Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Unnamed Political Tournament (Round 2 under way)

I'm leaving for vacation tomorrow. And, in a shameless maneuver crafted solely to draw Web traffic in my absence, I give you the first ever Lucid Idiocy Unnamed Political Tournament, so dubbed because we couldn't think of anything better.

Basically, we took 16 Middle Georgia politicians and seeded them NCAA tourney style. You can vote in the tournament here:

Sixteen politicians enter, one politician leaves.

This is all just for fun but, honestly, if the governor doesn't assign at least half his staff to sit at computers all day and vote for him, I'm going to be disappointed.

The idea for this actually came from Matt Barnwell, who is another political reporter here at The Telegraph. I worked up the seeding with his input, advice from Keich Whicker (another Telegraph reporter) and the unwitting input of Erick Erickson over at Peach Pundit. But I made the final calls, so blame me where blame is due.

Matt will be offering up some play-by-play here as the tournament goes on. The tournament schedule will be:
- 1st round of 16: Wednesday July 25 through Tuesday July 31
- 2nd round of 8: Tuesday July 31 through Friday Aug. 3
- 3rd round of 4: Friday Aug. 3 through Wednesday Aug. 8
- The Finals: Wednesday Aug. 8 through noon Monday Aug. 13

It looks like the polling software we're using only allows you to vote once from a certain IP address, but don't hold me to that, because I'm not sure.

Except for the finals, voting will generally shutdown some time after 5 p.m. on the last day scheduled for each round. But the exact time depends on Ryan Gilchrest's schedule. He put all the coding together for the intertubes and electrolytes that power this thing, and he's probably got other things to work on, too.

I've asked Ryan to monitor the comments section, so if there are problems with the system, note them there.

I'd like to note that 16 people isn't that many, and some deserving politicians got left out. Macon City Councilman Henry Ficklin and Council President Anita Ponder should be recognized, but they lost last week's mayoral election (badly). Macon Councilman Rick Hutto won an impressive citywide race last week. Jay Walker in Houston County has a good argument. So do state Reps. Allen Freeman and David Lucas. And state Sen. Johnny Grant (and really the whole Middle Georgia delegation). Warner Robins City Councilman Terry Horton comes to mind from my days back in Houston County, as do long-time Perry Mayor Jim Worrall and Peach County Commission Chairman James Khoury.

And no doubt I've further insulted other people by not mentioning them. I hope everyone takes this for what it's worth: Almost nothing. We just thought it would be more fun than compiling a list of power players the way various political publications do. If it's successful we'll try to do something like this again soon.

And, if the winner wants one, I'll try to bring them a trophy boomerang from Australia.

G'day, mates. I hope you enjoy this.

Mayor Jack Ellis

The mayor was at the paper today for a routine sit-down with The Telegraph's editorial board. I'm sad to say it might be his last one as mayor. Say what you will about Jack Ellis' tenure, but he is always charming and always interesting.

Anyway, Matt Barnwell, who is another reporter here, will have some coverage in tomorrow's paper. But a few of the things that struck me:

1. They're unaudited figures, but Ellis said the city should have about $6 million in its reserve fund when it's all said and done later this year. He hopes to have that up in the $9 million area next year. If he, along with the controls put in by the City Council, which are intrinsic to the process, can rebuild the reserves to close to $10 million after nearly hitting rock bottom, I wonder if people will reassess the Ellis' administration's fiscal responsibility? Probably not.

2. He mentioned that, compared to last year, the tax digest for cars is way down. In fact the value of cars tagged in the city this year dropped about $21 million. That probably means people are driving their cars longer without getting a new one — either that or there was a miscalculation or a bunch of people with nice cars moved. Luckily real estate prices shot up more than enough to offset this change, or the city would have taken a hit on tax collections. It'd be interesting to see whether people are holding onto their cars longer, and whether that has a positive or negative environmental impact.

3. The mayor still wants to float some bonds before he leaves office to pay for recreation facilities. The council has been unwilling to even discuss this formally. But Ellis said that, with last week's election out of the way, he thinks he can get the support he needs. We'll see. They shot him down most recently on Monday July 16 - the day before the election.

4. The mayor said he'll spend his birthday, Jan. 6, in east Africa. At that point he'll have been out of office a few weeks, because the new administration takes over in December. Then Ellis heads to Vietnam for the 40 year anniversary of the Tet Offensive. As you may know, Ellis fought in the Vietnam War. He said he's invited Jane Fonda to join him on the trip. I am not making that up.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lobbyists and poverty

Incongruous, I know. But Amy Morton at Georgia Women Vote has a couple of posts up I wanted to call attention to. The first is a link to The AJC's breakdowns of lobbyist spending on legislators this year. And I think Amy makes a good point:
It is the job of lobbyists to influence lawmakers. That's what they're hired to do, and if spending money didn't further that purpose, then the money would stay in the bank. Think about it this way, if DPG chair Jane Kidd were buying Richardson's secretary's lunch everyday, would he be concerned? You bet he would, as well he should.

And this post, on poverty, has some interesting numbers.

UPDATE: After reading The AJC pieces, I feel a little dirty. And that almost never happens to me. $931,000 spent on lobbying over a 65 day legislative session? $16,700 on Valentine's Day gifts? Wow.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I give you the Republican nominee

I officially understand why Macon Democrats aren't going to ever sign off on non-partisan city elections.

The best line from this story: "It's hard for me. There's so much going on in my head that it's hard to bring it down into the common language."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Even if you couldn't possibly care less about Macon politics, you should read this story.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The DOT Behemoth

I'm a bit behind on this story, but The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson have asked for an audit of the Georgia Department of Transportation, and it's underway.

And this isn't just a numbers audit, it's a look at how the DOT does business. Read between the lines on these three requests, in particular:
We write to request...

3.) A complete performance audit of pre-construction processes at GDOT with a focus on the Office of Environment and Location. This performance audit should include benchmarking against analogous private and public sector transportation planning departments, and a recommendation on specific parts of the process that could be rorganized or privatized to bring projects online faster.

4.) A critique of the current project management structure at GDOT, with specific recommendations on changes that could be made to bring projects to completion more rapidly, including delegating more authority to the district engineer level, including supplementary contract changes. ...

5.) A value analysis of a selected sample of GDOT projects, with a focus on whether engineering standards are being set with a focus on achieving maximum value on a dollar for dollar basis.

Maybe you don't even have to read between the lines. Look how specific some of that is. It sounds like Cagle and Richardson have some very specific ideas about overhauling the way the DOT works.

Lindsay Holliday, local dentist, agitator, vigilant citizen and DOT player-hater, dubbed the audit "overdue." He and a handful of other members of CAUTION Macon (Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares In Our Neighborhoods) have, for years, been calling the DOT an old-fashioned dinosaur unwilling to embrace new ideas.

It will be interesting to see where all of this leads. The DOT is a huge department, with a budget upward of $2 billion a year and more than 6,000 employees.

Typically, I do not trust the man. And the Speaker of the House, the Lieutenant Governor, the DOT, those pretty much all qualify. One thing that's for sure: Transportation issues are going to be huge in the next few years, and the Cagle/Richardson (or Richardson/Cagle, if you prefer) letter says the audit recommendations will be used in crafting DOT legislation next year.

I've had plenty of dealings with the DOT as a reporter, sometimes finding them very helpful, sometimes finding myself amazed at their responses. Check out this excerpt from a story I wrote in 2002:
Mount Midway looms off U.S. 341 in Pulaski County, a testament to Georgia Department of Transportation policy.

It rises to a height of about 16 feet, banking slightly south like an unfinished interstate exit ramp.

Except no interstate runs nearby.

This 16-foot-high roadbed, made up of about 10,000 cubic yards of dirt, was built for a dirt road that connects U.S. 341 to Ga. 203. A handful of people live along the road. Locals say four or five cars a day traveled its dusty path before construction closed the road to through traffic.

Those same folks call the mound Mount Midway, because of its location midway between Eastman and Hawkinsville, just west of the Pulaski/Dodge county line.

They also call it a mistake.

Anyone in this rural part of Georgia can see there's no need for a 16-foot bank to connect that little country dirt road to the larger highways, they say.

But to the DOT, it's no error. Mount Midway simply represents a "field change" and the roadbed will be regraded down to about 6 feet.

"There was no error in the design," states a written DOT response to Telegraph questions about the project.

When a road under construction doesn't have a posted speed limit, DOT policy is to design it as if the limit is 55 mph, department spokeswoman Dorothy Daniel said Friday. That's what happened here. But the road plan now has been changed after design and construction engineers "noted that the height of the fill area was unsightly and would make maintenance very difficult."

Another DOT spokesperson went on to describe this type of "field change" as "common." I believe my response was along the lines of "You've got to be kidding me."

UPDATE: Back on the audit, DOT spokesman David Spear said the department has no problem with it.

"We're fine with it," he said. "They're exercising their authority of legislative oversight. ... A lot of that information, if not all of it, is open to the public."

As for the specific nature of the requests, Spear said that "A lot of it stems from the results of the efficiency study that the board just had conducted."

That study can be downloaded here.

Beyond that, there's a "general frustration" from legislators about how quickly projects get done, Spear said. That's been an issue for many years, and often times it turns out (or at least people say) that utility companies moving lines, or utility lines being found underground in unexpected places, leads to a lot of the delays.

Also, with so much growth in Georgia, and so many penny SPLOSTs for road construction, and only so many companies that do road work, a lot of companies bite off more than they can quickly chew, and projects take longer than expected. I know this has been a problem in Middle Georgia.

Beyond that, I've always liked this quote from Van Etheridge, who is a Moreland Altobelli engineer here in Macon with the county roads improvement program.

"I wouldn't want to go to the moon on one of them low bids," he said.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You are actually a Libertarian

You know those Cosmo quizzes that break down you or your significant other's overly complicated love life in a series of 10 questions and tell you to break up? It's like the political version of that.

The World's Smallest Political Quiz.

I took it once and came out as a centrist. And not just a centrist, a right-in-the-middle, like-a-freaking-bullseye centrist. Up with a lack of positions!

The YouTube election

Back before I started blogging, I called my buddy Brian Colligan at The Daily Reflector, the North Carolina newspaper where I got my start. I suggested he write a column about the coming presidential election being "The YouTube election."

Now everyone's calling it that, so I guess I missed my chance to coin a phrase.

But this is really cool.

Race and voting

At some point in the last few years I was asking Mayor Jack Ellis whether he thought black voters would be willing to vote for some white candidate. Who, I can't recall.

His take: Of course - we've been voting for white candidates all our lives. That really struck me, and I think Reichert's big win Tuesday is just more proof of that history leading to open mindedness.

Erick wrote this over on Peach Pundit:
A friend shared with me a conversation from Tuesday night at the Board of Elections. A wise man and community leader down there said, when about half the precincts were in, that the blacks had shown they could grow up and change. The whites will have to do the same at the next election.

Our own best stab at analysis can be found here. I want to call attention to this quote, in particular, which I think Reichert gave to everyone yesterday:
"I recognize this as an opportunity that has been given to us as a community. But this little opportunity is a fragile thing at this point, and if it is dropped it will be broken, perhaps irrevocably."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Widespread politics

Who said I couldn't relate the Macon city elections to Widespread Panic songs? Nobody. Guess I showed them.

For Republican mayoral nominee David Cousino, who might have been the only guy who thought he could win:Just might find a winner lying on the ground...

And for the big winner, Democratic nominee Robert Reichert:Sun came out the other day, through those dusty clouds...

What they're saying today

A taste of the reaction to the election results, with a bunch more to come in tomorrow's paper. It's about what you'd expect - people are surprised, and generally happy to see Reichert win. There seems to be a genuine feeling that he can bring some of the unity this community has lacked.

As for my predictions below, I didn't do too bad. But I underestimated Hutto and Paris pretty badly, and I never would have thought Cousino would beat out Gibson. But when you have 521 people voting in the Republican primary it's anybody's ballgame.

A beatdown any way you slice it

Just some preliminary analysis based on the figures...

Reichert tallied 9,847 votes. If you add up every vote that every other mayoral candidate got (Democrats and Republicans) he still won by nearly 3,600 votes.

He held a 3.7 to 1 margin over his nearest competitor. He won the advance vote with a 5.8 to 1 margin, which was pretty close to what our survey showed last week.

It was total victory.

Thelma Dillard, who polled last in the Democratic primary, had some good comments about the race this morning:

"What I'm thinking is the people wanted a change," she said. "The community is divided and I think the people felt that Mr. Reichert... could bring the community together. ... It's apparent that blacks voted for him in large numbers and I think the message was sent that the people wanted the community to come together."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Macon Mayor's race: Wow

I don't think anyone, ANYONE, expected Robert Reichert to just walk away with this thing. Sixty-three percent in a field of five candidates, in a primary... We're getting awful close to using words like "astounding" and "unprecedented."

I thought he might pull off a win without a runoff, but that it would be with 51, 52 percent of the vote. To win every precinct... impressive.

I want to look at the numbers tonight and early tomorrow. There will be a lot of analysis in the Thursday paper, but I'll be sure to post some of the early thrust of it here or onto the main site.

If you have suggestions, please post them in the comments, or email me at tfain@macon.com.

By the way, turnout was about 40 percent in the mayor's race... lower than expectations. That's a little disappointing, and hard to explain.

Luckily, I'm headed to the bar, where all of life's answers lie.

The wheel's still in spin

I am officially electioned out. Wall-to-wall coverage of results on www.macon.com tonight, and I'll have something there in a little while about turnout.

But that's about it. It's been a long couple of months.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Happy late birthday J.

From the gov's office. I wonder/am just going to assume because I think it's awesome, if they got the middle name of "J" from here.
ATLANTA – Today Governor Sonny Perdue and First Lady Mary Perdue proudly announce the adoption of their seventh grandchild by daughter Leigh Brown and her husband Jim, of Clarkesville.

Leigh and Jim’s son, James “J” Philip Brown, Jr. was adopted from Guatemala on July 6th. He arrived in the United States with his new parents and proud new sisters, Sunni and Mary Kate, on Tuesday July 10, and became a citizen upon arrival. The Perdues celebrated J’s first birthday on Saturday July 14th.

“Mary and I are excited to have another beautiful grandchild,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “We are blessed to have such a wonderful family and we are eager to share our love with its newest member.”

Governor Perdue and the First Lady now have four grandsons and three granddaughters.

What I don't know...

Bart: Actually, numbers don't have much use in my future career: Olympic gold medal rocket sled champion!
Mrs. Lovejoy: Hmm. I didn't know the rocket sled was an Olympic event.
Bart: Well, no offense, lady, but what you don't know could fill a warehouse.

That's from The Simpsons, where all of life's wisdom eventually resides.

I'm going to make some predictions in tomorrow's Macon city elections, with a few caveats:
- These are not endorsements.
- I talk to a lot of people, but not a lot of "real people." That means I spend my days talking to politicians, public officials, press officers, pundits, etc. So I really don't have the contact with Sally on 6th St. that you need to predict the will of 40,000 voters.
- What I don't know could fill a warehouse.
- You can never really tell what the voters are going to do.

So, my predictions, followed by a name picked out of a hat. We'll see who's better at this.

The Macon mayor's race (D): There's basically three scenarios - Robert Reichert-Lance Randall in a runoff, Reichert-Anita Ponder in a runoff and Reichert without a runoff. That's based on a lot of conversations and some voter surveying we've done. I don't think Henry Ficklin has had time to get his message to enough folks, and Thelma Dillard hasn't hit the issues as hard as the other candidates.
I was initially going to go with Reichert-Randall, but based on the advice of a former city councilman whose opinion I really respect, I'm going to say Reichert-Ponder in a runoff.
The hat says: Reichert-Randall (son of a...)

The mayor's race (R): Gibson on wicked low turnout.
The hat says: Gibson

Ward I Post 1: A tough one to call. You've got council members Rick Hutto and Brenda Youmas, and newcomer Keith Moffett, whose still got some name recognition from a school board run. Hutto and Moffett have the best chance, I think, but then I've never quite understood Youmas' power base, so she could make a fool of me. But I'm going to say Hutto and Moffett make the runoff.
The hat says: Hutto came out first, followed by Moffett.

Ward I Post 3: Elaine Lucas in a romp.
The hat says: Lucas

Ward II Post 2: Mike Cranford bests Al Tillman.
The hat says: Al Tillman.

Ward II Post 3: Ed DeFore over David Booker.
The hat says: DeFore.

Ward III Post 1: Rabbi Larry Schlesinger takes down Cartese Dillard. I knew I'd been covering this election too long when I no longer had to look up the spelling for Schlesinger. It was weeks ago.
The hat says: Schlesinger. The hat is going to beat me.

Ward III Post 3: Man, there ain't no telling. All newcomers, none of them well known. It's the firebrand Marshall Burkett versus the professor Tom Ellington versus "the kid" DeArious Rhodes. I'll say Rhodes and Ellington go to a runoff, barely, with Rhodes getting the most votes. He's a Ficklin protege and that will be enough to push him to the top.
The hat says: Burkett came out first, followed by Rhodes.

Ward IV Post 1: One of the big ones. Councilmembers Willette Hill-Chambliss and Miriam Paris go toe-to-toe in a citywide race. We'll see how the hotel issue affects this thing, and who knows more people. Paris has had to run her campaign with one hand tied behind her back (a family illness and she lost her campaign manager from last year, because she moved). Regina Davis is also in this thing, but the other two names are too much for her to overcome. I'll go out on a limb and say Hill-Chambliss without a runoff.
The hat says: Regina Davis.

Ward IV Post 3: Harold Franklin, an amiable truck driver, v. Virgil Watkins Jr. (the Ellis protege and son of a pretty well-known real estate broker) v. Gerald Harvey, who is a former councilman. I'll say Harvey and Watkins head to a runoff.
The hat says: Watkins-Harvey in a runoff.

So there you go. Predictions in all the contested races. Feel free to post your own in the comments section, and to come back Wednesday to say how stupid I am.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Macon airport and Tuesday's schedule

Don't let this get lost in the tidal wave that is election season: Macon's City Council may vote Tuesday to enter into a public-private partnership to run Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

But first the contract has to clear the council's ordinances and resolutions committee, which will meet Monday evening to set the full council's Tuesday agenda. The contract passed the council's public properties committee unanimously, and the mayor wants this thing, but I'm hearing things could hit the skids in O&R.

Time will tell, but Councilwoman Willette Hill-Chambliss (who chairs public properties) said she's not sure it will make the agenda. Council President Anita Ponder said it'll probably be a close vote.

So there's that.

But what I really want to point out is that the council meeting, where the airport contract may or may not be voted on, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday. That's election day for those of you in Macon living under a rock, or those of you who don't live in Macon (what are you doing reading this, anyway?).

There's also a Bibb County Commission meeting that evening and a Bibb County school board work session. Given the public's right to know what happens at these meetings, and the fact that newspapers have only so many reporters, I wish government bodies wouldn't hold important meetings on election days.

But what are ya gonna do? I don't get to set the times.

Still, since Ponder and Henry Ficklin's political careers hang in the balance (they both gave up their seats to run for mayor), I wonder how well they'll be able to concentrate on the airport issue or any other important votes that come up Tuesday?

Read Sunday's paper

UPDATE: Apparently I shouldn't have called this exit polling. I really just meant we asked people who they voted for at, you know, the exit of the polling place. But it's got a specific meaning. So call it an informal survey, as I changed the post to do.
Lots of Macon elections coverage, including about 8 hours of informal surveying we did during this week's advance voting.

By the way, I just wrote this paragraph for the story, which is not surprising but is a little sad:
The Telegraph sent two different reporters to conduct the survey, a black male staffer on Thursday and a white male staffer on Friday. That was done to counter-act a phenomenon that quickly became apparent: White people were less likely to tell the black reporter who they voted for, and black people were less likely to tell the white reporter who they voted for. The trend was most prevelant among women.

Notebook preview

This is going in tomorrow's political notebook, but I thought I'd go ahead and put it up. Please still read tomorrow's paper.
During Thursday night's mayoral debate Democratic hopeful Lance Randall said he was shocked (shocked!) to learn that city officials (the fools!) budgeted for the Macon Centreplex to break even this year.
After all, the Centreplex — which is just a catch-all name for the city's convention center, coliseum and auditorium — lost about $800,000 last year.
Outrageous, right? Except it's not true. The 2008 city budget predicts a $1,063,000 transfer from the general fund to prop up Centreplex operations. To put it another way: A deficit of more than $1 million.
Said Council Appropriations Chairman Henry Ficklin (who also happens to be running for mayor): "I don't know what report Mr. Randall was looking at."
We asked Randall about that, and he repeatedly refused to point out exactly where, in a stack of documents he held up for the Thursday night debate crowd, he was getting his information. Kelvin Jones, with Randall's campaign, would only suggest we look at the city budget.

I don't know what the hell Randall was talking about, but he sure got quiet when I asked him about it. And Jones - he got in my face like no one ever has. I mean, Mayor Ellis has wagged a finger in my face once or twice, but Jones put two fingers in my face. Double-barreled action. He also called me a "lazy journalist" because I wanted Randall to show me just where he was getting his information.

Of course, I might have set Jones off by suggesting that his candidate was being less than truthful during the debate. And I might have been a little sarcastic, when I asked if that was lazy with one z or two.

July state revenue figures

From the gov's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of June 2007 (FY07) totaled $1,681,040,000 compared to $ 1,570,584,000 for June 2006 (FY06), an increase of $ 110,456,000 or 7.0 percent.

It's not up yet, but shortly you should be able to get the full breakdown here.

And just as a reminder: May.

UPDATE: House Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter and Majority Leader Jerry Keen put out a joint statement on the numbers, which harkens back to the "I want my tax cut passed, no I want MY tax cut passed" fight from this year's legislative session.

“Clearly the state is over-collecting from the taxpayers. It is critical that we find ways to reduce the tax burden by reforming and reducing income and property taxes,” said Burkhalter.

“These revenue numbers illustrate why the House wants to return money to the taxpayers through property tax and income tax reduction and reform,” said Keen. “We hope the Governor and Lieutenant Governor will join us in this endeavor.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The pipeline's moving forward after all

Dunno if most folks will remember this, but there was a push during this year's legislative session to make it easier for oil pipeline companies to add new lines within their existing rights of way.

SB 173 (sponsored by Houston County's state Sen. Ross Tolleson) went down after some heavy environmental lobbying, and perhaps because the lines in question run through some heavy hitter's districts in the Georgia House.

But during the relatively intense lobbying on the bill a Colonial Pipeline spokesman more than intimated that, if Georgia didn't play ball and relax expansion rules, his company might take its oil elsewhere.

Since Colonial supplies most of the state's petroleum... well, it was an arm twister.

But it looks like Colonial has decided to expand its lines anyway, and will go through the longer process to get the needed government signoffs. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Will state officials move quickly to approve the new lines? Will there be some lingering fallout from the politicking of the session? If so, will fuel needs trump them? Was Colonial right when it argued that the permitting process takes too long or was that, as environmentalists argued, just an excuse for a power grab?

This is from a Colonial press release:
ATLANTA (July 12, 2007) – Colonial Pipeline Company filed an application today with the Georgia Department of Transportation requesting a certificate that will facilitate construction of a third petroleum pipeline to supply the growing demand for fuel. The certificate of public convenience and necessity is required for Colonial’s new line, which would be constructed along the same route as Colonial’s existing two mainlines. While those lines originate in the Gulf Coast, the Georgia section is from the Alabama state line to Austell in suburban Atlanta. Currently, Colonial’s pipelines are unable to meet demand approximately 25 percent of the year. With the region’s economic and population growth, supplies will become tighter without the additional pipeline.

Georgia 4 in CNBC poll

The Governor's office sent out a press release, but I'm sure they won't mind me skipping that and just posting the link.

Basically we were # 4, according to CNBC, in a poll of top states to do business in.

Georgia scored 1185 out of 2021 points. In terms of individual categories, it ranked No.2 in Workforce and No.3 in Transportation. It also cracked the top ten in Cost of Living (9).

Its worst showings were in Quality of Life (36) and Education (28).

Let the predictions begin.

Erick Erickson has his prediction on the Macon mayor's race up at Peach Pundit.

Pretty sound logic. My own best guesses (and whoever else at the paper who wants to make a prediction) coming Monday.

Anyone who wants to participate in the prognosticating feel free to email me at tfain@macon.com.

War on Terror update: "Whoops"

This is a little disturbing. Isn't this kind of thing supposed to be going down?
WASHINGTON -- A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts says that al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001.

A counterterrorism official familiar with a five-page summary of the document - titled "Al-Qaida better positioned to strike the West" - called it a stark appraisal.

The story goes on to quote President Bush:
At his news conference Thursday, President Bush acknowledged the report's existence and al-Qaida's continuing threat to the United States. He said, however, that the report refers only to al-Qaida's strength in 2001, not prior to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The group was at its strongest throughout most of that year, with well-established training camps in Afghanistan, recruitment networks and command structures.

Bush used the new threat assessment to show his administration's policies are the right course.

"Because of the actions we've taken, al-Qaida is weaker today than they would have been," he said. "They are still a threat. They are still dangerous. And that is why it is important that we succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq and anywhere else we find them."

So if we hadn't gone to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Quaida would have increased in strength following Sept. 11. That makes sense. Unless you subscribe to the "violence begets violence" philosophy of, say, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, folks like that.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff seems to nod in this direction later in the story:
Asked on ABC's "Good Morning America" to explain al-Qaida's continuing strength nearly six years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Chertoff said, "It reflects the fact that just as we improve our defenses, the enemy tries to improve its defenses and rebuild itself."

Al-Qaida is "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," the counterterrorism official said, paraphrasing the report's conclusions. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."

I certainly don't have the answers. But, boy, that report must be a page-turner.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Coming Thursday: Streaming Casey Cagle

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, he of this year's Georgia Senate love-fest and frequent boring comments about focusing on "the people's business," is doing something pretty cool tomorrow.

He's having one of those town hall meetings at 7 p.m. in Cobb County, and it will be streamed live on the Web. I don't know that I've seen a state politician do that.

Here's the link from Cagle's capable spokeswoman: http://www.ecstreams.com/cobbco/cobbcolive.asx

An if that doesn't work she says to go here.

If you want to attend non-virtually, the meeting is on the second floor of building A at the Cobb County Commission Building, located at 100 Cherokee Street, in Marietta.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And just to sum up my opinion on this: "Huh?"

We field more than a few complaints here at The Telegraph. But the one I hear most often comes from politicians who don't like the pictures we print of them.

Forget for a moment that I generally have nothing to do with those pictures, or that the camera does not lie. But I have spent a significant amount of time the past few years negotiating between local politicians, our photographers and our layout folks over which mugshot of a politician is going to go in the paper.

Today, though, took the cake. Veronica Brinson is running for mayor, or will be if the board of elections certifies enough of the signatures she collected to get her on the ballot as an independent. I took a mug shot of her. She wanted to submit her own picture instead, though, and did so. Five times. Seven if you count the fact that she emailed one picture three times.

This is the one she ended up wanting us to run:

And this is the one I took, which she didn't want to run:

Asked a colleague of mine: "Does she know she looks stoned (in her picture)?"

Stop watering that lawn, sucka!

I've often wondered what would happen if neighbors banded together and agreed to just let their lawns get brown in the summer. How much water would that save? What would really be lost?

Anyway, from today's AJC.

Exit polling action

UPDATE: I'm just going through the financial disclosures... Robert Reichert has raised nearly $160,000 to run for mayor. Nearest comptetitor? Looks like Anita Ponder, with $25,000.

I had to go to the Board of Elections today to meet Veronica Brinson, who turned in her petition today to get into the mayor's race as an indepedent.

While I was waiting I did a little exit polling in the mayor's race (advance voting is this week), thinking it wouldn't show much. But the results surprised me.

I talked to 39 people in about a half hour (from 11:30 a.m. until about 12:10 p.m., with a 10 minute break at about 11:50 a.m. to watch Brinson turn in her petition, etc.).

Nine people wouldn't tell me who they voted for. Here's how the other 30 broke down:

Robert Reichert: 22 (18 white, 4 black)
Lance Randall: 6 (all black)
Anita Ponder: 2 (1 white, 1 black)

None of the other four candidates tallied a vote in my poll. And I noted the race of each voter because it seems to play so heavily into local elections.

Now this is just a small sample. There's been a pretty steady stream of folks advance voting this year (250 on Monday), but the bulk of voters will come out next Tuesday, on election day. I'm sure many candidates, if not all, would say they expect their support to wait until then. And, supposedly, conservatives are more likely to advance vote.

UPDATE: Amy makes a good point in the comments section - namely that Macon's registered voting population is about 60 percent black, so the heavy slant toward white voters in this sample won't hold true come election day.

Still, the overwhelming margin for Reichert is interesting. Hopefully we can do some more polling (for a much longer period) later this week.

By the way, Erick Erickson (blogger, soon-to-be city councilman, Republican, etc.) has a post up on Peach Pundit about Republicans in Macon voting Democratic this year. It's got some good numbers for anyone trying to decide which way to go on that decision.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Campaign contribution stuff coming

Contribution disclosures were due today in the Macon city elections, but the documents themselves weren't ready for pickup down at City Hall. I made a bit of a jerk of myself over that, as I tend to do when I don't get public documents, but there are a lot of candidates to check off and a lot of copies to be made.

Anyway, I'll be picking them up tomorrow morning for a story as soon as I can turn one around. Just an FYI for any city elections junkies out there.

The Macon mayor's race

I continue to have no idea who will win the Macon mayor's race. But Amy Morton has a poll up on her blog.

Ben Franklin and The Telegraph's comments section

Few things at the paper have caused more consternation lately than the comment sections of our online articles. For those of you unfamiliar, at the end of most of The Telegraph's online stories you can comment on the story, or pretty much anything else.

It's largely anonymous and quite often devolves into a shouting match of fools. Sometimes the comments turn downright libelous, hateful and racist.

Steve Wilson over at wmcc news called it "the best comedy show in Middle Georgia."

The question at hand is: What responsibility does The Telegraph carry in all of this?

Though we do take inappropriate comments down when they are reported, we hardly have the staff to police hundreds of comments each day - comments that are presumably being written BY ADULTS WHO SHOULD BE ABLE TO MANAGE THE BASIC RESTRAINT AND DECENCY IT TAKES TO FUNCTION IN A HALFWAY POLITE SOCIETY.

On the other hand, it is our site. And I don't want to be judged based on what these morons write. But I also think that anyone who judges me or the rest of our staff based on content obviously produced by anyone with a computer and far too much free time is a moron, too.

There are idiots everywhere. How is anyone shocked by that?

There is something to be said for holding a mirror up to the community and, like it or not, that's what the comments section is. It's not The Telegraph's fault that the reflection is sometimes ugly.

It's like a photographer once said when he came back in with a picture that couldn't run because the subject wasn't wearing a shirt: "I don't dress 'em, I just shoot 'em."

Beyond that, I was in Atlanta this weekend and visited The Atlanta History Center, which is running a Ben Franklin exhibit.

They excerpted Franklin's "An Apology for Printers," which I think is relevant.

"Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter."

Friday, July 6, 2007

Is Henry Ficklin "The Republican" in the Democratic primary?

There has been a lot of talk about north Macon Republicans crossing over to vote in the Democratic Party's mayoral primary this year, given the fact that it will be difficult for a Republican to win the general election because of the city's demographics.

The assumption has been that these folks will cross over to vote for former state Rep. Robert Reichert. But is Henry Ficklin really the more conservative candidate? Is he more in line with north Macon's frequently stated desire to cut the city's budget?

This is how Ficklin responded to some of our questions on city spending:
How can the city's finances be brought under control?
The way to bring the City's finances under control is to cut spending, plain and simple. There is always necessary spending, but spending is the problem that must be curtailed first and foremost. An additional SPLOST would also be very helpful in gaining control of the city's finances and building a reserve.

Are layoffs needed and would you support them?
To lay off employees would be a drastic measure. However, it is not something that I rule out. I prefer attrition as the approach to cutting the payrol,l along with possible cutbacks on hours for certain employees and a hiring freeze where necessary.

And here's how Reichert answered them:
How can the city's finances be brought under control?
Ask local accounting firms, other than current auditor, to assign one of their best and brightest CPAs ... to complete a performance audit of the Finance Dept. and develop a plan for more efficient and responsive operation. ... Put a budget officer on the Mayor's staff to monitor ... revenues/expenditures. ... Examine progress on eliminating last audit's deficiencies. Coordinate reports required for this year's audit and ensure that the necessary information is being collected. Begin to develop the budget for the (next) fiscal year ... by coordinating with department heads. Separate the city's reserve fund and build it up to 10 percent of general operating fund annual total. Put special restrictions on inter-fund transfers.

Are layoffs needed and would you support them?
Generally, employees of the city of Macon are doing an excellent job under very difficult circumstances, and their number is appropriate for the work load. We must maintain an adequate level of personnel to accomplish essential government services in a timely and efficient manner. However, we must also acknowledge our current budget constraints, and if necessary, non-essential service personnel may need to be laid off. Public service is a calling that many are unwilling to undertake, and every city employee should know that the layoffs will come as the last possible choice and only after every other avenue has been explored.

Now, what does all that mean? Hard to say. The proof is in the pudding, so I'll tell you how serious the new mayor is about cutting spending in a couple of years.

But I think the assumption has been that Reichert will pull votes from north Macon Republicans largely because he's the only white in the Democratic Primary. I expect better than that from north Macon, south Macon, east, west, whatever direction you got.

I've had a thesis for a while that, on election day, what divides us in Macon is more about party and political philosophy than race. This election may go a ways toward proving, or disproving, that.

Ficklin may have missed some opportunities to cut spending while chairing the city's appropriations committee. But I have never seen anyone question spending in a budget, line by line, like Ficklin does.

As for Reichert - it's been hard to quantify his record as conservative or liberal, etc., as you'll see next week when we run our profile on him.

And since at least some of north Macon's vote is likely to be fueled by an anti-Ellis sentiment (this is, after all, the ward where a sizable percentage went for write-in candidates over the sitting mayor in the last election) it's worth noting that Ficklin is probably Ellis' biggest political adversary from the last four years.

And Ellis has said he's supporting Reichert, who has a former Ellis staffer as his campaign manager.

At the very least, it's going to be interesting, and a lot of eyes will be on north Macon.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"It's more of a Shelbyville idea."

Keich Whicker (who covers the county for The Telegraph) and I were just talking about some politicians' penchant for offering relatively ridiculous answers to problems, both existent and non, mostly because they're crowd pleasers.

And it reminded us both of "The Monorail" episode of The Simpsons. Of course The Simpsons, along with heavy drinking and Wikipedia, answers all of life's pertinent questions.

My point is, don't take any wooden nickels this election season. Look for substance.

Also, I'm not entirely sure what the copyright status is on Simpson's footage through YouTube, so, just for good measure, go see the new Simpson's Movie, opening July 27.

And as proof, I offer this post

So I read on peach pundit, which was quoting cracker squire, who got his information from insider advantage, that Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson said something recently about blogs not being terribly accurate.

And, yeah, irony intended.

I vaguely remember the first time a blog beat me to a local story. It was based on an unattributed source - the kind of thing whispered in your ear twice a day as a reporter. You check 'em out. Sometimes they're true, mostly they're not. In this case, it was true.

I remember thinking: "I can't believe I'm competing with these guys."

Personally, I'm enjoying blogging. But it's just like any other published medium: Read it, and consider the source. I look at blogs daily for potential news, and the ones I read have a pretty good track record. But you have to decide for yourself.

Me, I had a correction on the front page of Wednesday's newspaper, under capitalized red letters that said "CORRECTION." It's kind of like announcing to Middle Georgia that Travis Fain did something stupid, but he's not going to lie to you.

If you ever see anything on here, or in my reporting, that you don't think is true, you can reach me at tfain@macon.com or 478.744.4213.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Declaration of Independence

You ever actually read that thing? Kind of a lot of yelling at King George, but parts are beautiful in both thought and execution.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Quite literally, that's (expletive deleted) revolutionary.

My friends, we holds these truths to be self-evident. That means these rights are not given you by any government. They simply are.

Government exists to protect them, it is not necessary for them to be claimed.

Government, by the way, also exists to take money from you, give otherwise untalented people jobs and allow ugly, unathletic people to become famous.

Happy July 4.

Happy Birthday, President Bush

For longer than I can remember the Republican Party has been sending me spam email. Except it's not addressed to me. It's addressed to Malki Adil. I have no idea why.

Anyway, this came today. Feel free to donate if that's your thing. And if Nancy Pelosi or some other Democrat has a birthday coming up, and you want your equal time here, just let me know.

But you have to refer to me as "Xavier Schwa."

By the way - note the "p.s." on the solicitation. I love the trend of adding a p.s. to Emails and letters these days to say the same thing you said in the letter.

Dear Malki Adil,

In a few short days, President Bush will celebrate his 61st Birthday. Don't miss out on this opportunity to wish the President a Happy Birthday by signing the RNC eCard today.

To make this an extra special birthday on July 6, Mrs. Bush will be presenting our President with this birthday wish from supporters like you. To be included in this unique celebration, please click here.

And if you can, I hope you will consider celebrating President Bush's birthday with a gift our entire Party can share. Your secure online donation of $61 (or whatever you can afford) will help keep the RNC's preparations for electing more Republicans in the 2007-2008 election cycle on track.

Sincerely ,

Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan
Robert M. "Mike" Duncan
Chairman, Republican National Committee

P.S. This is your last chance to join the First Lady in making this an extra special birthday celebration for our President - please take a moment to sign the Birthday eCard today.

Marshall, the 8th District and more baseball

To start with, a request: I want somebody with the Republican Party to explain to me why U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., keeps getting targeted. He's smart and he votes a centrist line, maybe even leaning a bit to the conservative side.

Is it just the D beside his name? Is there some core issue that Republicans don't like his position on? I honestly do not get it.

Email me at tfain@macon.com if you don't want to comment here. I may be covering next year's 8th District race and could use the insight.

Marshall was in Macon today, meeting with some folks from the local chamber of commerce and accepting an award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for voting along with their positions. That's something he'll probably point to when the obligatory "He's a Democrat so he must be liberal" campaigning gears up.

Anyway, he spoke frankly on a number of issues (as he typically does) and I'm typing some stuff up for political notebook, which runs Saturday. But I thought I'd throw some more information up here about the congressional baseball game mentioned below.

Marshall said he and his fellow Democrats went down 5-2 in the game, with at least four Republican runs being unearned. He said there were maybe 7,000 people watching the game at RFK stadium, which "for a kid who grew up playing baseball like me" was pretty cool.

The collision picture in the post below was taken in the 7th and final inning. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and Marshall were chugging toward a blooper that just made it into the outfield. Weiner dove for the ball and kind of took Marshall's legs out from under him, but it sure looks like Weiner got the worst of things.

They brought the stretcher out, but Marshall said he decided to finish the game. Of course he finished it thinking "I hope nobody hits a ball out here."

"I went back to my office and I took a bunch of ibuprofen," Marshall said.

Marshall, as you may know, sleeps on an air mattress in his congressional office when in D.C. He was worried, he said, about being able to get up the next morning.

The picture ended up in Roll Call, a D.C. publication, with the caption "That's gotta hurt," Marshall said. One last thing: The uniform he's wearing came courtesy of Georgia Military College, which is in Milledgeville.

From both sides

President Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence, with the president saying he respects the verdict but not the sentence.

I've got this speeding ticket from about a month ago that doesn't involve any obstruction of justice or borderline treasonous behavior. I wonder if I could get the president to "respect" that.

And we've got the "Live Earth" concert this weekend. Nothing says "save the earth" like massive concerts on all the world's continents. I assume the artists and attendees are all arriving by rickshaw or teleportation to avoid contributing to global warming.

Monday, July 2, 2007

America the beautiful

This Sunday we ran a compilation from Middle Georgia folks about what makes them red, white and blue. I had a few beers and wrote my own essay.

This being America, no one stopped me. May the idea that is this country echo forever throughout mankind.
I love our National Anthem, our flag, the opening lines of The Declaration of Independence and the idea that all men are created equal.

I love cold beer and whiskey and the smell of a grill. I like closing my eyes on a Saturday in October and hearing friendship all around me.

I love The Crisis, by Thomas Payne, and Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau.

I love Rock and Roll and The Blues. I love the way that even people who hate each other most days will stand together when needed, like a family that's been insulted.

I know that we can never be conquered. And that, though we may sometimes be our own worst enemies, our better angels will get the best of our demons here in America, my home, my country, this land that I love.

I love the fact that America is not a place so much as an idea.

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave, over the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It sure as hell does.

State leaders, put a stop to this nonsense

Seldom will you see me become an advocate.

This is an exception.

I don't care what the law says, I don't care what precedent has been set, this must not happen.

Congressman, war hero, switch-hitting outfielder

U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall's staff sent us this picture, which we were going to run in political notebook this weekend, but didn't because we sometimes make mistakes.

Apparently Marshall (D-Ga.) clocked U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (funny last name, D-NY) during the June 25 Congressional Baseball Game.

"Both players were hustling for the ball and neither gave up on it," according to Marshall spokesman Doug Moore. "Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain as the ball, along with both Congressmen, fell to the ground."

Marshall also went 2-3 in the game, Moore reports. Not bad for a pinko-liberal Democrat. (Editor's note: Jim Marshall is not a pinko-liberal Democrat.)

By the way, I kind of cross-examined Moore about whether this was a real baseball game, as opposed to softball. He said it was indeed baseball, which I thought was pretty impressive.

Then he noted: "Most of the runs are typically scored via the error."

"Just like in real Congress," I said.

"You said it, not me," Moore noted.

Photo credit: Philip Andrews, who shoots for Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Congress.