Author: Jon Richards

Two Georgia Reps Vote No on the Omnibus

The House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill by a vote of 316 to 113, with 5 not voting. A majority of the Republican caucus favored the measure, 150-95, with the Democrats strongly in favor, 166-18. The bill moves to the Senate for a final vote later today.

Georgia 10th District Republican Jody Hice and 4th District Democrat Hank Johnson voted against the measure. The remainder of the delegation voted yes. In a prepared statement, Hice said his no vote came about because the Omnibus funds Planned Parenthood.

While I believe this measure includes a lot that is good — and good for Georgia — I have several concerns about this legislation, chief among them the funding for the Syrian refugee program, overall funding levels that exceed the House passed budget, and continued funding for Planned Parenthood. In September, after the horrific actions of Planned Parenthood came to light, I joined a number of my colleagues in signing a letter stating I would not support any funding resolution or omnibus package that funds Planned Parenthood, which unfortunately this measure does. It is for these reasons that I fully support the spirit of the bill but was unable to support the legislation on the floor.”

Of interest to Georgians, the omnibus bill includes $21 million to deepen the Savannah Harbor, $90 million for military construction at Fort Gordon, money to pay for for 68 F-35 Joint-Strike-Fighters, and full funding for the poultry lab at UGA. Read more

OpinionSavvy Poll Shows Trump Continuing to Lead in Georgia

In a poll of Georgia likely GOP primary voters taken following Tuesday night’s Republican presidential Debate, Donald Trump leads the GOP horse race with 35% support, followed by Ted Cruz with 16%, Marco Rubio with 12%, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and Chris Christie are tied with 6% each. Carly Fiorina has 5% and the remaining candidates have 2% or less. 6% are undecided.

When the choice of possible candidates was limited to the five considered most likely to win the nomination, the results were a bit different:

Donald Trump 40%
Marco Rubio 19%
Ted Cruz 18%
Ben Carson 9%
Jeb Bush 7%
Undecided 7%

The more limited poll shows a five point gain for Trump, but a virtual tie for Rubio and Cruz, especially when you consider if Carson were eliminated, his supporters would likely go to Cruz, while Bush’s supporters would likely to go Rubio.

Poll respondents said the top four debate winners were Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Christie, in that order. Losers were Bush, Trump, Carson and Kasich.

Finally, poll respondents were asked about the temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States proposed by Donald Trump. 70% supported the idea, with 43% strongly approving the measure. 27% disapproved, with 18% strongly disapproving. 3% were undecided. This, despite the fact that the proposed ban would have constitutional and treaty violation implications.

The poll was taken on December 16th and has a 4.2% margin of error. Update: View the crosstabs here.

House Passes Tax Extenders Bill; On to the Omnibus

This afternoon, the House passed H.R. 2029 by a vote of 318 to 109. All of Georgia’s representatives voted in favor of the bill with the exception of the 4th District’s Hank Johnson and the 5th District’s John Lewis. The Protect America from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 continues many popular tax breaks that are typically renewed each year.

This year’s version makes several tax breaks permanent, including the tax break for commuters using mass transit, the American Opportunity tax credit, which helps pay college costs, and enhancements to the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. Other tax breaks are extended only through FY 2016.

Conflicting tweets show the good and bad sides of the proposed Omnibus spending bill.
Conflicting tweets show the good and bad sides of the proposed Omnibus spending bill.
The tax extenders bill is the next to last item on Congress’s agenda for the year. What remains is the omnibus spending bill, which will determine how $1.067 trillion in discretionary spending will be allocated for fiscal year 2016. And as you can see from the tweets at right, there are things to like and dislike about the spending plan. One of the things to dislike is language dealing with the water wars that could lead to the entire Georgia delegation voting no tomorrow, when the vote is expected to be taken.

No such opposition arose from Georgia’s House Republicans over the tax extenders bill. Below, statements of applause and support: Read more

Cobb, Gwinnett File Suit Over 911 Fees

Cobb and Gwinnett Counties filed lawsuits in federal and state courts on Wednesday seeking to recover more than $50 million in fees for local 911 operations from telephone companies they maintain have not properly charged customers. The unpaid fees cover a period of three years. The lawsuits say that fifteen telephone service providers allegedly are misrepresenting the types and number of phone lines upon which the 911 fees are applied and are significantly under-billing customers. The unpaid fees amount to around $9 million annually in Cobb County, and $8 million annually in Gwinnett.

In a statement, Roy Barnes, chief counsel for the two counties, said,

These suits are necessary because the telephone service providers have a statutory and fiduciary responsibility under Georgia law to properly bill, collect, and remit 911 fees. We believe, based on the evidence we have received, that responsibility has not been met. These monies need to be paid for the benefit of the counties’ 911 systems.

The failure of these companies to pay their obligations could eventually result in the taxpayers of Cobb and Gwinnett counties picking up the bill. The taxpayers should not have to supplement this gap.

The issue of properly funding 911 service is one that the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia has been trying to address. At a recent presentation by Gwinnett County to the Gwinnett legislative delegation, Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, who also serves as president of ACCG, said that for many counties, including Gwinnett, revenue from 911 and E-911 fees on telephone bills does not properly cover the cost of providing services, and have to be funded using other sources. ACCG has proposed legislation to address the problem, and Nash urged the delegation to address the issue in the upcoming session.

The individual lawsuits are against major telecommunications carriers operating in each County, including BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC (d/b/a AT&T Georgia); Verizon Enterprise Solutions, LLC; CLEC, LLC; Broadriver Communication Corporation; Broadvox, LLC; CBeyond Communications, LLC; Charter Fiberlink – Georgia, LLC; Earthlink, LLC (and its subsidiaries Business Telecom, Inc. and DeltaCom, LLC); Inteliquent, Inc.; Level 3 Communications, LLC; Network Telephone, LLC; Peerless Network of Georgia, LLC; Windstream Communications, Inc (and its subsidiaries NuVox Communications, Inc. and Southern Digital); XO Communications Services, LLC; and YMax Communications Corp.

The lawsuits were filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, and the Superior Courts of Gwinnett County, and Fulton County.

Dr. Roger Tutterow Offers 2016 Economic Predictions

When the Federal Reserve raises interest rates today for the first time in nine years, don’t panic. That’s the word from Dr. Roger Tutterow, economist and professor at Kennesaw State University. While TV talking heads may be fretting about the Fed tightening monetary policy, a 25 basis point increase in the Federal Funds rate means, “we are going from an insanely accommodative monetary policy to a very accommodative monetary policy,” that will likely leave the Fed Funds rate at 1.5% or lower. That translates to a 4.5% Prime Rate, which shouldn’t discourage borrowing.

Tutterow made his statement as part of a talk on the economic outlook for 2016 given to members of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia on Tuesday.

A year ago Tutterow predicted 2015 economic growth of 2.4%. The country’s economic performance will fall slightly short of that for several reasons. Two of those were temporary: the extremely bad winter in the northeast, and labor issues at the Port of Long Beach. Both slowed down the economy for a time. However, the strong US dollar, while showing the relative strength of our economy–“We are the least dirty shirt in the hamper,” Tutterow said–also means that exports took a hit as prices of US manufactured goods became relatively more expensive overseas. The strong dollar probably took 1% off of GDP growth this year, according to Tutterow, and is a concern going forward.

Another ongoing concern for the economy is the low price of crude oil. While lower prices for energy help consumers and businesses alike, much of the progress the country has made in the recovery from the great recession has been in the energy sector. With oil prices being so low, it becomes difficult to make a profit extracting oil from the ground, much less expanding drilling capacity. Tutterow sees crude oil prices in the $40-$55 per barrel range for much of 2016.

While previous drops in oil prices have led to production cuts that eventually bring the price back up due to supply and demand, this time, Saudi Arabia and OPEC are acting differently. Tutterow has two theories for this: first, that the Arab countries don’t want United States oil production to become too dominant, and are keeping prices at a level where it’s impractical to expand energy production here. The other possible reason involves geopolitics. Middle Eastern extremists gain much of their cash through selling oil, and by keeping prices low, their access to cash drops. Meanwhile, low energy prices are no help for Russia, which is trying to increase its hegemony in the region. Read more

SoS Office Releases Results of Investigation Into #PeachBreach

Secretary of State Brian Kemp released the findings of the administrative investigation into the cause of the data release that allowed personal identifying information on Georgia’s 6.1 million voters to be distributed to a dozen news and political party organization. The report is 30 pages long, and is backed up with eleven exhibits, including statements from employees, documents relating to procedures, emails, and policies within the Secretary of State’s IT department.

The report describes the State Download File, the list of voters, including address and vote history, but no personal identifying information, such as social security numbers or dates of birth. This file is produced on a monthly basis by contractor PCC Technology Corporation. The file is copied by PCC to a secure SFTP site that had only been accessible by former Secretary of State IT employee Gary Cooley. From that site, the file could be copied and distributed to organizations requesting it. Procedures for creating and distributing the information are covered in policies developed by the Secretary of State’s office.

In addition to the State Download File, the Secretary of State had produced a file for the Georgia Department of Revenue that contained Social Security numbers, drivers license numbers, and dates of birth. Before the transition from keeping voter data on a mainframe system to a server-based system, the custom file had been produced each January by Gary Cooley. The new server-based system meant that a new protocol for producing this data needed to be created, and this was requested by the Department of Revenue in August, 2014. Read more

Georgia Young Republicans Are Using a Different Approach to Grow Membership

Rob Lee says the difference between those under 40 and their elders is the difference between rabbit ears and 500 channels of cable TV. Lee, who is chairman of the Georgia Young Republicans, was trying to explain how the GOP can get the support of millennials who, he said, have a different context for understanding the conservative experience. His point was that those who grew up in the days of rabbit ears and three network stations shared a generalized experience, where people watched the same shows. Young people, on the other hand, have hundreds of channels to choose from, each appealing to specific interests, from European football to cooking. They can choose to watch channels the closely match their interests.

Georgia Young Republicans Chairman Rob Lee.  Photo: Jon Richards
Georgia Young Republicans Chairman Rob Lee. Photo: Jon Richards
That push towards individualized experiences makes young people less trustful of the institutions and communities that bound together baby boomers and members of the silent generation. From a political standpoint, that means fewer are affiliating with a party. Around 50% of millennials are independents, compared to 30% of older generations. While climbing through the Republican Party hierarchy by attending meetings and supporting candidates is important to their elders, young people are driven by individual relationships.

So, instead of asking someone under age 40 how long they have been a Republican or how conservative he or she might be, Republicans can build engagement by asking what a person’s name is, and what is important to them. Then, build a relationship based off of that. Lee says that an approach based on personal interests is a perfect fit for Republicans, who prioritize the power of the individual over the identity politics practiced by Democrats. Read more

Trump Takes Oglethorpe County Straw Poll

The Oglethorpe County Republican Party took a straw poll on Saturday at their booth at the Christmas in Oglethorpe celebration in Lexington. The clear winner in the straw poll, which covered over 200 people, was Donald Trump:

Donald Trump 42.9%
Ted Cruz 10.0%
Ben Carson 9.6%
Marco Rubio 4.6%
Mike Huckabee 2.3%
Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul 1.8%
Jeb Bush 1.4%
Undecided 23.7%

While the straw poll shows Trump’s support similar to the statewide Landmark / Rosetta Stone poll for WSB that was released Friday, there were far more undecided voters in the smaller sample. The results were also quite different than those in a straw poll back in August at the party’s annual pancake supper. That poll was among party regulars, while yesterday’s was among the general public.

Ted Cruz to Visit Georgia on December 18th and 19th

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz will visit Atlanta and Savannah next weekend as part of a “Take-Off With Ted” tour that will include twelve rallies in seven SEC Primary states in one week. The candidate will appear in Atlanta at 4:30 PM Friday, December 18th, and Savannah at 9 10 AM on Saturday the 19th.

Update: Cruz’s Atlanta appearance will be at the McCollum Field Hawthorne Aviation Hangar, 1723 McCollum Parkway in Kennesaw. Tickets are available here. His Savannah area appearance will start at 10 AM, and will be held at Ottawa Farms, 702 Bloomingdale Road in Bloomingdale. You can register to attend here.

A new poll commissioned by WSB TV shows Cruz in second place behind Donald Trump, with 19% of Republicans supporting him. Details of where Cruz will appear will be available soon. In addition to Georgia, Cruz will visit Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.

Updated: #PeachBreach Report Delayed Until Monday

The results of an internal investigation into how personal information, including social security numbers, drivers license numbers and dates of birth of Georgia’s 6.2 million registered voters, was accidentally distributed to a dozen news and political party organizations will not be released today as originally planned. According to a press release from Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the report on the data release will be available Monday afternoon.

The report will document the events and timeline leading up to the release. Among the information to be released are 5,000 emails related to the release, personnel files for relevant employees, communications with the Georgia Department of Revenue and PCC Technology Group, job descriptions, and more. Also included with the report will be plans for remedial action.

These documents will be available for public inspection following the release of the report. Persons wanting to view these documents or with questions regarding the data release can contact the Secretary of State’s office hotline at 404-654-6065.

The release of the report, originally set for Thursday, December 10th, has taken longer than expected. According to a representative of the Secretary of State’s office, employees are continuing to prepare the report and supporting background documents.

Transit and Non-Discrimination Are 2016 Priorities for Metro Atlanta Chamber

The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting Thursday, According to an AJC story by Scott Trubey, Chamber officials announced key 2016 goals of expanding transit and opposing legislation that could be considered discriminatory.

With the passage of House Bill 170 in 2015, the state’s roads and bridges were able to be better funded, but the measure did not directly address transit. While many in Republican leadership have said they don’t want to alter HB 170 this session, Speaker David Ralston told those attending a recent briefing sponsored by PolicyBEST that transit cannot be an afterthought. One proposal from MARTA would use a half penny sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb counties and federal money to extend rail further north on Georgia 400, put light rail in the Clifton corridor, and better commuter transit along I-20. To do this, changes would be needed to legislation that authorized counties to join together for “Mini T-Splosts,” extending their life by 30 years so as to become bondable.

While the Chamber hasn’t gotten behind a specific plan, it will be paying attention and will work with those who are exploring transit options because it sees transit as key to future economic development.

The other issue of interest to the Chamber is keeping Atlanta’s reputation for non-discrimination. While the future of Senate Bill 129, the Georgia RFRA, is open, as it sits tabled in the House Judiciary Committee, other issues, including the state’s reluctance to accept refugees is on the Chamber’s radar. From the AJC story:

To attract to people to this city, as great as this city is, we have to have a completely inclusive place where everybody is welcome,” said incoming chamber Chairman and SunTrust executive Jenner Wood. “That benefits not only the citizens of Georgia but it benefits the businesses that needs the workers. We won’t tolerate any discrimination. We want to be known as being inclusive.”

Asked about recent debate over Syrian refugees in Georgia and comments by Trump on Muslim travel bans, Gellerstedt said: “Anything that discriminates against any group, we are not going to be for. That will be (our) base and there won’t be waffling on that.”

A group of lawmakers that met with the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association on Wednesday were not receptive to passing a religious freedom bill without anti-discrimination provisions. Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert and Judiciary Committee member Rep. Beth Beskin said they wanted discrimination protection included, while House Rules Committee vice-Chairman Brett Harrell said he didn’t want the bill to come to a vote.

Preservation of Hope Scholarship Committees Meet Today

The House and Senate Study Committees on the Preservation of the Hope Scholarship are scheduled to have a joint meeting this morning to wrap up their business before releasing a final report. According to the agenda, the committee will hear overviews of HB 677, which is Rep. Ron Stephens’s bill to authorize casino gambling, and SR 135, which is Sen. Brandon Beach’s bill to authorize parimutuel wagering on horse races.

Other witnesses include Doug Walker, Professor of Economics, College of Charleston, Rep. Stacey Evans, the Rev. Willie Webb of the Foundation Baptist Church, Dr. James G Emshoff, Associate Professor Emeritus (GSU) and Director of Research, EMSTAR Research, Inc., and Rich Baldwin, Managing Director, Global Head of Union Gaming Analytics, Las Vegas.

While some of the Capitol Hill insiders think that the gambling measures have little chance of being approved during the 2016 session, the Faith & Freedom Coalition isn’t taking any chances. The mailer you see below was sent to at least some residents of Sen. Jeff Mullis’s district, asking recipients to contact the senator to tell him to oppose casino gambling.

Saying, “Don’t leave our children’s future to chance. Casinos will destroy Georgia’s families and economy,” the flyer lists crime, bankruptcies, addiction, job losses, financial ruin and less spending on essentials as reasons to be against casinos.

Faith & Freedom Coalition Mailer
Faith & Freedom Coalition Mailer

Maybe, He’s Finally Jumped the Shark

He began to be noticed after making an announcement earlier in the year. By early July, though, he was seeking more fame, so he got a little bolder and used a racial slur in order to attract attention. As summer turned to fall, he continued to seek publicity, but what he said was found to be untrue. The falsehoods didn’t bother his supporters though, and he remained as popular as ever.

In late November, he claimed that he was taken out of context based on statements he had made. Still, news was news, especially during a slow Thanksgiving week. By December though, his popularity had begun to slip a bit. So this week, he issued an inflammatory statement that he hoped would once again boost his popularity.

His statements generated lots of internet shaming, but he got what he wanted. He was still the center of attention.

Many wonder when the bloom will fall off the rose. So far, it hasn’t happened. Yet when each new statement designed to attract attention is more outrageous than the previous one, you eventually jump the shark. Was what we heard this week the last straw? Only time will tell.

Wait. Let me try that again.

He began to be noticed after making an announcement earlier in the year. By early July, though, he was seeking more fame, so he got a little bolder and used a racial slur in order to attract attention. As summer turned to fall, he continued to seek publicity, but what he said was found to be untrue. The falsehoods didn’t bother his supporters though, and he remained as popular as ever.

In late November, he claimed that he was taken out of context based on statements he had made. Still, news was news, especially during a slow Thanksgiving week. By December though, his popularity had begun to slip a bit. So this week, he issued an inflammatory statement that he hoped would once again boost his popularity.

His statements generated lots of internet shaming, but he got what he wanted. He was still the center of attention.

Many wonder when the bloom will fall off the rose. So far, it hasn’t happened. Yet when each new statement designed to attract attention is more outrageous than the previous one, you eventually jump the shark. Was what we heard this week the last straw? Only time will tell.


Amanda Swafford Becomes an Independent

Amanda Swafford, who ran on the Libertarian Party ticket for the Senate seat now occupied by David Perdue has decided to become an independent. In a Facebook post this morning, Swafford says,

As a member of the Libertarian Party working to reform Georgia’s ballot access laws, I have enjoyed a degree of privilege and access to our ballot that others have not. Independents and other third parties do not have the same access to our statewide or Presidential ballot in Georgia. As I take a step back from the Libertarian Party and become unaffiliated with any party, I will be able to work in concert with those individuals that must face tremendous obstacles in accessing our statewide and presidential ballot here in Georgia.

Swafford served as a city councilwoman in Flowery Branch prior to her run for Senate, where she received 49,067 or 1.91% of the 2,566,518 votes cast.

Cruz Announces Additions to Georgia Leadership Team; County Chairs

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz named chairmen in 100 Georgia counties, and announced 15 new additions to his Georgia leadership team. In a prepared statement, both Sen. Cruz and State Chair Ralph Hudgens praised the additions.

“I am encouraged to have the endorsement of so many conservative Georgia leaders,” said Cruz. “We are continuing to build the strongest operation in Georgia to get out the message that is resonating with so many Americans. I’m confident that we’re building the conservative coalition to compete and win Georgia on Super Tuesday.”

“This is an incredibly powerful group of leaders from across Georgia,” said Hudgens. “It shows that Ted Cruz is the candidate that best reflects our Georgia values in the presidential race and that Georgia is confident a President Cruz will stand up and fight for them.”

View the list of new additions below the fold. Read more