Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 6, 2012

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 6, 2012

The yellow dog above is seeking private placement into a foster or adoptive home. A friend of mine saw him running through the streets of her town, with someone encouraging his sons to stomp and shout at the dog to scare it, and another jackwagon trying to hit the dog with his truck as the dog ran through an intersection.

The dog is safe at her home now, but she can’t keep him, as she is already raising five dogs of her own plus a son. Please email me if you’re interested in fostering or adopting this dog, or if you’d like to donate toward its care until a home is found. The dog’s savior says he’s well-behaved inside, and a sweet, big, affectionate lap dog.

Savannah-area animal shelters are reporting record numbers of dogs and cats:

Just a few weeks ago, the number of animal surrenders created an “unprecedented” situation at the Humane Society of Greater Savannah when 31 pets were brought in a single day.

“The influx of dogs, particularly the concentration of them, that is to say so many in a three-week period, is something we have not seen before,” said Executive Director Lynn Gensamer.

The society is accepting monetary and non-monetary — such as high-efficiency liquid laundry detergent – donations to help it cope with the influx of surrendered animals.

Gensamer encouraged people to go to www.humanesocietysav.org to find out how they can help with a specific amount of money. She said the society could always use monetary donations because they pay a staff to take care of the animals. Nearly two-thirds of the budget is payroll-related, she said.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Next week we will resume our normal schedule of publishing around 7 AM.

On Monday, July 9th, early and advanced voting begins for the July 31st elections. Visit Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s website to check your voter registration, new district lines, and find out about early and advanced voting times and locations for your county.

Use the MVP system and sign in with your name, county and birthdate to see your registration information and a sample ballot. Once you’re signed in, click the link titled “Click here for early voting locations and times” and your county’s information will be displayed.

Errin Haines of the Associated Press writes that a federal judge has ordered Secretary of State Brian Kemp to extend the period for accepting mail-in ballots from overseas service members, families, and other Georgians.

A federal judge on Thursday ordered Georgia’s secretary of state to extend the deadline to accept absentee ballots from military service members, their families and citizens living overseas in the event of a primary runoff election on Aug. 21.

U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones says “it is beyond dispute” that the state will violate election rules under the current system.

Federal prosecutors argued that Georgia’s procedures are “inadequate to ensure that its eligible military and overseas voters can participate fully” in the runoff, should one be necessary.

The order extends the deadline for receipt of absentee ballots by one week to Aug. 31 and orders the secretary of state’s office to send absentee ballots to any eligible overseas voter who requests one by express mail. Those voters would be allowed to return their ballot either by e-mail, fax, or express mail at no cost to them.

My initial thought is that last part scares me. Read it again. “eligible overseas … voters would be allowed to return their ballot either by e-mail, fax, or express mail at no cost to them.”  How is allowing ballots to be returned by email or fax not an invitation to vote fraud? Or am I missing something?

Secretary of State Brian Kemp responded this morning:

Last night we received the ruling from Judge Steve Jones in response to the DOJs lawsuit against the State of Georgia regarding our run-off election calendar.  While we suggest it would have been more responsible for the DOJ to have voiced their issues with Georgia’s system in any of the past 3 election cycles we have used this calendar rather than in a lawsuit weeks before our Primary Election, our Office will continue to be on the forefront of military and overseas citizen voting access.

As Secretary of State, I have committed our Office to the service of our brave men and women in uniform and have implemented numerous programs, from Electronic Ballot Delivery to the MOVE Act, in this spirit.  In the coming weeks we will be in full compliance with this order and work with the Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate leadership to prepare a legislative package that will continue our efforts to make sure Georgia has the most safe and accessible voting system in the nation.

Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida visited Lawrenceville for a book signing yesterday. We have an extra signed copy of his book An American Son: A Memoir, and will give it away next week as soon as we figure out what hoops we’re going to ask y’all to jump through to get your signed copy.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story about the spread of private probation companies and some of the unintended consequences.

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.

It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system.

The Times article also profiles a Georgia-based private probation company and the growth of private probation in Georgia:

William M. Dawson, a Birmingham lawyer and Democratic Party activist, has filed a lawsuit for Mr. Garrett and others against the local authorities and the probation company,Judicial Correction Services, which is based in Georgia.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that it is unconstitutional to jail people just because they can’t pay a fine,” Mr. Dawson said in an interview.

In Georgia, three dozen for-profit probation companies operate in hundreds of courts, and there have been similar lawsuits. In one, Randy Miller, 39, an Iraq war veteran who had lost his job, was jailed after failing to make child support payments of $860 a month. In another, Hills McGee, with a monthly income of $243 in veterans benefits, was charged with public drunkenness, assessed $270 by a court and put on probation through a private company. The company added a $15 enrollment fee and $39 in monthly fees. That put his total for a year above $700, which Mr. McGee, 53, struggled to meet before being jailed for failing to pay it all.

“These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,” said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. “There are things like garbage collection where private companies are O.K. No one’s liberty is affected. The closer you get to locking someone up, the closer you get to a constitutional issue.”

The company says that it provides a service to local governments and has increased compliance with court fines:

In a joint telephone interview, two senior officials of Judicial Correction Services, Robert H. McMichael, its chief executive, and Kevin Egan, its chief marketing officer, rejected the lawsuit’s accusations. They said that the company does try to help those in need, but that the authority to determine who is indigent rests with the court, not the company.

“We hear a lot of ‘I can’t pay the fee,’ ” Mr. Egan said. “It is not our job to figure that out. Only the judge can make that determination.” Mr. Egan said his company had doubled the number of completed sentences where it is employed to more than two-thirds, from about one-third, and that this serves the company, the towns and the defendant. “Our job is to keep people out of jail,” he said. “We have a financial interest in getting them to comply. If they don’t pay, we don’t get paid.”

Private probation companies have come under increasing scrutiny in Gwinnett County, with a lawsuit by former Chairman Charles Bannister against Sheriff Butch Conway.

In a federal lawsuit filed this week against Sheriff Butch Conway claiming the arrest was politically motivated, Bannister also says Conway and his wife, State Court Judge Carla Brown, steered a county contract to a probation company partly owned by [Gwinnett County developer Wayne] Mason.

Moreover, in the suit he claims he was approached by Mason shortly after taking office in 2005. The suit says Mason “made it clear, explicitly, that if Bannister would use his position as commission chairman to Mason’s advantage, Bannister would be made wealthy.”

Such incendiary claims, leveled in a lawsuit aimed at someone else, did not sit well with Mason.

“Those allegations are a complete falsehood from an individual who left public office to avoid prosecution for perjury before a special grand jury,” Mason e-mailed when asked for a response by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Mason’s company did get the contract with Gwinnett County, but the former holder of that contract has asked the County to rebid it after a county commissioner was indicted for accepting a bribe in a zoning case.

Professional Probation Services (PPS) provided misdemeanor probation services for a decade until the contract was awarded to another company in 2010. PPS sent the county a letter June 7 claiming  Gwinnett CountyState Court judges improperly skirted the sealed-bid  process when they switched to a company with connections to developer and former County Commission Chairman Wayne Mason.

The accusations come amid a backdrop of political scandal and corruption in Gwinnett that has resulted in departures of three sitting commissioners in less than two years.

Clay Cox, who is CEO of PPS, said Gwinnett County should terminate its current contract with Southeast Corrections.

“What is becoming more and more clear is that this was a time period of misbehavior,” said Cox. “It makes good sense for the county to say we’re going to put this back out for bid and eliminate any possible appearances of impropriety.”

The job of supervising misdemeanor probationers is worth about $150,000 a month, according to Cox. The probationers pay supervision fees to the company. PPS alleges that the judges awarded the job to Southeast Corrections because they had personal relationships with Mason.

Against this backdrop, Tracey Mason Blasi, who is Wayne Mason’s niece, is currently running for Superior Court Judge in Gwinnett County. Blasi was appointed by former Mayor Shirley Fanning Lasseter as a Duluth Municipal Court Judge to deal only with zoning issues. Small world in Gwinnett County, isn’t it.

Georgia looks to buck the prediction by the National Conference of State Legislatures that a majority of state legislators after this year’s election will have fewer than two years experience. According to GPB, approximately one quarter of state house members are in currently in their first term, and 24 house seats will have new occupants. That would mean 69 members with two years or less, significantly less than half the 180-member chamber.

It’s also worth noting that at least three legislative veterans are seeking a return to the house after an absence. After running unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for Insurance Commissioner in 2010, former State Rep. Tom Knox is attempting a comeback this year.

Former State Rep. Clint Smith of Dawsonville served four terms in the State House, serving as the State Rep. for then-Congressman Nathan Deal, before leaving after the 2002 Roy Barnes-led redistricting; he is attempting a return in house district 9.

Finally, Bob Snelling is a Republican state house veteran who retired after being redistricted into a seat with a GOP colleague in 2002; he is running for house district 66 in the Republican primary.

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There are three days for candidates to file campaign disclosures forms for the period ending June 30th. According to R. Thompson & Associates, an ethics and compliance consulting firm, five of the top ten most-common mistakes made on campaign disclosures are:

10. Not filing at the required times after the election
9. Not properly reporting credit card transactions
8. Not properly listing end recipients for reimbursements
7. Not properly reporting dates checks are received
6. Not balancing disclosures with bank accounts

We’ll bring you items 1 through 5 on Monday.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Any candidate in the July 31st election receiving a contribution of $1,000 or more, between July 1 and July 31st MUST report the contribution electronically or by facsimile within two business days of receipt to the Campaign Finance Commission. There is no grace period for late filing. [Campaign Finance Act §21-5-34(c)(2)(C).]

After Scott Peebles announced an endorsement by local law enforcement members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), he was forced to walk it back, as the national group said that the officers endorsing Peebles were not members, and in any case, the organization does not make campaign endorsements.

Peebles replied:

“I appreciate these law enforcement executives showing courage and conviction in standing on their (principles) and endorsing me for sheriff,” Peebles said in a statement.

Chief Alfonzo Williams and Sgt. David Hannah, of the Waynesboro Police Department, sent a letter of apology to Peebles that said they still intended to endorse him as individual police officers. Williams explained Tuesday that the men were active members of the Georgia chapter but were unaware of the prohibition against endorsements. They were working to gain membership status with the national organization.

Now, supporters of fellow candidate Richard Roundtree are criticizing the individual officers involved:

“This controversy is not about race,” said Charles Lyons, a lawyer and Roundtree supporter. “This is about five guys coming to Augusta from Waynesboro on city time to make a bogus endorsement.”

On Monday, five Waynesboro police officers, including Chief Alfonzo Williams, issued a news release saying that Peebles, who is white, had the endorsement of a regional chapter of the national black law enforcement group.

Asked to respond, Peebles said that “there was no conspiracy on the part of my campaign to falsely represent an endorsement from any organization” and that he believed the Waynesboro officers’ claims that they were “acting in good faith” and appreciated their individual support.

Roundtree recently praised the work of Williams in Waynesboro, so when the officers endorsed Peebles instead, Roundtree turned on them, Peebles said.

“Roundtree is determined to make an example of them by attempting to defame them and tarnish their reputations,” he said.

Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter reported more than $40,000 cash on hand and $25,000 in debt from previous campaigns; he will meet Republican challenger Cary Cooper in the November General Election.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell, who was first elected as a Democrat but switched to the Republican Party, faces Jeff Stowe in the Republian Primary.

In fact, the only Democrat who will appear on Hall’s primary ballot July 31 is Jody Cooley, running for the U.S. House 9th District seat.

What makes District 4 unique, and perhaps what kept it in Democratic hands for so long, is its diversity; 44 percent of the population is Hispanic and 16 percent is black.

District 4’s boundary includes most of the city of Gainesville, areas east of Atlanta Highway down to Poplar Springs Road, neighborhoods along Gaines Mill Road and those from Riverside Drive to Black and Cooley drives.

“My district as a whole is the most diverse out of the commission districts,” Bell said.

Still, Bell said he thinks District 4 is actually “a pretty conservative community,” pointing to Republican John McCain’s success in the district during the 2008 presidential election.

Emory Turner, a Gainesville resident and civic participant in the black community, said a lot of people are still upset about Bell’s party switch. That could lead some of those voters to stay home.

But the Democratic-leaning Turner sees it differently. He points to Bell’s 2010 party switch as just the latest in a long line of defections following those of Gov. Nathan Deal, the former 9th District U.S. Rep., and state Rep. Carl Rogers, who also switched to the Republican Party.

“It’s beginning to be par for the course,” Turner said. “You vote for someone and they switch parties.”

Turner predicts that in the end, the race won’t be along racial lines but on the issues.

Beyond this election, though, Turner isn’t sure District 4 will stay red. Given the large population of Hispanic residents, he said the future of the community could hinge on their participation.

The Cherokee Ledger-News continues its coverage of forums between competing candidates sponsored by the Cherokee County Republican Party with notes from county commission district 3.

The candidates also were in agreement that the transportation referendum on the July 31 ballot spelled trouble for Cherokee County if passed.

“I absolutely don’t support the TSPLOST,” Poole said. “It’s not about traffic relief; it’s about economic development.”

He said he couldn’t support levying any more taxes on the citizens.

“(Traffic) is a regional problem and it needs to be corrected, but I don’t think it needs to be done with T-SPLOST because of the project list,” Hampton said.

Jared Thomas, spokesman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp reminds us that intelligence is not a requirement to qualify for some offices:

“The qualifications are night and day,” said Jared Thomas, spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. “You don’t even have to be able to read to be county commissioner.”

The Georgia Immigration Review Board is investigating whether the City of Vidalia is harboring illegal immigrants.

An Emmanuel County man says, Vidalia allows illegal immigrants to live and work in the city.

The complaint revolves around how police treat undocumented migrants stopped for minor violations.

Board member Phil Kent says, such complaints are exactly why the panel was created.

“Let me just stress that this is a preliminary investigation to see if there should be an investigation,” Kent says. ”So, we had a back and forth if this was worthwhile, but in the end, all of us on the panel agreed.“

Republican Events

Gwinnett County Republicans will hear both sides of the T-SPLOST debate on Saturday as former Suwanee Mayor Dave Williams and Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown speak about the tax increase on the July 31st ballot. The monthly breakfast is held at 550 Trackside, 550 North Clayton Street in Lawrenceville. Doors open at 7:45 for breakfast and networking, and the program begins at 8:30. Breakfast is $8, or get coffee and juice for $2.

Greater Gwinnett Republican Women will hold a straw poll on the T-SPLOST at the meeting.

The Fayette County Republican Party’s Breakfast will feature Republican Public Service Commissioners Stan Wise and Chuck Eaton at the IHOP Restaurant at 705 Jeff Davis Drive in Fayetteville, beginning at 9 AM.

Also on Saturday, from 10:30 to 11:30 AM, syndicated columnist Dick Yarbrough will moderate a forum among Josh Belinfante, Drew Ellenburg, and Hunter Hill, the candidates for the Republican nomination for state senate district 6. The forum will be held in the lobby of the 200 Galleria building at the Cobb Galleria.

Bits & Pieces

Dalton carpet magnate Carl Bouckaert, who founded Beaulieu Group, will represent Belgium in equestrian events at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The Federal Aviation Administration raised concerns that Gulfstream’s new $25 million G280 could be hacked due to increased network connectivity designed to feed the onboard entertainment systems

Stay out of the Ogeechee River, after Effingham County officials issued a warning against swimming or fishing.

Effingham County emergency manager Ed Myrick says, this week’s blistered fish died of the same bacteria that caused the previous two fish kills.

“If last year wouldn’t have happened, if none of this had been going on, and a fish would have popped up with blisters on it, I would have had some concerns about that,” Myrick says. “However, with everything that’s been going on, we know there’s a problem with the Ogeechee River and there has been now for over a year. So, with this coming up, it was obviously a concern and we needed to shut it down.”

“At this time, it was based just on those blisters,” he says. “And the reason we did it so quickly was that if nothing would have happened last year or if nothing would have happened in May, it would have been different.”

Officials say, the bacteria are always present in the water but become a problem when the fish are stressed by other factors.

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