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.” (more…)

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.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections


Anna is a 49-pound, one-year old Pit mix who illustrates one of the heartbreaks of shelters across Georgia. Because she looks like a dog breed with a bad reputation, she’s much less likely to be adopted. She’s available today from Walton County Animal Shelter. Some shelters have developed a reputation for classifying any dog with a wide snout or any muscularity as a Pit bull and condemning them to death.

There’s something about the second picture of Anna that’s oddly compelling and convinces me she’ll make someone a great new best friend.

The Atlanta Underdog Initiative works on promoting responsible dog ownership, providing breed information on pit bulls and mastiffs, finding alternative solutions to breed specific legislation and working with communities to alleviate the pet overpopulation problem.

Their website also has links to other breed-specific groups that promote responsible ownership and information about these breeds. If you’re considering adopting a dog that is described as a Pit Bull or Pit-mix, a great first step would be talking with owners to learn more about the breeds, its temperment, and needs. I’ve received several emails in the last few days from proud and happy owners of Pit-type dogs, including a gentleman who says he trusts his dog to watch out for his grandkids.

Juno is a lab-mix who is estimated to be about six years old. She loves toys and children and is housetrained and gets along with other dogs. From the photo, I’m guessing she likes getting her belly rubbed. She is available for adoption from the Cherokee County Humane Society. You can email the foster home Juno is in if you have questions about her.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

One year ago today, the State of Georgia marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11/2001 with a solemn ceremony at the State Capitol.

“As a result of the attacks of 9/11, nearly 3,000 people perished, not soldiers on a battlefield, but civilians,” Deal said. “Men and women who had simply gone to work that day in New York City and Arlington, Va., became victims of senseless violence.”

“The tragedy would also claim the lives of many brave firemen, police officers and emergency responders. On this occasion, we recognize those who serve in our military, those who travel to dangerous places in the name of freedom and all those at work here in our nation to ensure our safety.”

WABE has a list of local commemorations.

Attorney General Sam Olens has asked the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to consider lifting an injunction preventing enforcement of part of House Bill 87, Georgia’s Immigration law; the injunction was upheld by a three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit and Olens is asking the entire Court to rule.

United States District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, in the Southern District of Georgia, will allow the Navy to move forward with a submarine training range off the coast of Georgia and north Florida, despite concerns about the impact on endangered right whales.

Federal mediators will seek to broker a truce between the dockworkers’ union and employers at East Coast ports to prevent a possible strike that would affect Savannah and Brunswick.

Walter Jones writes about a survey we released yesterday showing that nearly a majority of Georgia voters favor the Charter School Amendment.

The results are the first made public of voter sentiment since the legislature put the amendment on the ballot. Both sides are raising funds for a campaign, although neither has begun advertising.

“With eight weeks before the General Election, I’d rather be in the place of charter-school proponents than that of the opposition,” said Sand Mountain pollster and political consultant Todd Rehm. “For opponents of the charter-school amendment to win, they have to either convince every undecided voter or win a substantial majority of those voters and convert some current supporters.”

Among every age group political party and gender, supporters outnumber opponents.

Gov. Nathan Deal has come out in favor of the amendment, saying it provides parents a choice besides sending their children to a struggling school.

State school Superintendent John Barge broke with his fellow Republicans and opposed it, warning that it would draw needed funding from traditional schools at a time when they face reduced budgets.

The question is on the ballot because the Georgia Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a law that had created an appointed commission at the state level to grant operating charters to parents rejected by their local school boards.

Here is the full release, along with links to the frequency counts, crosstabs, and statement of methodology, if you’re into that. Charter School Amendment proponents should be careful to not allow opponents to define what the vague wording of the ballot questions means. T-SPLOST supporters probably had a poll showing greater support at some point and we know how that turned out.

Meanwhile, we’re asking you to vote in our online survey on the Charter School Amendment and to give us some insight to your reasons for voting for or against it.

Meanwhile, opponents of the Charter School Amendment are accusing supporters of bullying to force them into neutrality.

Angela Palm with the Georgia School Boards Association says one example involves a switch in position by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

“The main reason I think this is going on is to try and distract us and thwart us from moving forward with our campaign.” — Angela Palm, Georgia School Board Association

Until recently, the Chamber had been opposed to the amendment and planned to hold a fundraiser for supporters but has now adopted a neutral stance. Palm says her organization was told from a source that she declines to name that the chamber changed its position after meeting with members of the Gwinnett delegation. She says during that meeting state lawmakers threatened to take away funding for the Gwinnett School System, Gwinnett College and Gwinnett Technical College unless it changed its stance.

It’s also possible that legislators were concerned about the possibility that payments by the Gwinnett County Public School System to the Chamber that may have had the effect of subsidizing lobbying and “voter education” efforts by the Chamber.

Thelonious Jones has dropped out of the election for Augusta Commission District One.

Jones, who revealed his plans after speaking at a West Augusta Neighborhood Alliance candidates forum, said there was “too much division in the community and I don’t want to be a part of it.” He said he could probably do more for the community through his job than by getting elected “where people still have the mindset of yesteryear.”

Jones became the second candidate to drop out of the District 1 race. Harrisburg activist Lori Davis, who doubles as president of the alliance, withdrew from the race before the August qualifying, also citing division in the community.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office is investigating a voter’s complaint that she was placed in the wrong district in Cherokee County for the Primary election.

Secretary of State Chief Investigator Chris Harvey said the investigation will determine if there was a mistake and if it was a single incident.

“Cherokee County is not alone in this particular problem since redistricting,” Harvey said, noting that several complaints across the state are being investigated after the July 31 primary elections.

Harvey said findings would be considered by the state Elections Board, but it may be several months before the complaint resolution is available. He said the investigation would not affect the outcome of any election — elections must be contested in Superior Court.

“I have the data to prove we are almost 100 percent accurate,” [Cherokee elections superintendent Janet] Munda said. “We worked around the clock and weekends to get this done, and we are confident all voters were assigned to the right district.”

The problem with voting from an administrative point of view is that “almost 100 percent accurate” isn’t good enough.

A plan by Cherokee County to implement a fire district tax is running into questions from the Attorney General’s office.

Written by Senior Assistant Attorney General Warren R. Calvert, the opinion calls into question the city’s proposal to impose an ad valorem tax on real property.

That tax, which was slated to have a 1.25 millage, would have paid for the construction of at least two fire stations.

The council has since abandoned plans to implement a district and is mulling other options of raising the revenue needed.

Calvert noted in the letter it was “more than a little doubtful that Canton officials can levy an ad valorem tax for 2012 and thereby retroactively impose a lien as of Jan. 1, 2012, on property that was not located in the fire protection district then because the district had not yet been created.”

Calvert also addressed Dyer’s question about whether the millage would have been considered a tax or a fee.

Calvert notes a tax is “an enforced contribution” backed by the law “for the purpose of raising revenue to be used for public or governmental purposes, not as payment for a special privilege or a service rendered.”

A fee, he added, is a “charge fixed by law as compensation for services rendered.”

Hakim Hilliard, an attorney from the McKenna Long firm, will be the new Chief of Staff to DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis.

Government gadfly George Anderson is giving legitimate supporters of increased enforcement of ethics laws a bad name by showing up at the Snellville City Council meeting to again announce that he’s filed a complaint against Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts. I know nothing about this matter, but when Anderson puts in an appearance, I assume (1) that the complaint is backed by political opponents of the complaint’s targe, and (2) that it’s so clearly deficient that those political opponents couldn’t find anyone with half a brain to file it on their behalf.

Witts said he consulted attorneys at the time and was told the back taxes [he admits to owing] were not an issue. Snellville City Attorney Tony Powell expressed a similar sentiment last month, saying there did not appear “to be a valid ethics claims that the council could act on.”

Anderson doesn’t agree. He said Monday that he has filed a complaint with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

Here’s a pro-tip for politics: we know that your complaint is baseless when George Anderson files it you file it with a body that has no jurisdiction over the subject of the complaint and cannot do anything about it. In this case, the Campaign Finance Commission has no jurisdiction over Witt’s qualification to serve or the truthiness of any oath he took.