Author: rondaniels

1
Apr

Religious Freedom and Flags

Driving to visit my grandfather in rural Telfair County, I caught a glimpse of white midways up a power pole. Although the sign had been battered by the elements and faded by years of exposure, my mind instantly recalled the words formerly emblazoned on the sign: BOOT COLEMAN. I saw that sign a lot growing up as we traveled down the road. Yet, I only had a vague knowledge of the sign’s message and the controversy that surrounding the sign.

In 1956, in response to integration efforts, Governor Marvin Griffin signed legislation that added a Confederate battle flag to Georgia’s state flag. Casting aside any doubts as to the specific reason for this action, additional legislation passed that session sought to invalidate the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren. The 1956 flag remain unchanged for nearly half a century. Governor Miller mentioned changing the flag in 1992. But the idea never got through the legislature.

Then came along Roy. Governor Barnes, with the support of business interests, used every bit of political power he had and pushed a new flag design through the legislature in January 2001. The result was a cluttered design and very upset constituents.

I was a Freshman in high school at the time. As I recall, I was just beginning to wear contacts rather than glasses. My struggles in life were relatively minor compared to the battles brewing over the new flag. But I do recall seeing the signs that popped up all over my neck of the woods. Boot Barnes. Boot Coleman. The words were printed on white signs and bumper stickers, with the 1956 flag in the background. Barnes got the boot, Coleman didn’t. While it was only a decade ago, it seems like such a distant memory.  The ramifications of the flag debate are still being felt.

And as all of these memories flooded back into my mind, I couldn’t help but think of RFRA. I’m sure you’ve heard about RFRA by now. There is a significant likelihood that you are exhausted from RFRA dominating your newsfeed, inbox, or wherever you get your news.

Like the flag, RFRA seems to be drawing certain lines in the sand. Big business is afraid that it’s passage will drive businesses, jobs, and even science fiction conventions away from the Peach State. Progressives believe it will completely legalize discrimination and infringe on people’s right and liberties.

On the other side of the issue, RFRA’s supporters claim their intent is to preserve religious liberty and protect individual’s rights. Commentators are accusing Republicans of stabbing conservatives in the back. Religious leaders are upset and taking aim at anyone in their path.

And–from this millennia’s perspective–much like the initial flag change was pushed through the legislature, RFRA has been killed deftly. Throughout the session, legislators on both sides of the issue have faced concern from constituents on both sides of the issue. That won’t change. Some may get sent home after their term expires. That’s the nature of politics.

RFRA is the first truly divisive issue to come through the legislature since my generation could vote. Will RFRA have the lasting impact that changing the flag had? Possibly. But if anything, it does not seem that Georgia is poised to become a purple state. Two Democrats who coasted through primaries both lost statewide races handily last fall. On the other hand, some incumbent Republicans were ousted by more conservative primary challengers. Could RFRA be the start of a didactic dialectic shift in Georgia’s Republican Party? Maybe.

27
Mar

One Degree of M.E. Thompson

It’s March 27, 1983. Your Georgia Bulldogs lost the best basketball player in school history–Dominique Wilkins–a mere year ago. Despite these odds, the team fought their way into the NCAA tournament. Led by Coach Hugh Durham, the Dawgs defeated the number three team in the nation on their way to the Final Four. The odds were not in their favor.

Maybe because on March 27, 1947, Governor M.E. Thompson outlawed sports gambling in Georgia. The legislation signed by Thompson made it illegal to make wagers, bets, or otherwise gamble on sports. The same law prohibited anyone from accepting anything of value for fixing or throwing games.

March 27, 1947, was a busy day for Governor Thompson. He also signed into law legislation to make Georgia a right to work state. Stated another way, the Valdosta native made it illegal to require workers to assemble in collective bargaining units called “unions” as a condition of employment. Further, the law forbid two or more individuals from picketing near labor disputes when such picketing would prevent workers from going to work. That–in the words of my favorite Labor Law professor–was designed to have a chilling effect on labor disputes.

Not cold was animosity between Governor Thompson’s posse and the stalwart wool hat Talmadge men. The Georgia Supreme Court determined that Thompson was the rightful Governor on March 19, 1947. Herman Talmadge, who was elected Governor by the legislature following his father’s death, vowed he would run in a special election. Nevertheless, Governor Thompson signed a joint resolution creating a commission to erect a suitable monument to erstwhile Governor Eugene Talmadge. That monument is the statute many of our legislators pass daily during session.

March 27, 1947, was a busy day for Governor Thompson. But at least he didn’t have to worry about snake handlers.

20
Mar

Ode to a Capitol

Georgia Capitol Aerial 02272014

Well I guess it was back in eighteen eighty nine,

When a couple of boys in Dahlonega went down in a mine,

And found it was slap full of gold.

Then these folks in Atlanta wanted to keep growing,

So they told the legislature the Capitol had to be going,Continue Reading..

14
Oct

Can Georgia sue Gurley’s accuser?

Last week, news that Todd Gurley was suspended indefinitely amid allegations of violating the rules of amateurism caused many Georgia fans extreme consternation. Shortly after the word broke, the alleged accuser retained legal counsel. And the next day an interesting notion started popping up: could UGA sue Gurley’s accuser?

Apparently, in 2003, the General Assembly passed a law designed to allow universities to recover damages from situations like this. While this law has been on the books for over a decade, it does not appear to have ever been used. But O.C.G.A. 20-2-317 and O.C.G.A. 20-2-318 are finally getting some press. At first blush, it may seem like 20-2-318 may give UGA a cause of action against Gurley’s accuser.

Subsection (b) provides:

Each public and private institution of postsecondary education located in this state that participates or engages in intercollegiate athletics shall have a right of action against any person who engages in any activity concerning student-athletes that results in the institution being penalized, disqualified, or suspended from participation in intercollegiate athletics by a national association for the promotion and regulation of intercollegiate athletics, by an athletic conference or other sanctioning body, or by reasonable self-imposed disciplinary action taken by such institution to mitigate sanctions likely to be imposed by such organizations as a result of such activity. The institution shall be entitled to recover all damages which are directly related to or which flow from and are reasonably related to such improper activity and to such penalties, disqualifications, and suspensions. Damages shall include, but not be limited to, loss of scholarships, loss of television revenue, loss of bowl revenue, and legal and other fees associated with the investigation of the activity and the representation of the institution before the sanctioning organizations in connection with the investigation and resolution of such activity. If the institution is the prevailing party in its cause of action, it shall be entitled to an award of court costs, costs of litigation, and reasonable attorney’s fees. The institution may also request and the court may enter an injunction against any person found liable from having any further contact with the institution, its student-athletes, and student-athletes who have expressed or might express an interest in attending the institution and from attending athletic contests, exhibitions, games, or other such events in which one or more of the institution’s student-athletes is participating. The right of action and remedies under this Code section are in addition to all other rights of action which may be available to the institution.

(Emphasis supplied).

In the words of one ESPN commentator, “[n]ot so fast my friend.” 2-20-318 is an obvious example of “feel good” legislation. But in the rush to pass such legislation, it appears a possible loop-hole may exist for any potential defendants. Continue Reading..

22
Jul

Hello, I’m [Insert Label Here]

Labels in politics scare me. That’s the conclusion I reached this weekend as my Facebook News Feed became alternating posts about political candidates. I get it. Labels are catchy. They sum up a campaign in three or less words. “Career Politician” sounds like a bad thing. “Outsiders” sound like a good solution to a broken government.

But the labels being used are dishonest: politically and intellectually. Take my experience this weekend: I was bombarded by Facebook posts telling me abut friends who supported a Senate candidate who “had a real job,” who is an “Outsider,” not a “career politician,” and a host of other labels. I knew who they were supporting because of the pictures associated with the posting.

There was just one problem. Michelle Nunn is not a career politician, had a real job, and would be an outsider in Washington. No one I asked wanted to vote for Nunn, even though she met the labels. No one would indicate they were inclined to vote for Nunn, should their candidate lose.

It gets worse. Know of anymore career politicians running this fall? Governor Deal has more than twenty-two years. Will the outsider’s supporters vote for the “outsider” Jason Carter? I doubt it.

Let’s be honest. Political labels sound good when they can be used to bolster a candidate we support. But what if the only criteria voters armed themselves with were labels? I think you would see results ideologically inconsistent with the voters beliefs. Drill down further, my generation receives information in 144 characters or less. Do we really want voters operating solely off “labels?”

13
Mar

Eat my BBQ and Impeach Earl Warren

After losing to Carl Sanders in a bid to regain the Governor’s Mansion, Marvin Griffin remarked that some of the people who ate his barbecue did not vote for him. Despite his best efforts, his 1962 campaign was hampered by allegations of corruption from his first go-round. While Griffin was never indicted, the allegations of corruption proved significant enough to derail future political aspirations. Regardless of whether or not Griffin was guilty of corruption, his tenure as Governor is remembered for fiery rhetoric and bold actions. For instance, March 13, 1957, when Governor Griffin signed a joint resolution by the General Assembly calling for the impeachment of several Justices the United States Supreme Court.

There is a backstory: Griffin first ran for Governor on a segregationist platform in 1954. Many believed Griffin to be the hand-picked successor of Herman Talmadge, having served as Lt. Governor under Talmadge. Right before the campaign season kicked off, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional. Griffin—like many others—promised to protect segregated schools, no matter what any federal judge decreed.

Griffin was ultimately successful in the Democratic primary and carried a majority of the county-unit votes, ensuring his election as Governor. And we often are reminded that it was under Governor Griffin that Georgia adopted the “confederate battle flag” as part of Georgia’s state flag in 1956. But Griffin, perhaps as an attempt to defuse integration, was also responsible for increasing spending to black public schools, increasing pay for black teachers, and generally improving conditions for black students in Georgia.

Many of his supporters wanted Griffin to willfully violate federal ores requiring desegregation. The prospect of sitting in jail did not appeal to the Governor. Thus, he declined to directly interfere with the process of desegregation as many of his supporters requested.

But that wouldn’t stop Griffin, or the General Assembly, for calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren and several Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. The join-resolution also called for Georgia’s congressional delegation to institute formal impeachment proceedings against the Justices. Through-out the South, “Impeach Earl Warren” signs were proudly displayed.

Officially, the joint resolution was titled “The Impeachment of Certain U.S. Supreme Court Justices”, and cited that several Justices were believed to be furthering and enabling communism by “usurping the congressional power to make law in violation of Article I, Sections I and 8”; for “violations of Sections 3 and 5 of the 14th Amendment”; and for “nullification of the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.” Apparently, no one in Washington got the memo. Despite Griffin, the General Assembly, and a host of Georgians being upset about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, none of the Justices were impeached.

5
Mar

“Hello, Doctor Midnight”

March 5, 1977, Walter Cronkite is in the White House’s Oval Office sitting in a wing-backed chair in front of a coffee table and in front of the fireplace. He is broadcasting live on the CBS Radio Network. Cronkite was not alone. President Carter was there, too. It was his office, after all.

And there was a phone. Who was on the other end of the line? The American Public. The program’s premise was simple: the President of the United States would answer questions propounded by the public. At the same time the broadcast was historic. There was no email. No twitter. No whitehouse.gov. Connecting the President directly with citizens was an extraordinary concept.

For the next two hours, Cronkite wrangled calls while President Carter answered a variety of questions. Variety is an understatement. Carter fielded questions regarding foreign policy, oil companies, taxes, and even questions regarding his son Chip living in the Whitehouse. Some callers were fans of Carter, others were not. Some callers identified themselves as Republicans who supported the President. One caller was eleven years old.

Despite the wide array of callers, no one managed to truly stump Carter. When speaking to a woman who’s father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Carter said “Why don’t you let me have someone call you Monday, if you don’t mind. It wouldn’t help much if I called you, because I’m not a medical doctor and I’m not familiar with it. Would that suit you okay?” A caller challenging Carter over drug enforcement and the origin of heroin seemed to bother Cronkite more than the President. His answers were honest, the President admitted he wasn’t aware of certain pieces of legislation.

Regardless of Carter’s policy positions and his answers to questions, “Ask President Carter” was a truly historic broadcast. Never before had the President been accessible via telephone on a live radio broadcast. And the questions presented to the President weren’t confined to one or two issues that he had been prepared to handle. One can argue that the American people were also fascinated with the concept of calling and speaking directly to Carter; nine million people called into the broadcast trying to reach him. The President seemed to enjoy the broadcast as well, remarking: “[t]he questions that come in from people all over the country are the kind that you would never get in a press conference. The news people would never raise them, like the Ottawa Indian question. And I think it’s very good for me to understand directly from the American people what they are concerned about and questions that have never been asked of me and reported through the news media.”

Of course, “Ask President Carter” also spawned a great Saturday Night Live parody. On March 12, 1977, Bill Murray played the role of Cronkite and Dan Aykroyd played the role of the President. Aykroyd’s Carter answered questions regarding a mail-sorting machine, talked a young man into “mellowing out” while on an acid trip, and dealt with the infamous “Doctor Midnight.”

A transcript of “Ask President Carter” can be found here. Or you can watch SNL’s rendition here.

29
Jan

A Lake, a School, and a Courthouse.

Walter F George Vienna Georgia

If you were to visit the town of Preston today, you would be treated to a quaint and decidedly southern “community” in South West Georgia. But in 1878, on January 29, Preston was the birthplace of one of Georgia’s most distinguished Senators: Walter F. George.

While Senator George is best remembered for his career in the United States Senate, his political resume is unparalleled. The son of sharecroppers, George made his way from Webster County to Macon, Georgia, and graduated from Mercer Law School in 1901. He became a member of the Georgia bar shortly thereafter and opened a practice in Vienna, which is the county seat of Dooly County. In 1912, George became a Superior Court Judge in the Cordele judicial circuit.Continue Reading..

17
Jan

The men who would be Governor

Wearing red galluses and black wire-framed glasses, Eugene Talmadge captivated throngs of voters with his populist agenda and attacks on progressivism. During his time, there were only two groups–those who were for him and those who were against him. And if you were against Ole Gene, you were a communist. Out of the ten times he ran for a State-wide office, Talmadge won seven elections.

Talmadge is remembered for causing controversy with his fiery rhetoric and political schemes. But Talmadge’s biggest controversy was created by something that comes for every man: his death. Talmadge entered the 1946 gubernatorial primary running—in part—on a platform opposing two recent court rulings that undermined Georgia’s “white primary” system. See King v. Chapman, 62 F. Supp. 639, 640 (M.D. Ga. 1945); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 664-66(1944).

The incumbent, Ellis Arnall, could not run for re-election due to term limits. Talmadge faced stiff opposition in the Democratic primary from James Carmichael. But in the end, Talmadge’s fiery rhetoric earned him a victory. Interesting, Talmadge lost the popular vote but won a majority of the county-unit votes, which trumped the popular vote. Having won the primary, Talmadge was all but assured to be the next governor.

At the age of 62, Talmadge died in an Atlanta hospital a scant three days after winning the general election. Many supporters noticed Talmadge’s health deteriorating while he campaigned and keenly organized a write-in campaign on behalf of Eugene’s son Herman Talmadge. When Eugene died, the Talmadge supporters began politicking the legislature to tabulate the votes of the election and select the governor from the next highest vote getter. After the Telfair delegation “discovered” a few votes that weren’t originally counted, the legislature elected Herman Talmadge as governor in the early hours of January 15, 1947.

Ellis Arnall refused to recognize Herman’s election. On January 18, Thompson took the oath of office and became the first Lt. Governor of Georgia; he was immediately recognized by Attorney General Eugene Cook as the acting Governor. This prompted Arnall to finally resign. Thompson and Talmadge both asserted they were the rightful governor. Both attempted to carry out the functions of there office simultaneously, which of course only led to more conflict. Secretary of State Ben Fortson, who favored the anti-Talmadges, would take the state seal and hide it in the seat of his wheel-chair to prevent either party from taking it.

Most of the media, both national and local, favored Thompson and likened Talmadge to a king who seized power. State officials began picking sides between the two would-be governors and refused to honor the requests of the other side. The fiasco would come to an end in March when the Georgia Supreme Court decided the outcome of the election and ensuing crisis.

In the years since Thompson v. Talmadge was decided, historians have referred to this crisis as the “Three Governor’s Controversy.” A title that is somewhat misleading as no three individuals claimed to be Governor in the actual lawsuit, as Arnall was content to step aside for Thompson. The Georgia Supreme Court would hold that Thompson was the rightful Governor. Thompson never saw political success after his brief stint as Governor. Herman Talmadge, of course, would throughly defeat Thompson in a special election in 1948.