Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 12, 2013


Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 12, 2013

WRRDA, WRRDA Everywhere

Yesterday, House Republican leaders released their version of an updated Water and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) that includes authorization for federal funding of water infrastructure projects like the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, the largest economic development project in Georgia. A report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that our water transportation systems supports 72,850 jobs and contribute $11.8 billion to the state’s economy.

For Georgia the salient difference between the Senate and House leadership versions of the legislation are in who decides which projects get funded. The Senate version give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision-making authority, which House Republicans say leaves too much to the Obama Administration, while in their version, Congress would decide on funding priorities.

Congressman Jack Kingston released a statement on the House version of the bill:

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, released today by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, authorizes the final steps necessary to deepen the harbor to accommodate larger ships that will soon transit the Panama Canal.

“For too long SHEP has been tied up in bureaucratic red tape,” said Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA), the project’s leading champion in Congress. “After 14 years and the most extensive study of the Savannah River estuary in history, we know we can complete this project in an environmentally-sound manner. Moreover, every dollar the federal government invests yields $5.50 in economic benefit.”

Kingston authored legislative language that first authorized the expansion project in 1999. He has continued to be a fierce advocate for the project ever since.

Passage of the House version of WRRDA would also highlight Kingston’s seniority and role on the House Appropriations Committee, which would have funding authority if the bill passes.

State senator Buddy Carter (R-Pooler), who is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Kingston also issued a statement on the water bill.

“The success of Savannah’s Harbor Deepening is a direct result of Georgia making this vital development project a top priority,” said Senator Buddy Carter.

Georgia’s coastal delegation and Governor Nathan Deal have worked hard to bring $231 million dollars to make the deepening of Savannah’s harbor a reality, eventually leading to congressional approval of the project.

“Now more than ever, we need a congressman who is knowledgeable and committed to continuing Jack Kingston’s great work for harbor deepening. It is essential to our coastal community that we have a congressman who is knowledgable about these issue and will continue the fight,” said Carter.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the bill appears to be fast-tracked and could be considered by the entire House in October. From the AJC:

Georgia’s leaders are optimistic but wary. Inclusion of the port project in both chambers’ bills is a move forward, but the recent revival of water wars litigation with Florida threatens to complicate the tangled politics between the states even more.

Still, Deal said he’s hopeful that the legislation will pass and remove what he sees as “the only remaining technical objection” that blocks the dredging project from beginning. Ports officials have said they could begin awarding contracts to start work within weeks of a final bill becoming law.

Yet he acknowledged even if the hurdle is crossed, Congress and the White House must agree on the bigger challenge of who will pay for the project. President Barack Obama’s budget proposal next year will be a key test of how much the feds are willing to pony up, and it will be a certain topic of discussion when Vice President Joseph Biden visits the port on Monday.

“We’re ready to spend the $231 million we’ve set aside and we’ll be asking for the federal government to live up to their promise and spend 60 to 70 percent of the project,” said Deal.

In Jesup, Georgia, The Press Sentinel opines that the Port of Brunswick should not be ignored in the rush for funding of harbor improvements in Savannah.

The Port of Brunswick is unimportant. While he didn’t say so directly, Col. Thomas Tickner, the new commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, might as well have when he said the port and its users will likely just have to live with the shallowing of the harbor channel.

What that says is that other so-called priorities established by politicians take precedence over the safety of the shipping industry and commerce. The government has more pressing needs for our tax-dollars and the fees paid by shipping companies for using the port. They are so pressing, in fact, that the federal government and Congress appear to be willing to let a deepening project American taxpayers spent millions of dollars to complete a decade ago be wiped out by silt.

Is this what would happen if the state and Congress approve a figure approaching $1 billion to deepen Savannah’s port? Would they just stand by and let silt take it over, too, and throw millions down the drain?

That’s possible. It is if the Corps of Engineers and Congress plan to just turn their head to the wasting away of Brunswick’s port. It’s likely they would do the same in Savannah and everywhere else.

Congress needs to reassess its priorities. Giving aid to countries like China, for example, which is beating us into the ground trade-wise, is utterly ridiculous when senior citizens and projects important to commerce in the states are being pushed to the bottom of the budget.


Savannah SPLOST fight

The Chatham County Commission is at odds with the Boards of Elections, which has refused to put a SPLOST election on the November ballot. The County Commission argues that the Board of Elections has no discretion to keep the measure off the ballot, while the Board asserts that absent its receiving a signed copy of the measure and an intergovernmental agreement on how to distribute SPLOST funds, the issue cannot be legally placed on the ballot.

Media Market Matters

Atlanta’s very expensive television media market will have ramifications on spending decisions by national party organizations and Super PACs, as much of the action determining control of the Senate next year will take place in far-less expensive environs. From Roll Call:

Of the 10 most competitive Senate races in 2014, only media markets covering parts of Georgia, North Carolina and Kentucky are among the 50 largest in the country, as ranked by Nielsen. States like New Hampshire, Michigan and Colorado would fit in that category, but at this point they are not among the most likely to flip control.

While they have different takes on whom it helps, both national parties are well aware of the effects of relatively inexpensive media markets on the battle for the Senate: The ads will likely start sooner, there will be a heavier concentration of ads at one time and the cacophony of voices in the televised conversation will undoubtedly be grander.

“There will probably be a lot of advertising by the spring that otherwise might not have started until late summer,” Anderson said.

Cheap markets allow campaigns, national party committees and outside groups to afford significant ad buys earlier and stay on the air longer. But they also open up avenues for smaller independent groups whose less-robust war chests wouldn’t go nearly as far if they were forced to spend in major markets such as Chicago, Philadelphia or Washington, D.C.

Rob Jesmer, a Republican media consultant and former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, says this is where the greatest effect may be felt in 2014. Not necessarily with the committees or well-funded outside groups, but on “the fringe groups” that raise only around $1 million and for whom cost is a big issue.

 Organized Labor pushes “Southern Strategy”

The AFL-CIO has adopted a “Southern Strategy” aimed at building membership and political influence in the traditional “right to work” states where manufacturing jobs are increasingly being located. From The Hill:

“There’s huge potential in the South,” said Michael Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO’s political director, noting the rise of Hispanic voters in the region. “It’s Florida, North Carolina. That is changing the equation in all of those states.”

Democrats are eyeing Texas and will be working with unions to expand into the state. Snatching the deep red state from the Republicans would be a coup for Democrats, but union officials laid out timelines of several years — not 2014, the next election year — before one could expect to see blue victories.

“This is really the beginning of a long-term strategy of building union power in the South,” Podhorzer said, noting the AFL-CIO would invest political resources in the race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as well as in Florida and Texas this campaign season.

A big part of the political effort in Texas will be bringing labor’s much-vaunted voter turnout machine to the state. That will be tough considering the state’s voter ID law, which has led to a Justice Department lawsuit.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said increasing unionization could make it more difficult to attract business, though the German car manufacturers have a different perspective on unions.

Large German firms are heavily unionized, and labor unions are tied into German corporate governance in a much more profound way than they are at American firms even at heavily unionized industries. The system of “codetermination” means that employees are formally represented on German corporate boards. And it’s common for German firms to have what are known as “works councils”—representative vehicles through which rank-and-file employees are supposed to be able to exercise voice over what’s happening in the workplace.

But when German companies come to the United States, they typically don’t carry German-style labor relations with them. On the contrary, they’ve generally flocked to southern states where wages are lower and labor law makes union organizing extremely difficult.

But Volkswagen’s existing works councils have started giving the company a hard time about the fact that there’s no works council at its Chattanooga plant. All the other VW facilities around the world have one, so they think the Chattanooga plant should have one too.

The problem for Volkswagen is that under existing American labor law, firms aren’t allowed to set up a “company union” to represent workers. If they’re going to have a works council in Chattanooga it needs to be through a whole hog independent NLRB certified labor union. And apparently they’re negotiating with the United Auto Workers about the idea of letting UAW run an uncontested unionization campaign to do just that.

[T]he governor of Tennessee seems to be pressuring the company to take a harder line against the union. “We have heard from other folks that we’re recruiting,” he said “that that would dampen their enthusiasm with Tennessee.”

Unionization doesn’t just affect the car manufacturers but could ripple through the supply chain companies that are increasingly setting up shop in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina to serve new auto plants.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio affecting Georgia?

Grantville Police Chief Doug Jordan has been suspended for one week without pay after visiting Arizona to meet with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, often called “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” It’s not clear if the travel was on the city’s dime.

Several weeks, Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorsed former Congressman Bob Barr in his bid for the Eleventh Congressional District.

Another Perspective on Juvenile Justice Reform

A couple days ago, we noted that Gwinnett County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Rodatus criticized juvenile justice reform legislation passed this year by the General Assembly. Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) provides another perspective on the issue:

Building on the success of the criminal justice system reforms in 2012, Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly this year tackled a significant and positive reform of our state’s Juvenile Justice System that will save tax dollars and improve public safety.

Change is needed when a government program costs too much and still produces lousy results. Despite the exorbitant price of more than $91,000 annually to house a youth in a Youth Development Campus, nearly two-thirds of juveniles leaving these facilities reoffend within three years, even though many were nonviolent offenders and considered low risk when they entered. In other words, taxpayers are footing the bill to train better criminals.

In an op-ed last week, a Gwinnett County Juvenile Court judge wrongly asserted that the reforms will not improve public safety and that counties will have to bear the costs of implementation. On the contrary, the new law will better serve local communities. While the judge defends the status quo, the state will take a “smart on crime” approach.

Law enforcement, judges, lawyers and advocates all agree that finite county and state resources force us all to realize an important public safety lesson: We need to distinguish between offenders who scare us and those we are simply mad at. Unfortunately, our current system doesn’t consistently make this distinction. So, despite good intentions, we cycle thousands of lower-level offenders through a revolving door. This doesn’t safeguard our neighborhoods, and it’s a tremendous expense for county and state taxpayers.

We are already seeing the state put its money where its mouth is, even though savings have not been realized yet. Through the efforts of Gov. Deal and the General Assembly, $6 million in new funding were made available to counties through the Juvenile Justice Incentive Grant Program.

Michael Rothenberg guilty of fraud

The Fulton Daily Report writes that Michael Rothenberg, who ran three times for judicial office in DeKalb County, has pled guilty to federal wire fraud. From the Daily Report story:

Michael Rothenberg, 35, a former part-time judge in DeKalb County Recorders Court, said as part of his plea before U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones that he had devised a fraudulent investment scheme that duped a Colorado energy company’s executives of more than $1 million, then used $250,000 of the funds to finance his 2010 campaign for an open seat on the DeKalb County Superior Court.

After Colorado-based Winterhawk Energy and Development Co. sued Rothenberg during his 2010 judicial campaign, Rothenberg lost a runoff election to opponent Courtney Johnson.

Macon candidate untruthy about own campaign

In response to complaints by a resident of a voter who lives in another county, Macon-Bibb mayoral candidate Sam Hart either lied about robocalls by his campaign or he’s uninformed.

Judy Singleton’s received at least four calls from three different candidates in Bibb County. But there’s one problem: she lives and votes in Houston County.

Singleton said she’s had the same ‘478’ number for 38 years, so she was surprised when she picked up the phone and heard Macon-Bibb mayoral candidate Sam Hart’s voice.

When Hart heard about Singleton’s problem he was apologetic, but admits he can’t control what numbers the recorded ‘robocall’ dials.

“These are databases that we purchase from the Secretary of State’s office and we buy databases that consists of people who voted in the same election,” Hart said.

There are two untruths contained in that story. First, a candidate or their campaign absolutely can control which phone numbers are dialed. Second, while the voter list originates from the Secretary of State’s office, no phone numbers are included in that list: those are bought from a third-party vendor.

State House Red Tape Committee meets in Macon

A committee of the Georgia State House will hold its first Red Tape Watch Initiative meeting outside Atlanta on Tuesday, September 17th, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Mercer University in the President’s Dining Room. From their press release:

Regulatory challenges continue to be some of the leading issues that small businesses must contend with in their day to day operations as they seek to keep their doors open and grow,” said House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). “I hope Georgians will use this opportunity to appear before this committee and share with its members their experiences in dealing with the regulatory environment in this state.”

“The committee’s goal now is to get out of the state capitol and hear directly from people and small businesses about the regulations they are confronted with and determine whether any of those that are on the books today are outdated or unnecessary,” said Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), Chairman of the Small Business Development Committee.

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