Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 12, 2012


Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 12, 2012

Julius is a Golden Retriever who has lived outside on a chain, with inadequate food and clean water. He is on his way to Angels Among Us Rescue, where his first stop will be the vet, to clear up his heartworms, fleas, and find out what additional care he needs. His initial vetting is estimated to cost $450 or more and Angels is seeking donations to defray his expenses. If you wish to help, you can head over to Angels website and donate online. If you are giving for Julius’s expenses, please indicate that in the online donation form. Angels is also asking for volunteers to help with their record-keeping, which can be a major task when they have more than 400 dogs and cats in their program currently.

Another way to help Angels Among Us is to visit The Animal Rescue Site and vote for them to receive a grant of up to $5000. Just click here to go there, and then under “Search And Vote For A Shelter” enter Angels Among Us for the shelter name, and Georgia for the state and click search. When it returns the proper result, cast your vote, and then the next page will ask you to type in some letters and numbers to confirm your vote.

Yesterday, NPR’s Fresh Air spoke with Cynthia Otto, who served on a team that used working dogs to search for survivors in the rubble at ground zero, and Annemarie Deangelo, a thirteen-year police canine operations office, who are working at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, which officially opened yesterday.

It’s a fascinating interview that covers the wide variety of tasks that dogs are assisting humans with, and some of the work that’s being done to keep them healthy and efficient while they do their jobs.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Please take a moment to vote in our online survey on the Charter School Amendment. We ask how you will vote, and give you an opportunity to state why you are voting for or against the Amendment. We’ll be running some of the responses when we release the results. If you have any problems with the online vote, email me.

Qualifying begins today for the Special Election to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Bill Hamrick’s appointment to Superior Court Judge. Note there are two elections: a Republican Special Primary Election on November 6th, and a Special Election on January 8th. From the Secretary of State’s official notice:

Notice is hereby given that a Republican special Primary Election shall be held in portions of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding Counties on November 6, 2012 to fill the withdrawn candidacy of the Honorable Bill Hamrick, State Senator, District 30.  A runoff election, if needed, will be held on December 4, 2012.

Qualifying for the Republican Special Primary Election shall be held in Room 341 of the Georgia State Capitol, 214 State Capitol, Atlanta, 30334.  The dates and hours of qualifying will be Wednesday, September 12 from 9:00 to 5:00, Thursday, September 13 from 8:00 to 5:00 and Friday, September 14 from 8:00 to noon.  The qualifying fee shall be $400.00.

All persons who are not registered to vote and desire to vote in the special primary election must register to vote before the close of business on October 9, 2012.  Polls will be open from 7:00 AM until 7:00 PM on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

Notice is hereby given that a Special Election shall be held in portions of Carroll, Douglas and Paulding Counties on January 8, 2013 for Senate District 30.   A runoff election, if needed, will be held on February 5, 2013.

Qualifying for the Special Election shall be held in the Elections Division of The Office of Secretary of State, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 802 Floyd West Tower, Atlanta, 30334.  The dates and hours of qualifying will be Wednesday, September 12 from 9:00 to 5:00, Thursday, September 13 from 8:00 to 5:00 and Friday, September 14 from 8:00 to noon.  The qualifying fee shall be $400.00.

So if you’re headed downtown to qualify for the seat, I think you’ll need two checks, each for $400.  If you’re qualifying for the Republican Special Primary Election, your check will be made out to the Georgia Republican Party and must be certified funds. If you’re qualifying as an Independent, you can bring a normal check that will be written to Georgia Secretary of State.

State Senator Don Balfour, (R-Snellville) who chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee, is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation over expense reimbursements he filed and says included inadvertant mistakes.

This is why I said in May that if I were being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee, I’d be talking to a criminal lawyer as well as ethics counsel, because the GBI’s starting point for their investigation will likely include everything Balfour submitted during the Ethics Committee’s investigation.

[GBI spokesman John] Bankhead said GBI agents started the inquiry after getting a request from Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican, on Aug. 22. Balfour, a Republican from Snellville, has not been charged with any criminal offenses.

The Senate Ethics Committee fined Balfour $5,000 last month for illegally accepting pay for in-state work and travel on days when he was outside Georgia. He also incorrectly recorded some of his in-state travels. The punishment came after two people filed complaints with the committee over the discrepancies in Balfour’s expense reports.

Balfour previously told reporters that he made “mistakes” and agreed to reimburse the state nearly $1,200 in addition to paying the fine. His attorney, Robert Highsmith, said Tuesday that Balfour never committed any crimes.

“These were inadvertent mistakes,” Highsmith said. “The appropriate resolution and closure was a fine. I have every confidence that the GBI will conclude the same thing.”

Under state law, any legislator who knowingly and willingly falsifies expense paperwork can be fined $1,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.

It appears that Attorney General Sam Olens requested the GBI investigation two days after receiving a letter from State Senator Josh McKoon, asking that Olens’s office investigate the issue. Advocates of more ethics laws lauded the decision to investigate.

On Tuesday, McKoon said he’s hopeful the issue involving Balfour is resolved by year’s end. “The main thing is I don’t want people getting the impression I’m prejudging Sen. Balfour,” he said. “We had criminal allegations brought to the ethics committee’s attention” that need to be resolved by the proper authorities, he said.

The investigation was cheered by groups advocating for ethics reform in the Legislature.

Balfour was accused of billing the state for mileage while out of town on lobbyist-funded trips, and for failing to create a subcommittee to audit all senators’ reimbursement vouchers.

Balfour, who had acknowledged mistakes in filing reimbursement claims, in March returned nearly $800 to the state based on a couple of instances. He then amended other reports after an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found eight additional instances where Balfour claimed reimbursement on days lobbyists reported buying him meals or lodging in other cities.

“I think it is important for an outside agency to look into it, as opposed to a group that doesn’t have investigative authority and certainly is affected by the political process,” said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia.

In December 1999, Georgia Senator Ralph David Abernathy, III was convicted of 18 felony counts, comprising 5 counts of theft by taking, 5 counts of false statement, 5 counts of violating his oath of office, 2 counts of forgery and 1 count of influencing a witness in Fulton County Superior Court. The original indictment charged him with stealing $13,000 through phony state expense reports and forged receipts, and the convictions involved $5700 in fake expense reimbursements and offering to pay his secretary to lie about it.

In January 2000, he was sentenced to four years in prison and six years on probation.

Two things I take away from this story: first, the GBI’s investigation suggests that we may not need additional “ethics” laws, but rather more vigorous enforcement of existing laws; and second, if Balfour is cleared of more serious violations, I will consider this case closed, although its handling by the Senate Ethics Committee will continue to have ramifications for the chamber’s “leadership.”

The Associated Press notes that this is the second straight Republican presidential ticket that does not include a Southerner. Following is a long excerpt, but it’s good reading.

Besides the national dearth, the South’s congressional power players are either aging icons – black Democrats John Lewis of Georgia and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina – or hail from the region’s periphery – Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House GOP leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.

But Kentucky was a Civil War border state, while Virginia, for all its antebellum credentials, is increasingly racially, culturally and politically diverse. That puts both states outside the Bible Belt, Deep South core that, fairly or unfairly, has long defined the region on the national stage.

Gingrich and Lott, who toiled for many terms in the minority, were well-positioned to become national players when Republicans gained majorities. But now that initial wave of Southern GOP leadership is mostly off the stage. The party does have a deep Southern bench, with governors like 40-year-old Nikki Haley of South Carolina and 41-year-old Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, along with a host of neophyte senators and representatives. This new generation of Southern Republicans must compete among themselves and with the likes of Wisconsin Rep. Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who delivered the GOP convention’s keynote address.

If anything, ambitious Southern politicians are victims of the region’s success.

Within both parties, the region’s influence has been as the conservative branch opposite Northeastern liberals or Midwestern moderates. Since Roosevelt, that has dictated balanced national tickets.

When Republicans gained the Southern advantage after Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, their focus became ideological balance. They did not necessarily define it by geography, but the result was the same: a nod to Southern conservatism. Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” co-opted from Alabama Gov. George Wallace and his 1968 presidential bid as an independent, had gone national.

“The South is more like the rest of the country, and the rest of the country is more like the South,” said [Haley] Barbour, a former two-term Mississippi governor.

Jones, the Alabama delegate, said Democrats find hope in demographic shifts.

Barack Obama won Virginia and North Carolina in 2008 on the strength of young and non-white voters. Florida has long been a competitive melting pot. Jones said white Southerners under age 30 or 35 are up for grabs, as well. Presidential exit polls from 2008 showed younger voters in some Southern states split evenly in states where Obama still lost by wide margins. That group, Jones said, is less likely to base their politics on anything to do with race.

Arkansas Democratic Chairman Will Bond said his state provides a blueprint.

Arkansas is the last former Confederate state where Democrats still control both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans cut into their majorities in the national GOP sweep of 2010, but couldn’t take over. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, meanwhile, won every county on his way to a second term.

Bond said the Arkansas party, besides enjoying the afterglow of having produced a president, has focused relentlessly on fiscal responsibility, education and economic development. “We just have to do a better job of telling our story across the South,” he said.

The Georgia Supreme Court declined to review an important part of the state’s 2005 Tort Reform law that allows courts to award attorney fees against a litigant who rejects a settlement offer and goes to trial.

The high court on Monday denied a defense request that it review last year’s state Court of Appeals decision that appeared to give judges considerable leeway in denying attorney fees under the offer of settlement rule. The cert petition had been supported by an amicus brief filed on behalf of the American Tort Reform Association.

Under the offer of settlement rule, a party can be ordered to pay the other side’s attorney fees if it rejects a settlement offer but doesn’t fare much better than the offer when the case is decided in court.

If you are interested in more analysis of the case, Bryan Tyson at Strickland Brockington Lewis, a leading Atlanta appellate and election law firm, discusses the case on his excellent SCOG Blog. Its filed there under Adkins et al. v. Cobb County.

Jason Pye at United Liberty fact-checks a Super PAC ad favoring Democrat Congressman John Barrow’s reelection in the Twelfth Congressional District.

The ad, produced by Center Forward, opens by attacking on Anderson because he signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge from Americans for Tax Reform, which is anathema to tax hungry leftists. Center Forward uses this in a clever, though dishonest way, by saying that Anderson “signed a special interest pledge that keeps tax breaks for companies that ship out American jobs.”

The only problem is that Center Forward’s ad is incredibly misleading. The pledge simply states that the candidate will “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

We’ve been down this rabbit hole before in previous years. Back in 2010, explained that a similar ad used against then-Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI) was “blatantly false.” PolitiFact Virginia also shot down almost the exact same claim when then-Rep. Robert Perriello (D-VA) tried to use the Taxpayer Protection Pledge against his GOP opponent, Robert Hurt, who would go on to win in the mid-terms.

Americans for Tax Reform has called on Rep. Barrow to “denounce this proven false claim so that both he and Anderson can focus on what Georgia voters care most about: curbing rising gas prices, unsustainable government spending, and the looming tax hikes that take effect on January 1st of next year.”

Many voters are going to see through this ad, but if Barrow wants to distance himself from the record of the Obama Administration and portray himself as a conservative Democrat, he has to condemn this ad.

Thanks to Parker Wallace with GPB News and James Richardson of Georgia Tipsheet for spelling my name correctly in their stories about our Charter School Amendment Poll.

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