Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 17, 2016

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 17, 2016

On March 17, 1762, the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in New York City by Irish serving in the British army; the date commemorates the death of St. Patrick in 461. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, Georgia was held in 1813.

On March 17, 1866, Governor Charles Jones Jenkins signed legislation granting African-Americans the same rights as whites for contracts, suits, inheritance, property, and punishments for violation of the law.

On March 17, 1933, Governor Eugene Talmadge signed a joint resolution of the state legislature to place a plaque on the wall of the Georgia Capitol commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the founding of Georgia.

On March 17, 1943, Governor Ellis Arnall signed legislation creating a commission to revise the 1877 Constitution of Georgia.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

A pressure cooker combines heat and high pressure to reduce cooking time. It’s a good analogy for this year’s session of the Georgia General Assembly. The normal heat and pressue of the session are increased due to a shorter timeframe for legislative action, combined with early Primary elections in May and candidate qualifying in early March, which means that candidates feel more pressure to adjourn early to return home and launch their reelection campaigns for the May 24 Primary Elections. And it appears a larger number of incumbent legislators face electoral opposition this year than most.

The combination of heat and pressure may also remind some folks of the existence of perdition, as a number of politicians have been born again recently.

Which is probably the dynamic that leads us to the final adoption yesterday of House Bill 757, which was originally introduced by State Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), but for which, like our Bible, many folks can rightfully claim to have authored part of. From Reuters,

The legislation, dubbed the Religious Liberty Bill, still has to be signed by Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal to become law. Deal has made clear that he will not sign a bill that allows discrimination, but his office did not immediately respond to request for comment on Wednesday night.

The Georgia bill, reworked several times by lawmakers amid criticism that earlier versions went too far, declares that no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding.

The bill also grants faith-based organizations – churches, religious schools or associations – the right to reject holding events for people or groups of whom they object. Faith-based groups also could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose beliefs run counter to the organization’s.

Opponents say the bill could be used to deny services and discriminate against same-sex couples.

Mike Griffin, a lobbyist and spokesman for the Georgia Baptist Convention, applauded the bill’s passage. He said that while the bill did not give them everything they wanted, he added: “We feel we’ve advanced our protection of our First Amendment Right to religious freedom.”

“Our rights of religious liberty don’t end inside the four walls of a church,” he said.

In a late added amendment, the proposed law says that it cannot allow discrimination already prohibited by federal law, which opponents said could nullify some of its provisions.

Naturally a portion of the business community that resides on the Fortune 500 has begun complaining about the legislation.

Large corporations ranging from Microsoft to Atlanta-based Coca-Cola are urging the state to abandon the bill, while Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is speaking out against the proposed law and how it might impact his company’s investment in the state. Benioff, by the way, has experience in fighting against “religious freedom” bills, given that he was an outspoken critic of Indiana’s similar legislation, which was passed last year.

“We’re looking squarely at what’s going on in Georgia with House Bill 757, which means that we may have to reduce our investments in the state of Georgia,” Benioff said on a conference call with financial analysts last month.

The rise of legislation that permits business owners to refuse service based on their religious beliefs stems from a national push for gay and transgender rights, including the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that legalized same-sex marriage.

It’s unclear what will happen with the Georgia bill, given that Governor Nathan Deal has said he would reject any legislation that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.” Deal’s office didn’t return a request for comment.

And an excellent wrap-up from the AJC,

When introduced early this year, the bill originally promised pastors they could not be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. The Senate, however, added language last month that would have allowed faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples — gay or straight — or following anti-discrimination requirements if they cited a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction regarding marriage.

The changes unveiled Wednesday made more changes after both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, objected to the Senate version. While the bill still says no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony, it adds language that says no individual can be forced to attend one.

The bill would protect faith-based organizations from having to rent or allow its facility to be used for an event it finds “objectionable.”

These organizations, which include churches, religious schools or associations, would not be required to provide social, educational or charitable services “that violate such faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.” However, the amendment says government can enforce the terms of a grant, contract or other agreement.

Faith-based organizations also could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose “religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.”

Finally, it includes much of the language found federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which requires government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion.

However, it adds that it cannot be used to allow “discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law.”

Earlier this week, Adam Ragusea, formerly of Georgia Public Broadcasting, published perhaps the best piece I’ve read on the religious liberty issue in Georgia. It’s a lengthy interview with Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) that is worth reading in its entirety.

[Ragusea] Let’s go ahead and march through the major provisions of HB 757. To propose a state law that says religious leaders cannot be forced to perform a wedding with which they’re uncomfortable strikes me as extraneous. Isn’t it a settled matter of constitutional law that the government can’t tell pastors anything about how they should conduct their services?

[McKoon] Yes, I agree with you on that. When the “Pastor Protection Act” came over from the House, I took to the well of the Senate and I referred to it as the “Politician Protection Act.” Because that’s essentially what it is.

It’s one of these things that comes up when we have an issue that people are concerned about — this general subject of religious freedom. There’s a lot of concern about it all over the state. Or, in an election year, and you’ve got members that will face primary opposition, they want to be able to say, “I voted for a religious freedom measure.”

And so yes, I agree with you on that. The notion that any clergyman is going to be forced by government to conduct their religious ceremony in any way against his will is — that would never happen. And there’s no court that would order that.

If the pressure is on Republican legislators to return to their districts with conservative legislation passed, it probably applies also to legislation that cuts state taxes. From the AJC,

The Georgia Senate took another shot at reducing state income taxes Wednesday, voting to cut the top rate by 10 percent.

The Senate’s passage of a repurposed House Bill 238 on a 35-17 vote was the second effort its made in recent weeks to cut income taxes. The chamber approved a proposed constitutional amendment about two weeks ago that would lower the top rate if the state meets certain revenue projections and builds up reserves.

House Bill 238, which began as a tax break for expanding Atlanta’s aquarium, was converted into a 10 percent cut in the top state income tax rate — from 6 percent to 5.4 percent. It would also eliminate many deductions while keeping the full mortgage deduction for most Georgians. In addition, it would increase the personal exemption taxpayers can take and eliminate corporate net worth taxes.

Both the bill and the proposed amendment were sponsored by Senate Finance Chairman Judson Hill, R-Marietta.

Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) took to the well yesterday to discuss legislation aimed at regulating the handling of rape kits by law enforcement and hospitals.

“At that [study committee] meeting, our conclusion was drawn, unlike the House’s version, that the backlog on rape kits was taken care of, and there was no need to be able to have to have legislation because [GBI Director] Vernon Keenan in the addition of a $2 million federal grant was taking care of the backlog of the kits. He also sent out a director to all the local governments.”

“It was the conclusion that the $2 million dollar grant – it’s very expensive to do these rape kits and we were very fortunate to be able to get that $2 million grant, and that grant went for the excessive backlog …. So in conclusion the Senate [decision] was to hold firm, we had an agreement with the Georgia Hospital Association, the Community Hospital Association, and the Rural Hospital Association, along with local law enforcement, along with [GBI] Director Keenan, that we would stand firm next year, to continue see if the infrastructure changes, the process that we are now implemented, that is being implemented successfully and that it continues to be that way.”

“The main problem that we found in these hearing that we had, was Grady Hospital and Fulton County. And the problem there was they [Grady] would call the Sheriff’s Department or the APD and they would not come and pick up the rape kits and deliver them to the GBI headquarters. So in essence we would be writing a law to change the whole state of Georgia for law enforcement officials in your local communtieis that are doing a good job because the one particular incident here in the City of Atlanta.

From the AJC,

Unterman replied that bill sponsor Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Atlanta Democrat, did not pay attention to work she did on the issue during study committee hearings that she chaired before the legislative session.

“It’s nothing personal,” said Unterman, who is from Buford. “I’m just taking the Senate’s stance that we had the study committee, and that was the recommendation and that was our agreement with the three hospital associations, with the (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) and with the Board of Regents.”

State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has gutted-and-filled a Senate bill passed last year and filled it with his legislation to expand medical marijuana in an attempt to circumnavigate the Senate committee system, according to Maggie Lee of the Macon Telegraph.

On Tuesday, a state House committee approved Republican state Rep. Allen Peake’s move to use Senate Bill 145 to carry his idea to let Georgians who have a handful of new diagnoses, including autism, possess liquid medical cannabis.

Senate Bill 145 passed the Senate last year but never got a House vote. Now, after Peake’s amendment, the bill says nothing about the state board, and only speaks to Georgia’s medical cannabis law.

The valuable thing about the bill from Peake’s point of view is that it already has approval from the Senate. So he’s hoping it will carry his medical marijuana language through the House and back to the Senate for quick agreement without the need for hearings there.

His move comes a day after state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said she will not hold a hearing on Peake’s original House Bill 722 before the session ends March 24. She said she heard criticisms of the bill and that her committee did not have time for it. She said she would like to work on the topic in the coming months.

The session has also seen fireworks over fireworks legislation. From the Macon Telegraph,

Some Georgia cities and counties might curtail late-night fireworks, but they will also see a fireworks tax used to pay for firefighting and other safety measures under bills passed by the state Legislature this week.

[T]he state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would give cities and counties a new power to locally limit pyrotechnics to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. If a city or county does not add a restriction, revelers can use fireworks from 10 a.m. to midnight on those days, just as they are allowed now.

The House already has approved a similar bill. The two sides have until the session ends on March 24 to send a compromise bill to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

Some critics, especially in more densely populated places, want local governments to have more power to restrict fireworks.

The state House also approved an idea similar to one that already has the Senate’s OK: to spend a fireworks excise tax worth about $1 million annually on trauma care, firefighters and 911 service.

Legislation to make the Houston County Clerk of Superior Court an elected position may have moved the recent Clerk to resign.

County Commissioner Gail Robinson confirmed Monday that State Court Clerk Kendra Simons submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Nathan Deal, effective June 30.

Simons had been missing work even before she was re-elected in 2014. Simons said at the time she had a medical issue with her neck and hoped to be able to return to work soon.

However, her absences have continued and Robinson said Simons has not worked in months. The county has hired the former State Court clerk to clear the backlog of cases.

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer’s Joe Paull has written a primer on “How to get elected to the Muscogee County School Board,” that I can’t find much to disagree with.

Former board chairwoman and retired educator Mary Sue Polleys said, “The most important factor for a successful campaign is friends who believe in you and are eager to work as volunteers. Some of those friends need to be people who have run successful campaigns in the past in order to give good advice.”

• Form a campaign committee and establish a campaign schedule.

• Announce your candidacy as early as possible, especially if this is your first campaign or you haven’t been in a community leadership position, so you can get a jumpstart on fundraising and name recognition.

• Develop a strategy and a plan, wrapped around you main message. Determine steps for fundraising, budgeting, recruiting volunteers, advertising and social media. Consider getting professional advice, if your campaign can afford it.

• Implement the plan. Campaign committee should meet at least weekly to adjust the plan. Your calendar should include dates for forums, rallies, visits to organizations and neighborhood canvassing.

• If your race is for a district seat, try to visit every residence. If your race is for a county-wide seat, visit as many organizations as you can.

The two main criticism I have come in the last bullet point I excerpted. Rather than visiting every residence, I’d prioritize people who actually voted in a previous election like the one you’re in. By doing this, you can make it possible to spend more of your time talking to folks who will actually vote. If you’re running in a county wide race, by targeting voters or geographics strengths, door-to-door can be a core of your electoral strategy despite the larger district.

The two parts of campaigning that I think are given too little attention by many folks are (1.) budgeting, which is a continuous process of monitoring income and expenditures and adjusting your plan to reality; and (2.) doing the voter contact in as efficient a manner as possible. Remember: simple ideas are not always easy to implement.

The Next (Current) Phase of Presidential Campaigns

The New York Times has a great article on the importance of the delegate selection rules and how the Presidential race continues to play out in states like Georgia that have already voted for President.

With more than half the states having now held their nominating contests, Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz are quietly directing their attention to a second, shadow election campaign — one that is out of sight, little understood but absolutely critical if Republicans arrive at their national convention with Mr. Trump short of a majority of delegates.

This parallel campaign is to select the individual delegates who will go to Cleveland in July for what could be the first contested convention in American politics in more than 60 years. Chosen through a byzantine process in each state, most of the delegates will become free agents if no one wins a majority on the first ballot.

The mere prospect that delegates could deny Mr. Trump the nomination led him to predict Wednesday that violence could erupt in such a situation.

“I think you’d have riots,” Mr. Trump warned.

For Mr. Trump, the problem is that a delegate may be pledged to back one candidate, based on the results of a primary or caucus, but may be loyal to another.

Recruiting loyalists to run for delegate slots — often through a series of contests beginning at the precinct and county levels — favors campaigns with strong grass-roots networks and robust national organizations. Mr. Trump has been lacking in both, failing to win in caucus states like Iowa, Kansas and Maine where a ground game is important.

In the vast majority of the states, you can’t do this on the fly; you have to have laid the groundwork for months,” said Joshua T. Putnam, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia. “By all accounts, the Trump campaign is not active in pushing their guys into those delegate slots.”

By contrast, Mr. Cruz, who has done well in caucus states, is seeking to get his supporters elected as delegates who are nominally pledged to Mr. Trump, but who would desert him after the first ballot.

“The Cruz campaign has been organized down to the district and county levels all the way across the country,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who has participated in meetings for the Cruz campaign about delegate selection. “You’re dealing with people who are party activists. They will trump the Trump loyalists in winning delegate slots.”

You’ll see this play out on Saturday as the Georgia Republican Party holds County Conventions and would-be delegates to Cleveland jockey to move forward to the next level in the delegate selection process.

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