Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 16, 2015


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 16, 2015

While not the most famous signer of the Declaration of Independence, Button Gwinnett’s is generally the most expensive. In 2010, an example sold at auction for $772,500, while an offering earlier this year failed to cross the block at an estimated £600k-800k.

Today, you could bid on a document signed by Lachlan McIntosh, who actually shot Button Gwinnett in a duel, for $3500 on Ebay.

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.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Today we begin with two Star Wars: The Force Awakens political mashups.

The biggest local news in Brookhaven is that Google is hard at work building out its fiber network, with construction of a Fiber Hut at Blackburn Park. Google Fiber can’t get here quickly enough. If they’re having trouble siting their hut closest to me, I have a suggestion for a parcel owned by a utility company.

If you want to fly a “ghost drone” without FAA registration, make sure to purchase it before December 21, 2015.

On Monday, December 14th, the FAA released a new regulation that will require owners of UAS’s/Drones purchased after December 21, 2015, to register before the first flight outdoors. Registration can be done on-line through a web-based system the FAA has created at

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the release. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation.”

Registration is a statutory requirement that applies to all aircraft.  Under this rule, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to December 21, 2015, must register no later than February 19, 2016. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after December 21, 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors. Owners may use either the paper-based process or the new streamlined, web-based system.  Owners using the new streamlined web-based system must be at least 13 years old to register.

State Legislators are also getting into the conversation over UAS’s and are gearing up to contemplate the issue in the upcoming Legislative session. Leading a House Study Committee on the use of drones is State Representative Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, who aims to come up with policies and recommendations for Legislation of the unmanned aircraft.

If you register before January 20, 2016, your fee will be waived.

Here’s how enforcement is handled in Tokyo.

Today, from NPR via Georgia Public Broadcasting, we have a look at why so many of us are receiving incessant emails from political campaigns.

Here’s the thing: as odd as some of these messages appear to be, campaigns know they work. Most political operations conduct meticulous tests to see which appeals work best, before they blast notes out to their bases.

It’s an approach perfected by President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, which hauled in about $500 million based on email fundraising.

“Nearly every email we planned to send in 2012, we would set aside a certain percentage of subscribers, and test out anywhere from 12 to 18 different variations of that message,” explained the campaign’s email director, Toby Fallsgraff. “Sometimes they were really subtle changes, and sometimes they were completely different angles on that message.”

Obama staffers would scour the test group’s results, looking for data about what worked and what didn’t. “How many people opened it? How many people unsubscribed?” said Fallsgraff. “But most importantly, I think it’s how many people responded by taking the action we were asking them to take.”

Occasional misfires aside, campaigns still raise far more money off of email than any other digital platform, including social media.

That’s despite the fact that social media dominate more and more of our online habits, and that more and more people communicate via app and text rather than old-fashioned email.

Fallsgraff argued it’s all about the person’s mindset. “When you go to check your email, you’re already prepared to make those action-based decisions, in a way that isn’t true when you’re scrolling through your [Facebook] timeline. Something you’ve received might cause you to pull out your credit card,” he said.

Jordan Cohen, the chief marketing officer at the online marketing company Fluent, argued for another email advantage: “Ultimately you’re able to have a one-to-one conversation with an individual, rather than blasting a conversation to the masses,” he said.

“It’s literally a fraction of what a marketer would spend on things like television, radio, print,” Cohen added.

Power Station

One of the biggest pieces of news in Georgia business this year is the proposed merger between Southern Company, owner of Georgia Power, and Atlanta Gas Light owner AGL Resources. The resulting company will be larger than Delta Airlines and surpassed in the Peach State by only Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and UPS.

Now, the Georgia Public Service Commission has scheduled hearings to discuss the merger and its effects on consumers.

The state Public Service Commission (PSC) voted Tuesday to schedule hearings on the mega-deal in March, April and early May, followed by a decision on May 24.

Southern’s acquisition of AGL Resources for $12 billion, announced last August, would create the biggest electric and gas utility in the nation, with 9 million customers in 11 states, 11 regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies and a projected $50 billion rate base.

Besides setting dates for hearings and the filing of testimony, the scheduling order commissioners approved Tuesday also outlines the issues interested parties should consider as they file testimony and briefs. The issues include whether the merger is in the public interest and whether it would adversely affect Georgia ratepayers and/or competition in the provision of electricity and gas to residential or commercial customers.

More than two years ago, I asked the question of whether it makes any sense to spend $300k per year in order to save $100k. This was after the Dublin City Schools inked a deal to install a solar array to provide electricity for the school system.

By leasing the solar system for $300,000 per year using E-SPLOST funds, they “save” $100,000 in property tax funds, which can now be used to reduce teacher furlough days. It’s like magic that only works if (a) you follow government accounting procedures; and (b) you don’t care that you’re actually paying three times as much for electricity because you’re using somebody else’s money. Classic government thinking.

The only way that math works out is if you assume that electricity prices will go up by 20% every year from 2013 through 2019, a leap of faith that defies historical trends and current forecasts. Since 2001, the highest recorded increase in the yearly average retail electric cost has been under 13%, with three years showing decresed cost over the prior year.

The real bottom line in the Dublin solar case is that local residents are paying at least three times as much of their tax dollars for the electricity being generated by a solar installation that they will continue to pay for over twenty-five years, while being told that they’re “saving” money.

Well, mathematics is catching up with Dublin, with a recent article in The Courier Herald noting,

[T]he creative financing of the solar panel purchase and installation lowered the school system’s bond rating.

Moody’s Investor’s Service cited the school system’s already strained reserves, below average economic factors and the complex structure of he deal as factors that lowered the school system’s bond rating. The lower bond rating translates to difficulty in borrowing money and a higher interest rate on loans. Moody’s also pointed out that the school system has limited flexibility to raise revenue. The school system currently taxes property at a rate of just over 19 mills.

The cap on such tax is 20 mills. Basically, the school system has no place to go except sales tax for money to make the lease payments.

So, an already bad deal for taxpayers turns worse and will likely lead to higher taxes because, as ever, there is no such thing as free money.

2015 Year in Review

In advance of this Friday’s “Political Rewind” on Georgia Public Broadcasting, host Bill Nigut asked each of the panelist for our thoughts on the top political stories of 2015. Here’s what I sent him.

Internationally, the rise of IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, though it started earlier,  the organization came into its current prominence largely in 2015.
In national politics,  the rise of the “outsider,” which also started in 2014 but became more prominent in 2015 as we head into the 2016 Presidential campaign. I’d include not just Trump/Cruz/Carson/Fiorina but Bernie Sanders in that.
The SEC Primary bridges state and national politics. The ability to ssee multiple Presidential candidates at a variety of events is new in my experience in Georgia politics.
In state politics, you can chose between never ending special elections, the passage by the General Assembly of a transportation tax, and religious liberty.
I’ll be doing more extensive reviewing of this year’s politics, but please send me your thoughts on the political story of the year.

2016 Legislative Preview

State Senator Michael Rhett (R-Marietta) has filed legislation to prohibit anyone in the process of a divorce from buying a firearm without permission of the judge.

Tying teacher pay to student progress is likely to be a contentious issue in the coming session of the General Assembly.

Last week, Gov. Deal announced he would ask for some form of merit pay for teachers from the legislature.

Gov. Nathan Deal said he’s ready to ask lawmakers to make a “significant” step toward tying the teachers’ pay to their performance in the classroom, setting up a showdown with educators’ groups who have long opposed the policy.

But it’s unclear how much political capital he’s willing to put on the line for the controversial proposal. Equally unclear is whether lawmakers – all of whom face re-election next year – will be willing to sign on for the battle, knowing full well that they will get blow-back from teachers.

More comprehensive changes have been stalled by critics who question, among other aspects, how teachers will be evaluated and how any pay increases would be funded.

“We’re not going to go to a fully merit-based pay system, but I do think there is a portion of the teachers’ pay that should go to how good a teacher they are,” Deal said after a recent policy conference. “Now, getting the education community to support that is sometimes difficult.”

The governor’s Education Reform Commission made merit pay one of its top recommendations despite numerous meetings with teachers who didn’t mention it as a priority.

Predictably, teachers groups were not amused.

Allene Magill, executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, called Deal “misguided” in supporting the merit pay part.

“Clearly, Gov. Deal believes that educators — individually and collectively — are withholding their best effort and therefore need financial incentives to prod them toward improvement,” she wrote, in a statement Monday that went out to the group’s 90,000 members. She said merit pay is ineffective because it fosters competition instead of teamwork among teachers and because a teacher’s effect on a child is difficult to measure.

Molly Phillips, a former teacher whose husband still teaches, wrote a poem about the issue. It’s worth reading in its entirety.

A $400 million dollar federal grant requires some form of merit pay, but House Speaker David Ralston said he can’t yet support merit pay.

“I try to support our governor when I can and, when I can’t, I tell him very respectfully that he and I disagree. I told him as recently as yesterday at 2 o’clock that I cannot go with him on this yet,” said Ralston. “I support his efforts to move education forward in Georgia, and, when you say merit-based pay or pay for performance, it sounds very good but I am going to have to become a lot more convinced than I am to support including that piece.”

At a Teachers Town Hall hosted by the Speaker, it was also noted that the “traditional” non-merit based pay system might remain for teachers who prefer that.

As a conservative I understand the idea that “you get what you pay for,” and that continuing to pay for failing school systems is tacit approval of the results. But the problem is that teachers will become more expensive in any case due to a shortage.

Fewer college students are on educational tracks to become teachers.

In North Carolina, enrollment is down nearly 20 percent in three years.

“The erosion is steady. That’s a steady downward line on a graph. And there’s no sign that it’s being turned around,” says Bill McDiarmid, the dean of the University of North Carolina School of Education.

Why have the numbers fallen so far, so fast?

McDiarmid points to the strengthening U.S. economy and the erosion of teaching’s image as a stable career. There’s a growing sense, he says, that K-12 teachers simply have less control over their professional lives in an increasingly bitter, politicized environment.

The list of potential headaches for new teachers is long, starting with the ongoing, ideological fisticuffs over the Common Core State Standards, high-stakes testing and efforts to link test results to teacher evaluations. Throw in the erosion of tenure protections and a variety of recession-induced budget cuts, and you’ve got the makings of a crisis.

The job also has a PR problem, McDiarmid says, with teachers too often turned into scapegoats by politicians, policymakers, foundations and the media.

That trend appears to affect Georgia as well.

During the 2007-08 school year, 12,436 students received teaching certificates for the first time, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Two years later, the total fell to 8,520, and it has remained about the same each year since.

During the 2008-09 school year, more than 7,200 people completed Georgia teacher-preparation programs, according to a federal report; three years later, 6,405. Nationally, there’s been a similar decline, federal data shows.

Some districts, like Atlanta and Gwinnett, say they’re not seeing a shortage. It’s more evident in Middle and South Georgia, educators there say, because teachers leave in search of better pay and bigger-city life in metro Atlanta.

State Rep. Amy Carter, a teacher herself, said the problem is not solely about money. She said some teachers leave the profession because they’re frustrated by issues like a lack of support from administrators. “It’s more about the quality of life,” said Carter, a Republican who teaches at Lowndes High School in Valdosta.

Georgia’s biggest needs are in special education, math, science and foreign language teachers.

Just last week, Newton County sought a waiver from state standards because of a shortage of teachers.

Under Georgia law, each public school district in the state was required to choose an education model to follow — SWSS, Charter or Status Quo. Newton officials elected to pursue the SWSS model, which will allow the school system to seek waivers for state requirements for class size, expenditure control, teacher certification and salary. In exchange, the school system agrees to have more academic accountability to the state BOE.

Deputy Superintendent Craig Lockhart explained during his presentation the waivers would give the school system flexibility to better serve students and be more effective financially.

“In years past, we would try to get waivers in class size with the purpose to be able to hire fewer teachers to serve more students, and this follows the exact same train of thought here where there maybe ways where we can save funds in order to meet our basic need,” Lockhart said.

Newton and Rockdale county school systems are among the 132 school systems that have chosen the SWSS model with 72 school systems already approved.

When 132 of 180 school systems have sought waivers from state standards and 40% of all systems received waivers, the state standards are much less meaningful.

Earlier this year, an award-winning and prominent teacher gave this career advice to students interested in teaching.

When asked what she would tell a student considering a career in teaching, [Nancie Atwell] said that she would discourage them unless they could find a job in a private school.

“Public school teachers are so constrained right now by the common core standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them,” she said. “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.”

“The new common core curriculum and the tests that accompany it are tending to treat teachers as mere technicians,” she said. “They open the box and they read the script, and that’s not what good teaching is about. It’s an intellectual enterprise, and that’s been stripped from it by the current climate.”

“In U.S. public schools, these [challenges] include a tight focus on standardized tests and methods, which I feel discourage autonomy and encourage teaching to the test,” she said. “I empathize with aspiring teachers and I strongly believe that they need to be aware of and prepared for the particular challenges of the current climate.”

In neighboring Alabama, a state Teacher of the Year recipient cited bureaucratic issues as her reason for leaving the classroom. She’s not alone, as the  2014 National Teacher of the Year as chosen by “LIVE! with Kelly and Michael” on ABC also left the profession, citing bureaucratic pressures.

“It’s overwhelming,” Starr said. “I’ve never felt so overwhelmed in my life. Nor do I think, the kids — especially the freshmen. They’re the ones who are getting hit hard. They have to start the (new state tests) this year in math, English language arts and science.

“The sad thing is I love teaching. I love our district. I love our kids,” Starr said. “It’s not the teachers’ fault. It’s not the administrators’ fault. But our kids are going to suffer because of it.

A survey of teachers (note:small sample size) showed 55 percent would not recommend a new graduate become a teacher.

Some teachers fear violence in their schools. Dedicated police resources for schools may help address violence, but note that the starting pay for an Atlanta Police officer with a college degree is $42k per year, while a starting Atlanta Public Schools teacher with a college degree starts at $44k, and it’s not hard to imagine some teachers deciding to become police officers instead.

Those teachers who don’t have to worry about the affect of parental absence on their students’ lives and test performance may face pushy “helicopter parents.”

Teachers personal lives may be under higher scrutiny due to the ubiquity of social media.

Good arguments can be made for and against merit pay for teachers. It may even work. But unintended consequences are ineveitable, and in my opinion, the teacher shortage and trends that will exacerbate the problem pose an existential crisis for our public school too.


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