Author: Jon Richards

Georgia State Senate Gets Some New Committee Chairs

Five State Senate committees have new chairmen or vice chairmen, primarily due to the resignations of Ross Tolleson and Ronald Ramsey. The new chairmen were announced on Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Assignments.

Senator Frank Ginn of Danielsville will serve as the new chair of the Natural Resources Committee, raplacing Chairman Tolleson. As a result, Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta will replace Ginn as the chairman of the Economic Development Committee. Beach had been chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, and that chairmanship will be filled by Sen. Bruce Thompson of White.

Sen. Tolleson had been Vice-Chairman of the Rules committee. He will be replaced by Sen. Jack Hill or Reidsville. Sen. Lester Jackson of Savannah will replace Ronald Ramsey as chair of the Senate Urban Affairs Committee. With the exception of Jackson who is a Democrat, the other chairmen are Republicans.

Senate leadership weighed in on the changes:

The Georgia State Senate’s top priority is preserving Georgia’s reputation as a leading state for business development, job creation and educational opportunity. I look forward to working directly with Senate leadership in order to find real solutions for Georgia’s most significant and pressing issues,” said Lt. Governor Cagle.

“We are fortunate to have a wealth of talent and experience in the State Senate,” said President Pro Tem David Shafer of Duluth. “I am confident that our new committee chairs and committee members will do great work.”

Senate Set to Vote on Updated Education Authorization

This week, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on the conference report for Senate Resolution 1177, the Every Student Succeeds Act. The bill is the latest update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it replaces the previous version, known as No Child Left Behind. The House approved the measure by a vote of 359-64 last Wednesday. The 64 voting against, all Republicans, included many members of the House Freedom Caucus, including 10th District Rep. Jody Hice and 11th District Rep. Barry Loudermilk.

Those in favor of the bill cite the progress made in returning local control to elementary and secondary education. In a press release following the House vote, 3rd district Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said, “The bill downsizes the involvement of the Department of Education’s role in K-12 education choices so parents and teachers can have a say in their child’s education and make sure the next generation has the right tools to succeed,” and provided these bullet points as evidence:

  • Allows for an opt-out of Common Core and prohibits the Department of Education from influencing any standards
  • Reauthorizes the law with significant reforms for 4 years (FY 17-FY20)
  • Downsizes the Department of Education by eliminating 49 duplicative programs
  • Allows for testing flexibility by letting states to choose their own tests, and to prevent teachers from teaching for a test
  • Encourages charter and magnet school growth
  • Eliminates the federal Adequate Year Progress (AYP) and replaces with a state-managed system

Yet, Westmoreland acknowledges that the revised bill is “one of many steps” Congress must take to improve education. His 7th District colleague Rob Woodall agrees, saying in a statement, “S. 1177 removes the one-size-fits all format of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ and moves communities and states back towards their rightful position of crafting local education policy. There is more yet to be done, but the progress of today will lead to the success of tomorrow, and I look forward to continuing that work.”

One lawmaker isn’t happy with the bill. State Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick sent a four page letter to Speaker Paul Ryan on the day the House voted urging that it not be passed until a new president is in office.

In a July floor speech, Senator Johnny Isakson touted the act as a repeal of the Common Core mandate:

This bill ensures there will be a no Common Core mandate by the federal government to the states and ensures local control of curriculum from beginning to end. It does away with the waiver business and puts all local school boards and state boards of education in control of their education.

Senator Ligon isn’t happy with that, though:

Since federal mandates have already ensured that our colleges and universities have aligned their entrance requirements with Common Core (known as College and Career Ready) then it would appear that we again have an entire process, both lengthy and expensive, to readdress college entrance requirements before Georgia could exit the Common Core.

Is the bill progress? It appears that way. But, as one lawmaker put it, “No matter what we do, some people aren’t going to be happy until we abolish the Department of Education.”

Senator Ligon’s letter is below the fold. Read more

Gov. Deal Is Concerned About New Syrian Refugees; Enthusiastic About Proposed Transportation Projects

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal expressed his frustration with the federal government’s handling of the Syrian refugee issue, and dropped several hints about transportation projects he expects to be revealed at the start of the legislative session in January. Deal spoke to reporters this afternoon after keynoting the 30th annual meeting of the Council for Quality Growth.

At least three Syrian refugees have arrived in the Peach State after the governor expressed his opposition to taking on new refugees over terrorism concerns. Deal was asked about providing food stamps for to the new refugees, and said he wants to take a wait and see attitude. He complained that the United States government doesn’t tell officials in Georgia who the refugees are and where they are. Deal said, “The only way we know they are actually here is when they show up and apply for food stamps. There’s something wrong with that.”

The state of Texas has filed a lawsuit in an effort to block incoming Syrian refugees from entering that state. When Governor Nathan Deal was asked if he would be willing to file a similar suit on behalf of Georgia, he said, “If they keep prodding me, I might, and it appears they are willing to keep prodding.” The governor pointed out that in the end, the SNAP program (food stamps) is ultimately a federal responsibility. “It’s their program. If they don’t like the way we do it, let them come in and run it. We’ll hand it over to them.”

On the possibility of the federal government filing a lawsuit against the state over the issue as it has indicated it might, Deal said he was ready to defend against it, although he would prefer to spend the defense money elsewhere.

On a brighter note, the governor went into a little more detail about new transportation projects he had hinted were coming in his address to the Council for Quality Growth. The project list will include all the regions within the state. “I anticipate having a map of the entire state of Georgia,” Deal said, that will “show all of the projects both in the metro as well as those that are outside the metro region that are going to be done with the extra money.”

One reason that money will be available for new transportation projects is because the federal government will have passed a long range transportation funding bill. President Obama is expected to sign the measure today. The federal money the state will receive can be used for some of the maintenance and repair projects that were originally planned to be paid for with money from the state’s 2015 Transportation Funding Act. That allows state dollars to be used for new projects that will cost less than if they were constructed with federal dollars.

Pleased to see a longer transportation bill at the federal level, Governor Deal said, “I wait to see what all the details of that might include, but that’s an indication that at least Congress understands the importance of the transportation bill and the funding that’s necessary for keeping our infrastructure in place.”

The governor didn’t indicate the size and scope of the project list, but said he had seen a proposed list. His opinion? “I think its going to probably be the biggest visible evidence of tax reform and the results of it that we have seen in this state in a very very long time.”

Video from the PolicyBEST Briefing Breakfast

As we told you yesterday, PolicyBEST held a breakfast briefing on Wednesday to present some of the issues that the General Assembly will be facing when it convenes in Jamuary. Featured speakers at the event included PolicyBest Executive Director Charlie Harper, Governor Nathan Deal, and Speaker David Ralston.

Here are Harper’s introductory remarks:

Videos from Governor Deal and Speaker Ralston are below the fold. Read more

Update: House & Senate Approve Long-Term Surface Transportation Bill

Today, the U.S. House passed the conference report for HR 22, the FAST Act, by a vote of 359-65. The bill s $305 billion worth of transportation funding through 2020. The only Georgian representative to vote against the bill was the 10th District’s Jody Hice.

7th District Rep. Rob Woodall, who serves on House Transportation Committee and was appointed to the conference committee that negotiated the final conference report between the House and Senate versions said this in a prepared statement:

The need for a responsible, long-term vision for our nation’s roads, bridges, and transportation infrastructure isn’t a partisan issue. Today’s vote is the culmination of a lot of hard work and a tremendous partnership between the folks back home and their representatives in Washington. The big things take time, and are often difficult to get across the finish line, but when the American people get involved in the process, good things happen.

This isn’t just a transportation funding bill. It’s a bill that provides the certainty Georgia’s leaders have been looking for; it’s a jobs bill; it’s an economic competitiveness bill; and it’s a safety bill. It refocuses our efforts to ensure commerce flows freely on our highways and provides more flexibility for Georgia to move forward on our projects. This is a bill that affects the daily lives of virtually every American family and business – and they’re the stakeholders whose contribution made today’s achievement possible.”

I firmly believe that the best ideas come from the folks back – and that’s exactly what happened here. Whether long-term transportation planning or industry-specific problems, crafting long-term solutions requires the input of the American people, and I’m proud to be a part of that partnership.

The FAST Act includes over $6.8 billion in funding allocated to the state of Georgia through FY2020, which is $607 million above the funding levels set by 2012’s MAP 21 Act. The conference report is expected to pass in the Senate today or Friday, passed the Senate Thursday night by a vote of 83-16, and President Obama is expected to sign it.

In the Senate, Johnny Isakson voted for the measure, while David Perdue voted Nay. After the vote, Senator Perdue issued this statement:

Our highways need to be repaired and critical infrastructure projects need long-term certainty, but Washington cannot keep relying on budget gimmicks that leave us worse off down the road. Georgians expected the Senate to spend the past three months developing a serious long-term solution that responsibly fixes our highway-funding problem. Instead, in typical Washington fashion, we’ve been given a highway bill that relies on mythical savings and includes multiple unrelated items that merit separate debate. We must repair our highways but Congress cannot ignore our country’s staggering debt crisis, and this type of governing has become dangerously acceptable to politicians in Washington.

Senator Johnny Isakson noted that Georgia will receive close to $8 billion in federal funds due to the passage of the measure, and said in a statement,

I am so pleased that Congress has passed this key piece of legislation to move our country forward. After far too many short-term patches, this long-term, bipartisan legislation is a victory for commuters, businesses, and road builders because it finally provides much-needed certainty for state and local transportation projects. I have worked for many years to ensure that we don’t continue to ‘kick the can down the road’ in small funding bursts, but instead put into place sensible, long-term plans to give federal infrastructure projects stability without adding to our debt. This legislation will achieve just that.

Sen. McKoon Prefiles Senate Rules Change on Recording Amendment Votes

Comes now the first prefiled Senate resolution for the 2016 session, proposed by Sen. Josh McKoon. SR 674 is seven lines long in its original form:

1 Amending the Rules of the Senate; and for other purposes.
2 BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE that the Rules of the Senate are amended by adding
3 a new subsection to Rule 5-1.3, relating to voting, to read as follows:
4 “(f) Unless the members of the Senate by unanimous consent otherwise agree, each floor
5 amendment offered for adoption with regard to a bill or resolution being considered by the
6 Senate shall be voted upon by a roll-call vote and the results of which shall be entered into
7 the Journal.”

The origin and purpose of this resolution goes back to the closing hours of the 2015 session. The Senate was proceeding through a marathon calendar of bills, including a House cleanup bill that made Georgia drivers licenses conform to federal requirements. That was an opportunity for Sen. McKoon to attempt to amend the bill by adding the provisions of SB 6 to it.

SB 6 would eliminate a loophole that allows those illegal immigrants who are covered under President Obama’s DACA program (and proposed DAPA program) to receive Georgia drivers licenses. Under DACA, these immigrants get taxpayer ID numbers and other documentation that would currently qualify them to obtain licenses. The bill was referred to the Public Safety committee, where it still sits, awaiting action.

According to current Senate rules, the motion to amend is subject to a hand vote, rather than a recorded one. And according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the amendment failed, 27-16. The issue of illegal immigration, as anyone following the GOP presidential race knows, is an important one to the GOP base. Senators know that their proceedings are broadcast live and archived on video. Theoretically, that means that one could determine who voted for or against an amendment by looking at the video of the hand vote. But, Senators also know that there are places within the chamber that are out of or almost out of camera view, but visible from the Chair. And so, some retreated to the back of the room so the way they voted on McKoon’s amendment couldn’t be seen, or made other movements to make it difficult to track how they voted.

Upset that what amounted to being an unrecorded no vote on SB 6, anti-illegal immigration activists made it a point to have the April GOP district conventions and the May state convention vote on resolutions of support for SB 6, and requiring recorded votes for Senate amendments. In July, Sen. McKoon announced plans to strengthen SB6, as well as to introduce a Senate rules change to require the recorded votes.

And that brings us to SR 674. Unlike the House, where most proposed amendments are vetted by the Rules Committee, amendments to bills in the Senate can be introduced on the fly, and it’s not unusual to have multiple amendments to a bill under consideration. As one senator points out, requiring machine votes would slow down Senate proceedings even more than they are now. On the other hand, the issues of accountability and anger that elected officials don’t keep their promises have been cited as factors driving the rise of outsider candidates in the 2016 elections. Qualifying for each of the State Senate seats starts March 6th. Time will tell if this amendment will be a big issue in the eyes of Republican voters.

Governor Deal, Speaker Ralston Headline PolicyBEST Briefing

Around 50 people, including legislators, lobbyists and members of the press attended a briefing sponsored by PolicyBEST that previewed some of the issues likely to come up during the 2016 Georgia legislative session. Featured speakers included Governor Nathan Deal, Speaker of the House David Ralston, and PolicyBEST Executive Director Charlie Harper.

Key issues discussed included the state budget, healthcare reform, transportation, and education. Several of those in attendance tweeted the proceedings, and we’ve gathered some of the best below the fold: Read more

Election Results: DeLoach Wins in Savannah, GOP’s Van Ness Takes SD 43

Today’s special elections produced results that look good for Republicans. In a closely-watched race in Savannah, challenger Eddie DeLoach defeated incumbent mayor Edna Jackson, 53% to 47%. Mayor Jackson won the first round of balloting last month, 44% to 42%. The campaign leading up to the runoff had racial overtones, including a Connect Savannah cover illustration reminiscent of a Normal Rockwell Thanksgiving dinner painting that some though put Mayor Jackson in a servant’s role.

The other major surprise of the evening was in Senate District 43, where the runoff between Republican Janice Van Ness and Democrat Tonya Anderson. In this strongly Democratic district, Van Ness won the election by 87 votes, 3,864 to 3,777. Count this one as a pickup for the GOP. There may be provisional and late absentee ballots to count, but it’s doubtful that the result will be overturned.

After the results were announced, Georgia GOP Chairman John Padgett issued this statement:

Tonight’s victory in Senate District 43 proves that Georgia Republicans can win anywhere. With a clear, convincing message, trained and equipped grassroots army, and unmatched determination and grit, the VanNess Campaign defied the odds to win in a historically left-leaning district. Congratulations to Senator-elect Janice VanNess and her entire campaign team on a well-deserved victory. We look forward to working together in the months and years ahead to move Georgia forward.

Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer issued this statement:

In a Senate District that Obama carried three years ago with 71% of the vote, JaNice Van Ness won an amazing victory tonight. She unashamedly campaigned on conservative principles, and the voters of Senate District 43 decisively responded.

In the race for State Senate District 20, formerly held by Ross Tolleson, Larry Walker managed to win without a runoff, taking 52.2% of the vote in a six person field. Walker came in second in the contest earlier in the summer to replace Larry O’Neal, losing to Shaw Blackmon in House District 146. Running two campaigns within the space of six months likely helped Walker.

There were other races at the local level. Feel free to tell us the results in the comments.

After Charges of Vote Buying, Hazlehurst Mayoral Election Results Are Invalidated

Stories of elections being decided by just a few votes are unusual, but not unheard of. Same thing with charges of voter fraud. Having both come together so that the results of an election had to be thrown out is unheard of, but in this case true.

Hazlehurst voters will have to return to the polls next year to re-vote in the mayoral election after the two deciding votes were thrown out due to fraud, according to a report from Savannah’s WTOC. The contest between incumbent mayor Jack Cole and challenger Bayne Stone was originally won by Stone. According to the WTOC report, two voters said they were given money by Stone’s son to cast ballots. Cole’s attorney also alleged there were problems with some primary ballots. In the end, it was enough for the judge to invalidate the election.

No date has been set for the new election, and Mayor Cole will remain in office until the contest is ultimately decided.

Stacey Abrams Wants to Register 170,000 New Voters Before November 2016

You may remember the New Georgia Project from the 2014 elections. It was an effort spearheaded by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams to register 120,000 new minority voters that would potentially vote for Democratic candidates Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn. After some controversy over missing voter registration forms that eventually amounted to nothing, the effort came up short and drew criticism from some within the Democratic Party that Abrams should have minded her knitting in the Gold Dome instead.

Today, Max Blau, who has done yeoman’s work covering the New Georgia Project in the past, brings us the news that Abrams has set a new goals of registering 170,000 voters before the presidential election and running a GOTV effort that will get up to 600,000 voters that don’t normally cast a ballot to the polls. She hopes to raise $10 million to support the effort.

These details are outlined in a pair of fundraising memos obtained by Atlanta magazine. Abrams has asked Democracy Alliance—a national progressive network of donors that Politico called the “closest thing the left has to the vaunted Koch brothers’ political network”—to donate up to $5.9 million for the New Georgia Project and contribute another $4.35 million for Voter Access Institute, a little-known progressive advocacy group she founded last year. Her funding requests aren’t surprising; one of the Democracy Alliance’s members, Democratic financier George Soros, wrote Abrams’s political action committee, Georgia Next, Inc., a $500,000 check in 2014 to fund her voter registration efforts. But the two requests are ones that, considering the funder’s secretive reputation, raise even more questions about the New Georgia Project, which has been criticized for its lack of transparency and its failure to live up to its expectations.
Abrams intends for her latest iteration of the New Georgia Project to be a constellation of projects scattered throughout the state. Voter registration efforts are centered in six cities, where, according to one memo, she plans to set up field offices with dozens of paid staffers. A series of smaller civic engagement projects are designed to push people to the polls. Her staff hosted a “hack-a-thon” where teams of computer programmers competed over a 48-hour period to create apps to make it easier to vote (#UnlockTheBox), held a five-day training course for applicants participating in a crash course to become campaign operatives (B.L.U.E.), and launched a series of citizen academies designed to demystify public policy at the local level (Advocates for Change Institute). The course even gave ACI graduates their own Apple laptops.

Time will tell whether the 2016 effort will be more successful than the one from last year.

CJ Pearson Says He Is No Longer A Conservative

Thirteen year-old CJ Pearson, who gained more than 100,000 Facebook fans for his homemade videos criticizing President Obama, told CNN that he is no longer a conservative, saying he was concerned about the GOP’s positions on racial issues.

“I was tired of being a champion of a party that turned a blind eye to racial discrimination. Tired of being a champion of any cause that denies equal rights to every American. Tired of being a champion of a party that doesn’t care about the issues important to young people,” Pearson wrote in an email.

“Over the past few days, I thought about essentially how I don’t want people to follow me because I’m that anti-Obama kid, or who called out Hillary Clinton or who took Bernie Sanders to task,” Pearson said. “I don’t want to be the conservative wonder kid that people follow because I make them feel good and like young people are part of their movement. I want to be followed because I’m the voice of a generation that doesn’t have a voice at the table.”

One of the reasons Pearson cited for leaving the conservative movement is that he felt his fans would not appreciate his speaking out on racial issues, including the alleged shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police, according to the CNN story.

Pearson’s celebrity has had its ups and downs. In July, he got into a Twitter argument that may have been contrived. In September, he claimed he had been blocked on Twitter by President Obama, a claim that was quickly discredited, and for which he later issued an apology.

Until early November, Pearson had been chairman of “Teens for Ted” Cruz.

Earlier this week, Pearson announced he was running for the chairmanship of the Georgia Teen Republicans.

Harris County Sheriff Puts Up a Politically Incorrect Sign

In Harris County, Sheriff Mike Jolley has caused a stir by posting a controversial sign in front of the sheriff department’s headquarters. Below a standard welcome to the county sign, he adds a second one, which says,

WARNING: Harris County is politically incorrect. We say: Merry Christmas, God Bless America and In God We Trust. We salute our troops and our flag. If this offends you… LEAVE!

The six term sheriff paid $553 out of his own pocket for the sign. The sign has become the talk of social media, with comments such as these:


What do you think about the sign? Take our poll:

Senator Perdue Talks About Potential Solutions for America’s Debt Crisis

Senator David Perdue talked about the relationship between national security and the national debt at the Atlanta Press Club.
Senator David Perdue talked about the relationship between national security and the national debt at the Atlanta Press Club.
Georgia Senator David Perdue addressed many of the same concerns he voiced in last week’s Senate speech during a Monday morning appearance at the Atlanta Press Club. Saying that the country was in a full blown crisis, Senator Perdue maintained that Washington was focused on the wrong priorities, partially because of a desire in Congress to demonstrate activity instead of results, and partially because the self interest of many in Congress takes precedence over the national interest. After almost a year as the Peach State’s junior Senator, Perdue remains optimistic that it is possible for the House and Senate to do the right thing in a non-partisan way.

Repeating the theme of his Senate floor speech, Perdue railed against the $18 trillion national debt and almost $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities the country will need to address at some point. Finding a solution will require a combination of changes in process, along with changes in policy in five areas: changing the way federal dollars are allocated and spent, growing the economy, finding a fix to Social Security and Medicare entitlements, cutting the cost of health care, and cutting other spending. Read more

Kasich SuperPAC Goes After Donald Trump in a New Video

The SuperPAC that has been supporting the candidacy of John Kasich is turning its sights on GOP presidential poll leader Donald Trump. New Day for America has purchased commercial time in Ohio and New Hampshire for a video called “Trump’s Greatest Hits.” Trump will make an appearance in Columbus tonight, and Kasich is governor of Ohio, From a press release:

As usual, I’m sure tonight will be really entertaining, but as Mr. Trump prepares for his latest nonsensical rant, Brussels is on lockdown, Paris remains under a state of emergency and cities across America are implementing measures to prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. soil,” said Connie Wehrkamp, New Day For America spokesperson. “The times are far too serious to entrust America’s ‘entertainer in chief’ with the grave responsibilities that come with the title of commander in chief. We can’t trust Donald Trump and New Day For America is committed to reminding voters of that between now and the primaries.”

The video is below.

In Murray County, the Appalachian Port Is Opposed by Some, Supported by Others

Some Murray County residents aren’t convinced that the Appalachian Regional Port expected to open in 2018 won’t harm the north Georgia area more than it will help it, and a recent meeting with representatives of the Georgia Ports Authority and the CSX Railroad did little to allay their concerns, according to a report in the Dalton Daily Citizen:

During a recent meeting with residents of northern Murray County, officials with the Georgia Ports Authority vowed to work with them to ease any concerns they have about an inland port planned for the Crandall area, and to take steps to reduce its impact on that area.

“But we aren’t going to move it (the port) somewhere else,” said project manager John Trent. “I’m sorry. That just isn’t going to happen.”

About a half dozen citizens opposed to the port met at the Murray County courthouse annex with officials from the ports authority, CSX Transportation and Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman.

Objections to the site of the port were raised back in September, with opponents citing concerns about the environment and noise pollution.

Meanwhile some citizens in Murray County have started a petition in support of the port. Among the reasons cited to support the port in the petition are the possibility of increasing industry in the county, making goods, including carpet and tires, more competitive in the global market, and increasing the county’s tax base.