwinnett County Superior Court vacancy created when Deal elevated Judge Billy Ray to the Court of Appeals.

  • George F. Hutchinson, III – Chief Magistrate Judge; Gwinnett County
  • John S. Melvin – Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney, DeKalb County
  • Randy Rich – Judge, State Court of Gwinnett County
  • Robert D. Walker, Jr. – Judge, Magistrate Court of Gwinnett County

One commenter noted that the JNC traditionally names five nominees to short lists, and wondered if this was intended to convey a message about someone who was not short-listed. Or maybe it’s the beginning of a new tradition, as the JNC recently sent a short list of four nominees for Cobb County Superior Court.

  • Maria B. Golick – Judge, State Court of Cobb County, Division I
  • Robert D. Leonard, II – Judge, State Court of Cobb County, Division II
  • Juanita P. Stedman – Judge, Juvenile Court of Cobb County
  • Mark S. VanderBroek – Partner, Troutman Sanders LLP

The JNC might get a chance to compile a short list to fill a vacancy on Bibb County Superior Court as Judge Howard Simms is suspected of DUI for the second time in just over two years.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office launched an internal investigation Tuesday morning following a Saturday night roadblock on Lamar Road in west Bibb County where Simms was stopped. The roadblock was a part of the multi-agency Rolling Thunder traffic operation Friday and Saturday.

Chief Deputy David Davis said the investigation seeks to determine whether Simms was under the influence of alcohol and the circumstances surrounding his interaction with Bibb County deputies.

So far, Davis said, information gathered in the investigation suggests Simms took an alcohol breath test and registered 0.083. The legal limit in Georgia is 0.08. As part of the investigation, deputies are seeking to verify Simms’ breath test result, he said.

Generally, deputies administer field sobriety tests only if they smell alcohol, see a container of alcohol after stopping a vehicle or if the driver shows signs of impairment, Davis said.

“For them to have administered any kind of roadside field sobriety test, the officer who stopped him and had first contact with him must have seen something or smelled something that made him think alcohol could have been in use,” Davis said.

If the investigation confirms Simms registered 0.083 on the breath test, the sheriff’s office will confer with the Bibb County solicitor to determine whether an arrest warrant will be issued, Davis said.

Simms, a former district attorney, issued a statement early Tuesday afternoon saying he was not charged with a crime after stopping at the roadblock and that he returned home “under his own power.”

He cleared his court calendar Tuesday to make arrangements to enter an inpatient alcohol addiction treatment facility, according to the statement.

The judge, who is elected by voters from Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties, had been scheduled to preside over jury selection in an aggravated assault case in Bibb County Superior Court.

The prosecutor and defense attorney for the aggravated assault case said they received word Tuesday morning that Simms had postponed the case until the next trial term.

Simms has reported to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission information regarding Saturday night’s events and his decision to enter a treatment facility, according to his statement.

The JQC is the state agency that investigates judges’ behavior and issues punishment when warranted. Attempts to contact the JQC were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Chatham County Juvenile Court Judge John Beam, Jr. has retired after 32 years. Lisa Goldwire Colbert will take his place on the bench. Current Judge Patricia Stone will now serve as presiding judge of the court.

The GBI is NOT investigating allegations on the interwebs that Chip Rogers profited from reimbursements by the legislature for expenses related to official mailings to his constituents.

GBI Spokesman John Bankhead confirmed that the state investigating agency, at press time, was not looking into the allegations against Rogers.

“The GBI has not been requested by a legal authority to investigate the allegations,” Bankhead said Monday.

Candidates for Senate District 30, recently vacated by former Sen. Bill Hamrick, discussed the Charter School Amendment at a forum hosted by the Carroll County Tea Party. The leading candidate, State Rep. Bill Hembree said he supports the Amendment

Hembree, who resigned his House seat this month to campaign for the Senate, said he fully supports the charter school amendment and he will vote for it, if elected.

“No local funds will be used for state charter schools, that’s in the bill,” Hembree said. “There will be no reduction in state funding for local schools. The local schools can still create charter schools.”

He said charter schools would have to be reviewed by local boards before they are submitted to the state.

“The state role is to provide a checks and balance system,” he said.

Hembree said he believes in public, private, homes and charter schools, and the online option of virtual schools.

“For every kid, there’s different options,” he said. “That’s the way it needs to be. In the state of Georgia, we’re just trying to get those options and make them available.”

Former Speaker Glenn Richardson also supports the Amendment.

Richardson said he counted three of the other candidates on the fence and said it’s an issue where you can’t be on the fence.

“I intend to vote yes,” he said. “I support every time you give a parent a choice on how to educate their child. I hear cries of educators who say we’re going to take money away from schools. It’s not about money, it’s about kids. Why would you vote against parents starting a charter school?”

He said the General Assembly tried passing a charter school law, but the courts ruled that money couldn’t be given to charter schools without a constitutional amendment.

“It’s not an attack on educators, but a chance to give parents a choice,” he said.

The University of Georgia’s University Council will vote on whether employment benefits should be extended to domestic partners.

SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is once again warning Clayton County that it is the most embarrassing county in Georgia is at risk of losing its school system’s accreditation.

The accrediting agency revoked the district’s accreditation in 2009. In its letter Tuesday, SACS President Mark Elgart cited concerns about conflicts between board members.

The school system has until Jan. 15 to respond to the concerns before the accrediting agency decides whether to investigate the board’s actions.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell has proposed that the County “disinvest[] all funds managed by, for and on behalf of Hall County and any ancillary components of Hall County, in any company with active business operations in the petroleum and energy industry in Iran or Sudan; and for other purposes.”

Republican Freddie Sanders says he’s more qualified than his Democratic opponent to run the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

Sanders, a Republican, said the difference between him and his Democratic opponent, Richmond County school Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree, is that he has the experience and the knowledge to run a department with a $56 million budget.

“This is not about race, and this is not about party. This is about qualifications,” he said.

Sanders, an attorney who last wore a police uniform 27 years ago, said that his critics – including Roundtree – have implied that he comes form another generation and that he isn’t familiar with modern technology. He said he defied anyone to test him.

Sanders said his campaign had tried to get Roundtree to show up at several events, including Tuesday’s meeting, to debate him of those issues, but his opponent has always declined.

“I want him to show up somewhere and debate me and tell me what I don’t know about the Richmond County sheriff’s department,” he said.

Cherokee County voters had a chance to learn about the proposed HOST Homestead Option Sales Tax that, if passed, will levy an additional penny sales tax and apply the proceeds to reducing property taxes.

Cherokee County Commissioners have invited the GBI to investigate issues surrounding Ball Ground Recycling.

At the Sept. 18 county commission meeting, commissioners unanimously approved their official response to Grand Jury recommendations following its investigation of the failed Ball Ground Recycling (BGR) venture by businessman Jimmy Bobo, which the county approved backing with an $18.1 million resource recovery bond issue.

Since Bobo filed bankruptcy in May, the county has been responsible for paying the $100,000-a-month debt service on the bonds. Currently, the tally on county taxpayers for the failed venture is $2 million. The property and the operation, according to the terms of the lease with Bobo, have reverted to the county’s ownership.

The county has obtained an appraisal of the BGR facilities and equipment, which it is utilizing in its negotiations with prospective new operators and/or owners. The estimated value of the operation is $10 million, County Manager Jerry Cooper said.

Forsyth County Tea Party Patriots Alliance will hold a roundtable for candidates for the Seventh and Ninth Congressional Districts on Thursday, September 27th, beginning at 7 PM at the Forsyth County Administration Building. Twelfth District Congressional candidate Lee Anderson won’t attend that one either.

Bibb and Monroe Counties continue to dispute the exact border between the jurisdictions.

Monroe County had filed a lawsuit challenging a decision by Georgia’s secretary of state in Bibb’s favor, but that lawsuit was dismissed Friday in Fulton County Superior Court.

Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams said the judge’s decision was not surprising because the law gives the secretary of state final say-so in border disputes. However, Adams says Monroe County officials only filed the lawsuit to “craft a back door avenue for an appeal.”

“I’m sure they’re going to appeal to the state Court of Appeals,” he said. “They’re trying to back door an appeal because the statute that deals with border disputes does not provide for appeals.”

Bibb County was added to the lawsuit between Monroe County and Secretary of State Brian Kemp in which Monroe sought to overturn Kemp’s ruling that rejected a border survey favored by Monroe officials. Kemp said that two surveys should have been provided.

The border’s location has been in dispute for decades. The state Legislature set the boundary in 1822, with a corner on the Ocmulgee River. The legislation is ambiguous about whether there was one ferry site or two, among other questions.

Caught in the dispute are residents, infrastructure and part of Bass Pro Shops. Kemp said the missing 1822 survey made it harder to decide where the border is supposed to be.

In a filing in Fulton County Superior Court, Bibb County said that should it lose the dispute, the tax hit to the county government, county schools and unincorporated county fire tax would be exactly $1,376,591.

Ends & Pieces

The New York Times has an interesting article on a threat to long-standing Geechee/Gullah families on Sapelo Island.

These Creole-speaking descendants of slaves have long held their land as a touchstone, fighting the kind of development that turned Hilton Head and St. Simons Islands into vacation destinations. Now, stiff county tax increases driven by a shifting economy, bureaucratic bumbling and the unyielding desire for a house on the water have them wondering if their community will finally succumb to cultural erosion.

“The whole thing just smells,” said Jasper Watts, whose mother, Annie Watts, 73, still owns the three-room house with a tin roof that she grew up in.

She paid $362 in property taxes last year for the acre she lives on. This year, McIntosh County wants $2,312, a jump of nearly 540 percent.

Where real estate is concerned, history is always on the minds of the Geechees, who live in a place called Hog Hammock. It is hard for them not to be deeply suspicious of the tax increase and wonder if, as in the past, they are being nudged even further to the fringes.

Theirs is the only private land left on the island, almost 97 percent of which is owned by the state and given over to nature preserves, marine research projects and a plantation mansion built in 1802.

The relationship between Sapelo Island residents and county officials has long been strained, especially over race and development. In July, the community relations division of the Justice Department held two meetings with residents to address charges of racial discrimination. A department spokesman said the meetings were confidential and would not comment.

Neither would the chief tax appraiser, Rick Daniel, or other elected county officials. But Brett Cook, who manages the county and its only city, Darien, says local government does a lot to support the Geechee culture.

“It’s a wonderful history and a huge draw for our ecotourism,” he said.

This summer, he pointed out, the county worked with the Smithsonian to host a festival that culminated in a concert with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, who practice a style of singing and hand claps developed by slaves.

State Senator William Ligon, who represents the county and is a real estate lawyer, suggests that residents file a lawsuit if they do not get relief.

“In an economy where property values have been declining, I think I would want to look very, very closely at what had been done at the county level,” he said.

None of that offers immediate relief to residents who have tax bills piled up on kitchen tables and in desk drawers.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will allow driverless cars on California’s roadways. Of course he took a ride in a driverless Prius to celebrate the occasion.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.

“Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality — the self-driving car,” Brown said. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they’ll get over it.”

Google Inc. has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the regulations. The company’s fleet of a dozen computer-controlled vehicles has logged more than 300,000 miles of self-driving without an accident, according to Google.

“I think the self-driving car can really dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said.

Autonomous cars can make roads safer, free commuters from the drudgery of driving, reduce congestion and provide transport to people who can’t drive themselves, such as the blind, disabled, elderly and intoxicated, Brin said.

Let’s just hope the driverless cars aren’t guided by the new iOS 6 version of Apple’s maps.

Georgia Politics, Campaign & Elections for September 24, 2012

27586 is described as a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, which is a relatively rare breed, but I’m more inclined to think this puppy is a mix of something like a Golden Retriever or lab with some kind of low rider like a basset. Whatever her heritage, she’s a beautiful puppy, friendly and playful, and will be available for adoption tomorrow, September 25, 2012, from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

27581 is a pocket puppy, a female Chihuahua, who also is described as friendly and playful and who will be available for adoption beginning tomorrow, September 25, 2012, from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

128036 is a male Golden Retriever who has landed in the lockup in Augusta and is available for adoption there. He’d be a great candidate for one of the Golden Retriever Rescues in Atlanta, and if someone wants to transport him, email me and I’ll put you in touch with the great folks of Adopt A Golden Atlanta.

Finally today, we have 125540, nicknamed Johnny, a yellow lab male who’s available for adoption from Augusta Animal Shelter. From the collar and the fact that he has a name, I’d guess he’s an owner turn-in, which typically means no mandatory hold time at the shelter.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton has written an Op-Ed arguing that the cost of solar panels have come down enough that it may now be considered on its own merits, without government mandates or subsidies.

The bad name solar energy has in Republican and conservative circles is based on the way it’s been over-hyped and oversold by the left and, in some cases, by those with a financial interest in the technology.

In Republican politics, solar energy is synonymous with failed big government policies, in part because of money schemes like Solyndra and taxpayer-subsidized automobiles.

I believe that solar technology is not inherently liberal; it’s the way in which it is implemented that marks solar programs as liberal or conservative.

With the cost of solar installations falling dramatically, some say as much as 75%, we can now discuss deploying solar power without the subsidies, waste, and cronyism that seems to pervade government solar initiatives. The only way we can responsibly implement more solar power is to require that it does not increase rates, and that solar programs include competitive mechanisms to ensure the lowest cost.

As we have seen with the repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, which the members of the Public Service Commission supported, and Governor Deal signed into law, lower energy costs not only benefit families, but can help Georgia attract more new jobs.

Speaking of government incentives for energy technology, Hall County’s ZF Wind Power is learning what happens when you run out of government money.

“The timeline to install new turbines is about six months and so … you can do the math,” said Elizabeth Umberson, president of 1925 New Harvest Drive, off Calvary Church Road.

The approaching deadline has had a “chilling” effect on orders, causing them to drop dramatically.

“We were supposed to be at full production levels, with a staff of 250, and we’re at 160 today,” Umberson said. “And we’ve capped that.”

The expiring tax credit gives wind manufacturers 2.2 cents for every kilowatt hour produced, said Jennette Gayer of Atlanta-based Environment Georgia.

“It assumes that wind (energy) is going to be a little bit more expensive, so to help encourage manufacturers to build turbines and feed into the (electricity) grid, it gives a small incentive per kilowatt hour to do so,” she said.

So there we have the perfect contrast: one approach to energy production that relies on competition and one that relies on government mandate and other peoples’ money.

Speaking of this year’s repeal of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, Gwinnett County is looking at ways to make up for the revenue it “lost” in the repeal.

County officials will discuss next week implementing a new tax to replace funds taken away by a state-mandated exemption.

The law, adopted by the General Assembly earlier this year in an attempt to create a more business-friendly environment in Georgia and draw jobs, would give manufacturers a break on state and local sales taxes on energy resources, including electricity, natural gas, oil and other types of fuel. A phase out of the taxes will begin next year and be complete in 2016.

But to make sure that local governments didn’t suffer from a loss of revenue, legislators agreed to allow counties and cities to impose an excise tax on energy equal to the amount of money lost in local sales taxes, according to information from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. The association said the excise tax can be used for any purpose, unlike sales taxes, which must be used for capital projects.

Today’s theme is voter registration. You can check your voter registration status online with the Secretary of State’s website to confirm that your information is correct. You may also download and print a voter registration form or absentee ballot application to fill out and mail.

The Savannah NAACP is putting the drive in voter registration drive, offering prospective voters a ride to the elections office to register to vote. According to WTOC’s story,

The deadline to register for the upcoming election is Oct. 9. The Savannah branch of the NAACP is offering rides to the Chatham County Voter Registration Office to obtain authorized identification. The rides and the IDs are free. No documents are needed to acquire an ID. Call the Savannah branch of the NAACP at 912.233.4161 for more information.

I don’t believe that last part is correct about not needing any documents to get a voter ID is correct, as the website for Secretary of State Brian Kemp says:

To Receive a voter identification card, the voter must provide:

A photo identity document or approved non-photo identity document that includes full legal name and date of birth

Documentation showing the voter’s date of birth

Evidence that the applicant is a registered voter

Documentation showing the applicant’s name and residential address

The Gwinnett County Republican Party had a voter registration and propaganda information booth at the County Fair last night, and reported that business was brisk all through the weekend. The fair continues this week at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, where you can get your fill of corn dogs, fried oreos, and fried twinkies, before picking up your Romney-Ryan yardsign for a small donation. I didn’t take that photo above, but I did take this one:

Speaking of Gwinnett Republicans, they will be holding a barbecue on Sunday, October 13th at Bethesda Park in Lawrenceville from 11 AM to 2 PM featuring Hal’s Barbecue. Click here for advanced tickets online here. Advance tickets are $12 per person, or $20 per couple. Tickets at the door are $15 per person, or $10 for college students with valid ID. Children under 6 are free. Advance tickets must be paid online in order to receive the discount.

Alice O’Lenick has been named to the Gwinnett County Board of Elections as a Republican nominee for the Board.

Alice O’Lenick will replace Keith Shewbert, who resigned to run as a candidate for the Norcross City Council. [Gwinnett GOP Chairman Bruce] LeVell said he plans to re-appoint longtime member Joan Zellner upon the expiration of her term at the end of the year.

Both major parties have two seats on the elections board, with a fifth independent member chosen by commissioners.

O’Lenick, a Dacula resident, has worked as a substitute teacher as well as has many years experience on the financial side of Gwinnett-based companies. Zellner has served on the elections board for nearly 20 years and was co-founder of the Greater Gwinnett Republican Women’s club.

Colquitt County Democrats held a voter registration drive featuring some of their candidates this weekend.

While the presidential race is always the biggest draw on a ballot, local voters will decide races for Colquitt County sheriff and county commission District 2. They also will cast ballots in races for District 171 state representative, for state Public Service Commission and in a referendum on granting the state more power in establishing charter schools.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are holding a nationwide HBCU Challenge to increase voter registration among students.

Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia and a civil rights icon, said he and some other caucus members will host voter registration and education projects in their districts Tuesday to “dramatize the issue once again.”

“It’s not just a Southern thing,” he said, noting that Pennsylvania is among states with new voting requirements. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it happened in Alabama. It happened in Mississippi, in Georgia, in North Carolina in South Carolina.’ But what is going on in Pennsylvania is a shame and a disgrace and an affront to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the democratic process.”

Earlier this week, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court sent the fight over the state’s new voter ID law back to a lower court.

A group I’ve never heard of called The Advancement Project has released a report saying that the requirement for voter ID and other barriers to illegal voting may prevent up to ten million eligible Hispanic voters from exercising their right to vote.

In an analysis based on government data, civil rights group The Advancement Project identified legal barriers that could deter voter registration and participation among eligible Hispanics. In some of those states, the group’s researchers said, the number of voter-eligible Latino citizens potentially blocked by those barriers exceeds the margin of victory in the 2008 election.

“Like African Americans, Latinos have experienced decreased access and correspondingly lower levels of voter registration and participation than non-Hispanic whites,” said the report, which was being released Monday.

According to census data, there were more than 21 million Hispanics of voting age in 2010. They comprised roughly 10 percent of all eligible voters and 8 percent of registered voters in the U.S.

Among eligible Hispanics in 2010, 6.3 million said they were not registered to vote, and 10.8 million — about half of those of voting age — said they did not vote, the report said.

By comparison, the report said, there were 172.4 million non-Hispanic white citizens eligible to vote in 2010, with nearly 18 percent unregistered and 38 percent who said they did not vote.

There are three significant barriers to Hispanic voter participation, researchers said: citizenship-based voter purges, proof of citizenship requirements and photo identification laws.

A report by the Secretary of State’s office indicates that Northwest Georgia (also called “Extreme Northwest Georgia” by some denizens) has lost more than 10,000 registered voters since the 2008 election, and the state voter rolls have grown by only 6,517 people.

A total of 226,560 voters were registered in Floyd, Bartow, Chattooga, Polk, Gordon, Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties as of Sept. 1, according to Georgia secretary of state records. That’s 10,209 fewer than the 236,769 who registered for the 2008 election.

Georgia has 5,205,488 people on its rolls, compared to 5,198,971 registered, eligible voters four years ago.

Anyone who voted in the July 31 primary is good to go, but Floyd County Elections Supervisor Evon Billups said would-be voters who didn’t cast a ballot in the 2008 or 2010 elections should check their status.

“And if you are registered but you’ve changed your address, you have to update that in order to get the correct ballot,” she said. A name-change also must be registered, since a picture ID is required to vote.

The AJC reports that more than 36,000 newly registered voters have been added to the rolls betwen August 1st and September 1st of this year.

County election officials said interest is high since both political parties held their nominating conventions around Labor Day, with many predicting a registration surge into next month.

Georgians have until Oct. 9 to register to vote in the general election, although the first ballots went out Friday to voters casting absentee ballots by mail. Many groups, partisan and nonpartisan, will press to get people’s attention over the next two weeks.

“We win if Republicans and independents get out to vote. We lose if we stay home,” Georgia GOP chairwoman Sue Everhart said. “They say bumper stickers are worth 10 votes. My goal is to put a million bumper stickers on cars in Georgia.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, like his peers nationwide, has declared September National Voter Registration Month to encourage participation and increase awareness of state requirements and deadlines for voting.

And although it will come too late for November, Kemp plans next year to enable online voter registration.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, despite record-breaking registration and voter turnout in many states for the 2008 presidential election, six million potential voters did not cast a ballot because they missed a registration deadline or did not know how to register.

In an OpEd published in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Chris Johnson makes the case for trimming the voter rolls of not just people who lack the legal right, but those too stupid or otherwise impaired to vote.

• If you have watched more than five minutes of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” then you aren’t allowed to vote.

• If you rail against “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” but have seen most of the shows, you’re a hypocrite, which means you aren’t allowed to vote but are surely qualified to run for office.

• If you have ever been featured in an episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” you’re not allowed to vote … or procreate.

• If more than half your backside is showing outside the top of your pants, then you’re not allowed to vote – not that it has anything to do with the political process, but I don’t want to stand behind you in line.

• If you know the name of any droids other than R2D2 and C3PO in the “Star Wars” movie franchise, you aren’t allowed to vote but are allowed to work on my computer.

Carroll County will add a second early voting location for the November election.

Voters will have three weeks to cast early ballots in the election, with extended hours during the final week.

In addition to the Carrollton site at the elections office on College Street for the entire three-week period, advance voting will also be held during the final week at the Powell Park Arts Center in Villa Rica.

“We added the Villa Rica advance voting site to help voters in the northern part of the county,” said county Elections Supervisor Becky Deese.

Advance voting begins Monday, Oct. 15. During the first two weeks, voting will be held only at the Carroll County Elections Office in Carrollton, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each weekday. The Saturday voting day will be Oct. 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Carrollton office only.

During the final week of advance voting, Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, advance voting will be held at both the Carrollton and the Villa Rica sites, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Powell Park Arts Center is at 424 Leslie Drive in Villa Rica.

Deese said the state now uses the term “advance voting” for all early voting instead of the previously used “early voting” designation.

Eligible Carroll County voters will also have an opportunity to vote in the Special Election to fill former Senator Bill Hamrick’s seat. With Carroll County voters representing aroung 55% of votes cast in the last two elections for Hamrick’s seat, the additional early voting site may help a Carroll County candidate force Republican Bill Hembree into a runoff.

Governor Nathan Deal has appointed State Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville) as one of his Floor Leaders, replacing State Rep. Doug Collins, who will be elected to Congress in November.

Robert Williams, the Editor of the Blackshear Times likens Charter School proponents’ cry of school choice to Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.”

Despite enacting extreme budget cuts forcing average public school class sizes to grow by substantial numbers, despite underfunding the state’s obligation for “adequate” public education, the typical response by Georgia’s top politicians to our state’s education problems has been “Let them have choice!” Political leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, want to divert dwindling resources from neighborhood public schools to help corporate interests privatize education in our state.

The Gold Dome crowd wants Georgia voters to believe charter schools, operated by for-profit companies, will be the magic bullet for improving education. That, despite numerous studies showing charter schools perform no better than other schools in improving educational achievement.

Like most issues embraced in our state Capitol, it’s all about money. To be specific, it’s about one of the Capitol  crowd’s favorite pastimes, opening taxpayers’ wallets to private business interests.

Even if we had the money to afford to set up charter schools across our state, that leaves one important unanswered question: What happens to those kids in our community who don’t get into a charter school and are left in the even more woefully underfunded older public schools?

Gov. Deal and his pals have their answer: Send them to the cafeteria and let them eat cake.

The congressional office of Rep. Tom Graves (R-Upper Left Hand Corner) was burglarized last week but the Congressman’s hair remained perfect.

The items taken from Graves’ office were two laptop computers. Reports state someone kicked in the door to the office to get inside. Cooke said there’s no evidence the thieves were solely targeting the congressman.

“U.S. Capitol Police, along with local authorities, are investigating the incident,” Graves spokeswoman Jennifer Hazelton said in a statement.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) has endorsed the reeleciton of Democrat John Barrow to Congress from the Twelfth District.

Barrow’s opponent, Republican Lee Anderson will have some high-profile help, as House Speaker John Boehner will visit the district to boost Anderson’s campaign.

Anderson made the announcement at Saturday’s GOP breakfast at Fatz Cafe in Evans.

“Oct. 15th, we will have the speaker here,” Anderson said.

“Speaker Boe­hner will be here in Columbia County, helping me, helping us take over District 12. We’re excited about it.”

In remarks to a group of about 30 people, Anderson continued to question why his Democratic opponent will not publicly declare that he is voting for President Obama in November.

“My opponent has not yet to say that he is going to vote for Obama,” Anderson said. “I’m here to tell you, I’m going to vote for Mitt Romney.”

Democrat Lesli Messinger has no chance at all of unseating Republican Congressman Jack Kingston.

The GOP vote in the new 1st, according to figures from the legislature, averaged 58 percent in 2010 statewide contests.

Just two Democrats, gubernatorial nominee Gov. Roy Barnes and attorney general nominee Ken Hodges, broke 40 percent.

Justifiably, we hear a lot about how new boundaries work against incumbent Democrat John Barrow in the neighboring 12th District.

Indeed, statewide Republican candidates also averaged 58 percent there in 2010.

So Barrow, who carried the old district with 56 percent of the vote in 2010, is correctly viewed as vulnerable.

So picture the plight of a novice Democratic candidate running on turf with similar 2010 election results. And against a veteran GOP incumbent who’d banked $1.24 million as of mid year.

At least Barrow has the good political sense to distance himself from President Barack Obama, a political albatross in Georgia. In contrast, Messinger boldly supports him. Can you say kamikaze run?

Also having zero chance of being elected are the two people running against Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey in the new Eleventh District.

Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisholm will open his campaign office tonight at 6:30 PM.

Jasper County School Board member Pamela Williams took the local Democratic Party to task for attempting to control the way elected officials vote once in office.

Williams has represented District 8, which includes Hardeeville, for nearly four years. In August, after a correction, the county election commission said Williams actually lives in District 9, the Levy precinct.

She said she approached County Council because she was asked to attend a meeting of the Democratic Party of Jasper County in the spring by Alex Pinckney, president of the Democratic Club. She said after preliminary introductions, Democratic Party chairman Arthur Murphy and Pinckney put her candidacy in no uncertain terms.

“They stated that they determined who would be elected and run for office,” Williams said. “They further stated that the reason they wanted us [Williams attended with another board member] to attend was because they wanted us to vote with the other members of the school board, even if we disagreed behind closed doors.”

“I informed them that I was highly insulted, for them to even suggest this,” said Williams, who is the wife of a county magistrate judge.

Williams said she questions the Democratic Party’s motives with the school board and the correction of her district, suggesting that the correction seems to be a way for the Democratic Party and the school board to get rid of candidates.

Murphy denied that anyone in the party told Williams how to vote as a school board member.

Cherokee County voters can attend two informational forums about the Homestead Option Sales Tax on the November 6th Ballot.

The first educational forum will begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday [September 26th] at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center.

Another forum is slated for 6 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Chambers at City Center in Woodstock. Both forums are sponsored by Cherokee Bank and the Cherokee Tribune.

“The HOST Referendum is difficult to understand for the average voter. There is no better experience than to hear an informative presentation and have an opportunity to ask questions,” said Dennis Burnette, Cherokee Bank president.

It’s actually not hard to understand. We have the HOST in DeKalb County. The voters will have an opportunity to levy an additional penny sales tax, the proceeds of which will be used to offset part of the property tax bill for county operations. It works very well in DeKalb, limiting both our property tax bills, and generally speaking, the rate of growth of county government.

Cherokee’s HOST referendum has two questions on the ballot:

The HOST is expected to generate about $30 million per year, of which 20 percent can go for capital expenditures, according to the law structuring the tax; however, the commission plans to approve a resolution that would dedicate the entire amount of the revenue toward a property tax rollback.

“The HOST’s primary objective is to eliminate property tax, period,” said Post 4 County Commissioner Jason Nelms. “We need to give that information to people.”

There are two questions regarding the matter on the ballot: One asks if the HOST should be imposed and the other asks if up to 100 percent of the proceeds should go straight to reducing property taxes.

Ends & Pieces

Bridget Mary McCormack teaches at the University of Michigan Law School and is running for her state’s Supreme Court. She also has a web video that gathered most of the liberals cast of The West Wing to discuss the issue of voters choosing a party’s straight ticket and neglecting to vote for nonpartisan judicial offices. Pretty cool for $5000, assuming she doesn’t have to disclose the in-kind contributions of the actors at their day rate.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 20, 2012

Midge (left) is a femal basset hound-labrador mixed called a “low-rider lab” who is about 3 years old and weighs 40 pounds. She will be available for adoption beginning Saturday at Walton County Animal Control.

Nabisco (center) is a two-year old, 60 pound male Brittany Spaniel who will be  available for adoption beginning Saturday at Walton County Animal Control.

Tipper (right) is a 2-3 month old black lab puppy who weighs 15 pounds and  will be  available for adoption beginning Saturday at Walton County Animal Control.

27849 is an adult male Rottweiler or hound mix who is available for adoption from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. He is said to be very friendly and good on a leash. He’s likely eligible for the “Black Friday” special tomorrow where adoptions of black or majority-black dogs from Gwinnett County is discounted to $30 total. If you’re interested, please contact shelter volunteers through Facebook to express your interest. Gwinnett’s shelter is full and dogs are not being given very long before they’re euthanized.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The voter registration deadline for the November 6th General Election is October 9th. You can check your voter registration status online with the Secretary of State’s website to confirm that your information is correct.

Mitt Romney was in Atlanta yesterday for a $1000 per person fundraiser.

Romney supporters who attended left the speech invigorated.

“He’s had some bad news lately and it was good to get fired back up and see him fired back up,” said Buckhead resident David Burge. “I’m ready to go back out and do what I’ve got to do to get him some more votes.”

“To continue empowering people to be reliant on government is not going to be what’s ultimately good for this country and I think that resonated,” said Cheri Combee of Suwannee.

“I certainly think he said it in a softer way today but he did not apologize for his remarks and I don’t think he should.”

Combee said a good portion of the speech focused on what it will take improve the economy and provide jobs for the unemployed.

“He made his case that he has the capacity to genuinely help this people in need versus Obama who provides a type of phony compassion that his programs are in fact going to hurt the people that are poor.”

State Senator Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, attended as well. He said Romney’s economic message should resonate will all Americans.

“The problem is this administration thinks that food stamps and welfare are stimulus and Governor Romney thinks that a pro-growth jobs policy that creates jobs in the private sector is real stimulus.”

Perhaps one issue where Republicans can do a better job is in articulating that we truly are concerned about helping the poor and disadvantaged, but that we differ from liberals in our belief that a positive outcome for a client of government support services is self-sufficiency, not continued dependence.

The AJC continues the coverage of Romney’s Atlanta speech:

Gov. Mitt Romney pushed back Wednesday against claims that he’s written off half the country and said he, not President Barack Obama, can better improve the lot of poor Americans.

“The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and middle class. I do, he does,” Romney said, his voice rising. “The question is who can help the poor and middle class. I can, he can’t, he couldn’t in four years.”

“This is going to be an election of a very stark choice,” Romney said. “The question is going to be who is better equipped and has better direction in mind to help the people of America who so badly need help. We have a lot of people in trouble.”

Governor Deal, who introduced Romney at the fundraiser, said yesterday that he will work with Secretary of State Brian Kemp to retain the unscheduled public access to the state archives, which Kemp had earlier said would be curtailed to meet budget cuts. Kemp told Dennis O’Hayer that he had not discussed the issue with the Governor. Maybe discussing the issue privately before starting a frenzy of media hand-wringing would eliminate some of the drama next time. Just a thought.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has been asked about reimbursements by the state that writer Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered thinks duplicate expenditures by his Senate campaign committee. I’ll be writing more about this for tomorrow.

Ralph Reed is stepping up the religious right’s ground game by deploying consumer data to identify and mobilize evangelical voters.

Reed has taken data from consumer marketers and the Republican National Committee, mixed with his own files from the George W. Bush campaigns — when Reed helped Bush court social conservatives — and the Christian Coalition. FFC narrowed its efforts primarily to voters in presidential swing states. It will contact each of them between seven and 12 times – a text message, a call, an email, a postcard, a knock on the door.

When early voting begins in each swing state, FFC’s targeted voters will each get a text message telling them to vote, and the message links to a map for smartphone users showing them where their early voting site is.

“Not everybody in a church is going to vote Republican; not everybody in the most conservative evangelical church is going to vote Republican, for a variety of reasons,” said Sasha Issenberg, journalist and author of “The Victory Lab,” a new book about the science of campaigns. “So this type of politics is always a game of margins, we have just gotten a lot better. The most advanced tools have made us a lot better about shrinking the margins that you’re playing with.”

Samuel Moreland, director of Fulton County voter registration and elections was jailed for DUI on Friday, and his probation from an earlier DUI was revoked.

Westmoreland pleaded no contest last year and was sentenced to 12 months on probation, 40 hours of community service and $800 in fines and fees.

A member of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections since 2004, and a two-time board chair, Westmoreland was appointed interim elections director in July 2011, and permanently took over the position in March.

His management of the department has garnered criticism, and his jail stint comes amid worries that his department won’t be capable of handling the November presidential election without foul-ups like the ones that happened in July.

At least one Fulton County commissioner, after learning of the arrest, is calling for Westmoreland to be fired.

The Secretary of State’s office currently has five open investigations involving Fulton elections, spokesman Jared Thomas has said, declining to elaborate.

In June, state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) assailed Westmoreland for mailing 2,400 letters to registered voters telling them that unless their homes exist, they would be erased from the rolls.

Georgia DOT plans to extend the unpopular toll lanes up I-85, going further north to Hamilton Mill Road in Buford or Chateau Elan in Braselton. Expect Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) to have some strong opinions on this.

The Lake Lanier Legislative Caucus met Tuesday in Buford to organize their work for this year.

“In Georgia, we have the hunter’s safety course. One of the things I’d like to see is a (boating) safety card,” said Rep. Emory Dunahoo Jr., R-Oakwood, offering one quick suggestion.

And money raised from completing requirements for the card would go to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and “now you’re covering rangers and new equipment,” he said.

“I was impressed that enough legislators would make the effort to come (to the meeting),” said state Sen. Renee S. Unterman, R-Buford, after the meeting. “I think legislators have already been working on legislation.”

Unterman spearheaded creating the caucus, saying that in the past two years, lake “safety has become one of the overriding issues” in the state.

Nearly a decade ago, lawmakers had the “semblance” of a Lake Lanier caucus,” but after a time, that group faded away, Unterman said.

“We have had so many fatalities on the lake this year, but the seriousness of them seems to be much more than it ever was 10 years ago,” she added, before leading the group in a moment of silence.

The Chairman of an unsuccessful attempt to recall Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz may be personally on the hook for more than $12,000 in legal fees incurred by Lutz.

Barring a successful appeal, Kevin Kanieski, chairman of the effort to recall Lutz, will have to pay $12,587.96 to Lutz’s lawyer, Paul Stanley, according to an order filed in Hall County Superior Court by Judge Tom Davis.

Stanley provided a copy of the order at the request of The Times.

The amount awarded is exactly what Lutz requested following a successful challenge to the petition last year.

Lutz requested Kanieski pay his attorney fees, citing discussions on Facebook in which members of the effort to recall the commissioner stated a desire to make the “entire process expensive and painful … personally” for Lutz.

In a hearing on whether Kanieski should have to pay the costs of Lutz’s legal challenge, Kanieski also said little more than he felt he was exercising his rights to free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

In a three-page ruling, [Judge] Davis does express a “concern about the chilling effect an award of fees might have on those legitimately exercising their right to seek recall of elected officials.”

But he also said that Kanieski, by choosing to exercise his rights to free speech through legal action, subjected himself to legal scrutiny.

In Forsyth County, a blogger was ordered to pay $5000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages for writing in an online forum that a Planning Commission Member was drunk and engaging in obscene behavior in public.
David Milum must pay Matt Murphy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages.Murphy resigned from the board in April due to increased work demands.Milum, who owned an online community forum at the time, posted his accounts of incidents that allegedly occurred during an April 2011 planning board meeting and in May outside his home.The first incident stated that Murphy threatened a fellow planning board member “with a physical altercation while using foul language,” according to the complaint.

The May post “said or implied that plaintiff Murphy engaged in public drunkenness” and participated in obscene behavior in a truck outside Milum’s home, the complaint states.

According to the initial complaint, Murphy filed suit in October after Milum would not retract the statements.

According to that complaint, “Milum maliciously published each of the aforesaid false, libelous and defamatory statements about plaintiff Murphy knowing said statements were all false.”
The self-styled political activist plans to appeal the ruling.“I didn’t say anything bad about Matt Murphy,” Milum said. “They turned something I did say in that article that had nothing to do with Matthew Murphy, but they linked it. They had no right to link it. I put on my private thoughts on there of what I thought was happening at the time.”Milum said he never got requests to remove the statements from the Web site until six months after posting them, which he said coincided with his research into Commissioner Patrick Bell, who appointed Murphy to the planning board.
This is at least the fourth suit against Milum for things he’s written online. Previous court losses related to his blogging have resulted in more than $200,000 in prior judgments against Milum.
City of Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt’s personal financial disclosures are the subject of a complaint filed with the Georgia State Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.
Robert Rorke of Cumming contends H. Ford Gravitt failed to document all of his property holdings in the 2010 election financial disclosure documents.

Rorke states in the complaint that Gravitt “indicated three properties (only) that he has direct ownership in” while he says “county property records notes seven additional properties with direct ownership by H. Ford Gravitt.”

Gravitt has until the end of this month to file a response.

Reached Tuesday, the mayor said it was an oversight.

“That’s one of the things that probably was just omitted in the [disclosure] return and that’s in the process of being handled,” he said.

“It just wasn’t filled out with my home and so forth on there and I’m in the process of amending my return, so that’s not an issue.”

Charter School Amendment

Gwinnett County School Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks is now on the record opposing the Charter School Amendment on the November General Election ballot.

“I am very concerned that one of the pillars of America’s greatness is being shaken, and if we’re not careful it could be damaged,” Wilbanks said. “What I see is a national agenda to privatize, defund and dismantle public education as we know it.”

The district’s highest ranked non-elected official spoke during the September luncheon of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. It was the business community’s yearly briefing on the state of education in Gwinnett. Part of Wilbanks’ speech, which lasted about 30 minutes, was directed at the Nov. 6 ballot question, which asks voters to decide whether the state can establish public charter schools.

As a prop, Wilbanks brought a poster board with the wording of the ballot question. He stepped aside and asked an associate to read the text: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

Wilbanks stepped back in front of the microphone: “Folks, we can already do that. It happens every day across the state. That is what I say to the voters … really look at what you’re doing here.”

“The real question here is whether or not you believe true local control should reside in the hands of parents, students and teachers or with central office administrators like (Superintendent) Wilbanks,” said Bert Brantley, with Families for Better Public Schools.

“Public charter schools such as Ivy Prep in Norcross spend less per student while outperforming schools in their district. Opponents should be less worried about who ‘controls’ schools and more worried about embracing educational models that work and save taxpayer dollars,” Brantley said.

Also opposed to the Charter School Amendment is the League of Women Voters of Georgia:

Elizabeth Poythress, president of the voting organization, is urging all its members to vote no on the issue.

“We believe this proposal is not in the best interest of the children of Georgia or the taxpayers of Georgia. It is unwise, wasteful, and not in the best long term interests of the State of Georgia,” Poythress said. “We believe it is bad public policy to create a duplicate school system that will, in the words of the Georgia Supreme Court, ‘compete with locally controlled schools for the same pool of students educated with the same limited pool of tax funds.’”

This past weekend I got a chance to learn about the whitewater run that’s being constructed on the portion of the Chattahoochee that flows through downtown Columbus, Ga. Interesting things I learned about the Columbus riverfront:

  • Bald eagles can be seen early in the morning along the Chattahoochee
  • Lake Lanier’s output will not affect the operation of Columbus whitewater
  • A wave-shaper being built in the river will allow changes to the waterflow to change the character of part of the rapids

The whitewater will anchor a master plan for the development and redevelopment of portions of the Columbus riverfront.

The 14-million dollar Whitewater Columbus facility is expected to draw nearly 200-thousand visitors each year. A contracted consulting firm recommends the community develop areas on the up side of the Chattahoochee River where visitors can view the whitewater run.

The goal is to make the riverfront a destination, with more bike paths and walkways as well as interactive fountains. Some suggestions for private development include a zipline, rock wall and vendor kiosks.

Douglas Smith, president of the consulting firm EDSA, recommends public-private partnerships to develop plazas along the river where people can view the whitewater run.

“Like interactive fountains, or feature fountains, art elements. We could do memorial garden-type spaces. There’ll be open lawn activity areas. There will be more heavily landscaped areas.

There will be a whole series of pathways, ramps and steps to navigate some of this terrain down to the riverfront. But the idea is really to draw people down to the river.”

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer has more in-depth coverage of the master plan, if you’re interested.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 19, 2012

Rally is a 5-month old, 30# Shepherd mix who was dumped on a dirt road in Walton County. His situation is extremely urget at Walton Animal Control. Friendly and playful, he does not deserve to be euthanized.

These six lab mix puppies are available for adoption from the Savannah Humane Society.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Carl “Skip” Cain and John Fanning, who were involved in selling the vote of former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Fanning-Lasseter, were sentenced to prison, but the real story of their sentencing may come from hints of more to come:

 Fanning’s attorney, Bill Thomas, said his client had provided evidence against “significant individuals.”

Asked after the hearing about his comments to Pannell, Thomas declined to name targets of the probe, saying it would be unfair to them if they are never charged with a crime.

But Thomas said: “You can imagine that in any sort of investigation like this you’re not dealing with run-of-the-mill individuals … This wouldn’t involve some low-level bureaucrat responsible for trash collection.”

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway attended Tuesday’s hearing. He said the defendants’ behavior “has had a tremendous cost to Gwinnett.”

“It’s left a bruise that is going to take a long time to heal,” Conway said. “It makes me angry for someone to violate the public trust like Shirley Lasseter and John Fanning did.”

Georgia Democrats are still delusional hopeful of carrying Georgia in November.

Local and state Democrats on Tuesday convened at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto Hotel to announce their plan to “get Georgia to go blue.”

With Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson and State Sen. Lester Jackson, Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman Mike Berlon said the party has a plan to flip the state in favor of President Barack Obama in the November election.

That plan, he said, centers on convincing rural and urban voters to support the president. Savannah, with its strong Democratic base — Obama received about 57 percent of the vote in Chatham County in 2008 — will play a major role in that effort.

“We already know that in metro Atlanta we have done the very best that we can in terms of producing the Democratic vote and it’s not going to get any better there,” Berlon said. “So, the only way that we’re going to be able to win is to take advantage of (metro Atlanta) and develop the areas where there are more Democratic voters. A permanent office here in Savannah is a start to that.”

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Rick Thompson & Associates notes that all 2012 candidates and Political Action Committees that have spent more $25,000 in contributions to or on behalf of candidate have an upcoming September 30th deadline for campaign contribution disclosures and that the grace period runs out on October 5, 2012. We have seen this year that the severely overtaxed Campaign Finance Commission disclosure website tends to bog down and become unusable the last days of the filing period, so please start your disclosures early so that you can file on time.

After November’s elections, voters in Habersham will have fewer polling places, as County Commissioner voted to reduce the number from 14 to 2.

“Are some citizens going to be upset with it?” [Interim Interim Elections Board Chairman Pete] Davitto said. “Of course. Are some citizens going to have to drive a little farther to vote? Of course. I’m one of them. I live in Batesville, and we’re recommending the Batesville polling location be eliminated.”

“It is our belief that we can serve the citizens of Habersham County in an effective and efficient manner and most probably we’ll be able to get them through the voting line in less time than some of them may be experiencing in today’s environment,” Davitto said.

Michael Carroll, former member of the board of elections, spoke to the commission as a representative of the executive committee and treasurer of the Habersham County Democratic Party.

“We support the move reducing the number of precincts to two if at all possible,” Carroll said. “The benefits of reducing to two are very obvious because of the cost of personnel. Also, of the current 14 precincts, a number of them are not ADA compliant even now and so if we continue to use them sooner or later the county is going to be cited. It’s just a matter of time.”

Commissioner Sonny James said he had heard from several people who wanted the county’s current 14 polling places to remain in place.

“We know that that’s not possible because of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” James said

Failed Hall County Commission candidate Eugene Moon also failed to file his lawsuit contesting the result in a timely manner, leading the judge to dismiss it.

Moon and his attorney released a statement Monday afternoon in response to Adamson’s ruling. The content of the statement is as follows:

“Today our court case was dismissed over a technicality. We witnessed today that legal policy will prevail over legal right. Georgia Election law requires that you have 5 days from certification of election to file a complaint against the elections board and we missed the window by 2 days. Saturday and Sundays and legal holidays are included in this window we found out. The only proof of this certification in court this morning was done verbally by Charolette Sosbee, your Elections Director and that was good enough for the judge.”

“We did make a motion to enter our evidence, regardless the outcome but were denied this also. We wanted answers as to why there were 460 missing votes, why people in Clermont were voting in elections for Oakwood, why people in Gillsville were voting in city of Gainesville elections, why were the approved maps not followed? These are things for which we the voters may never know the answer.”

The Carroll County Board of Education will oppose the Charter School Amendment on the November 6th General Election ballot.

Each of the seven board members voiced approval of charter schools Monday night, but believe the amendment takes away local control over the founding and running of a charter school.

Superintendent Scott Cowart proposed drafting a resolution speaking out in favor or against the amendment and was met with unanimous approval to send out drafts via email this week before Thursday’s meeting, when the board plans to formally publish the resolution.

“I am against it, and I have no problem saying it,” board member Denise Askin-Pate said. “I don’t think taxpayers will have any representation in it. They say that it’s all part of the same pie, but I think this is going to make the pie and our piece from the pie smaller.”

A majority of the Douglas County Board of Education is also publicly opposed to the Charter School Amendment.

Withe four BOE members united against the amendment and School Board Member Mike Miller in favor, attention turned to drafting a resolution on the issue that may include an official BOE stance.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Gordon Pritz handed out sample resolutions from other school systems around the state as examples, along with information from the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and a question and answer form. The PTA has also stated its opposition to the amendment, which would restate the state’s authority to approve charter schools rejected at the local level.

Board member D.T. Jackson suggested that the process of drafting a resolution be expedited as there are only around 50 days left before the vote. It was not decided at the meeting if an official stance will be taken by the board, but the BOE’s attorney will begin researching and forming a resolution to put before the board.

Miller, the lone supporter of the amendment, took issue with some sample resolutions.

“I am seeing complete untruths in these resolutions,” Miller said. Among these was what Miller called a claim that charter schools are private, for-profit schools, and also claims that the vote will divert money from existing public schools.

Officials from the accrediting agengy AdvancEd will review DeKalb County’s school board, citing alleged mismanagement.

Accreditation — or the lack of it — affects graduates’ chances at college acceptance. A loss of accreditation, as happened in Clayton County in 2008, can also lead to an exodus of parents. Two years ago, when AdvancEd came calling in DeKalb, the local chamber of commerce expressed concern about property values, job retention and the ability to draw businesses. The chamber helped establish a group to vet candidates for school board, and was still making endorsements this year during the primary election.

The alleged mismanagement could have a direct effect on the classroom. The school board is accused of wasting money — such as $50 million in legal fees over five years — that otherwise could have been spent on teachers and students, Elgart said. He said there are allegations that school board members pressured for the hiring of friends, which, if true, he said, could affect the caliber of the staff, plus morale.

The half dozen or so investigators will promise confidentiality and confirm claims with more than one source, Elgart said. Anonymity is necessary, since staffers will be asked to be honest about the elected officials who oversee the system and hired their boss, the superintendent. “You’d be surprised,” Elgart said. “In a confidential environment, most people are willing to talk.”

The investigative team will make a recommendation on accreditation status. DeKalb is “on advisement,” which is less than full accreditation. The team could recommend a range of accreditaiton options.

Well, at least we didn’t elect a Sheriff with 37 outstanding felony indictments. So we’ve got that going for us in DeKalb.

Yesterday, I misspelled Barry Paschal’s name, and he took to twitter to bemoan the lack of respect I showed him. I’m now following him on Twitter where he live tweets meetings of the Columbia County Commission. For up-to-the minute coverage of local Columbia County politics, there’s a great source.

The race card is getting thrown around in the election for Augusta Circuit Chief Probate Judge.

The appointment of a white juvenile court judge to the Augusta Judicial Circuit and the terms of black incumbents Ben Allen and Wil­lie Saunders not being renewed last week set the stage for a question that had black Democratic Probate Court Judge candidate Harry James playing the race card and white Republican rival Carleton Vaughn bristling during a forum at Williams Memorial Church on 15th Street.

District attorney, state court solicitor and probate court candidates were asked what they thought about the recent juvenile court appointments. James lambasted Chief Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet, saying the appointments were horrible and unfair and implied they were racially motivated. He said of all the judges in the judicial circuit, there were only two blacks.

Vaughn prefaced his remarks by telling the audience, which audibly agreed with James, that they weren’t going to like what he had to say.

He said that in his time as acting judge in the probate court, “I have never based a decision on what color you are. Every decision I made was made after I had all the facts. You are making a decision on only one fact. You are always saying we need to come together and heal the racial divide. What you have just said is more divisive than anything I have ever heard.”

The City of Bowdon is asking the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into allegations of misappropriations.

The mayor said the latest probe started Sept. 10 after City Clerk Stacy Folds “notified city administration of misappropriated funds.”

“City administration immediately notified City Police Chief [Mark Brock] and on the same day, the case was turned over to Georgia Bureau of Investigation,” Crawford said in his released statement. “The GBI is now in full control of this case and, due to this investigation, the city can no longer comment on this matter.”

In the earlier Bowdon case, Patricia Bentley, a former employee of the city of Bowdon clerk’s office, was charged Aug. 1 with felony theft by taking. This came after a GBI investigation, which began June 20, found $159,000 in city funds that were taken in but never deposited into city accounts.

Wayne Smith, a special agent in the GBI’s Columbus office, said Tuesday that the funding source in question in the current case is different from the earlier case.

“The other case involved funds in the general operating account, while the current case involves a separate account to process fines and court-levied fees,” Smith said. He estimated the current missing funds at $20,000 to $30,000.

Some in Douglas County see the repeal of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing as a continuation of a theme in which the legislature cuts local revenues while piling on more mandates.

“It sounds like, as is typical with the General Assembly, we are impacted but we don’t know to what extent,” said Mulcare.

HB 386, a bill well-known for ending the ad valorem tax on vehicles, also carries a tax exemption for energy used in manufacturing. The bill, passed by the Georgia General Assembly this year, affects revenues not only at the state level, but in local governments as well.

However, counties and cities can implement their own new energy tax in order to make up for the lost revenue.

Some officials at the meeting said this amounted to a kind of catch-22 for local officials, who have to deal with either lost revenue or negative press through actions not of their doing.

“This leaves the legislature holding the white hat and we are holding the black hat,” said Douglas County District 3 Commissioner Mike Mulcare.

One point of confusion is how the tax exemption will be measured. Per the law, it applies only to the use of energy in manufacturing, such as in producing cars or carpet. It does not apply to the sale of energy for purposes like heating and air conditioning.

“How is it determined which energy is used for products?” asked BOC Chairman Tom Worthan.

Douglasville Chief Assistant City Attorney Suzan Littlefield said the Georgia Municipal Association has not said how to divide the exemption.

Emma Jean Thomas, wife of former state Senator Dr. Don Thomas, died Monday after battling lung cancer for five years. Visitation for the Thomas family will be today from 4-8 PM at the Julian Peeples Funeral Home and services will be on Thursday, September 20th at 2PM at the Grove Level Baptist Church (across the street from the funeral home).

Yesterday was the service for former state Senator Oliver Bateman, who flew for the Army Air Corps in World War 2 and the Air Force during the Korean War. Senator Bateman ran as a Republican in 1964 and was elected Senate Minority Leader in 1968. In 1970 he entered the Governor’s race against Jimmy Carter, but withdrew before the election. Gov. George Busbee appointed him Chairman of the Georgia State Ethics Commission, where he served from 1980-1985. He chaired the 1980 Georgia State Convention, which was instrumental in the election of President Ronald Reagan. He was a mentor and close friend to the late U.S. Senator Paul D. Coverdell, and still credited by many as the first Conservative leader in Georgia.