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.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for August 28, 2012

Horace and Honey are both available from the Cobb County Animal Shelter. Horace is a 2-year old, 54 pound male who came to the shelter as a stray with ID and appears to be house trained. He is already neutered, microchipped and current on vaccinations. He is in run 78 and his ID# is 547084. He’s described as a pointer, but if you told everyone he’s a chocolate lab, I don’t think they’d say any different.

Honey is 8 months old and weighs 42 pounds. She came to the shelter as a stray with ID more than a month ago and her family chose not to come for her when they were contacted. She knows to sit and stay and is leash trained. She is already spayed, micro-chipped, and current on vaccinations including rabies. Honey has been heartworm tested and is negative. She is in run 58 and her ID# is 546467.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Former President George W. Bush spoke to a sold out audience last night at the opening night of the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum sponsored by Columbus State University.

“They often ask me if you miss being president and the answer’s no!” joked Bush, a two-term Republican president who left office in January 2008. “It’s a little irritating having to stop at a stoplight when I was coming here. And I had to shower on the airplane.”

“I’m not poetic enough to describe what it means to salute a man or a woman who has volunteered in the face of danger,” Bush said. “But ours is a unique country that produces hundreds of thousands of such individuals. I’m particularly proud to be here with privates and the sergeants and, of course, the officers such as H.R. McMaster, Gen. McMaster.”

The former president, of course, was referring to the two-star general who took charge of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning in June.

“The guy wrote a book, and much to the amazement of the New York Times, I read it,” quipped Bush. “It was influential in my decision-making and I want to thank you, and I’m glad to see you taking on such a big responsibility.”

Until and unless the schedule changes again, Attorney General Sam Olens will address the Republican National Convention at around 8:20 PM on Wednesday night.

Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens will be a prominent speaker at this week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa. Olens will be making a ‘prime-time’ appearance with Forida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Both attorneys general have been strong supporters of Mitt Romney during the primary. Olens and Bondi were also both part of the 26 state lawsuit challenging President Obama’s health care plan.

Olens says the location of this year’s convention is crucial because Florida is a ‘swing state’ and could bring much needed electoral votes to the Romney camp:

“President Obama has been behind in Florida for a while, and the Romney team is spending a lot of time in Florida, it’s a huge state, a lot of delegates and it’s a state that’s clearly needed for a victory November 6th.”

The Republican National Convention may provide teachable moments, and GPB has some suggestions for teachers looking for ways to discuss the Conventions in class.
State Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) checked in with a photo and short quote from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s talk to the Georgia delegation.

Atlanta Tea Party organizer Julianne Thompson had more to say, discussing proposed rules changes that would affect the 2016 Convention.

As a National Delegate to the 2012 RNC, I am extremely disappointed that a rule would be passed through committee that essentially strips the grassroots of all of it’s representative power by ridding State Parties of their ability to choose whom they will send as delegates and alternates to represent their State to the Republican National Convention. The rules change would allow the Presidential nominee sweeping new power to override that process and choose their own National Delegates. The rule also allows the RNC (with only a 3/4 vote) the power to amend the party’s rules without a vote by the full Republican National Convention.

During a time that should ring of unity, you have put the GOP at a crossroads. Do you want to win this election and future elections? Now is your opportunity to prove it. Either take it to the floor and let us vote it down, and better yet, pull this insulting attempt to disenfranchise the heart and soul of our Republican Party!

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has asked a federal judge to dismiss the US Department of Justice lawsuit claiming that Georgia’s runoff procedures for federal offices violate rules designed to help overseas and military voters to participate in elections.

State Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) told WABE that he is hopeful the appellate court decision to allow Georgia to enforce most provisions of HB 87 will put pressure on the federal government to undertake comprehensive immigration reform.

Lindsey co-sponsored the legislation, which led to the immigration law ruled on by the court. He says now that the U.S. Supreme Court and the 11th circuit court of appeals have weighed in it’s time for the federal government to act.

“Now we can move beyond these measures, which states are having to do in a reactive mode, given the federal government’s refusal to take seriously this issue. Now we demand the federal government come in and do its job.”

Lindsey says there are a number of immigration issues the federal government needs to address:

“In terms of guest worker programs, in terms of what do you do with the youth here who have followed their parents across the border? What do you do with adults who are here who are not otherwise violating the law, in terms of getting them out from the shadows of an underground economy?”

Despite the appellate court decision upholding parts of HB 87, it may not change things dramatically for local law enforcement.

“Departmental procedures already require that deputies have a legal reason to stop and detain anyone regardless of who they are,” Douglas County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Stan Copeland said. “Once they are detained for a legal reason, this opinion gives deputies the authority to require identification to verify citizenship, not just for a warrant check.”

The department has purchased several portable fingerprint scanners that are used in the field to identify people who cannot produce positive identification.

“Deputies already had the authority to check a person for (warrants) and this simply expands that authority to also check immigration status,” Copeland said.

The department also has ways to monitor racial profiling if it was to occur.

“Racial profiling will continue to be monitored through reviewing videotapes and ensuring that no one is detained except for a legal reason,” Copeland said.

Despite the effort of local law enforcement, he explained that the problem still remains with the federal authorities.

“If deputies run across persons who are in the country illegally, it is still up to ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) to agree to pick them up from the jail, and at this point, that is very uncertain,” Copeland said. “The department will monitor the response by ICE over the next few months to determine what they are willing or not willing to do.”

Nuclear Power

Savannah celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first commercial nuclear-powered ship, NS Savannah.

The Savannah was named for the SS Savannah, the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic. The first Savannah made its historic voyage in 1819. Wendy Melton of Savannah’s Ships of the Sea Museum says, like the first Savannah, the nuclear ship was ahead of its time.

“It was short of a showpiece,” Melton says. “It was a demonstration piece to sort of calm the fears after World War Two of nuclear power to demonstrate that it could be used in a peaceful manner.”

The NS Savannah was built to carry both cargo and passengers. And some historians say, it never could do both very successfully. It sailed around the world 21 times without ever refueling, or making a profit, before it was decommissioned in 1972. It now sits in a Baltimore shipyard, where some hope it will become a museum. Todd Groce of the Georgia Historical Society presided over the marker dedication.

Some people also would like to see that ship and museum here, an expensive proposition for sure. For now, though, Savannah has a historic marker near the convention center on Hutchinson Island.

Construction at Plant Vogtle reactors 3 & 4 has gone at a quicker pace since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the construction license.

Plant Vogtle’s $14 billion expansion – which includes the first new commercial reactors built in the U.S. in decades – has accelerated rapidly since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved final permits in February.

At the Vogtle site, where as many as 2,200 workers come and go daily, the two emerging “nuclear islands” that will house the new reactors are surrounded by offices, equipment, concrete plants and security gates.

Rising from it all, just a few hundred yards from the giant crane, is a steel structure – taller than a 10-story building – known simply as “MAB,” or modular assembly building.

Inside, workers weld together sections of a 70-foot-tall component that will house piping, maintenance corridors and other functions of the Unit 3 reactor. It is designed to be locked into place like a piece of a giant puzzle.

“When it’s done, they take the end off this building, pick it up and roll it out – just like they do with the space shuttle,” [South­ern Nuclear executive vice president for nuclear development Buzz] Miller said.

Site-specific Vogtle issues include noncompliant rebar and a series of proposed license amendments and stalled negotiations for a federal loan guarantee that would provide $8.3 billion in financing.

From Miller’s perspective, it comes with the territory.

“We’re first, and obviously a lot of learning is taking place as we go along,” he said. “There has been a lot of focus on the negative, but there is also a lot of positive.”

The biggest challenges, he said, involve re-establishing a nuclear culture that has been dormant for decades and ensuring materials supplied for the Vogtle reactors meet all the standards.

The company has expanded its oversight and quality assurance programs, which place inspectors in places where key parts are being manufactured – including venues as far away as Korea and Italy.

“It’s like triple-checking, over and over, everything that’s done,” he said. “When you do that, you find things – and you deal with them.”

A freeze on issuing further licenses by the NRC is not expected to directly impact Vogtle.

The move will strand 19 final reactor licensing decisions, including nine construction and operating licenses for planned new projects.

Plant Vogtle’s $14 billion expansion, licensed earlier this year, and SCANA’s V.C. Summer expansion in South Carolina were not addressed in the NRC order, however, and may continue as planned, said Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman at its headquarters in Maryland.

The Vogtle project is well under way – with about 2,200 construction workers on the Burke County site daily – but the licensing freeze is not expected to have any major impacts, said Southern Company spokesman Steve Higginbottom.

Georgia Power and the other utilities financing Vogtle have filed a countersuit against the vendors in charge of building the new reactors.

Georgia Power Co. and other Plant Vogtle owners filed a lawsuit this week seeking a refund of more than $29.5 million from the contractor consortium building the site’s two new nuclear reactors.

During site preparation for the project, contractors removed 3.9 million cubic yards of earth during the excavation of 90-foot-deep holes for the two reactors and refilled those areas with 3.6 million cubic yards of backfill.

During that project, extra costs were incurred because of the need for additional backfill, for which the contractors were paid an additional $61 million, the complaint said.

Although the owners disputed the added costs, they paid 50 percent of the bill – $29,253,500 – on June 9, the complaint said.

The contractors filed suit against the owners July 25, seeking the remainder of the bill, in violation of the 2008 agreement, which requires that mediation efforts be exhausted before lawsuits can be filed.

For those inclined to hysteria over nuclear construction cost overruns, the amount of money at issue in the lawsuit is less than half-a-percent of the cost of the new reactors.

Ends & Pieces

Dalton, Georgia suffered the worst job losses of any American city from June 2011 to June 2012, shedding 4600 jobs.

“First of all, to lose the most jobs, you have to have had the jobs to begin with, and we’re still a very dynamic employment center,” says Dalton Mayor David Pennington.

“Nobody seems to want to address that. They’ll mention jobs but then they go about bashing the other person,” he says. “We would love to have other manufacturers here. We would love to have any kind of high-tech business here. But it’s not as easy as people think it is to be able to attract that. If it is, Atlanta would like to have it, too.”

Even with the losses, the mayor says the Dalton area still provides more than 50,000 jobs. He says the state should abolish the income tax so Georgia cities can be more competitive.

Besse Cooper from Walton County is the oldest living person in the world at 116 years old as of Sunday.

Cooper says his mother takes her designation as the world’s oldest living person in stride, and Young – who has met several people who’ve held the title – says Cooper meets the typical profile of those who beat the odds and earn the record.

According to Young, “They tend to have a self-sufficiency, a self-reliance, a belief in themselves, and they don’t get overly stressed about things.”

And Besse Cooper’s son expects her to retain the title for a while. “She’s in good health and doing well, and we’ll probably have another birthday next year.”

In 1896, the year Besse Cooper was born, William McKinley was elected President, and Utah was admitted to the union as the 45th state.