Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 22, 2015


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 22, 2015

600 Georgia Capitol Flags Half Staff
Governor Deal ordered flags to half-staff yesterday in honor of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Skip Wells of Marietta and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith of Rossville, who were killed when a gunman attacked two military recruitment centers in Chattanooga on July 16. Flags will remain at half-staff through sunset on July 30.

“Sandra and I join millions of other Georgians in mourning the senseless loss of these Georgians and their three fellow American heroes,” Deal said. “We honor their memories and recognize the sacrifices made by these military servicemen, and we offer their families our deepest condolences. We lower the U.S. and state flags as a sign of respect and as a reminder to all of the sacrifice it symbolizes.”

Georgia and American History

General William Tecumseh Sherman gained the upper hand in the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 2014. Estimated casualties were 12,140 (3,641 Union, 8,499 Confederate). In some ways this makes today a fitting day to hold an election.

On July 22, 1975, the United States House of Representatives voted to restore U.S. Citizenship to General Robert E. Lee posthumously.

Though President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation of amnesty and pardon to the Southern rebels in 1865, it required Lee to apply separately. On Oct. 2, 1865, the same day that Lee was inaugurated as president of Washington College in Lexington, Va., he signed the required amnesty oath and filed an application through Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Nonetheless, neither was Lee pardoned, nor was his citizenship restored. After receiving it, Secretary of State William Seward gave Lee’s application to a friend as a souvenir. Meanwhile, State Department officials, apparently with Seward’s approval, pigeonholed the oath.

In 1970, an archivist, examining State Department records at the National Archives, found Lee’s lost oath. That discovery helped set in motion a five-year congressional effort to restore citizenship to the general, who had died stateless in 1870.

President Gerald Ford signed the congressional resolution on July 24, 1975, correcting what he said was a 110-year oversight. The signing ceremony took place at Arlington House in Virginia, the former Lee family home. Several Lee descendants, including Robert E. Lee V, his great-great-grandson, attended.

On July 22, 1977, Elvis Costello released his first album, My Aim is True.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters will play Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta on August 9, 2015 with Steely Dan.

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to negotiate unconditionally with the United States toward the elimination of intermediate-range intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles on July 22, 1987.

On July 22, 2014, Georgia voters went to the polls to vote in the Primary Runoff Elections after the longest runoff campaign ever.

Georgia Politics

The Republican Governors Association, headed by Executive Director and Georgia native Paul Bennecke, set a new fundraising record, hauling in $24.4 million dollars  in the first half of 2015.

The Republican Governors Association announced today $24.4 million raised in the first six months of 2015, surpassing the previous record raised at the same point in 2011, the last comparable first year of a new four-year cycle. The RGA additionally announced that its current cash on hand figure also reached a new milestone, with over $20 million in the bank as of June 30, across all entities. This financial success will enable the RGA to play offense in key Democrat-held states, defend its incumbent governors, and build a strong foundation for the next four years with potentially over 30 open gubernatorial seats up for election.

The RGA also paid off all of the $3 million in debt it carried into 2015 after the 2014 election, when the RGA increased its total from 29 to 31 Republican governors.

“Thanks to the hard work and success of every Republican governor, the RGA is in strong shape financially to defend our incumbents, target Democrat states and elect even more Republican governors over the next four years,” said RGA Chairman Governor Bill Haslam. “Republican governors are transforming their states for the better, driving economic growth, standing up to the Federal Government’s overreach, and getting results. The RGA continues to be the best investment for advancing conservative policies across the country.”

“Republican governors are driving America’s Comeback and getting results in their states,” said RGA Executive Director Paul Bennecke. “The RGA’s fundraising efforts and disciplined spending continue to set new records which ensures RGA will have the resources to be competitive and defend our incumbents against the Big Labor Unions and the Left’s new plan to pour tens of millions of dollars into state elections.”

The RGA is one of the great success stories of Republican campaign efforts.

Another Georgian is taking a prominent role in Presidential politics, as Atlanta’s Frank Hanna will serve on the Finance Committee for announced candidate Rick Santorum.

Here’s the other side of the SEC Primary – by scheduling Presidential primary elections before March 15, those states are committing to awarding delegates proportionally, rather than winner takes all, and that could have major effects in a year with 16 candidate.

While these matters will probably be moot with regard to the Demo-Clintonic Party, the GOP field is so large — and so full of candidates with attached super PACs to keep them afloat even if hard-money donations fall short — that proportional allocation of the February and early March contests might not prove decisive. There could well be four or even five major candidates truly still in contention by March 15.

If so, a delegate-rich state holding a winner-take-all primary on March 15 could end up with more real influence over the nomination than a state holding an earlier contest. Of the five states now tentatively slated for March 15, only Illinois is planning to use proportional allocation.

Imagine a scenario in which Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul have all snagged significant delegate counts during February and early March. (I’m assuming Donald Trump, currently playing the role of Bozo the Clown, will be a non-factor by then. If I’m wrong, it probably means GOP voters have decided to let Hillary Clinton sleepwalk into the White House.) North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, and Missouri would then loom large. Awarding all the Florida delegates to either Bush or Rubio (presumably) might well have the effect of knocking the other out. All candidates would fight tooth and nail for the other three.

These four states wouldn’t just be huge caches of winner-take-all delegates. Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina are clearly battleground states for the fall campaign, with Missouri leaning Republican but not by all that much. A GOP candidate thinking about the general election will have an extra incentive to invest time and resources in the March 15 states

The downside? We’ll have to put up with presidential candidates traipsing through our state. I suppose it’s for a good cause.

Whether you’re downcast or elated by The Donald’s recent poll showings, remember this: in the 2012 Republican Primary cycle, five different candidates led the polling for significant periods, and 80% of them did not become the nominee. A sixth candidate, Michelle Bachmann, won the Ames Straw Poll four years ago this month. Whether it’s The Donald, or one of the other major candidates, your favorite will likely spend some time at or near the top, but that won’t mean anything.


A Lesson in Government Corruption

I posted this yesterday on Facebook and a number of folks agreed, so I’ll call this the “Unified Theory of Political Corruption.”

After a few years of spending every morning reading the news all across the state, I’ve learned this.

1.) in small, local governments, they tend to take money right from the till, in small amounts over a long period of time, sometimes accruing large amounts;

2.) in large metro governments, they take bribes related to zoning or government contracts;

3.) in State bureaucracies, it’s usually fake invoices

4.) in DeKalb County they take everything;

5.) folks at all levels will steal from the Feds, who don’t make it terribly hard.

It’s not entirely a political problem – it’s a problem with humanity, and people have taken what they’re not supposed to ever since the Garden of Eden. When opportunity strikes, opportunists strike, and people are at their core, somewhat opportunistic. But DeKalb County exacerbates the potential for corruption by making opportunities for corruption more available.

DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester replied to that post, writing,

You know what I think about DeKalb. We only have 2 problems: (1) Incompetence and (2) Fraud. And one often causes the other.

Keep that one in mind. Also important, the opportunity to take other peoples’ property is key to folks who decide to steal, embezzle, or accept bribes.

Johnny Edwards of the AJC has written again about how Vaughn Irons made millions from DeKalb County government.

First a phony Ethics Board opinion mysteriously showed up in the county’s contracting department, allowing Irons to bid for county work despite his conflict of interest as a government official. Then the county awarded his company, APD Solutions, a $1 million contract to rehab foreclosed homes, even though APD missed the cut by ranking fourth in the bidding process. Then the county gave APD an extra $500,000 to rehab more homes, without requiring another bid.

On Sunday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that once Irons had a contract, his company went on to charge DeKalb taxpayers $10,000 for a 140-foot backyard privacy fence – about five times what a fence of that length should cost.

County staffers don’t appear to have scrutinized that expense. Nor did they question tens of thousands of dollars in other charges that lacked backup documentation in the county’s files, or layers of fees for such tasks as processing invoices, interacting with the county and managing subcontractors.

When APD Solutions sold its first rehabbed home in south DeKalb’s Piedmont Point subdivision, in March 2013, the company held a ceremony to hand the new homeowner her keys.

Irons was there, as was Commissioner Stan Watson, who Irons was paying $500 per month for consulting services at the time. They weren’t the only VIPs in attendance who were benefitting.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed House Bill 597 to reform the DeKalb County Ethics Board. If voters pass a November 2015 referendum on the issue, the new legislation will take effect, removing the power of appointing members of the Ethics Board from Commissioners and placing that in the hands of third parties.

That makes some sense, as the current Board of Ethics has pending before it complaints against Commissioners Stan Watson and Sharon Barnes-Sutton, both of whom currently serve on the DeKalb County Commission

Groups who will appoint members if the referendum passes include the DeKalb Bar Association, the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, the DeKalb County legislative delegation, the judge of the Probate Court of DeKalb County, Leadership DeKalb, a committee of the six largest universities and colleges in DeKalb, and the chief judge of the Superior Court of DeKalb County.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Part of the reason to remove appointment power from the Board of Commissioners is presumably to remove the conflict of interest when a Commissioner appoints a member who may may be called to pass judgment on them. But Vaughn Irons, who is the subject of a number of AJC stories recently, and against whom a complaint is currently pending before the Board of Ethics, sits on the Board of Directors of Leadership DeKalb and Chairs the Board of Directors of the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Irons serves as Chair of the Development Authority of DeKalb County. Irons also is currently suing DeKalb County over a zoning that didn’t go his way.

Ironically, the measure to reform the DeKalb County Board of Ethics and remove conflicts of interest may create additional potential for conflicts of interest. Today, conflicts of interest are so embedded in the way DeKalb County does business that it may be nearly impossible to remove opportunities for corruption.

When DeKalb County politicians talk about economic development, they should heed the words of Chris Carr, who leads the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

[L]ate last year, May and some other DeKalb commissioners met with Chris Carr, head of the state Department of Economic Development.

Ostensibly, the reason for the get-together was a new marketing plan the county had developed for going after new businesses. But the conversation quickly shifted into come-to-Jesus territory, said Carr, himself a resident of DeKalb.

“It doesn’t make sense that DeKalb County wouldn’t be a part of this burgeoning economy. But the reality of the situation is, there is only so much the state can do. The county is going to have to take care of its business,” Carr said. “You can’t have indictments, and you can’t have school boards getting removed, because companies can go any number of places.”

This was Carr’s bottom line: “The fact is, outside of Perimeter Center, of the projects that the state has been a part, there are very, very, very few where folks are looking at DeKalb.”

State bureaucrats don’t often employ the triple “very.” But in this Internet-driven age, job growth and reputation are closely linked. It is serious stuff. Tax bases are at stake. Which means schools are at stake, as well as every service a county is obliged to provide.

Not DeKalb

Gwinnett County Commissioners approved an ordinance change that will allow backyard chickens, making the county more attractive to hipsters and displaced Rural-Americans.

On Tuesday, Gwinnett County commissioners narrowly cleared the way for residents to own chickens in their backyards, within certain limitations when they voted 3-2 to adopt a long list of revisions to the county’s livestock ordinance.

While the revised ordinance makes it easier for residents to own chickens, it also places heavy restrictions on what the poultry can be used for, how many chickens can be kept at a home and what types of pens they must be kept in. The extensive list of revisions was introduced Tuesday by Commissioner John Heard.

“There is quite a bit of desire, not only here in Gwinnett, but statewide to allow egg-laying hens to be kept in residential areas for health purposes and for use as pets,” Heard said. “After a lot of exhaustive discussions and reviews, I came to my personal conclusion that the ordinance that’s in place of disallowing overall in residential communities is being vastly violated.

“In an effort to bring some compliance, so that less enforcement is needed, allowing chickens in this limited arena that I have proposed would be in the best interests of Gwinnett County,” Heard added.

Proponents of the change have repeatedly said the eggs laid by the chickens are an organic food source for residents. Opponents have argued chicken owners in some communities, such as the Danbury Village subdivision in Norcross, let their chickens roam free and introduced roosters that have disrupted their quality of life.

Commissioner Lynette Howard and Chairman Charlotte Nash voted against the revisions. Nash said she feared the restrictions would make it easier for avian flu strains to be spread and tried to get her colleagues to postpone a decision for a couple of months.

Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott (R) says that scheduling a vote for a time the Commission usually meets is inappropriate, according to the Marietta Daily Journal.

“I just think it’s inappropriate and unfair to the public to schedule an important vote like the millage vote on a Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. regardless of whether or not it was published,” he said. “What people expect is what’s happened in the past, and I just think to especially have a called meeting at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, it’s inappropriate, and you kind of wonder who is working for who.”

Augusta Commissioners are moving forward with a stormwater ordinance, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

After months of debate, the Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to approve the first reading of an ordinance implementing a stormwater utility fee effective Jan. 1.

Planned at $6.40 a month for most households, the fee is expected to create approximately $14 million annually for maintenance and expansion of the city’s aging storm drainage infrastructure.

The fee has drawn the ire of large property owners such as the Richmond County School System, which will be subject to up to $25,000 in monthly fees and has requested to be exempt. Non-residential owners that install runoff management devices such as detention ponds are eligible for credits of up to 65 percent in the plan adopted Tuesday.

A pro-drone measure before the Macon-Bibb Commission has been tabled, according to The Macon Telegraph.

A proposal to bring drones to Macon-Bibb County hit a snag Tuesday as commissioners voted to table a resolution until more details come in.

Several county officials who voted to table the memorandum of understanding resolution said they were excited about the technology but had reservations about the potential $5.7 million project. A representative of Olaeris, the manufacturer of the unmanned aerial system, has described Macon as a potential regional hub for drones responding to emergencies and natural disasters.

“I don’t feel like the commission has done its due diligence on the project, and it’s a lot of money that we don’t know where it’s coming from,” Commissioner Mallory Jones said.

Some commissioners said they were hesitant since it’s tough to predict the constraints of a future budget when it might be two years before the county is paying for drones.

Gainesville City Council member Bob Hamrick will not seek reelection this November, setting off an open-seat election.

Hamrick said earlier this spring that he intended to seek another four-year term, but additional health issues have caused a change of heart.

“A number of dynamics in my personal life has changed since I announced as a candidate for re-election,” Hamrick said in a prepared statement.

Affectionately called “Mr. Gainesville” by his fellow council members, Hamrick, 86, is the longest serving member of the council, having taken the helm nearly five decades ago.

He served as mayor for 12 years and worked with six city managers and 14 council members during that time.

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