Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 3, 2015


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 3, 2015

On February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

On February 3, 1887, Congress adopted the Electoral Count Act to clarify how Congress was to count electoral votes.

Electoral vote counting is the oldest activity of the national government and among the oldest questions of constitutional law. It was Congress’s first task when a quorum appeared in the nation’s new legislature on April 6, 1789. It has happened every four years since then. Yet, electoral vote counting remains one of the least understood aspects of our constitutional order.

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 (ECA) lies at the heart of this confusion. In enacting the ECA, Congress drew on lessons learned from its twenty-five previous electoral counts; it sorted through innumerable proposals floated before and after the disastrous presidential election of 1876; and it thrashed out the ECA’s specific provisions over fourteen years of sustained debate. Still, the law invites misinterpretation. The ECA is turgid and repetitious. Its central provisions seem contradictory. Many of its substantive rules are set out in a single sentence that is 275 words long. Proponents of the law admitted it was “not perfect.” Contemporary commentators were less charitable. John Burgess, a leading political scientist in the late nineteenth century, pronounced the law unwise, incomplete, premised on contradictory principles, and expressed in language that was “very confused, almost unintelligible.” At least he thought the law was constitutional; others did not.

Over the nearly 120 years since the ECA’s adoption, the criticisms faded, only to be renewed whenever there was a close presidential election. Our ability to misunderstand the ECA has grown over time. During the 2000 presidential election dispute, politicians, lawyers, commentators, and Supreme Court justices seemed prone to misstate or misinterpret the provisions of the law, even those provisions which were clear to the generation that wrote them. The Supreme Court, for example, mistakenly believed that the Supreme Court of Florida’s erroneous construction of its election code would deny Florida’s electors the ECA’s “safe harbor” protection; Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s hasty submission of his state’s Certificate of Ascertainment was untimely under the Act; and Democratic members of Congress framed their objections to accepting Florida’s electoral vote on the wrong grounds. Even Al Gore, the presidential candidate contesting the election’s outcome, misread the federal deadline for seating Florida’s electors.

Only the United States Congress could so obfuscate a matter as seemingly simple as counting that its Act remained undecipherable for more than one hundred years.

The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Delaware on February 3, 1913, giving the Amendment the requisite Constitutional supermajority of three-fourths of the states. The text of the Amendment reads, in its entirety,

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

President Woodrow Wilson died on February 3, 1924 in Washington, DC. Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia (pronounced Stan-ton) and spent most of his youth to age 14 in Augusta, Georgia. Wilson started practicing law in Atlanta, Georgia in 1882, leaving the next year to pursue a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. His wife, Ellen Louise Axson, was from Savannah, and they married in Rome, Ga in 1885.

On February 3, 1959, a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed near Mason City, Iowa, killing all aboard.

Jimi Hendrix recorded Purple Haze on this date in 1967.

Under the Gold Dome Today

For those of you spending your day at the Capitol, here’s a freebie: click here to get the Google Calendar version of our Legislative Meeting Calendar. You can add it to your iPhone using the Google Calendar app or to your Android. Then, you can add individual legislative meetings to your own personal calendar, complete with alerts and everything.

12:00pm – 1:00pm Senate Rules upon adjournment – 450 Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Health & Human Svcs – 450 Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Appropriations – Natural Res. Sub – 307 CLOB
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Appropriations – Econ Dec Sub – 341 Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Science & Tech – 310 CLOB
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Interstate Coop – Cancelled – 123 Capitol
2:00pm – 3:00pm Senate Econ Dev & Tourism – Senate Mezzanine 1
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Judicary Non-Civil – 606 CLOB
2:00pm – 3:00pm Senate Judiciary – 307 CLOB
2:00pm – 3:00pm Senate Approp – Fiscal Mgmt Sub – 310 CLOB
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Judiciary Civil – 132 Capitol
2:30pm – 3:30pm House Regulated Industries – 506 CLOB
3:00pm – 4:00pm House Higher Education – 406 CLOB
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Nat’l Res & Env – 450 Capitol
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Higher Ed – 310 CLOB
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Approp – Comm Health Sub – 307 CLOB
3:00pm – 4:00pm House Science & Tech – 506 CLOB
3:30pm – 4:30pm Senate Approp – Education Sub – 341 Capitol
4:00pm – 5:00pm House Public Safety & Homeland Sec – 406 CLOB
4:00pm – 5:00pm Senate Urban Affairs – 318 CLOB
4:00pm – 5:00pm Senate Banking & Fin. Inst. – 307 CLOB

Today, your Georgia State Senate will take up Senate Bill 2 by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), which relates to high school diplomas for students who are dual-enrolled.

Yesterday, the Georgia Senate Transportation Committee met to discuss the House Transportation Finance Bill, which was unusual because the House Bill had not been heard in a House Committee nor had it passed the House. I caught up with Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) and filed the following brief interview with Georgia News Network.

So, the Senate Committee meeting was not to directly discuss the House Transportation Bill, but to ensure that Senate Transportation Committee members had a full understanding of the current multi-tier system of excise and sales taxes that are levied on gas in Georgia, how they are collected, and where they are disbursed. That’s a very smart and efficient way to run a committee.

House Bill 17 by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) would extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse.

This would allow victims to file claims against their attackers until they are 53 years old. Current law bars claims that are filed after a victim is 23 years old.

“We are here under this dome- seeking justice in House Bill 17 to extend the statute of limitations on civil statute so the courtroom doors can be open for the survivors of child sexual abuse,” said Angela Williams, a rape victim, and founder of Voice Today, an advocacy group. Williams says it often takes years — even decades, for victims to come forward.

The “Hidden Predator Act” would also open more investigative records, and would add a two-year window for revival of claims for victims.

“These folks are locked out of the courts and justice is absolutely denied,” said Rep. Jason Spencer (R – Woodbine). Spencer is sponsoring HB 17.

Today at 2:15 PM at the State Capitol, Gov. Nathan Deal will be joined by Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, Chris Carr, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber to announce the location of the new Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Senate Resolution 80 by Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) urges the State Board of Education to oppose the College Board’s 2015-16 AP U.S. History course, materials, and test unless it is aligned with Georgia’s standards. From WABE:

“History is viewed more from the lens of grievances and social justice and these other issues to the detriment of American exceptionalism,” says Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who is sponsoring the legislation.

“You have this understanding that America has been the city on a hill, the symbol of liberty, that we’ve done a lot of good things in the world,” Ligon says.

He says that’s missing from the new test.

“A lot of our service men and women have sacrificed, for example, in World War II and other conflicts that we’ve had and that is glossed over,” he says.

The Resolution also says the exam minimizes the Founding Fathers and religious influences on U.S. history.

The Augusta Chronicle editorial board opines that the General Assembly should raise the cap on the K-12 Scholarship Program.

The state of Georgia should take a cue from shopkeepers and expand its cap on the K-12 scholarship tax credit program, which this year “sold out” in a matter of hours thanks to the growing number of parents who want to send their children to private schools.

The $58 million in qualified education expense credits, allocated this year by the state, were snapped up by the end of New Year’s Day, with reports suggesting the state received $100 million worth of applications.

Raising the cap is a no-brainer. School choice is becoming more popular. Demand for the credits is an example of the free market at work. Organizations award scholarships to students, and then the organizations and schools promote the tax credit program and urge parents and corporations to donate funding for more student scholarships.

That’s a win-win-win for donors, parents and especially children living in neighborhoods with lackluster public schools.

The Federales

After Senator Johnny Isakson’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously passed out the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, full Senate debate was delayed because of snow in Washington, DC.

Senators Isakson and David Perdue issued a statement with Congressman Buddy Carter (R-1-Pooler) lauding the inclusion of funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

“After the shock and disappointment we felt last year when SHEP was omitted from the president’s budget, the inclusion of funding today for our state’s number one economic development project in the president’s budget is welcome but long overdue,” said Senator Isakson. “In addition to providing funding in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, I’m pleased the Army Corps of Engineers has indicated that it is also working to secure an additional $21 million dedicated to the Savannah project in the Corps’ budget for this year’s FY15 budget.”

“This victory for SHEP and our state is the result of many years of work and partnership between many people, including Governor Deal, former Senator Saxby Chambliss and former Congressman Jack Kingston,” Isakson continued. “The expansion and deepening of the Port of Savannah has been a top priority of mine since coming to the Senate in 2005 and I am so pleased to see this critical project get underway.”

“I am very disappointed it has taken nearly 17 years to get this done. After all, we’re only talking about deepening the harbor five feet,” said Senator Perdue. “I applaud Georgia’s Governors who have consistently committed the state’s portion of funds for this project. This is a necessary infrastructure investment in order for the Savannah Port to remain competitive. At a time when we are spending more money than we are taking in, every federal government expenditure needs to be scrutinized. That said, expanding the Savannah Harbor should be a priority because it is an infrastructure investment that creates jobs and grows the economy.”

“I am thrilled to see that the President has finally decided to stop playing games and provide what is needed to allow this vital project to move forward after Georgia’s tireless fight for almost two decades,” Representative Carter said. “I hope the Obama Administration will continue to honor its commitment to SHEP and match the dedication of the state. While I know we still have a lot of work to do, the start of construction last week and the news today are strong steps to seeing this important project become a reality.”

Governor Nathan Deal also spoke of the SHEP funding:

Gov. Nathan Deal … said the Obama administration’s budget recommendation of $21 million will greatly aid the state’s ongoing efforts on the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. For the first time, the budget categorized the project as “ongoing construction,” a critical step that allows for additional funding. The Obama administration also announced today that it has increased funding of the project to $21 million for this current fiscal year.

“This is welcome news for our state, and for the Southeast as a whole,” Deal said. “This funding from the federal government is an important building block, and federal investment is critical to a timely completion of this project. This funding, along with the state’s investment of $266 million, will allow the port deepening to move along as scheduled for now. However, in order to see this project through to completion on time, a larger federal share is needed. Georgia’s congressional delegation is aware of our needs and of the construction timetable, and I’m confident our representatives will spend a lot of time on this issue as the budget winds its way through Congress.”

Politics across Georgia

Today, from 7 AM to 7 PM, voters will go to the polls in House District 50 (Johns Creek in North Fulton) and House District 120 (Greene, Oglethorpe, Putnam, Taliaferro and Wilkes Counties), in Special Runoff elections. Sign into the Georgia Secretary of State’s MVP system for more information on voting locations and whether you’re in the district or not.

Dave Beaudoin at looked at the conventional wisdom that Special Runoff election turnout usually plummets from the Special Election.

Although conventional wisdom suggests that voter turnout for runoff elections is lower than for the original election, the data for Georgia during this period says otherwise.

In almost half the instances (8 out of 17), the total votes cast in the runoff was actually greater than that in the special election held 4 weeks earlier.

Removing those instances where either the special or runoff election coincided with a statewide general or Presidential primary Election Day, voter turnout actually went up for the runoff 7 out of 10 times.

However, an increase in turnout for runoffs in State Representative races (rather than State Senate ones) is less likely, occurring only 4 out of 10 times.

Turnout when the runoff is held in January or February was quite strong.  Since 2010, 6 special election runoffs were held in those two months.  In 5 of those 6 instances, the total votes cast in the runoff was higher than in the original round of voting.  This makes sense, since this timing coincides with the start of the state legislative session in Atlanta, and the resulting increased media coverage of state governmental matters.

The sentencing of former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer has been delayed again.

Delays in construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle have materialized, but it’s currently unclear who will bear the burden of increasing costs.

Georgia Power says it will do everything possible to make any costs incurred by an 18 month delay be paid by contracting companies.  “We’re absolutely not satisfied and we’re going to do everything possible to hold our contractor to the contract,” said Jacob Hawkins of Georgia Power.

Georgia Power acknowledges that completion dates for the reactor dates are now moved back from 2016 and 2017 to 2019 and 2020.

Critics say the PSC has not done enough to make Georgia Power assume the real risks.  PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton took exception to that Monday.  “The idea that Georgia Power doesn’t have an incentive to control costs is absurd,” he told me.

Eaton says the company knows that cost overruns have to ultimately be approved by the PSC and says some three decades ago when the first two reactors were built that the company’s stockholders ended up taking a hit when there were cost issues with the first reactors.”

While the PSC has thus far approved cost requests from Georgia Power on six-month intervals for the project, Eaton said it can’t be assumed that the PSC will automatically approve huge overruns.

And the costs for delays would be huge.  Georgia Power says about $40 million per month ($30 million for financing costs.)

The company says it remains committed to trying to hold the contractor accountable for cost overruns and this is still a good deal for rate payers “Even with as large a project as this is, we are still within our 6 to 8 percent impact on customer rates.”

Georgia Power has yet to ask the PSC for any overruns.  It will brief the PSC later this month on the latest issues regarding the completion date.

2016 Presidential Primary

The Chairman of the Texas Republican Party is resigning to take a job as Senior Adviser to what will likely become a Rand Paul 2016 Presidential campaign.

A long time friend of the Paul political family, Munisteri told The Associated Press, “I couldn’t say no to him… He’s the only conservative candidate that I see who is reaching out to minority voters and young voters.” The Wall Street Journal quoted Munisteri as saying, “I’ve known the senator for 33 years and what I’m most impressed with about him is his commitment to expand the party’s reach. Our party cannot be successful, we cannot retake the White House if we do not do a better job of reaching out. Senator Paul has had that message since he’s been in office.”

Texas’ presidential primary election will take place on March 1, 2016, meaning it will be an early opportunity for a campaign to gain momentum by picking up a large number of delegates in one state. With the former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas on Rand Paul’s 2016 campaign team, he will have strong inroads into the state’s hardest working activists and wealthiest donors.

Rand Paul’s political adviser, Doug Stafford, who is laying the groundwork for Paul’s presumptive 2016 campaign, said, “I am very pleased Steve will be joining our team. As a party chair in Texas, he raised the bar for grassroots engagement and performance. His experience in multiple national campaigns will be invaluable to Sen. Paul.” Stafford told The Wall Street Journal that he believes that Munisteri “has chosen Sen. Paul because he has the best chance to win nationally.”

Though Senator Paul has yet to officially announce his intentions to run for his party’s nomination for president in 2016, he has kept up a relentless schedule of appearances in key states like Texas, New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina and has been absorbing top political operatives from those states into his campaign as senior advisers. Paul has also been wooing high-profile GOP donors in preparation for his campaign, which is expected to launch officially in the spring.

The Jeb Bush 2016 Presidential campaign vehicle is also taking on veteran operatives, according to CNN.

Jeb Bush is bringing on a pair of veteran political consultants, including a former ad-maker for Ron Paul and Ted Cruz, for his all-but-certain presidential campaign.

Jon Downs and Danny Diaz, both founding partners in the Washington-based political firm FP1 Strategies, will help steer advertising and messaging efforts for Bush’s Right To Rise Leadership PAC, an adviser to Bush told CNN.

“We’re excited Jon and Danny are joining our team,” said Bush adviser Sally Bradshaw. “Their expertise and experience will be critical to communicating Governor Bush’s conservative ideas for greater economic growth and opportunity.”

They will hold similar roles on a potential campaign if Bush decides to officially become a candidate, a prospect that appears likelier by the day. Last week, Bush picked up David Kochel, a veteran Iowa operative and longtime adviser to Mitt Romney, to serve as an adviser to the PAC and likely campaign manager.

Rand Paul has criticized Jeb Bush on the medical marijuana issue, calling the former Florida Governor a “hypocrite.”

Bush opposed a Florida medical marijuana ballot initiative last year even though he partook liberally of the herb while in high school.

“You would think he’d have a little more understanding then,” Paul told The Hill while en route to a political event in Texas.

“He was even opposed to medical marijuana,” Paul said of Bush, a potential rival in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. “This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana but he wants to put people in jail who do.

“I think that’s the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that,” he said.

Bush has acknowledged using marijuana previously, calling it “stupid” and “wrong.”

He issued a statement in August urging Florida voters to reject a proposal allowing the use of marijuana to treat debilitating diseases.

He argued it would undermine the state’s image as a “family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire.”

“Allowing large-scale marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all these efforts,” he claimed.

An article in the Miami Herald last fall discusses Bush’s position on medical marijuana and the more complex issue of resolving conflicts between federal and state policies.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush opposes Florida’s medical-marijuana initiative, but the potential GOP presidential candidate said he’s not sure if the federal government should enforce federal cannabis laws if the Sunshine State proposal passes.

Bush’s struggle with the state-federal split over medical marijuana reflects a broader struggle in the national Republican Party, where anti-drug hardliners are at odds with states-rights conservatives and libertarians over the issue.

[In 2014] Bush issued a written statement urging Floridians to vote against the proposed constitutional amendment for medical marijuana.

The amendment would allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana to people with “debilitating” medical conditions. Opponents say the measure is too broad; supporters say it’s designed to ensure that sick people get the care they need.

As a likely frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, Bush’s thoughts about marijuana have an added layer of significance because, if elected, his administration would have to decide whether it should continue the Obama policy in marijuana-decriminalization states.

This family from LaGrange might disagree with Bush’s statement that medical cannabis is just a guise for de facto recreational legalization.

The 2016 Presidential Primary may provide the first glimpse of what a Republican intraparty fight over legalization looks like. A poll by the AJC’s vaunted “gold standard” methods last month showed 49% of respondents favor legalizing marijuana for adults. Drilling down to self-identified Republicans, the survey showed support dropping to 37% and opposition rising to 61%. But here’s where math and history become important. In 2008, the last really wide-open GOP Presidential contest, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won the Georgia Republican Presidential Primary with less than 34% of the vote. In 2012, Newt Gingrich’s massive in-state support prevented the contest from being really competitive, with the Newtster taking 47.2%, but Romney took 25.9% and socially-conservative Rick Santorum came in thidd with 19.6%.

If you assume that Jeb Bush will solidify establishment Republicans, and that social conservatives will be split among possible contender Huckabee, announced candidate Santorum, and possibly others, that 37% support among self-identified Republicans for adult marijuana legalization might be a tempting target for Rand Paul or someone like him, especially if he can add that to the 6.6% his father Ron Paul took in 2012.

There is, of course, a difference between people who call themselves Republicans in response to a survey call and those who actually get off their couch and participate in the elections. But supporters of Paul (and particularly his father) have shown strength in organizing and turning out some hardcore voters. Could Georgia’s primary, or that of another Southern state become the “Legalize It” Primary?

Whether full legalization becomes and issue in the 2016 Presidential Primary, it is clear that medicinal use already is an issue for Presidential contenders.

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