Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 29, 2015

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Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 29, 2015

On June 29, 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés sailed from Cadiz, Spain to invade Florida.

Johan De Kalb was born on June 29, 1721 in Germany. In 1777, De Kalb joined the Marquis de Lafayette in supporting the Americans against British forces, dying in Camden, South Carolina in 1780. In 1822, the Georgia General Assembly created DeKalb County.

On June 29, 1767, the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, levying a tax on glass, paint, oil, lead, paper, and tea in order to raise funds from the colonies.

The United States Supreme Court released its 5-4 opinion in Furman v. Georgia on June 29, 1972, holding that the death penalty violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

On June 29, 1993, Governor Zell Miller bought the first ticket in the Georgia Lottery.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Before we get into the politics, a public service message:

Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services needs foster home for approximately 200 children across the state.

“Adoptive parent recruitment is an important initiative for the Division of Family and Children Services,” said DFCS Director Bobby Cagle. “We have so many deserving children that can spend years waiting for a family. We hope that by building awareness of the need for permanent families that Georgians will open their hearts and homes to these children.”

Click the link for profiles of three sisters who need a home.


 

Early voting is open in the Special Elections and Special Runoff Elections in House Districts 24, 55, 48, 80, 146, and 155 and DeKalb County Commission District 5. Click here for early voting information for your county.

In DeKalb, Houston, and Fulton Counties, almost certainly others, no early voting will be available on July 3, but Saturday early voting will be open on July 4th. This is kind of cool and kind of goofy. Cool because it may be the only time you’ll be able to cast your vote on July 4th, as a legislative fix is being planned by at least one legislator in an affected area. Goofy because I think we’ll likely be paying time-and-a-half for poll workers to give up their holiday while very few voters will cast ballots.

Forsyth County’s elections officials discussed their predictions for early voting turnout in the July 14 runoff.

“It’s going to be lower than the last one, because we won’t have that city election involved,” said Barbara Luth, the county’s supervisor of voter registrations and elections.

“However, we have had people stopping by [on Friday] to ask when voting is starting, and we do have some mail-out ballots that will be sent on Monday.

“Sometimes you get the same amount in the runoff, [others] it goes down a little bit. So it’s definitely going to be under 10 percent, but how much I don’t know, maybe half.”

The first week of advance voting will be cut short a day due to the July Fourth holiday Friday.

“June 29 through July 2, which is Monday through Thursday, we will be open at the Forsyth Administration Building from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Luth said.

The second week times will vary depending on the day.

“The second week, from July 6 through July 10, Monday through Thursday, we’ll be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Luth said.  “We’ll be at the administration building, and also we’ll be open at Midway Park Community Building [at 5100 Post Road].

“We have no Saturday voting this time. We’re not required to have Saturday voting on a runoff.”

 

The four candidates in State House District 155 (Ben Hill, Coffee, Irwin, Tift and Turner Counties) met in a debate sponsored by the Tifton Chamber of Commerce.

All four candidates shared their thoughts on what would be the biggest issue for the district.

“We have an eight percent unemployment, we’re having trouble filling the jobs because people aren’t trained,” said Scott Downing.

Sherry Miley said, “It’s hard to get big companies when you don’t have the workforce to fill those jobs so I’d say economy with our jobs right now.”

“We wanna make sure that we maintain the University of Georgia and the ABAC College and the technical college here in Tifton. I think that’s critical because that’s gonna train the jobs, the employees for the job and it’s gonna educate our kids that goes into higher education,” said Horace Hudgins.

The final candidate, Clay Pirkle, said “Education is always going to be critical for economic development, it’s gonna be critical for job creation.”

In DeKalb County Commission District 5, where top vote-getters Mereda Davis Johnson and George Turner meet in a July 14 runoff, two candidate forums are planned.

The June 29 candidate forum starts at 6:30 p.m. and will last for an hour and a half. It is sponsored by the Greater Lithonia Chamber of Commerce, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., National Council of Negro Women, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., East Metro Orchids, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Salem Bible Church is at 5460 Hillandale Drive.

On July 9, Georgia Stand Up, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the Voter Empowerment Collaborative are hosting a forum at Fairfield Baptist, 6133 Redan Road. It starts at 6:30 p.m.

Congressman Barry Loudermilk (R-11) will hold a Town Hall Meeting tonight from 6-7:15 PM at Kennesaw City Hall in the Council Chamber.

Last Thursday night, an event for State Rep. Roberty Dickey (R-Mussella) drew Gov. Nathan Deal and a number of Dickey’s legislative colleagues.

Georgia’s highest ranking elected official was at the gathering showing his support for State Representative Robert Dickey

The Governor told the crowd of over 100 that his administration is consistently creating jobs for Georgians.

“In that almost six-week period of time, we have added over 3,300 jobs in the state of Georgia,” said Deal.

He spoke of his recent trip to Brazil, where he met with an Information Technology company.

“400 jobs has already been announced from a company that we visited while we were there, and more will come. What we are doing in economic development is important because we need to provide jobs for our citizens today and our children for tomorrow,” said Deal.

Jack Kingston: the Sad Truth about King v. Burwell

Former First District Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) wrote an Op-Ed about the King v. Burwell decision. Click here to read the full text.

The Affordable Care Act may be remembered as one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation in modern history. It’s bad for patients, it’s crushing small businesses with more than 20,000 pages of regulations, and it does nothing to address the real problems in our healthcare system like the cost of treatments or access to care. I voted against the Affordable Care Act, I voted to repeal it more than 40 times, I fought to defund and dismantle it, and I strongly believe it must be repealed.

Disappointingly, after Thursday’s King vs Burwell ruling, it’s clear that the Supreme Court is playing favorites by defending and practically rewriting certain laws in order to protect them from legitimate challenges. Thus, Obamacare appears to be the law of the land unless Republicans win the Presidency in 2016, hold onto our majorities in the House and in the Senate, and unite behind a legitimate alternative to keep Americans healthy but protect our freedoms.

That’s the sad truth, at least for another 18 months.

An equally sad truth— and one that says a lot about the times we live in— is that by upholding Obamacare, Chief Justice John Roberts and the five associate justices in the majority probably just saved the Republican Party. Politically.

It’s a fascinating perspective on the Supreme Court and its current role in our system of government.

Congressman Tom Price (R-6) offers his thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court serves only as further encouragement to use the court system as a systematic springboard to enact agendas outside the democratic and legislative structures of government. Thirty States have held statewide ballots banning gay marriage since the year 2000, and yet legislating from the bench has superseded both public approval and our elected representatives. This is not only a sad day for marriage, but a further judicial destruction of our entire system of checks and balances.”

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-3) also offers this on the Obergefell v. Hodges case.

“I am disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. Hodges, as they chose to rewrite the ancient and biblical definition of marriage and ignore the will of the states. The Constitution does not define marriage and these unelected judges exercised judicial activism by deciding what the Constitution should mean, rather than what it actually says. It should be decided by the people of the state through a democratic process; for the 10th amendment guarantees the states and people rights that are not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. I will continue to fight to protect traditional marriage values, and the religious rights of those who join me in believing that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

And Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens released the following statement.

“Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the Constitution requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state.  It does not permit bans on same-sex marriage. In our system of government, the Supreme Court bears the ultimate responsibility for determining the constitutionality of our laws. Once the Supreme Court has ruled, its Order is the law of the land. As such, Georgia will follow the law and adhere to the ruling of the Court.”

Randy Evans, Republican National Committeeman for Georgia, spoke about the Supreme Court rulings with the Madison Forum.

Evans started his speech by addressing the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act does not violate the Constitution by authorizing federal tax credits for eligible citizens in states both with and without state health care exchanges.

“What we have seen with this latest round of Supreme Court decisions combined with the policies of the Obama administration is a systematic disintegration of the fundamental predicate of the rule of law,” Evans said.

He said the Supreme Court made its decision on the Affordable Care Act based on the idea the health care law was “too big to fail,” much like the financial institutions involved in the Great Recession.

“The whole gist of John Roberts’ opinion on Obamacare is it … doesn’t matter what the law says, doesn’t matter if it’s effective, doesn’t matter we all agree it’s worded improperly — it’s too big to let it fail,” Evans said.

Evans also said the Supreme Court’s ruling that effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the country was about more than gay rights.

“The far broader implication was the shift of the balance of power between the federal government and the state government to the federal government,” Evans said. “What was the one thing that the Founding Fathers feared the most? A king.”

Evans said everything in the Constitution was deliberately designed to make the government inefficient.

“Not because they wanted an inefficient government, but because they believed that inefficiency is the best way to slow the accumulation of power in a single person,” Evans said.

Local Government

The consensus appears to be that consolidation of Augusta-Richmond County was a mistake, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

As it is, most people say consolidation was a mistake, among them the new government’s first mayor, Larry Sconyers.

“SET UP TO FAIL”: “And just look what a mess we’ve got today,” Sconyers said. “Nobody works together. Ten people trying to run the government. One person is elected by all the people, and he has zero power. Yet all the burden falls on the mayor.

“The mayor of Augusta doesn’t have the respect the mayor of the second-largest city in the state of Georgia should have. The legislators could change that if they ever decided to do what they promised to do and give power to the mayor’s office. The current mayor and administrator are not communicating by what I’ve read in the media.

“Government is like a bus, you’ve got to have one person in charge. If I ran my business the way Richmond County runs theirs, I wouldn’t have one.”

“OVERSOLD”: Consoli­da­ted Augusta’s second mayor, Bob Young, said consolidation was oversold.

“The expectations were set too high,” he said. “People were expecting too much. As mayor, I did find it frustrating because working relationships were not defined. Inherent challenges were there. Dysfunctional? I don’t agree with that. Sometimes it limps along. Sometimes it sprints. I wouldn’t say the whole consolidation experiment has been a failure.

Deke Copenhaver, said that overall, consolidation has saved the city money.

Gwinnett County will open four new schools this year, and is discussing further magnet and theme-magnet schools, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Several of the schools have placed a focus on technology initiatives, and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

In August of 2016, the district plans to open a “STEAM school” in the Duluth cluster, which adds the fine arts to the STEM acronym. That school will be at the former Monarch School location on Main Street. The ADAPT special education program formerly housed at Monarch moved to the Northbrook Center in Suwanee.

A new Norcross cluster elementary school will relieve schools in the Norcross cluster, primarily Peachtree Elementary. But it doesn’t yet have any unique characteristics. It is also planned to open in August 2016.

Long-term plans also call for relief high schools in the Norcross and Meadowcreek clusters, and district officials plan to tailor the curriculum toward a specific theme, such as health sciences and medicine in one school, and international business, finance and law in the other. Financing plans for those schools has not yet been established.

At Discovery, perhaps the most publicized of the new schools, students from across the county beginning in middle school will learn personal finance and entrepreneurial skills, including creating and running a viable business through a partnership with Junior Achievement. Local businesses have also contributed sponsorships and employees volunteering their time.

A facility that’s being relocated, Summerour Middle, boasts an environmental center that allows students to explore outdoor classrooms within a community-managed agriculture program.

Expensive Accounts

The AJC has found that, surprise, cost controls on elected officials’ use of expense accounts is a little loosey-goosey.

Over the past six years, commissioners in Clayton, Cobb and DeKalb counties collectively received about $465,000 in supplemental expense allowances with little accounting of how the money was used, a Georgia News Lab and Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation has found.

The allowances, paid directly to commissioners, range from $3,000 to $7,200 a year and are intended to cover job-related expenses. But the money comes with no strings attached, the News Lab and AJC found.

Clayton Commission Chairman Jeff Turner used some of his allowance for clothing and car washes. And some commissioners sought reimbursement for expenses that appeared to be covered by their monthly supplement.

Receipts show Clayton Chairman Turner, who was first elected in 2013, spent more than $3,500 of his allowances on expenses such as food, travel, parking and baggage fees. He also used it to pay for car washes, dry cleaning and clothing.

Between 2013 and 2014, Turner spent $712.99 at D&K Suit City and K&G Men’s Superstore in Morrow for clothing.

Turner said he is entitled to make these purchases.

“I am full-time chairman, and usually employees get a clothing allowance,” he said. “So I use my stipend to try to make sure that I have the proper attire to make sure I carry out my duty.”

The Savannah Morning-News raised questions about expense reimbursement for Chatham County Commissioner Helen Stone.

According to mileage reports reviewed this month by the Savannah Morning News, the county has paid District 1 Commissioner Helen Stone $878.19 for local travel since Jan. 1. The majority of that was paid to Stone to reimburse her for mileage for traveling from her home — and back — to attend meetings where she serves as a board member.

Those include the county commission, the Chatham Area Transit board of directors, the board of managers of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the board of directors for the Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care Clinic.

Stone’s mileage sheets show that attending these meetings required her to travel between 20 and 40 miles round-trip, mainly from and back to her home on Whitefield Avenue.

She was the only commissioner or board member to seek reimbursement for mileage for attending those meetings.

The county finance department’s files also indicate that, for the second time in the past three years, Stone recently reimbursed Chatham County for some of her travel expenses.

In October 2012, the Savannah Morning News reported that Stone wrote a check to the county for $110 after a reporter pointed out she had been reimbursed for travel to campaign events.

According to the most recent documents, Stone this month reimbursed the county for an additional $396.68, noting on the check that the payment was for mileage due. Also written on a copy made of the check was that the payment was “reimbursement for travel — mileage” after an open records request of her travel expenses was publicized earlier this year.

New Laws Effective July 1

Walter Jones of Morris News, reviews some of the new state laws becoming effective this week.

The state’s fiscal year begins July 1, and that becomes a convenient time for new laws to kick in. The state’s $22 billion budget begins that day, so it makes sense to use the same date for adding three judges to the Court of Appeals, for the transfer of the Office of Consumer Affairs from the governor to the attorney general’s office and for the launch of the Department of Community Supervision that takes over supervising offenders on parole or probation, including juveniles.

The first day of the fiscal year is also a logical start for the revised gasoline tax and the end of the tax credit for purchasing electric vehicles.

Coming just before Independence Day, it is a handy time for the start of legalized fireworks purchases, too.

Here’s a list of the new laws most likely to affect everyday Georgians.

• Transportation Funding: The sales tax on gasoline is converted to a per-gallon basis and raised 6 cents per gallon. The law imposes a $5 nightly tax on hotel/motel rooms and a $200 yearly user fee on electric vehicles while eliminating the tax credit for purchasing them. Gone, too, is Delta Air Lines’ exemption from the sales tax on jet fuel.

• Speed traps: Local law enforcement agencies that get more than 35 percent of their budget from traffic citations within 20 mph of speed limits will have a tougher time winning court challenges. The law is designed to discourage revenue-producing speed traps.

• Fireworks: celebrations can now pop with the legalization of fireworks sales. They’ll be taxed, and shops selling them will be inspected by local and state fire marshals.

• Solar financing: A law passed unanimously removes a legal hurdle to financing solar panels for homeowners, small businesses and nonprofits. It allows private companies to own the rooftop panels, paying the property owner with electricity while selling the rest to the local electric utility.

From the Associated Press, Kathleen Foody also examines new laws that start this week.

Lawmakers can specify when bills go into effect, either when signed by a governor, at the start of a new year or a mix of both. For instance, the state’s new law allowing people with certain medical conditions to sign up for a medical cannabis registry allowing them to possess oil has been up and running since mid-June.
Georgia’s craft brewers fell short this session in their push for direct sales to customers. Wholesalers who act as a go-between from brewers to retailers have opposed dismantling Georgia’s three-tier system.

But brewers around the state did get the ability to charge for a tour and provide a “souvenir” amount of beer to drink on-site. Buying a tour also lets you receive up to a six-pack’s worth of beer to take home.

Brewers are planning a variety of changes when the law goes into effect July 1, from expanding existing tour hours to special events like the July 1 midnight tasting at Burnt Hickory Brewing in Kennesaw.

FIREWORKS

Just days before the July 4 holiday, large fireworks sales become legal for the first time in Georgia. The Georgia Department of Insurance had received more than 200 applications early last week.

Sparklers and fireworks that didn’t lift far off the ground were allowed previously. The new law limits sales during the first year to permanent locations, with tents beginning next summer.

Local governments are taking a variety of approaches ahead of the law taking effect and the holiday weekend likely to see both sales and fireworks use peak. While some are taking no action, other cities plan to use zoning or other local ordinance changes to specify where the stores can locate.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said city officials passed a 90-day moratorium on allowing sales while they update city policies. Paul said residents still can celebrate using fireworks once the state law takes effect but officials want to be specific about where the stores operate.

“There is a public safety issue storing large amounts of explosives in on site,” he said. “We need to be sure where we allow them to sell is a safe location.”

ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Georgia’s generous tax credit for electric vehicle purchases will vanish overnight, starting July 1.

A new $200 fee for registration of alternative fuel vehicles also goes into effect.

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