Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 27, 2015

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Apr

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 27, 2015

On April 25, 1734, James Oglethorpe won reelection to Parliament despite being in Georgia.

On April 27, 1773, the British Parliament enacted the Tea Act, granting a monopoly on selling tea to the American colonies.

On April 26, 1866, the Atlanta Ladies’ Memorial Association held a Confederate memorial observance at Oakland Cemetery for the first time.

On April 25, 1996, Governor Zell Miller signed legislation making English the official language of Georgia.

Senate Bill 519, sponsored by Sen. Mike Crotts (R-Conyers) and Rep. John Mobley (D-Winder), passed the Georgia House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin (135-31). The legislation will set in place a policy regulating the use of languages other than English in most state operations.

The Augusta Chronicle has an article about the Bon Air Hotel, which has hosted U.S. Presidents William Howard Taft, War­ren G. Harding and Dwight Eisen­hower.

Georgia Politics

United States Senator David Perdue will make his debut speaking formally from the Senate well today, with an expected launch time of 6 PM following a 5:30 vote. You can watch his debut on C-SPAN2 or online here.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens writes in the Augusta Chronicle,

We often think of the Constitution as protecting the rights of the people, but that document also provides the foundation for our liberty by securing a structure of government.

Over the past six years we have seen President Obama govern with seemingly total disrespect for the Constitution, and the roles of the states and the legislative branch. What he cannot achieve legislatively, he accomplishes through unilateral action without regard for Congress or the states.

While this may be the most expeditious way to achieve his agenda, it leads to lawlessness and flies in the face of the constitutional principles of the rule of law, federalism and separation of powers upon which our democracy is built.

Currently we are engaged in two high-stakes challenges to what we believe are unlawful actions by the Obama administration.

The U.S. Constitution was written to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” to all Americans. It was written to be a safeguard against tyranny. The Constitution’s structure of dual sovereignty, by limiting the power of both the federal government and the state governments, has served our nation well for more than 235 years. President Obama is recklessly violating the structural protections of our constitutional government to achieve short-term policy goals.

That approach cannot stand. Regardless of the merits of any president’s policy objectives, no American should be willing to sacrifice liberty – our freedom to govern ourselves – for the sake of a political agenda. Whether Republican, Democrat or independent, on that we all should agree.

If you’re interested in how Constitutional principles play out in today’s world, it’s an excellent essay worth reading in its entirety.

Last week, Olens told the AJC Political Insider that Georgia will comply with whatever decision the Supreme Court eventually hands down regarding gay marriage laws.

“There’s a distinction between me defending the law and the order from the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court rules on an issue, we’re going to follow the order,” Olens told the Atlanta Press Club.

“We’re going to encourage all those agencies that have a policy role that they immediately follow the law. I cringe just as much when an attorney general seeks to defy the law as anyone else,” he said. “When the U.S. Supreme Court rules, it’s not time for criticism. It’s not time for banter. It’s time for the lawyer to play lawyer and to ensure that everyone follows that law.”
“Federal constitutional issues trump state constitutional issues, ” Deal [said] “So we will abide by whatever the Supreme Court rules as an interpretation of the United States Constitution.”

A record-high 6 in 10 Americans support same-sex marriage and a similar share say individual states should not be allowed to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The Post-ABC poll finds 61 percent of Americans support allowing gays to marry and 35 percent are opposed. Support is up only slightly from last year but is a reversal from public sentiment a decade ago, when opponents outnumbered supporters 58 percent to 39 percent.

Among those under age 30, support has grown since 2005 from 57 percent to 78 percent. Among those 65 and over, it has increased from 18 percent to 46 percent. Support has also risen by double digits across partisan groups, though Democrats and independents have shifted the most.

Despite that, wide swaths of opposition persist among important voting groups. More than 6 in 10 Republicans oppose allowing gay couples to marry, and that increases to 71 percent of conservative Republicans, who play a critical role in the party’s presidential primaries and caucuses.

The most recent Georgia College “State of the State” Poll asked Georgians about the issue,

When asked about legalizing same-sex marriage in Georgia, 48.8% of Georgians oppose, with 42.4% expressing support of this effort. Strong Opposition (40.6%) and Strong Support (25.3%) varied by region with the Atlanta metro (30.6%) residents strongly favoring this direction.

Residents from the South (53.6%) strongly oppose legalizing same sex marriage.

State and Local Politics

Governor Deal is expected to sign the two “Uber/Lyft bills” on May 6, bringing changes to the ride-sharing industry in Georgia.

The 2015 Georgia Legislature recently passed bills aimed at protecting passengers and requiring insurance coverage, which are to be signed into law May 6.

But the ride-hailing companies, which use smartphone apps to connect passengers and drivers, have avoided doing fingerprint checks of drivers, and that rankles officials like Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, sponsor of HB 225, which came to be known as the “Uber” bill even though it applies to all companies.

He says fingerprinting is the best way to ensure drivers don’t have criminal records, but compromised on that point to ensure his bill’s passage.

Under his bill:

• All companies must register with the state Department of Public Safety.

• Ride-hailing firms will be required to show they are paying taxes.

• Companies must carry a million dollars of liability insurance coverage.

• Drivers must have criminal background checks. Companies such as Uber can still do this through private firms, forgoing fingerprints.

Uber-like firms claim their background checks are good enough.

But Powell said, “You’d have to be crazy to employ people who haven’t been fingerprinted because you’d only be one disaster away from being sued.”

Former Cherokee County Elections Director Janet Munda will pay $1000 fine, $864 in restitution, and spend 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to mis-using county funds.

The former director of the Cherokee County Elections Office was sentenced to eight years, with the first 30 days to be served behind bars and the remainder on probation, after pleading guilty to using a county credit card for unauthorized purchases.

Munda pleaded guilty April 16 to theft by taking after a six-month investigation by the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office.

Munda was indicted in March after being charged and arrested in January with felony theft by taking, court records show.

Munda was accused of using a county credit card to pay for personal expenses while in office, said Lt. Jay Baker with the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office.

Ivy Prep Academy (IPA) has been given permission by the State Charter School Commission to expand its attendance borders, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

IPA operates three free single-gender public charter schools: Ivy Prep Gwinnett, its flagship school for girls, Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls, and Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy, both in DeKalb County.

Under the new boundaries, students who attend or are eligible to attend Fulton County Schools and DeKalb County Schools can now enroll at Ivy Prep Gwinnett, which is located at 3705 Engineering Drive in Peachtree Corners. Students who attend, or are eligible to attend, Atlanta Public Schools can enroll in IPA Kirkwood School for Girls or IPYMLA, which is located at 1807 Memorial Drive in Atlanta.

The new attendance zone restores some of the footprint IPA originally had when its Gwinnett campus opened in 2008. IPA Gwinnett lost its statewide attendance zone following a Georgia Supreme Court case filed by metro Atlanta school districts who challenged Ivy Prep’s ability to exist and attract students and education dollars from across county lines.

Former Ambassador, Congressman, and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young will give the keynote speech at the Cobb County Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

The MDJ also sat down with Ann Coulter when she was in Kennesaw to speak to students,

MDJ: If Hillary wins, what are you going to do?

COULTER: The only way I think Hillary wins is if we nominate Rubio or Jeb Bush. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Again, I’m not confident that Hillary ends up being the nominee. The only way she could beat one of our candidates is if she came out against amnesty.

MDJ: If the Supreme Court does legalize gay marriage, what will the country’s reaction be?

COULTER: The only thing I’m worried about is conservatives, not just this, but with other things, is conservatives falling into despair. Which is why my speech tonight is the opposite of despair. It is “Here’s how we fight. Here’s how we win!” because we should win. We can win.

But when you look around especially after — what is it now? It seems like it’s been 100 years of Obama. It’s been seven years. We seem to lose everything and Obama has (appointed) a majority of the federal court judges by now, so there are going to be more losses.

You have executive amnesty which our Republicans do nothing about and you barely hear about it on Fox News. It just seems like we’re losing, losing, losing.

Congressman Sanford Bishop (D-Albany) has come out against the death tax, according to the Macon Telegraph,

In attacking estate taxes, Bishop puts himself squarely into a centuries-old debate involving social justice, providing for children, the sanctity of family businesses, wealth redistribution and class warfare.

“It’s really a political football,” said Greg George, director of Middle Georgia State College’s Center for Economic Analysis. “It’s just a political game piece.”

Bishop said his district, which comprises Peach and Crawford counties and a portion of Bibb County, is one of the nation’s largest agricultural districts. He offered an example: a farm of 3,000 acres worth $2,000 per acre; three or four tractors that might run up to $600,000; and irrigation equipment. Getting hit with an estate tax could mean selling off a big chunk of property, laying off a proportionate amount of employees and buying that much less fertilizer. Also potentially hard hit: small chains of funeral homes, often owned by African-American families, Bishop said.

“Many African-American families that are now finding themselves to be successful after careers of hard work now have to face the challenge of what to do in case one of the family members and one of the principals in the family business should pass away,” Bishop said.

Bishop cited a study by two Boston College professors that suggests estate taxes through 2055 would erase about 12.5 percent of African-American wealth, some $257 billion dollars.

The Savannah Morning News looks at the human side of criminal justice reform and reducing recidivism,

There are 1,050 people on parole in Chatham County. More than 5,640 are on felony probation. Statistics provided by the state Department of Corrections showed the county had a recidivism rate of 27-29 percent from 2006-2011, the most recent year for which data was provided to the Savannah Morning News. There are more than 50,000 inmates in Georgia.

“Community members need to recognize the question is no longer if they’re coming back, it’s when they’re coming back,” said Maxine Bryant, the professor at Armstrong who organized Saturday’s discussion. “The bigger question is, ‘Are we ready for them?’”

Bryant said that means supporting instead of shunning. Her conference, called “When is the Debt Paid,” was similar to events she facilitated in Indianapolis, where she worked for the city helping ex-prisoners re-enter society.

On Saturday, those who came out heard life-experience stories and advice from other ex-prisoners, had a question-and-answer session with local probation and parole officers, and were provided with access to free business attire and job opportunities. It also brought together other key players in the community working to ease the transition for former prisoners, such as the Savannah Impact Program and pastors involved with the local chapter of Healing Communities of Georgia, part of the state’s prisoner re-entry initiative.

Department of Corrections staff say they refer probationers to outlets such as the Department of Labor or local Goodwill shops for work, and offer job fairs and coaching seminars.

One of the attendees Saturday told probation and parole officers he didn’t think there were enough resources for help going straight. A staffer at Coastal told him that’s why forums like Saturday’s are important — to open dialogue between inmates, community members and corrections staff so issues can be worked out. Another issue that drew some concern from attendees was the upcoming merger of parole and probation supervisors under one entity.

Reading List

State Rep. LaDawn Blackett Jones has co-authored Cheating but not Cheated with a client of hers, former Atlanta Public Schools principal Christopher Waller, who pled guilty as part of the APS Cheating Scandal.

From the press release promoting the book,

Christopher Waller, former principal of Parks Middle School, became the “poster child” of the scandal. Waller was labeled as Dr. Hall’s favorite principal in the APS system. In February 2014, Waller took personal and public responsibility for his actions and entered a guilty plea as a first-time offender.

The scandal turned his life upside down. While the investigation and court proceedings took center stage in the media both locally and nationally, Waller and his attorney LaDawn Jones penned a memoir Cheating But Not Cheated. The book was not written for redemption, instead it gives readers a look at the other side of the scandal. Cheating is a lesson in leadership, integrity, morale and community involvement.

Cheating But Not Cheated also provides an inside look at what it took to be a principal at a school that faced a plethora of challenges. Despite the environment around the school, students were given the opportunity to see school as a sanctuary as many of them lived in the midst of chaos.

Cheating But Not Cheated will give readers Waller’s perspective of what was done by the teachers to produce false results. Yes, there was cheating; however, the students of Parks Middle School were not cheated.

File Under: Unintended Consequences

Are you surprised that legislation passed in the last-minute rush of the Georgia General Assembly may have unintended consequences? The AJC reports that hotel and motel groups are fighting the $5 per night fee tacked on to the Transportation Tax bill this year.

Georgia hospitality heavyweights have launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to soften the sting of a new nightly $5 fee tacked on to hotel and motel stays that will fund transportation improvements.

They are already lobbying Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders to scale back the fee next year, and industry executives pledge to turbocharge their political campaign donations. And, in the meantime, they are exploring litigation that could prevent the rate increase from taking effect in July.

The hoteliers are playing catch-up after they were blindsided by the fee. House and Senate leaders struck a late deal to attach it to a broader transportation package that would funnel more than $900 million each year into road and bridge repairs.

Embassy National Bank in Lawrenceville has joined in the fight,

This $5 per night tax will discourage groups from choosing our state for their meetings and conventions,” said Nitin Shah, chairman and CEO of Embassy National Bank. “It will be a crippling set-back for an industry that is still recovering from the 2007 recession.”

The $5 tax will be charged equally for a $35 budget hotel room and for a $1,000 luxury suite. The vast majority of rooms in Georgia are priced at $75 or less, according to Shah.

Hospitality has an annual economic impact on Georgia of about $55 billion in sales.  It employs almost 60,000 people at about 1,850 lodging properties that together have some 168,000 hotel rooms.

Earlier this month, state Senator Butch Miller talked to the Gainesville Times about the rationale for the hotel-motel fee,

“There was much discussion during the negotiation and crafting of the transportation bill with regard to rental car fees,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. “However, during the research we determined that about 40 percent of rental car fees are paid by Georgians. And there was a far lower percentage of hotel/motel fees that will be paid by Georgians. That’s how we ended up switching.”

Miller said that a $5 fee on rental cars would only generate upward of $73 million annually.

DeKalb

The tale of how a check made out to Lee May, currently serving as iCEO of DeKalb County, from a county vendor turned into $4000 cash gets weirder by the day, with the iCEO saying he knew nothing of the transactions.

Soon after DeKalb County paid for repairs at Commissioner Lee May’s home, the man who arranged the work says he was tapped to help May with his personal financial troubles.

May was swimming in debt and in the midst of bankruptcy. Doug Cotter said the County Commission’s chief of staff, Morris Williams, asked him for a favor. Could he help a commissioner out?

So Cotter says he handed over $4,000 to Williams.

Five months later, Cotter, working on behalf of Water Removal Services, won a $300,000 contract to clean up floods and sewage back-flows in residences and businesses throughout the county. Cotter parted ways with the company and took the contract with him.

“I have never received any kind of reimbursement, no money from Water Removal Services, never,” May said. “All my bank accounts, nothing, you will not see anything that I have done. I have never participated in any kickbacks, any kind of pay to play, never.”

Have you ever seen Absence of Malice? It’s a great film and makes for great entertainment. I wonder if any of the players in this current DeKalb County drama watched it. Seriously, go watch it now.

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