Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 27, 2012

Recently, the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter has taken in three litters of puppies, causing a space shortage. This means increasing euthanasia, and all dogs there are at risk. These three pit mix puppies are among those who are available for adoption today.

Also among the dogs at risk at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter are this German Shepherd baby boy with awesome ears, and a senior Pomeranian who deserves to live his sunset years in a loving home.

Between now and December 23d, all dogs and cats at Gwinnett County’s shelter can be adopted for the low cost of $30.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Newt Gingrich left the door open for another presidential run in 2016.

The former Republican presidential candidate and House Speaker said he has not ruled out running for president in 2016 — but first the GOP must take on a “very serious analysis” of what went wrong in 2012, Gingrich said.

“I have no idea at this stage,” Gingrich said, referring to another run for the White House.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says that Georgia might become winnable for Democrats in 2016.

“Georgia is an achievable target for Democrats in 2016,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a frequent Obama surrogate during the campaign. “What you’re going to see is the Democratic party making a drive through the geography from Virginia to Florida.”

That will be easier said than done — particularly when the Democratic nominee is not Obama — but powerful forces in the region are eroding GOP dominance. The trends pose difficulties for a Republican Party shifting toward Dixie since the “Southern strategy” of the Nixon era, which sought to encourage white flight from the Democratic Party.

In Florida, the portion of all votes cast by whites this year fell to 66 percent, down from 73 percent in 2000. In Georgia, the number of white voters declined while African-American registrations increased nearly 6 percent and Hispanic voters grew by 36 percent.

Legislators who represent Clayton County are determined to ensure that their county remains the butt of late-night talkshow humor by defending Sheriff-elect Victor Hill.

From an article by Rhonda Cook at the AJC:

To remove Hill is “totally disrespectful to the voters of Clayton County,” said Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. “Allow the judicial system to do what they do.”

Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, has drafted a letter asking the governor to leave Hill alone until the criminal case is resolved with a trial.

“It seems to me, governor, that when certain people can’t get their wishes at the voting booths, then they employ raw, unmitigated, egregious and flagrant attacks on the Voting Rights Act,” he wrote. “This is unconscionable. The people of Clayton County are tired of this shabby and condescending treatment from people who don’t even live here.”

From Jim Galloway’s Political Insider:

Once Hill takes his oath of office in January, Gov. Nathan Deal has the option of suspending Hill until his legal issues are resolved. The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association last week recommended the governor take that route, and even suggested a replacement.

[S]tate Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. “I was appalled and taken aback when I heard the sheriff’s association giving a recommendation for a replacement of our sheriff-elect,” she said. “The voters were crystal clear when they elected [the] sheriff-elect. They were crystal clear when they rejected the former sheriff.”

Seay said the sheriff’s association had acted “prematurely,” and in “total disrespect to the voters in Clayton County.”

Expanding Medicaid would cost the State of Georgia “only” $2.5 billion dollars, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, while allowing the state to cover more residents and bringing in $33 billion in federal money. The only problem? Georgia can’t afford the $2.5 billion, which liberals call a “modest increase in spending.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has said Georgia can’t afford to expand the program, which is already facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, even with the substantial federal help. Deal’s budget office pegs the cost of Obamacare and a Medicaid expansion to the state at $3.7 billion through 2022.

Deal has also expressed concern that the federal government — already facing a $16.3 trillion deficit — won’t hold up its end of the bargain.

Advocates of entitlement programs have long lowballed future costs to taxpayers, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said.

“Regardless of whether the new costs are $2.5 billion, $4.5 billion or $6.5 billion, the state of Georgia doesn’t have the money to pay for it without a huge tax increase, crowding out all other spending or both,” Robinson said.

“For a modest increase in spending, we get a pretty dramatic increase in coverage,” said Tim Sweeney, a health care policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“Someone thinks it’s free money when it’s not,” he said. “If we go bankrupt, there’s no way to bail out the United States,” said Ron Bachman, a senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an Atlanta-based think tank focused on market-oriented proposals.

Last night, Common Cause held a public forum to discuss financing of a proposed new Atlanta stadium.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta Falcons have been negotiating a deal for a potential new stadium for the past two years. The facility, which would cost a minimum of $948 million but is expected to surpass $1 billion, would replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome.

More than 100 people came to the Monday evening forum organized by Common Cause Georgia, which featured Georgia World Congress Center executive director Frank Poe on the panel.

“Our focus has been to try to get the best deal possible for the authority and the state of Georgia” for a new stadium, Poe said.

Common Cause Georgia board member Wyc Orr, a panelist, said more information is needed on what infrastructure or other costs the city of Atlanta, the state and Fulton County could be responsible for. “Those are critical details that we think should be known in advance,” Orr said.

Georgia Tech associate professor Benjamin Flowers, another panelist, called for more discussion on what the public could get in return for its investment.

A poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July found that 67 percent of respondents oppose using hotel-motel tax money for the building.

Today, Georgia Power executives will appear before the Georgia Public Service Commission to update the agency on progress and expenses in the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

Twice a year, the utility’s executives testify before the commission about the plant’s progress. On Tuesday, they will review expenses from January to June so the commission can determine if they are permissible and should be passed onto customers.

Georgia Power has already reported $900 million in possible cost overruns. But the expenses are the subject of a lawsuit so officials said there won’t be testimony about them Tuesday.

Commission chair Tim Echols says the hearings help decide who should bear added costs.

“Commissioners essentially become the risk-sharing mechanism for consumers,” he said in an interview. “We’re their eyes and ears on that board, making a decision whether things are passed along to them via their electric bill or whether those expenses are born by Southern Company and Georgia Power.”

Mark Williams is a spokesman for Georgia Power.

“The project is progressing well,” he said in an interview. “We are more than one-third of the way through with the construction. There will be some details about the costs — all the costs that have been expended to this point on the project.”

The United States Energy Department is seeking plans for a demonstration project to address nuclear waste storage. The SRS Community Ruse Organization is currently studying whether the Savannah River Site might have a role in a storage solution.

That study, to be completed early next year, is not specifically connected to the recent demonstration project notice, but would certainly explore the site’s possible role in projects involving outside locations or businesses.

“There is a potential that SRS could play a part of it, but we haven’t heard of anything specific to that proposal,” McLeod said, noting that such a demonstration project would likely require participation from a utility-owned, actively operating power reactor.

Walter Jones writes that energy production policy may be shifting at the Georgia Public Service Commission.

What happened is the Georgia Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to endorse efforts by a start-up company to overturn a law, the Territorial Act, that has divided the state for four decades into geographic monopolies for 94 utilities run by cities, rural cooperatives and the giant Georgia Power Co.

The upstart, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., seeks its own monopoly as a generator of solar power with permission to sell to retail customers. Since it can’t produce electricity when the sun isn’t shining, it would always be dependent on other utilities for supplemental power as well as for transmission, billing and customer support.

The commission vote doesn’t guarantee General Assembly agreement, but it does provide a push.

The commissioner who sponsored the resolution, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, had been in the legislature in 1973 and voted in favor of the Territorial Act.

“I was there in 1973 when the act — legislation was passed,” he said. “Solar wasn’t even in the dictionary, I don’t think, at that time, much less photovoltaic…. It was something that wasn’t anticipated at that time.”

He argued for removing obstacles to consumers who want access to more power generated from renewable sources.

McDonald wasn’t the only veteran policymaker whose vote demonstrated a change of position. Commissioner Doug Everett, a great-grandfather and conservative legislator in the 1990s, also supported McDonald’s resolution.

“You know, everybody in here realizes I’ve always fought solar because I did not think the technology was there for cost effectiveness. But it’s changed, technology has changed,” he said.

The cost of photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity has plummeted in recent years and by 30 percent in the first six months of this year due to a price war between Chinese producers. The result is solar is becoming competitive without tax breaks, mandates and subsidies from other energy sources, Everett said.

“But something else has changed that disturbs me even more, and very few people mention this. But this (federal) administration has said it’s going to destroy the coal industry,” he said.

The Dougherty County Commission voted to levy a 2% excise tax on energy used in manufacturing.

Votes by Georgia counties on the excise tax, which Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard stressed was a “continuation” of special-purpose local-option sales tax and local-option sales tax funds already being collected by the county, became necessary when the state approved 2012 legislation to phase out the 4 percent energy tax that the states collects from those businesses over the next four years.

“I’d like to reiterate that this is not a new tax on our manufacturers,” District 1 Commissioner Lamar Hudgins said. “We’re voting to continue collecting the local tax.”

Governor Nathan Deal previously said that repeal of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing was an important component in attracting new jobs from Caterpillar and Baxter International.

Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Fanning Lasseter will report to federal prison next month to begin serving her sentence for accepting bribes in association with rezoning votes.

Lasseter, who was mayor of Duluth for a decade before becoming a county commissioner, will begin her 33-month sentence for bribery Dec. 12 in a Marianna, Fla. prison, according to an order filed in federal court before Thanksgiving.

In the face of a lawsuit challenging Gwinnett County’s funding of Partnership Gwinnett with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the County Commission may double down with another payment.

This time, though, the county’s annual Partnership Gwinnett agreement — on Tuesday’s zoning hearing agenda — stipulates that the money must go to a new nonprofit set up for the economic development program, keeping the money from mingling with the chamber’s private donations.

“With the need for jobs and business investment, I believe that it is critical we continue to focus on economic development,” Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said Monday, lending her support to the program credited with bringing 12,000 jobs to the county. “I also believe that combining resources and efforts across community segments strengthens Gwinnett County’s position relative to other communities with which we must compete.”

Pat Robertson’s Regent University will continue to pursue federal intellectual property claims against a renamed Georgia Regent University in Augusta.

The University of Georgia wants to aggressively invest in research to move into the elite circle of national research universities. Georgia Tech has received $1.8 million in federal grant money to actually perform research into microbial diversity. Football loyalties aside, which approach do you think will be more welcome in the Appropriations Committee this Session?

For more news on Georgia education issues, visit www.GaNewsDigest.com and look for the Education heading. The website is updated throughout the day and also features sections on Politics, Energy, and Transportation issues.

The consolidation of two hospitals in the Albany area is before the United States Supreme Court as the Federal Trade Commission charges that the merger was anti-competitive.

The justices heard arguments in the federal government’s claim that two private corporations used a public hospital authority to complete a deal that left one company as the owner of the only two hospitals in Albany, Ga. The Federal Trade Commission says the deal violates federal antitrust law.

The question at the high court is whether an exception in antitrust law for actions taken by a state or its agencies — in this case, the hospital authority — shields the transaction from federal concerns.

Lower federal courts allowed Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to buy Palmyra Medical Center from Hospital Corporation of America for $195 million over the FTC’s objection.

Georgia DOT will try to use more small businesses as part of a federal initiative.

Beginning next year, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to increase efforts to encourage and help small businesses in doing business with the department and its consultants and contractors, state officials said last week.

As part of a federal initiative designed to foster increased nationwide small-business participation in government contracting, DOT plans to promote opportunities for eligible small businesses though its acquisition of materials and professional and technical services, as well as transportation consultant and construction contracts.

The goal of the program will be to facilitate such opportunities “of a size and scope that can reasonably be performed by competing small businesses,” including Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, states a press release from the DOT.

The AJC writes that massive overtime payments to MARTA employees raise safety concerns.

MARTA Police Officer Jeremiah Perdue puts in massive work weeks protecting the transit-riding public. He worked enough overtime to more than triple his pay, taking home nearly $163,000 in the 12 months ending in June.

Perdue, who earned $108,000 in overtime in one year , wasn’t alone in working excessive hours. About 130 police officers and 90 bus drivers boosted their salaries by 50 percent that fiscal period, with 55 officers and 20 drivers nearly doubling their pay. A handful, like Perdue, earned more in overtime than they earned in regular salary, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While some might applaud such a work ethic, the overtime logged by MARTA bus drivers and police officers raises serious financial and safety concerns for the nation’s ninth-largest transit agency.

MARTA rules allow those employees to work 16 hours straight, but sleep deprivation experts say such schedules impair judgment and make drivers, police officers and others who work in potentially life-threatening situations a danger to both themselves and the public.

I suspect State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-City of Brookhaven), who chairs the legislative committee that oversees MARTA, will raise financial concerns about this as well.

The City of Dunwoody added starting its own school system to its list of legislative priorities for 2013.

“It’s not about the city of Dunwoody and our school system,” said Council [Member] John Heneghan. “It’s about local control and our school system. When you work at the capitol it’s not about a municipality, it’s about what is best for the general populace of the state of Georgia.”

Meanwhile, the left-behinds in North DeKalb are exploring creating yet another city.

The new Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association (BWENA) sponsored the information-only meeting at Oak Grove Methodist Church.

“People underestimate how complicated it is,” former legislator Kevin Levitas, who hosted the meeting, said. “It takes a couple years to get a city up and running. People have to understand they are in for a very long haul, with some heated discussions.”

State Sen. Fran Millar, state Rep. Tom Taylor and former state senator Dan Weber described the process Dunwoody went through before it was incorporated.

The Cobb County Commission will figure out how to dispose of an $18 million dollar surplus; Commission Chair Tim Lee proposed “a plan to allocate the additional money includes paying off debt, rolling back the county’s millage rate by .2 mills and technology upgrades to the county’s court system.”

A wildfire in North Georgia has closed the approach trail for the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp is stepping down to start her own environmental consulting firm.

“She hit the ground running and has gotten us in good position,” said Don Stack, an attorney with Stack & Associates, which represents the Riverkeeper. “She probably decided it’s an appropriate time to take a breath and have a normal life.”

When I read a Savannah Morning News headline that “The hunt is on at Bethesda Academy,” my first thought was that I thought the hunting season for high school students started in December.

Over the last three years students enrolled in the historic school and home for boys have helped clear pine thickets, planted native grasses and converted 400 acres into a lakeside sanctuary for wild birds and the hundreds of quail they raise each year.

Now the public can book guided quail and pheasant hunts at the Bethesda Sanctuary.

They’ll even train your dogs to hunt.

“We’re talking about sporting dogs,” said Tom Brackett, director of the Wildlife Management Program at Bethesda. “We can’t train your French poodle.”

True fact: poodles were bred to retrieve waterfowl.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 26, 2012


“Amy Pond” is an eight-week old, eight-pound yellow lab mix puppy who was abandoned in a shopping cart in a grocery store parking lot and is available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Services.


“Ruff” (left) and “Tumble” (right) are also eight weeks old and weight eight pounds each. They’re available from Walton County Animal Services today.

This six-month old Shepherd mix is still at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter and is in dire straits now. Three litters of puppies arrived and they’ll be euthanizing to clear room. We have a sponsor who will pay the adoption fee if anyone is willing to foster or adopt.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The Georgia State Patrol reports that 2,527 accidents occurred on Georgia’s roads this weekend with nineteen people dying in wrecks during the period from 6 PM Wednesday through midnight Sunday.

PolitiFact reviewed Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell’s statement that Fulton County Elections had a lower error rate than the national average and found it to be a steaming pile of lies.

“I did some checking on my own to see what are the error rates for elections departments as large as this one. You’re well below the average,” Darnell said during the County Commission’s meeting Nov. 7.

PolitiFact Georgia was curious to determine whether Fulton’s error rates were below average, but we encountered a roadblock.

Darnell said she respects the work of PolitiFact Georgia but wouldn’t discuss anything related to the election department. She complained about biased media coverage on the subject, particularly by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The commissioner did suggest we examine Fulton and compare it with other Georgia counties.

The greatest complaint about Fulton came from people who said they were told their names weren’t on the county’s voter rolls. In such cases, the person is given a provisional ballot and the county then works to verify that person is registered to vote.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, 9,575 provisional ballots were cast on Nov. 6 in Fulton. That was more than twice the total of provisional ballots cast in Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties combined, state data show. More than 100 people who tried to vote in Fulton have filed complaints to the state about the Nov. 6 election, the AJC reported.

Fulton elections officials were still printing and delivering supplemental voter lists to precincts hours after the polls opened, the AJC has reported. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp called the situation a “debacle.”

Fulton officials have made some mistakes in recent years administering elections. In 2008, the county sent absentee ballots late to as many as 2,500 voters, the AJC reported at the time. The result: Some voters were unable to cast ballots in that year’s presidential election.

Let’s recap. Fulton Commissioner Emma Darnell said the number of errors by the county’s elections staff was “well below the average.” She declined to provide details to back up her claim. Research shows Fulton was in the middle among U.S. counties of comparable size when it came to provisional ballots rejected in 2008, the last presidential election. That year, twice as many provisional ballots were cast in Fulton than there were in some of Georgia’s largest counties.

From the evidence available, the county’s recent history and the high number of provisional ballots cast in this month’s election, there’s not much evidence to back up Darnell’s claim that Fulton was “well below the average.” We rate her claim False.

I hope this is an issue that the legislature will address in the 2013 Session, and consider whether the Secretary of State’s Office should be able to intervene in elections where a county has a proven record of incompetence, or on an emergency basis when a problem surfaces in a previously well-run election department.

Former Governor Mike Huckabee visited Valdosta and Albany on Saturday, hawking his book, Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett: A Grandfather’s Thoughts on Faith, Family, and the Things That Matter Most.

Today, Col. Oliver North will follow his footsteps, selling and signing his newest book, a novel called Heroes Proved.North will appear at noon at the Fort Benning Exchange, 9220 Marne Road, Columbus, GA 31905. At 4:30 he will appear at Books-A-Million at 1705-C Norman Drive, Valdosta, GA 311601.

Senator Chambliss promised the people of Georgia he would go to Washington and reform government rather than raise taxes to pay for bigger government. He made that commitment in writing to the people of Georgia.

If he plans to vote for higher taxes to pay for Obama-sized government he should address the people of Georgia and let them know that he plans to break his promise to them.

In February 2011 he wrote an open letter addressed to me when he joined the Gang of Six saying he would not vote for any plan that raised taxes. He would support only tax revenue that resulted from higher growth.

Sen.Chambliss mentions his fear of losing a primary if he breaks his word to Georgians and votes to raise their taxes. History reminds us that when President George H.W. Bush raised taxes in a deal that promised (and did not deliver) spending cuts he was defeated not in the primary, but in the general.

When Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska violated his pledge to the American people, he would’ve won a primary battle. But he withdrew because polling showed he could not win a general election having both lied to his state and raised their taxes.

Perhaps someone should let Norquist know that in Georgia in 2014, the only election that will matter will be the Republican Primary.

Tomorrow, Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash will present the County’s proposed budget for 2013.

“We have spent the last two weeks combing back through the budget and confirming our five-year forecasts,” said Nash, who has played a hand in many county budgets as the government finance manager and county administrator before her election as chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners.

In the past several years, the economy has forced the government to cut expenses, and 2013 will be no different. Nash said the budget was built on the assumption that the county tax digest will drop another 2 percent due to still-declining property values.

“The national economy continues to struggle,” Nash said. “If it slows again, then we will feel that effect here in Gwinnett. The level of uncertainty meant that we had to be very cautious in our cost analysis and revenue projections.”

On top of that, the budget document, which is usually several dozen pages long, will be even longer due to the new accounting methods outlined in the settlement of a three-year-long dispute with local cities.

The settlement, which ensures that residents do not pay county taxes for services that their city government provides, means that county departments will have several pools of funding, all of which have to be analyzed for their tax revenue.

“The implementation of provisions of the consent order for the Service Delivery Strategy dispute with the cities contributed to the complexity and extra work required this year,” Nash said. “Essentially, separate service districts, funds and budgets had to be established for three functions: fire, police and development. Thus, general fund had to be split into four separate funds. The service area and funding structure of each of the new districts are unique, and none of them are countywide. The consent order constrained how services were to be structured and how they were to be funded.”

Commissioners will have just over a month to consider the proposal before a scheduled vote in January. Residents can sound off on the plan at a Dec. 10 hearing. Nash encourages people to view department budget presentations on the county website for more background on the proposal.

“While I would have liked to finalize the proposed budget earlier, it clearly was more important to ensure that it was based on the latest information and soundest analysis possible,” she said.

Kristi Swartz of the AJC has written an article about solar power that does a good job of laying out two of the problems with deploying solar on a large scale in Georgia.

Southern Co. executives say higher electricity prices, tax breaks and other subsidies have created a favorable environment for solar energy to flourish in the Southwest. The region also receives nearly twice as much sunlight as other parts of the country.

“So when we first thought about getting some experience in the renewable sector, we went to where the best resources are, and that’s the desert Southwest,” said Tom Fanning, Southern Co.’s chairman and chief executive officer.

The chief reason Southern has given for not investing more heavily in solar in Georgia and the Southeast is because the region’s electricity prices are low. Developing solar made little business sense because it was too expensive to compete with traditional forms of electricity.

Now the utility wants to add 210 MW of solar to its energy mix, saying improvements in technology, among other things, have led the renewable fuel to drop in price.

Regulators have been reluctant to mandate any use of solar energy, primarily because traditional fuels have been cheaper. What’s more, solar is an intermittent resource.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is apparently still in effect as efforts to stem illegal immigration have bogged down the licensing renewal system for doctors and nurses.

When lawmakers tightened the state’s immigration laws, one provision was to require all licensed professionals to prove citizenship at renewal time.Some medical professionals have had to briefly stop seeing patients due to the new delays in renewal as a result of the law.

Doctor’s licensing must be renewed every two years. This was previously done on a state website, with a few clicks and a renewal payment. Doctors received confirmation of renewal immediately.Now, applicants must submit a notarized affidavit and ID proving citizenship. The state says near a third of doctors are seeing a delay of 10 or more days.

Cars that were flooded in Sandy may make their way to Georgia through insurance sales, auctions, and unscrupulous or ignorant sellers. Be careful.

In coming weeks, the Hall County Sheriff’s Department may come to resemble a scene from “Full Metal Jacket” [language warning at that link] as Sheriff-elect Gerald Crouch encourages deputies to trade jelly donuts for pushups.

“I set my own personal goal to lose that weight and get back in shape, and I still do that to this day,” he said.Now, as Couch readies to take the reins of the sheriff’s office in January, he wants to make fitness a goal for all deputies.“It’s important to citizens that they have a department they can be proud of, and when it becomes obvious to them that there’s no physical standards that exist in a department, public confidence in the agency, and in its leadership, can deteriorate,” he said.

Couch plans to develop a fitness policy starting immediately with a fitness program for new hires, he said.

Couch said for current personnel, he plans to phase in a program over time.

“None of these actions are seen as anything punitive,” he said. “I want to change the lifestyle and the mindset to help the officers be healthier and enjoy their lives more, and perform better for the citizens of the county.”

Don’t be surprised if you see me this week if you spend any time during the pre-dawn hours in a parking lot at Berry College watching for Bald Eagles.

Almost any morning, about sunrise, it’s not unusual to find a cluster of folks in the parking lot at the Cage Center on the Berry campus. It’s not an early-morning exercise group, but folks who are intrigued by the pair of bald eagles nesting in such an unusual location.

Typically, eagle nests are found next to a stream or lake. The nest at Berry is adjacent to a parking lot. It’s probably less than a mile away from the Oostanaula River and maybe just a little further to the old Florida Rock quarry off Redmond Circle. It’s a tad further to the Lavender Mountain reservoir and about seven miles, as the eagle flies, from the lakes at the Rocky Mountain hydroelectric plant in Texas Valley.Ozier calls Northwest Georgia the last frontier for bald eagle growth in Georgia.

“We are seeing more growth in the north, and maybe it’s just as other areas fill up they’re looking to expand into some place they may not have gone 10 years ago.”

Other bald eagles on Lake Allatoona and Weiss Lake have produced young around Christmas. Allowing for the 35-day incubation period, that means if the Berry pair is successful, the female should drops eggs any day now.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 13, 2012

This beautiful, blue-eyed, white husky-mix is described as sweet and is available from the Murray County Animal Shelter in Chatsworth. Without a rescue or adoption, he will be euthanized on Friday in the pre-dawn hours.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The United States Supreme Court will hear a challenge to parts of the Voting Rights Act that affect states that had a history of vote discrimination when the act was passed; this includes Georgia.

The challenge to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was launched two years ago, and the court added it to its docket just days after an energized minority electorate played a critical role in the reelection of President Obama, the nation’s first African American president.

The justices said they would decide whether Congress exceeded its authority in 2006 when it reauthorized a requirement that states and localities with a history of discrimination, most of them in the South, receive federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws.

Three years ago, the court expressed concern about subjecting some states to stricter standards than others using a formula developed decades ago. But the justices sidestepped the constitutional question and found a narrow way to decide that case.

Georgia State House Republicans re-elected their leadership team yesterday, with Speaker David Ralston, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, Majority Whip Ed Lindsey, Vice Chair Matt Ramsey, and Secretary Allen Peake unopposed and Caucus Chair Donna Sheldon beating back an intramural challenge from Rep. Delvis Dutton.

The Democratic Caucus reelected everyone but Rep. Brian Thomas, who was beaten by Rep. Virgil Fludd.

Later this week, Georgia Senate Republicans will gather at Little Ocmulgee State Park for a group hug caucus meeting. Pro-tip to anyone attending: do not accept any offers of an “after dark swamp tour.” Continue reading

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 29, 2012

This young lab mix puppy is about 12 weeks old and the volunteers at Murray County Animal Shelter says he’s sweet, friendly, gets along with other dogs and loves people. He needs to be rescued ASAP or he will be euthanized on Friday morning. Transportation to Atlanta is available.

Angels Among Us Rescue has foster care lined up for these Golden mix puppies, and is trying to raise $1000 for their vetting to ensure they can save them. Please consider making a donation to Angels Among Us Rescue today and put “GaPundit – Golden Puppies” in the online donation form.

Flash here (28341) is a young, friendly male Basset Hound who is available for adoption today from Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

28301 is an adult male lemon Beagle mix who is available for adoption today from Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

Villa Rica veterinarian Stuart “Doc Win” Burnett  is doing his part to reduce euthanasia of dogs and cats.

His passion for animals and his willingness to serve the community has led to the formation of two new endeavors meant to keep dogs and cats from being put to sleep and providing affordable veterinarian services for those who can’t afford it.

The American Veterinary Animal Welfare Foundation was launched last year as a way to rescue animals in local shelters that would otherwise be euthanized, and to help offset some of the free veterinary care he and his staff often provide.

“We are rescuing dogs off death row at the shelters,” said Deborah York, president of the Animal Welfare Foundation. “We’re bringing them in, vetting them and finding them homes.”

The non-profit foundation relies entirely on donations. Since receiving its rescue license in May, nearly 100 pets have been rescued by the foundation. Though the foundation rescues animals it is not a drop-off location for people who simply don’t want their animals.

Once a month, the foundation has a booth at PetSmart in Douglasville where it offers animals for adoption, and all the animals are on display at Petfinder.com. The cost of adoption is $150 for males and $200 for females, which covers an animal being fully vetted, microchipped and spayed/neutered.

Besides donated funds, the foundation has set up a thrift store at its previous clinic building across from its current location on Thomas Dorsey Drive — once a month items are sold and the money goes to pet rescue. Items to be sold can be donated by contacting Atlanta West Veterinary Hospital.

Burnett and his staff provide about 15 to 20 hours a week of what they refer to as “community service,” which is veterinary care for those who can’t afford to pay. Donations to the foundation also will go toward helping fund some of these pro bono services.

“We’re trying to serve the community and make a living too,” Burnett said.

Burnett and fellow veterinarian Steve Hathcock will launch the Bay Springs Clinic on Nov. 13, which will provide affordable spay/neuter procedures and other smaller veterinary services. The clinic will be located behind Vaughn Tile on Highway 61 North.

Anyone seeking more information about the clinic or wanting to donate to the foundation can contact Atlanta West at 770-459-2253, email [email protected] or visit the website at www.americanveterinarywelfarefoundation.com.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Over the weekend, Early and Advance voting surpassed the one million mark, with 99,979 votes being cast according to the latest absentee voter file from the Secretary of State’s office. Of the early/advance voters on Saturday for whom the SOS reported a “Last Party Primary,” 54% had last voted in a Republican Primary and 46% in a Democratic Primary.

WSB reported Friday that Gwinnett County had its longest waits of the election.

Lines were up to two-and-a-half hours long between 8:30am and noon at the main elections office in Lawrenceville. Continue reading

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 24, 2012

One of these little seven-week old pups found a home yesterday with a GaPundit.com reader and I couldn’t be happier. Another reader’s family stepped up and volunteered to foster the other two if enough money can be raised through a rescue organization to pay for their vetting, which will cost $400. If everyone who has written me about how much they enjoy seeing the adoptable dogs or asking how they can help will give $50, $20, or even $5 today, we can save the remaining puppies. They must be saved by Thursday night or they’ll be euthanized on Friday before dawn. Please click here and go to Angels Among Us Rescue’s webpage and donate today with a credit or debit card or PayPal account. When making your donation, please put “GaPundit – Murray County Puppies” in the purpose field.

This boxer puppy will qualify for the “Black Friday Sale” discounted $30 adoption fee on Friday at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. She’s a friendly little puppy and has five brothers and sisters in the shelter with her, who were found stray and are available for adoption today.

Finally, we bring you one of our favorite kind of dog, a basset hound “low rider” mix. Meet Binkie, a Pit Bull-Basset Hound mix.

Binkie is a spayed female, approximately 2 years old and just over 26 pounds of awesome. She is available for adoption tomorrow from Walton County Animal Services.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Senator Vincent Fort doesn’t want voters to be armed in exchange for voting and has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office alleging that a Cobb business offering a chance to win a Browning rifle or Glock violates Georgia law that prohibits giving people something of value for voting.

Fort says the promotion violates state law prohibiting anyone from offering money or gifts in exchange for voting or registering to vote.

“I sent a letter to the secretary of state this morning, asking him to look into it and put a stop to the raffle,” Fort said. “These billboards are prominently positioned all over the metro area, and I’m surprised the secretary of state didn’t intervene earlier.”

Four years ago, that office put a quick stop to shops offering free coffee and doughnuts to those showing proof that they voted, he said.

Continue reading

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 22, 2012


Great Pyrenees are prized dogs for their temperment and their guarding abilities as well as their beautiful white coats. These GP puppies are part of a litter of five that was found alone outside and they are available for adoption from Murray County Animal Shelter. Adoption costs $115 and includes vetting, spay/neuter, heartworm, and rabies treatments. If they are not adopted by pre-dawn Friday they will be euthanized.


Also on the euthanasia list for early Friday morning are these three black lab puppy littermates, who are about seven weeks old and were found abandoned at the side of the road.


This great mama and her three puppies are also available for adoption from Murray County Animal Shelter and will be euthanized before dawn on Friday if not adopted. They like people and other dogs.


This 4.5 year old female hound is also a mom, and she and her puppy (below) are said to be sweet dogs who get along with people or other dogs. Like the others here, they are available for adoption from Murray County and will be euthanized on Friday pre-dawn if not rescued.


This eight-month old puppy came in with her mama (above) and is available for adoption from Murray County Animal Shelter with a literal deadline of pre-dawn Friday.

These dogs and fourteen others are on the list for euthanasia on Friday morning. Unfortunately, this situation is the norm at shelters across Georgia. If you cannot adopt a dog, you might be able to help by transporting a dog from a shelter to a foster home or rescue organization, or by donating to a reputable rescue group. Transportation for each of the above dogs can be arranged to the Atlanta area. If you’re outside Atlanta but not close to Murray County, email me and we’ll try to put you in touch with some folks to help transport them to you.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton debated his two challengers, Democrat Steve Oppenheimer and Libertarian Brad Ploeger, who both tried to out-maneuver the other on the left.

GOP incumbent Chuck Eaton denied opponents’ accusations that he is too cozy with the companies he regulates.

“I’ve never granted Georgia Power Co. any of the rate increases they’ve requested,” he said, adding that he voted only for pared-down rate hikes.

Democrat Steve Oppenheimer said electricity rates had risen 24 percent during Eaton’s six-year term and that residential rates for natural gas were among the highest in the continental United States.

Eaton blamed federal regulations for half the expense of the latest electric rate increase…. Continue reading

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 9, 2012


Meet Cliff, who was born with a cleft palate and needs help for surgery to correct his birth defect. Most dogs born with a cleft palate die or are euthanized as puppies, but against the odds, Cliff has survived to adulthood. That’s not the only tough odds Cliff has faced; he was found abandoned, tied up to a tree and starving.

Lifeline Animal Project took Cliff into their shelter and paid for his care, eventually bringing him into an after-school program for high school students, and now he lives with a foster family. The fosters say he is a great, loving dog. Lifeline is asking for donations to pay for surgery to correct his cleft palate; without surgery his prognosis for long-term survival is grim.

To give for Cliff’s surgery, visit Lifeline Animal Project and donate online, designating the gift for Cliff in the comments. While you’re on their website, check out some of their other dogs and cats. You may also mail a donation to A New Life For Cliff, LifeLine Animal Project, PO Box 15466, Atlanta, GA 30333.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

After we released a poll showing Governor Romney increasing his lead among Georgia voters, Steve Perkins, a member of the Democratic State Committee, the State Executive Commite,  and a Delegate to the Democratic National Convention, posted on Facebook in response to a question about the poll:

Six lines of text that contain five misspelled words. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the leadership of the Georgia Democratic Party.

Speaking of polling, yesterday, Pew Research released new data showing a dead heat between Mitt Romney and President Obama among all voters, and a three-point Romney lead among likely voters.

Rasmussen moved the Ohio Senate race between Republican Josh Mandel and Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown into a dead heat as well.

Voter Registration and Elections

The General Election date is November 6th, 2012. The deadline for voter registration for the General Election is TODAY, October 9, 2012. 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, 2012here’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.

As of yesterday, more than 126,000 Georgia voters had requested mail-in absentee ballot.

Floyd County added net voters to its rolls, reporting that in October 130 newly registered voters were added while 16 were removed for various reasons. Overall, voter numbers are down in Extreme Northwest Georgia.

As of Oct. 1, there were 224,197 registered in Floyd, Bartow, Chattooga, Polk, Gordon, Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties, according to the latest Georgia secretary of state report.

The Sept. 1 report showed 226,560 on the rolls — already a decrease from the 236,769 registered for the last presidential election in 2008.

A Get-Out-The-Vote ad filmed in Macon is now available for viewing online.

The ad appears to have an anti-Obama slant, and underneath the video on the website is the statement “America is hurting. We’re going into our 44th month with an unemployment rate above 8%. After being promised change, we haven’t seen it. This Election Day, your vote is the choice between a broken economy and a brighter future. Help make the difference–VOTE!”

State and Local Issues

Online shoppers will find a new item in their shopping cart: Georgia state sales taxes will now be collected in more online transactions.

With changes in the tax law that began to take effect last week, the state intends to begin treating some online retailers the same way it treats those with stores here: by collecting sales tax.

That means Georgians who avoid paying sales tax by buying online may now find that harder to do.

The amount of money people spend online is growing steadily and shows no signs of abating. In Georgia alone, a 2009 University of Tennessee estimate projected the state would lose as much as $455.5 million in uncollected sales tax from online purchases in 2012.

Collecting the tax from some web sellers that were not previously required to charge sales tax will add an estimated $18 million a year to the state’s coffers.

With the change, the state will collect just a portion of the missing dollars, but in Georgia and around the country, revenue shortfalls caused by the recession have added urgency to the push for more sales tax collections.

It’s also an issue of fairness for stores in local strip centers and shopping malls, which pay property taxes and contribute to the fabric of a community. A desire to put them on equal footing with online competitors has galvanized support to extend sales tax collections in many states. There is an expectation, too, that action by the states may lead the federal government to change laws regarding sales tax collections. Online-sales-tax bills are wending their way through the House and the Senate.

“It means a great deal to small business,” said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Georgia Retail Association. “It’s tough to start out the day at a mom-and-pop retail store when you’re at an 8 percent disadvantage before you open the door.”

Stores are only required to charge sales tax for online purchases in a state if they have a physical presence in that state: a Macy’s store at Lenox Square, for example, or a call center in Alpharetta.

Georgia has expanded its definition of a “physical presence” to get more online stores to collect sales tax from their customers.

Beginning last week, that included companies that use warehouses or offices in the state, whether they own them or not. At the end of the year, it will also include companies that have click-through ads on Georgia-based websites, known as affiliate relationships.

MARTA spent $144,000 on a psychological firm to assess the agency’s work environment.

Contracts showed $24,000 was to be paid to Dockery’s company in October 2010 for an initial assessment of MARTA leadership. The board agreed to pay the company and its minority partner, Optimism Matters, another $120,000.

“Interview feedback gathered from the Executive Management Team (EMT) and the board during September and November revealed numerous opportunities for performance improvement for Dr. Beverly Scott and the other members of the executive team,” the consulting group said in a November 2010 proposal to Tyler.

Jill Perry-Smith, an expert on organizational behavior at the Emory University, said businesses commonly hire outside consultants to try and determine what might be creating management problems, but such probes are generally are topical and not focused on the top executive.

“That is unusual,” she said. “It might suggest there is a problem with the leadership that needs to be addressed or it might suggest something else. It might send an unintended message that those commissioning it did not intend to send.”

MARTA has long battled criticism of its management and spending, with state lawmakers especially critical. State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, called the absence of a written evaluation from the Marietta consultant troubling.

“It’s a fairly extensive evaluation on an odd subject matter for which there appears to be no tangible result,” said Jacobs, who chairs the legislative committee that oversees MARTA. “I am going to ask questions about it. I would inquire into what was spent, how it was used and what the results were. I’m not going to prejudge the propriety of he expenditure but it certainly is questionable on its face.”

Maria Saporta accuses Jacobs of a bizarre conspiracy to takeover MARTA.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-DeKalb) has been quick to critique MARTA in just about any way he can.

But now it’s time to turn the table on Jacobs. During the search for a new general manager for MARTA, Jacobs acted in a most inappropriate manner by inserting himself into the process.

So why would Jacobs insert himself into MARTA’s search process when he had no appropriate role to do so?

The possible answers are disturbing. Did Jacobs and Ferrell have some kind of deal to help the state gain control over MARTA? Would Ferrell have viewed Jacobs as his true boss rather than the MARTA board? In other words, was Jacobs hoping to insert Ferrell as his puppet at MARTA?

Remember, the State of Georgia provides virtually no financial support for MARTA, and as such, it has no right to try to call the shots.

Actually, because MARTA is a creature of the legislature through the MARTA Act, the legislature does have the right and responsibility of oversight. The MARTOC committee, which Jacobs chairs, will meet on Thursday from 9 AM to noon in Room 406 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building.

Local officials in Douglasville, which has a goofy system that pays per meeting attended rather than a salary, have agreed to pay back more than $24,000 in payments received for meetings that did not occur or did not meet the city’s guidelines for payment.

Of these 284 improper payments, 91 were improper $313 payments to former Mayor Mickey Thompson, for which he has been indicted on theft by taking charges. That leaves 193 payments that went to members of council since 2007, with some members being paid for more than 30 meetings at $125 each – meetings that did not fit within the ordinance.

That means that Thompson was paid $28,483 that the GBI deemed improper. City council members received $24,313 improperly – for a total of $52,796 paid that was outside what is allowable by law.

The illegal payments, were first uncovered by a series of open records requests by the Douglas County Sentinel and then verified by the GBI probe based on the newspaper’s findings. The issue resulted from the current pay-by-the-meeting compensation used for elected officials. Council members are paid $125 per meeting and the mayor is paid $313 per meeting. Every other municipality of a similar size in Georgia pays a flat monthly salary to elected officials.

[Current Mayor Harvey] Persons said that in some instances, payments were made based on approvals by the former mayor, even though the council members in some cases didn’t request the payment.

“In closing, let me point out the City Council on Oct. 1 unanimously adopted a resolution to change the method of payment for the City’s elected officials from a per meeting basis to a fixed monthly salary basis,” Persons said. “Currently, we are reviewing how to accomplish this in accordance with State election laws governing a change in the level of an elected official’s compensation level other than at the start of the term of office for those elected at the next regular municipal election in November 2013.”

“I have said from the day I took office in January that the City of Douglasville needed to change how its elected officials are paid. I remain committed to seeing that this is done, and all members of the current City Council are in total agreement with this statement.”

No court date has been set for Thompson. Court records show that he has waived an arraignment and indications are that a plea deal, which would include repayment, is being worked out on the charges.

Click HereRome City Commissioners met with their local legislative delegation to discuss the city’s priorities and position for the 2013 Session of the General Assembly.

“A lot of what you do in the legislature affects us; in the services we provide, in the way we get our money,” City Manager John Bennett said. “And sometimes there are unintended consequences to what you do.”

State Reps. Katie Demp­sey, R-Rome, and Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, attended the session along with two Georgia Municipal Association staffers, then the group toured city facilities on the Toonerville Trolley. State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, is on Georgia National Guard duty and state Sen.-elect Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, also was absent because of work obligations.

Rome City Commission members met with local lawmakers Wednesday to discuss priorities for the 2013 Georgia General Assembly session. Their No. 1 wish: Consider the hometown impact of every proposed action.

“A lot of what you do in the legislature affects us; in the services we provide, in the way we get our money,” City Manager John Bennett said. “And sometimes there are unintended consequences to what you do.”

State Reps. Katie Demp­sey, R-Rome, and Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, attended the session along with two Georgia Municipal Association staffers, then the group toured city facilities on the Toonerville Trolley. State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, is on Georgia National Guard duty and state Sen.-elect Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, also was absent because of work obligations.

  • Board members asked lawmakers to keep pushing to allow local collection of sales tax, instead of running it through the Georgia Department of Revenue.“We have a better idea here who’s paying and who’s not paying, plus we’d get a more accurate remission,” Mayor Evie McNiece said.The Commission also supports a sales tax on Internet sales, she said, because tax-free sellers are unfair competition for local merchants.
  • Commissioners also want the Legislature to stop redirecting fees collected for special funds — such as the solid waste trust fund, teen driver education and public safety training.The House passed a bill this year that would halt collections if the money isn’t used for its intended purpose, but it did not pass the Senate by the end of the session. Dempsey said she expects it to be resubmitted in 2013.
  • The elimination of the “birthday tax” on car tags and the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing also are expected to affect local budgets.Lost money from the car tags will supposedly be made up by a new tax on person-to-person car sales but Commissioner Jamie Doss said local officials across the state are concerned that the revenue projections won’t hold up over time.

Augusta City Council candidates Mary Davis (D3) and Donnie Smith (D7) lead fundraising in their respective races.

Davis, who once served as Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s campaign chairwoman, has raised the most of any of the 11 candidates for the five seats. She has collected $38,865 since starting her campaign and has $21,030 on hand.

United State Senator Johnny Isakson’s office will have a staffer available for constituent issues in Rome on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, from 2 to 4 PM in the conference room of the Coosa Valley Credit Union, 1504 Dean Avenue, Rome, Ga. 30161.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for October 8, 2012

27950 (yellow) and 27951 (black) are little female puppies described as lab mix, who will be available for adoption beginning Wednesday from Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. If you look closely at the photo on the right, it looks like the yellow one is hugging her sister. You should go adopt both of them.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The General Election date is November 6th, 2012. The deadline for voter registration for the General Election is TOMORROW, October 9, 2012. 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, 2012here’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.

Statewide Poll of Georgia Voters shows Romney’s lead over Obama increasing
In the month between September 4th and October 4th, Governor Mitt Romney’s lead over President Obama among Georgia voters increased by between 5.8 and 7.6 points. While Romney’s lead in Georgia has long been accepted as insurmountable, the increase means that Republican candidates down the ballot will benefit more from the coattail effect.
What does it mean to say that the lead has changed by 5.8 to 7.6 points? It means that if the demographics of the electorate resemble those of the 2008 General Election, Romney has gained 5.8 points, and if they resemble the 2010 General Election, Romney is up by 7.6 points.
Adjusting poll results to bring the demographics in line with a set of assumptions is called “weighting.” Here’s a lot of information about the process if you’re completely obsessed with polling.
Pundits have been arguing over the question of whether the electorate will be like 2008, and it’s an important point, as we can see that it affects the outcome of the election.
The tables above show how this works in a simplified manner. One of the major factors that led to President Obama’s election in 2008 was the extraordinarily high turnout of younger voters; the difference between 25% of 2008 voters being 18-34 years old and less than fifteen percent in 2010 was important because Obama was more popular with these voters.
Ultimately, when I look at polls, what I’m looking for is not so much exact numbers separating the candidates, but the direction each is moving. And here in Georgia, Romney is moving up and Obama is slipping.
Romney is up in polls in swing states as well according to Nate Silver.
On Friday, Mitt Romney had his best day in state-level polling since at least the party conventions, something that very probably reflects improvement in his standing following the presidential debate in Denver on Wednesday.

Two automated polling firms, Rasmussen Reports and We Ask America, released polls in Ohio, Florida and Virginia on Friday. All of these polls were conducted on Thursday, the day after the Denver debate.

In the Rasmussen Reports polls, Mr. Romney trailed President Obama by one point in Ohio. But he led him by one point in Virginia and by two points in Florida.

These are very good numbers for Mr. Romney as compared with the ones we were seeing recently, although part of that is because Rasmussen has shown more favorable numbers for him in these states throughout the year. As compared with Rasmussen Reports’ previous polls of the same states, the margin in Ohio held steady, but Mr. Romney gained two points in Virginia and four in Florida, for an average gain of two points among the three states.

Georgia College Republicans were in Virginia this past weekend and will be in Florida next weekend. Georgia Young Republicans also are headed to Florida this weekend, where they will go door-to-door on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and phonebank on Saturday evening.

Georgia Political News

Senator John Bulloch (R-Ochlocknee) has been hospitalized for meningitis and appears to be improving.

The qualifications challenge against Democratic state house candidate Ronnie Mabra has been settled, as a Fulton County Superior Court judge denied an appeal to the decision by Secretary of State Brian Kemp that Mabra is a resident of the district.

The AJC reported extensively about the campaign by former Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Paulding) to return to the Gold Dome.

Political signs are popping up in west Georgia. Campaign mailers are cluttering mailboxes. The race in the special election for the open seat in state Senate District 30 is off and running.

But Glenn Richardson, the once powerful Speaker of the House of Georgia, is still struggling at the starting line. By late-week, the man who once directed a quarter-million-dollar war chest and engineered a historic Republican takeover in the House, was still waiting to get his yard signs back from the printer.

There was a reason for the delay. “I had to have the money before I ordered them,” the Paulding County attorney said a bit sheepishly. “I’m not independently wealthy.”

In fact, he said, he’s pretty close to broke. Most months, he struggles to pay his mortgage. And campaign contributions are not exactly flowing in. What once was an endless stream of $1,000 donations is now drips and drabs of checks with one or two fewer zeroes.

While the bit about waiting until he could afford yard signs is a nice device for framing the hard-luck story, it’s no longer true, as Richardson had yardsigns available on Sunday.

The AJC writes further:

The Nov. 6 primary most likely will go to a runoff on Dec. 4, observers say, because there are four candidates, all with built-in geographical constituencies. More than half the nearly 1,000-square-mile, 90,000-voter district is in Carroll County and the other portions are in Douglas and Paulding counties.

Hembree, a Republican state rep with 18 years in office lives near Douglasville and has roots in Carroll. Naughton and Dugan both live in Carroll County.

Hembree has $49,000 in his election fund as a state rep but said he does not know it he can use the funds. In 2009, Richardson contributed $219,000 from his election fund to MMV Alliance PAC, a fund he started to elect Republicans. He said he cannot use the money for his election. Naughton, a successful businessman in his own right, is related by marriage to the Richards family, who owns Southwire, the cable manufacturing giant in Carrollton.

The two-month-long race, Hembree said, is a “100-yard dash at Olympic pace,” forcing candidates to eschew a slow, get-to-know-voters campaign and instead try to find them in groups whenever they can. Also, he hits the phones hard for contributions, making 100 calls a day.

“It’s a very grueling process,” Hembree said.

I think the AJC is wrong. We polled that district and found that Hembree leads with 38.7% to 10.2% for Richardson and both of the Carroll County candidates in single digits. I don’t see how Hembree doesn’t win outright on November 6th.

State Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Gwinnett) was appointed to the legislature’s Joint Human Trafficking Commission by Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge).

“I look forward to working with the other members of the Study Committee on this very important issue,” Brockway said in a statement. “Human trafficking is a brutal crime and every part of our community can play a role in providing the victims the help they need.”

Republican Congressman Rob Woodall (R-7) will meet his longshot Democratic challenger in a debate on October 15th from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at Gwinnett Technical College’s Busbee Center, located at 5150 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville.

Republican Chatham County Commissioner Helen Stone was reimbursed for mileage to attend political events, including her own reelection announcement.

After being questioned by a reporter, Stone agreed the mileage reimbursements were inappropriate.

“I am not perfect,” Stone said. “I will screw up from time to time.”

Stone said it was questionable whether the meet and greets she attended were ineligible for mileage reimbursements — since she was meeting her constituents — but she decided to refund the county for those expenses to avoid any possible impropriety.

“I would rather err on the side of caution and get it right,” she said. “At this point my integrity as a commissioner far outweighs any monetary expense.”

Stone maintained that reimbursements for attending the campaign events of other Republican candidates were legitimate because they gave her a chance to learn about their platforms and she may be working with some of them.

The Macon Telegraph profiles Republican State Rep. Matt Hatchett and his Democratic challenger.

“My platform last time was almost the same as it is now — trying to recruit jobs back to our community,” said Hatchett, first elected in 2010.

He proudly points to one tax change he helped pass earlier this year: eliminating the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing.

“That’s already helping to attract jobs,” Hatchett said. He thinks that proposal is part of why Dinex and Erdrich, a pair of European manufacturers, came to Laurens County in early 2012, both bringing about 250 jobs.

The incumbent supports further changes, including a proposal to shift the state’s tax levies, taxing incomes less and sales more.

“I’m definitely a consumption tax person myself. I think that’s one of the fairer taxes,” Hatchett said.

Redistricting and Voting

Greene County Commission districts will be redrawn by the Legislative Reapportionment Office on a “blind” basis that ignores where incumbents live or the districts they currently represent:

At least two commissioners, however, still believe it’s the wrong way to go, contending the latest action still exhibits racism.

A blind map simply means that those drawing up a new district voting map won’t be concerned about what districts incumbent commissioners now represent.

“This is the best way to draw up the new map,” Channell said, following a 3-2 vote by commissioners to have officials with the Georgia Reapportionment Office draw the map, as opposed to it being drawn, locally, by commissioners and members of the Greene County Board of Education. “It takes away all the arguing that we had in the past.”

Two members of the five-member commission panel, Commissioners Marion Rhodes and Titus Andrews Sr. don’t like the idea of the state drawing up the new map. And they expressed their views, raising concerns already addressed in a federal lawsuit that was brought against the county earlier this year by members of the Greene County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“I totally disagree with the whole process,” Andrews said, noting there were two existing maps on the table that already had been drawn up, locally. He said he couldn’t understand why commissioners couldn’t revisit one of those maps.

“Either one of those maps would be sufficient,” Andrews said.

“I feel the same way,” Rhodes said.

Commissioner Walter L. “Bud” Sanders said he didn’t believe either one of those maps would work, contending that the new map must conform to DOJ guidelines.

“It’s understood,” Channell replied.

Sanders quickly fired back, saying, “I don’t know if it’s understood or not by the state.”

Commissioner Gerald Torbert also weighed in, saying he favored incumbents not being considered when drawing up a new map.

Maps drawn up earlier by commissioners and school board members later were rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The lawsuit by the NAACP followed.

Newnan City Council members will vote on new district maps for their own districts.

Newnan City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on new redistricting maps that will change how council members are elected and what districts voters live in.

The decision likely will mean council will have at least two sitting members in the same district and possibly three, meaning they will have to run against each other in the next election.

There are three maps under consideration, although one known as the “Butterfly Option” because of its shape, has little chance because it would dilute minority voting strength. And because the U.S. Department of Justice has to approve the new districts, there’s little hope it would pass their approval.

That option is the only one where none of the council members would have to run against each other. It would create six separate districts with voters in each district voting for one council member. The current makeup, which also includes six council members, splits the city into four districts and two super districts — voters select the council member from their district, as well as one super district representative.
Fulton County Elections Board member William Riley is said to have influenced his board fellow members to hire Sam Westmoreland.
When a panel of experts first rated candidates for the job, Westmoreland landed at the bottom of the list. Out of nine qualified applicants, he ranked seventh. But then William Riley, a board member and friend of Westmoreland, intervened and pushed for changes that allowed him to win the $105,000-a-year job.

The original scores were tossed out and board members themselves did another round of interviews. This time, Westmoreland ranked first. The board voted him in, choosing a onetime elections board colleague over competitors with years of election experience. Documents show it disregarded its own written hiring plan and failed to check his background or call his last three employers.

Riley said to blame him for giving Westmoreland an advantage is to give him too much credit.

“I can’t pick him,” he said. “It takes three votes to do anything.”

Westmoreland, a real estate lawyer, would go on to oversee a sloppy job of adjusting precinct lines for redistricting, leading to a bungled July primary where 690 voters in Sandy Springs and southeast Atlanta got assigned to the wrong state Senate and state House races.

Riley, a Republican Party appointee to the elections board, strongly denies friendship was his motive, but acknowledged politics played a role.

While he was friends with Westmoreland and had him to his home for dinner on several occasions, he said he also believed he was the best person for the job. He said he had become concerned that the county’s Registration and Elections Department was morphing into an arm of the Democratic Party, and he intervened because he feared the panel’s top picks would be too politically biased.

Although Westmoreland is a solid Democrat and a former head of the county Democratic party, Riley said he had worked with him for years and trusted him to keep politics out of the job. “He was my professional friend more than he was any other kind of friend,” Riley said. “He was best suited for this job, better than any of the other candidates.”

Quote of the Day, from the Savannah Morning News

“I’m an undecided voter and no one has knocked on my door and asked for a vote. All I’ve gotten is solicitations for money and emails. Until someone knocks on my door I guess I’ll waste my vote on a Libertarian.”

Ethics

Click Here

Georgia candidates on the November ballot were required to file Campaign Contribution Disclosures with the State Ethics Campaign Finance Commission last week.

In Arizona, a State Representative pled guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for his actions as a City Councilman in Tempe before he was elected to the legislature.

Phoenix, Arizona – Arizona State Representative Paul Ben Arredondo pled guilty today in Phoenix federal court, admitting that he solicited and took a bribe in exchange for promises of official action both as a city councilmember and a state representative. Arredondo also pleaded guilty to mail fraud, admitting that he defrauded donors to the Ben Arredondo scholarship fund.

Arredondo pleaded guilty to depriving the citizens of the city of Tempe, Ariz., and the state of Arizona of his honest services as an elected official, and to committing mail fraud. He entered his guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson.

Arredondo, 65, of Tempe, was a Tempe city councilmember for approximately 16 years, until July 2010. In November 2010, Arredondo was elected to the House of Representatives of the Arizona State Legislature.

During his plea, Arredondo admitted that from February 2009 to November 2010, he solicited and accepted things of value, collectively a bribe, from representatives of “Company A,” a fictitious company operated by FBI undercover agents that was purportedly seeking to develop real estate projects in Tempe.

Arredondo took the bribe with the intent to be influenced in the performance of his official duties, first as a councilmember and later as an elected member of the Arizona House of Representatives. Arredondo admitted that the things he took included tickets to college and professional sporting events, some of which he caused to be mailed to his home, and tables at charity events with his choice of guests. [Emphasis added].

In exchange for the bribe, Arredondo agreed to take a number of official actions, including revealing confidential information to Company A – such as the price Tempe would be willing to accept for property and the best way to present a purchase proposal. He also agreed to use his position as a councilmember to influence the decisions of other Tempe officials in ways that were favorable to Company A; to contact various Tempe officials to facilitate and promote the company’s efforts to win support for its real estate project; and, following his election to the Arizona House of Representatives, to assure representatives of Company A that he would continue to support Company A’s project. Arredondo did not disclose that he had received anything of value from representatives of the company during any of his interactions with Tempe officials about Company A.

Arredondo pleaded guilty to one count each of honest services mail fraud and mail fraud. Each charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the amount gained or lost in the scheme. Sentencing has been scheduled for Jan. 22, 2013.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for Oct. 5, 2012

The General Election date is November 6th, 2012. The deadline for voter registration for the General Election is October 9, 2012, you have THREE DAYS TO ENSURE YOU ARE REGISTERED TO VOTE. 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, 2012here’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.

Dog Rescue

2210, 2238, and 2095 are black lab mixes who are available for adoption from the Floyd County Animal Shelter in Rome, Georgia.

27851 is a beautiful male German Shepherd, and is one of the dogs who is eligible for Gwinnett County Animal Shelter’s “Black Friday Sale,” where all black or majority black dogs and cats may be adopted for $30.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Governor Nathan Deal announced a sales tax holiday for this weekend, October 5-7th for Energy Star and WaterSense appliances and fixtures:

“I encourage everyone to play their part in maintaining our environment by participating in the tax-free holiday to save money and, ultimately, conserve Georgia’s resources,” Deal said.

The sales tax holiday will take place Oct. 5-7 and will apply to:

  • Dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dehumidifiers, programmable thermostats, refrigerators, doors and windows that have the ENERGY STAR label and a purchase price of $1,500 or less.
  • Bathroom sink faucets, high-efficiency toilets and urinals, showerheads, faucet accessories (such as aerators), and weather- or sensor-based irrigation controllers that have the WaterSense label and a purchase price of $1,500 or less.

The state and local sales tax exemption will not apply to items purchased for trade or business use, or items rented or leased.

Attorney General Sam Olens followed-up on his legal advice to his client, Dr. John Barge, Georgia State School Superintendent, in which Olens said that elected school board members cannot advocate for approval or rejection of election measures using public resources.

“We’re currently working on advice to the state school superintendent on what enforcement mechanisms may be appropriate or necessary,” Olens told journalists in a conference call Thursday afternoon. “Because that’s active, I’m not going to get into those details right now.”

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said Thursday that he will have more to say, in the next couple of weeks, about whether local school boards violated state law when they approved resolutions opposing the charter schools amendment.

“We’re currently working on advice to the state school superintendent on what enforcement mechanisms may be appropriate or necessary,” Olens told journalists in a conference call Thursday afternoon. “Because that’s active, I’m not going to get into those details right now.”

Some supporters of the charter schools amendment have complained that Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge and several school boards violated state law by using taxpayer resources to oppose the amendment. Barge wrote Olens seeking guidance, and on Wednesday the attorney general responded with a three-page letter citing the law against using taxpayer resources to participate in a political campaign.

Olens’ letter only addressed only school boards, not the actions by supporters of the amendment, which he said he was not asked to address. Some legislators have been active in supporting the amendment, and Gov. Nathan Deal has endorsed it in public speeches.

“Some questions, like whether certain groups have broken the law, I can’t answer because they are fact-intensive questions, and I don’t have the facts,” Olens said. “I’m not going to get into answering hypothetical questions about what does and doesn’t violate the law when I have an active matter on the issue.”

The MARTA Board voted to hire Keith Parker, currently head of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio as the next General Manager.

Board Chairman Fred Daniels said the board would be negotiating a contract with Keith Parker, who is currently the chief of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio.

Daniels noted that Parker was coming from a politically conservative area. He hoped that would serve Parker well in negotiations with Georgia’s GOP-dominated Legislature, which provides no funding for MARTA, if the Legislature “gives him a chance.”

“He has worked well with both the business community and the political community,” Daniels said. “He has a track record in San Antonio of working with both Republicans and Democrats. Same thing in Charlotte.”

Not having such a good relationship with Republicans is the MARTA Board itself, who rejected the advice of State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-City of Brookhaven), Chairs of the legislature’s MARTA Oversight Committee.

In choosing Parker, MARTA’s board of directors rejected an internal candidate who had been favored by state Rep. Mike Jacobs.

“The decision the MARTA Board makes … may well determine in the very near term the direction of its relationship with the General Assembly. An internal candidate who is committed to doing the work that needs to be done to get MARTA’s fiscal ship righted could go a long way to shoring up and bolstering the relationship with the General Assembly.”

Parker was selected by a unanimous vote of 9-0, with one abstention – board member Wendy Butler. Butler served as Jacobs’ campaign manager in his 2010 bid for reelection to the state House, according to her vita on linkedin.com.

And then the MARTA Board poked the legislature with a stick by allegedly violating the state’s Open Meetings law.

In a complaint filed with the state attorney general, Republican State Representative Mike Jacobs of Atlanta is alleging MARTA’s search chair requested final decisions from each board member via emails dating back to September 13th.

Hollie Manheimer of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation says the email correspondence appears to meet the definition of a vote.

“When you go from one person to the next looking for some kind of consensus, that gets awfully close to the definition of a vote,” said Manheimer.

“Historically the AG [attorney general] has always said things like a rolling or walking quorum are violations of the law and I would very much expect Mr. Olens to keep on with that interpretation.”

But Holland & Knight attorney Robert Highsmith, who is representing the MARTA board, says the emails don’t break state law.

“If members want to inquire with each other how they intend to vote in a future meeting, that’s perfectly permissible and if the public wants to review those emails they are permitted to do so under the Open Records Act.”

If you’ve always wondered what Robert Highsmith sounds like, you can hear him in the WABE piece online yet again insisting his client did no wrong, or covering CCR’s “Around the Bend.”

The Georgia Lottery Board appears to be doing better in its search for a new Lottery President:

Debbie Dlugolenski Alford, who heads the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget and serves on the Lottery Board, is expected to replace Margaret DeFrancisco as president of one of the country’s most successful lotteries.

Fulton County Commissioners may want to work on their “people skills” as they may have to deal directly with state legislators after rejecting contracts for state and federal lobbyists.

In past sessions of the General Assembly, Fulton has spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to push back against Republican efforts to restructure the county’s government or to allow the northern cities to break off into a new Milton County.

For the session that opens in January, state Rep. Lynne Riley, R-Johns Creek, is expected to push for a tax cap that could see county taxes go down. House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, who represents Buckhead, wants city governments to take over some county services — possibly libraries and senior centers — which could strain city governments that have their own tax caps and can’t raise taxes without referendums.

The lobbyist proposals ran into trouble Wednesday when Commissioner Robb Pitts accused county staffers of manipulating the bid process so that the spouse of the county’s current hired lobbyist would get the $160,0000 state-level contract. He called the proposed $85,000 federal contract “wasteful and useless,” and Vice Chairwoman Emma Darnell questioned why the county should pay a firm to communicate with members of Congress whom she bumps into in the grocery store.

Questions were raised about why the county should pay for outside lobbying firms when it also has an in-house Intergovernmental Affairs Division that’s spending more than $600,000 this year. It’s also part of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which lobbies for the state’s counties.

Click HereMarietta Daily Journal interviewed Cobb County legislators about the renewal of the hospital bed tax. Here’s the MDJ’s tally so far:

Senator Judson Hill (R) No
State Rep. Ed Setzler (R) No
State Rep. Don Parsons (R) Probable Yes
State Rep. Rich Golick (R) Undecided
State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R) leaning No
State Rep. Sam Teasley (R) leaning No
State Rep. Elect Charles Gregory (R) leaning No
State Rep. Matt Dollar (R) Undecided

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Dorothy Robinson retires at the end of December after 40 years on the bench.

Georgia Polling Report

At noon today, we’ll release results of a poll of Georgia voters taken last night on the Presidential election. Stay tuned to the website. Media members working on deadline can email me for advance copies.

Mitt Romney was the clear winner of Wednesday night’s Presidential debate, according to polls of debate watchers. Also according to Mitt Romney.

CBS News, which as in past elections and presidential addresses used the GfK’s KnowledgePanel representative Internet panel to interview 523 uncommitted voters who watched the debate (with a reported margin of error of +/- 4 percent). Its sample included voters who were either totally undecided before the debate or who were leaning to a candidate, but said they may still change their minds.

Respondents were unambiguous about who won. By a 46 percent to 22 percent margin, the poll’s uncommitted voters said they thought Romney won. After the debate, 56 percent said they had a better opinion of Romney, 11 percent had a worse opinion and 32 percent reported their opinion was unchanged.

CNN, which polled 430 adults who watched the debate and who had agreed to be interviewed after participating in an earlier CNN poll, also found clear evidence of a Romney victory. The survey found that 67 percent thought Romney won the debate, while only 25 percent said they thought Obama won. Thirty-five percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for Romney after watching the debate, 18 percent for Obama and 47 percent said neither.

Democracy Corps, a Democratic firm, conducted a debate group with Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, with 45 independent voters in Denver. Among the group, 42 percent said Romney won, while 20 percent thought Obama won, and 38 percent said neither candidate did. One-third said they were likely to vote for Obama, compared with 31 percent before the debate. Forty-four percent said they backed Romney, up from 27 percent pre-debate.

Nate Silver says the real impact of the debate won’t be seen in polls yet.

It’s just too soon answer the question of what impact Wednesday night’s debate in Denver, which instant-reaction polls judged to be a clear win for Mitt Romney, will have on the head-to-head polls.

For the time being, a better approach to estimate Mr. Romney’s post-debate bounce may be to compare the historical relationshipbetween instant-reaction polls of the debate with their eventual effect on the horse-race numbers. That technique would estimate Mr. Romney gaining a net of 2.2 percentage points on Mr. Obama. But this calculation has a margin of error as well — about 3.5 percentage points in estimating the change in the margin between the candidates.

The most likely range of outcomes, however, is Mr. Romney gaining from one and four points on Mr. Obama once the effects of the debate are fully accounted for.

Of course, there is a huge difference depending on where Mr. Romney might fall within that range. If he adds four points, the race will be very nearly tied.

If he gains just one point, conversely, the situation will look rather poor for him: he’ll have had what was almost certainly the best night of his campaign, and not gotten very much out of it.

The National Election Pool, which does exit polling for the AP and major television networks will not survey Georgia voters on November 6th. Georgia is one of 19 states that are excluded.

Voters in the excluded states will still be interviewed as part of a national exit poll, but state-level estimates of the partisan, age or racial makeups of electorates won’t be available as they have been since 1992. The lack of data may hamper election night analyses in some states, and it will almost certainly limit post-election research for years to come.

A growing number of voters casting early ballots has added to the complexity of carrying out surveys in 50 states, the District of Columbia and nationally. In more and more states it has become crucial to supplement in-person precinct polling with relatively costly telephone interviews in order to achieve representative samples.

This year, exit pollsters are set to carry out phone polls in 15 states, about half of all states covered, and increase the sample sizes of those polls by 32 percent, according to Merkle. Moreover, the continued rise in the number of voters using cellphones also bumps up the price of phone surveys, another challenge motivating the changes for 2012.

Here is a list of the states that will be excluded from coverage: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Comparing this list with the election map, reveals how carefully the exit poll planners allocated resources. All 19 of the states with no exit polls are classified as either “solid Obama” or “solid Romney,” and there is only one “toss-up” gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race not on the list: the competitive North Dakota match-up of Heidi Heitkamp and Rick Berg.

The National Election Pool still plans to use phone polling in those states in which it will not be exit polling.

If you’re completely obsessed with interested in polling, you might be interested in my thoughts on weighting, a statistical practice that has come under fire as a source of perceived bias against Republicans by mainstream media polls.