Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 17, 2014


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 17, 2014

On July 17, 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman set up headquarters in Fulton County on Powers Ferry Road near the Chattahoochee River. Late that night, Confederate General Joseph Johnston was replaced by newly-commissioned Gen. John Bell Hood.

For nearly three months, Johnston and Sherman had maneuvered around the rugged corridor from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Although there was constant skirmishing, there were few major battles; Sherman kept trying to outflank Johnston, but his advances were blocked. Though this kept losses to a minimum, there was also a limit to how long Johnston could maintain this strategy as each move brought the armies closer to Atlanta. By July 17, 1864, Johnston was backed into the outskirts of Atlanta. Johnston felt his strategy was the only way to preserve the Army of Tennessee, but Davis felt that he had given up too much territory.

Georgia-born Ty Cobb died on July 17, 1961.

The Beatles premiered The Yellow Submarine on July 17, 1968 in London.

On July 17, 1975, American spacecraft Apollo 18 and Soviet Soyuz 19 docked in space – the first such meeting in history.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

If you live in DeKalb County, one of the most important elections on your ballot on Tuesday (or in early voting today and tomorrow) is for Sheriff. All DeKalb politics since December 15, 2000 has been shaped by the assassination of Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown by his predecessor Sidney Dorsey and by continuing allegations of corruption at seemingly all levels of county government.

After Brown’s death, Sheriff Tom Brown was elected in a special election and this year, he vacated his office to run for Congress, leading to another special election. This special election is special because it is non-partisan and will appear on all ballots. Most years, DeKalb Republicans are shut out choosing county officials, as those offices are dominated by Democrats who usually face no opposition.

In 2012, countywide, Democratic candidates for District Attorney, Clerk of Courts, Tax Commissioner, Chief Magistrate, Solicitor General, CEO, and two District Commissioners were unopposed in the General Election.

Republicans who wish to have a meaningful voice in those elections must draw a Democratic ballot in the Primary; if they ever run for office as a Republican, they’ll be criticized for it.

This year’s Special Election Runoff is between Jeff Mann, who became Sheriff when Tom Brown qualified for Congress, and Vernon Jones, who previously served two terms as Chief Executive Officer for DeKalb County.

Mark Niesse of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes about the DeKalb Sheriff’s race:

Both candidates for DeKalb County sheriff have the same warning for voters: Make the wrong choice in Tuesday’s runoff election, and it could mean a return to the bad old days.

Jones, the extroverted former DeKalb CEO, says his integrity has been proven again and again because multiple investigations haven’t resulted in charges against him. At the same time, Jones has questioned Mann’s character, saying he has used employees for campaign work and failed to protect inmates from jailhouse violence.

Mann, a soft-spoken lawyer, denied those accusations, saying the claims have been drummed up by Jones to gain a political advantage.

The winner of the election will oversee a department responsible for running the county jail, protecting the courthouse, serving warrants and managing a $76 million annual budget.

To hear Jones tell it, only he can root out graft inside the sheriff’s office and crime in the streets.

“I’ve been investigated more than anyone in DeKalb County ever, and I’ve been cleared,” Jones said. “I’m the most vetted man out there. Jeff Mann is not the man for the job. He’s over his head.”

“(Voters) don’t want a throwback from the old days who continues to have impropriety issues, who is currently recommended to be under investigation by the grand jury,” Mann said during a debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club and televised on Public Broadcasting Atlanta. “It’s important for the citizens of DeKalb County to have someone with integrity, to have someone they trust.”

Mann, who served in the U.S. Air Force for four years, said voters should support him because he would increase staff training, improve public safety and work to reduce employee turnover. He said he obtained a 5 percent raise for detention officers on top of a 3 percent cost of living adjustment in this year’s county budget.

Jones, who became DeKalb’s first black chief executive when he was elected in 2000, said he would reassign administrative officers to crime-fighting duties, put nonviolent criminals on clean-up details and reduce overtime expenses.

Mike Buck and Richard Woods will meet in the Republican Primary Runoff for State School Superintendent, baffling me as much as it does anyone else, as voters advanced two career educators despite that not working out very well for Republicans.

In my memory, Republicans have elected former educators to less-than-stellar results. Educator-turned State Superintendent Linda Schrenko would go on to serve time in federal prison for official corruption after she lost a bid for Governor. She was succeeded by former educator and state legislator Kathy Cox who left office before her term was finished and while she was in personal bankruptcy. Brad Bryant was appointed by Governor Sonny Perdue to succeed Cox, but became merely a footnote when he was unable to get on the ballot to run for election to that post. Career educator John Barge was elected Superintendent in 2010 and all but left office early to run for Governor as a Republican this year and netted 11.15%.

Which brings us to this year’s election for State School Superintendent. Neither Mike Buck nor Richard Woods voted for the Charter School Amendment that is a hallmark of Georgia Republicans’ efforts to improve public schools.

While Richard Woods has a long and consistent record of voting in Republican Primary elections, it appears that Mike Buck never voted in a GOP Primary before 2010, when he was helping John Barge campaign for Superintendent and Buck became Barge’s chief of staff at DOE.

As John Barge’s number one staff member, Mike Buck offers more of the same, and perhaps his best selling point is that he offers stability, having been acting Superintendent during Barge’s quixotic quest.

The primary differences between the candidates come down to these two points:

1. Mike Buck has worked at the top level of the Georgia Department of Education for three years under current Superintendent-in-name-only John Barge.

2. Mike Buck favors the current curriculum and testing scheme aligned with Common Core, while Woods opposes Common Core.

From Claire Simms at Georgia Public Broadcasting:

Two political hopefuls are battling for the Republican nomination for State School Superintendent, and the biggest dividing line between the two candidates is over educational standards.

Woods says his campaign is about moving Georgia in a new direction. He opposes the state’s implementation of the Common Core, a set of educational standards adopted by many states across the country.

“Looking at the standards themselves, they continue to be too broad,” said Woods. “ Some of the early testing that we see, especially in the third grade CRCT, we’re not seeing any growth.”

Buck thinks the state should stick with Common Core. He says teachers support it too.

“They don’t want the fourth set of standards in roughly a decade. They don’t want to start over and it’s blatantly unfair to both our students and our teachers to keep changing. We need a little stability.”

One additional problem with Common Core is that electing a superintendent who is opposed to it does not guarantee any changes in the curriculum.

The state superintendent cannot do away with Common Core alone. That requires action from Georgia’s governor-appointed Board of Education. But, the superintendent traditionally has held powerful sway over that board.

AJC education writer Maureen Downey invited Buck and Woods to write an op-ed to run in the paper. Here are the links:

GOP candidate for state school chief Richard Woods: Need standards that are Georgia grown and owned

GOP candidate for state school chief Mike Buck: Time, talent, and resources will improve achievement

If the opinions of the existing education establishment are important to you in one way or another, here’s what Maureen Downey had to say about that.

The crowd favorite at [Georgia Association of Educational Leaders]  was Mike Buck, as evidenced by applause for several comments he made during his 10-minute presentation. The GAEL attendees were polite and attentive to the other three candidates, but only clapped at the conclusion of their remarks.

Several school leaders told me, “Mike has been there for us.” Along with his current job as chief academic officer for the state Department of Education, Buck has been a school leader in Oglethorpe and Columbia counties and Rome City Schools.

School leaders expressed skepticism of Buck’s opponent even though Richard Woods is also an educator. The former Irwin County administrator has alienated a lot of school officials with his objections to Common Core State Standards. Districts have been training their teachers on the new standards and are not eager to see their efforts and investment in materials and training upended.

Buck addressed that concern, telling the crowd, “You want stability. You want to stay the course with something to see if it works. You want to know it is not going to change from one year to the next.”

As a result of Common Core, the GOP runoff election next week offers voters a clear choice. Buck will continue Georgia’s alignment with Common Core and the development of new tests reflective of those standards.

Woods told GAEL he wants to review not only Common Core, but the tests being developed around the standards – a costly proposition since Georgia has signed a five-year, $108 million contract for its new Georgia Milestones tests that roll out in December.

Great Political Ads

From Emory University Political Scientist Alan Abramowitz, via Jim Galloway’s Political Insider blog, comes this satire of traditional political TV ads.

Here’s the famous political ad spoof for Clint Webb, which I think is better than the Gil Fulbright ad.

Whether you support Jack Kingston for U.S. Senate, or his Runoff opponent David Perdue, this is the best ad of the year so far.

Rex Elsass and his Strategy Group for Media took a lot of jabs for Kingston’s early ads centered on Jack’s Buick Roadmaster station wagon, but this is the kind of work that has made them one of the top, if not the number one, political media company on the Republican side.


I haven’t yet addressed the new issues raised regarding the Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, which is a rolling-multi-car pileup.

I’ll be working on something over the weekend – it’s a complicated issue and I’m not sure we’re served by holding our breath until the next shoe drops. I want to give it the thought and reflection it deserves.

For the time being, I will recommend two articles worth reading for their insight into the question of how to regulate “ethics.”

First is by Jim Galloway and is more of an opinion piece than news, but I share some of the concerns that Jim articulates:

To you and me, ethics is a matter of right or wrong, good behavior or misbehavior. The topic is food for teachers and preachers, and is best served giraffe-high.

But in the goat-level language of the state Capitol, ethics is merely politics conducted by other means.

Got a beef with your opposition in the primary? File a complaint with what we once called the state ethics commission. Accuse him of fudging on donations he’s accepted or spent. It’ll earn you a headline, won’t cost a penny and will take years to resolve.

It is a highly cynical view — sometimes correct, sometimes not — that can produce a highly cynical defense.

Shortly after Deal was sworn in as governor in 2010, a number of complaints were filed – some by gadflies, some not – with the, er, transparency commission, alleging that the new governor hadn’t followed all the rules when collecting or spending his campaign cash.

Things usually move slowly at the transparency commission – not surprising, given agency funding cuts.

Like I said — at the Capitol, ethics and politics are entwined to the point that one topic is indistinguishable from the other.

The next piece comes from David Mason, a former member of the Federal Ethics Commission:

Connie Mack lost his U.S. Senate race in Florida in 2012, but the FEC wasn’t finished until about a month ago.

The campaign’s offense was a pair of charges at Brooks Brothers totaling $468 in April and May 2012. The charges were duly reported on the campaign’s July 2012 Quarterly report, generating snarky news stories and an FEC complaint by a Florida voter. Since the “personal use” of campaign funds is prohibited, the campaign promptly had the errant staffer make a reimbursement.

But it was too late to save the Mack organization from campaign finance purgatory. The FEC General Counsel’s office took 18 months to issue a thorough five-page report recommending dismissal which was duly considered by the Commission nearly two months later. Meanwhile, in accounting reminiscent of Dickens’ Bleak House, the campaign fisc dwindled from over $150,000 at the beginning of 2013 to $1,362 at the end of March, due significantly to legal fees.

There are two failures here, one in the management of a campaign and the other in the management of an enforcement agency.

Any discussion of the Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s manifest failings must include two concerns:

1. Seemingly interminable delays at the Commission level are part of the problem whereby ethics charges are more valuable as political weapons because it is widely known that no decision, even on the most frivolous charges, will be made in time to provide voters with full information beyond the “Ethics Charges Filed….” headlines.

2. All enforcement at the Commission is predicated on the ability of candidates to file their disclosures online. Without a working disclosure systems, there can be no meaningful enforcement, so long as “your computer ate my homework” remains a viable excuse.

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