Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 20, 2013

20
Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 20, 2013

Ron Swanson coming to Brookhaven?

The City of Brookhaven will soon announce the hiring of a Parks Director, having taken over administration of eleven parks within the city from DeKalb County. Here’s the best candidate:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1TdThwJEhw

This week, Brookhaven held a Food Truck night in Blackburn Park with about ten trucks, a band, and activities for kids.

Missed an election this week

The City of Thomaston, in Upson County, Georgia had an election on Tuesday for City Council. Donald M. Greathouse scored 92 votes to 48 votes for Tempy Hoyal.

Election Challenge for Speaker Ralston

Sam Snider of Gilmer County announced that he will run for the State House seat currently held by Speaker David Ralston. Snider is a high school wrestling coach and his recent voting history is Republican for primary elections. Note: for looking up individual voter history, I use Political Data Systems’ website, which has a free voter lookup. Bookmark that page, you’ll find it comes in handy.

Gilmer County will host a Special Election for District 1 County Commission on November 5th. Candidate who have announced so far include Dallas Miller and Gilmer GOP 1st Vice Chair Jerry Tuso. The Special Election will fill the remaining term of Commissioner Randy Bell, who died earlier this month.

Charlie Paris, a Republican and Tea Party activist, has announced he will run for Gilmer County Commission Chair in 2014. He is an anti-drone activist and legitimate fiscal conservative.

It’s not a ghost, it’s a zombie

It’s not a ghost if y’all liberals keep trotting it out as a comparison to the living, it’s a zombie. The national liberals can’t keep away from the Todd Akin analogy whenever a Georgia Republican makes a statement that can be understood, construed, twisted or manipulated into something that fits their agenda of calling Georgia Republicans a bunch of backward yokels who are about to lost a seat in the United States to an untested Democratic cipher.

Politico is trotting out the Todd Akin line again in writing about Congressmen Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey.

To his Republican critics, Rep. Paul Broun is 2014’s Todd Akin: a far-right candidate who may win a crowded GOP primary but will blow the party’s chances at holding a critical Senate seat.

But campaigning across Georgia, Broun is modeling himself as the next Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative firebrand and member of the Senate’s “hell no” caucus — and someone who will constantly give fits to GOP leaders if they even think about compromising.

And conservative voters here are eating it up.

“The establishment don’t want me to go to the U.S. Senate,” Broun told a breakfast gathering of conservative activists here in the northern Atlanta suburbs. “The reason for that is because when I go to the U.S. Senate, it will be Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Paul Broun. The establishment don’t want that.”

To avoid that prospect in Georgia, Republicans in Washington are weighing whether to dump big bucks into the primary to prevent Broun from winning if his candidacy picks up steam, according to several sources.

He’s up against other candidates who are trying to sell their conservative credentials.

“This is the time for a senator from Georgia who is not just someone who is mostly conservative but one that stands strongly on those principles of traditional Georgia values — and is not wavering,” Rep. Phil Gingrey, another conservative in the race, told a seniors group at a Japanese restaurant in the southern Atlanta suburb of McDonough.

Show me a Georgia Republican who thinks that even Paul Broun could fumble so badly that he would allow Michelle Nunn to win the seat.

For those keeping tabs on national groups that might get spendy in the 2014 Senate race, this is not great news: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee out-raised the National Republican Senatorial Committee in August. From Politico:

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its Republican counterparts again in August, $3.3 million to $1.86 million, according to figures released Thursday.

The DSCC finished the month with $9.4 million cash on hand and $8.7 million in debt.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee finished the month with $4.8 million in cash and $2.5 million in debt. Then, on Sept. 3, it paid back all of its debt — which an official said leaves it with $2.3 million cash on hand.

“We have a long way to go, but we are raising the resources we need to defend our incumbents, hold our open seats and play offense in Georgia and against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky,” said DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil.

Towery on Tea Party and Paulies

Matt Towery, CEO of InsiderAdvantage, has a national column published through Creators Syndicate and this week wrote a good column on the groups vying for greater influence within the Republican Party. It’s particularly interesting since Towery was around for the last great revolution in the party, when the Christian Coalition was the upstart group against a moderate establishment. I’ve made the column free for non-subscribers, so click here to read more.

The organized tea party movement is now so diffuse that, as a singular political force, they will cease to matter in most “red state” GOP primaries in 2014 and even less so in general elections.

Splintered into all types of subgroups, including one bizarre marriage that generally ultra-left groups call the “green tea party,” the wheel-intended wheels are coming off any concerted and organized effort to influence elections, as we saw take place in 2010. Oh, yes, many conservatives still support the old philosophy of less spending and less taxes espoused by the various tea-party-related entities in 2010 and 2012. But they have no centralized message and splinter groups such as “green tea” so confuse their natural base that their clout is waning as a force to be reckoned with.

But those leaders who are often named “RINOs,” “neocons,” or “Bushies,” regardless of whether any of the terms really fit, have plenty to fear in the next few years. They are just focusing their attention in the wrong direction.

What has not been widely reported by many in the media has been the growing noise that those who followed the philosophy and numerous presidential efforts of Ron Paul, and who have now progressed to son and Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, have managed to make at various Republican statewide conventions and meetings in the past year or so, throughout the nation.

Their emergence is more like that of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition, both of whom played a huge role in GOP politics during the 1980s and certainly the 1990s. Their rise to power, like that of the so-called “Paulites,” was more methodical in nature and took longer to mature than that of the tea party movement, which burst on the scene just a year or so before it literally helped change control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.

Unlike the tea party of recent years, the support for the “Paulites” is likely less prominent among voters. But their strength at the intra-party level is much stronger than that of the rudderless and leaderless tea party movement of 2013. And with the emergence of a more polished and less polarizing national leader, that of Sen. Paul, they may begin to pick up an increasing percentage of support among GOP primary voters, many of whom identified with the tea party philosophy of old.

 

Ethics and Ink

I have long complained about the misguided focus on ethics under the Gold Dome, while indictments and guilty pleas across the state show that conflicts of interest and self-dealing across the state are rampant.

From the Tea Party and Common Cause spending months to legislate lobbying reform to newspapers attention spans, it’s an epidemic of ignoring actual crimes and credible allegations to focus on the “sexier” story of lobbyists and legislators.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is like a dog with a bone, or in the case of my Hound dog, Dolly, a squeaky chicken. Long after her favorite toy has had its stuffing pulled out and its covering shredded, the AJC, like Dolly, can’t help but going back to its old standby, even when perfectly good, and new toys, with actual substance are waved in front of their snouts.

In 2011, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran an article by Jim Walls claiming that Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign had engaged in some shenanigans regarding the proper reporting of expenses involving the use of private aircraft. Two years ago, nearly to the day, I wrote a 2500-word response that parsed out the language of the law and applicable rules and showed that there was, in fact, no misreporting – the Deal campaign paid prevailing market rates and properly reported it — and even if there had been misreporting, the State Ethics Government Transparency and Finance Commission had no authority to set minimum or maximum rates on what a campaign can spend for anything it needs.

Ten months and hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to private lawyers later, the Deal campaign was vindicated when the State Ethics Government Transparency and Finance Commission found that, as I said, they had no authority to set rates payable for aircraft travel by a campaign.

At no point did the AJC Editorial Board admit that they misreported the facts or legal authority in their original article, even after the Commission specifically stated that they had no authority to regulate aircraft rates.

However, Richard Halicks, who now serves as Investigative and Watchdog Editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, came over the blog and tried to bully a blogger and repeated the misstatements of the law orginally made on the pages of the AJC.

Here’s part of what I wrote in response:

Halicks repeats the misstatement that pervaded the original article’s discussion of how the Deal campaign should have reported the costs associated with their use of noncommercial aircraft. In doing so, Halicks doubles down on wrong; rather than resurrecting the credibility of the AJC article at question, he compromises his own.

Halicks argues that I accused the AJC of trying to create an impression of wrongdoing by misstating the law. Perhaps I overstated their intent. He states specifically:

Mr. Rehm’s point of view asserts itself early in his piece. His second paragraph begins:

“In an attempt to create the impression of wrongdoing by Governor Deal’s campaign . . . .” This is Mr. Rehm’s opinion – a supposition that he cannot factually support. We did not attempt to create the impression of wrongdoing. We published the contents of proposed subpoenas that were to be served on the governor and some of his associates. We believed the story was newsworthy then, and we still do.

It’s more than my opinion, Mr. Halicks. It is an inescapable conclusion that Jim Walls misstated and the AJC printed an inaccurate account of what the Deal campaign should have reported with respect to its use of private aircraft. But you may have done so in the absence of malice.

As the investigative and watchdog editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Mr. Halicks continues to spread his misinformation, which has been proven wrong, logically by me, and by a unanimous vote of the Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

But the AJC won’t let that bone alone, even though it has no substance and it’s been shredded.

Ignoring allegations of local misdoings

The AJC Editor is apparently so blinded by his lust to criticize Governor Nathan Deal that they have no appetite left for covering issues of local allegations of corruption. As an issue of substance alleging ethical shortcomings, the investigation by the Johns Creek City Council of Mayor Mike Bodker has gone completely unremarked-upon by the AJC.

Last night, four members of the Johns Creek City Council took what is to my knowledge, an unprecedented step, and voted to issue subpoenas for private financial records from Mayor Mike Bodker. From WSB-TV:

The Johns Creek City Council is moving forward with an investigation into the mayor.
The council voted 4-1 Thursday night to issue subpoenas for the private cell phone and leasing records of Mayor Mike Bodker. Bodker is up for re-election in November.
Supporters of Bodker loudly booed after the vote, Channel 2’s Carl Willis reported.
The City Council hired outside counsel to investigate Bodker in June.
“This action follows several reprimands of Mayor Bodker about certain questionable actions he’s taken over the last several years,” Councilman Randall Johnson said in an email at the time.
Attorney Robert Wilson says he has not had cooperation from Bodker and has yet to receive records he asked for more than 40 days ago.

Bodker said he’s not turning over documents because he doesn’t know what is being investigated. He wants a clear link between his alleged violations as mayor and his personal life.
“I have nothing to hide, but at the end of the day what I do have is some element of privacy,” Bodker said.

Wilson remained cryptic during the hearing.

He did say that the mayor uses his personal cell phone for the city’s business and he needs to see incoming and outgoing calls to either support or discredit evidence that he’s found.

“If the proof is beneficial to the mayor and it clears him then that is great. If it is not beneficial to the mayor then so be it,” Wilson said.

The essence of the reason for requesting phone records seems to me to be analogous to what happened in Washington, when Obama Administration officials used private email accounts for government business, apparently in order to shield their actions from scrutiny.

The Obama administration is notorious for using personal e-mail accounts, and even fake alias accounts, to conduct official government business as a way to avoid Freedom of Information Act laws and congressional investigations.

This practice was used thousands of times by former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, DOJ Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer during Operation Fast and Furious and by recently confirmed Labor Secretary Tom Perez during his time as a DOJ Civil Rights Attorney to leak information about private businesses.

Now, we can add the IRS’ Lois Lerner to the list. As a reminder, Lerner is in charge of tax exempt organizations and has been put on paid administrative leave after admitting the IRS inappropriately targeted conservative groups. Today, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan sent a letter to Lerner asking for emails related to official government business in her personal or non-governmental e-mail account.

So what the Johns Creek City Council is doing has a precedent in Congressional oversight of Executive agencies.

And what does the Council and their attorney seek to learn about that might justify the investigation of the Mayor? The council has been tight-lipped about their justification.

Councilmembers have kept quiet about the investigation under legal advisement, but Councilman Randall Johnson did move to have one piece of previously confidential information made public.

Council hired Political Law Group to conduct a research paper comparing the city’s ethics ordinance, its charter and state law with regards to the disclosure confidential information from executive sessions.

Bodker and councilmembers voted unanimously to waive the attorney-client privilege in order to make the report, which dates back to April 21, public.

But last night we got a glimpse at what the allegations might involve, during attorney Bob Wilson’s presentation of the resolution seeking the issuance of subpoenas. From the Johns Creek Patch,

“There is reason to believe there is possible breaches (by the mayor) during executive session and conflicts of interests,” said Wilson.

“I’m searching for the truth,” he added. “The records must speak for themselves, but I need the records and I don’t need them next spring.”

The investigation which began in early summer has continued to drag on into early fall.

“It’s frustrating, this thing is dragging out because Mike Bodker is not cooperating,” said Council member Johnson. “Why is he not cooperating, what is he hiding?”

The City Council is requesting the following from the mayor.

1. All personal cell phone records itemized by phone number for the time period of January 2007 through the present. b/ lease and rental documentation related to his lease of properties located at Johns Creek Walk and Amberly Lakes (owned, leased or rented by Don Howell); and c) cancelled checks, bank statements or any other documents, which reflect the amount paid for rent and payment history at the above properties.

2. AT&T or other cellular telephone provider for the production of itemized cell phone bills for Mike Bodker’s personal cell phone from 2007 to the present.

3. Any owners, landlords, or management companies for the properties rented by Mayor Mike Bodker as described in item number one, above for the production of any and all leases or rental agreements with Mike Bodker and any documents evidencing the amount paid for rent and the payment history under those leases or rental agreements.

Wilson said the first formal request for the records was made Aug. 9 through the mayor’s attorney but as of Sept. 19, the records have not been produced.

It is not clear whether Wilson, when he referenced “conflicts of interest” was speaking of the term in its full legal meaning, or in layperson’s terms. Here’s what the Georgia Code says about conflicts of interest in §45-10-90 as it applies to members of the General Assembly:

(4) “Conflict of interest” means an individual has multiple interests and uses his or her official position to exploit, in some way, his or her position for his or her own direct, unique, pecuniary, and personal benefit.

But that definition does not apply to local elected officials. The next place to look is at the Georgia Municipal Association’s Ethics Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers, which notes several statutory prohibitions on conflicts-of-interest, which include both civil and criminal statutes.

[Disclaimer: I have clients on the Johns Creek City Council.]

Comments ( 5 )
  • rrlcc1 says:

    Gov Deal is in my opinion the best Governor Ga has had in recent memory. He has gotten prima donnas moved out of the legislature who were acting in their own interest & not in the best interest of the state. He’s brought business & jobs to Ga, while dealing with severe state budget issues. All that being said, he and his people aren’t above the law and there is a preception of impropriety by his Executive staff based on outstanding lawsuits. The AG has the ability to appoint an independent attorney to investigate and resolve these allegations.

  • Neil says:

    I’m slightly left of center, so y’all will have to excuse my poor reading comprehension . . . But did you just rely on the decision by the Ethics Commission in the Deal case as authority for your position? Of course, you understand that the Commissioners rely on evidence provided by the Director of the Commission for their findings. And you of course know that the Director has, under oath, admitted to being recruited by the Governor’s office after the Governor’s office was aware of the investigation. I am glad that works for you.

    If a mob boss who hand picked the prosecutor was acquitted by a jury, I guess that would be proof of his innocence for you?

    I do understand that this is an old bone, but I see you cover a lot of ground on your blog here. I was hoping to find a conservative perspective on the new FACTUAL findings (which were curiously absent from the I.G.’s report last year) regarding the Ethics Director, but I guess that did not make your radar.

  • Neil says:

    I meant “just” as in “recent” not “exclusively”. Poor word choice.