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.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 21, 2012 — Primary Runoff Election Day

Timothy is the tan-colored puppy above (the black one is adopted), he is two months old and has spent a month in the Cobb County Animal Shelter, where he lives in cage 332. If you adopt him, he will be vaccinated, chipped, and neutered.

Suri and Kimmi, the black puppies, are his sisters, and are still available from the Cobb County Animal Shelter (the tan girl has been adopted). They are right next door to Timothy in Cage 331 in the puppy are. Adoption also includes vaccinations, micro-chipping, and spaying.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Today is Primary Runoff Election Day and includes runoffs in nonpartisan elections, such as most judges. You may vote today, even if you didn’t vote in the Primary, although if you voted in a partisan primary in July, you may not vote in the other party’s runoff. Polls are open from 7 AM to 7 PM. You will need to bring your photo ID and the Secretary of State’s office has information on which forms of ID are acceptable. If you do not have your ID when you arrive to vote, you may still cast a provisional ballot, as you may do in case of certain other problems. If you cast a provisional ballot, you will have three days to produce proper ID to election officials to have your ballot counted.

When you vote today, I’d be interested in hearing how it went. Relevant information includes your county and precinct, what time you voted, how crowded it was, your voter number (ask the poll workers), and any impressions you or the poll workers have about the pace of voting. Visit the website and put it in the comments or email me.

Last week, Karl Rove updated his electoral map, moving Georgia from “safe Romney” to “leans Romney” but that may reflect a dearth of publicly-released polling in the state, rather than an actual change in the electorate.

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals let stand the “show your papers” provision of Georgia’s House Bill 87, an immigration reform bill.

The decision upholds an injunction against Section 7 of the law, which made it illegal to transport or harbor an illegal alien in Georgia. But it reverses an injunction against Section 8 of the law, which authorizes law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects who cannot provide particular documents to prove their status.

The opinion of the panel is available here. The next step is a decision by the litigants whether to appeal to have the case heard by the entire Eleventh Circuit.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said, via press release,

“I am pleased that the the 11th Circuit has reversed the lower court’s injunction and allowed Section 8 of HB 87 to stand. While I disagree with the Court’s decision on Section 7, after over a year of litigation, only one of the 23 sections of HB 87 has been invalidated. We are currently reviewing the 11th Circuit’s ruling to determine whether further appeal would be appropriate at this stage of the case.”

Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) is a member of the Senate Ethics Committee and a leader in the movement to adopt limitations on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. He released yesterday his Minority Report in which he dissents from the negotiated settlement of ethics charges against Senator Don Balfour.

The Minority agreed that Respondent had violated Senate Rules by failing to maintain accurate records and submitting false expense reports; however, dissented from the negotiated sanction.

It is clear to the Minority that both the Christian and Dooley complaint meet the jurisdictional threshold of Title 45 and should have been handled under Title 45. Both complaints alleged that the Respondent used his position as State Senator to file false expense reports which provided for a direct, unique, pecuniary and personal benefit, namely the monies wrongfully disbursed to Respondent. The amended Dooley complaint went a step further, alleging that by failing to authorize the Audit Subcommittee as required by O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 that the Respondent was able to insure that the false expense reports would never be reviewed.

Instead of proceeding under Title 45 with the complaints presented which would have necessitated a public hearing of these matters, the Committee chose to proceed under the other route available which did not require a public hearing. The opinion of the Minority is that this decision was made in error and that the public, including the complainants, were entitled to be present for the proceedings held by the Committee.

In addition to the charges of filing false expense reports in this case, the Respondent also admitted to violation of O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 which provides for the Audit Subcommittee to review the expense reports of all Senators.

In the view of the Minority, this compounds the other offense as by the Respondent’s failure to appoint the Audit Subcommittee he removed the safeguard against false filings, not just in his case but in the case of any Senator that might have done so over the last decade he has been charged with the responsibility of chairing the Senate Rules Committee.

[I]t is the opinion of the Minority that a recommendation should issue for a Censure Resolution to be introduced with a do pass recommendation regarding the conduct of the Respondent, that the Committee recommend to the Committee on Assignments that Respondent be removed as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and that a fine equivalent to the cost of the proceedings of the Senate Ethics Committee be imposed on Respondent.

The Minority is of the opinion that to fully conclude this matter, that an appropriate authority should investigate these matters and determine finally if any violation of these statutes has taken place. The Minority will transmit this report to the Attorney General with its recommendation that his office conduct such an investigation.

I apologize for such a long pull quote, but here’s the tl;dr version:

1. McKoon believes that a public process was authorized and appropriate here and that the Ethics Committee erred in proceeding in the manner it did;

2. The failure by Balfour to appoint an audit subcommittee kept improper expenditures from being detected;

3. The negotiated penalty was inadequate and Senator Balfour should be Censured by the Senate as a body;

4. The case should be referred for consideration of possible criminal sanctions.

Also failing to do their job is the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

Runoff candidates are required to file a campaign contributions disclosure six days before the runoff so that voters know where their funding comes from. The Commission’s website, while accepting such filings from candidates does not appear to be displaying them when they are searched for. Nor does it appear to be properly displaying two-business day reports in some cases. This is unacceptable.

Georgia’s current campaign finance regime is premised on timely disclosure, and the biggest impediment to voters learning how campaigns are financed in a timely manner is the Commission charged with collecting and distributing disclosures.

Ultimately, I believe that this reflects in part a misconception about what the Campaign Finance Commission is. It is no longer primarily an enforcement agency. Its statutory charges makes it primarily an IT agency charged with maintaining a campaign and lobbyist disclosure database. It should be putting most of its resources into IT infrastructure and services, and its most-highly paid staffer should be a database administrator. Its continuing failure to do its job negatively affects public confidence in the Commission and in our elected officials.

Click Here

In Cobb County, the runoff election for Commission Chairman between incumbent Tim Lee and former Chair Bill Byrne may be a battle between old Cobb and new, if the Marietta Daily Journal is correct.

“In some ways it’s a battle of old Cobb versus new Cobb,” said Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint, who specializes in campaigns and elections.

It’s also a battle between old-style campaign tactics and new.

“I know Bill Byrne has friends in Cobb County, and I think he’s depending on people he and his wife know getting out the troops, and where Tim Lee is concerned, I think it’s a matter of using his financial edge to make phone calls, beat the bushes and get his voters to come back out for him again,” [said Swint].

In Gwinnett County, Sheriff Butch Conway has endorsed Tommy Hunter, who is challenging incumbent Mike Beaudreau for Commission District 3 in the GOP runoff.

Conway, who is unopposed for his fifth term, has been involved in county commission races before. He campaigned for challenger Lorraine Green, when the commissioner mounted an unsuccessful challenge to then-Chairman Charles Bannister in 2008.

Conway might be the most popular politician in Gwinnett County, but his endorsement may not be very valuable after today. The Conway-endorsed candidate for one of the open judicial seats will be defeated soundly. Will a Beaudreau win make it 0 for 3?

Republican delegates to the Republican National Convention will be given free copies of  Georgia Tech grad Mark Rogers’s self-published fiction book, “Smeared.”

“SMEARED” is a political fiction story about a man from the days of America’s founding fathers who suddenly appears in modern-day America. The self-published political novel answers the question of what a man from early American history would think, say and do when confronted by today’s politicians and shows the fallout of their interactions.

The Savannah Morning News writes about QR codes linking smartphones to campaign videos. Pure BS. Nobody uses QR codes except marketing firms with gullible clients, and then the real use of the QR codes is to extract money from the client for useless gewgaws. If some marketing expert tries to get you to spend money on QR codes, escort them out immediately.

In 2008, said a recent article in Campaigns and Elections magazine, just 10 percent of the population had a smartphone.

Now, it added, more than half do, and a third of them use their phones to scan such codes to access advertising.

“We’re going to see a lot more of them in politics,” said marketing specialist Rick Monroe, who is helping DeLoach.

Monroe said his candidate’s application is an improvement over Gaster’s.

Gaster’s codes were on his campaign signs, and unless you were within 3 feet, you couldn’t scan them with your smartphone, Monroe said.

In contrast, DeLoach’s mailer went directly to the addressees.

I’m open to hearing differently about my skepticism about QR codes, but unless you have analytics, don’t bother.

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal reminds you that “Stop means stop” when it comes to school buses with their stop signs and lights deployed.

Georgia’s First Lady came to Dougherty County Monday to discuss the importance of the “Stop Means Stop” program. She’s teaming up with several state groups to keep children safe.

Thousands of drivers in Georgia illegally pass school buses every day. In fact, a statewide survey showed bus drivers saw more than 4,000 violators in one day.

“We had had several children killed and more in the last two years and probably three years. We’re afraid that we may get the record for it again, to have the most children killed in school bus accidents,” said Mrs. Deal.

Now the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and the Department of Education are teaming up to educate drivers with the help from Georgia’s first lady, Sandra Deal.

“When you see a stop arm on a school bus, unless you’re on a highway with a divided median, you have to stop in either direction. That’s the law. It will cost you about $1,000 fine and up to six points on your driver’s license,” said Harris Blackwood, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Listen to Mrs. Deal and pay attention on the roads, please.

Grayson voters will vote in November on whether to allow Sunday sales of packaged beer, wine and liquor. In a particular brand of goofiness, the city, which already allows beer and wine sales, will vote on adding liquor, but if adding Sunday sales of liquor fails, it will also end beer and wine sales on the Sabbath.

Gwinnett County Republican Party Straw Poll on T-SPLOST

At this morning’s Gwinnett County Republican Party breakfast, the Greater Gwinnett Republican Women held a straw poll on the T-SPLOST.

The results were 40 people voting against the tax increase and 7 for. No word on whether the pro-TSPLOST speaker voted.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 29, 2012

Lovers of small dogs should head directly to the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter as they have a large number of little guys and girls, including a half-dozen Chihuahua and chi-mixes, a Dachshund, Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, Maltese, and a Yorkie, among others.

“25222” is one of the chi-mixes and is said to be playful and friendly. Every dog adopted these days is a life saved, as shelters across Georgia are filled with dogs and are being forced to euthanize healthy dogs and cats.

The Humane Society held workshops for employees at the Gwinnett Animal Shelter focused on improving the care of animals; staff members from DeKalb also attended.

Officer Joey Brooks with Gwinnett County Animal Control said some of the key points hit on during the courses included “animal handling and sanitation, proper care … what we’re looking for when stray animals come into the shelter … disease-wise.”

The tour aimed to educate shelter staff in a variety of areas.

Brooks said he and fellow attendees also discussed the warm weather approaching this weekend.

“It’s worse this year,” Brooks said. “The biggest thing right now is, as hot as it is right now, animals should not be left inside of vehicles. They can get dehydrated in a matter of minutes with this kind of heat. … Even if you leave your window down, an animal can die.”

Supreme Court decision and reactions

I won’t belabor yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, as there is plenty of analysis out there, but I’ll hit a few high points and some Georgia reactions.

SCOTUSblog solidified its place as the premier source for timely information on Supreme Court decisions, while larger players CNN and Fox News ran stories that initially misstated the result. Their plain English review is a good starting point for developing a good understanding of what happened.

Dave Kopel argues that the decision is a strong statement limiting Congressional powers:

“The States are separate and independent sovereigns.” So affirms the Court today by a 7-2 vote, in the most important decision ever defining the limits of Congress’s power under the Spending Clause.

While the constitutional implications are tremendous, the practical effect on state budgets may be even greater. Today (and from now on!), states do not need to provide Medicaid to able-bodied childless adults. Likewise, states today have discretion about whether to provide Medicaid to middle-class parents. Undoubtedly, some states will choose to participate in the ACA’s massive expansion of medical welfare, but fiscally responsible states now have the choice not to.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens came to the opposite conclusion:

Olens said the ruling carries with it the strong implication that, contrary to the text of the Constitution and the vision of this country’s Founding Fathers, there is no longer any meaningful limit to the power of the federal government.

As Georgia’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Sam Olens has led the state’s legal fight against the president’s health care reform law. Immediately following his swearing-in as attorney general in January 2011, Olens joined the multistate lawsuit against the law. He has steadfastly defended Georgia’s interests throughout every phase of the litigation.

“I disagree with this decision. Congress explicitly said this was not a tax,” said Olens. “I call on Congress to act swiftly, repeal the law and replace it with real reform that respects the Constitution as written.”

“Governor Deal and I are grateful to the outside lawyers who have served Georgia in this lawsuit as special assistant attorneys general at no cost to the state: Frank C. Jones, Jason Alloy, Josh Belinfante, Pitts Carr, Ben Mathis, David Oedel, John Parker, Mike Russ, and former team member and Supreme Court Justice-designate Keith Blackwell,” Olens said. “Their pro bono efforts have ensured that Georgia could participate fully in this vital lawsuit at minimal cost to taxpayers.”

Governor Nathan Deal said:

“My battle with Obamacare didn’t start when I was elected as governor of Georgia,” said DeaI. “I wear with pride my bruises and scars from the fight against its passage in the U.S. House. Today, the highest court in the country let the American people down.

“While we recognize this is a huge setback for fiscal sanity and personal liberty, we are not giving up. Georgians and the American people deserve high-quality, sustainable health care. Congress must now work steadfastly on repealing this law and replacing it with reforms that help taxpayers instead of hurt them.”

Deal also said that Georgia will hold off on taking action required to implement Obamacare until after November’s election.

“We are probably just going to be in a holding pattern until such time as we see what the events of November bring us,” Deal told reporters during a Capitol news conference.

While the nation’s top court generally found in favor of the law, it faces staunch resistance from Republican state officials tasked with turning that law into reality.

“The medical system was broken before, and now it’s broke,” said Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville.

Rogers said he liked pieces of the bill, including a provision that keeps insurance companies from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions. But he likened the requirements the law puts on states to a hostage situation.

“I’ve always felt that the health care companies, especially on individual coverage, they were looking at the special specimen of an individual and if you had anything and everything wrong, they would turn you down,” Rogers said.

“I’d like him to say I’m not going to follow it, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Debbie Whelchel, 49, of Suwanee, an opponent of the law who joined a small tea party rally at the Capitol just before the court ruled. “That’s what I would like to see happen. Honestly, I’m so disappointed.”

Sen. Butch Miller, a Republican from Flowery Branch, said lawmakers are still trying to get their “arms around” the specific impacts of the ruling.

“I am clearly disappointed in the court’s ruling,” Miller said. “In my view, it just goes against everything that I believe is the proper role of government. Since when did Congress require or mandate that the American public buy a particular product and then penalize you if you didn’t buy it?”

But he said lawmakers have already done some work toward implementing the exchanges.

Deal was noncommittal on whether Georgia would expand its Medicaid program, a government-funded health care system that serves the needy, aged, blind, disabled and poor families with children.

The Supreme Court’s ruling struck down part of the law that required states to expand the program or lose their federal Medicaid funding.

Now that choice is voluntary. If Georgia makes such an expansion, Deal’s administration estimates 620,000 people would join the government-run health plan in 2014. Over a decade, it would cost the state an estimated $4.5 billion in additional expenses.

Rep. Jack Kingston wrote on Twitter to rebuke Chief Justice John Roberts, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush. Roberts voted with the majority to back the law.

“I feel like I just lost two great friends: America and Justice Roberts,” Kingston said.

Democratic Rep. John Barrow, who voted against the health care law, is running for re-election and walked a middle-of-the-road line.

“We have to cut spending and cut health costs, but its starts with rejecting the false choice being offered by both parties, that it’s all or nothing,” Barrow said.

Others like 9th District Rep. Tom Graves asked their supporters for political donations, saying only the ballot box can undo the court’s ruling.

“A full repeal of this law is now our only option, but that can only happen if we elect more conservatives to the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and Mitt Romney as the President of the United States,” Graves told supporters in an email.

And like Deal, state Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Oakwood, placed hopes in the election of a Republican president in November.

“Romney, if he wins, will have to repeal it or at least try,” Dunahoo said.

Georgia Democrats predictably celebrated the decision:

Sens. Vincent Fort and Horacena Tate, both Atlanta Democrats, said Thursday that the GOP-controlled General Assembly should now act to expand Medicaid and create the health care exchanges called for in the federal health care law.

The Supreme Court’s ruling said states may choose not to expand Medicaid eligibility without losing all federal funding as the federal law had originally threatened.

“Be responsible,” Fort said.

While Tea Party activists vowed to continue fighting Obamacare:

“We’re going to use it as a stepping stone to get Republicans and conservatives elected and get this thing turned around and repeal it,” Julianne Thompson, co-leader of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, said.

Debbie Dooley, the other leader of the group, said she was “disasppointed” in Chief Justice John Roberts, whom she likened to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, another Republican pick who disappointed conservatives with decisions from the bench.

Dooley said the decision would energize the GOP.

“This is going to be our rallying cry for the November election: Repeal Obamacare,” Dooley said.

Debbie Dooley told the Gwinnett Daily Post,

Debbie Dooley, the Dacula woman who is a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said the part of the decision concerning Medicaid actually gave the states a victory.

The ruling that the federal government can’t punish states that decide against implement federal provisions could set a precedent for other regulations, like the federal No Child Left Behind Act, she said.

“Everyone’s still analyzing everything, but (if the interpretation stands) tea party activists statewide are going to contact Gov. Deal and his lawmakers to get them to opt out of the Medicaid expansion,” she said. “It could have far-reaching implications.”

As far as the Medicaid expansion that is part of Obamacare,

many of the law’s opponents are taking solace in the fact that the Supreme Court struck down a key provision that forced states to expand its Medicaid rolls. Under the law, the federal government could have stripped states of all Medicaid funding if they didn’t agree to expand. The justices, by a 7-2 vote, said that was overly coercive.

“This is the first time that the Court has held that an act of Congress has exceeded its powers under the Spending Clause,” said Nels Peterson of the state attorney general’s office. He helped develop Georgia’s lawsuit against the health reform law.

“There’s going to be a lot of policy calls for the policymakers to make as a result of this decision.”

State leaders estimate the expansion will cover an additional 600,000 to 700,000 Georgians. From 2014 to 2020, it’s expected to cost the state $2-3 billion.

Greensboro Republican Mickey Channell, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means committee, said Medicaid is already $300 million in deficit for the upcoming year. He said lawmakers should take a serious look at opting out of the expansion.

“It becomes a policy question – policy based on available funds and where we can spend those funds,” said Channell. “I think certainly that the state of Georgia will take a long hard look at where we are  now.”

Americans for Prosperity Georgia will rally against Obamacare at the State Capitol this afternoon from 3 to 3:45 PM

Speakers will include State Attorney General Sam Olens, AFP-GA State Director Virginia Galloway, Docs4PatientCare’s Dr. Brian Hill, Atlanta Tea Party Patriots President Julianne Thompson and Georgia Tech Professor of Economics Dr. Christine Ries among others.

Virginia Galloway said, “This decision will go down in history as one of the most momentous ever made in regards to economic freedom. We want our friends who have fought with us against this outrageous government overreach to have a chance to share their responses to this decision.”

The Macon Telegraph reviews midstate reactions to the decision, the Ledger-Enquirer covers reactions around Columbus, and the Marietta Daily Journal talks to Cobb County lawmakers, party officials, and private employers.

Georgia Chamber of Commerce President Chris Clark released a statement:

“We are greatly disappointed in the decision rendered today by the Supreme Court and believe that the path on which our nation is being forced to move forward will be detrimental to both employers and employees throughout the nation as a result of increased costs and new regulations.  Businesses will be forced to make difficult decisions that will likely result in employees losing their employer-provided coverage.   Our organization will look forward to working with the Governor and other leaders at the state and federal level to implement the law in a way that takes into account the important role businesses play by providing this important benefit and the overall impact on our economy.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The first results from the July 31st elections are in, as attorney Beth Hilscher was the only candidate to qualify for the Suwanee City Council seat vacated by Jace Brooks, who is running for County Commission.

Elvira Rogers, administrative services director… said the city’s charter states that if only one candidate qualifies, an election is not needed.

Rogers said city officials would discuss when Hilscher would be appointed, but she expected a called meeting would be in July to make it official. Hilscher could potentially sit at the July City Council Workshop, Rogers said.

Upson County will hold a special election for District 3 County Commissioner on July 31st to fill the term of the incumbent who stepped down to run for Commission Chair.

According to the Registrar’s Office, Norman Allen, Sylvia Chapman, Brandon Creamer and Ralph Ellington all qualified as Republican candidates and Joel Pitts qualified as a Democratic candidate. However, due to it being a special election, all the candidates will be on one ballot in the July 31 election, with the candidate receiving the majority of the votes being the winner. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the two candidates with the most votes will face off in a Runoff Election on August 21.

The special election is being on July 31 in conjunction with the Primary Election. However, those who live in District 3 will have to vote on two separate ballots, as the commission seat will be on a different ballot than the rest of the candidates for the primary.

In the Hall County Commission races, the level of county debt will be an issue.

At last week’s candidate forum, sponsored by the South Hall Republican Club, former Sheriff Dick Mecum declared that the county government was facing a $90 million debt problem.

“We’ve got a Barack Obama, liberalistic-style government that’s going on and spending us into a situation,” Mecum said.

“If we don’t save us some money and pay off this debt, it’s going to bite us big time in three years,” he said.

The statements were quickly challenged by incumbent Chairman Tom Oliver, who said the county’s finances were in “great shape.”

Voters in Varnell will decide on Sunday retail sales of beer and wine at the July 31st election.

Former Taylorsville Mayor Cary Wayne Rhodes pled guilty to computer and electronic child exploitation and was sentenced to two years in prison, ten years on probation, $2000 fine, and 240 hours of community service, as well as restrictions on interacting with minors.

Grovetown City Council member Sonny McDowell will plead not guilty to Alabama bribery charges and insists he is innocent.

“I am not guilty,” McDowell said. “I intend to defend myself through this process with everything that I have. … I have tremendous confidence in this country’s justice system for the most part. I’m going to defend myself and I fully expect, at the end of this, to be cleared.”

McDowell will remain on the council because the indictment is only an accusation. If he is convicted of or pleads guilty to charges, he’ll be removed from the council, James said.

The Democratic Party of Georgia’s finances improved enough over the last quarter to allow them to reward recidivist Political Director Rashad Richey with a $2500 bonus. That will make a nice down payment on the nearly $25k that blogger Andre Walker is seeking from Richey for legal fees related to Richey’s now-dropped lawsuit against Walker and two Democratic party activists.

In they May disclosure, the DPG revealed that, but for a $10k bailout from the DNC, they would have spent more than they took in, which may meet the criteria for “cash-flow insolvency.”

DPG spokesperson Eric Gray said

“For what it’s worth,” party spokesman Eric Gray added Monday, “our former treasurer suggested we had less than 30 days of operating funds in February. He was wrong.”

[The DPG's] most recent monthly report showed income of $139,932 and expenses of $130,454.

Meanwhile, the state GOP filed a report with the FEC saying it had nearly $933,000 in the bank, up from about $826,000 at the end of April.

Fulton County’s elections board appears to have its hands full with a proposed cleanup of county voter rolls.

Fulton County may have more than 1,200 registered voters with empty lots for addresses, but that hasn’t impacted any recent elections, a key county official told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“It appears that none of those people voted,” Registration and Elections Board Vice Chair Stan Matarazzo said, “so that’s a good sign.”

Detractors, however, want proof. The county plans to purge ineligible voters from its rolls, and the clampdown has raised questions about the integrity of the elections process, as well as the prospect of disenfranchising low-income, minority voters, during a busy campaign season.

Matarazzo, one of the elections board’s Republican Party appointees, is firing back, saying the department is following a process laid out by state law to clean up voter rolls. Staff members have visited addresses to make sure demolition records are accurate, he said.

Though staffers have assured him that none of the 1,200 voted recently, he could not say how far back that’s the case. Fulton’s elections department hasn’t responded to questions about votes from the 1,200 possibly cast in prior elections, and the Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The Savannah Morning News review how many times Effingham County candidates voted in the past five years, but does not discuss whether they voted in Democratic or Republican primaries.

Reverend Joseph Lowery denounced Democratic Congressman John Barrow, calling him “a Republican hiding in Democrat’s clothing,”  after Barrow voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, which is probably good news for Barrow’s campaign. No word on whether Lowery would prefer Democrat Republican Wright McLeod.

Records show real estate attorney Wright McLeod and construction company owner Rick W. Allen have both given money to and voted for Democrats in the past decade.

Voting records show McLeod, of Augusta, has voted in five Democratic primary elections since 2002 — including the 2008 presidential primary that featured then-Sens. Obama and Hillary Clinton. In 2010, the GOP candidate and his wife contributed to the campaign of one of McLeod’s law school friends, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for Georgia attorney general.

“Based on his voting record, he probably should have gotten some advice before he put his name in the hat to run for this district,” said Allen, who began attacking McLeod for his crossover voting record weeks ago.

However, voting records from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office show that Allen also cast Democratic ballots in state primaries from 1998 and 2004. In 2001, he gave $1,000 to Charles “Champ” Walker Jr., a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the same House seat that Allen is campaigning for as a Republican.

“He’s a tremendous hypocrite,” McLeod said of Allen. “He’s slinging mud and if it means anything to voters— and I don’t know that it does — that mud should be sticking to him as well.”

McLeod insists he cast his 2008 presidential primary vote for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richard, not for Obama or Clinton. He said he voted in four other Democratic primaries to support candidates for local office such as sheriff — the exact same reason Allen said he voted Democratic twice since 1998. Allen said he gave Walker money in 2001 after they became friends leading a men’s Bible study together.

Georgia Public Broadcasting has a nearly-fifteen minute interview with Republican Congressional Candidate Maria Sheffield, whom they call the race’s “Grassroots Conservative.”

Power Station

Southern Nuclear, the Southern Company subsidiary that is building reactors 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle announced that minor changes to the foundation “mudmat” will proceed after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made no objection. Changes to the rebar to bring it into compliance with plans for the reactor construction also will begin.

Mainstream media stories have played up a dispute over whether $3.2 million dollars that was contested before the Public Service Commission met the criteria for being disallowed, but failed to mention that it totalled less than half-a-percent of the more than half-billion dollars in savings to ratepayers that was at issue in before the PSC. We won’t link to the stories.