Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 19, 2014


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 19, 2014

President George Washington gave his farewell address on September 19, 1796.

The period for a new election of a Citizen, to Administer the Executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person, who is to be cloathed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those, out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the sametime, to do me the justice to be assured, that this resolution has not been taken, without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation, which binds a dutiful Citizen to his country–and that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silence in my Situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness; but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

On September 19, 1863, the Battle of Chickamauga was joined between the federal Army of the Cumberland under Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Braxton Bragg.

Thirteen marchers were shot and killed and forty more wounded in Camilla, Georgia at the Camilla Massacre on September 19, 1868 as marchers to a Republican Party rally were gunned down.

President James Garfield died on September 19, 1881, of wounds sustained on July 2d of that year. Garfield is one of seven Presidents born in Ohio – he and William McKinley, were both killed by assassins.

Chickamauga National Battlefield was dedicated September 19, 1895.

The Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame on September 19, 1998.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The deadline to register to vote in the November 4 General Election is October 6, and mail-in ballots are available now at your county board of elections.

Richmond County Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey said mail-out paper absentee ballots are now available for registered voters who complete an application and fax, e-mail, mail or hand deliver it to the elections office in Augusta Municipal Building, 530 Greene St.

Contact your local voter registration and election department with any questions about voting by mail or to learn how to apply.

If you’re not currently registered or you need to update your registration, I suggest moving quickly, as some local boards are processing high numbers of new voter registrations driven by liberal organizations.

Election officials in Fulton and Muscogee counties — the two Georgia counties with the biggest number of pending voter applications — said Thursday they are working to clear thousands of registration forms turned in by the New Georgia Project ahead of the state’s Oct. 6 deadline.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, meanwhile, has begun to spot-check more than 51,000 applications the Democratic-backed group claims have languished in the system. It says dozens of those forms have been properly recorded and added to voter rolls.

State investigators said Wednesday they have confirmed 25 of those forms as forgeries. They labeled another 26 forms as “suspicious.” Their inquiry, which involves complaints from 13 counties, could take months to complete.

The campaign for Governor includes a debate about the accuracy and meaning of the most recent unemployment numbers.

Georgia’s Department of Labor reported the employment rate had increased in August to 8.1 percent – up from 7.7 percent in July and close to the 8.2 percent reported last year. August is the fourth month in a row with reported increases in the unemployment rate.

Deal told reporters that the unemployment rate reported Thursday doesn’t square with other measures of the state economy, including the number of jobs counted in Georgia rising to its highest level since June 2008 and a drop in initial unemployment applications. Holding up a spreadsheet, he questioned statistics that he said indicate almost all states led by Republican governors had increased unemployment rates and Democrat-led states had lower rates.

“Now I don’t know how you account for that, maybe there is some influence here that we don’t know about,” Deal said. “But when you say that California is in a better position in terms of unemployment than the state of Georgia, there is something that just doesn’t ring true about those numbers.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics generates local unemployment rates by using household surveys and modeling, and sometimes revises initial rates after more study. Georgia’s July unemployment rate, for example, was revised down slightly from 7.8 to 7.7 percent. The agency is scheduled to release rates for all states today.

Carter called the unemployment rate “disturbing” economic news and told reporters that Deal is making excuses to cover fundamental problems in the state. He blamed cuts to the state’s technical college system in part for the unemployment figures and said higher investment in education will have long-term impact on Georgia’s economy.

Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University, said unemployment rates don’t give an accurate snapshot of economic health, and the state appears to be doing better economically than the unemployment rate alone might suggest. Dhawan, who does a monthly forecast for the state’s economy, said sales and income taxes and job growth are more reliable measures and called the unemployment rate a “problematic statistic.”

The best explanation I’ve seen for the issue is two-fold. First is that the unemployment numbers are estimates based on polls, and thus subject to the normal error due to sampling. Second is that Georgia’s strengthening economy and constant announcements of new jobs (a) keep people in the job market rather than dropping out, which would reduce the rate; and (b) new people move to Georgia to seek employment.

Strong job growth in the film industry has increased demand for skilled workers and Governor Deal is proposing to extend the HOPE Grant for technical colleges to include those high-demand skills.

The governor proposed Thursday to add film/set design and three other study areas to seven others that already qualify for full technical college tuition coverage.

Film/set design, computer programming, certified engineering technician and precision manufacturing were identified as areas in high demand among Georgia employers through a workforce needs public-private partnership launched by Deal.

“To remain the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business, we have to move at the speed of business,” the governor said. “That means taking aggressive action to meet workforce needs.”

That’s quality leadership by Governor Deal, while Democrat Jason Carter simply stands on the sidelines complaining yet again.

Governor Deal and Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler discussed the unemployment numbers in greater depth:

Deal and Butler pointed to more encouraging news about the state’s economy. Last month, for example, 24,700 new jobs were added to Georgia payrolls. Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped 27 percent. And the state tallied more than 4.1 million jobs — the most since June 2008.

The commissioner blamed the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the “questionable” surge in unemployment.

“Don’t pay attention to the unemployment rate,” Butler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Butler has spoken to the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the figures. “They say the ‘volatility’ in the monthly survey numbers ‘is expected’ and that it’s often ‘smoothed’ during the annual benchmarking process,” he said.

The governor blamed “historically faulty” data.

“These are surveys and estimates that the Labor Department is putting out, and every year since I was governor they’ve had to come back and adjust it downward,” Deal said at an afternoon press conference. “They’ve always been high, and I believe they are again this year.”

It’s too early to tell whether August’s unemployment rate will withstand the test of time. Each February the BLS “benchmarks” the previous year’s unemployment rate with more accurate information. The initial jobless rate in August 2013, for example, was 8.7 percent. Upon revision, and more information, the BLS revised the rate to 8.2 percent.

Republican Richard Woods and Democrat Valarie Wilson, opponents in the race for State School Superintendent, differ on Common Core standards. From the Augusta Chronicle:

The clearest difference between the two candidates remains their take on Common Core, a set of national math and English standards developed by the National Governors Association and adopted by Georgia lawmakers.

Wilson said she doesn’t have an issue with the standards but would give teachers more support implementing them. Educators have asked her to stay the course, she said.

“What they are saying is, please allow us the opportunity to be successful with these standards,” Wilson said.

Woods said he opposed Georgia adopting the standards because they were not specific to students here. He has previously said they should be reviewed but stopped short of calling for state lawmakers to withdraw.

“We need to have a very precision-type evaluation of the standards themselves and make sure that they are age appropriate, content appropriate and that we can actually cover them during the year,” Woods said.

The two candidates agree that new testing mandated by the state should be rolled-back.

Republican Richard Woods believes Georgia schools spend too much time on standardized testing to begin with. The new teacher assessment system is “very burdensome,” eating up too much teacher and administrator time, and puts too much weight on those test scores, he said. “Fifty percent for teachers and 70 percent for administrators, that’s a bit unreasonable,” he said.

“I have major concerns,” said Valarie Wilson, the Democratic candidate. She also said the new teacher-grading system counts test scores too heavily. And teachers, administrators and school boards across the state have complained to her about the time and money it’s costing to implement and maintain the system, she said.

Woods, a Fitzgerald native, noted his experience as a coach, teacher and school administrator in south Georgia’s Irwin County school system, including 14 years as a social studies teacher and eight years in a variety of administrative jobs, including principal and assistant principal.

Woods called for expanding students’ routes to graduation, including opportunities for students to enter apprenticeship programs while they’re in high school.

Teachers should be given more time to teach, he said.

“We have to reduce some of the paperwork and the data collection they are facing,” he said.

The state’s heavy emphasis on testing is having negative classroom effects, Woods said.
“We’re letting tests drive accountability,” he said.

Conservation tax breaks reduce the property taxes on two-thirds of the acres in Crawford County, leading elected officials to look closely at revenue sources.

[C]ounty officials appeared to decide to urge eligible landowners to shift from one conservation program to another. That would make the state subsidize the county’s tax losses.

One of those property owners, Jack Causey, said he’d take another look at the alternative, which could give him more flexibility. By helping the county’s tax base stay intact, he would be able to enjoy lower taxes on his house.

State figures show some 40 percent of Crawford County land is part of a decades-old program known as Conservation Use Valuation Assessment, or CUVA. When property owners agree not to develop their land in CUVA, they get a break on the taxes — and local governments lose out on the tax money.

A newer program aimed at bigger pieces of land — more than 200 acres, with a majority of it wooded — reimburses counties for some of the lost taxes. The Forest Land Protection Act offsets the initial costs of the program, and then limits costs to no more than 3 percent of the tax base. The state pays half the costs up to 3 percent, then covers any amount over that.

If the county can shift properties from CUVA to FLPA, then state money will make up at least part of the difference to the county.

County Manager Pat Kelly said CUVA isn’t destroying the county, but it is shifting more and more costs to “rooftops” and the homeowners who live under them.

Savannah and Chatham County remain at odds over a proposal to merge the police departments.

The city’s proposal once again gives the city manager the final say in the hiring and firing of the police chief, as well as the chief’s salary and choice of a selection advisory panel — powers Chatham wanted the county manager to share.

The funding method in place would also remain essentially the same, after County Commission Chairman Al Scott had said he wanted to change the cost share by applying an “evidence-based” process that would look at crime rates, call volume and response times instead of just population.

Republican Senate candidate David Perdue is criticizing President Obama’s lack of leadership in confronting ISIS.

Republican Senate nominee David Perdue criticized President Barack Obama for exhibiting weak leadership and not clearly defining a foreign policy Thursday, moments after hosting a roundtable discussion with senior military veterans.

Perdue echoed the comments of veterans who said military morale is suffering because of the leadership deficiencies and that other countries and non-state terrorist organizations are emboldened to act against U.S. interests when they perceive the absence of leadership and strength.

“I walked away with a deep concern that these (veterans) are frustrated, and they are very concerned about the direction of the military,” Perdue said.

The roundtable discussion came with a blunt warning from retired Marine Maj. Gen. Larry Taylor about Perdue’s opponent, Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn. Her great uncle, Carl Vinson, was a longtime chairman of same committee in the House.

“One of the reasons we’re here is because, frankly, platitudes by politicians,” Taylor said. “Not that what they say is wrong, but they become meaningless because everyone says them … ‘We support the troops.’ ‘We’ll do whatever we can for the veterans.’ Da, da, da. My fear is, because your opposition has a great name and she’s going to be coached to say some things that will be substantive, that that will be her answers,” Taylor said.

Perdue replied by recounting conversations with four former defense secretaries who expressed concern about military downsizing due to budget concerns at the same time its mission has expanded.

“I’m prepared to respond to whatever platitudes come from the other side,” he said. “I’m dead serious about it.”

Nunn, like Perdue, has promised to request assignment to the Armed Services Committee if elected. Perdue said he’s visited all of Georgia’s military bases and that growing up in the shadow of Robins Air Force Base made him appreciate their importance.

Nationally, a new wave of polling in key Senate states looks good for the Republican Party to take over the United States Senate.

In fact, the GOP over the past week and a half has seen its best poll to date in more than a half dozen races: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Louisiana (according to Real Clear Politics compilation of polls). For example, a Fox News poll on Wednesday showed Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) leading Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) 51 percent to 38 percent in a likely runoff, former senator Scott Brown (R-N.H.) tied with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in a CNN/Opinion Research poll, and Republican Joni Ernst with a six-point lead in a Quinnipiac poll. Just today, a Quinnipiac poll shows Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) leading Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) by an almost unthinkable eight points.

These polls, understandably, have some Republicans quite excited. After all, if the GOP were leading by such margins in Colorado and Iowa and tied in New Hampshire, Democrats simply can’t hold their majority.

The Athens-Clarke County Republican Party has opened a new headquarters for phone calls and volunteer work.

The party’s temporary location at 135 Athens West Parkway off Atlanta Highway will serve as a base for Republican candidates to store their materials, make phone calls and hold meetings, Athens GOP Chairman Matt Brewster said.

“We feel really lucky to have such a good location and a spot to help the candidates organize,” he said.

The party will continue to hold its regular meetings on the second Monday of each month at the Country Inn and Suites on Old Epps Bridge Road.

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