Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 23, 2013

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Dec

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for December 23, 2013

On December 22, 1864, General William T. Sherman wrote to President Lincoln,

“I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

Wesleyan College in Macon was chartered on December 23, 1836, becoming the first college chartered specifically to grant degrees to women.

On December 23, 1896, the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution specifying that the Senate chamber should be lit by electricity for the next Session. That is the last time the legislature sought enlightenment before passing laws.

Mike Boggs to U.S. District Court

I’m not sure if I’d consider it an upgrade or a downgrade for him, but Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Mike Boggs has been nominated to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. While he’ll be trading an appellate panel for a trial court bench, he also will trades in periodic reelection campaigns for life tenure, assuming “good behavior.”

This may mark the first act of the Obama White House that I actually approve of. USDC Judge Julie Carnes ascends from the seat to which Boggs has been nominated to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Here’s more on the nominees to the District Court:

Judge Michael P. Boggs: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Judge Michael P. Boggs has been a judge on the Court of Appeals of Georgia since January 2012. Previously, Judge Boggs served as a Superior Court Judge in the Waycross Judicial Circuit of the First Judicial Administrative District of Georgia from 2004 to 2012. While serving as a Superior Court Judge, he established and presided over the court’s felony drug court program. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Boggs was a sole practitioner from 1998 to 2005 and worked in private practice in various law firms from 1990 to 1998. In 2000, he was elected to serve as a Democratic State Representative to Georgia’s General Assembly, a position he held until 2004. Judge Boggs received his J.D. in 1990 from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law and his B.A. in 1985 from Georgia Southern College.

Mark Howard Cohen: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Mark Howard Cohen is a litigation partner at the Atlanta law firm of Troutman Sanders LLP, where he has worked since 1999 and has been a partner since 2001. Cohen previously worked for Governor Zell Miller, serving as Executive Secretary from 1998 to 1999 and as Executive Counsel from 1995 to 1998. In 1995, he was appointed Chief State Administrative Law Judge and managed the newly-created Office of State Administrative Hearings in Georgia. From 1981 to 1994, Cohen worked in the Georgia Attorney General’s Office, where he represented state agencies in federal and state litigation. He began his legal career as a law clerk to Magistrate Judge Joel M. Feldman of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Cohen received his J.D. in 1979 from Emory University School of Law and his B.A. magna cum laude in 1976 from Emory University.

Leigh Martin May: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Leigh Martin May is a partner at the Atlanta office of Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer LLP, where she has worked since joining the firm in 2000. Her legal practice focuses on complex civil litigation in both state and federal courts. From 1998 to 2000, May served as a law clerk to Judge Dudley H. Bowen, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. She received her J.D. magna cum laude in 1998 from the University of Georgia School of Law and her B.S. with honors in 1993 from the Georgia Institute of Technology. May is currently the Vice Chair of the Litigation Section of the Atlanta Bar Association.

Judge Eleanor Louise Ross: Nominee for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Judge Eleanor Louise Ross has served on the DeKalb County State Court in Georgia since 2011. Previously, she spent fifteen years as a prosecutor at both the federal and state levels. From 2007 to 2011, she was Executive Assistant District Attorney in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office; from 2002 to 2005, she was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia; and from 1998 to 2002, she was Senior Assistant District Attorney in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Judge Ross served as an Assistant Solicitor General in the Office of the DeKalb County Solicitor-General from 1997 to 1998 and began her legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in Tarrant County from 1995 to 1996. She received her J.D. in 1994 from the University of Houston Law Center and her B.A. in 1989 from American University.

This is widely seen as part of a deal in which Senators Isakson and Chambliss got three of the four nominees to the US District Court.

Under the proposed deal, Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) would agree to stop blocking attorney Jill Pryor’s nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit — a nomination that they have effectively held up for well over 1000 days. In return, Obama would nominate a George H.W. Bush-appointed judge — Chief Judge Julie Carnes of the Northern District of Georgia — to the other open seat on the Eleventh Circuit, creating a fourth vacancy on this federal trial court. Chambliss and Isakson would then be allowed to select three of the four attorneys named to these seats.

WaPo profiles Carter, Nunn

The Washington Post writes yet again that Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn may put Georgia in play in 2014, four years earlier than many predict the state to turn purple.

Nunn and Carter face tough odds, given that Georgia has not elected a non-incumbent Democrat to any statewide office since the waning years of the last century. But recent demographic shifts suggest a new electoral equation could be forming — and probably more quickly than in much-talked-about Texas.

The face of the state is being changed by an influx of African Americans and Latinos. Although whites accounted for 71 percent of Georgians who voted in the 2004 elections, that share had dropped by nearly 10 percentage points in 2012.

Last year, President Obama’s reelection campaign pretty much ignored Georgia, but he still got more than 45 percent of the vote. Of the states that Obama lost to Republican Mitt Romney, Georgia had the second-narrowest margin, behind battleground North Carolina.

Democrats say all they need now is more money, better organization and the right names on the ballot — the last of which they believe they have found in Nunn and Carter, who present themselves as affable consensus-builders willing to reach across party lines.

“Everybody said it could happen by 2018, but because of these two candidates and the excitement they bring, we’re going to do it in 2014,” said DuBose Porter, who took over in August as chairman of the troubled and underfunded Georgia Democratic Party.

At least as important as anything Nunn brings to the race, she also stands to benefit from the disarray on the other side of the ballot. There are currently more than a half-dozen Republicans vying to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a situation that promises a bruising, expensive primary and almost certainly a runoff.

Establishment Republicans worry that Nunn could have an opening, should the party nominate one of the more-far-right contenders, such as Rep. Paul Broun, who has described evolution, embryology and the big-bang theory as “lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

“If she could get to run against him, he could be the Todd Akin of 2014,” said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock, referring to the Missouri 2012 Senate nominee, who lost what Republicans considered a likely pickup seat after he suggested that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”

Speaking of which, another GOP Senate contender in Georgia — Rep. Phil Gingrey, an obstetrician-gynecologist— revived that controversy this year when he said Akin had been “partly right” about rape.

Seriously, do writers outside Georgia just cut-and-paste and pass this off as original analysis?

Barrow a fish out of water?

The Post also lists John Barrow as #3 among the top five Congressional Democrats in a district more friendly to the other party – what they call the “fish out of water” list.

3. Rep. John Barrow (Ga.).55 percent Romney district. Cook R+9. Barrow’s camp ran one of the savviest ad campaigns of the 2012 cycle, helping him survive against the odds. He’s the last remaining white Democratic member of Congress in the Deep South. And he faces another tough race. Republicans Rick Allen and John Stone are vying for a chance to take on the congressman.

Roll Call notes busy Georgia election season

I had never added it up, but RollCall.com informs us that no fewer than 20 candidates are seeking the three open seats in Congress from the Peach State. Add in five major contenders for Senate, and two serious candidates in the Twelfth District, and it all adds up to a banner year for political consultants in Georgia. They have a good analysis of the electoral environment.

Twenty Republican candidates have announced bids so far for those three GOP-friendly House districts. In fields so large and unwieldy, it’s become difficult — and expensive — for candidates to distinguish themselves.

“At the end of the day, there’s not one candidate in any of those three races who has done anything to set themselves apart,” said Georgia Republican operative Chip Lake, a former Gingrey advisor. “All three of those races, as we sit here today, are wide open.”

Operatives say pinpointing top-tier candidates is more challenging because there’s parity among their paltry fundraising. In the third quarter, none of the 13 Republican candidates who filed for any of the three open House seats raised more than $170,000. In fact, the majority of the candidates didn’t even produce six-figure hauls.

“Georgia was hit super hard by the recession, so we’re already trying to recover. The big housing boom hit us hard here, so a lot of the folks who had that disposable income are keeping it tight,” said Georgia GOP consultant Ryan Mahoney. “We saw that in the 2010 cycle and in 2012. So it’s a tough time to be a candidate right now.”

Poor fundraising makes it difficult for House candidates to buy television airtime. In many cases, candidates must run ads in the pricey Savannah or Atlanta media markets. But airtime will come at a premium next year given the large number of races.

A new primary calendar only adds to the woes of these House hopefuls. An elongated nine-week runoff is three times longer than last cycle. This pushes the initial primary back to May, forcing campaigns to shake up their strategies.

With the money race at a standstill, many of the candidates are vying for endorsements and ad spending from outside groups such as the Club for Growth. The club has a history of getting involved in primaries in safe Republican seats such as these. For example, in 2010, the club helped Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., win an open seat in the 14th District.

Georgia’s 1st District

State Sen. Buddy Carter is the candidate to beat in this six-person GOP primary, Republican operative said. Carter reported $312,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter. That’s almost double the amount of his closest competitor.

But several other qualified candidates could easily get second place and proceed to the runoff, Republicans said.

Georgia’s 10th District

The race to replace Broun in this exurban Atlanta district is the most unpredictable House contest in the state, GOP strategists say. None of the five candidates who filed third-quarter fundraising reports here broke the six-figure mark. What’s more, many of the candidates are from the same region in the district, further muddling the field.

Georgia’s 11th District

Eight Republicans are vying for this seat, currently held by Gingrey, making it one of the most crowded GOP primaries in the country.

Republicans predict former Rep. Bob Barr, who is making a comeback bid after losing in 2002, will likely make the runoff thanks to his high name recognition. But the race for second place is currently a tossup between businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk and state House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey.

Ethicspocalypse Now

Two stories illustrate how the campaign finance and lobbying disclosure system is primed for an epic fail come January. Pro-tip: if I had either type of filing due in January, I would file those as early as possible. As in entering all the information between now and New Year’s and saving as a draft, then I would pull the trigger and file that bad boy the first moment I could.

In Columbus, more than half the elected officials required to file disclosure have failed to do so, according to the Ledger-Enquirer:

Among the 44 local and state officials serving Columbus, 24 of them (55 percent) filed required documents late or not at all this year, according to the Ledger-Enquirer’s review of records kept by the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the Georgia Ethics Commission.

But many of those deemed in violation point the finger elsewhere. They say the statewide campaign finance filing system that started three years ago is the true failure in this boondoggle.

And they welcome the amended law that returns the filing system to local election boards next year.

The two documents at issue are the campaign contributions report and the personal financial disclosure statement.

In non-election years, such as 2013, the campaign contributions report must be filed twice, by June 30 (grace period ends July 8) and Dec. 31 (grace period ends Jan. 8). In election years, the report must be filed five times.

Elected officials also must annually file a personal financial disclosure statement covering the previous calendar year by July 1.

Yet again the Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission finds itself under new management, if only temporarily.

The members of the state ethics commission, eager to bring order to one of the most disordered corners of state government, hired a “receiver” last week to heal their agency….

Robert Constantine, a longtime Capitol insider, will be the receiver — a four-month job that will pay $16,000, Commission Chairman Kevin Abernethy said. The receiver will ensure that the agency is performing its legally required functions and will report back to commissioners on the performance of agency employees, Abernethy said.

But the job came with no description and Commissioner Hillary Stringfellow gamely asked whether Abernethy would please circulate Constantine’s resume following the vote.

The unprecedented move to hire Constantine comes at a yet another low point for the ethics commission, formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. The commission is the only independent state agency charged with monitoring the money behind campaigns and keeping politicians and lobbyists in line with ethics rules.

It does neither of those things well and has been struggling to do less with less for the past several years. The Legislature cut the agency’s budget by 41 percent from 2008 to 2012 and has restored only a portion of that money since. The staff has dropped from a 18 to 10 listed on the agency website.

Commissioner Heath Garrett, former chief of staff to Sen. Johnny Isakson, supported the hiring of Constantine, but he used the meeting to vent his frustration at serving on a commission he described as “bankrupt” both financially and structurally.

“If we were a private-sector entity we would not be a going concern,” he said. “We do not have the financial resources to function properly on a daily basis. We don’t have enough internal attorneys, we don’t have enough paralegals, we don’t have the ability to attract and recruit enough at the highest levels of professionals within the agency.”

Garrett also said the state’s ethics laws need to be revamped to give the agency greater authority to investigate wrongdoing. To make his point the veteran Republican strategist used his strongest comparison.

“Our state laws on ethics is to ethics what Obamacare is to the health care industry,” he said. “It’s absolutely structurally flawed and unworkable.”

With all due respect to the fine individuals who have been running the Commission, here’s my diagnosis: the central problem is a failure to focus on the Commission’s primary mission, which is running a sophisticated database that enables timely filing of campaign and lobbyist disclosure. I think that too much attention, and money, has been paid to lawyers and not enough to the geeks behind the scenes.

A more apt metaphor is that our state disclosure filing system is the Healthcare.gov of state government.

The problem is two-fold. Without a disclosure filing system that operates at a level greater than that of Healthcare.gov, there will be no enforcement. No filings, no enforcement. What part of that is so hard to understand? So a working system must come first. Spend the money on a working system, and you can build many of the auditing rules into the system – it’s called “business logic” in the IT setting.

Again, with all due respect to lawyers, part of our Republican creed is that government should be run as a business, and here we have failed. A first-year MBA student could pinpoint the problem as being a failure to put the business (agency) resources where they reflect the requirements of doing the job. Too many lawyers, too few geeks.

But here’s where the panic really set in:

Flying blind on the new ethics law

The chaos comes at a particularly inconvenient time. Large-scale ethics reforms passed this year kick in with the new year and will require the commission to be on top of its game.

House Bill 142 changes the way lobbyists operate at the Capitol, setting a $75 cap on some lobbyist spending and making many subtle changes to the lobbyist-lawmaker relationship. It also gave the commission a measure of power by enabling it to make and enforce rules governing officials’ conduct.

The Georgia Professional Lobbying Association submitted an 11-page letter Tuesday asking the commission for answers to dozens of questions it has about how the law is supposed to work. Some of the questions sound like SAT word problems.

On the gift limit, the association asked, “if four lobbyists take four public officials out to eat, can each lobbyist spend $75 on each public official or is the individual lobbyist only allowed to spend $75 total for the entire meal?” It’s not a silly question. If the former is correct, then a lawmaker in that situation could look forward to a $300 dinner.

If past performance is any indication of future results, the commission will need months to issue opinions on this or other questions about the reforms, meaning lobbyists and lawmakers will be flying blind until then.

The commission has another problem caused by the reforms. Usually lobbyists register for the coming session in the final weeks of the year, but House Bill 142 also reduced fees dramatically for lobbyist registration and thousands of lobbyists are required to wait to register until the new year. That flood of applications likely will tax the agency’s small staff as it struggles to process them before the start of the session on Jan. 13.

House Bill 143 requires lawmakers to file a report of how much campaign money they raised in January at the end of the month. The reform is meant to capture pre-session fundraisers, which in the past were not reported until well after the session ended.

Reporting is automated, but the commission has had technology problems in the past and could find the new filing deadline as another item on their crowded plate.

The AJC is not know for understatement when it comes to ethics, but that last statement, “the Commission has had technology problems in the past,” could be the greatest understatement that paper has ever made.

Save the Date: January 2, 2014

9th District GOP: A Visit with Governor Nathan Deal

January 2, 2014 from 7-8:00 PM
Achasta Club House Grille, 639 Birch River Drive Dahlonega , GA 30533

9th District GOP of Georgia Save the date for a visit with Governor Nathan Deal on Thursday, January 2, 2014, at 7 PM, at the Achasta Club House Grille in Dahlonega, 639 Birch River Drive. This intimate gathering around the fire with refreshments is being co hosted by the Dawson County Republican Party, Lumpkin County Republican Party and Foothills Republican Women.

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