Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 28, 2015

On January 28, 1733, Georgia’s first colonists celebrated a day of thanksgiving for their safe arrival in Savannah and Chief Tomochichi’s granting them permission to settle on the Yamacraw Bluff.

On January 28, 1943, Governor Ellis Arnall signed a joint resolution of the Georgia House and Senate amending the Georgia Constitution to make the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia a constitutional board and reduce the power of the Governor over the Regents.

The movement to a constitutional board came after the loss of accreditation of all Georgia state higher education institutions for white people. The previous Governor, Eugene Talmadge, had engineered the firing of UGA’s Dean of the College of Education; after the Board of Regents initially refused to fire the Dean, Talmadge dismissed three members, and replaced them with new appointees who voted for the firing. Talmadge lost the 1942 election to Arnall.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff as many Americans watched on live television. President Ronald Reagan addressed the loss of seven astronauts.

Reagan had originally been scheduled to give his State of the Union that evening, but cancelled the speech. His address on the Challenger disaster was written by Peggy Noonan. The speech written by Noonan and delivered by Reagan is ranked as one of the top ten political speeches of the 20th Century.

Happy birthday today to Northwestern University (1851), Yale Daily News (1878), the first daily college newspaper in the country, the United States Coast Guard (1915), and the Lego brick, which was patented on January 28, 1958. Elvis Presley made his first appearance on television on January 28, 1956 on the Stage Show on CBS.

General Assembly Schedule Today

8:00am – 9:00am
House Appropriations – 341 State Capitol
9:00am – 10:00am
House Rules – 341 Cap
9:00am – 10:00am
House Intragovernmental Cooperation – 403 Capitol
10:00am – 12:00pm
House Convenes LD7
12:00pm – 1:00pm
Senate Rules Upon Adjournment – 450 Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm
Senate Education and Youth – 307 Coverdell LOB
1:30pm – 2:30pm
House Judiciary Non-Civil – 132 State Capitol
2:00pm – 3:00pm
Joint Retirement Committee Meeting – Canceled – 403 Georgia State Capitol
3:00pm – 4:00pm
House Education – 606 Coverdell LOB
3:00pm – 4:00pm
Joint Health & Human Svcs Committee – 341 State Capitol
3:00pm – 4:00pm
House Defense & Veterans Affairs – 515 Coverdell LOB
3:00pm – 4:00pm
House Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications Committee – 403 Georgia State Capitol
3:00pm – 4:00pm
Senate Judiciary Non-Civil – 307 Coverdell LOB

Of particular note is that the House Appropriations Committee, meeting at 8 AM has the FY2015 Supplemental Budget on its agenda this morning. Passage by the committee means the bill doesn’t even have to leave Room 341 of the Capitol for a Rules Committee meeting that could send it to the floor for a vote on final passage. (more…)

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 26, 2015

Georgia History

The Supreme Court of Georgia held its first meeting on January 26, 1846 at Talbotton, Georgia.

John Sammons Bell was born on January 26, 1914 in Macon, Georgia. He would go on to serve as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, as a Judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals, and as chief judge of the appellate court. He is today best known as the designer of the state flag featuring the Confederate battle flag, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1956.

On January 26, 2001 a new state flag, first designed by Atlanta architect Cecil Alexander, passed out of committee in the General Assembly by a 4-3 vote and would be voted on later that week. Click here to view the floor debate from 2001.

Georgia Politics

The list of aspirants for two DeKalb County judicial seats – one in State Court, one in Superior court — has been whittled from 72 to 25, and interviews by the Judicial Nominations Committee are expected to begin this week. Notable among the 25:

State Representative Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven)

Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis

State Senator Ronald Ramsey, Sr. (D-Lithonia)

Former DeKalb County State Court Judge Tony DelCampo

Bob Dallas, who served as Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety under Gov. Sonny Perdue

The Fulton County Daily Report ran an interview with DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson, who discusses her views on accountability courts, the learning curve for a new judge, and diversity on the bench.

The Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit is often the example pointed to by groups who say there should be more diversity among judicial appointees—and those who defend the Deal administration’s recent picks. That’s because the State and Superior courts are among the most diverse in Georgia.

DeKalb County Superior Court has four black female judges, two white female judges, two white male judges, and two black male judges. The circuit also included the state’s first Latino (Tony DelCampo) and Asian-American (Alvin Wong) state court judges. (Delcampo left the State Court bench in 2011 but has applied for reappointment.)

Jackson said she believes diversity on the bench is important. When the makeup of judges reflects the population, there is inherently more trust in the judicial system, she said.

“But that can mean any number of things,” she said. Race. Gender. Socioeconomic status. Even life experience.

Jackson bristles at the suggestion that diversity is a second-tier consideration and not a primary qualification for being a judge.

“I hear people say, ‘I don’t know if we should sacrifice the quality of a candidate to make sure the bench is diverse.’ The very nature of being a diverse candidate is in and of itself a qualification,” she said. “There is a unique experience that comes along with being a woman or an Asian-American or an African-American or a white American.”

As a DeKalb County resident, I would argue that diversity on the bench might be improved with a Jewish member of the bench. After all, Atlanta is home to one of the nation’s largest Jewish communities and DeKalb hosts a number of congregations and a large number of the state’s Jewish citizens. As a constituent and former consultant to State Rep. Jacobs, if anyone asked my opinion, I’d say he would be a great fit for the bench, though I haven’t spoken to him about the current vacancies and haven’t been his consultant for more than a year.

As a bonus, it would open at least one special election, potentially creating a Christmas (or Hanukkah, if you will) in March or June for folks like me. (more…)

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2015

On January 23, 1775, the Georgia Commons House elected three delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

On January 23, 1861, Georgia’s members of the United States House of Representatives resigned following passage of the Secession Ordinance; her Senators had resigned earlier.

On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell was granted a medical degree from Geneva College in New York and became the first female M.D. in the United States.

On January 23, 1923, Georgia ratified the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution, which ended Presidential terms on January 20th following an election and those of Congress to January 3d.

On January 23, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon announced that terms had been reached to settle the Vietnam War, a document known as the “Paris Peace Accords.”

On January 23, 1983, The A-Team was shown for the first time on NBC.

Georgia Politics

Liberty Plaza

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 22, 2015

On January 22, 1733, James Oglethorpe arrived at Yamacraw Bluff, where the colony of Georgia would be founded.

Following the passage of Georgia’s Secession Resolution, six delegates, including both from Gwinnett County, signed a statement protesting the decision to secede.

On January 22, 1866, Georgia Governor Charles Jenkins signed a resolution by the legislature asking for federal troops to be removed from Georgia.

On January 22, 1959, Atlanta buses were integrated after a federal court decision.

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued its 7-2 decision in the case known as Roe v. Wade.

GRTL 2015 March

Gold Dome

Thu Jan 22 8:00am – 9:00am
Joint AFY15- House Appropriations Health Subcommittee – 341 State Capitol
8:00am – 9:30am
Joint AFY15- House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee – 606 Coverdell LOB
8:00am – 9:30am
Joint AFY15- Appropriations General Government Subcommittee – 506 Coverdell LOB
9:00am – 11:00am
Joint AFY15- House Appropriations Human Resources Subcommittee – 341 Capitol
9:30am – 11:00am
Joint AFY15- House Appropriations Economic Development Subcommittee – 506 CLOB
12:30pm – 1:00pm
Governor Deal Addresses Joint Appropriations Committees – 341 Capitol
12:30pm – 2:30pm
Joint Budget Committee Hearings – Georgia State Capitol Room 341
1:00pm – 3:30pm
Joint AFY15- House Appropriations Human Resources Subcommittee – 341 Capitol

Greg Bluestein of the AJC brings us news that Gov. Deal has returned from England in time for his expected budget address today.

State economic [development] commissioner Chris Carr confirmed the team was, indeed, in the U.K. when he posted on Facebook a few minutes ago: “Back from the UK. Great trip. We’ll go anywhere and everywhere to bring jobs and investment to Georgia!”

Good news for all Georgians – unemployment dropped to 6.9% in December according to figures released by the state Department of Labor.

“We ended the year with our rate dropping below seven percent for the first time since last April,” state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in a press release. “And, this was the first time in eight years that we’ve had job growth in December.”

State Senator Bill Heath spoke to NorthwestGeorgiaNews.com about this year’s budget and the complexity of budgeting when both revenues and population are growing.

Georgia, overall, has done well in recent years, [Heath] said. Legislators planned financially for a 3.4 percent growth in 2014, but the state grew at 4.8 percent.

He said Gov. Nathan Deal hasn’t released the revenue projections for this year yet, but the $20.8 billion budget for this year is based on 4.3 percent general fund revenue growth.

Heath said growth is a good thing and is helping in Georgia’s economic recovery, but a high level of growth doesn’t equate with leftover money in state coffers.

“The problem is, the challenge is, that population growth and increased demand in existing programs easily gobbles up about five percent of growth,” Heath said.

For instance, growth requires more in education to accommodate more students. Heath said there are a number of similar services that eat up money when more people move to the state.

Tom Crawford gives the context of how the state budget fared during the economic recession.

During the 2008 General Assembly session, lawmakers passed what was then Georgia’s largest budget ever, $21.1 billion in state funds. Later that year, the housing and construction industries collapsed, banks started failing across the country, and a meltdown in the financial markets nearly crashed the economy.

The Great Recession had begun, which blew a gaping hole in tax collections and forced Georgia to start cutting back that $21 billion budget until spending dropped to about $17 billion a year. State revenues eventually recovered as the economy came out of its tailspin, but it was a very slow process.

The budget Deal just released shows expenditures of nearly $21.8 billion for the upcoming fiscal year, which would be the first time the budget total has exceeded what legislators adopted back in the winter of 2008.

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer notes the top priorities in the budget.

The budget plan Gov. Nathan Deal proposed Friday is predicated on the confidence, and the evidence, that Georgia’s slow recovery from the recession is finally picking up, and that tax revenues are showing and will continue to show that progress.

Be that as it may, the governor’s budget is based on a projected 4 percent tax revenue growth over the fiscal year that begins in July. Consequently, some state functions will get particular attention.

Deal’s budget would fund almost 300 more caseworkers to investigate cases of abuse and neglect.The budget also continues the process of criminal justice reform that has highlighted the past two years, when the focus has been on alternative sentencing, rehabilitation and job placement rather than just warehousing.

Speaking of education, that’s where the biggest infusion of new money in this proposed budget is targeted.

A flashpoint has emerged at the nexus of healthcare and education spending, as the Department of Community Health considers dropping coverage for some education employees.

The Department of Community Health’s $13 billion budget for fiscal year 2016 would eliminate health insurance coverage for 11,500 “non-certificated’’ school personnel, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese, speaking Tuesday to the joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee, cited a “fairly large deficit’’ that the state incurs for covering these school workers. He put the figure at $135 million in fiscal 2014.

“We think a lot of these people will get insurance in other ways,’’ Reese told Democratic Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), who questioned the coverage move. He added that some may qualify for subsidies in the health insurance exchange.

Governor Deal has named members to an Education Reform Commission to study the state’s education system, including its funding formula, and provide recommendations intended to improve the system, increase access to early learning programs, recruit and retain high-quality instructors and expand school options for Georgia’s families.

State Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer will serve as a member of the 2015 GOPAC Legislative Leaders Advisory Board. Under the leadership of Congressman, later Speaker, Newt Gingrich, GOPAC played a major role in the development of Republican leaders that led to the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.

Voting Underway for State House Runoffs

Early voting has started in the State House Runoff elections for the North Fulton seat formerly held by Lynne Riley, and the North Georgia seat formerly held by Mickey Channell.

Transportation Tax Poll

Landmark Communications and WSB-TV released a poll on public support for raising taxes to fund transportation infrastructure needs and the picture is bleak for those looking for more taxpayer dollars.

Of the 800 polled this week, just over 60 percent say they do not support increasing the gas tax to fund maintenance of existing roads and bridges.  It showed 23 percent would support it while 16 percent were undecided.

When asked if they would support a one cent statewide sales tax to raise the money, only 32 percent said they would while 52 percent said they would oppose it and 15 percent were undecided.

The numbers get a bit closer when asked if they would support an increase in the gas tax if was offset by a reduction in the income tax rate; 35 percent said they would support while 31 percent would oppose it and nearly 33 percent were undecided.

As for mass transit, the poll shows nearly 41 percent of voters believe some of those funds should be spent on mass transit improvements while 37 percent think they should only be spent on improving roads. The other 22 percent were undecided.

So 32 percent of respondents would support an additional one cent in the statewide sales tax while 52 percent are opposed. How does that compare to 2012 when the statewide T-SPLOST was on the ballot?

That’s not very far off from a June 2012 WSB poll that showed 38 percent of Metro Atlanta voters supporting T-SPLOST and 49 percent opposed. In July 2012, the AJC found 51% against versus 42% for the TSPLOST statewide tax measure.

If past history and current polling are any guide, the going looks rough for increased transportation taxes this year. Here’s the question that was not asked in the Landmark Communications/WSB poll, but is on the mind of every Georgia legislators under the Gold Dome. “Would you be more or less likely to vote to re-elect your state legislator if he/she voted to increase the gas tax.” A better way of doing it would be to include a battery of questions that included different forms the increase might take. Anyone want to commission a poll?

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 16, 2015

On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, when Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states then in the Union to ratify the Amendment.

At 4:30 PM on January 16, 1991, the Persian Gulf War began as air attacks against Iraq launched from US and British aircraft carriers, beginning Operation Desert Storm.

On January 16, 1997, a bomb exploded in a Sandy Springs abortion clinic, later determined to be the work of Eric Rudolph, who also bombed Centennial Olympic Park in 1996, a lesbian bar in Atlanta in February 1997, and a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998.

Georgia Politics

Senator David Perdue will hold a Ceremonial Swearing-In this Saturday at the Federal Courthouse in Macon, beginning at 1 PM.

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 15, 2015

An elected Provincial Assembly first convened in Georgia on January 15, 1751. The Assembly did not have the power to tax or spend money, but was to advise the Trustees.

The state of New Connecticut declared its independence of both Britain and New York on January 15, 1777. In June of that year they would decide on the name Vermont. Vermont would be considered part of New York for a number of years, finally being admitted as the 14th state in 1791.

The donkey was first used as a symbol for the Democratic Party on January 15, 1870 by cartoonist Thomas Nash.

democrat-donkey-cartoon

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Georgia Politics Fact of the Day

In 2014, the only incumbent Georgia state legislators who lost their seats in the General Assembly were State Reps. Charles Gregory (R-Marietta), Sam Moore (R-Cherokee), and Willie Talton (R-Warner Robins), who all lost to GOP challengers, and Senator Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) who lost his Democratic Primary. That means that most legislators need not fear General Election voters as their only real contest is their party’s primary.

The predictable result is a highly-partisan General Assembly. This also means that any “revenue enhancements” to pass must gain the support of a large number of Republicans who will stand for re-election among GOP primary voters who have a history of punishing anything that can be construed as a tax hike.

Here’s a clip from our discussion of transportation taxes last night on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Lawmakers in which this political dynamic plays a part.

Georgia General Assembly Legislative Schedule

The House and Senate agreed yesterday on the following schedule going forward:

Today will be Legislative Day Four and there will be no Session tomorrow.

No session next week to allow for budget hearing.

Monday through Thursday, January 26-29 will see Legislative Days 5 through 8.

Monday through Wednesday, February 2-4 for Legislative Days 9 through 11.

Monday through Thursday, February 9-12 will see Legislative Days 12 through 15.

Georgia Politics – State of the State

Takeaways from the State of the State

1. Medical marijuana for children with seizure disorders, decriminalization of the high-CBD/low-THC oil, and a panel to recommend how and whether to move further;

2. “Opportunity School Districts” to take over some failing school districts;

3. Department of Community Supervision drawing from the existing Departments of Corrections, Juvenile Justice, and Pardons and Paroles to improve the administration of paroles and probation across existing programs that have redundancies and inefficies;

4. Georgia has a need for massive additional transportation funding.

On transportation, Gov. Deal described the consequences of failure:

“If we should choose not to maintain and improve our infrastructure, economic development would stall, companies would be unable to conduct their business efficiently, commuters would waste more time and gas sitting in traffic, and no one would be satisfied,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert said after Deal’s speech that no options have been removed from consideration, even tax increases despite being unpopular.

But his reading between the lines told him Deal isn’t laying the groundwork for a tax hike.

“I will assure you that most of my constituents are not in favor of any tax increases, and it sounded like what the governor is suggesting – and which we’ll flesh out during this legislative session – is a more efficient use of the funding that we’re doing now,” said Cowsert, R-Athens.

Despite the confusing signals, the governor is offering sufficient leadership on the issue, according to Don Grantham, the Augusta-area’s representative on the State Transportation Board.

“It’s to the point where he’s not saying, ‘This is what you should do’ and ‘This is what I think.’ He is saying, ‘The options are there for you, and I support what you do.’ His support and information is going to be very helpful for us,” Grantham said.

Re-read those quotes from Senator Cowsert in light of the fact highlighted above about most legislators facing real opposition in party primary elections and you’ll understand the challenge that faces any bill to raise more revenue from state taxpayers.

We also have more reactions, in the form of audio interviews by GaPundit.com Associate Editor Jeff Breedlove:

Rep. Allen Peake on Gov. Deal including HB 1 in the State of the State

Sen. Majority Leader Bill Cowsert on Cannabis Oil bill and Transportation

Rep. Jay Roberts, House Transportation Chair: On The State of the State Address

 

Elections & Job Openings

Three candidates qualified for the March 17 special election for Augusta Commissioner District 7.

Sean Frantom, starting his third year as development director for Ronald McDonald House Charities, joined Augusta businessmen Louis “Hap” Harris and Sonny Pittman in qualifying to seek the 21-month commission stint.

Avondale Estates has a contested special election for Mayor, as John Pomberg qualified for the race.

“I’m running for mayor for a number of reasons, because the position is available and it needs to be filled,” Pomberg said.

Pomberg joins Paul Brown, an architect who serves on the city’s Board of Appeals, in the race to replace former mayor Ed Rieker who resigned in October to pursue a university teaching job.

(If elected), my first day is to kind of keep the momentum on the annexation going and to keep people informed on that, as Mr. Giager has done so well in the few months he’s been in charge of that,” Pomberg said. “I’m also very interested to see how the redevelopment of the Fenner Dunlop property is going to shake out.”

Dr. Ricardo Azziz is expected to announce his resignation as President of Georgia Regents University in Augusta.

In the Special Election for House District 50 in Johns Creek, we received this last night regarding former Johns Creek City Council Member Kelly Stewart, who is in a runoff election:

PRESS RELEASE

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Contact: Lynn Doss, County Attorney, Fannin County, GA

Former Employer Warns Johns Creek Voters About Candidate for House Kelly Stewart

Candidate is “making false employment claims on her resume”

(Blue Ridge, GA)–“It has come to our attention that candidate for State House Kelly Stewart is currently and repetitively making false claims on her resume as to having been the County Administrator of Fannin County. Mrs. Stewart never held the role of County Administrator in our county, and her claim is patently untrue,” said Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss Wednesday.

“Fannin County has never in its history had a County Administrator form of government.   Stewart was an administrative assistant (a secretary) in the office of the Board of Commissioners, “said Doss Wednesday.

“Kelly Mull Stewart’s pattern of deceit was major contributing factor as to why she was terminated by the County in 1999,” said former Commissioner Yvonne McNelley, who served as a Fannin County Commissioner at the time.  Apparently, this pattern continues.

Stewart’s use of the job title, which she apparently has used for many years both to gain employment and to embellish her political resume in political campaigns, can be seen here:

http://www.countylinemagazine.net/0414/files/inc/4d2e03ad8b.pdf

and here:

http://web.archive.org/web/20130313083813/http://www.johnscreekga.gov/about/council/post5

Stewart also used the title of County Administrator on her official biography found on the City of Johns Creek website.

“We ended Stewart’s employment because of this issue as well as the fact that she had a pattern of abusing taxpayer dollars, including using taxpayer funds to make purchases that were clearly personal in nature,” said Commissioner McNelley.

“We investigated Kelly Stewart’s abuse of taxpayer dollars and found that she had made multiple unauthorized expenditures for personal items included self-help videos, unauthorized expensive meals, and gift purchases,” said Commissioner McNelley.

“Voters in Johns Creek can make their own decision. However, Mrs. Stewart may not make false claims or embellish her resume about her employment here, nor the reasons for her dismissal, without our setting the record straight,” said McNelley. “The actions of Stewart ultimately contributed to an election recall and defeat of then-Chairman Cline Bowers.”