Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 17, 2012

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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.

Roll Call: Bench thin for Georgia Democrats

It’s quite possible that Steve Oppenheimer, who raised $238k and took 43% of the vote against incumbent Republican Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton, would be one of the strongest candidates for a Democratic nomination in 2014.

From Roll Call:

There’s no doubt national Democrats will have Georgia on their mind by the time the 2016 presidential race rolls around.

The state is more African-American, more Hispanic and more Democratic than it was at the beginning of the last decade. Eventually, insiders of both parties agree, it will be a swing state.

But looking ahead to 2014 — when Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Gov. Nathan Deal are up for re-election — Democrats don’t appear to have much of a bench lining up to run statewide.

Chambliss could face a tough primary challenge and potential Democratic candidates are keenly watching how that race develops over the next year. Beating Chambliss would be very hard; beating another Republican might be a less daunting endeavor.

In a conversation with Roll Call via Skype from a post-Election Day vacation, top Georgia Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson said that the path to a Senate victory for a Georgia Democratic senator in 2014 would be steep, though not impossible.

“Saxby is in a good position,” he said.

Johnson, who served as the national southern regional director for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, said victory would require that Democrats get behind one candidate to avoid a bloody primary. He added that the candidate needs to appeal to a broad swath of Georgians.

“In order for us to even be competitive with Sen. Chambliss — who has gained a lot of national recognition, who will be well-financed and who knows how to campaign — we will have to recruit a candidate with a message that targets moderate conservatives,” Johnson said.

Among the names he floated: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Rep. John Barrow.

Reed, a business-friendly African-American Democrat, would probably be the strongest contender, but he appears very unlikely to run.

“Mayor Reed is running for re-election as Mayor of Atlanta in 2013 and if the people give him another four years, he plans to serve his term,” Reed spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs Dade said in a statement.

Gov. Deal calls for $50 million additional for Savannah Harbor Expansion

From the Press Release:

Deal calls for $50 million in new funds for deepening port

November 19, 2012
Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that as part of his FY2014 budget proposal, he will seek an additional $50 million in funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project at the Georgia Ports Authority Board meeting.

“I am committed to allocating funds and time to this pivotal link in our logistics network,”said Deal. “Expanding the Savannah Harbor is vital to our renewed economic growth and plays an integral role in helping make our state the No. 1 place in the nation in which to do business.”

If approved, the proposal will increase state funding for the deepening project to $231.1 million.

“Studies indicate that the port deepening will reduce shipping costs by at least $213 million a year,” said Georgia Ports Authority Board Chairman Robert Jepson. “The 5.5-to-1 benefit-to-cost ratio demonstrates that the expenditure would be a wise investment of federal dollars.”

Overall, the cost of the project is anticipated to be $652 million. The Record of Decision, signifying final federal approval for the project, was issued in October, allowing for construction to begin in 2013.

“The milestone decision made thus far by our federal agencies along with strong support from the state signifies great confidence in the surety and soundness of our deepening plan,” said Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz. “We are and will continue to work diligently with our leaders in Washington to cultivate further funding for a successful port deepening.”

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 October 31, 2012

Y’all helped save these four puppies this week, with more than $400 in contributions to Angels Among Us Rescue earmarked for them.

Braelynn, Bria, Brisa and Briley are Golden Doodle/Shepherd mix puppies who are now safe out of the shelter, but seeking foster and permanent homes through Angels Among Us. Foster applications and adoption applications are available on Angels’ website.

Duff is a tan-and-white mix of hound dog and whippet, who is about 6 months old, quick to learn, loves to please his humans and gets along with other dogs. He is listed as “URGENT” at Chatham County Animal Shelter.


Nyko is also listed as “URGENT” at Chatham County and is a lab mix less than a year old, who is very friendly, smart, and eager to please his humans. He loves to play and is a fast learner.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Advance voting is still open the rest of this week for next week’s General Election.

Patch.com brings us some stats on Early and Advance voting in Gwinnett County.

  • 995,493 – Number of early votes cast in Georgia as of Saturday.
  • 40,558 – Number of votes cast in Gwinnett County as of Saturday.
  • 22,400 –Total votes cast at the Gwinnett County Elections Office in Lawrenceville in the first week of early voting according to Gwinnett County Communications Director Joe Sorenson.
  • 7,600 – Total number of voters who went through the satellite voting locations throughout Gwinnett County.
  • 4 – The number of satellite locations across Gwinnett County. They are Centerville Community Church in Snellville,  Dacula Activity Building in Dacula, George Pierce Community Center in Suwanee and Lucky Shoals Community Center in Norcross.
  • 45 minutes – Average wait time for voters standing in line outside the Elections Office Monday.
  • 1 hour 30 minutes – The longest wait time of the day early Monday morning. Sorenson says he expects the wait times to grow as the week goes on.

This weekend, we will be “falling back” and resetting our clocks for the end of Daylight Saving Time, and Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner Ralph Hudgens reminds you to change the batteries in your home and office smoke and carbon dioxide detectors.

“Last year in Georgia there were 72 fatal house fires and 67 of them didn’t have a working smoke alarms,” Hudgens said.  “If you have a smoke alarm, make sure it’s in working order.  Changing the battery at least once every year and cleaning dust from the device are easy ways to ensure continued protection of your family and your property.  Having a working smoke alarm doubles the chances you will survive a fire in your home.”
Daylight saving time ends Sunday, November 4th at 2:00 a.m., when clocks are set back one hour.

We were about to change all the batteries in our smoke and CO2 detectors because somewhere in the house, one of the blamed things is chirping just often enough to drive me insane while I work from home, but not often enough to figure out which one it is.

Commissioner Hudgens is a great public servant for Georgia and we don’t get to say that often enough here because he seems to keep a pretty low profile in the media.  Not what we’ve come to expect from that office.

Twenty members of the Georgia National Guard were sent with their CH-47F Chinook helicopters to assist in storm relief.

The two helicopters are to be used primarily to move groups of people in and out of areas. They each can carry at least 33 seated passengers, as well as heavy equipment such as bulldozers. Additionally, they each left Savannah with a 2,500-gallon water bucket for firefighting and a vehicle.

Leading the two crews are Chief Warrant Officers Timothy Ladson, 47, and Lance Brennan, 38, full-time pilots who said they are well-trained and prepared for whatever they may encounter. The unit served twice in Afghanistan and fought fires in the Okefenokee Swamp.

“Everybody is excited; everybody wants to go and help out,” said Ladson, a Groves High School and Savannah State University graduate, before deploying.

“Sometimes people hesitate a little bit to go to Afghanistan. But on a mission like this, when you’re going to help people on our home soil, there’s no hesitation whatsoever.”

Like many of the crew members, Brennan, a Liberty County native, has seen the around-the-clock news coverage of communities devastated by the large storm that made landfall in the northeast on Monday, leaving flooding, power failures and death in its wake.

“I’m expecting to see a lot of debris and a lot of water,” Brennan said.

“I expect the worst but hope for the best. If they send us on up, I hope to see a lot of people already coming back in and taking it upon themselves to not wait for us, but to start the clean-up process and then when we get there, to further assist them in the clean-up and rebuilding.”

By Monday night, U.S. Coast Guard aircrews and helicopters from Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla., had already arrived in Elizabeth City, N.C., to allow for faster response times following the storm’s landfall, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Tuesday.

The Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, based at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, sent two MH-65 Dolphin helicopters and two pilots. Air Station Savannah deployed a third Dolphin helicopter, four pilots and six crew members.

Air Station Savannah executive officer, Cmdr. David Cooper, headed north as well to coordinate the Coast Guard’s aviation response for the storm.

South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson joined Republican Lee Anderson in Georgia’s Twelfth District.

Speaking at a press conference at his campaign headquarters following a visit to the Columbia County American Legion, Anderson said that any cuts he approved in Congress would not include the defense budget.

“The main thing we can do is get Mitt Romney in the White House,” Anderson said. “Then, with Joe Wilson’s leadership, we can make sure that our defence is the strongest Defense Department ever. We are totally opposite to what Obama and John Barrow want to do. We want to make the Defense Department stronger.”

When pressed on his opponent Congressman John Barrow’s stand against the looming economic sequestration and the effect it would have on defense spending, Anderson responded that to support the President was, in fact, supporting sequestration.

“He’s right,” Wilson said, “He (Barrow) supports Obama, the leader in the White House, the man who wants to cut our defense department. That’s the difference right there.”

Joe Wilson must be an honorable man, as he is a graduate of Washington & Lee University, one of the finest institutions of higher learning in our nation.

I received word that a bus of volunteers will head to Virginia this weekend to campaign for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in that swing state Commonwealth. Maybe they’ll stop briefly in Lexington.

Another FREE trip to a swing state-VIRGINIA.  Jack Smith “the Lion of N. GA” I call him,  is heading up a bus to Virginia to walk neighborhoods for freedom.   I told Jack, a herd of wild horses could not keep me from going on this trip.  Like Mary, Jack has fun trips.

For this side of Atlanta our bus will leave from the Home Depot on Hwy 92, 200 feet off exit 7 off 575.  Park on the far side of the parking lot were the plants are.   (Home Depot is 200 West of exit 7)

Briefly,  it will be  four days, Thursday November 1 to Sunday, November 4. ALL-expenses paid, (transportation, lodging for 3 nights, and ALL meals)

Would you like to go? Would you like to make a difference? Contact Jack Smith,[email protected] or 706-635-3831

Jim Galloway brings us the news that white voters now constitute less than 60% of all registered voters in Georgia for the first time.

White voter registration, which stood at 63 percent in 2008, has dropped to 59 percent of the 5.3 million signed up to cast ballots in this year’s presidential contest. African-American registration stands at 30 percent, just as it did in 2008.

The difference comes from the growing pool of voters who decline to identify themselves by race, or describe themselves as something other than white, black, Asian-Pacific, Hispanic-Latino, or Native American. That group grew from 3.6 percent in 2008 to 8 percent today.

The decline of the white vote in Georgia has been slow but steady. In January 2001, whites made up 72 percent of registered voters; in January 2007, they were 67 percent. Blacks in 2001 made up 26 percent of the electorate, and 27 percent in 2007.

Statistics and political geeks are encouraged to check out the rest of the article, where Jim trots out some additional statistics that will be part of the forces driving Georgia politics in the coming years.

Also yesterday, Galloway noted that Erick Erickson has endorsed the reelection of Democratic State Representative Scott Holcomb (81) on the basis of severe bad judgment by Republican Chris Boedeker.

As the weekend began, Holcomb received this Tweeted endorsement from Erick Erickson of Redstate.com:

“I’m proud to support Democrat Scott Holcomb for re-election in the Georgia State House. Better an honest Democrat than a lying fool.”

Noting the statement by Boedeker’s Republican Primary opponent Carla Roberts, which we published yesterday, Galloway followed up with Roberts on whether that constituted an endorsement of Holcomb. Dr. Roberts replied, “I am not endorsing Rep Scott Holcomb. It would be hard for me to vote for Mr. Boedeker to represent my district and my state. I may have to leave that ballot choice blank on Nov 6, 2012.”

Pro-tip for politics: if the Marietta Daily Journal calls your candidate, you tempt the wrath of Dick Yarbrough if you don’t take the call. Just ask Doug Stoner.

My colleagues Joe Kirby and Bill Kinney reported in Tuesday’s Around Town that current State Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) will not return calls from the media.

Let’s let that one soak in a moment. Stoner is fighting for his political life, having been redistricted into a new Sixth District that is heavily Republican and against a formidable opponent, Hunter Hill, of Vinings, who has all the right credentials: Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, three tours of duty in Afghanistan, two Bronze Stars, bright, articulate and a family man. In my opinion, Stoner would have a tough time with Hill even without all the gerrymandering.

When AT asked why Stoner won’t return calls to the media, Melissa Pike, chair of the Cobb Democratic Party, informed them that the Senate Democratic Caucus is “very, very, very firm that they are going to be united, they’re going to give a consistent response and that consistent response is going to come through Liz Flowers.” Flowers is with the caucus and will return media calls to Stoner by asking what questions will be asked him.

Pike says she wishes the House would do the same thing so “we wouldn’t have 800 answers to the same question, which makes it so easy to pick off our legislators.”

Having been around politics before Pike and Flowers were potty-trained, I will say that is about as dumb a thing as I have ever seen or heard.

If Democrats are so simple-minded they can’t be trusted to answer a question properly from the media — which, by the way, is a pass-through to voters and constituents — then they are not qualified to hold public office.

Assuming Hunter Hill is going to roll Stoner like a cheap cigarette on Nov. 6, Republicans will have a super majority and Democrats will become even more irrelevant. Liz Flowers won’t need to worry about screening calls. Georgia Democrats will be full of sound and fury, signify nothing.

Power can do strange things to good people.

If someone from the Republican Caucus suggests screening your calls and blocking the media from talking to you, tell them to go microchip their body parts. You work for the constituents. Stay in touch with them.

In defense of screening calls for candidates, I note that it’s not unheard of for reporters to call just hours before deadline on a story that nowhere includes the words “breaking news” and a candidate who is, say, preparing for a televised debate, may not feel the same sense of urgency the writer wishes to impart.  It also allows staff to ensure that the candidates has any facts, legislation, etc. available if he or she is going to be asked about it, rather than have to call back after shuffling papers or reviewing the subject of the story. Finally, in down-ballot races, ninety percent of the questions asked by reporters will be the same as have been asked and answered a dozen times. Allow us to send you written answers to these, and the candidate will have more time to answer fully and thoughtfully the specific and unique questions that may be specific to your media outlet.

The Cherokee Board of Elections will address today a complaint that presumptive District Three Commissioner-elect Brian Poole is not qualified to hold the seat.

After meeting in a called, closed-door session for two hours Oct. 24, the Cherokee County Board of Elections emerged to vote to authorize a motion for county Superintendent of Elections Janet Munda to challenge Poole’s qualifications and eligibility to seek and hold office and set a hearing on the matter. The controversy centers around whether Poole can legally hold office under the Georgia Constitution while owing unpaid taxes.

Another complaint issues out of Cherokee County, this one under the Open Meetings Act, alleging that Georgia Charter Educational Foundation, which runs Cherokee Charter Academy, failed to abide by notice requirements for two meetings and entered executive session improperly.

The AJC notes that enforcement of the state’s law against texting while driving appears to be low.

In the two years after a ban on texting while driving in Georgia took effect on July 1, 2010, state records reveal that fewer than 50 people a month have been convicted of the offense, for a total of 1,281 convictions as of Sept. 17. That’s a small fraction of the 22,500 people convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the same time frame. The Department of Driver Services (DDS) only tracks convictions, not the number of citations issued, DDS spokeswoman Susan Sports said.

Many law enforcement officers say the law is difficult to enforce. State troopers have only issued an average of 11 citations a month since the law took effect.

Lt. Les Wilburn, assistant troop commander for the Georgia State Patrol, said troopers have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone was texting at the wheel, and not merely dialing a number or talking. Most drivers simply stash their phone when a cop is in sight, he said.

To effectively prevent texting while driving, I recommend installation of something called a “spouse” in the passenger seat of your car. An alternative to that device is a “parent” or “tattletale sibling who receive money for reporting older brother/sister.”

Governor Nathan Deal will recommend that the state pony up another $40-50 million dollars toward the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in next year’s budget.

Last week the federal government gave final regulatory approval to deepen the river to 47 feet, from its current 42 feet, at a cost of $652 million.

Georgia has already put up $181 million for its cost-share portion of the deepening tab, including $47 million last year. Deal, during a brief interview following the annual State of the Ports luncheon at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta, said he’ll probably request a similar amount from the General Assembly come January.

“We haven’t finalized our figure yet,” the governor said, “but it’s safe to say we’ll be in keeping with what we’ve given in years past.”

Savannah is the nation’s fourth busiest container port and moved a record 3 million containers the last fiscal year. Nearly 100,000 jobs in metro Atlanta alone are directly tied to the distribution of goods that come through Savannah and the port at Brunswick.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a final “record of decision” last Friday allowing 32 miles of Savannah river and harbor to be deepened so ever-larger container ships can ply the waterway. Foltz called the decision “really great news for Georgia and anyone in the Southeast who uses our port for commerce.”

Storm-related port closures on the East Coast are affecting the Port of Savannah.

With Hurricane Sandy closing major deepwater ports from Virginia to New York, a domino effect has delays stretching up and down the coast and into the nation’s heartland.

“This storm has definitely disrupted shipping along the Eastern Seaboard,” said Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

“Already, we’ve had a number of vessels that were scheduled to be in port by today either delayed or rerouted,” he said. “Ultimately, this is going to affect trade — unfortunately in the middle of peak retail season.”

The northeastern U.S. ports supply 170 million U.S. and Canadian customers with cargo goods. Disruption to these ports is also expected to have a significant impact on supplies like food and oil to the region.

CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp., the two main Eastern railroads, are telling customers to expect at least three days of traffic delays in the affected areas. For truckers, travel in the region will remain difficult, though some road restrictions are being eased as the storm passes through.

I’ll be in Savannah in December and would like to hear any recommendations for good bird-watching or train-watching in the area. Also, nominations for best seafood will be accepted, and a couple places may be reviewed.

Speaking of birds, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds plays at the Strand Theater on the Marietta Square on Friday night, November 2d at 8 PM. Vertigo plays tonight at 9 PM and I may sneak out for the showing. Psycho and North by Northwest play next month. November is also Hitchcock month at the Plaza Theater in midtown Atlanta, with showings of Rope, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo and The Birds. I’m going to try to see as many as I can.

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