Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Governor Nathan Deal pulled the plug Wednesday on efforts to move the state’s various regional referendums to fund localized lists of transportation projects. While the bill would have affected all votes statewide, the bill was designed to spur participation in the Atlanta region. The 10 county area contains roughly half the state’s population and a gridlocked transportation infrastructure. It also casts the future of North Georgia’s transportation future in doubt, a region which has lacked a coherent growth plan since Governor Purdue killed the northern Arc to fulfill one of his earliest campaign promises.
Local polling suggests that the proposal may have as little as 30% support in the Atlanta region, though most were taken prior to developing the targeted projects list or before the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce has initiated an expected campaign to promote the benefits of infrastructure improvements to both the region and the state as a whole.
Opponents, however, have wasted no time in launching opposition to an extra one percent sales tax, with Georgia’s TEA Party Patriots and Atlanta TEA Party leaders mobilizing efforts to persuade legislators to block the measure. A compromise was reached on moving the TSPLOSTs to November 2012 by the Governor agreeing to push for all other future local referendums to be held on the November general election date as opposed to either special elections or summer primaries with thin participation. While Senate leaders signed on to the compromise, House Speaker David Ralston indicated his members feared that stepped on the concept of local control, and that they would need more time to reflect on the issue.
They now have plenty of time, as the bill has been suspended from further consideration. Legislators will now try to finish their work on passing new Congressional district maps by Saturday, and then adjourn until January.
What’s next for the transportation referendums is less than certain. Read more
Today’s column in the Courier Herald (Subscription Required)
Whether planning a Super Bowl or swearing in a Governor, there is a certain element of risk planning an event in Atlanta in January. Despite much hard work by Governor Deal’s Inaugural committee, most activities were canceled, and the official ceremony to swear in the Governor was moved inside the House chamber from the capitol steps.
Presiding over this House is David Ralston, Republican from Blue Ridge Georgia, a man who was not supposed to be Speaker. A little over a year ago, it was reported that then Speaker Glenn Richardson had tried a suicide attempt, and a few weeks later, his ex-wife produced documents proving infidelity with a lobbyist. Richardson, who along with a small inner circle, enjoyed house rules that allowed him to stack committees at will, giving him more power over the body than Speaker Murphy had ever dreamed of. Yet his inability to get along with neither Lt. Governor Cagle nor Governor Perdue limited the reach of his power beyond the house, and Senators privately enjoyed the leadership vacuum in the House in the wake of Richardson’s resignation. Even when a new speaker was elected, he had to bring disparate groups together under a new agenda while making needed changes in House rules and operations.
One year later, Speaker Ralston has full control over his body, and with a very successful election and additional Democratic defections, is just a couple votes shy of an outright supermajority – the two-thirds of the body needed to pass Constitutional amendments. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Republican Senators are still trying to decide how they will operate their body, with changes to the Senate Rules – updated primarily to take away most of the power of the Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle – still being negotiated up to their final vote yesterday. Read more
Over the holiday weekend, frustration from the Governor and the House at the measures the Senate had to add to the Hospital Bed Tax to secure passage began to boil over. Travis Fain has statements from both the Governor and Speaker indicating their displeasure here, noting that Ralston has ruled the Senate passed version “not germane”, thus keeping the House members from voting AGAIN for a tax hike, only to have the Governor ultimately veto the package.
The blame from both inside the Senate chamber as well as from the House and Governor appears to be pointing toward Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, who the Gov and House think may not have been dealing in good faith (or has promised something he can’t deliver). Meanwhile, there are rumblings from inside the Senate about displeasure with the Lt. Gov putting them on the hook to vote for a tax hike that many privately do not support.
Weird things tend to happen in this state after showdowns like those of last week – and during Master’s week. This one deserves some close attention. We’ll see if the “Spring Break” allows tempers to cool, or for the forces of opposition to organize.
According to Aaron Sheinin at the AJC, Speaker Ralston is presenting his plan now:
Ralston said they’ve already made substantial changes this year, including eliminating the controversial “hawks” system, and letting the media back on the House floor.
“We made the House more transparent, more inclusive,” Ralston said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Ralston said the “best police force to public officials is the public. They are assisted by the media and assisted by others.”
I still firmly believe that the most important issue to come out of this session is substantial ethics reform. These guys have one chance to get it right, and time is growing short.
All of us on the front page at Peach Pundit will have a lot more to say about this as we move toward the close of this session, but today it’s your turn.
What do you want in an ethics package, and how important to you view this topic relative to the other business the General Assembly is considering?
Setting aside any discussion of “The Petition,” let’s look at the stark reality of today.
The election of David Ralston, Jan Jones, and Ed Lindsey has revealed a Republican caucus with a clear thirst for change and genuine reform based on conservatism. All three represent the foundation for a strong future for the caucus and for Georgia.
But looking at the leadership team as a whole, there is one place where there are reminders of a dysfunctional past. That place is in the position held by Jerry Keen as Majority Leader.
For all the vitriol of the last fortnight, I continue to believe that Jerry Keen is a good man. He loves his family. He loves the Republican Party. He loves Georgia.
With the elections today, though, a corner has been turned and a new era of leadership has arrived. Yes, he could remain as Majority Leader for another session of the General Assembly. But when the caucus has shown they believe a new direction is needed for leadership, shouldn’t Jerry Keen realize it is time for his fellow legislators to decide if they want to keep him as Majority Leader or if a new legislator is needed to take the helm? By resigning and, if he chooses, running again for Majority Leader, Jerry Keen will show his own personal commitment to the change which has been thoroughly endorsed this day.
Jerry Keen has many more good years as a legislator from 179th House District in him. And I wish him every success. But with such dramatic results today, if Jerry Keen believes he has the full and unequivocal support of the caucus, he should put it to their vote now.
(Pete’s note: this was sent to members of the Republican caucus late Wednesday afternoon.)
First, I want to thank you for talking to me as I have tried to reach out to you over the past few days. Especially at this special time of year, I know it has been annoying at best.
However, our Caucus and the House of Representatives have been confronted with an unprecedented challenge. But challenges are opportunities and I am convinced that we are ready to fix the problems and get about the people’s business.