Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 18, 2015


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 18, 2015

On March 18, 1766, the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, which required American colonists to purchase a stamp for every legal or printed document they obtained.  Revenue would be used to support the British army in America.

The Stamp Act led Patrick Henry to denounce King George III, the British Monarch at the time of the passage of the Stamp Act and the ensuing Revolutionary War; Henry’s later “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech to the Virginia Assembly at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, listed by Time magazine as one of the top ten speeches of all time. Henry later opposed adoption of the Constitution, arguing it was incomplete without a Bill of Rights; after the Bill of Rights was adopted, Henry was satisfied.

On March 18, 1939, the State of Georgia ratified the Bill of Rights, which were proposed 150 years earlier in 1789. Georgia initially declined to ratify the Bill of Rights arguing that the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution were unnecessary. Governor E.D. Rivers signed the joint resolution six days later, but under federal court decisions the ratification is marked as of the date the second house of the state legislature adopts the legislation (assuming a bi-cameral state legislature).

On March 18, 1942, the United States government, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, created the War Relocation Authority to “Take all people of Japanese descent into custody, surround them with troops, prevent them from buying land, and return them to their former homes at the close of the war.” More than 120,000 Japanese Americans, many of them citizens of the United States were moved from the west coast into concentration camps in the western United States.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed entirely of Japanese Americans, many of whose families were interned at the camps, became the most-decorated unit of World War II, with members being awarded 4,667 medals, awards, and citations, including 1 Medal of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 560 Silver Stars; eventually 21 members of the 442nd would be awarded the Medal of Honor. The late United States Senator Daniel Inouye, a member of the 442nd from 1941 to 1947, was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton for actions during WWII. First elected to the United States Senate in 1962, Inouye became President Pro Tem in 2010.

On March 18, 1947, Herman Talmadge surrendered the Governor’s office, ending the “Three Governors Affair.” Earlier this year, the General Assembly honored the late Governor Melvin Thompson, who was elected the first Lieutenant Governor of Georgia and became Governor at the conclusion of the Three Governors Affair.

On March 18, 1955, the Georgia Educators Association endorsed “equal but separate” schools for the races.

On March 18, 1961, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Gray v. Sanders, which arose from Georgia. Three politically-important results come from the case.

First, the Court held that state regulation of the Democratic Primary made the primary election a state action, not merely that of a private organization; thus, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies.

Second, the Equal Protection Clause requires that every vote be given equal weight in electing officials, often stated as the “one person, one vote” rule. In Georgia at that time, each County had between two and six “county unit votes”. As a result,

“One unit vote in Echols County represented 938 residents, whereas one unit vote in Fulton County represented 92,721 residents. Thus, one resident in Echols County had an influence in the nomination of candidates equivalent to 99 residents of Fulton County.”

Third, because the County Unit System gave the votes of some Georgians greater weight than that of others, it violated the Equal Protection Clause. The “one person, one vote” rule is one benchmark of redistricting.

On March 18, 1976, Governor George Busbee signed legislation recognizing the following official state symbols:

Staurolite – Official Mineral of Georgia
Shark’s Tooth – Official Fossil of Georgia
Clear Quartz – Official Gem of Georgia
Purple Quartz (Amethyst) – Official Gem of Georgia

I suspect samples of all of these can be found in the display cases on the Fourth Floor of the Georgia State Capitol.

March 18, 2014 was the 39th Day of the Legislative Session. It’s a wonder what the need to get out on the campaign trail will do for a Session.

Under the Gold Dome Today

12:00pm – 1:00pm Senate Rules Upon Adjournment – 450 cap
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Public Safety Committee – 310 clob
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Insurance & Labor – 125 cap
2:00pm – 3:00pm Senate Finance Committee – Mezz 1
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Juvenile Justice – 606 clob
2:00pm – 3:00pm Senate Judiciary Committee – 307 clob
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate State Inst & Prop’ty – 125 cap
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Judiciary Non Civil – 307 clob
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Transportation – 450 cap
3:00pm – 5:00pm House Education Committee – 606 clob
4:00pm – 5:00pm Senate Regulated Industries – 310 clob
4:00pm – 5:00pm Senate State & Local Gov’tal Ops – Mezz 1

Senate Rules Calendar

HB 211 – Controlled substances; Schedule I, III, and IV; change certain provisions (As Passed House) (JUDYNC-1st) Broadrick-4th

HR 103 – Georgia’s Day of Coding; December 10; recognize (As Passed House) (S&T-42nd) Setzler-35th

House Rules Calendar

Open Rule

HR 106 United States Congress; convey title and jurisdiction of Federal Public Lands to the States; encourage (IntC-Brockway-102nd)

HR 303 State Board of Education; develop and implement comprehensive civics education curricula; urge (Ed-Buckner-137th)

Modified Structured Rule

HR 397 United States Congress; support equity and sales tax fairness; encourage (W&M-O`Neal-146th)

SB 93 Seminole County; office of probate judge; nonpartisan elections (IGCDukes-154th) Burke-11th

Transportation Tax Pared Back

Kristina Torres of the AJC writes about the outlines of a likely Senate revision of the House Transportation Tax Hike Bill,

According to details obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from people with direct knowledge of the changes who were not authorized to speak on the record, the new version of the bill includes:

  • A 24 cents-per-gallon state excise tax on gasoline and diesel, down from the House’s 29.2 cents-per-gallon proposal.
  • An annual “highway user impact fee” of $25 per passenger vehicle and $50 per truck or bus; essentially an additional fee charged as vehicle owners annually renew their tags.
  • A $5 rental car fee, charged at a flat rate for all rentals regardless whether they are for business or pleasure.
  • A $250 million annual payment toward debt service for the state Department of Transportation, to allow the department to free up a matching amount toward its motor fuel fund to pay for projects statewide.
  • Allowing local cities and counties to collect sales taxes on motor fuel up to $3.39 per gallon for initiatives including special option local sales taxes, optional education sales taxes and local option sales taxes. There would otherwise be no restrictions on how local officials may use money collected through those initiatives.

The Senate’s proposal would also leave alone several proposals included in the House’s version, such as:

  • A user fee for electric vehicles of $200 per year for private cars and $300 per year for commercial vehicles.
  • Elimination of the $5,000 state tax credit for the purchase of an electric car.

A follow-up by Torres said that the bill might have a quick path to the Senate floor.

[W]hile the chamber’s Transportation Committee quickly passed it Tuesday, Chairman Tommie Williams indicated he would consider changes to House Bill 170 as it moves toward a floor vote as soon as Friday.

Senate leaders’ goal is to avoid drama, get the bill passed and get it into negotiations. House and Senate leaders would then try to hash out a final compromise as the legislative session barrels toward an expected end on April 2.

“This is not a perfect bill, and this is not the end of the process,” said Williams, R-Lyons. “One of our goals was to try to keep gas prices as low as we could.”

The new version of HB 170 reflects what Williams has said is a more conservative caucus in the GOP-led Senate.

That last bit relates to what I think is one of the themes of this session – the state Senate asserting itself as the more-conservative chamber. This dynamic will also play out in the Medical Marijuana bill, and possibly some others.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla) sounded a conciliatory note on Senate changes to his HB 170, telling the AJC,

“Once they get whatever they’re going to pass out passed out, after that we can all come together and have a conversation,” said the bill’s sponsor, House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla. “They believe the need is there as well, it’s just a matter of a difference of opinion on how we get to that point.

Election Results

Both of the Atlanta Bond Questions passed, with Question 1 taking 88% and Question 2 earning 85% of ballots cast in a low-turnout election. I also received this piece of political direct mail from the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management.

We generally think that public agencies cannot do political activities because of a prohibition in §21-5-30.2 of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act. But that prohibition covers contributions to political committees or candidates, and does not cover direct expenditures.

Election Flier City of Atlanta Bond Referendum

Katie Leslie followed up on the mailpiece, for the AJC,

Nowhere does Reed explicitly say “vote yes” on the mailing. But Bill Bozarth, former head of government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, said there’s “no question” about the city’s position.

“Would a reasonable person conclude that they are advocating for it? Yes,” said Bozarth, who received the flier in his mailbox. “… And if it’s being done with taxpayer money, I’m questioning whether that’s legal or ethical.”

District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore said she wants answers about why Watershed sent the mailing. Watershed revenues are first obligated to pay its own debt, and then operation and maintenance costs, she said.

“The use of Watershed funds makes absolutely no sense in this matter. It’s not a Watershed referendum,” she said.

Rick Thompson, the former executive secretary of the state ethics commission, said it would be difficult to prove the city broke state campaign finance laws.

“There’s nothing in that language that tells them to vote a certain way, but do I think it gets close to the edge? Yes, it’s right up to the line,” said Thompson, who now advises clients on ethics issues.

So, the upshot may be that a public agency can spend taxpayer dollars in advocating for passage of a referendum. It’s also possible that a violation might be found of the reporting requirements that apply to ever “Campaign Committee.”

Section 21-5-3(2) defines “Campaign Committee” as

any person or committee which accepts contributions or makes expenditures … designed to bring about the approval or rejection by the voters of any proposed constitutional amendment, a state-wide referendum, or a proposed question which is to appear on the ballot in this state or in a county or a municipal election in this state

and §21-5-30 requires reporting of campaign expenditures and contributions, so a reporting violation may have occurred or may occur.

Voters will likely return to the polls on April 14, 2015 in Augusta-Richmond County for a runoff election between Sean Frantom (43.7%) and Hap Harris (36.5%).

Turnout in the eight precincts was reported as 13.61 percent, with 1,981 ballots cast.

Columbia County voters extended the E-SPLOST through 2022.

Fewer than 5 thousands votes were cast Tuesday, with 75 percent voting yes, and 25 percent voting no, against the tax.

Jonathan Elmore was elected Mayor of Avondale Estates

The Watkinsville referendum on alcohol by the drink passed by 216-49 for 81.5% passage.

More than 54% of Muscogee County voters cast ballots in favor of the E-SPLOST, with early votes providing the margin.

Of Columbus’ 101,300 likely voters, 16,534 cast ballots in Tuesday’s Muscogee school sales tax referendum — a turnout of around 16 percent — but the Election Day totals alone gave neither side a convincing lead.

The margin for much of the night as election workers tallied the ballots was around 300 votes, with those favoring the sales tax holding the lead. But that lead was so narrow that any new results tilted toward the “No” votes could have swept it away.

The final tipping point came as workers tallied the early in-person vote, those Muscogee residents who cast ballots at the City Services Center from Feb. 23 through March 13.

That tally gave the “Yes” votes a commanding lead, 3,433 to 2,350, a difference not of a few hundred but of 1,083. The tax had passed.

An E-SPLOST for Lowndes County passed by nearly an 80% margin.

In Whitfield County, the SPLOST passed by 67% with just over 10% of voters casting ballots.

Dawson County passed an E-LOST for the County Schools with 83% voting in favor (398 of 477 total votes) Turnout was a dismal 3.21 percent.

In Hall County, 63.5 percent of voters approved the SPLOST VII on 6.5% turnout.

Blogging is not a crime, but it can pay

Blogger Nydia Tisdale settled her lawsuit against the City of Cumming after she was ejected from a City Council meeting by Mayor H. Ford Gravitt for having the temerity to video the meeting (that’s allowed, by the way).

Citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale settled her longstanding federal lawsuit asserting the right to film public meetings for $200,000 along with an audio-visual recording policy that ensures filming of Cumming City Council meetings.

On April 17, 2012, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law an updated version of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws to take effect immediately upon signature. Video recording of open-and-public meetings was allowed in the old law and in the new law.

Hours later the same day, Tisdale attempted to video record the Cumming City Council meeting where discussion of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between Forsyth County and the City of Cumming for raw and finished water was taking place. The city holds the permit to withdraw water from Lake Lanier and the county purchases water from the city. The 30-year contract was about to expire.

Tisdale had previously filmed Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and the Cumming City Council across the street at the Forsyth County Administration Building at open-and-public meetings. But, the very first time she set foot inside Cumming City Hall, she was tossed out for carrying her camera into council chambers.

“This settlement sends a powerful message that government officials cannot shroud their operations in secrecy by barring truth-telling video. But more, the lawsuit has unveiled decades-old practices of an entrenched City government that has left its citizens in the dark. The Mayor’s actions were a blatant violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to record public meetings,” remarked Gerry Weber, Lead Counsel for Tisdale.

DeKalb gets even crazier

DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes-Sutton has sent out a raft of Open Records requests seeking information on investigations of her use of taxpayer funds.

Channel 2 Action News reported Tuesday that Sutton has requested records from Commissioner Kathie Gannon, Commissioner Jeff Rader, Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May and District Attorney Robert James.

Her records requests ask for correspondence with the FBI, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, private investigators and any attorneys hired to investigate her.

Sutton said in a statement that her motivation was to stop Commissioners Gannon and Rader from using taxpayer money to investigate her official actions. She said she has asked James to launch his own investigation of $10,000 in fees paid by Gannon and Rader to an outside attorney.

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