Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 16, 2014


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 16, 2014

On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty, led by Patriot Sam Adams, boarded three British ships in Boston harbor and threw tea worth $700,000 to $1 million in today’s money into the water in what came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party

Governor George Towns signed legislation on December 16, 1847 to build a State School for the Deaf and Dumb. The institution now known as the Georgia School for the Deaf was begun with a log cabin, $5000 from the legislature and four students and is still in operation in Cave Spring, Georgia.

On December 16, 1897, Gov. William Atkinson signed legislation recognizing June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, as a state holiday.

On December 16, 1944, a German counterattack in the Ardennes region of Belgium created a “bulge” in Allied lines with particularly difficult fighting near the town of Bastogne. During the Battle of the Bulge, 89,000 Americans were wounded and 19,000 killed in the bloodiest battle fought by the U.S. in World War II. National Geographic has an interesting article published for the 70th Anniversary of the Battle.

President Jimmy Carter announced on December 16, 1976, that he would name Andrew Young, then serving as Congressman from Georgia’s Fifth District, as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

The last few days we’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the recovery of a time capsule placed in the Massachusetts Capitol in 1795 by then-Governor Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and William Scollay.

The box, which was discovered during building maintenance, is expected to be completely unearthed by Thursday afternoon.

But this isn’t the first time the capsule has surfaced. The Boston Globe reported that the box was discovered amidst emergency repairs to the building in 1855, and was returned to its spot following the construction, remaining unopened.

The new capsule will be taken to the Museum of Fine Arts by conservators, who will X-ray it before it is opened next week. The condition of its contents is currently unknown.

Earlier this year, another time capsule from 1901 was discovered inside the wooden lion statue on the Massachusetts Capitol.

A hundred and thirteen years ago citizens of the city of Boston put together a time capsule. The governor was involved, the mayor was involved, the local paper. They loaded it up with letters, news articles and photographs, it was a big deal. They hid it in a copper box and hid the box in the statue of a lion on top of the old Massachusetts state house. Then it was forgotten. Fast forward a century and no one knew the time capsule was still there. Until a descendent of the copper smith who sealed it up found a letter mentioning it. It turned out a Boston Globe story from 1901 detailed its contents, noting they should, quote, “prove interesting when the box is opened many years hence.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Qualifying closed last week for the January 6, 2015 Special Election in House District 120 in Greene, Oglethorpe, Putnam, Taliaferro, and Wilkes Counties:

Debbie Bartlett
Party: Republican
Age: 63
Occupation: CEO of Georgia Nurses Association
Qualified Date: 12/09/2014

Jesse Copelan
Party: Republican
Age: 73
Occupation: Senior State Court Judge
Qualified Date: 12/08/2014

Gary Gerrard
Party: Republican
Age: 62
Occupation: Attorney
Qualified Date: 12/08/2014

Jesse Johnson
Party: Republican
Age: 37
Occupation: Realtor/Forester
Qualified Date: 12/08/2014

Trey Rhodes
Party: Republican
Age: 39
Occupation: Financial Advisor
Qualified Date: 12/08/2014

Maria Saporta writes that the Chamber of Commerce will again oppose the Religious Freedom Act expected to be introduced by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) and Same Teasley (R-Marietta).

Richard Anderson, the outgoing chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the CEO of Delta Air Lines, removed any doubts during his comments at the organization’s annual meeting on Dec. 2.

“If that means we need to stand up to a legislature that wants to treat gays and lesbians in a different way, we have to stand up to that,” Anderson said.

Specifically Anderson was referring to bills introduced last session by state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) and state Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bills, which died in committee, would have allowed companies to discriminate against gays and lesbians based on religious freedom.

When the Arizona legislature passed a similar bill, several major conventions and sporting events — such as the Super Bowl — threatened to cancel. The governor of Arizona ended up vetoing the legislation.

The issue apparently is not dead in Georgia. Sen. McKoon has said he plans to reintroduce his proposal during the 2015 session which convenes in January.

Major companies, such as Delta, AT&T, Home Depot, UPS and The Coca-Cola Co. as well as key business and civic organizations, including the Metro Atlanta Chamber, fought hard to kill the legislation last year.

“We will still be opposed,” Anderson said of Delta. “The Chamber will be too.”

Gary Wisenbaker writes for Valdosta Today that the Chamber misinterprents the RFRA.

A previous version was opposed by some business interests as well as the Georgia Municipal Association because they felt it would legalize discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and deny them access to needed services.

A plain reading of the legislation, however, says otherwise.

McKoon’s bill simply restricts the right of any governmental entity to “substantially burden a person’s civil right to exercise of religion” unless it can show that the burden is necessary to further a “compelling governmental interest”. Uprooting discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, what have you, is a well-established “compelling governmental interest”. Further, the burden must be the least restrictive means of alternative means to protect that interest.

Under this law, the government is barred from passing a law or imposing a regulation that interferes with one’s religious beliefs unless that law or regulation can pass a “strict scrutiny” test. It addresses government power and the free exercise of religion; it is not a law promoting or protecting acts of private discrimination.

Some critics take the position that it would hinder business and corporate recruitment in Georgia. Tell that to Texas, a state with a similar law on the books which continues to experience exponential economic growth.

Some on the left take the position that religious freedom laws and legislation set a “dangerous precedent”. They can be used to discriminate against the LGBT community, prevent women from accessing birth control, and prevent people from escaping domestic violence, according to Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham.

They also take the position that the Constitution does much the same thing, hence the need for “hate crime” and “hate speech” legislation as well as ordinances extending the rights of identified groups. And the left, in deference to their proclivity for “identity politics” will use state action to advance not only their agenda but silence any opposition.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Baptist Convention is coming out with a petition in support of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was suspended for 30 days by Mayor Kasim Reed.

n response to the recent 30-day suspension of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran by Mayor Kasim Reed, the GBC’s Public Affairs Committee is initiating this petition. The committee has issued its own statement defending the Fire Chief and is calling on Reed to:

Acknowledge Chief Cochran’s First Amendment Rights.
Make a public apology for the suspension and grief it has caused the Chief and his family.
Restore Chief Cochran’s pay and reputation as an honorable Fire Chief.

GBC is requesting Christians and people of faith across Georgia to sign the related petition calling upon Mayor Reed to reverse his decision as outlined in the three areas listed above.

The text of the petition reads:

Mayor Kasim Reed,

The following signatures are of Georgia Baptists and others across the state of Georgia who are deeply troubled by your decision to suspend Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran and your complete disregard for his First Amendment rights. In your statement, you speak of making Atlanta “a more welcoming city for all of her citizens-regardless of their…religious beliefs.” It is unfortunate that you did not extend that regard to your Fire Chief who has an impeccable reputation in Atlanta and across the nation.

Senate Committee Assignments

In January, David Perdue will begin his Senate service with seats on the following committees:

Foreign Relations
Special Committee on Aging

Perdue hailed the Ag Committee assignment in a press release:

“Georgia has a long tradition of representation on the Senate Agriculture Committee. I am humbled and honored to serve in this capacity. Agriculture is a strategic industry, not only for Georgia but for our nation, and I will work to keep it growing. I want to help Georgia’s farmers continue to produce and sell Georgia grown products and ensure that we remain an agricultural leader in the future.”

Senator Johnny Isakson will chair not one, but two Committees:

Veterans Affairs, Chair
Ethics, Chair
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Foreign Relations

State Rep. Scot Turner (R-Cherokee) has introduced either the most-cynically named or the most Ameriawesomely-named bill, The American Heritage Celebration Act (HB 15), which would allow a greater variety of fireworks to be sold in Georgia, basically legalizing the sale of any fireworks allowed under federal law.

Turner has also pre-filed HB 14, the Fiscal Accountability Act, which would require legislative action for any local authority or government wishing to accept federal funds.

Three people showed up to speak to the Cherokee Legislative Delegation – any time you’re outnumbered by legislators, you should start looking for the nearest door or window.

The meeting, which was initially set to take place Wednesday after Delegation Day but was rescheduled for Friday night, gave residents a chance to speak directly to the Cherokee County Delegation.

Four of the eight members of the delegation attended the meeting at the Town Lake Hills Clubhouse in Woodstock: Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Macedonia), Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton), Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) and Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs).

West Georgia Technical College met with their legislators to discuss the College’s priorities during the coming Session.

State senators Mike Dugan and Josh McKoon, State representatives Kimberly Alexander, Randy Nix, Matt Ramsey, Lynn Smith and State Representative-elect Bob Trammell Jr. heard presentations from WGTC President Steve Daniel and local industry guests who supported the College’s initiatives.

Also in attendance were liaisons from Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s office, Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland’s office, and officials from the Technical College System of Georgia, including Assistant Commissioner Laura Gammage.

WGTC President Steve Daniel explained the College’s $8.4 million portion of a $72 million total request from the Technical College System of Georgia. The TCSG request would renovate labs in the highest demand instructional programs across the state. Many of these programs are included in the Gov. Nathan Deal’s Strategic Industries Workforce Development Grant and are listed as areas of greatest need by Georgia employers.

The TCSG is proposing the request for inclusion in Governor Deal’s Fiscal 2016 budget, which lawmakers will consider during next year’s legislative session.

WGTC’s request includes over $1.7 million to renovate labs in transportation and logistics, over $2.6 million for labs in health sciences and over $3.2 million for labs in trades, industrial and manufacturing programs.

Hall County’s legislative delegation heard local concerns:

“The concern I have in what I heard in testimony is there’s still a lot of concern out there on the Common Core standard,” said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville. “… I think the teachers are comfortable with it. Are they all comfortable with it? I can’t answer that.”

The debate has continued to swirl regarding the teaching standards employed by Georgia and 44 other states.

“It could be a continued spin down for public education, and you will see a boost in homeschooling and possibly a boost in private schools,” Rogers said.

Another topic Rogers has heard about was recent assessments on more than 6,000 properties resulting in higher tax bills.

“Whether we need to revisit that or not, I don’t know yet,” Rogers said.

When meeting with Hall County commissioners, Rogers and the delegation was asked to make the “hard decisions” regarding possible state tax increases, with Rogers rebutting about raising the millage rate for county property owners.

With SPLOST VII and other tax options floating locally, Rogers said there will probably be some tax legislation on the horizon under the Gold Dome.

The Augusta-Richmond County legislative delegation met with the public and with judges,

One of the big topics was Sentinel Offender Services. Delegates spent about an hour talking about the private probation company, which has been under fire in recent months. The Georgia State Supreme Court recently ruled that a law allowing private probation companies to partner with courts is legal.

“We will be looking at a new bill, I understand on the tolling portion of the sentinel, I am not certain what that will be, I have not seen it, but we will take a deep look at that,” said Representative Barbara Sims.

Within the budget, transportation is at the top of the list.

Richmond County voters approved the transportation sales tax last year, but it’s not the same story for other counties in Georgia.

“We are continuing to have roads constructed and maintenance, but I understand that in January and February of this coming up year, there will be no projects let in the State of Georgia, now we are an exception that fortunately for us,” said Sims.

“We know that medicinal marijuana is going to be coming back up, that fits into GRU because we know the Governor wants GRU to be a part of that process so that’s going to be important, that goes to economic development,” said [Senator-elect Harold] Jones.

State Court Judge Richard Slaby discussed the issue of “tolling” probation sentences.

The Georgia Supreme Court last month determined that although privatized probation wasn’t illegal, tolling sentences for misdemeanor and city ordinance violations was.

Slaby, who recently represented the State Court in its effort to have Sentinel’s contract renewed by the Augusta Commission, said the proposed bill would restore the ability to toll sentences and enforce probation terms.

“The new bill would give us all those same abilities that we had prior to the department of corrections forgoing supervision,” Slaby said to a panel that included Democratic state Reps. Wayne Howard, Brian Prince and Gloria Frazier; Democratic Sen. Harold Jones and Republican Rep. Barbara Sims.

Jim Wilbanks has been sworn in as a Superior Court Judge for the Conasauga Judicial Circuit , which comprises Murray and Whitfield Counties.

Wilbanks won the seat this past summer, beating out sitting judge David Blevins in a runoff in July. Willbanks won with 60 percent of the vote after none of the three candidates for the spot — Scott Helton was third — claimed more than 50 percent in the general election in May.

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce will hold a Campaign Academy 101 on February 4, 2015.

GAC Chairman Bruce Allred said he believes the program takes a significant step toward creating even more productive relationships with legislators. “Pro-business policy is crucial for our community, and we want to ensure that our business leaders have the very best chance possible for being elected into positions which will influence legislation affecting our area,” he said in a news release.

Allred acknowledged the importance of state and federal representation familiar with South Georgia. “With most of the voting population being located above Macon, we are working to make sure that the voices of our community are still heard by preparing local leaders for positions of even greater influence.”

The Savannah Morning News reports that Right Whales have been sighted off the Georgia coast, as they return to warm waters to give birth.

Flying 16 miles east of Cumberland Island on Saturday, researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spotted not only the first whale but also the first calf.

The mother whale has no nickname, unlike many right whales. She’s just number 2145, identified by the unique pattern of white markings on her head. Researchers do know, though, the 24-year-old female is an experienced mama, having given birth at least four times before.

Her calf joins a population estimated at about 450 individuals, making North Atlantic right whales among the most highly endangered of the large whales. Right whales were hunted to near extinction by the early 1900s because their slow-moving, shore-hugging habits and tendency to float when dead made them the “right” whale to kill.

Congratulations to Sydney Goad, a senior at Newnan High School, who set two new national records in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting at the American Open Weightlifting Championships in Washington DC.

The Newnan High senior established two new national marks for the 17-under division, winning the event with records of 64 kilograms in the snatch (141 pounds) and for overall total after adding a clean-and-jerk of 82 kg (180.77 pounds) while competing in the 48kg division.

It also may have given Goad even more initiative to think of a potential run toward the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, where she could join both her mom Robin (top-five finisher at the 2000 Games in Sydney) and father Dean (a top placer at the Pan-Am Games) as an international standout in the sport.

Just as impressive, she’s a top student at Newnan High, according to school principal Chase Puckett, while also handling five-day weekly training schedule in addition to competing at the highest level with the GymCats varsity gymnastics team. Goad qualified for last year’s All-Around at the GHSA Championships while reaching the state meet in her first three years of varsity competition.

Weightlifting, however, could be the sport where Goad may have the brightest future after having been named the nation’s best female lifter in the 16-17 year-old age group.

Her success in the sport has made her a contender for the 2016 Summer Games.

For those of you who don’t follow Olympic Weightlifting, which would be pretty much everyone, Georgia is a hotbed of strong women Olympic Weightlifters with Coffee’s Gym in Marietta and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Cheryl Haworth from Savannah.

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