Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 5, 2016

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 5, 2016

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On December 3, 1775, the Grand Union Flag, comprising the Union Jack with thirteen red-and-white stripes was raised for the first time by Lieutenant John Paul Jones over the USS Alfred, a colonial warship. The flag would be used by Continental forces thorugh 1776 and early 1777.

USS Alfred

On December 3, 1776, General George Washington wrote Congress that he had moved most of his army across the Delaware River from Trenton, New Jersey to Pennsylvania.

On December 4, 1783, General George Washington told his officers he would resign his commission and return to his life at Mount Vernon.

On December 3, 1864, Union forces under the command of Gen. William T. Sherman skirmished against Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry at Thomas’ Station in Burke County, Georgia.

The Battle of Waynesboro, Georgia was fought between Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry and Kilpatrick’s federal troops on December 4, 1864.

On December 5, 1887, Georgia voters approved a new State Constitution and voted to keep the state capital in Atlanta instead of moving it back to Milledgeville.

Governor William Northen signed legislation placing on the statewide ballot a constitutional amendment to increase the number of Georgia Supreme Court Justices from 3 to 5 on December 4, 1893.

On December 4, 1932, a 12-foot tall statue of Tom Watson, former state legislator, Congressman, and United States Senator from Georgia, was placed on the State Capitol Grounds.

On December 4, 1945, the United States Senate voted to approve full U.S. participation in the United Nations. Georgia’s Senators voted in favor.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

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Last night at the legislative Biennial Institute in Athens, I heard State Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) say, “I’m in,” with respect to the campaign for the Sixth Congressional District that Tom Price will vacate when he’s confirmed Secretary of HHS.

Someone else who overheard him asked if he meant the congressional race and he affirmed that was what he was talking about.

Georgia Democrats are criticizing Tom Price for his 2003 vote against changing the state flag.

“He’s an intelligent guy. That’s why I was really disappointed when he voted against changing the flag,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat elected to the state Senate the same year as Price. “It was a vote that history would remember, and he was on the wrong side of it.”

Added Bobby Kahn, who was Barnes’ top aide, of the measure’s eventual approval: “We couldn’t have passed the flag vote without Republicans, but no thanks to Tom Price. If it was up to him, the old Confederate flag would still be flying.”

Jim Galloway of the AJC takes a deeper look at the aftermath of the 2003 flag vote.

Sonny Perdue was the first Republican governor in modern Georgia history. With the aid of a few party-switchers, the state Senate quickly fell under GOP control — and for the first time in his six-year tenure, a Republican orthopedic surgeon from Roswell was in a position of power.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Price found himself immediately saddled with two of the new Republican governor’s top priorities: passage of a tobacco tax to heal a substantial hole in the budget, and a statewide referendum on the explosive issue of whether to return the state’s 1956 flag, the vestige of a bitter fight over segregation, to the dome of the state Capitol.

The latter was a promise Perdue had made to “flaggers” who had dogged Barnes throughout his campaign, waving Confederate banners at nearly every event.

With Republican help, it worked. In the House, the flag bill was gutted on its return visit — the referendum would be held, but the ’56 flag was removed as a choice. The new Perdue flag would go up immediately. (It’s still there today.)

What did Tom Price get? It was kept secret at the time, but Price demanded that Democratic state lawmakers representing Fulton County end their opposition to the creation of the city of Sandy Springs. They agreed.

This was confirmed by state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, who was chairwoman of the Senate committee that handled local governmental affairs, and Johnson, who was Senate president pro tem.

The Sandy Springs bill wouldn’t pass in 2003, but it in 2005. By then, depending on a strong turnout in Fulton County, Price had made his successful his run for Congress — against two other state senators who hailed from Cobb County.

“The deal was we would open the door for just the one city and then shut it again,” Johnson said. It didn’t exactly work out that way.

The AJC also has a lengthy feature on Price’s tenure in the Georgia Senate and his career trajectory since then.

That no-nonsense work ethic, attention to detail and an unquenchable thirst to be at the center of weighty decisions — particularly involving medical policy — has driven Price, 62, throughout his life. He ran for office as a tax-hating fiscal conservative. But it was health care policy that truly defined his career.

And his former campaign manager swears the chance to lead the federal government’s health care system was on his mind shortly after he won his U.S. House seat in 2004.

“This is something he was made for,” Jared Thomas said. “I remember clear as a bell, in August 2004 right after he won the seat, he said that he thought he had a good dozen years in the House but he wanted to be considered for health secretary or surgeon general.”

Speaker David Ralston told Bill Nigut and Jim Galloway that Georgia should look to Congress to address religious liberty.

“I think it is a federal issue, so I’m very content to let them deal with it. I don’t hear much discussion about it. There was a lot of concern in the period of time right after the veto, but I think as people have kind of stepped back and taken a look at it, I think they realize that it’s a little more complex and has dimensions that you might not expect when you flash up the words ‘religious freedom’ or ‘religious liberty.’ Because, you know, we all believe in that….

“So I think it would be healthy for the Congress to have a debate, and let’s see what they do….”

“I think it is a federal issue, so I’m very content to let them deal with it. I don’t hear much discussion about it. There was a lot of concern in the period of time right after the veto, but I think as people have kind of stepped back and taken a look at it, I think they realize that it’s a little more complex and has dimensions that you might not expect when you flash up the words ‘religious freedom’ or ‘religious liberty.’ Because, you know, we all believe in that….

“So I think it would be healthy for the Congress to have a debate, and let’s see what they do….”

Ralston specifically pointed to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, who last year signed a measure that restricted the use of public bathrooms by transgendered persons – and ended the power of local governments to enact LGBT protections. (McCrory is 10,000 votes down, but has refused to concede.) Said Ralston:

“Look at North Carolina…I don’t think many Republicans in North Carolina lost on general Election Day. I think he was the only one. Governor McCrory certainly became Exhibit A on this issue. They’ve had a lot of fallout from their decision to adopt a similar measure up there. Frankly, it would be irresponsible of us to ignore that.”

Casino gambling proponents are ramping up for an effort to pass legislation allowing casinos in Georgia.

So far, no proposed legislation has been filed for the upcoming legislative session that starts in January. But lawmakers and casino backers expect to see a proposal with two steps:

First, a constitutional amendment that would require the approval of Georgia voters allowing likely up to four casinos across the state, including a $1 billion-plus casino in Atlanta.

[Second,] the measure will likely require a separate local vote for residents to decide if they want a casino in their community.

The casino push remains an uphill battle. A super-majority of both houses is needed to get the item on the 2018 ballot.

MGM and other casino interests will mobilize dozens of lobbyists and consultants again this year after failing to get a bill passed last winter. This year, gambling supporters are keying off a report — backed in part by casino companies — that showed Georgia Lottery revenue growth by 2027-2028 is unlikely to keep up with the demand for HOPE amid rising tuition costs.

Though polling suggests a majority of Georgia voters would approve of casinos — particularly if the revenue were tied to the state’s popular HOPE Scholarship program — lawmakers have been hesitant to grapple with the hot-button issue.

In fact, I saw a casino lobbyist wining and dining legislators in Athens last night.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) is taking another shot at gun control legislation.

“It’s a bad political time to have a smart, open, honest discussion about guns,” state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, acknowledged to reporters last week. “But I do not choose to be silent on this issue.”

Oliver has pre-filed a bill prohibiting the sale or possession of the kind of rifles that have gained notoriety as the weapon of choice in mass shootings in Newtown, San Bernardino, Aurora and Orlando.

Her proposal is similar to the one she pitched last legislative session, which never received a hearing. This time, the continued possession of the weapons would be a misdemeanor offense, rather than a felony.

The measure targets military-style firearms that are designed to quickly fire multiple, high-velocity rounds, as well as large-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets.

Several models, including AR-style rifles, and manufacturers are specifically named in the bill.

State Rep. Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville) wields greater clout as Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

The Luthersville Democrat’s rise in status comes at a time when the local delegation adjusts to the loss of a senior member of the Republican leadership with the retirement of Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City. Ramsey represented Senoia and part of East Coweta and had climbed the ladder in his nine years in the legislature to become the majority whip, giving him a seat at the table when the speaker and committee chairs made major decisions.

While Trammell’s post in the leadership of the minority caucus has less sway, it’s not inconsequential. Besides the reality that minority parties sometime become majority parties is the fact that Gov. Nathan Deal may need Democrats’ votes on a few of his initiatives next year after angering his fellow Republicans over controversial vetoes this year. That gives Trammell and his minority colleagues potential bargaining strength.

Renewal of the Hospital Provider Fee, also called the “Bed Tax,” is likely to move very quickly through the General Assembly after it convenes next month.

[L]egislative leaders say there’s a consensus brewing to quickly take on a vote over a fee on hospitals, known as the “bed tax,” designed to leverage more federal Medicaid funding. That’s what happened in 2013, when Georgia lawmakers dispatched with the vote in the opening weeks of the session.

“The first issue we have to confront is the renewal of the hospital provider fee,” said David Shafer, the Senate president pro tem, at a Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce event on Friday. “It’s critical that it be renewed because we don’t have a plan to replace the loss. But it’s going to be a challenge getting everyone together.”

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, also speaking at the event, said reauthorizing the fee is also a top priority. Her caucus hasn’t taken a position, but she said she’s hopeful it can be voted upon quickly – and that it could fit in with a broader debate about healthcare policy and the plight of rural hospitals.

“I’m not going to use the M-E word – Medicaid expansion – but we have to have a conversation about what we’re going to do about rural healthcare,” said Abrams. “We cannot as a state entice jobs to come to Georgia if we can’t provide healthcare.”

This is the coolest video I’ve seen of the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

The first nuclear reactor vessel at the Plant Vogtle expansion near Augusta, Ga., has been placed inside Unit 3, marking another major milestone for the much-watched project.

Construction contractors Westinghouse and Fluor Corp. lifted the 306-ton reactor vessel into its permanent location inside the AP1000 unit’s nuclear island on November 23. The vessel, fabricated by Doosan Heavy Industries in South Korea was shipped to the construction site from the Port of Savannah on a specialized rail car, said Georgia Power on November 30.

Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Co., is overseeing construction and will operate the two new units for Georgia Power and co-owners Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities. Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the new units.

“The safe placement of the Unit 3 reactor vessel, the first to be placed in our state in decades, inside the nuclear island is a tremendous milestone for the Vogtle project,” said Mark Rauckhorst, executive vice president of construction. “With this placement, the unit is one step closer to completion and entering service.”

A House Study Committee looking at how to protect Georgia’s military bases from closure issued a report and recommendations.

The state needs to consider ideas such as school choice for military families, service cancelable college loans, a state tax break for military retirement income, and investment in public works around bases, according to a draft of a report just approved by the state House Study Committee on Military Affairs.

Legislators formed the committee earlier this year to look at ways to strengthen and protect Georgia’s bases in case of a new round of the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission process. A new BRAC hasn’t been announced, but many officials expect one in the coming years.

Warner Robins Republican state Rep. Heath Clark traveled to hearings at bases statewide as a part of the committee.

“There seem to be common issues at a lot of the bases,” he said.

[S]tate Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, said the report focuses on the big picture — legislators set aside their base affiliations. But he also said some recommendations, if implemented, might have more impact on the Robins Air Force Base area than others.

“Ensuring short- and long-term civilian workforce needs, collaboration among the defense communities, and economic development support at the state level” are among those that might mean the most to Robins, Blackmon said.

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