Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for February 25, 2013


Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for February 25, 2013

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. March 5 at these precincts which make up District 71 in Coweta — Moreland, Sharpsburg, Raymond, Fischer Road, White Oak at Crossroads 154 campus, Thomas Crossroads, Canongate, Turin, Arts Centre, Madras and Ebenezer Church. A small sliver of the Peachtree City area is in District 71.

In addition to March 5 voting, early voting is taking place this week at the Coweta Voter Registrar’s office, room 128, County Administration Building, 22 East Broad St., Newnan. Early voting hours this week are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

This is an important state legislative race. Voter turnout will be extremely low. A few hundred voters will likely decide the winner. On Feb. 5 only about 7 percent of the voters in the district went to the polls. Turnout could be even lighter in this runoff.

Both candidates answered some questions for the Times-Herald in Newnan.

Top Stories Today
At the time of publication, the Senate Rules Calendar for today, the 23d Legislative Day, was not available online.

Senate Meeting Calendar

12:00 PM RULES Upon Adjournment 450 CAP
HB 175 by Rep. Dustin Hightower and others – relating to covenants and warranties, so as to provide that certain covenants run with the land as a matter of public policy of this state
HB 177 by Rep. Joe Wilkinson and others – relating to the creation and operation of the Oconee River Greenway Authority, so as to change the membership of the authority
HB 70 by Rep. Rich Golick and others – relating to the scholarship program for special needs students, so as to provide for the waiver of one of the scholarship requirements under certain conditions; to provide deadlines for scholarship payments to parents
HB 142 by Speaker David Ralston and others – relating to ethics in government, so as to change certain provisions relating to powers and duties of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission; to change certain provisions relating to definitions relative to public officers’ conduct and lobbyist disclosure; to change certain provisions relating to lobbyist registration requirements, application for registration, supplemental registration, expiration, docket, fees, identification cards, public rosters, and exemptions; to regulate certain contact between lobbyists and members of the General Assembly and the making or acceptance of certain expenditures
HB 143 by Speaker David Ralston and others – relating to campaign contributions, so as to change certain provisions relating to disclosure reports; to provide an effective date

House Meeting Calendar

TBD Floor Session (LD23) HOUSE CHAMBER (1:00pm)
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Professions, Boards and Commissions Subcommittee of Regulated Industries 515 CLOB
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM General Government Subcommittee of Governmental Affairs 506 CLOB
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM RULES 341 CAP
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Jacobs Subcommittee (Two) of Judiciary Civil 132 CAP
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sales Tax Subcommittee of Ways & Means 133 CAP
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM Environmental Quality Subcommittee of Natural Resources 403 CAP
3:00 PM – 4:30 PM Setzler Subcommittee of Judiciary Non-Civil 132 CAP
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM ETHICS 406 CLOB
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM Resource Managment Subcommittee of Natural Resources 403 CAP



The State House will debate HB 142 and  HB 143, the Speaker’s Ethics Reform Legislation today; the Rules Calendar states “Pursuant to Rule 33.3, debate shall be limited to one hour each on HB 142 and HB 143.” Walter Jones writes:

Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, sponsored changes that prohibit individual lawmakers from accepting any gifts from lobbyists other than non-airfare travel expenses on official business. The bill also expands who must register as a lobbyist and reducing the registration fee.
Maybe all this discussion of ethics is resulting in better decision-making by legislators and lobbyists, or maybe they’ve lost their appetite, but either way, lobbyist spending for January was down significantly over the previous year.
Lobbyists spent about a third less money on Georgia’s state senators in the month after the chamber imposed limits, though it remains unclear whether the new rule alone can be credited for the change.

An analysis of spending by The Associated Press shows that lobbyists spent more than $91,300 on Senate lawmakers in the one-month period after the Senate passed its rule on Jan. 14, a decrease of roughly 35 percent compared with the same period last year. The spending tally includes lobbyist expenditures on individual state senators, groups of senators and events open to all lawmakers in the General Assembly.

The new Senate rule, adopted the first day of the session, generally prohibits state senators from accepting lobbyist gifts worth more than $100, though it leaves exceptions. The AP’s review showed that the number of lobbyist expenditures worth more than $100 in the Senate dropped to 86 during the first month of the session, down from a total of 153 during the same period last year.

Spending tallies derived from lobbyist reports should be viewed as broad indicators, not exact sums. Lobbyists self-report their spending, and reports are rarely audited for accuracy. Mistakes in the reports or variations in the spelling of a politician’s name or title can throw off automated calculations. Despite those limitations, the math shows that spending is down.

State Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, called the new rule “the No. 1 driving force” in the drop in spending. “Certainly I think the passage of the rule is contributing to an overall change of culture, which is really what we’re after,” said McKoon, a leading proponent of limiting lobbyist spending.

Rick Thompson & Associates, a firm that helps legislators, lobbyists, and PAC administrators comply with state and federal campaign disclosure requirements, has compiled a list of the most-common errors seen in Lobbyist reporting that we’re sharing for our friends in the lobbying community. Number one on that list?
The biggest mistake Thompson runs across is perhaps the most frustrating for lobbyists.
“Time and again we find a lobbyist that believes he or she filed a disclosure report but failed to get a confirmation.” Even though most tech savvy filers recognize the e-filing system has bugs, too often the assumption is made that a report is filed when the submit button is clicked. It is important to have the confirmation, which assures the report has been accepted.

The latest advisory from Governor Nathan Deal’s Press Office is that he will announce a decision on the DeKalb County School Board this morning in a press conference at 11 AM. This was originally scheduled earlier, but delays in the State Board of Education decision due to a marathon hearing on the case required rescheduling.

“I have closely followed the situation in DeKalb County schools since their accreditation was put at risk, and I paid special attention to the state Board of Education’s deliberations on Thursday,” Deal said.”I will continue to look at the details of this case over the weekend, and I will report my decision to Georgians on Monday. Removing elected officials from office is a serious duty, not undertaken lightly. That responsibility, however, pales in comparison to the importance of assuring the credibility of students’ education.”

“I will do everything in my power to prevent the loss of accreditation of the DeKalb school system and the devastating impact it would have on students and economic development in one of the state’s largest counties.”

 I’m not holding my breath for this one, as it may have been overtaken by events.After striking out in getting a restraining order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Amanda Lee, lawyers for the DeKalb School Board ran to federal court to seek help there.

DeKalb County School Board members have filed an emergency motion in federal court, hoping to stop Gov. Nathan Deal from suspending some of its members.
The move comes after the Georgia Board of Education voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend the governor suspend six of nine DeKalb County School Board members.
“The emergency motion is made in light of the governor’s intention to act on the State Board of Education of suspension,” documents filed by the DeKalb County School Board said.
The state board decided to spare the county board’s three newest members after a 14-hour session on Thursday.

A spokesman from the Governor’s Office told Channel 2’s Lori Geary the governor will announce his decision on Monday at 11 a.m. unless the court orders him to stop.State lawmakers told Geary this case is critical because it reflects Georgia’s entire education system.

“The worst thing that could happen is to have your school system lose its accreditation and be on the front page of the New York Times. That would kill economic development in this state,” state Sen. Fran Millar said.

“Not so fast,” said Federal District Court Judge Richard Story, who issued an injunction against an order removing DeKalb Board of Education members from taking effect until after a hearing in his court. Judge Richard Story’s order refuses to restrain Deal from suspending the DeKalb board members, but enjoins implementation of any decision by the governor pending the outcome of a hearing Friday.

Deal previously called a news conference for 11 a.m. Monday to announce his response to a Georgia Board of Education recommendation Thursday to suspend six of nine DeKalb board members. That prompted DeKalb to file a last minute plea Friday for an order restraining the governor.

The judge’s order didn’t side clearly with either DeKalb or the governor, but it does give DeKalb some breathing room.

“If Governor Deal decides to appoint any new member to the board, that proposed member shall not be permitted to take office at this time,” said Story’s order, which was signed Friday and obtained Sunday by Channel 2 Action News.

“Similarly, if Governor Deal decides to remove any current member of the board, that member will remain in office, but shall not be permitted to act on behalf of the board or take any other official action in his or her capacity as board member.”

DeKalb’s lawyer, Bob Wilson, ridiculed SACS’ investigative report that led to the agency’s probation decision. At Thursday’s hearing, he noted that the report was based on unnamed sources and alleged it was full of “misinformation.” Yet the new state law essentially treats it as investigative evidence that the state can use to suspend local board members.

DeKalb claims the law violates the 14th amendment by allowing the state “to strip away property rights to hold elected office without providing procedural due process.”

It “illegally defers to the unelected and unaccountable SACS to initiate suspension proceedings based on anonymous hearsay sources,” the suit says.

By allowing SACS to frame the suspension argument, the state law authorizes removal for “vague and indefinite allegations” that do not inform each board member “of any misconduct of which they are accused,” the suit says. It says the law also shifts the burden to suspended members to prove their innocence.

But some DeKalb Board of Education members may not be willing to go quietly, according to WABE’s Martha Dalton:

Some DeKalb County school board members plan to fight for their jobs. That could put them at odds with Gov. Nathan Deal. Monday morning Deal is expected to make a decision based on last week’s recommendation to suspend six DeKalb board members.

During the state board of education hearing last week, some DeKalb board members testified under oath that if a such a recommendation were made, they would step down. DeKalb board member Jay Cunningham was questioned by state board member Linda Zechman, who called in to the meeting.

Zechman: “Mr. Cunningham?”

Cunningham: “Yes, ma’am?”

Zechman: “If you were asked to step down from this board, would you be wiling to do so?”

Cunningham: “Yes, I would.

But at a town hall meeting this weekend, Cunningham changed his tune. Channel 2 reports Cunningham told parents he won’t step aside.

Jim Galloway of the AJC Political Insider blog discusses the political implications if current school board members are removed by Deal by refuse to go peacefully.

What happens in the hours and days that follow could dictate the future of the DeKalb school system for years to come.

The worst fear among those whose job it will be to patch the school system back together is a “rump” school board that – though deprived of authority – would continue to meet, fueling political unrest among DeKalb voters angered at seeing their choices turned out of office.

“I’ll have 15 board members,” Thurmond replied. Six appointed by the governor, three elected and allowed to stay in office, and six suspended – with pay.

“I can manage nine. Fifteen is an issue,” Thurmond said. “The optics and the realities are very, very treacherous.”

It is a worry shared by state Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain. “I can see that happening,” he said. “Voters have stated what they wish to happen, and then you get some board usurping the opinion of those voters.”

This is not a universal opinion. Democrats, in this most Democratic county in Georgia, are split when it comes to fixing DeKalb’s dysfunctional school board.

Consider November’s vote on whether to restore the state’s authority to create charter schools. Of those DeKalb precincts in which President Barack Obama won 90 percent of the vote, “yes” votes on the charter school question averaged 65 percent.

In other words, it’s entirely possible to be black and fed up with the state of your kid’s educational institutions. Who would’ve thought?

But more than education is at stake. Property values ride on a school system’s reputation. “We don’t need to become another metro county that’s arguably nothing but a rental county now,” DeKalb Sheriff Thomas Brown said, tactfully avoiding the word “Clayton.”

“I don’t think [voters] would be upset with the governor on this one,” Brown said.

The racial dynamics of this mess can’t be avoided. But they can be muted. Much will depend on the makeup of the new board that Deal would create.

“It’s less about if [the governor] replaces the board, more about who he replaces them with,” Democratic strategist Cabral Franklin said. “If he tries to swing the balance of the board racially or politically, it could be a problem. If he replaces the board with qualified replacements from within the same community, then I believe it will be fine.”


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