Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Richardson Schools Perdue on Education

In a hard-hitting tell it like it is editorial in today's Telegraph, Charles Richardson is on point as he attacks the myth that Governor Perdue is somehow a friend of public education. You really must read the entire piece, here, but here's a tease:

In 2002 Sonny Perdue was elected governor with the help of teachers who chafed at Barnes’ efforts to improve public education. How do teachers like Sonny now? Instead of raises, teachers receive a $100 gift card. When they do receive raises, they also get hit with increases in health-care costs. Instead of funding increases — to handle the additional students in one of the nation’s fastest growing states — more than $2.5 billion has been sucked out of the K-12 education pipeline. Higher Ed, on its way to national prominence, isn’t feeling good either. Frankly, the state of education in Georgia looks grim. Most school systems have had to face two realities: Raise local taxes or cut programs, many of which can’t be touched because of state mandates.

That's exactly right and exactly why we need a new Superintendent of Schools in Georgia and a Governor who gives more than lip service to public education.

Macon Mayor Reichert Headed to Obama-Biden Meeting

Macon's Mayor, Robert Reichert, will be a little busy tomorrow. He is one of 70 mayors nationwide who have been invited to D.C. to meet with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Nice.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Georgia Power Gift Cart

Gov. Barnes hit the nail on the head when he wrote that the citizens of Georgia need our own lobbyist in Atlanta. If you ever wondered whether "pay to play" is alive and well here in the Peach State, just keep reading.

Exhibit "A"? SB31, the bill that allows Georgia Power to bill consumers in advance for the construction of a nuclear plant they hope to build in the future. This bill is a sweet deal for Georgia Power, a company that might as well be rolling a gift cart around the Capitol. If a legislator needs basketball tickets, they can hook you up. Race tickets? Got you covered. Football tickets? Sure thing. Dinner for the entire regulated industries committee, or your entire caucus? Not a problem. And all perfectly legal, and apparently, very effective.

From 2008-2009, the first five sponsors of SB31: Balfour, Tarver, Tolleson, Rogers, and Powell have all accepted perks from Georgia Power's lobbyists. Here are a few of my favorites:

I'm not suggesting that these folks voted for this bill because they got a ticket to a game, but I am saying that these gifts and this legislation are emblematic of way of doing business in Atlanta that leaves every day Georgian out in the cold. Make no mistake, directly or indirectly, in SB31, Georgia Power got exactly what they paid for, and, if the bill passes the House, Georgia consumers will get the bill-literally. You and I don't have a gift cart at the Capitol, but there's still time for you to contact your Representative and tell them to VOTE NO on SB31. I hope you'll call today.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Shout Out to the 67!

Props to the 67 Democrats in the Georgia House who stood together today to prevent the passage of HR1. We're not done with this fight, but it's a good start. This legislation would have placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot that sounded great on paper but could have had devastating consequences for local governments, especially in this economy. Keep up the good work, folks!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Georgia Political Power: The "Y" Factor

Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words. This weekend, someone handed me a copy of this AJC article, Lineup of movers and shakers, published just before the session started. Complete with photographs, the article was a sort of Who's Who of Georgia's most powerful politicians.

Save one honorable mention, they were all men, and all but two were white men.

Now, we could get into an argument with the AJC about women who should have been included, but in politics, perception is reality. The 2009, the reality in Georgia politics is that while there may be 18 million cracks in that last glass ceiling, Georgia's gold dome remains unfazed. In fact, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, while more than half of Georgia voters are female, only 19.1% of Georgia legislators are women. Georgia ranks 37th among states for female representation in the General Assembly. None of us should be satisfied with those numbers.

By the way, according the 2007 Kid's Count Data, Georgia ranks 41st in overall child and family well-being and has ranked in the bottom ten states for the last fifteen years, bringing up the rear in categories like high school dropouts, teens not attending school or working, low birth-weight babies, teen births, children in single-parent families and infant mortality. While the causes of these problems are poverty-linked, these are issues that women are often especially interested in and uniquely qualified to address-not because of their chromosomes, but because of their experience.

By comparison, the states with the highest percentage of women in their legislatures, Colorado, New Hampshire and Vermont, in 2006 ranked 22nd, 1st and 10th respectively. While the overall picture is bleak, Democratic women fare far better than Republican women. Of the seven women in the Georgia Senate, six are Democrats, and more than a third of Democrats in the Georgia House are women-not so on the Republican side of the aisle where only 11 women occupy seats in the House. But, somehow being the best of the bad news just isn't enough. We need to act.

What can we do to change the profile of political power in Georgia?

1) Money Talks. In many ways, money is measure of political viability. It takes initial cash to attract donors. That's why organizations like Georgia's WIN List, a political action committee that is committed to electing more qualified Democratic women, are important. (Full disclosure: I chair Georgia's WIN List, and commit time to that organization in large part because I think electing women is vital for Georgia, and is an essential part of an overall strategy if Democrats are to regain majority party status here.) It's not just important to provide funds for women, it is important to help qualified women think of themselves as candidates and teach them to raise the money they need to be successful when they run.

2) Think Three Cycles. We have to move out of the political mindset of "right now" and begin to think ahead, at least three cycles. As we examine demographic trends and identify districts that are leaning Democratic, it is important to actively recruit qualified female candidates. Not only does this help address the balance of power issue, in some districts, being a women can be an electoral advantage. Also thinking ahead, women who currently serve in the legislature, or in local government, need to both think about taking the step to run for higher office themselves and about mentoring women to run for their seat when they do. Changing the numbers will not happened unless we are intentional.

3) Engage Our Male Political Allies. Georgia women do have friends among the male power-brokers. The four Democratic men included in the AJC article: Sen. David Adelman, Sen. Kasim Reed, Rep. DuBose Porter and Rep. Calvin Smyre have a track record of putting their actions where their mouth is when it comes to supporting female candidates. It's no accident that Democratic women are among the leadership in our House Caucus. Rep. Nikki Randall is Vice Chair of the Caucus, Rep. Kathy Ashe is Secretary of the Caucus, and Rep. Carolyn Hugley is the Minority Whip. At least two of the men listed are rumored to be seeking other office, and, just as they have supported women moving into leadership roles, I challenge all of them to think about the women in their districts who they could mentor to run for their seats as they move on to other endeavors. As they seek our support, we should urge them to do just that. And, as the 2010 ticket shapes up, we all need to identify female leaders who would make great candidates for statewide office.

One thing is certain. This is a tough hill to climb, but there is a path. ONLY with a clear plan and intentional leadership will be able to elect more women to office in Georgia. I want to be a part of that change and hope that you will, too. By changing the face of power in Georgia, we can more effectively address the issues that matter the most to women and families. and that's good for all of us.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

McDade: Wrong, Again

David McDade, Douglas County district attorney, infamous for his role in the Genarlow Wilson fiasco, is now registering his opposition to a proposal to alter the juvenile code to allow treating 17-year-olds in Georgia as juveniles rather than adults when they are accused of committing a crime.

Currently, Georgia is one of only fifteen states that treats an accused 17-year-old as an adult for the purpose of prosecution. Just a year after they are eligible for a driver's license, while they still cannot vote, cannot buy alcohol or cigarettes, while they still cannot even sign a consent for their own medical treatment, Georgia teens are prosecuted as adults. Now, a proposal put forward by JustGeorgia, a group working on a long overdue re-write of the juvenile code, proposes that 17-year-olds be treated as the minors they are, but McDade says:

“There’s plenty of evidence that 17- and 18-year-olds are committing some of the most violent crimes we see, and the juvenile system is not capable of protecting society from these violent offenders,” McDade said. McDade said he fears a change in the minimum age for adults in state courts would cause even more crimes among 17-year-olds. In McDade’s opinion, this proposed change, if passed, “would almost belike a recruiting poster for gangs” since 17-year-olds would suddenly face less stringent consequences for crime convictions.

First, no one is suggesting changing the rules for 18-year-olds. Second, what is it that a 17-year- old can do for a gang that a 16 year-old cannot? Third, Georgia law already provides that for certain crimes, teens even younger than 17 can be tried as adults, so don't think for a moment that what we're talking about here is a teen being told to write an essay when he's committed a violent crime. The juvenile system is far from summer camp. Fourth, following McDade's logic, I must ask, is it not possible to have a juvenile system that both offers the possibility of rehabilitation and protects us from violent criminals? Finally, is there actually any data that supports the idea that the crime rate is reduced when 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not soft on crime, juvenile or otherwise, nor do I think that every teen can be turned around. My professional experience includes working with some hardened, violent criminals who were even younger than 17. But, I would argue that it is the adult system that is ill equipped to deal with teens. Gernarlow Wilson's case is an excellent case in point. Punish, yes. Consequences for behavior, of course. Throw a life away without even a nod toward rehabilitation? At 17? I say no, and not just for the sake of the teen, but also for all of us. At some point, almost all of these teens will be released. They will live among us. What happens to them in the interim can, and often does, make them even more violent-even more dangerous. Given that, I don't know about you, but I'm willing to leave the door open to rehabilitation at least until the accused can vote for the district attorney who prosecutes him and, the convicted, the judge who sentences him.