Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 6, 2015

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 6, 2015

On March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court published its opinion in Sanford v. Dred Scott.

the Court held that African Americans, whether slave or free, could not be American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court,and that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in the federal territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Dred Scott, an African American slave who had been taken by his owners to free states and territories, attempted to sue for his freedom. In a 7–2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the Court denied Scott’s request and in doing so, ruled an Act of Congress in this case—the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which prohibited slavery north of the parallel 36°30′ north—to be unconstitutional for the second time in its history.

The decision would prove to be an indirect catalyst for the American Civil War and was functionally superseded by the post-war Reconstruction Amendments. It is now widely regarded as the worst decision ever made by the Supreme Court.

One member of the Court that decided Dred Scott was Associate Justice James M Wayne, who was born in Savannah and served in Congress from Georgia from 1829 to 1835.

On March 7, 1861, delegates to the Georgia Secession Convention reconvened in Savannah to adopt a new state Constitution. A resolution offering to host the Confederate Capitol did not pass.

On March 7, 1965, a group of marchers led by Martin Luther King, Jr., met Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

“I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick… I thought I saw death.”

—John Lewis, SNCC leader

As a student of Southern politics at Emory, we were immersed in reading about the Civil Rights Movement and its effect on Southern politics, and American politics. But it was not until years later that I saw the PBS series called “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement 1956-1985.” It’s chilling to see American citizens turned away by armed police from attempts to register to vote.

That’s John Lewis, now the United States Congressman from the Fifth District in the front row wearing a light-colored overcoat and backpack.

Earlier this year, Patrick Saunders of the GaVoice asked Lewis what was in his backpack that day.

What was in the backpack?

I remember very well. As a matter of fact I went to the Army surplus store and bought this backpack. I really thought we were going to be successful walking all the way from Selma to Montgomery. And somehow, someway I thought maybe we would be arrested and we would go to jail, so while in jail I wanted to have something to read. I had two books in the backpack. I wanted to have something to eat—I had one apple and one orange. One apple and one orange wouldn’t last that long. Being in jail, you know I had been arrested and been to jail before, the sad thing about being in jail for two or three days, you need to brush your teeth. So there was toothpaste and a toothbrush in there.

I don’t know what happened to that backpack, I don’t know what happened to the two books. I don’t know what happened to the trench coat. One of the books was by a professor of political science at Harvard and the other book was by Thomas Merton, the monk. I just wished I had them. The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress are always asking me what happened to them and I tell them I really don’t know.

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:30am – 9:30am Senate Appropriations Education – 310 clob
9:00am – 10:00am Senate Appropriatons Econ. Dev. – mezz 1
10:00am – 11:00am House Jacobs Sub of Judiciary Civil – 132 cap- Cancelled
10:00am – 11:00am Senate Appropriations Nat’l Resources – 450 cap
12:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Insurance & Labor – mezz 1
2:00pm – 3:00pm House MARTA Oversight Committee – 406 clob

Georgia Transportation Tax Bill Passes State House

House Bill 170, the Transportation Finance Act of 2015 passed the State House of Representatives yesterday by a 123-46 vote with four members present but not voting and seven members absent. Click here to see how your State Representative voted.

From the Marietta Daily Journal,

ATLANTA — All Democrats representing Cobb County in the Georgia House voted to approve sending a transportation funding bill to the Senate, but Cobb’s Republicans were split.

Four Cobb Republicans voted in favor of the bill, which is backed by House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and has received support from Gov. Nathan Deal, while five Republicans from Cobb voted against it, including Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth).

Setzler said he voted against it because the version passed by the House raises taxes.

“The bill as it came to the floor was a significant, outright gas tax increase without any measures that would counterbalance that,” Setzler said.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Setzler believes “wholesale changes” will be made.

“I have high hopes that Cobb senators will work to make this bill workable and something we can all get behind,” Setzler said.

“We don’t know what they’re going to do in the Senate,” [House Transportation Committee Chair Jay] Roberts said. “It could be a totally different debate once it comes back.”

Prior to the vote, some Barrow County elected officials announced they had made peace with the proposal.

State Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, who serves on the House Transportation Committee, said Tuesday that he was pleased with the latest edition of the bill that aims to fix the state’s ailing bridges and highway infrastructure. The bill has been reworked several times since January as its drawn criticism from local governments and others.

The bill could be voted on within the next week.

“I think the bill as it stands today has satisfied most of the concerns we have heard from individuals, business, local governments and school boards,” England said in an email. “If passed as it stands today, I believe it will go a long way in solving many of our lagging maintenance issues and needs.”

Auburn Mayor Linda Blechinger said her city would be “made whole” with the amount of funding it would receive under the current incarnation of the bill.

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he objects to the 29.2-cent per gallon excise tax that would be adjusted annually based on the percentage increase or decrease in fuel efficiency.

Rogers told the Times of Gainesville that the tax “will never go down” despite the bill claiming it’s a possibility.

Walter Jones of Morris News writes about a poll on the transportation tax.

45 percent of those questioned said they were against the plan while just 26 percent favored it. Another 29 percent couldn’t make up their minds.

The poll was conducted Wednesday night among 456 registered voters selected at random for an automated telephone call. It has a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Fully 90 percent of those surveyed said that maintenance of roads and bridges was important, and 69 percent said that expanding mass transit was important. The House earmarked $100 million in bonds for mass transit in next year’s budget as part of its transportation-funding plan.

When voters were asked about support for the funding plan if the added money were dedicated solely to transportation, agreement rose to 35 percent. Shifting from a sales tax to an excise – or per-gallon – tax means it will be dedicated just to transportation.

We’ve been running an online poll this week on several legislative issues. We’ll publish full results on Monday, so you’ve still got a chance to weigh-on with your opinion, but here’s where the Transportation bill stands currently.

vote online poll

Transportation Funding Bill Poll

Senate Passes Opportunity School District Bills

The State Senate passed two bills tied to Governor Deal’s “Opportunity School District” plan for a state takeover of consistently poor-performing schools.

Under Deal’s plan, a superintendent, appointed by and accountable to the governor, would select up to 20 schools deemed to be failing each year. The superintendent then could make them into charters, close them or overhaul management with the authority to exempt the schools from many state requirements.

The constitutional amendment received exactly the 38 votes necessary to pass, including one Democrat, state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims.

The accompanying legislation also approved by the Senate made some minor changes to Deal’s initial proposal, including giving the state Senate confirmation power of the appointed superintendent.

Democrats argued that the proposal was too broad, and state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, called it a “usurpation of local control like none other.”

Senator Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dougherty County) was a co-sponsor and the sole Democrat to vote for the Constitutional Amendment.

Governor Deal issued a press release on the passage of the two bills.

“Today, we are one step closer to creation of an Opportunity School District, and one step closer to restoring children’s and parents’ hopes for a brighter future,” Deal said. “We’ve seen the successes that Louisiana, Tennessee and Michigan attained with similar, bipartisan measures. Working together, I believe Georgians can achieve the same for our students and families. I congratulate Sen. Butch Miller on his diligence and hard work in advancing these education reforms, and I commend the courage of the 37 other senators who supported this legislation. As the House considers this bill, I am confident that its members will also put the needs of Georgia’s most vulnerable students first. Through the efforts of our legislators, we will put this referendum on the ballot so that Georgians can assure that a child’s chance of success isn’t dependent on his or her ZIP code.”

The OSD legislation requires a constitutional amendment, for which there must be a two-thirds majority in both houses and majority approval by Georgia voters at the next general election. The OSD would allow the state to intervene in schools that have received failing grades for three consecutive years. The district could add no more than 20 schools per year, for a total of 100 at any given time. The schools would remain in the OSD for no less than five years and no more than 10 years.

“The Opportunity School District will allow us to bring new focus by education experts, better governance and best practices to schools that have underachieved for too long. The children trapped in these schools can’t wait. I believe all children can learn, but we have an obligation to provide access for high-quality education to those students and parents who are anxious for a better future. It’s my vision – and that of many legislators here – that every high school graduate in Georgia should have the skills needed to enter the workforce or further their educations in college.”

Senate Passes Religious Freedom Bill

Senator Josh McKoon’s Religious Liberty Bill, SB 129, passed yesterday by a 37-15 margin in the State Senate along party lines. From Creative Loafing’s coverage:

McKoon told his fellow lawmakers that his bill includes language ensuring that the government has a fundamental interest in stopping discrimination. He blasted the bill’s opponent for making a “scandalous charge” that RFRA bills have given people a “license to discriminate” against LGBT and minority residents. Responding to critics of his bill, McKoon said only 11 people have filed lawsuits nationally because of other states’ RFRA bills. He also said that progressive critics, fearing it would “unleash a wave of costly lawsuits,” were simply fighting this bill to raise funds for their cause.

Right before the bill passed, Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said the bill “strikes the right balance” and would not strip away LGBT rights. He also said it wouldn’t undermine the interests of the business communities. He echoed McKoon in emphasizing that the bill’s intention were to eradicate discrimination for all people of all faiths, not discriminate against minority residents throughout the state.

“There is nothing in this bill that will deny the equal protection of the law to all people,” said Cowsert, who played an earlier role in delaying the legislation in committee.

Unplugging Electric Vehicles from Taxpayer Wallets

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that several measures moving through the Georgia General Assembly will reduce or repeal the state’s $5000 tax credit for purchasers or lessees of electric vehicles.

A proposal under consideration in Georgia would eliminate a popular $5,000 state tax credit for electric vehicles or $2,500 for low-emission vehicles. At the same time, it would slap a $200 annual registration fee on hybrid and zero-emissions vehicles ($300 for commercial).

If HB 170 passes, Georgia would join a growing number of states imposing new fees on green vehicles.

Georgia lawmakers are intent on finding new money for the state’s underfunded transportation system this legislative session. The state Department of Transportation estimates that a minimum of $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year is needed to address a $74 billion shortfall in funding over the next two decades.

The bill’s sponsors say that green vehicle owners ought to shoulder their share of that burden. They cause wear and tear on the state’s roads and bridges just as other drivers do without paying the gasoline taxes that generate the bulk of transportation funding in Georgia.

RepealEV Banner1

Drama in DeKalb

After asking a county employee to “step outside” for a gentlemanly discussion, a member of the DeKalb County Ethics Board has resigned.

Ethics Board member Robert Blackman stepped down because of the heated argument Tuesday with Bob Lundsten, the chief of staff for ex-Commissioner Elaine Boyer, during the board’s meeting.

The spat occurred when Blackman questioned Lundsten about his allegation that Board of Ethics Chairman John Ernst had failed to be impartial.

Then Lundsten accused Blackman of being biased against him and said the ethics board member called him “slick” at a previous meeting in December. Blackman denied Tuesday he had called Lundsten any names. Lundsten responded by saying Blackman was lying, using a vulgarity.

That’s when Blackman said Lundsten could meet him outside. Other Ethics Board members urged them to calm down, and the meeting moved on.

Mr. Blackman then spoke to the Champion Newspaper about the heated discussion,

Speaking to The Champion, Blackman said he was insulted by Lundsten during the meeting.

“I didn’t say what he said I did. I didn’t call him nothing. I don’t call people dirty names,” Blackman said. “But we’ll step out into the ally out there. [It’s] got nothing to do with this damn ethics board. Then he can call me whatever…he want to call me…. I came from the old school. I come from the days that you go out and get it done.

“That’s ethics board in there,” he said. “This Robert Blackman out here. Once we walk outside, we’re just citizens of the United States. Don’t try to insult me.”

When asked if he regretted his statements during the ethics meeting, Blackman said, “Hell, no.”

Law & Disorder

Assistant District Attorney Joyette Holmes has been named the new Chief Magistrate for Cobb County.

“Joyette brings a wealth of real life experience, not just as an attorney but also as an outstanding citizen of Cobb,” Chief Superior Court Judge Steve Schuster said. “In her professional career, she’s seen both sides, working in private practice and as a prosecutor. Joyette and her family have strong roots in our community. She understands how to be a judge as well as an administrator. Ms. Holmes will represent the Magistrate Court well. Ms. Holmes will represent the judiciary well. Ms. Holmes will represent the citizens of Cobb well. All of the Superior Court judges are proud of her appointment. Each of us is comfortable having her handle Superior Court duties as needed. She is more than qualified.”
“Joyette Holmes will be a tremendous chief magistrate,” said [District Attorney Vic] Reynolds, who himself is a former Cobb chief magistrate. “She will be tough when necessary, compassionate when appropriate, and she will treat the individuals in her court with dignity and respect.”

Holmes said she was “honored and humbled.”

“I promise to uphold the trust the people of Cobb have placed upon me,” she said. “I am ready to meet the hardworking employees of the Magistrate Court and work with them to make this court the best it can be.”

Griffin Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard (Fayette, Pike, Spalding, and Upson Counties) will charge Peachtree City Police Chief William McCollom with reckless misconduct in the apparently accidental shooting of McCollom’s wife.

District Attorney Scott Ballard said Thursday he will seek to indict Peachtree City police Chief William McCollom next month on a charge of reckless misconduct, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. Ultimately, a grand jury will decide whether to charge the chief.

Ballard said evidence supported McCollom’s story that the New Year’s Day shooting was an accident. But the prosecutor said it also could have been avoided. He said the chief told investigators he drank alcohol and took medication to help him sleep, and ended up sleeping with his loaded service weapon under the sheets between McCollom, 58, and his wife.

“I can’t see any intent to hurt her. He didn’t have any motive,” District Attorney Scott Ballard told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“The criminal activity, if the grand jury indicts, is he recklessly brings a gun to bed with him after having ingested sleep medication and alcohol,” Ballard said. He said he plans to present the case to a grand jury April 15.

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