Thursday, December 31, 2009

When your savior kills you

The Associated Press is doing a series on the ever increasing resistance deadly viruses and bacteria are developing to drugs meant to treat them.

Part 2, Malaria:
This spot on the Thai-Cambodian border is home to a form of malaria that keeps rendering one powerful drug after another useless. This time, scientists have confirmed the first signs of resistance to the only affordable treatment left in the global medicine cabinet for malaria: Artemisinin.
AIDS in Africa.

Tuberculosis ... in America.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

From the grassroots, another challenger for Marshall

This makes five Republicans who want U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall's job in the 8th, and there may be a couple more before the primary:
A local nurse plans to run for Congress here in Middle Georgia, making her the fifth Republican to announce a challenge against 8th District incumbent Jim Marshall.

Diane Vann, who said she is a registered nurse living in north Macon, said she’s voted for Marshall before. But the course President Obama and the Democratic Congress have the country on cries out for Republican action, she said.

“I am a fan of Rush Limbaugh, and I like Sarah Palin, and I like Fox News and I do believe that Obama ... I believe he’s a Communist,” Vann said. “I’ve lived long enough, I was actually stationed in West Germany before the Iron Curtain fell. ... I do not care to see us go in that direction, and I think that’s how Obama is leading the country.”
The quote there at the end was her answer to "What led you to run?"

Ms. Vann's Web site is www.dianevann.com. The other announced candidates are Ken DeLoach, Angela Hicks, Valerie Meyers and Paul Rish.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Legislative preview: Sen. Chip Rogers

I'm working on a 2010 session preview story for this weekend. As I finish interviews I'll post the newsier ones here.

The basics from Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers:
The budget: Nothing is off the table. You want to hit education last, but teachers have had fewer furlough days compared to many other employees. Some programs have been cut so much that "if you hit them again, you might as well close them." Oklahoma allows voluntary furloughs and early retirements, and that's something we should look at.

Water: Like the budget, nothing is off the table, including inter-basin transfers. But anything that costs that much money "is less likely." Funding, and helping local governments move quickly on, new reservoirs and reservoir expansions is what we've "really got to focus on."

Transportation: Thinks a regional T-SPLOST will pass both the House and Senate this session. It may or may not take a constitutional amendment (and thus a statewide referendum) to allow local votes to authorize the regional sales taxes.

How the culture in the Senate compares to the culture in the House: It's difficult for me to compare the two. But "the people I work with in both the House and the Senate, to my knowledge, do things the right way. ... And that goes for Democrats as well as Republicans."

Sales tax collection reform: Privatizing sales tax collections, and allowing local governments to audit businesses instead of the state, is problematic because retailers with locations in numerous counties would have to file paperwork in all of those counties. We're working on a clearing house, where local governments would partner and retailers could submit one set of paperwork to satisfy all these jurisdictions.

Property tax reform:
Look for more incremental changes, "as many as a dozen." Particularly a strengthening of rules requiring that foreclosures be used when figuring a taxable value, a requirement that a property's sale price would be the taxable value for at least the first year and a requirement capping annual value increases by some percentage.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The show that never ends

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it, and are having a happy holiday season no matter what.

The 2010 legislative session is almost upon us. I'll be covering it from Atlanta, so let me know, now and throughout the session, if there are issues not being covered that you'd like to see written about. You can contact me at tfain@macon.com.

Also: Are you interested in a twitter feed for the blog? I've had one request so far, and will be happy to set one up during the session if people are interested.

Beyond that:
  • The Dawgs take on Texas A&M tonight in Shreveport, La., in a game that's important for many reasons. But most important is this: We're 1-3 against Texas A&M all time, and opportunities to rectify that are few and far between.
  • Urban Meyer: What Georgia political figure does he kind of remind you of?
  • Vic Chesnutt, perhaps the most famous Georgian most people have never heard of, died on Christmas day after over dosing on muscle relaxers. His music's not for every one, but then music never is.

Those who preferring earth scorching rock and roll should jack up the volume and listen to this.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from Lucid Idiocy

I hope your holiday is free of pitied fools.



















Image: No idea. But I found it here.

Marshall: I think Iraq will make it

U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall just got back from his umpteenth trip to Iraq:
"There was a real sense of optimism this time around that I had not seen in prior trips,” said Marshall, D-Georgia. “You can’t guarantee this, but it does seem that the momentum (for democracy) is now to the point that it’s just not going to be reversed by al-Qaida ... or Saddam (Hussein) loyalists.”
He also emailed us this picture of him and Gen. George Casey in Balad, shaking hands with members of the Tennessee National Guard.














Image: U.S. Dept. of Defense.

I wonder, do any of the Republican candidates looking to unseat this pinko-liberal hippie have pictures of themselves hanging out in Iraq with the Army chief of staff?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Handel: Bringing things on, now full time

From Secretary of State Karen Handel's gubernatorial campaign:
I have spoken to Governor Perdue and informed him that I will resign as Secretary of State by the end of the year.

This was an extraordinarily difficult decision – professionally and personally. However, I know that it is the right one – for the Office of the Secretary of State, the team there, and the citizens of Georgia who have entrusted me with this important position, as well as for my campaign for Governor.

Over the past month, Georgia’s economic climate has continued to deteriorate, and we’ve all experienced disbelief and anger over the actions of some in the State Legislature. As I’ve considered this new landscape, it became clear to me that, while certainly manageable, serving as Secretary of State while also running for Governor was no longer the best approach for the office or my campaign.

I also took into consideration that I did not want any perceived conflicts of interest concerning my overseeing the primary or general elections, investigating complaints that arise, and certifying the results of the elections while a candidate for Governor and serving as Secretary of State. ...

This decision allows the Governor to appoint an interim Secretary of State to focus completely on the important issues in the agency, including the ongoing situation with the US Department of Justice involving Georgia’s voter verification process and overseeing the 2010 elections.

The next Secretary of State will have the benefit of a team of very talented individuals who will continue to serve the office – and the State – with the same level of commitment and dedication that I have appreciated for three years. I am confident that the transition will be smooth, and the people of Georgia will be well served by this team and whomever the Governor appointments to lead them.
I was speaking last night to a local Republican and sought-after fundraiser who has decided to support Secretary Handel in the governor's race. And I told him what I've quietly thought for a while now: Karen Handel will be the Republican gubernatorial nominee.

Obviously, there's a long way to go. And it would be very difficult for any of the nominees to win without a runoff. But if you're asking me to handicap this race today, I say Karen Handel's the one to beat, no matter what the polls say.

I also think you'll start to see a lot of things, such as Oscars night for Commissioner Oxendine, whatever the hell the deal is with Nathan Deal's government contracts and Eric Johnson's tangles with with ethics in the legislature start to manifest themselves over the next six months in fundraising. I think by resigning her office, Handel is setting herself up to reap that reward.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Larry O'Neal wishes you a Merry Christmas

I would not say that state Rep. Larry O'Neal is an impressive public speaker. But I re-listened to a recording of his speech to the Republican Caucus and remembered something: His closing words were, "God bless you, each and every one."

That's alright in my book. Not to mention Charles Dickens'.

Rep. O'Neal has written a letter to the Republican Caucus, which was emailed to them and forwarded today to me. I have excerpted it. Pettys also has the letter, and possibly analysis.
I pledge to offer my help to our new leadership team to be used anyway they see fit and I further pledge that if I can’t help, I’ll get out of the way. I humbly beseech those of you that supported me to redouble your efforts and align 100% behind and in support of Speaker Ralston and his leadership team. I ask you all to support Speaker Ralston, pray for Speaker Ralston, and always remember what your momma told you and Reagan’s 11th commandment. Thank you each and every one for the warmth and solace your respective friendships bring to me especially during this joyous time of year. Merry Christmas all and may God bless you and keep each of you and your extended families now and forever.
I had never heard of Reagan's 11th commandment, possibly because I did not pay attention to his 1966 campaign for California governor:"Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

Budget analysis: From prurient to prudent

If you read no other part of this, and don't think you fully understand the state's budget picture, read the second paragraph like 3 times and you should be good. From state Sen. Jack Hill via Insider Advantage:
One way of thinking about our budget is that in FY09, we based our budget on $20.1 billion in tax and fee revenues. In FY10, the Governor is estimating we will bring in around $15.7 billion in tax and fee revenues. This is a $4.4 billion drop or 22%. However, because of stimulus and reserves, we are spending around $2 billion more than what our tax revenues can support. Over FY11 and FY12, these one-time funds will be phased out at a rate of roughly $900 million to $1 billion a year.

In FY11, the net effect of losing $900 million in reserves and stimulus less $300 million in growth means that the state will need to find $600 million in additional cuts on top of the $1.26 billion in cuts in FY10 or the state will face at least a $1.8 billion hole in the budget. Because the state also used one-time funds to balance the budget, the reduction will actually be closer to $2 billion.
Assuming your next question was, "What are we going to spend substantially less money on?" you are up to speed.

Rep. Ralston: suddenly prescient

If you're looking for a good "Who is state Rep. David Ralston and how did he become Speaker of the House?" story, I'd recommend this one, from Shannon McCaffrey at the Associated Press.
Ralston was born in Ellijay, the son of a court clerk.

He attended the military-themed North Georgia College & State University and later earned a law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. He and his wife Jane have two children.

Ralston served in the state Senate from 1992 to 1998 and then left to make a bid for attorney general. He lost that race and returned to the state Legislature, where he is now in his third term in the House.

Ralston’s squeaky-clean reputation suffered a hit when it was revealed that he owed several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes from 1996 to 2005. Ralston has paid the back taxes and blamed a bookkeeper who pleaded guilty to embezzling from him.

Still, Ralston soon rose to lead the House judiciary committee that oversees criminal law. He presided over some of the most contentious pieces of legislation to hit the Capitol, such as tougher sex offender laws.

Ralston pushed a pro-prosecutor agenda but developed a reputation for being fair-minded even among those who fought some of the law-and order measures he pushed.

“I’ve always appreciated the fact that he kept his door open to us and really listened to what we had to say,” said Sara Totonchi of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Ralston co-sponsored legislation cracking down on sex offenders even as he represented some sex offenders in his law practice.

He was on the rise in the House, but then he made a decision that would change his political fortunes. Disenchanted, as he watched Richardson openly feud with fellow Republicans Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Ralston said he would take on the powerful House speaker. Ralston questioned Richardson’s temperament, saying the constant battles he seemed to incite were creating gridlock on real issues.

The coup attempt failed and Ralston soon saw his plum committee chairmanship disappear.

But as Richardson imploded late this year, Ralston’s lonely challenge to Richardson suddenly seemed prescient.

Woke up, it was a Monday morning

The Telegraph's Tom Day files his first report from Afghanistan:
KABUL — As the Army goes, so goes the 48th Brigade.

When the unit returned home from Iraq in the summer of 2006, it was given an order: Turn in your tanks and become a light infantry unit. Three years later, the transition of the 48th Brigade of the Georgia National Guard is complete.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Porter on Ralston: He's thoughtful, inclusive

I spoke to Middle Georgia legislators about Speaker-to-be David Ralston for a piece in Saturday's Telegraph.

Most interesting to me were House Minority Leader DuBose Porter's comments about Ralston, and particularly how widely his opinion differs from the state Democratic Party's official position.

Said Porter:
“(Ralston is) a good lawyer,” Porter said Friday. “He’s a trusted member of the Georgia House. I think the skills he’ll bring to the job ... will be something that Georgia wants, because I think that he’ll bring a cooperative style to that office, rather than combative or partisan.”
And here's what Party Chair Jane Kidd said, in part:
“What the House Republicans seem to be banking on is that just about anybody’s record will compare favorably to Glenn Richardson’s,” Kidd said. “What this election proves is that Glenn Richardson wasn’t the only rotten apple in the Republican caucus. Indeed, they seem to have a hard time finding a good apple.”
Obviously, Rep. Porter has to work with Ralston, and Kidd does not. Still, there's a chasm between their public comments on the guy.

Rep. Porter and I also spoke about his gubernatorial campaign, which he said is going very well. He held a rally in Dublin last week, which was well attended. Of course, that's his home turf, but it's still an accomplishment to pull a crowd in poor weather.


Image provided by Porter's gubernatorial campaign. They said 400 attended.

Friday, December 18, 2009

History for Jones, foreshadowing from Ralston

Tying up some of yesterday's loose ends here.

Over shadowed by yesterday's other events may have been this: state Rep. Jan Jones is probably the first woman to ever be selected as speaker pro tem in the Georgia House of Representatives. From UGA's Dr. Charles Bullock:
Since there have been relatively few women in the legislature and virtually none until the 1980s, it is about a .99 probability that she would be the first female to have held that high a post. For years (decades) under Tom Murphy speaker pro temp was Jack Connell. Since the end of the Murphy era men have continued to hold this position.












Image: Liz Erikson, House Photo Office.

It's already been reported elsewhere, but I was told the vote for speaker was Ralston, 54, O'Neal, 48.

Tom Baxter's column on yesterday's events is worth reading, particularly since he noted something soon-to-be-Speaker David Ralston said in addressing the caucus at the end of the day:
“I am a very patient person but I’ve already got the feeling that may be about to change. ... (I) will not put up with backbiting, bickering and these intrafamily tensions very long.”
Exactly what went on in the time between his election and those comments, I do not know. But you don't exactly have to read between the lines to get the jist.

Finally, the state Democratic Party put out a press release after Ralston's election, essentially calling him more of the same and calling him out for tax problems he's had in the past. I'm not sure how helpful that is, unless you're also going to say "and he's lying when he says that was all caused by an embezzling employee and has since been cleared up and the taxes paid in full."

For the record, the party's release did not say that.

Glenn Richardson: "Goodbye, friends. I'll miss you"

If you did not hear it live, consider listening here to Speaker Richardson's speech yesterday to the majority caucus.

I missed the very beginning with the recorder, but have transcribed it all here. The applause at the end was a reserved round of standing recognition, that went on as Richardson left the chamber.

12:21: Speaker Glenn Richardson is taking the rostrum:
"(Sighs deeply) I'm not sure I can do this. I'm not sure. You're my family. An important part of my life. I've prepared some notes, 82 times for today. I kept changing them and changing them, and I'll probably change them again here in a minute.

I come here with a heavy heart because, as I stand here today, on this podium, I realize this is probably the last time I'll ever again have this opportunity. And that makes me sad.

I love this House. I love this chamber. And I've given the best years of my life here since 1996. I'll miss it and I'll miss you guys. Only 5 years ago we House Republicans had 71 members. Don't forget it. Don't forget. Seventy-one. 134 years we had been in the minority. And you say you can't get your bill passed now? Those of you that weren't there then, let me tell you something.

Barely half of those 71 members are here today. But we're at 105, and since we took the majority we've done a lot.

We adopted tort reform and slowed the doctors that were leaving Georgia. We passed the woman's right to know act. We balanced the state budget under some of the most difficult conditions and will again, without raising taxes on Georgians. We transformed DOT and its governance. We streamlined the method for local governments to work and built reservoirs.

We implemented strong immigration reform. We put in place voter ID laws to ensure the integrity of our election process. We fought to reform (the) property tax system and we passed the state's first school voucher bill, and I got to cast the deciding vote.

We took steps to broadcast the meetings of this body and our committees on the Internet for the very first time so that Georgians could watch what we did in open. And they could see the debates that they had never before seen. You. you as a house have accomplished much for which to be proud and I'm grateful that you allowed me to be your leader.

Along the way, wherever and whatever we may have failed, I take full responsibility for those failures. All of them. When you leave here today, you leave all those behind and you leave them on my shoulders as I walk out of here. They're mine. I'm gon' change my remarks just a little bit. There's something very dear in my heart I want to tell you.

I, like millions of Americans, have suffered with depression for a long time in silence. Most people didn't know. there were good days and there were bad days.Tough days. And some of that was my own creation. I know that. I received forgiveness from God because I asked for it

But through it all I held out hope that I was going to put my family back together again. I thought it was gonna happen. And when the realization hit me a few weeks ago that it wasn't, I didn't think there was a reason to live. And I did not wish to live. That was all it was about. There was no other agenda other than me deciding that if I wasn't going to have, have us together, that I didn't want to be here.

I should have died. But, for some reason, for some reason yet unknown to me, an almighty God didn't let me. And he brought me back. I just thought it had been tough up until that point. These last couple of weeks since then seem to have gotten tougher. But through prayers and friends and family and support, I am getting better even though I'm very emotional right now.

I'm emotional, because I know this is the end for me. As I conclude I'm gon' state the obvious. Everything in this life has a beginning and everything has an end. It's time for this to be my end as representative and speaker. It's time for this to be a beginning for a new speaker to lead you through challenging times. I ask you, embrace your new speaker. Encourage our new speaker. And follow our new speaker. So as I leave here today, I'll leave this, and I'll hand it over to our new speaker. And for our new speaker, I will pray, will have the utmost wisdom.

Administer justice fairly and use moderation in all your decisions. Goodbye, friends. I'll miss you."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pics from the Capitol: Ralston, O'Neal, Keen


The man.


The near miss.


The survivor.

Update: That picture of Rep. O'Neal is from before the vote, no matter how it looks. I also took pictures of new Pro Tem Jan Jones, but they turned out poorly.

Congratulations to her and to state Rep. Ed Lindsey, too. This blog's editorial opinion: Ed Lindsey gives interesting, and understandable descriptions of tax policy, a gift no doubt.

Good morning: Ralston wins speakership

The House Republican Caucus is choosing a new Speaker of the House today. Warner Robins State Rep. Larry O'Neal is a candidate, as are state Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and state Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Winston. Updates here as news breaks.

Update: State Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has been chosen as House Republicans' nominee for speaker, and will be Georgia's new speaker of the house once the legislature meets next month and confirms the vote.


Speaker-to-be David Ralston is congratulated by Atlanta Mayor-elect and former state Sen. Kasim Reed.

2:30: State Rep. Jan Jones, R-Alpharetta, will be the new speaker pro tem.

1:05: Ralston indicated he won't clean house when it comes to committee chairs. He specifically mentioned O'Neal as "a fantastic Ways and Means chairman," who will make "a fine member of my team."

12:41: Ralston's speech was short: "You made a country boy real happy. And you honored me. ... Secondly, I need your prayers. I wasn't teasing earlier when I said we've got a big job to do. ... We're gonna get it done."

12:39: David Ralston has won the speakership. He and Larry O'Neal shook hands and he is heading to the rostrum to address the caucus.
---
CORRECTION: Upon reflection, I don't think I saw their exchange. It's very likely they hugged. And by very likely, I mean Brant Sanderlin took a picture of that.
---
12:30: Speaker Richardson has left the chamber to a standing, if reserved, ovation. His final, tearful words to the caucus, and whoever will be the new speaker: "Administer justice fairly and use moderation in all your decisions. Goodbye, friends. I'll miss you."

12:28: Speaker Richardson: "I'm grateful that you allowed me to be your leader. Along the way, wherever and whatever we may have failed, I take full responsibility for those failures. All of them. When you leave here today, you leave all those behind and you leave them on my shoulders. ... I, like millions of Americans have suffered with depression for a long time in silence.... Tough days. An some of that was my own creation. I know that. I received forgiveness from God, because I asked for it. But through it all I held out hope that I was going to put my family back together again ... and when th realization hit me a few weeks ago .... I did not wish to live. That was all it was about. There was no other agenda."

12:23: Richardson's voice is growing stronger as he speaks: "I come here with a heavy heart ... I realize this is probably the last time I'll ever have this opportunity. And that makes me sad. I love this House. I love this chamber. And I've given the best years of my life here since 1996. I'll miss it, and I'll miss you guys."

12:21: Speaker Glenn Richardson is taking the rostrum. He sighed deeply. "I'm not sure I can do this. I'm not sure. ... You're my family. An important part of my life."

12:11: There will be a second ballot vote. Ralston and O'Neal will be the candidates, Hembree has been eliminated.

12:11: I've just noticed the pile of gifts near the back of the chamber for toys for tots. Looks like the legislators did pretty well bringing gifts.

12:02: Speaker Richardson is back on the floor.

12:01: Secret ballot vote, by the way. They're counting them now.

11:56: Speaker Richardson handed in his ballot and left the chamber. He declined to comment on his way into the speaker's office. And by "declined to comment" I mean, "didn't make eye contact with any reporters as he quickly walked by."12:02:

11:51: They are passing out the ballots.

11:50: O'Neal: "(My wife) Kathy and I intend to hit the road after the session and be in each of your districts ... we'll be there to talk about you ... We will help raise money for YOU, that will go right straight into your" campaign account and not a speaker's PAC.

11:48: O'Neal: "I will not stand by in the future and let the indiscretions of a few tarnish the reputations of the rest of this group."

11:45: State Rep. Larry O'Neal from the well: "Make no mistake, I understand completely the separation of powers doctrine ... and the sanctity in this great House of Reps. Even though I'm very proud that Gov. Perdue is my friend, when I felt like he over reached" I voted against him.

11:41: Hembree: "I will work to improve our relationship with the media. Starting with re-instituting their access to the (House) floor." By the way, not allowed on the floor right now: the media.

11:40: Hembree: "A new way of doing business. No more hawks. No more speaker's PAC. no more heavy handed tactics or retribution."

11:36: State Rep. Bill Hembree form the well: "We have goals that must be met as we chart a new course and a new direction ... We can make Georgia a better state ... together we have the right ideas ... We can provide our children with the best education system in our country. ... New jobs and an educated work force will be the foundation of our communities. ... I will not embarass you, abuse the position of speaker."

11:30: Ralston:"You know, at the end of the day it's kind of simple. Let's fix the problem and move on. But we have to fix the problem. ... I have offered for this job because I have peace and resolve. ... I know we're the ones to lead, and I have resolve in my own ability to be that kind of leader." Promises to work the state to get other Republicans re-elected, says he comes from a safe district.

11:25: David Ralston from the well: "I remember a time here in Georgia when Republicans stood for open, honest, good government." He is also referencing the points he made 13 months ago, when he challenged current Speaker Glenn Richardson.

11:22: Griffin area state Rep. David Knight on Larry O'Neal: "He will change our culture by quiet example."

11:20: State Rep. Mike Coan for Bill Hembree: Married to 18 years to his high school sweetheart. Hembree is for "lower taxes, less government and a better education for our children."

11:15: Folks are making their pitches for the speaker's candidates. Rep. Wendell Willard spoke about David Ralston, calling him a vetted candidate and a family man with an even temper. Tax issues in his past were the result of an embezzling employee and have been addressed. ""There is nothign owed and has not been for some time."

11:09: 103 members announced here, making 52 a majority. Speaker Richardson is here.

11:04: They are taking roll. Macon area state Rep. Allen Peake, as secretary of the caucus, is handling that.

10:40: I've spoken to state Rep. Larry O'Neal. He offered no predictions. Yeah, that's not really news.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Vote for speaker, drop off a toy

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor and First Lady Perdue today are reminding Georgians that the Governor’s Mansion and the Georgia State Capitol are drop-off sites for the Toys for Tots campaign. They will be collecting new, unwrapped toys at each location until Friday, December 18. Donations will be delivered to children in the local community.

“With only a few days left in the holiday season, Mary and I would like to invite all Georgians to help us celebrate the Christmas season with a donation to Toys for Tots,” said Governor Perdue. “This is a season to be thankful and to be reminded of those in need. Please help us in making a joyful Christmas for Georgia’s children.”

Ethics at the Capitol: Should the SEC hold sway?

One of the biggest questions to answer as ethics reform talk continues at the state Capitol is whether the State Ethics Commission should have jurisdiction over lawmakers beyond enforcing campaign finance rules, as they do now.

Taking the power to sanction members for ethical lapses away from the legislators themselves and giving it to an outside agency would be a major shift. And, presumably, it would result in actual investigations occurring and actual punishments being handed down.

From state Reps. DuBose Porter and Mary Margaret Oliver, who reiterated the Democratic Party's push for reform today and put out this press release:
Under (our proposed) bill, the State Ethics Commission would have jurisdiction over conflicts of interest complaints instead of a committee of fellow lawmakers who are more prone to influence in the decision making process. Cases of abuse of power and sexual harassment are also established in the legislation and subject to investigation by the State Ethics Commission.

According to DuBose Porter, “The only way you are going to eliminate conflicts of interest by representatives or senators at the capitol is to take the jurisdiction away from fellow lawmakers on a committee, who might have a vested interest in the complaint being dropped. The citizens of Georgia are watching the General Assembly to see if their government does the right thing in the wake of the recent scandal.”
How this will all shake out remains to be seen. If I had to guess, though, I'd say this suggestion from state Rep. David Ralston, who is running for speaker, will be the gameplan:
There is a growing clamor for ethics reform. We, as Republicans, can and must lead the way on this issue. Many good and useful ideas have been offered in the past few days. However, this is a serious issue and I, for one, do not think a 6-day caucus campaign is the appropriate way to develop a sensible and solid plan. If you honor me with your nomination on Thursday, we will get to work on putting together a legislative package with input from all of you that we as the Republican caucus can unify around come session.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More uh-oh for Oxendine

This story's going to have legs.

A good get for WSB Channel 2, and a hat tip to Erick, who must be positively giddy, if not surprised.

Wednesday update: The AP has rewritten this story, making it available now to every newspaper in the state:
ATLANTA -- WSB-TV is reporting that a lawsuit claims Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine - a Republican candidate for governor - took trips on the tab of a campaign contributor who asked for help in an insurance dispute.
What's the over-under on the number of newspapers that run this story tomorrow and mention, in the headline, that one of the trips was to the Oscars?

O'Neal: IRS audited Gov's land deal, taxes

Update: Peach Pundit has state Rep. David Ralston's letter. The highlight for me may be that he promised to meet regularly with the news media. That almost seems novel.
----
State Rep. Larry O'Neal is emailing legislators this evening to again explain his role in Gov. Sonny Perdue's land deal and retroactive tax break a few years back. The email is kind of long, and re-hashes a lot of issues that have been covered before, so I've excerpted the parts I deemed new, and enough context I hope to follow them.

Most interesting: O'Neal says the IRS performed a forensic audit on this issue. And as a guy who's covered the city of Macon's financial disasters the last few years, I can tell you forensic audits ain't no joke.
Since Friday, one of my opponents has attacked me in the caucus for tax legislation I sponsored in 2005. That legislation came to involve Gov. Perdue and was the basis of an ethics complaint filed by Bobby Kahn and his minions. ...

The canon of legal ethics prevents a lawyer from discussing legal work for past or present clients. As you know, I have done legal work for the governor. That has limited what I could say about the governor’s land matter and the legislation I sponsored.

However, the governor has for the first time released me to talk about all aspects of these matters, and the details I can share will show the extent to which this witch hunt has harmed my reputation unfairly.

The extent of my work for the governor has been greatly exaggerated. I currently do no legal work for him. In addition, I will be leaving my law firm on Friday of this week if you elect me so I can serve as a full-time speaker, and I will not have any legal clients except to conclude matters currently with my office. ...

Even though Kahn and the Democrats failed to convince the voters of any wrongdoing in 2006, they did not stop. Kahn vowed to get the IRS to audit the matter.

What you do not know is that Kahn succeeded. An IRS audit was conducted after the election. Until now, I have not been able to discuss the results or even the existence of that audit. However, with Gov. Perdue’s permission, I can now tell you about audit’s results.

The IRS sent a team of federal auditors to conduct a full forensic audit of every aspect of this land issue transaction. It was a multi-week, full-blown, on-site examination.

The result was that the IRS made zero adjustment to the taxes involved and exonerated me once and for all for any wrongdoing in this matter.


I don’t know what else to tell you. At some point, even an old politician like me is entitled to have his name cleared, especially when the IRS has literally torn this whole matter apart and said it was clean.

Being unable to discuss this matter until now, I have relied upon my good name to defend me. That was enough until this campaign, but the climate of fear in our caucus created by the unprecedented events of recent days has unsettled us all, and one of my opponents has played on this climate by using this baseless charge from Bobby Kahn to try to defeat me in a Republican leadership election. His attacks have succeeded in getting the blogs and newspapers to rehash this story.
I don't know which of the other men running for speaker O'Neal refers to when he says "my opponent." Nor am I familiar enough with IRS rules to know the scope of their investigation. "Thorough in its application of federal tax law" would be my prediction.

Also, if Bobby Kahn or any of his minions are reading this, I suppose you can contact me for comment: tfain@macon.com or 478.744.4213.

But mostly I just want to talk about how I go about getting minions, and about how "KAAAHHHNNNN!!!" would be awesome to hear Rep. O'Neal yell, if he becomes speaker.

Update: Dick Pettys put the entire email up, if you'd like it in full.

Millar: Trade airport for water with Tennessee

This post goes with the one below about water, but I thought it deserved it's own headline.

State Rep. Fran Millar, who is running for speaker pro tem, included this idea in his emailed pitch for the job, but I missed it until he mentioned it today as part of a longer conversation.

Basically, he suggests making Chattanooga home to Georgia's second major airport, which folks have been saying we need to take some of the future traffic off Hartsfield-Jackson. We build a high-speed line from Atlanta to Chattanooga and, in return, Tennessee let's us "put a finger in the Tennessee River" that we pipe to metro Atlanta, he said.

Wait - did interbasin transfers just die?

From The Augusta Chronicle:
Gov. Sonny Perdue's Water Contingency Task Force will not offer any inter-basin transfer scenarios in its portfolio of options to resolve metro Atlanta's need for drinking water, according to the group's most recent report.
That sounded fairly seismic to me, though things can change quickly. As I often do, I turned to Neill Herring, environmental hippie super lobbyist, for some instant analysis. Writes Herring:
This story, and others like it, reporting on the 3rd (and final?) meeting of the Governor's Task Force for dealing with the Metro Atlanta water supply problem in light of Judge Paul Magnuson's decision limiting the use of Lake Lanier without additional federal authorization, represents a fairly dramatic change in direction from the course the Task Force seemed to be following initially.

Under the influence of many of the engineers and policy people who have driven GA water policy for over two decades, many of the same people largely responsible for the present Lanier dilemma, the Task Force had been headed toward policy recommendations that would require major changes in GA water law. It would have also required the investment of billions in new water infrastructure. That policy was being driven by the assumption that the Lanier water supplies were gone for good, that no settlement with Alabama and Florida was possible.

What happened? Polling by the House leadership of the GOP House caucus seems to have come up far short of the votes needed to rewrite GA water law to accommodate the high cost infrastructure strategy. The high cost part of that also pretty much spoke for itself, in a second year of dramatic state Budget cuts.

The Task Force which, to be fair, has many new faces on it, seems to have weighed the political and economic situations and decided to take a much "softer" path: embark on serious water conservation in Metro, and get serious about negotiating with the downstream states to reach an agreement on Lanier. Dramatic changes to Georgia's natural plumbing, at enormous expense, seems to be postponed, if not cancelled altogether.
Update: Bert Brantley, Gov. Sonny Perdue's communications director emailed to say he has a problem with the phrases italicized above. He says the task force made its decisions independently, influenced by its own members, and only its own members.

And he disputes any assertion that members of the General Assembly were polled, as Herring stated.

"The whole point of the task force was to take politics out of it and truly come up with the best solutions," he said.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cox: Term limits for leadership

In an email pitch for the pro tem job, state Rep. Clay Cox, R-Lilburn, calls for term limits on the House's top three leadership positions:
I also believe the public deserves politicians committed to service rather than power. I therefore propose, to avoid long entrenched power structures, that we as a caucus adopt rule changes placing limits of four terms by our caucus for the positions of Speaker and Speaker Pro Tem and Majority Leader.
Kind of assumes Republicans will be holding onto things for 8 years, doesn't it? ... Too soon?

The email, which was forwarded to me, also adds the line that has become necessary to the point of near redundancy: "I hide nothing in my past that would potentially embarrass the caucus."

Most of the rest of the email:
As your Speaker Pro-Tem, I will ensure that we re-commit ourselves to those conservative principles that won us the majority we are entrusted with; real tax reform that eliminates the state income tax and capital gains taxes in favor of a consumption tax system; base line budgeting, and mandatory sunset and review of bureaucracies. In short, we must get out of the people’s pockets and get government off of their backs.

We also must re-assert our state sovereignty by resisting the federal government’s unprecedented growth and encroachment into the lives of every Georgian.

Together we will restore confidence in our caucus and develop a legislative vision that our people will be proud to support: one of creative strategies to reduce how much we tax the fruits of their labor and improve the way we serve their families and businesses.

As I have stated, politically and personally, you all know me by now. I am a conservative fiscally and socially. I’m a pro life Christian, and I firmly believe that our founders got it right the first time. I was our party’s nominee for Congress (13th) in 2002, and I have served you as Chief Deputy Whip and as Hawk, and I hide nothing in my past that would potentially embarrass the caucus.

Join me - it is time that we grant positions of leadership based on leadership ability. I possess that ability, and respectfully seek your support.

Herbert: "All decent people should object"

This is a few days old, but the results of a RAND Corporation study on the effect of extended deployments on soldiers' children is no more shocking than it is justifiable:
If voters had to choose right now between instituting a draft or exiting Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops would be out of those two countries in a heartbeat.

Boyd: "Take the ugly with the pretty and enjoy the scene when you can."

By in-the-middle-of-the-biggest-sex-scandal-in-state-history standards, today's been kind of quiet.

So let me point you toward this piece, told from the first person, on former long-time Macon Telegraph columnist Bill Boyd:
“Give the people the light and they will find their own way.” That is the best quote I’ve ever heard about newspapering. That’s what it’s all about.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"I will not participate in another closed meeting."

At least not on the speakership. We discuss it in the open, we vote in the open, and we move on.

Man, that's what I'd say if I was running for speaker of the house. Man, I wish I was running for speaker of the house.
---
Update: Galloway says the vote will be taken in public at the state Capitol on Thursday at 11 a.m..
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This speech is so money. I would give it as my acceptance speech, even though that would be unintelligible.

AJC: Hembree's pitch less detailed, targets morals

Mr. Galloway has state Rep. Bill Hembree's pitch to fellow legislators:
As your Speaker, I will be open and honest with you. I will make myself and my staff available to not only hear your concerns but to address them as well. As your Speaker, I will conduct myself in a manner that each member of this caucus, the Georgia House of Representatives and all of Georgia can take pride in and I will set the standard to be followed by others.

Pettys: Initial speaker's pitch from Ralston

Dick Pettys has published most of the candidates' email pitches, including state Rep. David Ralston's, at Insider Advantage. Scroll down to see them all, as well as state Rep. Jan Jones and state Rep. Rick Golich's pitches for speaker pro tem.

From Rep. Ralston's email:
The Georgia House has demonstrated that it can truly be the “People’s House.” We must not lose sight of this goal.

Growing up, I was taught that public service was honorable and noble. I still believe it can be. That is why I am at peace with this decision.

Over the next few days I will share with you my vision of change for our body. I will also look forward to having dialogue with you on these or any other issues you may have. Today, I simply wanted to let you know of this decision.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

AJC: O'Neal would end Speaker's PAC, Hawks

Galloway's got state Rep. Larry O'Neal's campaign platform. I know what I said below, but it's kind of 12 points of awesome:
10. I will eliminate the speaker’s PAC. This created too much appearance of impropriety. I will keep the political team and have a top-notch political operation that is open and accountable, and I will focus my efforts on member campaigns and the House Trust and make sure you have all the political support you need. More on this in the days to come.
The other development I know of today is that Peach Pundit is going like a fire through the weekend.

And on that subject, whatever else goes down this weekend, I think Erick Erickson will have had the best line from it:
“I don’t want to do harm to my own side but just because you have an R after your name doesn’t mean I like you,” he said. “I never set out to be the Roman Censor but I have somehow become that person.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Keeping track of Mark Burkhalter

Lots of interesting goings on the last few weeks in state politics. But consider the character arc, as a fiction writer might dub it, of Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter:
Dec. 4: Set to be Georgia's next speaker of the house. Tells The AJC that legislators will have to realize that "forever the state Capitol is a different place."

Dec. 7: Says he won't be speaker. Gives, at least publicly, only a vague explanation.

Today: Sneaks in and out of closed House caucus meeting, avoiding reporters.
That doesn't sound a lot different.

Update: Dick Pettys at Insider Advantage has accounts of Burkhalter's speech to the caucus and addresses Burkhalter's decision not to remain as speaker. It includes this:
Friends explained to us that (Burkhalter's) son was about to undergo major surgery which had been planned for some time. He rushed from the meeting to be with the family as his son was being prepared for the operation.

Porter, Oliver: Public funding for judicial elections

The House GOP Caucus is in its meeting now, and Aaron is providing what updates he can from outside the closed-door meeting. We may be very close to having a new speaker of the house by the end of the day, though I doubt there will be any public pronouncement.

The Democrats are moving on their own front, with Minority Leader DuBose Porter and state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver releasing this a few minutes ago:
Atlanta – With substantial ethics reform needed more than ever at the state capitol, State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, and House Democratic Leader and candidate for Governor in 2010, DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, are co-sponsoring anti-corruption ethics legislation for the upcoming session of the General Assembly. In 2005, Rep. Oliver and Rep. Porter offered amendments to the Governor’s Ethics Package that were voted down by the Republican members of the committee. Together they also introduced a similar comprehensive measure in 2006, HB 47, but House Republican leaders buried it in committee and never gave it a hearing. In fact, the House Ethics Committee, where the bill was assigned, never even met that year.

"We owe the people of Georgia more than the old Republican leadership has delivered on ethics reform. I sense a strong frustration by the rank and file of both parties, and we need and I expect a bi-partisan effort to restore faith in Georgia’s state government,” said Mary Margaret Oliver.

HB 890 lowers campaign contribution limits from $5,000 to $2,000 for a primary election, $3,000 to $1,000 for a primary run-off election, $5,000 to $3,000 for a general election, and $3,000 to $2,000 for a general election runoff. The bill will also limit contributions to political parties to $5,000. To curb the influence of special interest money, HB 891 sets a ban on gifts over $25 for state lawmakers. And lastly, HB 892 would establish public funding for judicial elections, which have seen an influx of partisan activity in recent years, threatening an impartial bench in Georgia.
I think that's going to be the last piece of proposed ethics legislation I deal with here for a while. I would note that this particular proposal is well timed so it can be part of this afternoon and tomorrow's news stories about the GOP caucus meeting.

Also, Galloway has this proposal for ethics reform from state Rep. Fran Millar.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dems start their offensive in the House

Earlier today I got a news release from the Georgia Democratic Party. It was a shot at Karen Handel, calling her a career politician with the audacity to complain about career politicians.

It was titled "DPG Press Release #1," which I smartly interpreted to mean, there will be more. Sure enough, #2 has arrived:
ATLANTA - Voters interested in restoring ethics and accountability to the Georgia House of Representatives should take a look at a memo penned by State Representative Jim Cole (R-Forsyth) for a clue about how far the Republican leadership has fallen. In his suggestion for a new code of ethics, Cole exhorts potential leaders to exercise such common-sense ideas as: not cheating on your spouse, not embarrassing yourself in public, treating your colleagues with respect, and paying your taxes.

"The Republican leadership ought to be embarrassed," said state Democratic Chair Jane Kidd. "To need a reminder of things that most of us ought to have learned in Sunday school and kindergarten shows exactly how rotten Republican leadership is in this state."
If I'm a Republican I'm thinking, Uh-oh. That sounded kind of smart.

Some have confessed, but have any apologized?

I spoke to state Rep. Jim Cole, a Forsyth Republican and Gov. Sonny Perdue's floor leader in the House, earlier today about his proposals to get leadership in the House of Representatives back on course.

I asked him if he's heard, from anyone in the current House leadership, an apology for the conduct and the attitude that brought us to this point.

His answer was no. He said he hasn't been on every minute of every conference call, but he hasn't heard anyone apologize.

Neither have I, though of course I am not a member of the House of Representatives and thus not part of the leadership's constituency. It strikes me that people have an amazing capacity to forgive those whom society elevates. But you have to ask for forgiveness first.

Said Cole:
"I'm sorry, if that makes a difference. ... I'm sorry, and that's all I can account for right now. And let me clarify that. Let me state this first: I'm proud to be a Republican. And I'm proud to serve in the House Caucus. I'm proud of the job the governor's done, who is a Republican. I'm proud of the job the Senate's done. ... But, yes, the actions of the House in some instances have caused a lot of doubt and concern across the state. And, for that, I felt I had to at least say my piece. ... I'm as guilty as anybody in that caucus for standing by and watching that happen.

"I'm not saying the whole caucus is guilty. ... I'm saying I'm as guilty as anybody in leadership for standing by and watching it happen."

Cole: Hawks system "was a mistake"

State Rep. Jim Cole, a Forsyth Republican and Gov. Sonny Perdue's floor leader, emailed fellow House members today with a seven point plan to go forward with in the House Republican caucus.

Jim Galloway has posted it, so I won't repeat the full email here. The more concrete proposals include suspension of leadership duties upon any arrest, an end to the committee hawks practice and more power for the House's rank and file when it comes to committee assignments.

"The creation of so-called 'hawks' was a mistake," Cole writes.

But the over-riding idea, Cole said in a telephone interview, is an improvement in the public character of members of the House.
"We can't control how much money comes into those budgets," Cole said. "We can't control how a vote's going to come in. ... We can't control how a policy is going to be implemented once we leave. But we can control our conduct. And that was my main point."
Cole also said it grinds on him to spend time away from his family and his business to serve in the state legislature, but still be the subject of jokes due to the conduct of others.

"Some people aren't going to like that email," Cole said. "That's fine. And, to make this clear, this is not a Sonny Perdue point of view. This is all Jim Cole."

Pettys: Quiet seethings boiling up for House GOP

Dick Pettys sets the board for Friday's GOP caucus meeting:
Watch for some serious hardball from the current power-wielders, including a proposed rules change that would expel from Caucus membership any Republican who fails to support the party’s nominee for Speaker in January.
Hey, you guys gotta do what you gotta do. But, as Grift Drift might say, that sounds like a potentially serious failure to understand the first rule of holes.

More from Pettys:
O’Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is a serious-minded legislator who is unfailingly polite, but also is seen by some as a candidate who is unlikely to make many changes to the current committee structure or to House procedures.

The fact is, many Republicans – along with their Democratic counterparts – have been seething over the years at what they privately view as “high-handed” tactics imposed by Richardson and his leadership team on securing office in 2004. The tactics included the institution of a system of hawks, who could swoop into any committee and provide the needed votes to pass or kill bills as top House leaders saw fit. Many also have rankled over the power given to Ehrhart’s rules committee to decide which bills can be amended and which can’t when they reach the floor.

O'Neal: "This guy's suffered enough"

It is perhaps time to rededicate this blog to the idea that every person's life is important.


Image: Liz Erikson, House Photo Office.

Rep. Larry O'Neal was in the room the night Gov. Perdue, Speaker Richardson, Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter and Maj. Leader Jerry Keen met to discuss Richardson's future. As others have reported, it was a heart pulling experience, O'Neal said.

The Telegraph version of this story is here.

"This guy's suffered enough. ..." O'Neal said. "He's hurting, man."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

O'Neal offers for Speaker: "Calm down, get a consensus, get back to work"

State Rep. Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, will run for Speaker of the House, he said this afternoon.

O'Neal, who has been fighting the flu most of this week, said he emailed his colleagues in the House today to tell them "that I intend to seek the speakership."

"What we need the most right now is somebody to calm things down. ..." said O'Neal, chairman of the House's tax-code-writing committee, Ways and Means. "We can't have any distractions. We're facing (an economic) situation I've not known in my life time, and I'm a pretty old guy."

Update: A longer version of this story is available on the main site.

November revenue figures

From Gov. Sonny Perdue's Office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of November 2009 (Fiscal Year 2010) totaled $1,188,879,000 compared to $1,419,543,000 for November 2008 (FY09), a decrease of $230,664,000 or 16.2 percent.

The percentage decrease year-to-date for FY10 compared to FY09 is 15.4 percent.
The bleeding, it would seem, continues to slow.

Mike Huckabee: Words, as well as deeds, come back

Quite a few "wow" moments in this piece in The Boston Globe:
That was nothing to the supercilious reply received by prosecutor Robert Herzfeld, who wrote a letter calling Huckabee’s clemency policies “fatally flawed’’ and suggesting that he explain his reasons when issuing a pardon or commutation. From Huckabee’s office came a mocking rejoinder: “The governor read your letter and laughed out loud. He wanted me to respond to you. I wish you success as you cut down on your caffeine consumption.’’

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Good news on House meltdown: It continues

I'm just going to go ahead and post this again, because, in my mind, this is what is actually happening right now in the House GOP caucus.



Bonus points to you if you can predict which legislator should be equated to Wes Mantooth. Now, on to some developments not already covered in earlier posts:

Scott: We need statewide grand juries

From state Rep. Austin Scott, who is also a GOP candidate for governor:
HR 75, introduced by Scott on January 16, 2009, would allow the State Attorney General to empanel a state-wide grand jury to investigate “corruption in the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the state, any political subdivision or municipality of the state, or any authority or instrumentality of the state…”

“The need for the people to have a direct means of fighting corruption and holding their elected representatives accountable has been obvious for a long time,” Scott said. “The situation we find ourselves in today shows clearly that allowing government bodies to police themselves is unacceptable. Given the current environment, I expect the people of Georgia will demand the passage of this resolution. I will again seek the support of my fellow House members for HR 75 this session.”

HR 75 can be accessed here.

State Rep. Clay Cox offers for speaker pro tem

First off: State Rep. Larry O'Neal apparently has the flu and is home sick. He's been feeling awful for several days now, according to his law office, so I don't expect to get confirmation from him one way or another today on whether he'll seek the speaker's chair.

What I can confirm is that Gwinnett County's Clay Cox is offering himself for speaker pro tem, and is emailing this around:
My Republican Colleagues in the House:
FROM: Rep. Clay Cox

It’s been a tough couple of weeks, and we are now faced with not just finding new leadership but hopefully forging a new direction for our caucus and our chamber.

To that end, I am announcing my candidacy for Speaker Pro Tempore of the House. I do so because I believe that the new brand of leadership in our caucus, and for our cause, should look and act differently. If we truly want to move our agenda of conservative constitutionalism forward, we must do so in a way that says to our citizens that the partying- mentality is over. We must get down to serious business. The challenges we face demand nothing less.

As many of you know, I am founder and CEO of a large multi-state corporation. Over the last 18 years, I have perfected a brand of leadership for myself and my management team that we call “Listening Leadership”. Listening Leadership begins with the leader’s vision for an organization. The leader then utilizes the human resources within the organization to perfect the vision and develop strategies to implement a common vision.

As Speaker Pro Tem, this will be my approach- because I believe that our leadership has lacked in listening. As a result, our citizens sadly question our vision, let alone our ability to achieve one. Together we will restore confidence in our caucus and develop a legislative vision that our people will be proud to support: one of creative strategies to reduce how much we tax the fruits of their labor and improve the way we serve their families and businesses.

These are the things that successful business leaders do everyday- if they involve the intellect that surrounds them.

Politically and personally, you all know me by now. I am a conservative fiscally and socially. I’m a pro life Christian, and I firmly believe that our founders got it right the first time. I was our party’s nominee for Congress (13th) in 2002, and I have served you as Chief Deputy Whip and as Hawk. You also know that I go home at night to my wife and children- and that will not change.

It is time that we grant positions of leadership based on leadership ability. I possess that ability, and respectfully seek your support.

Gratefully,
Clay Cox

Monday, December 7, 2009

News breaking everywhere on Speakership

My friends, I have been in Macon City Council committee meetings this evening. Yes, I'm sorry, too.

Multiple media outlets report that that thing House leadership said they were going to do late last week, they won't be doing that anymore.

Yes, I know it can be confusing. But to catch you up:
  • Peach Pundit has exploded.
  • The AJC's Aaron Gould Sheinen didn't use the phrase "fantastic reversal," but now wishes he had:
    But at 6 p.m., with only the vaguest of explanations, Burkhalter sent an e-mail out to members of the House Republican Caucus, informing them that he will not pursue the speakership, and will call for an election when the General Assembly convenes in January.
  • Talk of Larry O'Neal becoming the next Speaker of the House is rampant, and does not sound like mere rumor.
  • Jay Bookman is posting French paintings of Napoleon.
  • There will be a caucus meeting Friday in Atlanta. Legislators have been told to meet at the Capitol, but will be bused to an undisclosed location in a secret state facility near Waycross. House leadership will explain, "you didn't need to know."
  • Mark Burkhalter has taken the pulse of the state and decided that: "To collectively say that there is an image problem I think is very unfair."
Fair. Mr. Apparently Soon to be Speaker for a Short Time Burkhalter, if you will submit legislation calling upon people to be fair with each other, this blog will write about it repeatedly.

Finally, I believe I've found the appropriate YouTube video for all this, which these days is an accomplishment all on its own.

Handel: Apply open records act to legislature

I find these renewed calls for ethics reform in the wake of Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's resignation interesting.

Yeah, we didn't have enough rules in place. That was the problem. Otherwise no one can be expected to know that it's not OK to have a fatalistically depressed man who cheats on his wife with a lobbyist and acts like an obsessed ex husband as the leader of your political caucus.

That said, check out No. 2 in Georgia Secretary of State (and 2010 gubernatorial candidate) Karen Handel's suggested reforms:
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Update: No. 3 would be a relatively seismic change as well, giving far more power to the State Ethics Commission. State Rep. Rob Teilhet, a Campbell High School graduate and candidate for attorney general, is calling for the same change.
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1. Ban gifts of more than $25 to elected officials. This would eliminate the junkets, steak dinners and free cocktail hours lobbyists use to peddle influence among lawmakers.

2. Make the Georgia Open Records Act apply to the Legislature as it does to all state agencies.

Lawmakers are paid by the taxpayers and are spending the taxpayers' money. Their deliberations, official correspondence and work product should be transparent to the public just as they are for other state agencies.

3. Give jurisdiction to the State Ethics Commission for issues relating to conflicts of interest for legislators, state office holders, agency directors -- including spouses.

Currently, jurisdiction for these matters is held by the Attorney General’s office. Enforcement of these issues/questions is through the filing of a civil action against the legislator (which has seldom if ever occurred). Currently there is not even a ‘complaint’ process or anything of that nature.

By giving jurisdiction to the SEC, the process can follow the same path as matters/complaints involving campaigns, candidates, financial disclosures, conflicts of interest for board members and non-legislative employees, etc. The SEC is also better positioned to give timely advice on such matters.

4. Require all legislators to file a Conflict of Interest Statement with the State Ethics Commission, which will serve as the clearinghouse and repository of the statements and will be required to post them online. Lawmakers would also be required to recuse themselves from all matters that pertain to that conflict.

The people have a right to know if their elected officials are doing business with the state.

Conflict of interest to be defined as: "Where the officeholder, spouse or either of their employers stands to benefit financially due to a piece of legislation under consideration."

Business to be defined as: "Entity contracting to do business or attempting to do business with the state of Georgia; representing interests doing business or attempting to do business with the state of Georgia; advocating or representing individuals or interests before the state of Georgia." This would have the practical effect of requiring the elected officials to file with the SEC (as lobbyists) for private activities with the state.

Elected official defined as: "Any office holder who 'qualifies' for office with the Secretary of State." This would include legislators and members of Congress but not county, judicial or municipal officers (as they are covered by city and county provisions).

Currently, the conflict of interest provisions apply only to those with a 25% ownership interest or more than $20,000 in income. Additionally, there is no state repository for the files (the Senate and House file internally) and there does not appear to be a mechanism in place for making them public. These records are currently unavailable to the public due to the legislative exemption to the state's open records laws.

5. Continue the Governor's transparency initiative so that taxpayers will be able to see – to the dollar – where every dollar is spent in state government.

6. Make mandatory the disclosure of travel and expense reimbursement by elected officials as is already required of agency directors.
By the way, the General Assembly's exception to state open meetings and records laws isn't written into the laws themselves.

It comes from a 1975 Georgia Supreme Court ruling (Coggin v. Davey) in which the court decided — and I am not making this up — that the Georgia Legislature is not a state department, agency, board, bureau, commission, public corporation or authority, and thus not subject to the open records and meetings laws.

GOP Caucus meeting coming, where still a question

Update: Burkhalter says the meeting will be Friday in Atlanta.
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First, let's reset the board here. The speaker is out as of Jan. 1, and Speaker Pro Tem Mark Burkhalter will move up to the gavel seat. That appears to be scheduled to happen without an election, which leaves some legislators wondering: Hey, if we can have an election to pick a new speaker pro tem and/or majority leader, why wouldn't we elect a new speaker, too?

You've got Erick Erickson stirring the pot and calling for mass be-headings, including the guillotine for Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Reckless Driving, and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who has been the subject of rumors of marital improprieties for quite some time now.

Let's remember, though, that Erick is a Karen Handel man, and she might be the only GOP gubernatorial candidate who stands to benefit from this meltdown. In fact, she's calling for ethics reform now, which also gives her a chance to remind every one of all the changes she had to push through as chair of the Fulton County Commission.

Democrats are also calling for ethics reform and generally helping to nudge this story ahead, though presumably they will eventually get too heavily involved and end up with dirt on their hands instead of simply allowing the House Republican Caucus to self destruct.

Speaking of which, it looks like Burkhalter and Majority Leader Jerry Keen trying to keep the same basic people in power in the Georgia House of Representatives despite the mess the speaker has left them to clean up. Word on the street has Burkhalter doing anything from seizing the gavel and never letting it go to stepping down not just from the speaker's podium, but from his seat in the legislature as well and taking that job at the World Congress Center after all.

People in the halls are talking about a compromise deal that would install Larry O'Neal as speaker, and peach pundit has a post up about that. I've got a call in to Rep. O'Neal, so we'll see what he says about that.

Meanwhile, Galloway says he expects the GOP caucus to meet Friday in Macon, on the campus of Mercer University. State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon and the caucus' secretary/treasurer, said such a meeting is being put together, but it won't necessarily be in Macon.

He said nothing's been scheduled yet and the caucus is "looking at several options" for a meeting to discuss where this all goes from here.

Governors to meet on water next week

From Gov. Sonny Perdue's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that he will meet with the governors of Alabama and Florida in Montgomery, Alabama on Tuesday, December 15 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time (12:30 p.m. Central time) to discuss the ongoing water dispute between the three states.

The meeting will take place at the Wynfield Estate at the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park in Montgomery.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Soldiers, correspondents, deserve our attention

Tom Day, The Telegraph's military affairs reporter, left today for Philadelphia, where he'll spend time with his family before heading to Afghanistan.

Tom will file dispatches from the war for the next six weeks or so, focusing quite a bit on Georgia's 48th Brigade. Tom's a former Army Ranger, so this ain't his first rodeo.

Still, it's a very big deal when a mid-sized newspaper sends some one to cover a war. I'm hopeful for my friend's safety, and proud that I work for an organization that values news about its soldiers, even in tough economic times.

Which brings me to the story below, which was written by an Army Sgt. Hutto and sent to me from Iraq by a member of the Army's public information staff. I'm publishing excerpts from it:
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – Two days earlier, their comrade, Staff Sgt. Briand T. Williams, was killed by a sniper while providing security for a U.S. State department Provincial Reconstruction Team in Numaniah, located in the Wasit Province of Iraq.

On one side of the auditorium, commanders and command sergeants major from all six of the 3rd HBCT’s battalions sat with Ambassador Christopher Hill, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq; Maj. Gen. Kahlif, the Wasit Provincial head of police; Brig. Gen. Kahlif, a federal police commander; and Brig. Gen. Abad, the 32nd Iraqi Army commander.

The rest of the large auditorium was filled to standing room capacity with William’s battery sitting on the first few rows surrounded by their fellow Soldiers serving at FOB Delta.

Williams, a stand-out high school athlete from Sparks, Georgia, before he joined the Army in 2002, was a well-liked leader in Battery B. Lt. Col. Shaun Tooke described Williams as having “a certain swagger about him, an ever present smile and he always maintained a positive attitude that was simply contagious throughout the unit.”

The ceremony’s speakers made similar observations about the man many Soldiers referred to as “Sergeant Will”.

“In all the conversations I have heard about him, our brother has sounded more like a superhero than a man,” said Chaplain Timothy Griffis. “He sounds like an American Soldier; a man who cares about those he leads and serves along side; a man who understands and executes all the implied tasks of being a friend.”

Tooke reminded his Soldiers that they needed to stay focused on the mission their fallen teammate died performing.

“We are in a position to potentially write one of the last chapters in a book that began ... back in 2003,” said Tooke. “We stand ready to be a part of something much larger than ourselves."

Williams is survived by his wife, Atiyhia; his daughter, Briana; and his son Antonio Godbold.

Williams awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal (three times), Army Achievement Medal (two times), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (campaign star), Iraqi Campaign Medal (campaign star), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (three times), the NATO medal, Combat Action Badge and Air Assault Badge.

Godspeed. Image courtesy of U.S. Army.

Burkhalter to AJC: "Forever the state Capitol is a different place”

Riiiiiiggghhhhhht.

Read James Salzer's full story on this here.

Meanwhile, Jim Galloway says Burhalter has removed his name from consideration for the lucrative World Congress Center's executive director job. That's a lot of money to leave on the table to be speaker.

But, then, Georgia speaker of the house is a heck of a powerful post.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shalom Zones.org

I've probably said enough about the speaker anyway.

Robert Reichert will have been Macon's mayor for 2 years in about a week, and we did an interview today where he talked about the concept of Shalom Zones being implemented in Macon, broad ideas about what the city must do and a North Macon Rotary Club coming to the Pleasant Hill neighborhood near downtown to teach financial literacy.

The mayor is given to quick bursts of emotion, but I thought the point to this story was relevant, no matter where you live.
Robert Reichert is preaching from the text of Nehemiah and the reality of Macon.

Nearly two years in office, he remains decidedly unimpressed with what he can accomplish, and exceedingly hopeful about what we can accomplish.

And, after his fashion, he raises his voice, pounds his fist and emphasizes the words he really wants you to hear. He peers over glasses, looks you in the eye and points his finger.

“If we’re going to turn this ship around, it’s going to take a lot more than electing me mayor,” he says.

“I — Damn nation!” he says, sounding genuinely upset. “Go back and read the scripture that I quoted in my inaugural address.”

He reaches past the piles of paper for the Bible on his desk.

“Nehemiah,” he says, turning to the chapter. “Alright. I ain’t gonna read the whole thing to you, but go read Chapter 2 about Nehemiah going to look at the wall of the city of Jerusalem, torn all down and this, that or the other.”

He reads from the Old Testament. Nehemiah has gone to the walls of Jerusalem, and found them in decay.

“The rulers knew not whither I went or what I did,” he says. “Neither had I as yet told it to ... the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers.

“Then I said to them, ‘You see the distress that we are in? How Jerusalem lyeth waste and the gates thereof are burned with fire? Come, let US build up the wall of Jeresualem, that we be no more a reproach.’”

“Then I told them of the hand of my God, which was good upon me, and also the king’s words that he had spoken to me. And THEY said. And THEY said, ‘let us rise up and build.’”

Now Reichert repeats his point, in case the parable isn’t clear.
“It’s gon’ take a hell of a lot more than a vote at the ballot box to make me mayor to turn this city around. I’ve got to get people on the GROUND that are interested in helping OTHER PEOPLE. Period.

He puts the Bible down, forcefully.

“God Almighty,” he says.

Speaker Richardson's resignation statement

From Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson:
Effective January 1, 2010, I will resign my position as Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and as state Representative for the 19th District in Paulding County.

It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Paulding County as their Representative for 14 years and as Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives for the last five years. During this time, I have appreciated working with the members of the House and the people of Georgia to keep state government efficient and ensure a low tax burden for our fellow Georgians.

As Speaker, I have been well served by the entire staff of the House of Representatives, especially the staff in the Speaker's Office. To each of them I offer my profound thanks for their tireless efforts. And to my many friends and supporters throughout the state, thank you for standing by me even in the most difficult times. My service would not have been possible without you.

I am confident that House Leadership will continue to lead the House and its members as they serve all Georgians to the best of their abilities.

I recently made public that I have suffered from depression for many years. I continue to seek treatment and have made progress in dealing with this disease. In making this public disclosure, it was my hope to raise awareness and encourage others who suffer from this disease to come forward and seek treatment. I fear that the media attention of this week has deflected this message and done harm to many people who suffer from this condition.

I am thankful for the opportunities my service afforded me to make Georgia's future brighter. Though I will no longer be serving in elected office, my commitment to see a better tomorrow for our state remains. As always, I am confident that Georgia's best days are still ahead.”
Not even a nod toward an apology. And, of course, the media has done harm to people with mental illnesses.

That a man could come to the brink of his life like this and still not get it is staggering.

Mr. Speaker, and I write this as someone who would like to see you do well: Until you look inward, you won't begin to solve your problems.

The demise will be live-blogged

Aaron Gould Sheinen has several updates on Speakerwatch over at Gold Dome Live, and I'm sure there are more to come.

The latest news: A 4 p.m. conference call for the Republican caucus.

Meanwhile, Peach Pundit asks just how badly the speaker needs to hold on to his salary. I've wondered that myself ever since seeing some conjecture that he could take a medical leave instead of resigning.

But let's not forget, there's other money to think about, namely his campaign committee, which had nearly $260,000 in it as of June 30, and MMV Alliance, which was decidedly smaller, but still a viable fundraising entity.

You have to figure the speaker's friends will help him land on his feet financially. But when you've got cash of your own to spread around, as allowed by state law, it helps.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Moving week in Georgia

From Aaron Gould Sheinen at The AJC:
A high-powered foursome met Wednesday evening at the Governor’s Mansion to discuss a difficult subject: How one of them quits his job.
And from Dale Russell for Fox 5, via their Web site and this via Twitter:
More tonight on the Glenn Richardson story. New details about his future and you'll hear more from his ex-wife. 6:00 and 10:00.















Image: Liz Erikson, Georgia House Photography Office.

Not unrelatedly, Willie Martinez, John Jancek and Jon Fabris were let go by the Georgia Bulldog football team today, so a lot of our state institutions need work.

My friends and I have a saying: All whammies are self whammies. It's not really meant to be flippant. Good luck to all.

Update, 9:45 a.m. Thursday: Inertia against the speaker has gone past momentum and become a bandwagon. Secretary of State Karen Handel just released a statement through her gubernatorial campaign that says, in part:
It is clear that the Speaker should resign immediately for the good of our state and our citizens.