Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 30, 2015

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 30, 2015

On June 30, 1665, England’s King Charles signed a royal charter for Carolina, defining its southern border and also claiming all land in what is now Georgia.

On June 30, 1775, the Continental Congress passed the Articles of War, laying out complaints against Britain’s Parliament.

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

Today could well be called Intermodal Transportation History Day in Georgia. The first four-lane highway in Georgia was announced on June 30, 1937 from Atlanta to Marietta. The first C5 air flight took place from Dobbins in Marietta on June 30, 1968 and MARTA rail service began on June 30, 1979.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell first went on sale on June 30, 1936; on June 30, 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating Margaret Mitchell.

Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics #1 on June 30, 1938.

The first Corvette was built on June 30, 1953 in Flint, Michigan.

Ohio became the 39th state to ratify the 26th Amendment on June 30, 1971, lowering the voting age to 18.

Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released on June 30, 1989. Lee was born in Atlanta and graduated from Morehouse College.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former Chair of the Georgia State House Appropriations Committee Ben Harbin (R-Evans) has told Governor Deal and Speaker David Ralston that he is retiring from the lower chamber effective July 7, 2015. Harbin’s political career, beginning after his first House election in 1994, spans the period in which the Georgia Republican Party went from a largely-suburban minority party to the dominant political force statewide.

Harbin will join a lobbying firm focused on healthcare, though he is prohibited from actual lobbying for one year from his departure. From the Augusta Chronicle,

Harbin, 51, said that he’s not happy about leaving office in the middle of his term, but that he has to place the needs of his family first.

“My wife and I have talked a lot about what we need to do and it was a difficult decision, but it is for the best,” he said. “For my family, it is the right move at this time.”

“Right now I won’t do any lobbying. I will be a consultant and work on, well, health care is one of the areas they have always worked on,” Harbin said of Southern Strategy Group.

“These are people I’ve known for a long time and I know them very well,” he said. “They are good folks; they don’t work for anyone
shady and they are very well-respected.”

Harbin said he would understand how some might be critical of his sudden move into a lucrative job with a lobbying firm, especially before his term ends.

“I get that and that is a fair assessment,” he said. “I hope the kind of clients that we represent will be in the best interest of the general public. That’s the way I tried to vote in my 20 years, I always tried to vote for my district, and I want to take that perspective with me to the clients I represent and try to make sure that the good guys are winning.”

“After 20 years, you think what all did we do, what have I done?” he said. “There’s a lot of little things that wouldn’t matter and a lot of big things that I’m proud of.”

“During the biggest economic downturn we ever saw, I was the chair that balanced the budget without raising taxes, every year for about five years,” he said. “That’s probably, if you ask, the biggest statewide thing I’m proud of.”

“It is the right decision for us at this time,” he said. “I think my constituents will understand, this is not the way that I wanted to go, but I have to for the sake of my family. It is their time.”

So, what does a former legislator who has joined a lobbying firm do if he’s still under the revolving door prohibition? We saw this question arise after two of the 2014 candidates for United States Senate joined lobbying firms while still under the Congressional revolving door ban.

The Georgia definition of lobbying under the Ethics in Government Act isn’t very helpful in defining what lobbying is and what it isn’t.

Georgia Code §21-5-70(4) defines “lobbying” as “the activity of a lobbyist while acting in that capacity” and §21-5-70(5) defines “lobbyist” as a person who receives at least a certain amount of money “specifically for undertaking to promote or oppose the passage of any legislation by the General Assembly.” The lobbyist definition also includes people who lobby at other levels of state government.

It’s not clear if the activity of lobbying requires individual, personal contact between a lobbyist and a member of the General Assembly or other elected or appointed officials. I think most people, either lay or lobbyist, would agree that a face-to-face meeting with a legislator in which someone asks the legislator to vote for or against a specific bill constitutes lobbying, but that most would not consider someone to be engaged in lobbying if they simply publish an Editorial or Letter to the Editor in a local or metro area newspaper advocating for a solution to a specific policy position.

It’s the vast area in-between where it’s less clear.

So, if a former member of the General Assembly still under the one-year prohibition on lobbying published an editorial in the Atlanta paper advocating for more money for transportation, that’s not lobbying if he or she isn’t advocating for the passage of specific legislation, if no specific legislation is mentioned or if the member receives no compensation. But if he got paid $500 by the newspaper, does that qualify as lobbying? Or if a transportation lobbying group paid him $5000 to promote acceptance among the public of higher funding for transportation? Those are closer questions and come down to the intentions of the respective parties.

A former member of the General Assembly who analyzes, for instance, the state budget as an expert in state budgeting and prepared materials for clients of the lobbying firm discussing what impact the budget is likely to have on their organizations, would bring value to the lobbying firm, but I think most would agree that does not constitute lobbying. If that same individual, as part of his job, made a presentation on the state budget to an industry association audience that included members and employees of the association about the state budget, I think most would agree that isn’t lobbying. If members of the audience included current legislators, it might be a closer case, and whether it’s lobbying would probably hinge on the intent of his making the address, and whether specific legislation or appropriations were promoted or opposed.

So, there are valuable activities that a former legislator can perform within a lobbying firm or organization that rely on his or her expertise on legislative matters, but that most people would agree doesn’t constitute lobbying.

One burning question that remains, however, is whether you can be guilty of lobbying the Georgia General Assembly without actually setting foot in Georgia, and whether the state has jurisdiction over you in any case.

So, we’ll have yet another Special Election for State House in addition to the six Special Elections (two of them runoffs) that are currently scheduled for July 14, 2015.

House District 80

The Brookhaven Post has a Q&A with the four candidates for State House District 80 in Brookhaven and Sandy Springs.

Uber

The Savannah Airport is the latest battleground between Uber, the ride-sharing service on your smartphone, and traditional taxi cabs.

Passengers looking for another way to get home from the airport, now have it. Although, the Savannah airport is trying to pump the brakes until regulations are in place.

But there’s a new transportation service the airport doesn’t want to see right now, Uber. It’s a service that people can use by downloading an app.

The airport though is handing Uber driver’s warnings. It’s currently working on regulations, uber drivers must follow.

The airport wants to charge uber a passenger pick-up fee that all other transportation services pay. It also wants uber vehicles to be properly insured.

The same battle remains joined at Atlanta’s airport, according to the AJC.

Uber drivers and taxi drivers each asked for a level playing field in their battle for customers in Atlanta and at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

State legislation passed earlier this year to require ride-share services like Uber X and Lyft to submit to background checks and to pay taxes takes effect July 1. But that doesn’t mean Uber X has free rein to pick up at the Atlanta airport, the city said.

Airport officials say they are working on policies, and the Atlanta City Council is holding work sessions before policies are finalized.

Uber X drivers pushed for the ability to pick up at the airport, saying customers ask for it.

“Our service should be able to operate anywhere where people need to access transportation,” said Uber driver Bob Carr.

But cab drivers said they pay fees and comply with regulatory requirements to operate at the airport.

“All we’re really asking for is parity,” said Rick Hewatt, president of Atlanta Checker Cab. The competition from Uber X and other ride-share services, which have not been subject to the same requirements, has “been devastating for our industry.”

Cruzin back to Georgia

United States Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will visit the Peach State twice in the coming week, according to the AJC Political Insider.

Cruz will be at Foxtale Books in Woodstock at 10 a.m. Friday, then will swing down to Eagle Eye Bookshop in Decatur at 3 p.m.

Cruz will spend the July 4 holiday in Greenville, S.C., but then return to Georgia on Sunday. He will stop at the Barnes and Noble on Wrightsboro Road in Augusta at 11 a.m., then he will appear at Rock Springs Church in Milner (home of high-profile Senior Pastor Benny Tate) at 5 p.m.

Georgia Ports Authority

The Georgia Ports Authority set records for cargo throughput in May, according to a press release.

The Georgia Ports Authority set all-time records for both container volumes and total tonnage in May with strong growth across several key business sectors.

“Strong performances at GPA’s five deep water terminals, including bulk cargoes and containerized freight, contributed to the growth,” said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz.

During his report at its June meeting, Foltz told GPA’s Board of Directors that the Authority had moved more than 338,000 twenty foot equivalent unit containers (TEUs), a 16.4 percent increase, and 2.9 million tons of freight, a 9.6 percent jump.

“Superior service and unmatched connectivity to inland markets are driving growth at Georgia’s deepwater ports,” said GPA Board Chairman James Walters. “Our ability to handle expanding cargo volumes – without congestion delays – has set GPA apart in support of farming, retail and manufacturing customers.”

Other notable developments included growth at GPA’s East River Terminal in Brunswick. Focused exclusively on bulk cargoes, East River Terminal, operated by Logistec, experienced a 44.2 percent increase (41,168 tons), for a total of 134,277 tons of commodities moved.

Foltz attributed that growth, in part, to strong biofuel exports to Northern Europe.

“Our ports are a vital link to global markets for Georgia exports, with forest products playing an important role in the state’s economy,” said GPA Vice Chairman James Allgood. “In addition to wood pellets used as renewable fuel, the GPA handles forest-derived exports including wood pulp, paper, lumber and cellulose fibers.”

Growing nearly as fast as East River, Colonel’s Island Terminal in Brunswick improved by 40.2 percent (49,575 tons), largely on expansion in soybean meal. A total of 172,825 tons of bulk and breakbulk cargo moved across Colonel’s Island docks in May.

Across all terminals, bulk cargo grew by 60 percent (105,820 tons) in May, to reach 282,613 tons.

At its meeting yesterday, the Georgia Ports Authority Board reelected Chairman James A. Walters for a second one-year term as Chair.

“At a time of unprecedented growth and the start of construction for the deepening project, Jim’s continued, steady leadership sends a strong message to those who choose Georgia as their gateway to global commerce,” said Governor Deal. “Business leaders can be comfortable with Jim’s background in economic development, coupled with a strong vision for the future of Georgia’s ports.”

Continuing in the role of vice chairman will be James L. “Jimmy” Allgood, while A.J. “Joe” Hopkins III will also maintain his post as secretary/treasurer.

“I am honored by the board’s vote of confidence,” Walters said. “I am also excited by the opportunities before us as this body prepares our port facilities to handle the new demands of an evolving logistics industry.”

Walters noted the Port of Savannah’s unmatched ability to handle cargo influxes related to diversions of freight from the West Coast, and the megaships now favored by shipping lines for their increased efficiency.

“The Savannah model, of a large, single-operator container terminal supported by an array of near-port distribution centers, direct interstate access and on-terminal rail has proven to be the right model to meet today’s container trade demands,” Walters said. “Beyond containerized goods, GPA’s diversified terminals, focused on bulk, breakbulk and automotive cargo, provide the right solutions to serve all segments of the logistics industry.”

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