Ethics Reform a lonely calling under the Gold Dome

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

At a meeting on ethics reform this month, State Sen. Josh McKoon reflected on the advice he was given two years ago when he entered the Senate.

“Sit down, shut up and listen,” he said.

Instead of taking a backbencher’s traditional role, McKoon agitated in his own party for ethics reform, a politically tricky maneuver even for a veteran legislator. And while it did not endear him to his caucus, McKoon’s retelling drew a chuckle from Democratic leader Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, an ethics ally who sat next to McKoon at the event.

McKoon, a conservative Republican from Columbus, and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, a group led by solid conservatives with political backgrounds, are among the leaders at the Capitol calling for ethics reform. But despite their Republican bona fides, sometimes they appeared to have more friends among Democrats than within their own party.

The political crossed wires make little impression on Julianne Thompson, co-founder of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots. At least not when it comes to ethics.

“This is not a partisan issue,” she said. “It’s about what is doing right for the citizens of Georgia.”

For the past two years, a loose coalition of tea party groups pushed the Legislature to end the practice of lawmakers accepting unlimited gifts from lobbyists. To get it done, they have aligned themselves with watchdog groups like Common Cause Georgia and Georgia Watch that do not share the tea party’s political outlook but do share their desire for ethics reform.

McKoon said he was told his approach would have political consequences.

“You can feel very lonely when you are up there,” he said of the Capitol. “But there are nine and a half million people who are not in that building.”

McKoon said he was encouraged by the huge majorities that voted in favor of restricting gifts in nonbinding questions on this summer’s party primaries.

“Those kind of things indicate we are really on the right track,” he said.

McKoon’s crusade provoked grumbling from more experienced members of his own caucus. McKoon heard it, but he said he is comfortable with the choices he’s made.

He said he believes his legislative colleagues work hard and are not corrupt, but the public’s trust in government is so low that action must be taken.

“That’s why we have to get this right,” he said.

Senate Leadership Elections: Official Press Releases

Shafer Elected President Pro Tempore by Georgia Senate Republican Caucus

ATLANTA (November 15, 2012) – Senator David Shafer (R-Duluth) has been elected by the Senate Republican Caucus to serve as the next president pro tempore of the Georgia State Senate, effective with the start of the 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus held leadership elections today during a retreat at Little Ocmulgee State Park, where they will also adopt caucus rules and proposed Senate rules for the upcoming legislative session.

“I am humbled by the support shown by my Senate colleagues in today’s election,” said Senator Shafer. “With the upcoming legislative session less than two months away and with several critical issues needing immediate attention, it is imperative that we begin work now.”

“I congratulate Senator David Shafer on being nominated by the Republican Caucus for President Pro Tempore and have great confidence in his leadership and his ability to work together with our colleagues to advance the commonsense conservative agenda that will encourage private sector job growth, strengthen education, and work to address the concerns of our common constituents,” said Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.  “This is a united team and together we will do great things for Georgia.”

Senator Shafer will become the 68th president pro tempore in the history of Georgia, the Senate’s second-highest ranking position after the lieutenant governor.  The president pro tem chairs the Senate Administrative Affairs Committee, which is responsible for operations of the Senate, and is charged with speaking on behalf of the entire Senate. He also assumes the duties of the lieutenant governor in his absence.

Senator Shafer most recently served as chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, vice chairman of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee, and as a member of the Senate Finance, Government Oversight and Rules Committees. He also served as an ex-officio member of the Health and Human Services Committee.

The 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly will convene January 14, 2013 at the Georgia State Capitol. At that time, the entire Senate will cast a formal vote for president pro tempore.

Chance Elected Majority Leader by the Georgia Senate Republican Caucus

ATLANTA (November 15, 2012) – Senator Ronnie Chance (R-Tyrone) was elected by the Senate Republican Caucus to become the next majority leader of the Georgia State Senate, effective with the start of the 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus held leadership elections today during a retreat at Little Ocmulgee State Park, where they will also adopt caucus rules and proposed Senate rules for the upcoming legislative session.

“I am honored that my colleagues have placed their faith and confidence in me to serve as Senate Majority Leader,” said Senator Chance. “Looking towards the upcoming legislative session, it will be more important now than ever before to remember why we became a public servant. We are not here for partisan politics or personal benefit. We are here because our constituents have entrusted each one of us to represent their best interests, and we must be held accountable to that task.”

“I congratulate Senator Ronnie Chance on being elected Majority Leader and have great confidence in his leadership and his ability to work together with our colleagues to advance the commonsense conservative agenda that will encourage private sector job growth, strengthen education, and work to address the concerns of our common constituents,” said Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.  “This is a united team and together we will do great things for Georgia.”

Once sworn in, Senator Chance will hold the second-highest ranking position in the Georgia State Senate.  The majority leader is the primary spokesperson for the majority party and works closely with Senate leadership to develop policy platforms.  In addition, the majority leader is also charged with setting the legislative session calendar.

Senator Chance most recently served as chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee and as a member of the Senate Banking and Financial Institutions, Ethics, Finance and Higher Education Committees.

The 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly will convene January 14, 2013 at the Georgia State Capitol. At that time, the entire Senate will cast a formal vote for majority leader.

Sen. Cecil Staton Re-Elected to Serve as Majority Whip

ATLANTA (November 15, 2012) – Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon) was re-elected today to serve as Majority Whip of the Georgia State Senate, for the 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus held leadership elections today during a retreat at Little Ocmulgee State Park, where they will also debate and consider caucus rules and proposed Senate rules for the upcoming legislative session.“It is a great honor to be re-elected to serve as the Republican Party’s Majority Whip in the Georgia State Senate,” said Sen. Staton. “As Majority Whip, I remain committed to advancing conservative leadership and supporting our caucus and its commitment to legislation that makes Georgia a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Sen. Staton previously held the position of vice-chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus prior to his appointment as Majority Whip. This will be his second concurrent term as majority whip in the state senate. The Majority Whip’s primary responsibility is to research legislation, educate and inform caucus members, ensure that majority members are present during important votes, and is also responsible for counting votes. The Majority Whip is the third ranking leadership position within the Republican caucus.

“I congratulate Senator Cecil Staton on being elected Majority Whip and have great confidence in his leadership and his ability to work together with our colleagues to advance the commonsense conservative agenda that will encourage private sector job growth, strengthen education, and work to address the concerns of our common constituents,” said Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.  “This is a united team and together we will do great things for Georgia.”

Sen. Staton is also currently a member of the Senate Committee on Assignments and the Senate Appropriations Committee and is Chairman of the sub-committee on Higher Education. Additionally, he serves on the Rules, Finance, Transportation, and Banking and Financial Institutions committees and sits on three sub-committees.

The 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly will convene January 14, 2013 at the Georgia State Capitol.

Sen. Butch Miller to Serve as Republican Caucus Chair

ATLANTA (November 16, 2012) – Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) was recently elected to serve as Republican Caucus Chair of the Georgia State Senate, effective with the start of the 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus held leadership elections during a retreat at Little Ocmulgee State Park, where they will also debate and consider caucus rules and proposed Senate rules for the upcoming legislative session.

“I want to thank the previous leadership team, the Lt. Governor and my colleagues in the senate for electing me to serve as the Republican Caucus Chair,” said Sen. Miller. “I am honored and humbled by the trust and confidence of my colleagues, and especially the citizens of the 49th Senate District.”

Sen. Miller currently serves as the Governor’s floor leader and will begin serving his first term as caucus chair in January. The Senate Majority Caucus Chair is responsible for working with caucus leaders to develop the caucus agenda, oversee meetings and assist in the development of policy.

“I congratulate Senator Butch Miller on being elected Majority Caucus Chairman and have great confidence in his leadership and his ability to work together with our colleagues to advance the commonsense conservative agenda that will encourage private sector job growth, strengthen education, and work to address the concerns of our common constituents,” said Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.  “This is a united team and together we will do great things for Georgia.”

Sen. Miller currently serves as chairman of the State and Local Government Operations Committee and as secretary of the Economic Development Committee.  He is also a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and Transportation committees and is an ex-officio member of the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee.

The 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly will convene January 14, 2013 at the Georgia State Capitol.

Sen. Judson Hill Elected Vice Chair by the Georgia Senate Republican Caucus

ATLANTA (November 16, 2012) – Senator Judson Hill (R-Marietta) was elected yesterday to become the next vice chair of the Senate Republican Caucus, effective with the start of the 152ndLegislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus held leadership elections yesterday during a retreat at Little Ocmulgee State Park, where they will also adopt caucus rules and proposed Senate rules for the upcoming legislative session.“It is an honor and a privilege to receive such strong support from my fellow Republican State Senators,” said Senator Hill. “I look forward to serving as Vice Chair, and it is my intention to drive the Senate Republican Caucus towards good policy measures that are fiscally responsible and promote government efficiency.”

“I congratulate Senator Judson Hill on being elected Majority Caucus Vice Chair and have great confidence in his leadership and his ability to work together with our colleagues to advance the commonsense conservative agenda that will encourage private sector job growth, strengthen education, and work to address the concerns of our common constituents,” said Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.  “This is a united team and together we will do great things for Georgia.”

Senator Hill most recently served as chair of the Senate Government Oversight Committee and as a member of the Senate Appropriations, Health and Human Services and Special Judiciary Committees. He also served as an ex-officio member of the Insurance and Labor, Judiciary and Transportation Committees.

The 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly will convene January 14, 2013 at the Georgia State Capitol.

Sen. Steve Gooch Elected Caucus Secretary by Georgia Senate Republican Caucus

ATLANTA (November 16, 2012) – Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) was recently elected to serve as Majority Caucus Secretary of the Georgia State Senate, effective with the start of the 152ndLegislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. The Senate Republican Caucus held leadership elections during a retreat at Little Ocmulgee State Park, where they will also debate and consider caucus rules and proposed Senate rules for the upcoming legislative session.

“I am deeply honored to be chosen by my colleagues to serve as the Secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus,” said Sen. Gooch. “I wholeheartedly believe this newly-elected Senate leadership team is committed to advancing fiscally-responsible state government and creating policies that bring about positive change for the people of Georgia. I am humbled by my colleagues trust and look forward to working closely with members of senate leadership and the General Assembly during this upcoming legislative session.”

Sen. Gooch currently serves as Secretary of the Transportation Committee and is also a member of the Economic Development, Government Oversight, State and Local Government Operations and State Institutions and Property Committees. He also serves as Ex-Officio of the Natural Resources and the Environment Committee. In addition, Governor Deal appointed Senator Gooch to the MARTOC Committee in 2011.

“I congratulate Senator Steve Gooch on being elected Majority Caucus Secretary and have great confidence in his leadership and his ability to work together with our colleagues to advance the commonsense conservative agenda that will encourage private sector job growth, strengthen education, and work to address the concerns of our common constituents,” said Lt. Governor Casey Cagle.  “This is a united team and together we will do great things for Georgia.”

The 152nd Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly will convene January 14, 2013 at the Georgia State Capitol.

Georgia Political News for Monday, February 20, 2012

Today’s adoptable dog is Ginger, who is being fostered by Adopt A Golden Atlanta. Ginger is six years old and loves playing fetch with a tennis ball. Ginger is looking for a quiet home, preferably with another calm dog.

Two dogs featured last week from the Walton Animal Shelter have been moved into foster care at Forgotten Paws. They aren’t on the website yet, but should be available for adoption.

One of two VC-25 aircraft that play the role of Air Force One visited Savannah last week, without its most famous passenger. The plane was practicing take-offs and landings at Hunter Army Airfield on Tuesday.

Former United States Senator Rick Santorum drew a crowd estimated between 3500 and 4500 last night at First Redeemer Church in Forsyth County. Santorum devoted much of his speech to the economy, and the proper role of the government under the Constitution. Senator David Shafer has been named state chairman of the Santorum campaign, said “I think Newt is clearly the frontrunner – he’s from Georgia, but I think the momentum is with Rick Santorum. Republicans are looking for someone new.” Santorum won the straw poll at the Floyd County GOP mass meeting this weekend, one of many across the state.

Notably, this is many more supporters than appeared in at least four campaign events featuring Gingrich and Herman Cain or Callista Gingrich. Gingrich told former hometown newspaper the Marietta Daily Journal that

“I think winning Georgia is really, really important. think I’m clearly ahead in Georgia…. We have a much bigger organization than anybody else. My guess is that we’ll win Georgia, but we’re going to campaign here every single day as though we’re behind, and we’re going to do everything we can to motivate people to turn out.

A tentative Gingrich visit to Carrollton remains up in the air.

Politics is the connection between transportation and economic development, according to Walter Jones. Intermodal transportation facilities including highway and rail access and the proximity of ocean ports drove the selection of Georgia for Caterpillar’s new manufacturing plant. Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said, “[TSPLOST] is critical in making Georgia competitive. We’ll work for it, from all of our employees’ perspective here in Georgia to help get that passed here this summer.”

The Macon Telegraph editorial board opposes legislative attempts to amend the state Constitution to allow the state school board to approve local charter schools, saying the “Republican-controlled Legislature has had an anti-public school bent for years and now it foists upon us a constitutional amendment that would create an avenue for funding private charter schools. If it passes, it should be targeted for defeat at the ballot box.”

The Cobb County school board declined a $50,000 planning grant designed to help created a charter school called STEM Inventors Academy. The board said state law prohibits it from participating in a startup charter school in the way the grant envisioned.

Georgia Power opposes Senate Bill 401, which would give property owners more flexibility in installing solar power arrays by having a third party install them and purchasing power from the third party instead of financing the installation directly.

State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton) introduced House Bill 981, which would open bars, public schools, colleges and other locations that are currently off-limits to holders of concealed carry permits.

Cooke also co-sponsored House Bill 679, the “Constitutional Carry Act,” which would remove the requirement of a permit for the concealed carry of firearms.

Senate Bill 434 by Sen. Judson Hill (R-Not Jon Huntsman) the “Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-out Act” would prevent qualified health care plans from paying for abortions unless the life of the mother is threatened by a continued pregnancy.

Senate Bill 438 by Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) would prohibit state employee health plans from paying for abortions. Crane says that the state spent $850,000 over the last three years paying for abortion services.

House Bill 735, sponsored by a quarter of Democrats, seeks to require four hours of firearms safety training for all applicants for a concealed weapon permit.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board opines that “all politics is financial,” and that minor changes in the law that are felt by taxpayers in the wallet engender stronger reactions than larger changes that do not seem to directly affect the size of paychecks.

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Editorial Board writes that rural Georgia’s aging population, lower rates of having health insurance and scarcity of medical professionals combine to threaten a health care crisis.

Former Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer has announced his campaign for Gwinnett County Commission District 3 against incumbent Mike Beaudreau.

Paul Jannuzzo, former counsel to Glock, will be tried this week on charges of theft and embezzlement from the company as well as racketeering.

Georgian Republicans in the National Press

UGA Student Leanne Livingston, former Chair of the Kennesaw State University College Republicans was quoted in a Washington Post article about Sarah Palin at CPAC. Actually, misquoted, according to her facebook status, “I never said Palin was ever my hero as they claim.”

Not to be outdone, the New York Times quoted State Rep. Sam Teasley, an early Santorum supporter, “I think there’s a real possibility of Rick being able to win the state,” he said. “I do expect the polls will tighten.

Rep. Paulette Rakestraw Braddock told the WaPo “I’m hoping that Georgia is going to come through for Newt.

Finally, Dr. Merle Black at Emory said, “[Gingrich] needs a big win out of Georgia; he needs a headline,” but Rick Santorum “has become suddenly viable, while Newt is sinking in the national polls.”

Law enforcement behaving badly

Wilcox County Sheriff Stacy Bloodsworth; his son Austin Bloodsworth; former Wilcox County jailer Casey Owens; and former inmate Willie James Caruthers were named in a 14-count federal indictment alleging the men assaulted inmates in the county jail.

A DeKalb County police officer was arrested in Buckhead for DUI on February 11th.

Forsyth County Sheriff candidate Duane K. Piper was cited for driving 103 mph in a 2011 BMW 325i. Piper is charged as a “Super Speeder” which raises the fines for anyone found guilty of speeding in excess of 85 mph, or in excess of 75 mph on two-lane roads. Piper recently retired after a 25-year career in law enforcement.

Railroad News

Norfolk Southern SD45 locomotive #1776 has been moved from the Virginia Transportation Museum in Roanoke to the shops in Chattanooga for repainting in its commemorative red, white and blue bicentennial scheme. It’s expected to return to VTM on July 4, 2012.