From Governor

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.”

With Bad Weather In the Forecast, Governor Deal Declares State of Emergency

Perhaps with the memories of slow state response to two major snow and ice storms in 2014, Governor Deal has declared a state of emergency in 15 north Georgia counties under a winter storm warning. From a press release:

I am issuing this order out of an abundance of caution, so the state can make all preparations necessary to quickly and efficiently address any potential winter weather problems,” said Deal. “We will monitor the weather throughout the night and allocate state resources as needed should ice formation creep further south into the metro area.

I remain hopeful that the low pressure system will move northward, thus allowing warmer temperatures into our state,” Deal said. “With forecasts showing temperatures hovering around the freezing point, however, we have to work on the assumption that we’ll face icy conditions.

What had been predicted to be a significant storm in the metro Atlanta area now seems to have become less of a threat until maybe Tuesday morning, when black ice is possible. Yet Governor Deal decided to close nonessential state offices at the Capitol on Monday as well. Of course, it’s President’s Day, and the legislature is not in session, so it’s easier to do it Monday that it would be on Tuesday. But, it’s clear the governor isn’t taking any chances that the storm could end up worse than it’s currently predicted to be.

Governor Deal and Beer

Earlier today I interviewed Governor Deal. I asked him about S.B. 63, the legislation by State Senator Hunter Hill reforming beer laws in Georgia.

In particular, I asked Governor Deal how voters could be assured the legislation will get a fair shake when the Governor and Lt. Governor are the two biggest recipients of money from the Georgia Beer Wholesaler Association in 2014.

You can hear his answer below. The long and short of it is that he has no position on SB63 presently, but when he was in the state legislature he supported the same reforms for wineries and does not see how the brewery reforms are different.

Libertarian Support Dissolves at the Polls

For all the speculation of a Libertarian candidate pushing two of the nation’s most-watched political races into a runoff, neither Andrew Hunt or Amanda Swafford were ever a factor in Tuesday night’s elections.

Libertarian support dissolved completely at the polls, allowing both Gov. Nathan Deal and David Perdue to cruise to comfortable victories.

As a result, Democrats in Georgia will continue to wander in the political wilderness for at least the next decade. Even with two election cycles between now and 2020, Democrats will not be able to gain enough clout under the Gold Dome to play an influential role in the next big political battle – redistricting, as mandated every time a Census is conducted.

For 2018, expect state Rep. Stacey Abrams and Secretary of State Brian Kemp to take their battle over voter registration to the governor’s race. Both have to be considered leading candidates in what will become an open gubernatorial contest in four years.

New Poll: Deal, Carter Headed to a Runoff?

“Stuck in the mud” is how a new poll released Friday describes Georgia’s gubernatorial race between incumbent Nathan Deal and state Sen. Jason Carter.

The new InsiderAdvantage/Fox 5/Morris News Super Poll shows Deal and Carter at 43 percent, with Libertarian Andrew Hunt at 4 percent.

“This race seems stuck in the mud and still appears headed for a runoff,” said pollster Matt Towery. “It should be noted that our poll weights African-American turnout at a higher rate than most other surveys. If that turnout is lower, Deal will take a bigger lead.”

Towery said the poll’s biggest news is that Carter has 32 percent of the white vote in our survey.

“That reaches the magic number that Democrats have failed to receive in recent statewide races,” he said.

In the Senate race, David Perdue leads Michelle Nunn, 47 percent to 43 percent, with Libertarian Amanda Swafford at 3 percent.

“Nunn has gained ground in recent weeks,” said Towery. “A key to this was the Perdue ad made by his campaign, using a leaked Nunn campaign memo. Perdue’s ad suggested that the non-profit Nunn ran aided terrorists. The ad appears to have blown up on the Perdue campaign.”

NY Times Laments Georgia’s Black/White Politics

Georgia’s high-profile, high-stakes elections caught the attention of another national media outlet late last week.

The New York Times reported on the Peach State’s November contests, saying that while Georgia has become more demographically diverse, its politics remain rooted in racism.

“The new Georgia [is] a state whose transformed economy has spawned a population boom and demographic shifts that are slowly altering its politics,” the article states. “With African-Americans coming in large numbers from other states, and emerging immigrant communities … Georgia is less white and less rural than it was a decade ago.

“Yet for all the changes … Georgia’s politics … are today playing out largely on the familiar terrain of black and white.”

The article actually does a pretty good job of profiling the challenges faced by both Georgia Republicans (maintaining their electoral grip) and Democrats (registering enough minority voters to loosen that grip). And it includes a good deal of history of the state’s politics.

What it misses, however, is arguably the state’s most important political chapter – how rural white and urban black Democrats coalesced for more than a century, dominating the state.

Practical-minded leaders like Tom Murphy, George Busbee, Jimmy Carter Carl Sanders and Zell Miller — and a progressive Atlanta business community realizing that green is the only color that matters — reduced the GOP to political insignificance for more than 100 years.

In the 1990s, though, the GOP began engaging in a massive, grass-roots recruitment. And when the Democrats’ liberal base took control of the party in the late 90s, a perfect storm ensued, most publicly manifested in the battle over the state flag and then resulting in Sonny Perdue’s stunning gubernatorial triumph. It took two more electoral cycles for Georgia Democrats to finally stop living in the past and re-build for the future.

But if what U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson says in the article is true – that “Georgia is a conservative state … it was a conservative state when … Democrats were in control” – it may not matter how many minority voters that Stacey Abrams and Rev. Raphael Warnock can register.

J. Carter: Georgia Dems’ Last Hope for Political Relevancy

Forget about the Senate race. Georgia’s big battle is for governor in 2014 … and the stakes are much higher than simply winning West Paces Ferry’s big house.

For Georgia Democrats to return to political relevancy, Jason Carter has to become governor this year. Here’s why:

Let’s say Carter wins in 2014. He then has one midterm legislative election (2016) to increase his party’s numbers at the statehouse. That’s also a presidential election year, so turnout is going to be higher than usual.

Then, Carter no doubt runs for reelection in 2018; another legislative election to grow the Democrats’ presence under the Gold Dome.

Let’s also say Carter wins reelection. He then has one final ballot – 2020 – to elect more Democrats to the state House and Senate.

The next political battle? The biggest one of all: the 2020 Census and the new legislative and congressional maps that will come out of that process.

No doubt here; whichever party controls the governor’s mansion and the Gold Dome when those new maps are drawn, controls Georgia’s political future until 2030.

But if Carter loses, Georgia Democrats wander in the wilderness for another decade. Even if a Democrat wins the 2018 governor’s race, that hardly leaves enough time for him or her to make any substantive effort to elect more Democrats to the House or Senate. Democrats won’t regain anything close to a significant political presence in just two years. That effort has to start now.

So if you’re wondering why House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Raphael Warnock are working so hard to register minority voters — and why Secretary of State Brian Kemp is giving them such a hard time about it — look to the 2020 Census. That’s the end game in this year’s elections.

And it’s a big one.

Georgia Named “Top State for Doing Business” for the Third Time

The trade magazine Area Development has named Georgia as the top state for doing business in its 2014 survey of site consultants. The Peach State leapfrogged over last years winner, Texas, to take the top honors.

Georgia’s success has come from dead reckoning in areas that are crucial to business locators. That includes the state’s welcoming and business-friendly government, to be sure. And employers are enthusiastic about one of the Georgia legislature’s most recent moves: passing significant workers’ compensation reform that cuts costs for business.

The state also enjoys a strong infrastructure, featuring Hart International, one of the world’s most efficient passenger airports; two deepwater ports; and one of the nation’s most extensive surface-transportation networks. (The consultants ranked Georgia No. 2 for its overall infrastructure and global access.)

No wonder that Georgia has been able to announce a continuing string of business expansions and relocations over the last year. One of the biggest was the plan hatched by Kia to expand its auto-making operations in the state as the Korean automaker increases its share of U.S. car sales. Its Georgia workforce has, in fact, helped the brand move to the top of automotive-quality perceptions among American consumers. In fact, Georgia’s Quick Start has ranked as the leading workforce development program among site consultants polled in the Area Development Top States for Doing Business survey in each of the five years it has been conducted.

The honor is the third to be earned by Georgia in 2014. First was being named the number one place to do business by Site Selection Magazine back in May. Some accused the Deal Administration of paying for the honor, however the recognition by CNBC as the number one place to do business confirmed Georgia’s position.

Needless to say, the Governor’s office was quick to crow about the new honor.

“The fact that these site consultants ranked us No. 1 for cooperative state government and for our leading workforce development programs is a testament to the governor’s leadership and the pro-business environment he has created here in Georgia,” said Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Carr. “These new rankings spotlight our overall economic development package and solidify Georgia’s role as a leader in the global marketplace.”

Georgia’s ranking was based on survey responses in three areas: the business environment, the labor climate and infrastructure / global access.

Judge Fines Attorney General and State Ethics Director

In a “plague on both your houses” ruling, Fulton County Superior Judge Ural Glanville fined the office of Attorney General Sam Olens and ethics chair Holly LaBerge $10,000 each for failing to provide evidence to former ethics director Stacey Kalberman for her recent lawsuit against the state.

The AJC story reports that LaBerge, who made political waves when she revealed that Governor Deal’s aides contacted her for her support days before the commission issued its 2010 ruling against the Deal campaign, was obligated to turn the same information over to Kalberman’s attorneys. The Attorney General’s office argued that they did nothing improper and that they were not informed that LaBerge kept the text messages in question.

LaBerge retorted that the text messages were mentioned in a 2012 memo the Attorney General’s office received in 2013. She has claimed in past months that she was threatened by the Governor’s Chief of Staff Chris Riley before a 2012 ruling that largely exonerated the governor. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, your Honor.

Can anyone escape Georgia’s omnipresent ethics nightmare?

Governor and TAG push programming education

Governor Deal’s administration has been characterized by loud rhetorical duels and quiet policy tweaks. In that admirable tradition, the Technology Association of Georgia has joined the governor in backing curriculum reform (no, not that) that will allow students to substitute programming courses for other core requirements like math, science or foreign language. From TAG:

The Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), the state’s leading association dedicated to the promotion and economic advancement of Georgia’s technology industry, today joined Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and other leaders in recommending that the State Board of Education amend state policy to allow computer programming courses to satisfy core requirements — math, science or foreign language — for receiving a high school diploma. Deal is asking the Board of Regents of the University System to follow suit by accepting these courses for admission into institutions of higher education.

“Students need to acquire the 21st century skills necessary to thrive in the modern workforce,” Deal said. “Computing is currently one of the fastest growing occupations in the country with average salaries nearly twice the national rate. In fact, more than half of the projected job growth in the STEM fields will be in computing occupations. We must begin training our young people in these areas prior to their post-secondary education so they are prepared to fill these high-wages, in-demand positions.” Read more

Carter: Cut Waste to Fund Education

Over at the AJC Political Insider, Greg Bluestein reports that if elected governor, Jason Carter will fund additional spending for education by cutting waste elsewhere.

“You see it throughout the government. Everyone knows that it’s there,” said Carter, an Atlanta state senator, after a tour of a DeKalb high school. “We have not done a true top-to-bottom review in years and years and years. And the current administration is not looking for answers into how to make the government more efficient.”

The story doesn’t mention any specifics or amounts. The major drivers of state spending include education (obviously, can’t touch that), Medicaid and other health care services (would be ironic if he proposed reducing spending on something he wants to get additional federal dollars for), and criminal justice / prisons (something Governor Deal has been making a lot of progress on already).

Sure, that’s not everything. Wait, there’s agriculture. But Gary Black has already gone to zero based budgeting for his department. Others have done the same.

Is there enough waste, fraud and abuse in other departments to raise the funds Carter would like to spend on education, or would that be like the wishful thinking that says cutting foreign aid at the federal level would be enough to eliminate the budget deficit?

Does Unity Begin Today for the Georgia GOP?

That seems to be the message, as Gov. Nathan Deal, Senate nominee David Perdue and Georgia GOP chairman John Padgett are holding a media event at 11 am Wednesday.

The event is being held at the party’s state headquarters in Buckhead.

Analysis: Party leaders know they need to unify the GOP base if Perdue has a chance of defeating Michelle Nunn in November. As expected, the GOP senate runoff was brutal and bloody, as is virtually every high-profile, high-stakes runoff. The 2006 Democratic gubernatorial race between Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox resulted in the destruction of two political careers and a cakewalk for Sonny Perdue’s re-election.

General consensus among Republicans is that Perdue has some fences to mend and wounds to heal, if he’s going to attract the conservative, Kingston/Handel constituencies. Those voters have to be enthused enough to go vote for him in November. If they don’t, Perdue faces the prospect of a loss exactly like the one Mitt Romney endured: enough Republican votes out there to win, but not enough being cast.

And there’s another candidate in the race, Libertarian Amanda Swafford. Peach Pundit contributor Jason Pye told me last night on Newsradio 106.7 that if Swafford siphons enough conservative votes from Perdue, we’re looking at a runoff, in which Georgia voters will hold the fate of the U.S. Senate in their hands.

Education: Why Buzz Words and Money Just Won’t Cut It This Time

Education is such a lovely buzz word. It sounds so shiny, progressive and new. It elicits images of school children a la Norman Rockwell, school books, tassels and diplomas. The reality is it’s a much murkier and logistically demanding word than that. Over the weekend, Carter penned an op-ed in the AJC that discussed his education platform. He wants to create a separate budget for education, one that cannot be cut despite whatever other cuts may befall the state. He cites many budget cuts to education under the Deal administration. IMHO, these cuts were frankly unquestionably necessary in 2010 as Georgia’s budget was in free fall and literally every other state department and agency’s budget had already gone through 10% cuts at least once. At that time, the budget for education had sustained the least amount of cuts, with legislators leaving education as the last pillar to fall. Bravo for that, General Assembly- some of us haven’t forgotten.

However, Carter AND Deal are missing some larger points that I fear our state as a whole has not yet comprehensively addressed. To be forthright, I don’t know how to address them either, but rather than not talk about them and let the gubernatorial discussion continue to be about money, I will do what little I can to bring them to light. I would assert that while certain aspects of education demand more funding (I can’t wait to see how the Gov’nuh’s going to pay for internet in every school district), Georgia’s biggest challenges in education are cultural and structural and throwing money at school districts will not necessarily create a solution. The following points are items I would ask each candidate to consider in their platform, and would hope we have General Assembly members who are already pondering them. Read more

GAGOP John Padgett Calls Jason Carter’s Behavior Sad And Disappointing

The Georgia Republican Party issued a presser with a statement from state Chairman John Padgett regarding Senator Jason Carter’s comments claiming that Georgia’s rating by Site Selection Magazine was a “widely-debunked rating”. A rating, mind you, that was affirmed by CNBC the other day.

Chairman Padgett said:

“It’s sad when desperate politicians like Senator Jason Carter attempt to tarnish Georgia’s economic success story for the sake of political gain,” said Georgia Republican Party Chairman John Padgett. “Why would someone who claims to care so much about our state expend so much energy on downplaying rankings and accolades that enhance job creation and investment?

“If Jason Carter really cared as much about Georgia as he claims in his campaign commercials, he would join the millions of Georgians in thanking Governor Deal and our conservative leaders in the Georgia General Assembly for creating an economic environment that’s bringing billions of dollars in investment, millions of jobs, and thousands of new businesses to the Peach State.”

The press release also linked to a response to Carter’s criticism by Peach Pundit patriarch Erick Erickson on his radio show.