Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 3, 2014

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 3, 2014

Georgia began its love affair with the regulation of what can and cannot be sold on this date in 1735, when James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony, helped gain passage of “An Act to prevent the Importation and Use of Rum and Brandies in the Province of Georgia.” The act provided that after June 24, 1735, “no Rum, Brandies, Spirits or Strong Waters” shall be imported into Georgia.” Permission was also required to sell beer, wine, and ale.

On April 3, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized “privateers” holding a letter of marque and reprisal to attack British ships. This essentially legalizes what would otherwise be considered piracy. Issuing letters of marque and reprisal is among the enumerated powers of Congress under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, though they have seldom been used. Thus, I hope to someday see the Jolly Roger flying at Tea Party rallies alongside the Gadsden flag.

On April 3, 1865, Richmond fell.

On April 3, 1898, President William McKinley called on Georgians to contribute 3000 volunteers for the Spanish-American War.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., accompanied by Georgians Hosea Williams and Ralph D. Abernathy, was in Memphis, Tennessee, supporting a strike by sanitation workers on April 3, 1968. He delivered what is known as the “Mountaintop Speech.”

“[L]ike anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

 

Georgia State Government

Governor Nathan Deal yesterday signed two local bills, HB 1115 related to Fulton County, and HB 850 for the City of Valdosta.

As the private lawsuit by disgruntled former Georgia State Ethics Commission Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Executive Director Stacey Kalberman is underway, a major contention by the defense is that the Commission’s budgetary strain was the reason Kalberman was fired.

The state ethics commission was “broke” and needed fixing, and that’s the only reason its former director had her salary cut, former commission Chairman Patrick Millsaps testified Tuesday.

Millsaps was the first witness called in the trial involving the commission and its investigation into Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2010 campaign. Former commission director Stacey Kalberman sued the agency, claiming she was forced from her job for investigating Deal’s campaign.

Millsaps was chairman when Kalberman and her top deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, presented the commission draft subpoenas for records related to a series of complaints filed against Deal’s campaign. Shortly after, however, Millsaps told Kalberman the agency faced a financial crisis and said her salary would be cut 30 percent and Streicker’s job would be eliminated.

The idea that the personnel moves were related to the Deal investigation is false, Millsaps testified. “It was clear to me this was an attempt to successfully take the spotlight away from the budget issues and on to, oh, me and my buddy Governor Deal, whom I’d only met twice at that juncture,” he said.

Assistant Attorney General Bryan Webb, however, said the Deal investigation was not the reason commissioners moved to restructure the agency’s leadership. The budget crisis was real, he said, and salaries accounted for nearly 90 percent of the entire commission budget.

That the Commission was at the time in a budget crisis was also supported by former Commissioner Kent Alexander.

Wednesday, former ethics Commissioner Kent Alexander seemed to surprise Kalberman’s lawyers by testifying that he believed the commission faced a real budget crisis in spring 2011. That crisis was the reason former commission Chairman Patrick Millsaps cited as the need to cut Kalberman’s salary by 30 percent and eliminate Streicker’s job. Kalberman has said that the budget was sound and that Millsaps and others really wanted to force her out over the Deal investigation.

“That’s what it was, it was a budgetary decision,” Alexander said.

In August of 2011, I spoke to then-Commissioner Josh Belinfante about the strain the Commission was under due to legislation that passed earlier that year, and the cost structure of the Commission at that time.

The Fulton County Board of Ethics might as well start reserving a seat for Arthur Ferdinand, as he is becoming a frequent flyer before them. Yesterday, the Board of Ethics heard a new complaint against Ferdinand, the Fulton County Tax Commissioner, while dismissing three earlier complaints.

Real estate investor and one-time tax commissioner candidate R.J. Morris claims Ferdinand broke the law when he waived the property taxes on more than a dozen Atlanta properties without first seeking permission from the Atlanta Board of Education. Ferdinand says he did not do anything illegal.

The ethics board postponed action on the complaint, saying it needed more time to investigate. It also dismissed two other claims that Ferdinand had abused his authority and a third claim that one of its own members should not have voted when the board dismissed another complaint against Ferdinand in February.

Wednesday’s developments show Ferdinand remains a magnet for criticism over the way he runs his tax collection operations – and that his critics have a hard time reining in those practices or showing he’s broken any laws. Other ethics complaints against him have been dismissed, and efforts in the General Assembly to change laws to address perceived abuses also have failed.

Morris claims Ferdinand illegally waived school property taxes on 13 Atlanta properties. Ferdinand waived more than $100,000 of taxes on the properties at the direction of the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority, which has the authority under state law to erase back taxes to spark redevelopment in blighted areas.

The properties were owned by the Historic District Development Corp., a nonprofit that formerly had ties to the family of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2012, the transactions were unusual because the land bank turned the properties back over to the nonprofit after the taxes were waived, instead of seeking new owners to develop the properties, as is typical.

Yesterday, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and members of the Senate held a press conference to discuss the failure by the General Assembly to pass legislation to require coverage by insurance companies for certain treatments for autism.

I’m sorry for the way things worked out,” state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said on what was recognized internationally as World Autism Awareness Day.” We want to take care of all children, not one particular segment.”

Her comments were the first since the Georgia Legislature finished work last month without agreement on two of the legislative session’s most controversial issues. Both started as separate pieces of legislation, but Unterman — chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee — combined the two late in the session under one bill she dubbed the “Kids Care Act.”

The move angered supporters of the medical marijuana effort, who felt they had a better chance of passage without the autism language attached. The Senate passed the combined measure unanimously, but House leaders blocked it on the session’s final day.

“The Senate took a very strong position, and we took that message seriously,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who traditionally presides over the Senate as its president. “We believe if the bill had come to the floor (of the House), it would have passed.”

The medical marijuana legislation, House Bill 885, was designed to allow Georgia families to use cannabis oil to treat certain seizure disorders, afflictions that can cause hundreds of seizures a day and often lead to death. It would have provided immunity from prosecution in Georgia to anyone in possession of the oil and cleared a path for patients and their parents to travel outside the state to find a supply, most likely in Colorado because it allows the oil’s use in limited amounts.

But the bill, Cagle said, would not have outweighed federal law banning the oil. He hoped a study committee to be formed over the summer could come up with a better solution. “I don’t want anyone to think the Senate doesn’t have compassion” for those families, Cagle said.

Gov. Nathan Deal proposed funding coverage of autism in the State Employee Health Plan starting July 1. Deal is expected to sign the budget as early as next week.

Why is no one asking why the House didn’t bother to vote on the combined legislation? Couldn’t they have stripped the Autism language out and passed the rest of it?

Here’s the most important quote, from Lt. Gov. Cagle, “a law that does not allow prosecution of the cannabis oil does not solve the problem. And it does not solve the problem because it is still illegal to receive [CBD oil].”

Polling in Senate and Governor’s Races

Yesterday, WSB-TV released new polling numbers showing match ups between the major candidates for the Republican nomination for United States Senate against presumed Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn.

WSB-TV poll released April 2, 2014
 
 
 
Michelle Nunn (D)33David Perdue (R)37.5
Michelle Nunn (D)37.6Phil Gingrey (R)40.5
Michelle Nunn (D)38.2Paul Broun (R)38.5
Michelle Nunn (D)38.1Karen Handel (R)37
Michelle Nunn (D)37.0Jack Kingston (R)37.7

WSB also spoke to Tharon Johnson, who ran the Obama 2012 campaign in the Southeast, and Eric Tanenblatt, who was a Finance Committee Co-Chair for the Romney campaign that year.

“It’s a great position for her to be in,” Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson said of Nunn. “I think right now, Republicans are very scared. They don’t really have a clear nominee that they want to support that can beat Michelle in November.”

“Right now, no one is going after Michelle,” Republican strategist Eric Tanenblatt said. “Come general election time, you’re going to have a well-prepared nominee and Michelle has avoided debates, avoided the media, hasn’t had a contested primary.”

David Perdue’s “47 percent” moment

David Perdue showed the pitfalls of being an inexperienced politician when he had his “47 percent” moment – like Romney’s famous gaffe, it was caught on video.

Many Georgia Republicans have voiced their repulsion for the denigration of a well-respected professional woman who, due to circumstances in her youth many years ago, did not complete college.

My mother didn’t complete college either, because she joined my father and moved all over the country as he was stationed in various places as a sailor in the United States Navy. She might not be a college graduate, and she’s never lived overseas, but she’s been successful in owning a number of small businesses. Add me to the list of folks who think David Perdue is arrogant and condescending. We’ll be talking more about this. At length. For day.s

On to the Governor’s Race

If you pay attention to media polling, it’s been a real horse race for Governor of Georgia, with incumbent Republican Nathan Deal swapping places with Democratic challenger Jason Carter on a daily basis. The problem is that depiction is not accurate.

Here’s a comparison of polling for the first four months of 2014 between Deal and Carter and February through April of 2010 between Deal and Roy Barnes. We couldn’t find Deal v. Barnes numbers for January 2010, but we did have two sets of poll results for February, so we used those. If any pollster ever claims the ability to make predictions about the future, ask them why they never ask the questions we wish they had asked years ago.

What I’ve done in the chart below is to simply plot out the Deal v. Carter and Deal v. Barnes numbers over comparable periods of time. Then below, I have computed a weighted average of the last three polls in the series, and all four polls.

Deal v Carter and Barnes 4 month chart
What is striking is that both races show nearly the same averages for Democratic and Republican candidates suggesting this is close to baseline performance. Of course there are differences between Carter and Barnes, but at this point, Carter has not started advertising, and we have a relatively stable electorate.

So at about this time in 2010, we had a four-month GaPundit Polling Index of Deal 42.7% to Barnes 39.6% and today, our four-month GaPundit Polling Index shows Deal 43.6% to Carter 38.5%.

The two races also show a remarkably similar range, with Deal v. Carter ranging from Deal +9 to Carter +3, a 12-point spread, while Deal v. Barnes ranged from Deal +6 to Barnes +5, an 11-point spread. So the volatility is similar between the two races.

Next is a time-series plot of the Deal v. Carter polls, and over that we have laid the GaPundit Polling Index, which we noted above is Deal 43.6% to Carter 38.5%.

Deal V. Carter 4 Month Chart 04022014

What this shows is that the 2014 elections polls for Governor of Georgia do not depict a wildly volatile electorate in which the lead is constantly shifting. By removing the noise created by different polling firms using different methodologies and different sample size, we see that the situation today, from a polling perspective, is fundamentally the same as it was four years ago.

Now, you might criticize this approach, and that’s fine. But applying the logical tool of Occam’s Razor is instructive here. That test generally prefers simpler explanations, and in my mind, the competing scenarios are (a) a highly-engaged electorate swinging wildly between the Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor, despite little-to-no television advertising or other media events; or (b) that the apparent differences between polls are really more differences between pollsters and the random noise that is inherent in any series of public opinion surveys.

Even if we account for the snowstorms that buffeted Georgia during this period, it appears that any organic voter backlash has dissipated and we’re back to a baseline race with the most recent polling numbers extremely close to the calculated GaPundit Polling Index.

This goes back to a point I’ve made several times recently: I don’t let any single poll influence my opinion of where an election stands if multiple data sources are available. You shouldn’t either. So, why does everyone treat it like a horse race swapping lead constantly? Because it gives political professionals and hobbyists something to talk about, and because it drives both television ratings and website traffic. Not because it gives you any special insight into the dynamics of an election.

SCOTUS rules in McCutcheon case

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court released its latest campaign finance decision, in a case called McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. Click here for the official opinion.

Politico has a brief report on the effects of the case:

1.) What does the ruling do? Before the ruling, people could only donate $48,600 to federal candidates every two years and $74,600 to political parties and committees. Those caps are gone, meaning a donor can give to as many federal candidates as they want — and donate freely to political parties. Why the ruling? The First Amendment. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in his controlling opinion: “There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”

2.) What doesn’t the ruling do? SCOTUS didn’t touch base limit contributions. That means a donor can still only give $2,600 to a candidate in primary and general elections. But in his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote: “If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate.” Dems, including the White House, denounced the decision today, too.

3.) What’s this mean for campaigns? A lot. It means that political parties can fundraise just as much money as super PACs and other outside political groups. But it also means that those same rich megadonors could have a lot more influence in party politics. SCOTUS struck down campaign caps for corporations and unions in the 2010 Citizens United case. Josh Gerstein and Byron Tau report: http://politi.co/QGqKFE

Yesterday, replying to a reporter, I wrote my initial thoughts on the case, which I’ll share with you here.

“As a First Amendment purist, I think that any movement by the Court to remove limitations on personal political speech is worth celebrating.

As a political consultant, this is not a major case that will affect the day-to-day fundraising of candidates here in Georgia in a major way. There are too few of these “whale“ donors for it to mean an influx of dollars into most campaign accounts.
 
And for those with both the will and the means to pour more money into campaigns than is currently allowed under the individual aggregate limits, Citizens United gave them the tools to spend more money on elections.
 
From a first glance at the opinion, I’d say the most important thing about McCutcheon is what it doesn’t do – it doesn’t strike down the $2600 per candidate per election limitation that is closer to the heart of the current scheme of federal campaign finance regulation.
 
Striking down the individual limitation on contributions to a single campaign would have a major effect, and clearly, Justice Clarence Thomas was willing to go there but a majority of the Court was not.
 
I cannot personally think of any times in which I had a potential donor tell a candidates they’d be happy to make a donation, but it would put them over the individual aggregate limits.”
Not surprisingly, the Republican National Committee was giddy. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus released a statement:
“Today’s Court decision in McCutcheon v FEC is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse. I am proud that the RNC led the way in bringing this case and pleased that the Court agreed that limits on how many candidates or committees a person may support unconstitutionally burden core First Amendment political activities. When free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger.”
The difference between their reaction and mine is this: Reince Priebus has a rolodex filled with people for whom the individual aggregate limitation actually limited what they could do. It also limited the RNC’s ability to ask them to give to races across the country. I don’t have such a rolodex, though if anyone out there falls into, or even near, this category, please call me. I’d be happy to help you decide how to spend your considerable pot of political cash.
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