Friday, March 31, 2006

Who Will You Support?

As my voice mail and e-mail confirm, today is the end of this disclosure period for candidates, and many are "dialing for dollars."

When people ask me for money, it reminds me of how our campaign finance laws have turned our candidates into fundraisers. Really, for a candidate to be viable for an average House seat, they have to be prepared to raise at least a hundred grand, probably more. It takes the average Georgian more than two years to earn a hundred thousand dollars.

Is there a correlation between the ability of someone to get people to give them money and their ability to govern? Actually, maybe there is an inverse correlation.

Money can be an indicator of support, or lack there of, at the grassroots, but too often, at all levels, disclosures are filled with big contributions from big business and special interest groups. That's why that number near the top of the form that totals the "under $100" contributions is so important. In the Governor's race, I was impressed that on a percentage basis, Cathy Cox has had much higher numbers in this category than either Taylor or Perdue. That is, I believe, is an indication of her broad, grassroots support

Also, when I consider where I am going to invest my political dollars, I am looking for candidates who have open and ethical government at the top of their agenda, who see the need for ethics reform, and who do not use "well, they did it, too" as an excuse for creating slush funds like Speaker Richardson's. Apparently, he can receive unlimited contributions from unnamed sources, and then re-distribute that money to others who need it more than he does.

If elections are going to be bought and sold, don't we voters at least have the right to know who's doing the buying and selling?

Cathy Cox has led on the issue of open and ethical government, while Sonny Perdue has remained silent about the Speaker's Fund and even removed from the Ethics Commission a person known as a strong and fair advocate for ethical practices.

The People Won a Round or Two Yesterday

Two bills, specifically, SB 510, The Easy Button for Developers, failed as did the bill that would have virtually assured that Georgians would be picking up the tab for the AGL Pipeline. These two measures were defeated because citizens spoke up. For this session and last, imagine what sort of Georgia we would be creating if all the bills the Perdue Team advocated had actually passed. Personally, I am trying to figure out how they would've reconciled their efforts during the 2005 session to hand developers your personal property and keep the whole thing a secret with this year's push to protect property owners rights. That could've been a tough one!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

SB 510: An "Easy Button" for Developers

The Georgia House is currently debating SB 510, a measure that addresses stream buffers, giving developers a great deal more latitude to build within current stream buffers. Development near streams can threaten the quality of our drinking water. I think that I'd rather have clean water. This may not be a sexy piece of legislation, but it appears that it's passage could remove key environmental protections. Plus, a number of reps are questioning why landfills are referenced in the legislation and fear that the result will be that landfills will be pushed further into rural Georgia.

This is a bill that primarily is focused on Lumpkin County, where property owners were offered a variance provision but chose to pursue legislation instead- that's because having the option of individual variances did not provide developers with the blank check they wanted.

As one representative pointed out, this is an "Easy Button" for developers. With the ice caps melting, when it comes to the environment, do we really want an Easy Button??

No Budget Yet...Could be a Long Night!

As of 5 PM today, the Georgia Legislature had not yet voted on the budget. Could be a long one. I did not realize that if they cannot agree and have to call a special session, they have to wait 7 days. I am sure that there are plenty of legislators who have opponents and are hoping for a conclusion to the session so that they can raise money for their campaigns.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Not in Front of the Children!

Yesterday, as The Perdue Teams's civil war over the budget hemorrhaged into a public spectacle, things got pretty nasty. With legislative pages in attendance, the debate devolved into cursing and shouting in both chambers and in hallways of the capitol.

Hmmm....are these those family values they keep talking about?

Legislative sessions are broadcast live on the Internet at:,2094,4802_6107101,00.html

Some sessions are archived so that they can be viewed later. I wonder what rating tomorrow's session will merit- TV14 or NC17?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sine Die Street Party, and Let's Invite Jane

On Day 40, we need to have a Sine Die Street Party. At least the carnage will be over. I don't know about you, but since about Day 2, I have wished the legislative session was over. I have welcomed their breaks and their days off, thinking that if the Georgia Legislature is not in session, they'll do less harm. In "The Fonda Maneuver," by Bill Shipp, he nailed the Republican leadership for putting forward and agenda that is, in essence, anti-people, and he spanked the Democrats for being both passive and, well, stupid. And he is right.

While the Republican's noshed on ballooning lobbyist perks, they tried to cut the throat of the average citizen with bills that do things like placing taxing authority in the hands of private developers or telling local school systems how to spend money they don't have, thus driving up property tax.

Of course, Democrats seized the moment and put forward the populist message that has always won the hearts and minds of voters. That's what we did, right? No, wrong. One of our own put forward a resolution to honor Jane Fonda. I am sure that the Republicans have sent their thank you notes.

I know Jane deserves to be honored for her work with teen pregnancy. Absolutely, but, as Shipp points out, the timing could not have been better for Republicans who did seize the moment as an opportunity to distract the public from their inept governing.

We have to choose our moments more carefully, else this destructive crew- this Trojan Horse for private developers and big business- will get another shot at this in 2007. I don't think our schools, our healthcare and the rights of private property owners can take another year of this. So, could Jane just wait until we get the House back? I promise, it won't be long. And she can come to our street party.

Yeah? And your Momma is a.......

I talked to a legislator this morning who said that the Republican members of the Georgia General Assembly were fighting among themselves. It's so bad, this member said, that you'd think somebody had said something about somebody else's momma. Is this what happens when a party is not accustomed to having power, and the first sip makes them drunk? Maybe so. It's going to be very interesting to see whether they are able to get the budget passed by the end of day 40.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Judge Billy Randall Draws a Challenger

It appears that Judge Billy Randall of Macon who is currently serving in Bibb County has drawn a challenger is the November election. I understand that attorney Rebecca Grist will challenge him. Though this is a judical race, it is partisan. Randall, who served more than a quarter century in the Georgia legislature, is a Democrat, and Grist may run as an Independent.

We're Melting

No, really. This is not OZ: the Earth is actually melting. This weekend, CNN ran the story that is on the cover of this month's TIME Magazine, a story that sort of steps up, taps us on the shoulder and says, "No, really, global warming is not a liberal trick." Here's the deal. We are at a critical "tipping point", and if we don't act NOW to make changes- especially to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels-we, very quickly (within ten years), will reach a point of no return. One NASA scientist, carefully edited by this administration, has stepped forward to predict that our inaction will result in the melting of the polar ice, by 2060.

Now, despite the fact that the scientific community is singing this song in unison, some Republican facing a tough midterm (Rick Santorum?) is likely to step up to the mike and suggest that Democrats are using blow dryers to melt the ice. They are going to have to think of something to say.
The TIME article makes it clear that the Bush administration is stubbornly deaf to the problem, making the threat to national security created by the Iraq policy seem like child's play by comparison.

See that article here.

Is this a one or two day news story? Will we pay attention now? I'm not sure, because I had to think about what I wanted to write about tonight. Why did I have to think about that?

Clearly, this problem has been brewing for many years, but the policies of this administration have been brutal to the environment. I have become increasingly convinced that every single policy of this administration is governed by one overriding concern: Making sure Bush's buddies in the oil industry get richer. When someone recently referred to Bush as the Apocalyptic President, I thought that they were talking about Iraq or Iran. That's the least of it. He has turned his back and silenced the warning that the planet is ill, very ill indeed.

The planet is dying. We are seeing the impact daily. Is there any issue more important?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Poll on Equal Access in Government: Please Participate

Do Georgians care whether lobbyists and special interests are able to buy access to our elected officials by providing meals, tickets, trips, and now wedding showers? Yesterday, I asked a candidate for statewide office what his internal polling revealed on this issue, and he said that most Georgians really don't care about the issue. I think that if that is the case, then we have simply not done a good job of articulating the problem. Most Georgian's don't care that special interests like AGL with their fourteen lobbyists have greater influence than the rest of us? I find that hard to believe, so I decided to post this (non-scientific) poll to test the issue. I really am curious about what people think, so please vote, and ask others to do the same.

The Georgia Legislature should ban all gifts, trips, meals and other perks from lobbyists to elected officials.
Strongly Agree
Somewhat Agree
Free polls from

Friday, March 24, 2006

Showers of Blessing

A Georgia Republican legislator claims that when lobbyists gave him a wedding shower, they were not seeking his blessing on legislation. Right. When I got married, the wedding showers were hosted by near and dear family friends. The gifts came from people close to us or our parents. Many of them had profound influence on our lives then, and now. But my friends were not lobbyists, and I was not serving in the Georgia Legislature.

Rep. Stacey Reece's (R-Gainesville) recent wedding shower, at the rather pricey 191 Club in Atlanta, was hosted by twenty-one lobbyists, many of whom represent concerns with much to lose or much to gain this legislative session. The fact that this occurred at all is, oh, I don't know, absurd, horrid, ridiculous, slimy- pick an adjective. Rep. Reece's defense of accepting this huge gratituity is even worse. He is so out of touch with the problem of lobbyists wielding undue influence that he defended his actions by saying, "Whether someone buys you a vase or a dish towel has no more bearing than if a lobbyist takes you out to a committee dinner and pays for that."

Exactly. While I'm betting there were very few dish towels in the gift display, the Rep. got it right- he is just too blinded by a culture that routinely accepts a few big guns picking up the tab to see the problem.

Let me spell it out. Voters are not as dumb as he thinks we are. Go ahead, try to convince me that our elected listen with equal attention to the people who don't buy the dinners, the tickets- and now provide the wedding showers-(what's next, is the travel agent industry going to provide the honeymoon?). And then try to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. You'll have equal success. We know exactly what the score is. And if we didn't, all we would have to do is compare the money spent by lobbyists with the legislative agenda. These guys (and gals) get results.

We need "cup of coffee" lobbyist reform right now. And if the crew in Atlanta does not have the courage to de-rail their gravey train, then the voters are going to have to do it for them.

See below, the entire article about this issue, published today in the AJC:
Lobbyists shower legislator with party (AJC)Nancy Badertscher, Ann Hardie - StaffFriday, March 24, 2006
The engagement party invitation let guests know that the loving couple could use a set of martini glasses and a place setting for 12 of their china.
Nothing out of the ordinary there --- except that the bridegroom is a state legislator and the 21 people hosting the wedding shower are lobbyists, many with interests in some of the biggest bills under consideration by the Georgia General Assembly.
The betrothed, Rep. Stacey Reece (R-Gainesville), called the event held in his honor Tuesday night at the private, upscale 191 Club in downtown Atlanta "appropriate."
"Whether someone buys you a vase or a dish towel has no more bearing than if a lobbyist takes you out to a committee dinner and pays for that," Reece said.
Others thought the event crossed the line. House Republican leaders noted the distinction between a committee dinner and an engagement party and questioned Reece privately about the appropriateness of having lobbyists pay for such a personal affair.
"I would have handled it differently," said House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island). "But I accept Rep. Reece at his word that he viewed this as friends wanting to do something for him and nothing more."
Public watchdogs said most Georgians don't see it that way. Jill Johnson of the Georgia Public Interest Research Group said the party feeds the perception that lobbyists and legislators have too cozy a relationship.
And Emmet Bondurant, former chairman of Common Cause Georgia, said the event "raises serious questions of appearance of undue influence."
Friendships between lobbyists and lawmakers are a fact of life under Georgia's Gold Dome. They are cemented over the many dinners and events that the two groups share after the daily debates and committee meetings --- mostly on the lobbyists' tabs. In 2005, lobbyists spent $1.1 million on meals, tickets to sporting events, and other gifts for lawmakers.
Freddi Hagin, the lobbyist who organized the party, said every lobbyist asked to host the shower is a friend of Reece's. "We gave him a little party to celebrate his happiness," Hagin said.
Lobbyists said Reece met his bride-to-be, Amanda Wilson, at the Capitol where she had volunteered to take blood pressure readings one day. Wilson is a professor at Mercer University's Southern School of Pharmacy.
When lobbyists approached him about throwing a shower, Reece said, he told them they could do so "as friends," not as lobbyists representing clients.
"I don't think we should be precluded as elected officials from being able to enjoy things that our constituents enjoy," he said.
Although all 180 House members received an invitation, Hagin said, there weren't many among the three dozen guests who dined on beer and wine, fruit and cheese, bacon-wrapped scallops and cream cheese and artichoke pastry.
Some lawmakers said they didn't go because they disapproved of lobbyists hosting such a personal affair. And some said they didn't like the invitation hinting that gifts were expected by directing them to Reece's bridal registries at Belk and Bed, Bath & Beyond.
State Rep. Ben Bridges (R-Cleveland) stopped by the party but said he wasn't aware lobbyists were hosting it. "My district is next to his," Bridges said. "I just did it out of respect for him."
Among the lobbyists hosting Reece's party were those involved in some of the more controversial issues of the session, including proposed reforms to the title pawn industry and construction of a natural gas pipeline from the coast to Atlanta.
Reece, who was elected to the Legislature in 2003, recently was appointed by House Speaker Glenn Richardson as one of a small group of important "hawks," legislators who can swoop into any committee and cast a vote.
Hagin, whose clients include the Georgia Council of Public Libraries and the Assisted Living Association of Georgia, said that she "has no political dealings" with Reece. "He has never carried any of my bills," she said.
But Hagin acknowledged that Reece does vote on legislation that comes before the full House.
Hagin said the party cost $1,091, about $52 per lobbyist/host. About half of the three dozen guests brought gifts, those who attended the party said.
Trip Martin, whose lobbying firm represents a company advocating for the pipeline, was not a gift giver. "We're happy for Stacey and his fiancee," he said. "We'll disclose the expenditure."
Although lobbyists hosting the party called it a private affair, all said they plan to disclose their portion of the cost on reports they file with the State Ethics Commission. State law requires that lobbyists report any expenditure they make on behalf of a lawmaker.
Reece said that his wedding next month will be private.
There will be, however, a post-wedding reception planned for 350 guests. Although Jim Walters, owner of one of Georgia's largest small-loan chains, has offered his Gainesville farm for the event at no cost, Reece says that he will be paying for his own party.
Walters networks with regulators, makes campaign contributions and tracks the work of legislative committees that deal with lending issues.
"Jim is a personal friend of mine, a constituent," Reece said. "Must be a slow news day."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What Party Leaders, Exactly?

On Tuesday, Denise Majette announced for State School Superintendent, and today, Carlotta Harrell is circulating, by e-mail, a copy of an article from Atlanta Progressive News entitled "Denise Majette Run Upsets Democrats." The article goes on to quote un-named "party leaders" who supposedly said any number of unflattering things about Majette. The tone of the article makes it sound as though the whole Democratic Party is up in arms, and I can tell you that's not the case. (In fact, we seldom all agree about anything except for wanting Sonny un-elected.)

If these "party leaders" are so fired up about Majette's announcement, then why did they not allow their names to be used the the article? This looks like all fluff, no substance to me.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Majette Set to Make Major Announcement

Denise Majette to Hold Press Conference at Capitol Tuesday, March 21

Former Congresswoman Denise Majette will hold a press conference on the Washington Street side of the Georgia Capitol (West Steps) at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 21. Ending weeks of speculation about her plans, I understand that she will make a major announcement impacting the 2006 elections.
Any guesses as to her plans or thoughts about how her planned announcement could impact the election? Chime in.

Bush is Whacked

Marking the third anniversary of the war, CNN reports that Bush gave a speech on Iraq hoping to shore up support. It's not clear whether he hoped to gain support for the war or for himself, but I'm pretty sure that support for our troops and for the Iraqi people does not figure into the equation. Today, Bush proclaimed that "victory in Iraq will make this country more secure and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come." What's he smokin'? Does he really believe that he, Mr. Mission Accomplished, has one shred of credibility with the American people on this issue?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gov. Perdue Abandons 6000 Georgia Families

What was Governor Perdue thinking when he ordered changes that placed 6000 Georgia families at risk of losing access to critical medical care for their severely disabled children? Was he thinking at all when he outsourced the review of these cases to a private company, a company that until recently had but one retired physician (with no pediatric experience) on staff? Perhaps he hoped that no one would notice.

Here's the short version. About 6000 Georgia families who have severely disabled children have assets that exceed the ceiling that would allow them to qualify for Medicaid or for PeachCare. These families face enormous medical expenses, and they have opted to keep their children at home, out of institutional care.

Thanks to Governor Perdue, all of these families face uncertainty and approximately 1600 of them face likely exclusion from the one program in Georgia, The Katie Beckett Waiver Program, that offers access to the healthcare for their children. Experts estimate that forty-sixty percent of these families have no other health insurance. All of these families face medical expenses beyond what most of us can imagine.

At the Capitol, there is a medical station steps away from the Governor's office. He, and our other state elected officials, have direct, immediate and easy access to healthcare. It appears that what is good for state officials doesn't apply to Georgia's most vulnerable citizens. Depriving severely disabled children of medical care is not a family value I care to adopt.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Georgia State School Superintendent's Race

What do we need in a State School Superintendent? At this point, only two candidates appear to be in that race: the current Republican Superintendent and Democrat Carlotta Harrell. Can either of them offer the leadership needed to put Georgia schools on the path to excellence? The current superintendent obviously can't. Look at her dismal track record. While Governor Perdue has slashed more than a billion from education funding, she has been M.I.A.

In addition to someone who is educated and who has a vision and a plan for excellence, we simply need someone who is willing to stand up for Georgia's children. We need someone who will speak up when political expediency is placed before good education policy, who thinks that class size reduction is a necessity and who knows that politically correct sound-bites will not get the job done in our classrooms. We need a State School Superintendent who will show up for Georgia's children. There is room is this race for a candidate with a bold new vision for excellence in our schools.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Georgia Republicans: Outsourcing Responsibility for Governing

I want to thank Governor Perdue, from the bottom of my heart, for making sure that no one in Georgia (including Governor Perdue) has to actually think for themselves or accept personal responsibility for decisions. The Governor has outsourced responsibility to Washington, D.C. think-tanks, and the Republican legislators have outsourced responsibility to the Governor and the Speaker.

"Do you have a boss?" That's what Georgia Republican legislators asked when education advocates visited the capitol to talk with legislators about the "65% = Failure and Bill the Homeowners for the Difference" legislation. "Well", they said, "We have to vote for this bill because Governor Perdue is our boss." Silly me. I thought that Georgia citizens were their bosses.

Apparently, Georgians just don't know what's good for them.

A Women's Right to Know? The 65% Bill? Waiting Periods? The Gay Marriage Amendment? Not an original idea in the bunch. All imports. All were essentially boilerplated bills, part of the National Republican Agenda to gain and maintain power by creating media-ready sound-bite packed legislation. Do you think any of it has to do with values? Wrong. It all has to do with power. And, at first, the strategy was very effective.

The problem is that what's great political strategy is often horrible public policy. We, as voters, must look beyond the sound-bite and demand leadership that will put the interest of the people ahead of maintaining their own political power.

We need leadership that will not outsource the responsibility for governing, who will look to Georgians for direction and who will have the courage to risk their position in order to represent voters.

If you want open and representative government for all the people, then we need to elect Georgia Democrats in November. Georgia government controlled by Georgians. What a novel idea.

WIN List to Honor Elected Democratic Women in Middle Georgia


MONDAY, MAY 1, 2006

Georgia’s WIN List Presents


Featuring our Elected Democratic Women from Middle Georgia

Monday, May 1, 2006
6:00 – 8:00 PM
The Columns on College
315 College Street
Macon, GA 31201
$35.00 Minimum Donation

All proceeds benefit Georgia’s WIN List.
WIN must report contributions greater than $100 per year as required by law. Contributions to Georgia's WIN List are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.

To Donate and Reserve on-line, go to the WIN List Homepage and click on "Donate."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's Not a Very Sonny Day in Georgia!

Dear Georgia Taxpayer:

Grab your wallet. Last year, your legislature agreed to borrow $56 million dollars for unspecified "economic development." Paying the debt over 20 years will cost about $100 million dollars. Do you think that you have a right to know what the money was for? Yes? Actually, no, you don't. Sonny may be Governor, but Georgia's "Sunshine Laws" do not apply to the Legislature.

See the Atlanta Journal Article "Perdue's Record on Secrecy Clouded" at:

Secrecy and elitism are the hallmarks of the Perdue Administration. Business, industry and developers seem to have the right to know. Lobbyists who shower those in power with gifts or donations to special accounts have access. The average citizen? Not so much.

The Perdue Team has turned secrecy into an art form, claiming that a few listening sessions on Saturdays and broadcasting committee meetings on the internet translates into "transparency in government." So, those who can afford to travel and those who can afford broadband internet have access. The rest of Georgians? Not so much.

When Perdue wants to hear from big business, he secrets them away for meetings at the Governor's mansion. You and I? Not so much.

Don't be fooled by the sound-bite ready programs like "Saturdays With Sonny" or the Governor's claim to support transparency in government. Actions speak louder than words. Listening for a few minutes is easy. Having the courage to make government as open book-that takes real leadership-something the Perdue Team is sorely lacking. It's past time for the people of Georgia to demand no less.

We need a Governor who will by her own example, make it clear that the people of Georgia can be trusted with access to their government. We need a Governor and representatives who know who they work for: the people of Georgia. We need to elect Cathy Cox, and we need to elect Georgia Democrats to the House and Senate.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Rumor has it...

That a well known Georgia Democrat will throw her hat into the ring for one of the constitutional offices, maybe as soon as tomorrow. Any guesses? Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

And the Georgia Governor's Race

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a local die-hard (as in Bush Ranger) Republican. He asked who I thought would win the Democratic primary for Governor. I told him that I hoped Democrats would have the wisdom to choose Cox. He said, "I hope you choose Taylor. We're much more afraid of Cox."

This is not the first time I've heard this. Cox is widely viewed as the Democrat Sonny fears. Fine with me. But do you agree? Does Cox have the best shot in November? And will she win the primary? Weigh in as the real race begins.

JJ and Crossover Day

Tomorrow, the State Committee of the Democratic Party of Georgia will meet, and tomorrow night, the annual Jefferson Jackson dinner will be held. This dinner is one of the major fundraisers for the state party, but I imagine that many of our legislators will be unable to attend. Eighty plus bills are on the House calendar, and tomorrow is day 30, crossover day in the state legislature. If a bill doesn't move to the other chamber by midnight tomorrow, it is effectively dead for the session. There are multiple constitutional amendments and other important (and some not so important) bills pending, so I think that the dems best stay and hold the line where they can. Of course, that tomorrow is this critical legislative day is entirely coincidental. It's also an accident that the legislative session finished up at 2 PM on the day Bush was here. Complete accident. Speaker Richardson and the Governor could never be capable of such pettiness. I guess that's just politics.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bush, UAE and Georgia Lawmakers

First, a question. How is it that Georgia lawmakers and the Governor can attend a fundraiser before the end of the legislative session? I am of course referring to the Bush event last night. Is none of the money raised going to make it's way back into the Governor's campaign coffers? And did they serve (lame) duck?

Second, I believe that the UAE port deal was eventually, intentionally turned in favor of Republican lawmakers. I'm not clear that Bush was even aware of the details of the deal, but once he became aware, and the tide of public opinion rose opposing the idea, Republicans in congress were able to take the opportunity to distance themselves from an already unpopular president. (Actually, they got to disagree, at the same time, with George Bush and Jimmy Carter. How often does that happen?) Mind you, this took no leadership on their part. It does not take leadership, intellect or courage to do what the polls say to do. Still, the Republicans were able to show "strength" by standing up to the President. Set to take a bath on his lack of coattails at midterm, could the President digging in his heels, threatening veto only to have those "brave" Republicans go with the tide of public opinion be a Rove-trick?

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Danita Knowles to Challenge Chuck Sims

Danita Poston Knowles of Douglas, will become a candidate for HD 169 (Chuck Sims). Danita and others worked very hard to help Sims get elected, and he rewarded their efforts by switching parties. Now, he will have the opportunity to face his former supporter in the November election. Knowles has served on the State Democratic Committee and is the Chair of the 1st Congressional District Democrats. She is a great leader, a hard worker and will make a great rep!

Big Props to Susie Hamrick Jones

Major props to my sister, Susie Hamrick Jones, who is the executive director and one of the founders of the highly effective NC nonprofit, The Foothills Conservancy. The Conservancy, through direct action has preserved more than 30,000 acres of beautiful N.C. land. Tomorrow, Susie will receive the N.C. Governor's Award as the 2005 Land Conservationist of the Year.
Susie Hamrick Jones honored as 2005 Land Conservationist of the Year

Way to go, sis! Want to come to Georgia? I'm sure that some folks down toward the coast would be glad to see you!

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Rep. Freeman: Conveniently Out of Touch

When responding to neighbor's outrage and questions about whether his father-in-law relied on Freeman's political connections when deciding to clear cut land in South Bibb (apparently in preparation for development), Rep. Freeman said, ""My father-in-law does his business and I do my business, and we keep them very separate," Freeman said. "I don't know anything more than what the residents out there know, to be honest with you." (Macon Telegraph, 03/07/2006)

Puckett, Freeman's father-in-law and developer apparently admits using an agreement to sell dirt to DOT to make improvements to his property in South Bibb without having to deal with Planning and Zoning. Neighbors are outraged, with more than 100 showing up at an impromptu meeting, and Freeman is out of touch.

Well, I'm not so sure that explanation passes the smell test, but even if he's telling the truth, why doesn't he know more than the residents?(Part of the problem is that the residents know very little because of the secrecy around the proposed improvements and eventual use of the land.) In his position as state rep, isn't it his job to know more? If this were anyone other than his father-in-law, would he be more involved, more protective of the interests of homeowners in his district? I hope that the answer is "yes," but it could be that Freeman simply joins his colleagues in supporting secrecy and the interests of developers over the interests of homeowners.

We need that "Homeowners Right to Know Act"! And the people of South Bibb need a rep who will choose to know what's going on in his or her district.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Georgia Homeowner's "Right to Know" Act

Pregnant women. They're only people the Perdue Team seems to think have a "right to know" much of anything. Since assuming power, Georgia Republicans have turned back the clock when it comes to open government. For example, there was a time when anyone could search, for free, masses of data on the State Department of Education website. Now, only those who can afford to pay an annual fee have full access.

And then there's the ongoing effort to strip home owners of rights and give developers the right to make plans for your neighborhood, without your input.

Now, we learn that the State is solving it's mental health crisis by housing-in your neighborhood, without notice to you-individuals found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

Forget a women's right to know. We know. Trust me. We know exactly what this Perdue Team is up to!!

What we need in Georgia is a "Homeowner's Right to Know" Act!

Sunday, March 5, 2006

In Georgia, Who's Next Door? You'd Be Surprised!

If the State of Georgia wanted to purchase the house next door and establish a group home for adults found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity, would you be at the public meeting to object, find out the details, check out safety concerns or at least ask a few questions? Yes? Actually, no, you wouldn't. There would be no meeting. Apparently, the State is able to establish such homes without going through Planning and Zoning, without public hearing and entirely without your knowledge.

It sort of defies common sense, doesn't it? The State can simply plop one of these "Forensic Group Homes" where it pleases, and not only do they not have to get your permission: they don't even have to tell you. Based on my research, they don't even want you to know or ask questions. This program has flown very much under the radar.

One such home already exists in Bibb County and two more are planned. I'll lay odds the neighbors have no idea.

At one time, such individuals were typically housed and treated in hospitals, like Central State. Whether this change is the result of the move to de-centralize mental health services (translation: close hospitals) or the natural by-product of a cash-strapped state mental health system, I can't say.

What I can say is that the question here is not whether these folks are actually insane or whether they need treatment. Let's grant that they are and they do. The crimes they committed are real crimes. Sometimes, their actions caused the injury or death of someone.

The question is whether the public-and property owners-have a right to know and ask important questions about supervision, safety procedures, staff qualifications and program criteria. What steps have been taken to insure community safety?

The State began this program quietly and apparently by choice or necessity, has plans to expand. Here is an excerpt from a 2005 document obscurely posted on the Georgia State Department of Human Resources website:

Georgia is expanding efforts to address the needs of persons with mental illness who become involved in the criminal justice system, but the numbers needing services are far greater than the system has the capacity to serve. This is evidenced by the growing numbers of person with mental illness in local jails and state prisons, as well as by the number of individuals who have been found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) or Incompetent to Stand Trial (IST) and who require treatment in one of state psychiatric hospital forensic units. MHDDAD is currently examining this issue and developing plans for community services that will enable some individuals to leave inpatient settings on conditional release, and also divert some individuals from hospitals who could be served in a secure community setting.

The full document is available at:

Unfortunately, it seems that "secure community setting" can be translated "house in your neighborhood."

A commitment to Safe Communities and protection of personal property rights means that (1) we need more dollars for mental health services in Georgia, and there is an appropriate role for hospitals in continuuminum of care, and (2) Neighbors ought to be informed about the intent and given an opportunity to comment when such a facility is planned.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

"This Assembly Needs Cleaning": Why We Need Lobbyist/Campaign Finance Reform NOW

In 1923, after Viola Ross Napier of Macon became the first women to serve in the Georgia General Assembly, she reportedly said, "I hate to say the Assembly needs cleaning, but I see no way getting around it." She might've been talking about the dirt in the corners, but in every sense, her statement is timeless and never more true than today.

With the lack of progress on insurance reform, the ruse that the Governor engaged in with the 65% bill and the revelations regarding the $20,000 donation to Richardson's slush fund, never has there been a greater need to clean house. We can do that in a couple of ways. If we want reform, then the people of Georgia have to be willing to stand up and take OUR Assembly back.

We need some new leaders, and we need leaders who will back legislation that will prohibit or severely limit all gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. I'm talking about "cup of coffee" limits on gifts. No tickets. No dinners. No alcohol. We need to level the playing field so that the average Georgian is just as likely to get their representative's attention as those who come bearing gifts. Show me the candidate who is willing to support real reform on this issue, and I'll show you someone who may just be able to stand up for the voters: they won't be bent over kissing the rear-end of some cash-bearing lobbyist.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Election Strategy-Not An Education Strategy

Dear Governor Perdue:

I have one message for you: if you have not signed it yet, there's still time to back up and do what's right for Georgia's schools. I'm talking about the inane 65% formula. Come on, we both know that this is an election strategy- not an education strategy. There is still time to do the right thing. By the way, while you intend this to be an election strategy, you may discover that it does not work any better for that purpose than it will in our classrooms. And, in the event you think this is a partisan attack, think again. Check the article below from the National Reveiw- yes, that bastion of conservative thought.
The 65-Cent DelusionA new education “reform” distraction.By Jay P. Greene & Jonathan Butcher
A seductively simple and horribly wrongheaded proposal is sweeping through education-reform circles and catching on with policymakers. The proposal, often called the "65-cent" solution, is to mandate that schools spend at least 65 percent of their money on instructional costs. The idea is to move resources out of administration and into the classroom, where it is assumed that students will automatically benefit from the increased expenditure.

Advocates of this proposal have not stopped to ask for evidence that student achievement is higher at schools spending at least 65 percent of their resources on instruction than at schools that do not. In fact, there is no evidence to support such a claim, though this has not slowed the 65-cent fad. According to First Class Education, the group trumpeting the movement, some 20 states and the District of Columbia are considering 65-cent proposals, and Louisiana, Kansas, and Texas have already adopted similar plans. Nor are supporters bothered that the two states currently spending more than 65 percent of their budgets on instruction, New York and Maine, are hardly paragons of education excellence.
Before jumping on the 65-cent bandwagon, reformers might want to think about whether this wagon is headed for a cliff. There is no reason to think that schools in general are starving instructionally or that all schools have the same instructional and non-instructional needs. Some schools have large numbers of students who benefit from school-lunch programs, special education services, and buses to transport them to school. Other schools have less need for these services. Why should we prohibit all schools from spending more than 35 percent on non-instructional services if that is where their needs are?
Previous reform efforts have rightly pushed to empower schools to make decisions about how they can best allocate their resources while holding them accountable for producing results. Schools should have this freedom to control their own inputs while we demand better outcomes because there is no "right" way to use inputs. Schools are in the best position to make these judgments. The 65-cent solution pushes in the opposite direction, imposing a mandate on how schools use their resources without demanding results.
Meaningful enforcement of a 65-cent solution will also be highly problematic. There are no proper accounting standards in public education, so the classification of spending as instructional or non-instructional is often arbitrary and inconsistently applied. This problem is not resolved even if we were to use the guidelines for classifying expenditures adopted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Those guidelines classify athletic programs, for example, as "instructional" while special-education services are "non-instructional." Do we really want to force more spending on football programs and less on students with cerebral palsy? Besides, schools categorize their own spending with hardly any auditing or oversight, so complying with a 65-cent mandate could simply be a matter of moving some accounts around.
Schools cooking their books would be preferable to the next easiest way to comply with the 65-cent mandate: go on a teacher-spending binge. Unions would welcome this, of course, as hiring more public-school employees and raising their salaries means more revenue for the union. The 65-cent solution then becomes a giant ruler that reformers hand the teachers unions to beat reformers over the head. Consider why New York and Maine already satisfy the 65-percent mandate. New York has a student-teacher ratio of 13.7, much lower than the national average, and ranks fifth in the nation in teacher salaries. Similarly, Maine has the highest number of teachers, with one teacher for every 12.1 students, which is almost 25 percent more teachers than the national average.
Hiring more teachers and paying them more would be an acceptable reform strategy if evidence suggested this improves student achievement. Research shows, however, that this is not a promising strategy since student outcomes are no better in states with higher pay or more teachers per pupil. Using the 65-percent mandate to raise teacher pay and hire more teachers is like pouring more water into a river. The water level will rise but it won't change the course of the river.
Rather than be distracted by simplistic solutions, reformers should remain focused on policies that alter the incentives that schools and educators have to help their students succeed while freeing them to make choices about how best to produce that success. It makes no more sense to mandate that schools spend no more than 35 percent on non-instructional expenses than to mandate that CEOs make no more than $1 million. Both ideas have populist appeal while flying in the face of everything economic theory and empirical experience teaches.
— Jay P. Greene is head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Jonathan Butcher is a research associate in the Department of Education Reform.
* * *

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Property Seizure Without Criminal Conviction: What Country Do We Live In?

Rep. Allen Freeman (R-Macon) wants law enforcement officers to be able to seize the vehicle of anyone arrested for a sex crime against a child under the age of 14. You are probably already applauding. So was I, for a minute. Throw the bums in jail, take all their toys, protect our children at all cost. Right? Look closer. This amendment to the already strengthened sex offender legislation passed this year would allow seizure for those merely arrested, not convicted, of one of these horrible crimes. Remember that this is a crime where there is seldom any physical evidence, and where the simple allegation can result in arrest, and especially in the context of domestic disputes, this is an allegation that is all too easy to make. It's easy to think that innocent until proven guilty is not all that important, until it's your son or your husband who is accused of such a crime.

Was it too much to ask that Freeman propose something that would truly address the preventing sexual abuse of children? Like more funds to train and hire special investigators? Or legislation to support and fund special crimes against children units in every district attorney's office? Or more prevention education in our schools?

But, I'll tell you what. I could probably support Freeman's legislation, but I just don't think it goes far enough. Shouldn't we also include your average, run of the mill rapist? How about murderers? Could we also find a way to include adulterers? And we wouldn't have to prove it: just the accusation would do.

Here's the article from The Macon Telegraph:
Bill would seize cars of accused child molesters (Macon Telegraph)


ATLANTA - A Macon lawmaker wants to allow law enforcement officers to seize the cars of anyone arrested for a sex crime against a victim younger than 14.
The civil forfeiture penalty is an add-on to the harsher punishment included in a sex crime bill passed this session, said the sponsor, Rep. Allen Freeman, R-Macon.
"This is complementary to the sexual predator bill that we've already passed," Freeman said. "It's just another deterrent."
The bill amends current law that allows seizure of vehicles used in pimping underage prostitutes.
House Bill 1465 provides that automobiles could be seized upon arrest of anyone arrested for any of several serious sexual offenses against children. Only the registered owner of the car could be so punished.
"I wanted to make sure that if somebody's son were arrested while driving their parent's car, that the parents wouldn't be subject to it," Freeman said. "It doesn't apply to rental or borrowed cars, either."
Freeman said he was unaware of any controversy about how the civil forfeiture penalty has been applied to drug suspects.
Such laws, allowing law enforcement agencies to keep the proceeds of arrest forfeitures, have been criticized by civil liberties groups and courts for alleged abuse by police. The U.S. Congress passed a reform bill in 2000 tightening requirements for such seizures, and encouraging the use of forfeiture after conviction of a crime.

Party Bus to Taste of Macon

Stebin Horne who is a candidate in the Republican primary for HD 137 (David Graves' seat) sponsored a bus, complete with "beverages", and admission tickets for Taste of Macon (about $30 buck a pop) for about 60 supporters who accompanied him to the event last night. I'm not so sure about this campaign tactic. Maybe it was a good strategy to build loyalty, but here's my issue.

It appears that there is a culture in Atlanta politics that turns a blind eye to lobbyist's providing legislators with two, three or four drink lunches- and goodness know how many drink dinners. Trading alcohol, meals and tickets to events for access to legislators seems to be common place, and I think that it is bad practice. Stebin seems to be incorporating this strategy into his campaign- trading those items for access to voters. It implies that he would see this quid pro quo as acceptable, in reverse, if elected. Not my cup of tea.

What are your thoughts?

Georgia Political Digest

Check out this great new source for political news in Georgia: