Tag: Josh McKoon

21
Aug

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 21, 2012 — Primary Runoff Election Day

Timothy is the tan-colored puppy above (the black one is adopted), he is two months old and has spent a month in the Cobb County Animal Shelter, where he lives in cage 332. If you adopt him, he will be vaccinated, chipped, and neutered.

Suri and Kimmi, the black puppies, are his sisters, and are still available from the Cobb County Animal Shelter (the tan girl has been adopted). They are right next door to Timothy in Cage 331 in the puppy are. Adoption also includes vaccinations, micro-chipping, and spaying.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Today is Primary Runoff Election Day and includes runoffs in nonpartisan elections, such as most judges. You may vote today, even if you didn’t vote in the Primary, although if you voted in a partisan primary in July, you may not vote in the other party’s runoff. Polls are open from 7 AM to 7 PM. You will need to bring your photo ID and the Secretary of State’s office has information on which forms of ID are acceptable. If you do not have your ID when you arrive to vote, you may still cast a provisional ballot, as you may do in case of certain other problems. If you cast a provisional ballot, you will have three days to produce proper ID to election officials to have your ballot counted.

When you vote today, I’d be interested in hearing how it went. Relevant information includes your county and precinct, what time you voted, how crowded it was, your voter number (ask the poll workers), and any impressions you or the poll workers have about the pace of voting. Visit the website and put it in the comments or email me.

Last week, Karl Rove updated his electoral map, moving Georgia from “safe Romney” to “leans Romney” but that may reflect a dearth of publicly-released polling in the state, rather than an actual change in the electorate.

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals let stand the “show your papers” provision of Georgia’s House Bill 87, an immigration reform bill.

The decision upholds an injunction against Section 7 of the law, which made it illegal to transport or harbor an illegal alien in Georgia. But it reverses an injunction against Section 8 of the law, which authorizes law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects who cannot provide particular documents to prove their status.

The opinion of the panel is available here. The next step is a decision by the litigants whether to appeal to have the case heard by the entire Eleventh Circuit.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said, via press release,

“I am pleased that the the 11th Circuit has reversed the lower court’s injunction and allowed Section 8 of HB 87 to stand. While I disagree with the Court’s decision on Section 7, after over a year of litigation, only one of the 23 sections of HB 87 has been invalidated. We are currently reviewing the 11th Circuit’s ruling to determine whether further appeal would be appropriate at this stage of the case.”

Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) is a member of the Senate Ethics Committee and a leader in the movement to adopt limitations on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. He released yesterday his Minority Report in which he dissents from the negotiated settlement of ethics charges against Senator Don Balfour.

The Minority agreed that Respondent had violated Senate Rules by failing to maintain accurate records and submitting false expense reports; however, dissented from the negotiated sanction.

It is clear to the Minority that both the Christian and Dooley complaint meet the jurisdictional threshold of Title 45 and should have been handled under Title 45. Both complaints alleged that the Respondent used his position as State Senator to file false expense reports which provided for a direct, unique, pecuniary and personal benefit, namely the monies wrongfully disbursed to Respondent. The amended Dooley complaint went a step further, alleging that by failing to authorize the Audit Subcommittee as required by O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 that the Respondent was able to insure that the false expense reports would never be reviewed.

Instead of proceeding under Title 45 with the complaints presented which would have necessitated a public hearing of these matters, the Committee chose to proceed under the other route available which did not require a public hearing. The opinion of the Minority is that this decision was made in error and that the public, including the complainants, were entitled to be present for the proceedings held by the Committee.

In addition to the charges of filing false expense reports in this case, the Respondent also admitted to violation of O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 which provides for the Audit Subcommittee to review the expense reports of all Senators.

In the view of the Minority, this compounds the other offense as by the Respondent’s failure to appoint the Audit Subcommittee he removed the safeguard against false filings, not just in his case but in the case of any Senator that might have done so over the last decade he has been charged with the responsibility of chairing the Senate Rules Committee.

[I]t is the opinion of the Minority that a recommendation should issue for a Censure Resolution to be introduced with a do pass recommendation regarding the conduct of the Respondent, that the Committee recommend to the Committee on Assignments that Respondent be removed as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and that a fine equivalent to the cost of the proceedings of the Senate Ethics Committee be imposed on Respondent.

The Minority is of the opinion that to fully conclude this matter, that an appropriate authority should investigate these matters and determine finally if any violation of these statutes has taken place. The Minority will transmit this report to the Attorney General with its recommendation that his office conduct such an investigation.

I apologize for such a long pull quote, but here’s the tl;dr version:

1. McKoon believes that a public process was authorized and appropriate here and that the Ethics Committee erred in proceeding in the manner it did;

2. The failure by Balfour to appoint an audit subcommittee kept improper expenditures from being detected;

3. The negotiated penalty was inadequate and Senator Balfour should be Censured by the Senate as a body;

4. The case should be referred for consideration of possible criminal sanctions.

Also failing to do their job is the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

Runoff candidates are required to file a campaign contributions disclosure six days before the runoff so that voters know where their funding comes from. The Commission’s website, while accepting such filings from candidates does not appear to be displaying them when they are searched for. Nor does it appear to be properly displaying two-business day reports in some cases. This is unacceptable.

Georgia’s current campaign finance regime is premised on timely disclosure, and the biggest impediment to voters learning how campaigns are financed in a timely manner is the Commission charged with collecting and distributing disclosures.

Ultimately, I believe that this reflects in part a misconception about what the Campaign Finance Commission is. It is no longer primarily an enforcement agency. Its statutory charges makes it primarily an IT agency charged with maintaining a campaign and lobbyist disclosure database. It should be putting most of its resources into IT infrastructure and services, and its most-highly paid staffer should be a database administrator. Its continuing failure to do its job negatively affects public confidence in the Commission and in our elected officials.

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In Cobb County, the runoff election for Commission Chairman between incumbent Tim Lee and former Chair Bill Byrne may be a battle between old Cobb and new, if the Marietta Daily Journal is correct.

“In some ways it’s a battle of old Cobb versus new Cobb,” said Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint, who specializes in campaigns and elections.

It’s also a battle between old-style campaign tactics and new.

“I know Bill Byrne has friends in Cobb County, and I think he’s depending on people he and his wife know getting out the troops, and where Tim Lee is concerned, I think it’s a matter of using his financial edge to make phone calls, beat the bushes and get his voters to come back out for him again,” [said Swint].

In Gwinnett County, Sheriff Butch Conway has endorsed Tommy Hunter, who is challenging incumbent Mike Beaudreau for Commission District 3 in the GOP runoff.

Conway, who is unopposed for his fifth term, has been involved in county commission races before. He campaigned for challenger Lorraine Green, when the commissioner mounted an unsuccessful challenge to then-Chairman Charles Bannister in 2008.

Conway might be the most popular politician in Gwinnett County, but his endorsement may not be very valuable after today. The Conway-endorsed candidate for one of the open judicial seats will be defeated soundly. Will a Beaudreau win make it 0 for 3?

Republican delegates to the Republican National Convention will be given free copies of  Georgia Tech grad Mark Rogers’s self-published fiction book, “Smeared.”

“SMEARED” is a political fiction story about a man from the days of America’s founding fathers who suddenly appears in modern-day America. The self-published political novel answers the question of what a man from early American history would think, say and do when confronted by today’s politicians and shows the fallout of their interactions.

The Savannah Morning News writes about QR codes linking smartphones to campaign videos. Pure BS. Nobody uses QR codes except marketing firms with gullible clients, and then the real use of the QR codes is to extract money from the client for useless gewgaws. If some marketing expert tries to get you to spend money on QR codes, escort them out immediately.

In 2008, said a recent article in Campaigns and Elections magazine, just 10 percent of the population had a smartphone.

Now, it added, more than half do, and a third of them use their phones to scan such codes to access advertising.

“We’re going to see a lot more of them in politics,” said marketing specialist Rick Monroe, who is helping DeLoach.

Monroe said his candidate’s application is an improvement over Gaster’s.

Gaster’s codes were on his campaign signs, and unless you were within 3 feet, you couldn’t scan them with your smartphone, Monroe said.

In contrast, DeLoach’s mailer went directly to the addressees.

I’m open to hearing differently about my skepticism about QR codes, but unless you have analytics, don’t bother.

Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal reminds you that “Stop means stop” when it comes to school buses with their stop signs and lights deployed.

Georgia’s First Lady came to Dougherty County Monday to discuss the importance of the “Stop Means Stop” program. She’s teaming up with several state groups to keep children safe.

Thousands of drivers in Georgia illegally pass school buses every day. In fact, a statewide survey showed bus drivers saw more than 4,000 violators in one day.

“We had had several children killed and more in the last two years and probably three years. We’re afraid that we may get the record for it again, to have the most children killed in school bus accidents,” said Mrs. Deal.

Now the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and the Department of Education are teaming up to educate drivers with the help from Georgia’s first lady, Sandra Deal.

“When you see a stop arm on a school bus, unless you’re on a highway with a divided median, you have to stop in either direction. That’s the law. It will cost you about $1,000 fine and up to six points on your driver’s license,” said Harris Blackwood, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

Listen to Mrs. Deal and pay attention on the roads, please.

Grayson voters will vote in November on whether to allow Sunday sales of packaged beer, wine and liquor. In a particular brand of goofiness, the city, which already allows beer and wine sales, will vote on adding liquor, but if adding Sunday sales of liquor fails, it will also end beer and wine sales on the Sabbath.

20
Aug

The loneliness of being right – Senator Josh McKoon’s Minority Report

Here it is in .pdf format.

As close as I can do quickly, here’s the text of Senator McKoon’s Minority Report, which dissents from the negotiated settlement between Senator Don Balfour and the Georgia Senate Committee on Ethics. All mistakes are mine, I’m certain:

IN THE MATTER OF THE GEORGIA SENATE ETHICS COMMITTEE COMPLAINT AGAINST SENATOR DON K. BALFOUR

REPORT OF THE MINORITY

Pursuant to Senate Rule 2-1.6(a), this report succinctly sets forth the reasons for the dissent of the Minority to the Report of the Senate Ethics Committee filed with the Secretary of the Senate regarding this matter on August 16, 2012.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 2, 2012, Stephen Michael Christian (hereinafter “Christian”) filed a complaint against Senator Don K. Balfour (hereinafter “Respondent”) pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 45-10-91 alleging violations of Georgia law relating to improper per diem and mileage expense requests.

Following the report of a subcommittee on May 2, 2012 to the full Senate Ethics Committee, a majority of the committee determined that it could not exercise jurisdiction under Title 45 of the Official Code of Georgia, Annotated. The minority dissented from that vote and for reasons that will be set forth in detail below agreed with Christian that. jurisdiction did lie under Title 45.

A subcommittee was then appointed which reviewed information relevant to the Christian complaint and determine whether Respondent had violated Senate Rules. The subcommittee gave its report to the full Senate Ethics Committee on June 1,2012 and on that same date the full Committee voted unanimously to initiate an Ethics Complaint against the Respondent which alleged that he had filed false expense reports. He was served with the complaint that day.

On May 17, 2012 Deborah Dooley (hereinafter “Dooley”) filed a complaint against Respondent pursuant to O.C.G.A. Section 45-10-91 alleging improper per diem and mileage expense requests, and later amended the complaint to also allege that Respondent had failed to establish an Audit Subcommittee of the Senate Rules Committee, of which Respondent has served as Chairman for approximately the last ten (10) years. The same subcommittee which had reviewed the Christian complaint was charged with reviewing the Dooley complaint so as to report to the full committee on how to proceed with respect to this new complaint.

On July 12,2012 the subcommittee issued its report on the Dooley complaint to the full Senate Ethics Committee. Following the report, a majority of the committee determined it could not exercise jurisdiction under Title 45 of the Official Code of Georgia, Annotated. The minority dissented from that vote and for reasons that will he set forth in detail below agreed with Dooley that jurisdiction did lie under Title 45.

The full committee voted unanimously to amend the existing complaint that had been initiated against Respondent to include the allegation regarding the failure of Respondent to comply with O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 requiring the Senate Rules Committee to establish an Audit Subcommittee to review expense reports filed by members of the Senate

On August 16, 2012 the Committee discussed and reviewed the evidence. The Respondent and his legal counsel were present and offered unsworn testimony regarding the allegations. Following this colloquy, the Senate Ethics Committee concluded that Senator Balfour failed to maintain accurate records of his travel and consequently submitted inaccurate vouchers to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

The Committee then voted to issue its report and, following negotiation with Respondent and his attorney, agreed to the sanctions, a $5,000.00 fine, restitution of $366.96 and that an audit subcommittee be established and perform as required by O.C.G.A. 28-1-8(e).

The Minority agreed that Respondent had violated Senate Rules by failing to maintain accurate records and submitting false expense reports; however, dissented from the negotiated sanction.

RATIONALE FOR AREAS OF DISSENT

Jurisdiction

There are two bases under which the Senate Ethics Committee may exercise jurisdiction over an ethics complaint. The first is when a citizen files a complaint which meets the requirements of O.C.G.A. 45-10-90 el sou. The second is when the Committee on its own authority or other authorized party under Senate Rule 14.10 initiates a complaint. As noted above, the Senate Ethics Committee chose to dismiss both the Christian and Dooley complaints due to lack of jurisdiction under Title 45.

Since neither Christian nor Dooley qualified as authorized persons under Senate Rule 1-4.10 the only way to further investigate whether the claims made were meritorious was for the Committee lo initiate its own complaint, which it did.

O.C.G.A. 45-10-91 provides that any citizen may file a complaint charging a member with “improper conduct”. The definition of “improper conduct” embraces conduct where “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.” O.C.G.A. 45-10-90(4).

It is clear to the Minority that both the Christian and Dooley complaint meet the jurisdictional threshold of Title 45 and should have been handled under Title 45. Both complaints alleged that the Respondent used his position as State Senator to file false expense reports which provided for a direct, unique, pecuniary and personal benefit, namely the monies wrongfully disbursed to Respondent. The amended Dooley complaint went a step further, alleging that by failing to authorize the Audit Subcommittee as required by O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 that the Respondent was able to insure that the false expense reports would never be reviewed. In this case, O.C.G.A. 45-10-92(b) governs how proceedings are to be conducted:

The committee shall conduct a preliminary investigation of the merits of such complaint. If a complaint alleges a violation by one of the members of the committee, such member shall recuse himself or herself. If there are found no reasonable grounds to believe that improper conduct or sexual harassment has occurred, the complaint shall be dismissed, subject to being reopened upon discovery of additional evidence or relevant material. The committee shall not be required to conduct: a hearing if there are no reasonable grounds  to believe that improper conduct or sexual harassment has occurred. If the committee determines that there are such reasonable grounds to believe that improper conduct or sexual harassment has occurred, it shall give notice by hearing. The rules of the committee shall be invoked if a hearing occurs. The committee may report suspected violations of law to the appropriate law enforcement authority.

Instead of proceeding under Title 45 with the complaints presented which would have necessitated a public hearing of these matters, the Committee chose to proceed under the other route available which did not require a public hearing. The opinion of the Minority is that this decision was made in error and that the public, including the complainants, were entitled to be present for the proceedings held by the Committee.

Sanctions

Without getting into the question of intent on the part of the Respondent, the facts are that false reports were filed with the Legislative Fiscal Office by Respondent and that Respondent received monies he was not entitled to under the law. The Committee decided it was sufficient to fine the Respondent, ask for further restitution to be paid and that the Audit Subcommittee be appointed and begin meeting.

The Minority reviewed the case of State Senator Roscoe Dean, who was censured by the State Senate in 1976 for similar offenses, namely filing false expense reports, including claiming trips from his home in Jesup, Georgia to Atlanta on dates when in fact he was registered at a hotel in the Bahamas. Senator Dean was prosecuted on theft charges, and while those charges ended in a mistrial he was still censured by the Georgia State Senate on February 5, 1976.

In addition to the charges of filing false expense reports in this case, the Respondent also admitted to violation of O.C.G.A. 28-1-8 which provides for the Audit Subcommittee to review the expense reports of all Senators.

In the view of the Minority, this compounds the other offense as by the Respondent’s failure to appoint the Audit Subcommittee he removed the safeguard against false filings, not just in his case but in the case of any Senator that might have done so over the last decade he has been charged with the responsibility of chairing the Senate Rules Committee.

It is for these reasons therefore that it is the opinion of the Minority that a recommendation should issue for a Censure Resolution to be introduced with a do pass recommendation regarding the conduct of the Respondent, that the Committee recommend to the Committee on Assignments that Respondent be removed as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and that a fine equivalent to the cost of the proceedings of the Senate Ethics Committee be imposed on Respondent.

FURTHER CORRECTIVE ACTION RECOMMENDED

Referral for Investigation

The amended Dooley complaint lodged several allegations which were, without question, beyond the scope of the Committee’s jurisdiction. These allegations included that Respondent’s conduct constitutes a violation of his oath of office and is punishable under O.C.G.A. 16-10-1; that Respondent’s conduct constitutes false swearing and is punishable under O.C.G.A. 16-10-71 and that respondent’s conduct constitutes theft by deception and is punishable under O.C.G.A. 16-8-3.

The Minority is of the opinion that to fully conclude this matter, that an appropriate authority should investigate these matters and determine finally if any violation of these statutes has taken place. The Minority will transmit this report to the Attorney General with its recommendation that his office conduct such an investigation.

Changes to Senate Rules

It is the opinion of the Minority that Senate Rules should be changed so that regardless of the channel an ethics complaint travels that, upon a showing of probable cause, that subsequent proceedings be open to the public. The taxpayers have a right to know about these proceedings and going forward the Senate should ensure its rules allow for proceedings of the nature that occurred on August 16, 2012 to be made public.

RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED, this 20th day of August, 2012.

Senator Joshua R. McKoon

17
Aug

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 17, 2012

This young female English Setter mix might be a great bird dog. She might also be a couch potato. Either way, she’s available for adoption today from Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. Her ID is 26571 and she is located in pen 139.

This puppy is described as a baby lab, but I’ve never seen a lab with markings like those. She is a large, playful and friendly puppy with ID #26454 and is in pen 214, waiting at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter for her new home and family.

I’d already compiled this morning’s featured dogs when I saw this photo and couldn’t resist. She is a young Siberian Husky available for adoption today from Gwinnett County Animal Shelter. Large and friendly, she was surrendered by her owner and does not like cats.

GPB has the first of a three-part series of advice and stories about adopting dogs.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former State Rep. Johnny Floyd of Cordele, who switched parties to become a Republican in 2006, has been elected Chairman of the Georgia Department of Transportation Board. Former State Rep. Jay Shaw was elected Vice Chair.

State Senator Don Balfour settled a complaint by the Senate Ethics Committee alleging the Rules Committee Chairman submitted inaccurate reimbursement claims.

The committee concluded that “Sen. Balfour failed to maintain accurate records of his travel and consequently submitted inaccurate vouchers to the Legislative Fiscal Office,” according to its report, which was released late Thursday afternoon.

Veteran lawmakers said it was the first time the Senate Ethics Committee voted to punish one of the chamber’s members.

Balfour, chairman of the Rules Committee, 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.

On Thursday, Balfour acknowledged making “some inadvertent mistakes and I’ve said that all along” and admitted he had not created an audit subcommittee — but neither had previous chairmen. He did not speak to reporters after the report was released.

Balfour has subsequently amended his reimbursements and will repay $350 to the state plus a $5000 fine. His chairmanship presumably will be subject to the Committee on Assignments.

Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) was not amused.

“While I strongly agree with the Committee’s determination of guilt, I disagree with the penalty, which will not deter future serious breaches of Georgia law and is not as strong as penalties imposed when similar offenses have been committed in the past.”

“I will be preparing a minority report in the days to come which I will forward on to appropriate parties for consideration which will address these matters in much greater detail. Suffice it to say that the action taken today, in my opinion, further undermines public confidence in state government and reinforces the anything goes culture at the Capitol.”

Also not amused? Debbie Dooley, who I would argue is the most influential woman in Georgia politics at the moment.

Dooley called the penalties “a slap on the wrist” agreed to in a “backroom deal.”

“The attitude of the voters and the grass roots is that the Senate chamber is a good old boy network that actually takes care of their own and covers for their own,” she said.

The committee, Dooley said, is “rubber-stamping unethical behavior from Sen. Balfour.”

Dooley vowed to press Attorney General Sam Olens and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to investigate Balfour’s actions.

She said her organization also will pressure Senate leaders to strip Balfour of his committee chairmanship. The Rules Committee decides which bills make it to the Senate floor, and as chairman, Balfour has great power to influence those decisions.

Richmond County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Scott Peebles and County School System Public Safety Lt. Richard Roundtree will meet in the runoff for Sheriff on Tuesday.

Manure has become the metaphor of choice in the 12th Congressional District Republican Primary Runoff between State Rep. Lee Anderson and Rick Allen. Lee Anderson hit the air with an ad accusing Rick Allen of bringing out the manure spreader and visuals of Rick Allen getting what is presumably manure flung on his face.

Now, the Augusta Chronicle suggests that Anderson is mailing out the manure himself.

Mud – or in Grovetown state Rep. Lee Anderson’s case – manure – continues to fly in the 12th Congressional District race as Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff between Anderson and Augusta businessman Rick W. Allen grows closer.

A mailer from Lee Anderson for Congress goes too far in accusing Allen of contributing money to incumbent Democrat John Barrow, said Allen’s campaign manager, Scott Paradise.

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Paradise said. “This piece is a last-minute piece, and maybe they thought ‘let’s send it out and hope we don’t get caught.’ But they slipped up.”

I’ve got to wonder what the robocalls sound like in that campaign.

Also going negative in the runoff are State Senator Miriam Paris and her opponent David Lucas.

During a news conference Thursday, Lucas addressed a controversial campaign mailer that featured an unflattering picture of the former state representative who appears to be yawning. The mailer goes onto to say:

“We don’t need a sleeping senator. David Lucas falls asleep on the job. And when he wakes up, he’s a nightmare. David Lucas slept while thousands of jobs left Middle Georgia.”

Now Lucas is firing back. He’s says if anyone has been sleeping on the job it is Paris.

“The senator elect was asleep on the job when they did the consolidation bill that she could not explain,” Lucas said.

The ad was paid for by Georgia Forward, a group that describes itself as independent and non-partisan. Lucas believes that ad was paid for by republicans. He feels that negative campaigning is taking over the race but says he’s not the one behind it.

Both candidates deny negative campaigning.

Murray County Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran has resigned under investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission for pre-signing blank arrest warrants for police officers.

The commission posted on Thursday Cochran’s resignation letter, a letter from Gov. Nathan Deal accepting his resignation and a copy of a consent order signed by Cochran agreeing to resign and to not seek any other elected or appointed judicial office.

A report accompanying those documents, also signed by Cochran, says the commission was investigating whether Cochran “allowed the prestige of his office to advance his private interests” and whether he “pre-signed blank arrest warrants for completion by law enforcement officers while he was absent from the office.”

Cochran was also recently accused of making advances toward a woman before him on methamphetamine charges.

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A political consulting firm called “Pirouette Companies” continues to cause controversy in the now-settled Fulton County election for State Court Judge.

An ethics complaint filed against Fulton Magistrate Judge Melynee Leftridge in the days before the July 31 primary will be investigated by the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission to determine if any laws were violated.

The complaint was filed by Charlie Stadtlander, a gay voter. Leftridge faced off against open lesbian Jane Morrison in the non-partisan campaign for the open seat of Fulton State Judge. Morrison won with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Statdlander accused Leftridge in his complaint of an “apparent elaborate scheme to funnel some $18,500 to a company responsible for maintaining a websitewww.pirouettesexy.com” that features “pictures of scantly clad women.”

But here’s where the Pirouette Companies saga turns into more than just a remnant from a campaign that’s now finished:

Mitzi Bickers, a longtime political operative, said she consults for Piroutte Companies and started working for the company earlier this year.

The company has a youth program that includes teaching dance to young people, but the money Leftridge paid was to Piroutte Companies and not to a dance company, Bickers said.

“We have not done anything unethical,” she said.

Bickers, who is gay, took an unpaid leave of absence from working for Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration in May to work for Pirouette. Records show that Pirouette was paid more than $115,000 by Citizens for Transportation Mobility, which supported TSPLOST. Reed was a strong outspoken supporter of TSPLOST.

“I took an unpaid leave of absence so there would not be any conflict of interest with TSPLOST,” Bickers said.

Ends & Pieces

Atlantan Cassie Mitchell is headed to London to compete in the Paralympics in three wheelchair sports, the 100m and 200m sprint and the discus. I met Cassie when I volunteered at Shepherd Spinal Center with the Quad Rugby Program. She’s an amazing athlete and holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Georgia Tech, where she works.

Three members of the US Army marksmanship team who competed in the London Olympics have returned to Fort Benning where they are teaching junior rifle camp.

The Marksmanship Unit sent seven soldiers to the competition at the Royal Artillery Barracks, but Sgt. Vincent Hancock was the only one to strike gold in men’s skeet shooting. He’s on leave preparing for a big welcome home Saturday in Eatonton, Ga.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson, the first active-duty soldier to ever qualify for a Paralympics, is the only member of the Marksmanship Unit left to compete in London. Olson, who lost his right leg after he was wounded in Iraq in 2003, will compete in the 10-meter air rifle Sept. 1 and the mixed 50-meter prone rifle Sept. 4.

As an instructor, [Sgt. 1st Class Eric] Uptagrafft said he’s teaching the 15-17-year-old shooters the basic fundamentals of firing a small bore .22-caliber rifle at a target less than the size of a dime 50 meters away.

“All the things you use to get to the Olympics are the things these kids are going to use hopefully to get there in eight or nine years,” he said.

Students had to apply to earn a spot at the five-day camp. Michael Garner, 16, of Celina, Texas, said it’s exciting to get help from world-class shooters and Olympians.

2
Aug

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 2, 2012

Lilly and Libby are 5-month old mixed breed puppies who are available for adoption from the Cobb County Animal Shelter. They weigh about 16 pounds and are up-to-date on their shots and will be spayed, chipped, and tested for heartworms before they are adopted. They are in cage 315 in the puppy room and their ID numbers are 546760 (Lilly) and 546761 (Libby).

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan  Deal announced that he will work on prioritizing transportation projects in the wake of the defeat of T-SPLOST in all but three regions of the state:

“The voters of Georgia have spoken, and I will continue to do what I have done since I became governor: Work in consultation with state transportation leaders, legislators and local officials to establish our priority projects.

There will be belt-tightening. It’s certainly disappointing that we won’t have the resources to accomplish all the projects needed to get Georgians moving quicker, but it does force state officials, including myself, to focus all our attention on our most pressing needs.

For example, TSPLOST contained $600 million to rebuild the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange. We will face significant challenges in that corridor if that doesn’t get fixed, particularly after the tolls come down and volume increases. We’ll have a ‘need to do’ Transportation Improvement Program list, but not a ‘want to do’ list. In addition to tight state budgets, we’re also facing a significant reduction in federal funds so tough choices await.

On public transportation, yesterday’s vote slams the door on further expansion of our rail network any time soon. Neither I nor the Legislature has much of an appetite for new investments until there are significant reforms in how MARTA operates.

The referendum passed in three regions, and I think those regions will see great returns on their investment. Under the law, these regions will also receive a 90 percent match for local transportation projects, meaning they will only have to put up 10 percent from local funds. The law requires a 70-30 split in the regions that didn’t pass it.

As governor, I aim to make Georgia the No. 1 place in the nation to do business and improving our transportation infrastructure is a major part of that effort. Yesterday’s vote wasn’t an end of the discussion; it’s a transition point. We have much to do, and I’ll work with state and local officials to direct our limited resources to the most important projects.”

This is a positive development. Gov. Deal has shown a great facility for working with legislators and listening to and incorporating the ideas of people not named Nathan Deal. This is not a quality always found in Governors.

In the Ninth Congressional District, third-place finisher Roger Fitzpatrick said he will not endorse either Doug Collins or Martha Zoller.

Hall County Commissioner Ashley D. Bell, well-known for switching to the Republican Party, was defeated by Jeff Stowe in the Republican Primary.

Incumbent Hall County Chairman Tom Oliver came in second to Dick Mecum and is headed to a runoff..

Mecum, the former Hall County sheriff, earned 46 percent of the vote, while Oliver, the two-term incumbent, took in 34 percent.

Former North Hall Commissioner Steve Gailey earned enough votes to force the runoff.

Mecum finished just a few percentage points shy of winning the race outright.

Judicial, District Attorney, and Sheriff elections

We noted yesterday that Kathy Schrader took first place in the race for Gwinnett County Superior Court, receiving more than twice as many votes as the runner-up. Emily Brantley and Pam Britt go another round in the runoff election for Gwinnett State Court.

Superior Court Judge Art Smith, who was supported by Sen. Josh McKoon among others, combined a 150 vote margin in Muscogee County, his circuit’s most populous, with nearly 70% in Harris and took every other county except Talbot County in earning re-election to the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.

Smith was the only one of five judges in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit who had opposition. He will serve a four-year term, as will the four judges who ran unopposed — John Allen, Gil McBride, Bobby Peters and Bill Rumer.

Smith was appointed to the bench in 2011 by Gov. Nathan Deal. He was appointed to complete the unfinished term for former Judge Doug Pullen, who stepped down last year amid a judicial misconduct investigation.

In DeKalb County, Judge Gail Flake was re-elected over Michael Rothenberg, who has been indicted for felony theft; apparently 28% of DeKalb County voters thought a (alleged) felon is better than a Flake. State Court Judge Dax Lopez also earned reelection.

In Fulton County, Judge Todd Markle won reelection with 54 percent over Clarence Johnson.

Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson appeared to hold a slim margin with 50.01 percent, to avoid a runoff. We’ll see if that holds.

Jackson won 34,648 votes, while Lankford received 22,483.

The Fulton County Board of Elections plans to have all the ballots counted and certified by Saturday, according to a spokeswoman.

“We’ve still got some absentee ballots and two more precincts,” Jackson said Wednesday morning. “We figure we’re about 50 percent plus 10 votes away from a runoff. I kept telling everybody, ‘every vote counts in this election.’”

Jackson said he was surprised by his narrow win — if it survives — particularly given that his top opponent only avoided being retried on criminal charges of extortion and income tax evasion by agreeing to never seek a law enforcement job again.

Jane Morrison won the election for Fulton State Court, beating Melynee Leftridge by 61-39.

In Cobb County, Judge Reuben Green was re-elected to the Superior Court and Greg Poole won 51% in the race for an open seat in Superior Court.

Poole, who has been a juvenile court judge for nine years, has regularly filled in on Cobb’s superior court bench.

“I’ve been doing this for one week a month for nine and a half years,” Poole said. “I’m going to continue to do it that way. … There won’t be any change in basic policy. I want to be efficient. I want to move cases efficiently.”

Rebecca Keaton and John Skelton advance to a runoff for Cobb County Superior Court on August 21st.

Keaton, who earned her law degree at John Marshall, said: “We’ll run hard and do what we need to do to win the campaign.”

She is a wife and mother of three who lives in Kennesaw and said she wants to serve the people by using her skills to provide great customer service. She plans to implement one computer operating system and an “e-filing” system similar to the other candidates.

Skelton, who ran at the behest of incumbent Stephenson, said late Tuesday: “The best person for the job will get it.” He added that he hopes his opponent will keep the run off clean.

Skelton earned his law degree at the University of Georgia. He and his wife have two children.

Marsha Lake (39%) and Larry Burke (26%) earned slots in the runoff for State Court Judge.

Three incumbents District Attorneys were defeated in primary elections Tuesday.

Cathy Helms in the Alapaha Circuit in South Georgia, Robert Lavender in the state’s Northern Circuit which includes Hartwell and Elberton, and Robert Brooks of the Tallapoosa Circuit, which includes Bremen and Cedar­town, lost their re-election bids.

Lavender lost to Parks White, a Richmond County assistant district attorney and Iraqi war veteran who, as a lieutenant in the Navy Judge Advocate General Corps, worked with Iraqis to prosecute insurgents.

A child molestation case also figured in the Alapaha Circuit race and may have played a role in incumbent DA Cathy Helms’ defeat by Dick Perryman in the Republican primary. Perryman beat Helms by 202 votes, winning 51.16 percent to Helms’ 48.84 percent. There were no Democratic candidates.

A child molestation case also played a role in Tallapoosa Circuit chief assistant public defender Jack Browning’s campaign — and subsequent defeat — of one-term DA Robert Brooks. Browning formerly practiced law at Murphy, Murphy & Garner — the former firm of U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy of the Northern District of Georgia. The Tallapoosa Circuit includes Haralson and Polk counties.

On his campaign website, Browning highlighted the dismissal of some charges in a child molestation case and a plea deal with minimal jail time.

So we now know a winning formula for defeating an incumbent District Attorney. File that away for later.

Appalachian Circuit incumbent Joe Hendricks came in second and will face a runoff against Blue Ridge attorney B. Alison Sosebee, who received the support of third-place finisher Harry Doss.

Incumbent Herbert “Buzz” Franklin in the Lookout Mountain circuit holds a 44-vote margin over challenger Doug Woodruff and may face a recount.

Woodruff said Wednesday he doesn’t know whether all the absentee ballots have been counted and if he will seek a recount. “If the votes haven’t all been counted yet, the margin could either grow or be reduced,” he said. “It could go the other way. At this point, a 44-vote margin is not much.”

In the election for Hall County Sheriff, Jeff Strickland and Gerald Couch both earned a spot in the runoff.

As the race narrows to two men, Strickland, who was the agency’s highest ranking officer when he retired in October, said he will focus on what sets him apart from Couch, who led the agency’s criminal investigations division.

“I worked in a higher level than he did,” Strickland said. “I was in charge of an entire department with over 450 employees and a $29 million budget.”

Couch, too, said he will focus on his qualifications versus Strickland’s.

“I’ve worked in every single area of the sheriff’s office,” Couch said. “I think I have a huge advantage in that area.”

Patty Walters Laine (31%) and Brook Davidson (26%) made it into a runoff for Hall County Probate Court, beating out two other candidates.

Scott Peebles and Richard Roundtree are headed for a runoff for Richmond County Sheriff.

Recounts

In the Twelfth Congressional District Republican Primary, candidate Wright McLeod, who appears to have come in third, has not decided whether to seek a recount.

Preliminary results Wednesday showed McLeod trailing Augusta businessman Rick Allen by 584 votes, with all counties reporting but provisional ballots not yet counted.

In an afternoon e-mail, McLeod left his options open.

“We are now considering our next steps,” he said. “I must consider whether or not a recount would be in the best interest of voters of the 12th District. Our campaign recognizes that requesting such would provide a ‘trust but verify’ approach to the election results and allow us all to move forward.”

Meanwhile, Allen resumed campaigning as though his place in the runoff weren’t in question.

Spencer Price has asked for a recount in his narrow defeat by Senator Cecil Staton.

“I appreciate the tremendous support from the voters of the 18th” District, said Price, reached via phone during a break from work Wednesday.

And “if I’m not successful, I will be back,” he added.

Station finished with 10,518 votes to Price’s 10,311. The final vote tally did not include 35 military ballots yet to be added.

Considering Staton’s 10-to-1 advantage in fundraising in the second quarter of 2012 — he collected about $115,000 — and his endorsements from party heavyweights such as Gov. Nathan Deal, it was an unusually close outcome.

Harris County Commission Chair Harry Lange has a slim 9-vote margin over Greg Allen who will seek a recount.

Allen defeated Lange at the polls, but fell behind when absentees were tallied; Lange, a three-term incumbent, collected 451 votes compared to Allen’s 442 with about three military and two provisional ballots uncounted, said Sherrail Jarrett, the county elections supervisor.

“I never really expected to garner the votes that I did to be honest with you, but just staying out and being in the community for so long, I knew I had a lot of support,” Allen said.

Both candidates voiced disappointment over voter turnout.

“I’m afraid a lot of my supporters figured they didn’t need to vote,” said Lange, 71, who estimated about 20 percent of registered voters in his district participated.

The race pitted a seasoned commission chairman against a youthful challenger, and the close finish seemed to reflect a string of controversies that have disquieted portions of the community in recent months.

“I’d heard so many people say they were dissatisfied,” said Commissioner Charles Wyatt, who isn’t up for re-election this year. “I hope it straightens Harry up. I hope it sends him a message.”

Lange attributed the dead heat in part to a long-running dispute over the use of the baseball fields in Mulberry Grove. County commissioners denied a rezoning request last year to prevent the fields from being used for travel ball.

Also in Muscogee County, Pam Brown, who challenged incumbent Sheriff John Darr, said she will request a recount.

“I’ll be asking for one, I’m certain I will,” Brown said. “I felt it would be close, but I thought that I would have the edge on him a little bit.”

The sheriff led Brown by a margin of about 0.448 percent — or 8,604 votes to 8,528 votes. Some 59 provisional ballots — votes not yet counted because of eligibility questions — remained out, and elections officials had received 22 military ballots as of Wednesday, said Nancy Boren, the county’s elections director.

About 200 military ballots were requested, but only a portion of those were expected to be returned.

The Muscogee County Board of Elections and Registrations plans to meet 3 p.m. Friday at the Government Center to certify election results. Georgia law allows for a recount when the margin of victory is within 1 percent.

If Darr prevails, Brown would have until Tuesday afternoon to request a recount in writing.

State Rep. Doug McKillip will not ask for a recount in his narrow loss to fellow Republican Regina Quick.

Runoffs

Carroll County Commission Chair Bill Chappell has been forced into a runoff with Marty Smith.

When the ballots were counted Tuesday night, Chappell has received the most votes, but the split was close to a three-way tie, a situation not usually found in incumbency races, one local political analyst observed.

The unofficial totals were Chappell with 4,594 votes, 34.9 percent; Smith with 4,356 votes, 33.1 percent; and third-place finisher Walt Hollingsworth, 4,217 votes, 32.0 percent.

Dr. Robert Sanders, a University of West Georgia political science professor, said he found the results “rather surprising” and was amazed at the closeness of the vote split and how no candidate was close to a majority.

“It goes to show that the Carroll County electorate is not thrilled with how things are going in county government,” Sanders said Wednesday. “There seems to be a number of issues, such as spending and services, but it may be reflective of general disappointment in government around the nation.”

Sanders said the vote seemed to be a question of, “Do you want the incumbency or not?” and it appears the Tuesday results showed nearly a two-to-one vote of dissatisfaction.

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Ends & Pieces

Seventy-three percent of Cobb County voters approved Sunday Sales in unincorporated parts of the county. This was a re-do of an earlier election in which only voters in unincorporated Cobb were allowed to vote; a court challenge overturned that election because all Cobb voters should have been polled.

A voting machine malfunctioned in Floyd County, trapping 85 uncounted votes; it is being sent to its manufacture to attempt to read those votes.

9
Jul

Senator Josh McKoon endorses Chuck Eaton for Public Service Commission

Republican State Senator Josh McKoon (Columbus) today endorsed Chuck Eaton for reelection to the Georgia Public Service Commission.

There is a very important statewide race on the Republican Ballot for Public Service Commissioner. Chuck Eaton, one of our incumbent Commissioners is on the ballot and has a primary opponent who, I am told, is trying to suggest Chuck is not an ethical elected official.

I have known Chuck Eaton for many years. He takes his obligation to serve the people of Georgia seriously and is a man of integrity.

I hope you will stand with me in voting for Chuck in his primary election. Chuck has earned re-election in my view, by being an advocate for consumers at the PSC and always looking for ways to innovate in the regulation of utilities. So please vote Chuck Eaton for PSC in the Republican Primary.