Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 22, 2013

Gerald Jones Volkswagen-Audi in Augusta, Georgia has partnered with L.E.A.S.H. Rescue and will become a drop-off point for donations of dog food, toys and other materials, as well as holding adoption events. In honor of the partnership, today’s dogs are both from L.E.A.S.H. rescue.

LEASH_Caine

 

Caine, above, is one of five dogs who came in together and he will be available for adoption soon after he is neutered. His brother, Abel, (below),will also need a home soon, and they are available separately or together. For more information, visit L.E.A.S.H. on Facebook or email them. If you’re not in the Augusta area, you can donate online.

LEASH_Abel

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Georgia Right to Life will hold “Together for Life 2013” at the steps of the State Capitol today, beginning at 11:30 AM. Former State Rep. Doug McKillip will deliver the keynote address, and the group will walk silently as a memorial.

The Georgia General Assembly will hold Joint Budget Hearings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in Room 341 of the State Capitol and convenes again on Monday, January 28th, 2013.

The agenda for the Joint Budget Hearings is available by clicking here.

Governor Deal is expected to address today’s joint budget hearing at 10:30 AM. Also addressing today’s hearing will be state fiscal economist Kenneth Heaghney, the Department of Education, the University System of Georgia, the Technical College System of Georgia, the Department of Early Care and Learning, the Student Finance Commission and the Secretary of State’s Office.

Wednesday’s budget hearing will include the Departments of Correction, Juvenile Justice, Transportation, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Labor and Economic Development.

On Thursday, the joint committees will hear the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, Public Health, Revenue and the Office of Planning and Budget.

Former State Senator Chip Rogers will be paid $150,000 per year at his new job at Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Former state Sen. Chip Rogers will start his new job Tuesday earning a lofty $150,000 – making him the seventh executive at Georgia Public Broadcasting earning six-figures annually, despite a rather pedestrian title: Executive producer, community jobs program.

The position, like others at GPB, is paid solely through state taxpayers’ money. But it is more than Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle each make in their public jobs.

And it is more than what some of Rogers’ new colleagues made in the last fiscal year, including GBP’s vice president for radio and its chief information officer.

What are the odds of Rogers providing color commentary if horse racing is passed in the legislature?

The State Auditor reports that most Georgia tax breaks go to individual citizens rather than large companies.

Tax collections so far this fiscal year are coming in below the projected rate, prompting Deal to order all state agencies – except K-12 education – to trim 3 percent from their spending. At the same time, costs for Medicaid are more than $300 million over budget already this year, not counting a nearly $700 million hole that would be left in the budget if the hospital tax isn’t extended.

Legislative budget writers started requiring governors in recent years to submit a document called the Tax Expenditure Report that estimates how much each tax break leaves in the private economy and out of the government’s use.

“Although not direct government expenditures, tax expenditures represent an allocation of government resources in the form of taxes that could have been collected (and appropriated) if not for their preferential tax treatment,” State Auditor Greg Griffin wrote in his letter delivering the report.

The largest tax breaks is the so-called personal exemption from individual income taxes representing $1 billion. Exemptions for retirement income, $697 million, Social Security, $140 million, and credit for taxes paid to other states, $185 million, are also among the largest ways private Georgians keep from forking more over to the government.

Exemptions from the sales tax also benefit individuals, including $509 million on food, $423 million for prescriptions, $171 million on lottery tickets and $8 million on school lunches. The sales-tax holidays that temporarily exempt school supplies save another $41 million.

Some business tax breaks are due to expire this year. A break on seed, fertilizer and farm chemicals that ended Jan. 1 totaled $150 in the last fiscal year. The exemption of certain machinery used in the manufacturing of consumer items expired the same time and amounted to $175 million last year.

One due to expire in June is the sales tax exemption for airplane engine-repair parts worth $7 million last year. It’s being pushed by companies like Gulfstream Aerospace which argues jobs would be lost if airplane customers took their business to states that don’t charge the tax.

The City of Atlanta will ask the legislature for a number of changes to existing law in order to help it with budget issues.

The city of Atlanta’s legislative wish-list for the 2013 General Assembly includes changes in state law that would allow the city to increase taxes on alcohol, sell condemned and blighted property to private parties, designate sales tax revenue disbursements by tenths of a cent rather than a full penny, and charge the public school system for the cost of running school board elections.

One proposal — such as slicing penny sales taxes into smaller increments of one-tenth of a percent, which could go to different purposes — is similar to those pushed this year by Cobb County.

A sales tax levied in Atlanta at a tenth of a percentage point could generate about $11 million or $12 million in revenue per year.

Yolanda Adrean, who represents northwest Atlanta on the City Council, said the proposal would provide municipalities with much-needed flexibility.

“If a penny of tax could be split between more than one priority, it could allow the city to move on some very crucial needs,” Adrean said. “I’m not suggesting that we add a penny of sales tax. In a time where there’s a great deal of sensitivity to how much you’re taxed and where that money goes, this gets everyone focused. There are lots of pressing needs that are not getting funded.”

As for the similar fractional-tax measure for Cobb County,

State Rep. John Carson (R-Northeast Cobb) told Around Town on Thursday that he would introduce a bill, possibly as soon as this week, that would pave the way for such special local option sales taxes, also known as “fractional SPLOSTs.” The tax would be charged increments of a twentieth of 1 percent, if passed. At present the sales tax can only levied in increments of 1 percent, although receipts from that 1 percent are often divided among several jurisdictions.

In theory, they also would prevent situations in which a governing body, knowing that a full penny SPLOST would raise X amount of dollars, proceeds to inflate its SPLOST-project list in order to match the expected revenues.

The concept has the backing of Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee.

Carson’s bill would apply statewide and allow counties and cities to charge less than a full 1 percent sales tax. A similar bill is soon to be introduced in the state Senate, said Sen. Judson Hill (R-East Cobb).

Senator Lindsey Tippins (R-West Cobb) told Around Town the Cobb School District has approached him in the past about introducing legislation for partial-penny SPLOSTs.

If approved by the Legislature, voters would then have to approve a constitutional amendment before the tax could be levied on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.

“I have told them I feel like you can accomplish the same thing by doing a SPLOST for a specified number of months based on what your true need is and make a promise to the voters that you won’t go back to them for five years for another tax,” Tippins said. “So if you need to collect 60 cents on the dollar, you could collect it for three years and promise not to go back for five.”

“Now obviously the action of that board would not be legally binding on a subsequent board, but whoever wanted to go back and change that would be facing political suicide, so in actuality you could bind the board so if anybody on the school board says ‘We want to do a partial penny,’ we can accomplish the same thing without a constitutional amendment.”

Separately, Senator Tippins told the MDJ that he voted for the Hospital Bed Tax because it was the “lesser of two evils.”

Tippins said the alternative to levying the tax is forgoing federal matching funds and paying for Medicaid services through the state budget.

“So you’d be taking another $700 million out of existing state funding, and that would come from other agencies,” Tippins said. “You’re going to be hitting education very, very strongly, and all the other good services that the state provides. The reality is that money would have to come from somewhere because the state in their agreement to access the federal stimulus money cannot change the delivery pattern for Medicaid until 2014, so we’re locked in under the same eligibility and also under the same payment program.”

Fulton County’s next budget may include furloughs for lawyers and less funding for libraries.

Fulton’s countywide property tax rate has declined over the last decade, and most residents won’t see an increase this year. Under the proposed budget, residents of unincorporated South Fulton would see a 19 percent property tax increase to pay for police, fire and other municipal services. That would cost the owner of a $200,000 an extra $100 a year.

Fulton County would trim spending in its general fund – which pays for countywide services like courts, libraries and elections – 2 percent this year under the proposed $569.4 million budget.

Among other things, proposed cuts would lead to reduced library hours and spending for various social service programs. At a public hearing earlier this month, more than 60 people – many of them senior citizens – urged commissioners to restore funding for various programs.

DeKalb County will likely raise property taxes, its favorite method of balancing its budget.

As a result of declining property tax revenue and the incorporation of the city of Brookhaven, commissioners will have to consider spending cuts or a potential property tax rate increase proposed by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis. The 1.9 percent millage rate increase would cost almost $49 dollars more a year for owners of a $200,000 home.

In December, Ellis proposed a more than $562 million dollar budget. In addition to a potential millage rate increase, the budget calls for a three percent cost of living adjustment for DeKalb County’s lowest paid workers, 25 additional police officers and maintaining $30 million dollars in reserve funding. Commissioners will have until the end of February to adopt the budget.

After serving two four-year terms on the Judicial Qualifications Commission, Jack Winter, who also is a former Chairman of the Fulton County GOP, will rotate off the Board. Governor Nathan Deal named Richard Hyde, whose investigations have led to a number of JQC actions and judicial resignations, as Winter’s replacement.

The Fulton County Republican Party named Mary Norwood as its appointee to the Fulton Board of Elections.

The President of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, supports the resolution by Senator Barry Loudermilk expressing regret at the state’s history of slavery.

Georgia Carry is challenging local regulations on the carrying of guns via handwritten letters.

Handwritten letters, dated Jan. 18, from James Camp of Temple, a GeorgiaCarry.org founder and recent state Senate candidate, were hand-delivered to Carrollton Mayor Wayne Garner and Carroll County Commission Chairman Marty Smith.

In the letter to Garner, Camp challenges a city ordinance prohibiting firearms on the GreenBelt trail and another which says firearms cannot be carried by parade participants.

The letter to Smith challenges a county ordinance which says the commission chairman, in times of local disasters or emergencies, can suspend the sale, distribution, dispensing or transportation of firearms, alcoholic beverages, explosives and combustible products and can close businesses which sell them.

Sure enough, after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote about inconsistencies in the list of banned vanity tags, two lawyers are suing on First Amendment grounds after their client’s choices, which included GAYPWR, were rejected. Surely a Miata would convey  that message clearly enough.

Georgia Republican Convention Cycle 2013

Rachel Little has released a list of endorsements in her bid for Chair of the Gwinnett County Republican Party that includes Congressman Rep. Austin Scott, State Rep. Tom Kirby, the GOP chairs of Muscogee, Rockdale, Newton, Bibb and Barrow counties, and former Gwinnett GOP chair Chuck Efstration.

Joseph Brannan, who was recently elected Chairman of the Second District Georgia Republican Party, will run for election to a full term.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 17, 2012

E
MurrayBlackLab

This ten-month old black-and-brindle lab mix will be euthanized at 1 AM Friday if no one steps up to foster or rescue him. Volunteers with the Murray County Animal Shelter says that while he has sad eyes, he’s a happy, calm, and gentle dog who will make a great pet. Transportation is available for this guy or any other dog at Murray County. The $115 adoption fee covers the cost for vetting, shots, heartworm check, and neutering. If you’re interested in fostering, the Shelter has several rescues it works with to facilitate foster homes. Email Lisa Hester or call 770-441-0329 if you can help.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

The National Republican Congressional Committee will continue to play Elmer Fudd to Georgia Democratic Congressman John Barrow’s Bugs Bunny, announcing yet again that they’re hunting wabbits targeting Barrow. Occasional Georgia resident Rob Simms, recently named Political Director for the NRCC, may have a better chance of catching the wascal beating Barrow.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has subpoenaed five Fulton County Elections Board officials to appear before a State Elections Board investigation into mishaps in last year’s voting and requested production of documents.

He says he had no choice.“I felt like we were not getting the type of cooperation we needed in getting documents that we needed to be ready for the hearing.”

Josh McKoon GaPundit Ethics Video

Senator Josh McKoon took a few minutes to discuss the Senate Rules, specifically the limitation on who can file a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee and what voters who feel shut out from filing a complaint can do. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Congratulations to Judge Carla Wong McMillian on her appointment by Governor Nathan Deal to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Judge McMillian, who served on the Fayette County State Court, is the first Asian-American judge on the state’s appellate court.

On Wednesday, January 23d, members of the state judiciary will be presenting their budget requests to the General Assembly.

The House Judiciary (Non-Civil) Committee will meet Friday, January 18th from 9:30 to 11 AM in Room 132 of the Capitol.

When the Georgia Senate convenes today for the Fourth Legislative Day, the first and only bill on the calendar will be Senate Bill 24, which delegates to the Department of Community Health the power to levy the so-called hospital bed tax.

Gov. Nathan Deal urged the quick passage of a Medicaid funding plan that would spare legislators from raising taxes and instead allow a state agency to fill the gaping hole in Georgia’s budget.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston on Wednesday also endorsed the governor’s plan to extend the 2-year-old funding mechanism, known as the “bed tax,” despite criticism from conservatives who oppose tax increases. The plan is expected to reach a Senate vote Thursday, and House lawmakers could debate it later this month.

Yesterday, Governor Nathan Deal presented his legislative agenda to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues Breakfast.

We have had one of the best years of economic development in quite some time. A few notable companies that have chosen Georgia include Baxter, General Motors, and Caterpillar, along with numerous others. We did this with your help, with both the private and the public sector doing their parts!

As governor, my goal is to see Georgia become the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business. I have made that clear from the beginning, because I believe that is the best path to economic growth and the quickest way to get Georgians into jobs.  And we are not all that far off from reaching our target: For two years in a row, we have ranked in the top five for business climate by Site Selection Magazine, and we ranked No. 3 for doing business in 2012 by Area Development Magazine. But we certainly still have some hurdles that we must overcome before we get there.

This morning I will focus my remarks on one of the highest hurdles facing state government, that of healthcare.

Right now, the federal government pays a little under 66 cents for every dollar of Medicaid expenditure, leaving the state with the remaining 34 cents per dollar, which in 2012 amounted to $2.5B as the state share.
For the past three years, hospitals have been contributing their part to help generate funds to pay for medical costs of the Medicaid program. Every dollar they have given has essentially resulted in two additional dollars from the federal government that in part can be used to increase Medicaid payments to the hospitals. But the time has come to determine whether they will continue their contribution through the provider fee. I have been informed that 10 to 14 hospitals will be faced with possible closure if the provider fee does not continue. These are hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid patients.
I propose giving the Department of Community Health board authority over the hospital provider fee, with the stipulation that reauthorization be required every four years by legislation.
Of course, these fees are not new. In fact, we are one of 47 states that have either a nursing home or hospital provider fee—or both. It makes sense to me that, in Georgia, given the similarity of these two fees, we should house the authority and management of both of them under one roof for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Sometimes it feels like when we have nearly conquered all of our hurdles, the federal government begins to place even more hurdles in our path.
Georgians who have already received a paycheck this January have no doubt noticed that their payroll taxes went up and their take-home salary went down. This is the cost of entitlements. If you think your taxes went up a lot this month, just wait till we have to pay for “free health care.” Free never cost so much.

Governor Deal also mentioned that he has “a tweeter account” as the staffer in charge of social media cringed in the back.

Deal said he will work to ensure that state agencies are cooperating with and fully performing background checks for gun permits as required under federal law.

Best line of the day goes to Georgia Speaker David Ralston, who referred to the Senate’s new gift cap as “more of a sun visor than a cap.”

Speaker Ralston responded to the Senate’s opening bid on ethics reform by repeating that he favors a complete ban.

Ralston says House lawmakers plan to propose a permanent change regarding lobbyist gifts in the near future. Ralston plans to introduce legislation that would include a complete ban on items given by lobbyists.

One of the largest criticisms of the new Senate rule is that there are a number of exceptions. For instance, the law allows lobbyists to give multiple gifts that are $100 or less. It also allows for lobbyists to pay for travel and a number of other expenses related to Senators’ official duties.

Jim Galloway suggests that in exchange for ethics reform today, legislators may seek a pay raise tomorrow when the economy improves.

We need to start paying a decent salary to these 236 lawmakers sent to Atlanta each year.

The idea was considered and ultimately discarded by the alliance of conservatives, liberals and civic-minded pushing this year’s $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.

Newly-minted State Senator Mike Dugan would like to see term limits for state legislators.

Dugan said repeatedly on the campaign trail that he hopes to introduce term limits in the General Assembly. He hopes to work toward this goal in 2013.

“What I’d like is a maximum of 10 years, which is five terms,” Dugan said. “The longest a person can be president is 10 years.

He can assume two years of a predecessor’s term and run for two terms on his own. My thought process is this can’t be more complicated than being president. If we limit that position then I think we can limit these others. There are also term limits on the Georgia governor.”

If 10 years are served, Dugan feels it should be required that a legislator sit out two terms, or four years, before running again.

“The common refrain is that we do have term limits — they are called voters,” said Dugan. “The way campaign contributions are set up now it’s really not that way. The other side is, if you have 10 years to get something done, instead of worrying about getting reelected in perpetuity you will actually make the tough decisions.”

Senator Mike Crane apparently is seeking instead to limit his own effectiveness among his colleagues.

State Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, started the 2013 Georgia General Assembly session off with a bang when he became the most vocal opponent of a set of rules that would restore much of the power that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was stripped of two years ago.

“This may be the end of my political aspirations, but I will never stop fighting for liberty,” Crane said on the Senate floor.

On Tuesday, the second day of the session, Crane reiterated his position.

Crane addressed his colleagues and told them he would bring up the matter each of the remaining 38 days in the legislative session.

“Do you think freedom is at the helm of this body?” he asked.

After Crane’s comments, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, expressed exasperation with his fellow sophomore. Both were elected in special elections to complete terms of men Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to state jobs.

“I think we need to decide if we’re more interested in getting things done or in making a point,” he said, noting that the rule empowering Cagle had already been voted on and was settled.

Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, stood up to add, “I just wanted to say ‘amen’ to what Sen. Wilkinson for what he said.”

State Representative Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia) was elected Chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

“They don’t think that anybody is going to buy into it this year,” said Kay Godwin, a Republican activist from south Georgia. “It’s not the right time, but it’s the right thing to do. We’ve mentioned to everybody that this is the direction that we want to go in. The legislators all agree with us. And the tea party.”

If you get what you pay for, then Georgians should have no reason to complain. They’ve been paying for an army of fry cooks and dishwashers.

The problem is that lawmakers themselves are loathe to raise the pay issue. “I’m not going to vote for an increase in legislative pay when I have school teachers in every district that I represent who are being furloughed,” said state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, the Capitol’s most aggressive proponent of a $100 cap on gifts for lawmakers.

No, livable wages for state lawmakers would have to be an issue taken up by a fellow with plenty of clout and little to lose. A governor in his second term, for instance.

Big wins by the Atlanta Falcons would likely help them make the case for taxpayer funding of a new stadium, according to Governor Deal.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin will serve as a Visiting Professor in Ethics and Political Values at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

House Republicans may begin moving forward on the project of trimming the footprint of Fulton County government, as GOPers now constitute a majority on the Fulton County delegation after redistricting.

Passing legislation that would allow north Fulton to break away to form a new Milton County remains impractical, mainly because the idea’s most powerful advocate, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, has never been able to assemble enough votes.

More doable this year: a reconfiguration of the County Commission that would give north Fulton more input into the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax funds and services for nearly 1 million people.

The Legislature could also beef up the powers of the commission chairman and protect the county manager from being fired without cause, changes that could lessen the circus atmosphere of public meetings.

Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, said such structural changes won’t end the push for secession.

“Maybe lessen the steam,” he said. “Trying to get Milton County has several hurdles that nobody’s figured out how to get around. So in the meantime, let’s make what we have work better.”

The City of Buchanan will put Sunday Sales on the March 19th ballot.

The investigation into possible corruption in DeKalb County is now focussing on six companies that made millions from the County, while CEO Burrell Ellis’s former campaign manager Kevin Ross has also been the target of a seach warrant.

Gwinnett County Chair Charlotte Nash made fighting corruption and restoring the county government’s reputation cornerstones of her State of the County address.

“I am appalled to hear Gwinnett County and corruption mentioned together,” said Nash, who joined the board after a special grand jury’s land investigation led to the public disgrace of two commissioners but faced the issue again when a commissioner pleaded guilty in a federal bribery probe last year. “Wrongdoing by leaders hurts the community, breaks the public trust and embarrasses all of those who call Gwinnett home.”

Nash pointed to changes in the county’s ethics and land purchase laws during her time in office, but said commissioners will keep working to restore trust with citizens.

“We know that we’ll have to work hard to overcome this, and we’ve taken steps to do just that,” she said. “Ultimately, it will be our behavior over time that will help us regain the community’s trust.”

This year, she said, the board will continue to try to restore public trust by hosting town hall meetings. Plus, commissioners approved a new lead investigator for the district attorney’s office, added specifically to root out corruption among public officials. She also noted the new non-profit entity created to keep public dollars separate and transparent in the Partnerhips Gwinnett economic development initiative.

An historic reduction in crime statistics in Savannah may be the result of cooked books rather than better enforcement, according to some Aldermen.

Alderman Tony Thomas, saying he had at least six constituent complaints to support his claim, leveled that allegation during Tuesday’s annual City Council retreat.

“I do not think the picture is as rosy as has been painted,” Thomas said. “We need to paint a real picture of what’s going on in this community.”

Mayor Pro Tem Van Johnson said he has received similar complaints about officers trying to dissuade citizens from filing reports or complaints about officers who are slow to respond.

“They are under tremendous pressure to bring statistics down,” Johnson said.

Casey Cagle a winner from Senate Leadership elections

From Sarah Mueller of the Gainesville Times:

A change of leadership among state Senate Republicans may mean more power for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and lead to more influence for a local senator in the upcoming 2013 session.

The Republican Senate caucus will meet Dec. 15 to decide what responsibilities Cagle will assume in addition to his official duties as president of the Senate.

Cagle had broad powers in 2006, but Senate leaders relieved him of many responsibilities in 2010. With those revolutionary leaders remaining in the Senate but out of the top positions, friends such as Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, may help the second-highest elected official in the state regain some power.

Charles S. Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia, said he thinks Cagle will get some of his power back but not all of it.

“He won’t be just a figurehead,” Bullock said. “But he won’t have the power of his first term or historically.”

The Republican Senate caucus met Nov. 15 to elect leadership positions for the next term, choosing Sen. David Shafer of Duluth as president pro tem and Sen. Ronnie Chance of Tyrone, the governor’s floor leader, as majority leader. Miller was elected caucus chairman.

Miller said he was grateful and encouraged that he was the choice of his fellow colleagues. The caucus chairman for each party helps determine what bills reach the floor and helps directs the caucus on the bills and issues they’ll take up.

“Primarily I will run the meetings and try to keep order and productivity,” he said.

Issues likely to come up next year include water issues, ethics, education, health care and the state budget, Miller said.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November19, 2012

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

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

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Senate Republicans did make changes to their leaders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Senate Democrats will meet today to elect their leadership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 25, 2012

Cobb County Friends of Shelter Animals is raising funds to export 16 dogs to Minnesota, where apparently there’s a shortage of adoptable animals. Online donations are processed through Dogs on Death Row, who is matching all donations. It’s a dogpocalypse out there in the shelters, where most facilities are packed and receiving more animals every day. The only way to accomodate the influx is through aggressive euthanasia.

Gucci is a little lab mix puppy who is available for rescue or adoption from the Floyd County Animal Shelter in Rome. He should be considered in urgent need.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Robert Draper has written a long article in The Atlantic about redistricting that will be of interest to a broad audience, from those for whom it will be “Redistricting 101” to those who have been in the trenches, drawing maps with crayons on the back of an envelope, or with Maptitude. Draper was also interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air about his article, and it’s a good listen.

Redistricing led to some of the problems in Fulton County voting during the primary elections, including a precinct that reported 3300% turnout. Also a possible problem? An Elections director who thought he could serve ten days in jail without anyone noticing.

Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections has accepted the resignation of its embattled department director, Sam Westmoreland.

At a special-called meeting Monday where Westmoreland was expected to be terminated, the 5-member board deliberated in closed session for about 45 minutes before voting unanimously to accept his resignation. He sent his resignation letter Saturday while incarcerated at the Alpharetta jail.

Westmoreland just finished a 10-day stint for violating probation on a 2009 DUI charge, and he’s now awaiting transfer to the Laurens County jail, in middle Georgia, for failing to show up for court after a 2008 DUI there.

“After much reflection,” Westmoreland’s letter says, “I believe it is in the department’s best interest to have a leader that enjoys the full support of this board as we move forward toward this important general election.”

Several board members have said they were unaware their director had to serve time in jail until Sept. 19, five days into his incarceration [emphasis added]. Edmond said they knew he had received a Fulton County DUI, but thought his sentencing was complete. The board only learned of the Laurens County case last week, the chairman said.

According to the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, a warrant was issued for Westmoreland’s arrest after he failed to appear in court there on Sept. 10 in connection with a Sept. 15, 2008, DUI charge in that county, also involving drugs.

Two pro-tips here: first, if you think you can get away with being absent from work for ten days without explanation, either your supervisors may be letting you get away with too much or you’ve already given up; second, if you fax in your resignation from jail, you can bet it will be accepted post haste.

Dennis O’Hayer has an interview with Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts about what kind of foulups issues we may look forward to in the General Election.

“I’m more confident today than I was last week, because of the actions that the  [Elections] Board took today, specifically bringing in an interim [director] and agreeing to bring in some outside consultants….and we will be taking advantage of the Secretary of State’s offer to help us.”

The AJC has more about the impending train wreck:

staffers will be adjusting to new leadership and directives as early voting begins Oct. 15. Fulton County has a recent history of elections difficulties and is currently part of nine open investigations by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Georgia’s largest county, Fulton includes nearly 10 percent of the state population. Election problems in Fulton could affect the Obama-Romney race, casting the state and county in a negative light worldwide.

Fulton drew heat in the Obama-McCain election four years ago, when the office’s absentee ballot processing went so slow that the county had to hire FedEx to ship nearly 4,000 ballots to voters overnight, costing more than $300,000.

Then, after closing the polls, workers spent 53 hours in a warehouse counting absentee and provisional ballots. At the time, the results of a U.S. Senate race hung in the balance.

“Regardless of this unfortunate circumstance,” Secretary of State Brian Kemp said in a written statement, “Fulton County still has a legal obligation to provide safe and secure elections. Our office will work with them as closely as possible to make sure this takes place on Nov. 6.”

Serious policy proposal here for the General Assembly: consider whether there should be a mechanism for the Governor or Secretary of State to either suspend or remove local Elections Board members and administer elections where there is a history of botched voting administration and a reasonable basis to suspect the next election will be compromised.

Particularly topical given the issues in Fulton is a book signing tomorrow, September 26, 2012 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM, with former member of the Federal Election Commission Hans von Spakovsky and his new book, Who’s Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, at Capital Grille in Buckhead, located at 255 E. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305.

Hans von Spakovsky is a former Chairman of the Fulton County Republican Party and served on the Fulton County Elections Board. He is a graduate of the Coverdell Leadership Institute and currently serves at the Heritage Foundation as Senior Legal Fellow, where he manages the Civil Justice Reform Initiative. Please R.s.v.p. to Kathryn Gartland.

Chalk one up for Georgia Republican Party Chairman Sue Everhart. Last week she called the Obama campaign’s print of a flag with the Obama campaign logo “utterly disrespectful and outrageous.” The Democrats called her and the GOP hypocrites

“I think this is desecration, just like over in Egypt and these places that are burning our flag, stomping on the flag.  This is a symbol of our country,” Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart told Channel 2’s Lori Geary.

The Obama campaign is selling its print for $35.

“If ever a time we should be flying old glory is now, not coming up with some sales pitch to sell the Obama flag. Does he think he is the most important thing that has ever happened to the United States of America?  I’m going to start calling him ‘King Obama’ instead of ‘President Obama,’” Everhart said.

She has called on Democrats to denounce the campaign print.

Georgia Democratic Chairman Mike Berlon said….“I think it’s a little bit disingenuous to stand up and beat your chest and say, ‘Oh my God, this is an abomination,’ when the Republican Party has been doing it for years.”

But over the weekend, the flag print disappeared from the Obama campaign website.

A page where the flag was now returns an error page. A cached version of the website still shows the product but returns a error page when attempting to add the item to the cart. An Obama campaign aide says the item quickly sold out and that sold out items are automatically removed. However, a similar item to the flag print that was also sold out was not automatically removed and appears on the site with “out of stock” below it.

Former Dougasville Mayor Mickey Thompson has been indicted for 91 counts of theft, in an indictment alleging he took more than $28,000 in payments for the city for meetings he did not attend or for which he was not entitled to payment.

As a result of the [Douglas County] Sentinel investigation, we asked the GBI to investigate and that is what I presented to the grand jury,” [District Attorney David] McDade said. “He had submitted meetings and received payments for 91 meetings that he was not entitled to under city ordinance. The way it was set up, he was the sole arbiter in deciding what was paid and what wasn’t.”

McDade said that the meetings ranged from ribbon cuttings, luncheons, bus tours, swearings in of other officials and phone meetings that are not allowed by city statute.

Unlike every municipality with a similar population in the metro area, where a straight salary is paid to elected officials, the mayor and council members in Douglasville are compensated based on meeting attendance. Council members are paid $125 per meeting, with the mayor receiving $313 per meeting. The ordinance gives a very specific list of meetings that are eligible for payment. In addition to paying by roll call, elected officials can also turn in meetings that they have attended as an invoice for payment.

That ordinance was enacted in 1997 and clarified in 2007 and a provision that reads “In Sections One, Two, Three and Four, ‘attended’ means the elected official’s personal physical presence at more than half the duration of a particular meeting or session; ‘attended’ does not mean or include participation via electronic means.”

The GBI report found Thompson asked for and received payments for 91 meetings since 2007 that did not appear to be appropriate for payment under city statute. Many of those meetings were tele-conferences, that clearly do not fit criteria for payment.

The probe also found that every Douglasville elected official with the exception of current Douglasville Mayor Harvey Persons was paid for and kept payments for meetings that did not fit the city’s defined criteria. The payments ranged from one meeting for one current council member, to more than 20 for others, meaning that council members received from $125 to $2,500 they were not entitled to under the law that they were sworn to uphold.

The council members were not indicted because some had been told to submit anything that could possibly be a meeting and a determination would be made on payment. Others didn’t turn in the “illegal meetings” but were paid improperly nonetheless.

Mike Miller was locked in a tight primary race with Bob Snelling and Thompson for the newly created GOP House District 66 seat. He agreed that even allegations cause distrust, but stressed that these are allegations.

“Its kind of an interesting set of circumstances,” Miller said. “We put this to the voters because our campaign was aware of the situation with Thompson in the primaries and we believed it was important for our constituents to know. But as a lawyer, it’s important to trust our criminal justice system. That holds that those who are accused are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

You might recall that the Republican primary election saw some nastiness between Thompson and Miller; former State Rep. Bob Snelling won the primary runoff against Miller.

The Douglas County Sentinel, which broke the story, opines that the City should be reimbursed for all incorrect payments made to officials, and fix the goofy “pay per meeting” system.

Speaking of ethics, Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign is seeking attorney fees from George Anderson, who filed ethics complaints against Deal

On Sept. 20, Governor Nathan Deal filed for attorney’s fees against George Anderson, claiming that Anderson “filed unsubstantiated, as well as, frivolous accusations concerning payments to Southern Magnolia LLC, alleging kickbacks to Respondent, untrue allegations of personal profit from campaign funds, as well as, allegations regarding good friend and appointee Patrick Millsaps to the State Ethics Commission.”

Local businessman and concerned Gwinnett County resident Kenneth Stepp believes the complaint and others like it are indeed frivolous, and take up taxpayer money and time in the courts. He has launched a nonprofit called Gwinnett Ethics in response to what he sees as a series of frivolous ethics complaints by Ethics in Government Director George Anderson and others like him.

Stepp’s nonprofit is pursuing a change in law that would require an “under oath” amendment. The proposed amendment would require those who file ethics complaints to divulge who, if anyone, is paying them.

I guess we’ll file this one under “Ethics” too. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle says Republicans don’t have to cheat to win in November.

Members of the state Senate Republican Caucus and some of their very best friends will spend two days in Adairsville this week to play golf and display their expertise with shotguns.

One can pay $500 for a dinner-time chat, but the main events on Wednesday and Thursday are open only to those willing to give $2,500 to $10,000 to the caucus’ campaign arm, the Georgia Republican Senatorial Trust.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has sent an email to Republicans to inform them, in very strong language, that he’s not going.

He has problems with the way $140,000 of caucus money was handed to an allegedly independent committee – based in North Carolina – to defend GOP senators from primary challengers this summer.

But most specifically at issue is the Trust’s decision earlier this year to put its cash in the hands of the independent political committee.

In a July email to their fellow senators, three Republican senate leaders – Rogers, Bill Cowsert of Athens, and Greg Goggans of Douglas – explained that they had given the committee not just the cash, but the message to voters that they wanted delivered, and a list of the incumbents to be protected.

“This is completely legal and does not violate any finance campaign laws,” the three wrote.

Cagle apparently thinks that there’s a high probability that they’re wrong.

In a surprise to no one, campaign signs are being stolen everywhere in Thomas County.

Did you hear the one about when the Savannah City Council tried to hold an illegal meeting  but messed up and inadvertantly complied with the law?

SAVANNAH CITY Council got lucky last week. Each of its members could have been nailed with up to $6,000 in fines if state officials determined that the local group violated Georgia’s open meetings law on Sept. 2

But because one council member was late in arriving on that date, a quorum wasn’t present. Hence, no technical violation occurred, according to the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

Yet that Sept. 20 finding from the state is of little comfort. Just because city officials attempted to hold an illegal meeting, and failed, is inexcusable considering City Hall’s history.

And it hardly “affirmed” the city’s actions on that date, as City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter spelled it out in plain language in his Sept. 20 letter to Ms. Small-Toney. “From this Office’s review of the materials provided by Mayor Jackson, it is evident that an attempt was made to hold a meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act, since a meeting was called without notice or an agenda and without making it open to the general public.

“Were this meeting to have occurred, it would have been a serious violation of the Act, potentially subjecting the City, yourself, and the council members to fines up to $6,000. It would also have been a substantial breach of the public trust, since the public and the press rely on transparency in government to know what their officials are doing.”

He stated the attorney general’s office was willing to accept the city’s claim that, though five council members attended, they were not all in the room at the same time. “Thus, under the circumstances, an illegal meeting was narrowly averted only by happenstance, not by plan,” Mr. Ritter wrote.

A group of solar advocates and vendors has proposed a solar utility that would set up a solar farm and sell electricity directly to end users via the interstate electrical grid.

To proceed with its long-range plan of developing 2 gigawatts of solar power, the start-up, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., wants to start by building an 80-megawatt “solar farm” near Milledgeville as soon as it gets a green light from the Georgia Public Service Commission.

“There are obstacles. There’s no question there are obstacles, but you have to look at the rewards,” GaSU President Robert E. Green said at a Capitol news conference. “We don’t know what it’s going to take, but we are prepared to go through legislative action if necessary.”

Legislative action is indeed likely to be necessary, according to observers. A 40-year-old law divides the state up and gives regional monopolies to Georgia Power, the electric-membership cooperatives and nearly 50 cities.

GaSU could build its solar farm without action by the legislature or the PSC, and existing federal law would require Georgia Power to buy its electricity. But it would only pay GaSU an amount equal to what it could buy electricity from its cheapest, wholesale supplier.

The start-up wants instead to sell its electricity directly to retail customers who would be billed by Georgia Power or the other existing utilities, similar to how natural gas is marketed here. GaSU would pay the utilities for the use of their wires in the electric grid and any profits would be shared with customers like a cooperative.

Not mentioned in the article are requirements that electric power producers register with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Commission (“SkyNet”).

Polling Report

Polling analyst Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog was referring to competing polls that showed contradictory findings:

I’d just seen a Marquette University poll of Wisconsin, which put President Obama 14 points ahead of Mitt Romney there. This came after a Rasmussen Reports poll of New Hampshire, published earlier that day, which had given Mitt Romney a three-point lead in the Granite State.

but he could easily have been speaking of the Peach State, where local “pollster” Insider Advantage showed Romney with a 21-point lead over President Obama, while a competing poll by YouGov showed only a 6-point Romney lead.

A little over two weeks ago, we released our own polling on the Charter School Amendment. At the time, we did not include the Presidential Ballot question that we asked in the same survey, but our results at that time were Romney 50.7% to Obama with 42.2%, and Librarian Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson 4.2% and Undecided 2.7%. I’m not convinced that Undecideds are that low, but I think the Romney-Obama matchup is plausible. If you want the question wording or statement of methodology, email me.

So, what’s going on when different “scientific” polls show vastly different results? Silver has one set of plausible explanations.

There are also going to be some outliers — sometimes because of unavoidable statistical variance, sometimes because the polling company has a partisan bias, sometimes because it just doesn’t know what it’s doing. (And sometimes: because of all of the above.)

The San Francisco Chronicle has an article out that discusses factors that may explain differences in polling outcomes.

At this time of year, the difference between poll results can be explained by everything from who is being surveyed (are they “likely” voters or just “registered”) to how many cell phone users (who are generally younger and from more diverse backgrounds) are contacted to how the questions are worded.

And while top pollsters try to adhere to common standards and best practices, there is a lot of room for interpretation in the way each constructs their universe of respondents.

“It’s a mixture of magic and science and research – and there’s more magic now because we have less science to guide our decisions,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon, who is a leading expert in public opinion on same-sex marriage.

They also have suggestions for how to interpret polls, given the variance that is out there.

Consider the respondents: “Likely voters” are more credible, as they’re, well, more likely to vote. “At this point, don’t look at anything from registered voters,” said Oakland pollster Amy Simon. See if the poll includes cell phone users, who tend to be from more diverse backgrounds, younger and more likely to live in urban areas.

Examine the wording of questions: UC Berkeley Professor Gabe Lenz often teaches his students about a poll from the 1970s where 44 percent of Americans said they would not allow a Communist to give a speech, but only 22 percent would “forbid” it. The difference: Many people are often reluctant to sound harsh to a live interviewer, which “forbid” implies.

Treat a pollster like a movie critic: “Pick a poll and follow it,” said Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center. “You can follow its nuances and learn its tendencies.” Others, like Lenz, said peace of mind can be found with those who aggregate the major polls and incorporate them into a trend, like Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog and RealClearPolitics.com

At the end of the day, here’s my recommendation for public consumers of polling data. Take the Olympic scoring approach, where you toss out the highest and lowest numbers, and average the rest based on the sample size. In statistical terms, you’re removing the outliers, and broadening the sample size. That’s not precisely correct, but it’s a pretty good back-of-the-envelope method that might help you make some sense out of competing polls.

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