Thursday, March 31, 2011

Georgia: Senate Democrats Show Moxie

They may be in the minority, but Senate Democrats in Georgia have repeatedly found a way to make their point this session. Galloway has the details of their latest....adventures. 

5:04 p.m.: Here's an update from Galloway. The upshot is that Senate Republicans are experiencing a crisis of confidence in their leadership. You will recall that even before session began, certain members worked together to do to Lt. Gov. Cagle what had done to Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor -strip him of his power and make his position effectively ceremonial. The difference of course is that Taylor was a Democrat presiding over a new Republican majority while Cagle is a Republican. Turns out that knives stabbed in backs can be removed and appropriated for other purposes. Today, when Sen. Hooks (D) offered a perfectly innocent piece of legislation asking that the rules be changed to restore 'points of personal privilege' to the front of the Senate agenda each day, the legislation was a Trojan horse, serving as a vehicle for a no confidence vote in the Senate leadership. With 14 Senate Republicans abstaining, an amendment to engross the legislation failed, allowing the bill to move forward to rules and then to the floor for debate. By opening debate on this Senate rule, all Senate rules will be fair game - including the rule used to strip Cagle of his power.With their caucus fracturing around them, the Senate Republican caucus fled the chamber and met behind closed doors. Galloway reports that Cagle, with body guard in-tow, met with them for about 20 minutes. There will be more fun tomorrow.

And Still They Come.... A Look at Western North Carolina

We saw them come for our people last year in record numbers. Formerly "safe Democrats" in "safe districts" - all too many of them got Republican or Tea Party challengers across the south for the first time in a long time. And too many of our folks lost in 2010.

While the opposite side continues to ride the Republican momentum into 2011, many of our Democratic mayors, congressmen, council members and legislators are watching opponents line up against them simply because we have "D's" behind our names, and they want our seats. What few we have left, that is. Georgia Congressman John Barrow. Louisiana State Senator and head of the Democratic Senate Caucus Eric Lafleur. The list is long. Too long.

This week North Carolina Congressman Health Shuler (D-NC11th), a former NFL quarterback (Redskins, Saints, etc) -- ((he played college ball for Tennessee, something I repeatedly try to forget)) became the most recent to draw official opposition.

Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell declared against Shuler this week - as an Independent. Republicans have already promised an R in the race.

What personally chaps my hide is that I remember Bothwell being a D. What personally made me laugh was the line in the opening graph of his campaign site: "All three of his cats think he’s a hero." I love cats, don't get me wrong. But it's not something you normally see as the opening selling point of an Independent candidate. Maybe somebody is polling cat ownership in North Carolina and not telling me?

Shuler is no political saint. He's a conservative D who has annoyed his fair share of party loyalists over his three terms, and my time in front of him has left me lukewarm. Give me a Larry Kissell over a Heath Shuler for NC Dems any day. But the point is this:

They used to only come after us in 41 percent Democratic performing districts. Or 43 percent Democratic performing districts. When they feel safe coming after Democratic incumbents in places like ASHEVILLE - the epicenter of southern hippiedom and liberalism and a highly-competitive organic honey industry, we've got a new discussion on our hands.

Maybe there are no "safe districts" in 2011. What then does that mean?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mississippi Misery - with a side dish of Hope

We've talked about the lack of statewide Democratic candidates in the south in 2011.

In Mississippi -- now that the smoke has cleared and the March 1 qualifying deadline has come and gone -- we have our first accurate look at where our party stands in statewide candidate recruitment.

Only with massive effort, last-minute panic and a lot of arm twisting were we able to field statewide D's in five of the eight statewide offices in Mississippi. And lest we all too soon forget - Mississippi is a state where a mere seven years ago Democrats controlled a whopping seven out of eight of those same seats.

Not a single Democrat filed to run for Mississippi lieutenant governor, secretary of state or auditor. Not a single one. (Louisiana, are you listening???)

At the top of the ballot we did manage to field four Democrats for Governor: perhaps the most well known being Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree. Currently the deepest campaign pockets belong to attorney Bill Luckett who boasts approximately $400K on hand as of this posting. And yes, that says a lot about the state of this race.

2007 Democratic gubernatorial candidate William Compton is back. Guy Shaw is also running.

It is nothing short of serious suckage.

But here are the two bright spots as I see them in mid-March, a full five months before the primary.

Sometimes last minute, panicked arm-twisting recruitment turns into a nightmare - the Democratic Party of Georgia certainly saw that in some of their legislative races in 2010. But reluctant, last-minute Treasurer candidate Connie Moran appears to be a bright spot. Currently the Ocean Springs Mayor, Moran is well liked and will do well. Will she win? Probably not. But we like her and are very glad to see her step up and garner a brighter spotlight.

Second and perhaps even more interesting is former Jackson, MS coucilman and 2009 Jackson mayoral candidate Marshand Crisler. An Iraq war vet, husband of 22 years, father to three, and former Sheriff's Deputy who cut a not unlikeable profile in his motorcycle cop uniform, Crisler unexpectedly jumped into the Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Central District race. While this office does not exist in many southern states, it's a quiet, monied powerhouse of a post in Mississippi.

Crisler does have Democratic primary opposition from a perennial Democratic candidate, but should come through without bleeding resources. The same cannot be said for the Republican incumbent, Dick Hall. Hall faces stiff primary opposition from Tim Johnson. Yes, all of these names are real.

This is your next generation of Democratic candidates in Mississippi folks. Get to know them. Get out there and support them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Abortion Audits?

Where do we live, again? If Speaker Boehner has his way, women who are victims of rape or incest could be required to relive that experience when they are questioned by their friendly neighborhood IRS agent. That's right, H.R. 3, a bill that seeks to further restrict federal funding for abortion, redefines "rape" and opens the door for the IRS to question a women about whether her particular rape was "forcible" enough to qualify. Here's how the bill is described by Open Congress:
This bill would make permanent and expand the Hyde amendment restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortions. It seeks to prohibit even indirect funding streams that may potentially come in contact with abortion services. For example, it would deny tax credits to companies that offer health plans that cover abortions and it would block anybody with insurance that covers abortions from receiving federal subsidies, even if the abortion portion is paid separately with personal funds. It would also redefine rape for the purpose of exempting resulting abortions from the federal funding restrictions as "forcible rape" and limit the incest exemption to cases where the women is a minor.

I suggest that we all 1) Call our congressmen and 2) make it our business to elect more women by contributing to organizations like Georgia's WIN List.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Academic Freedom Under Attack

For those of you who have not been following the Republican Party of Wisconsin's use of their open records statute to personally intimidate a university professor with whom they disagree, I urge you follow this jump to read William Cronon blog, Scholar as Citizen, as well as Thomas Friedman's New York Times editorial, American Thought Police.

What was Cronon's crime? He dared to research and discuss ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, the right wing legislation factory that should be credited with Republicans across state legislatures all singing in tune off one sheet of music. ALEC merits discussion, sure, but the real issue here is the Wisconsin Republican Party's bare-knuckled assault on academic freedom, a key cornerstone of democracy and a principle treasured by my Baptist ancestors. We should all, regardless of party, be worried.

We Can Only Hope

I have to admit that when the Georgia legislature is in session, I hold my breath, generally believing the less they do, the better off we all will be. In fact, I would support those Sunday sales lobbyists serving a little, or maybe a lot, of the product they're peddling if only it would keep lawmakers far, far away from those voting machines. Still, with just a week left before the forty day clock runs out, it is remarkable how little the Georgia legislature has accomplished this year. With firm control of both chambers of the legislature and every statewide office, one assumes that anything the majority wants to pass will move through with ease, yet, so far, Republicans have managed to send just seven bills to the Governor's desk, and of those seven, three are pieces of local legislation.  According to Aaron Gould Sheinin and Christopher Quinn of the AJC, that's seven out of over 2,000 bills that were filed.  For a crowd that crows long and loud about tax reform, they've done very little, and the bill that remains viable is but a shell of the robust shift to a tax on services as proposed by the Georgia Tax Reform Commission.

Here's a link to the legislation that has, so far, made it to Deal's desk. In addition to the HOPE "fix" (do not get me started) and the supplemental budget, lawmakers have managed to pass a measure to correct a problem they created last session when they exponentially increased fees for for filings in Superior Court and for appellate records and transcripts and another bill, that among other things changes from "shall" to "may" the requirement that local elected officials file electronically with the State Ethics Commission. (Turns out, to file electronically, one must have an email address, something a fair number of local officials lacked. That fact  is a discussion for another day.)

So far, other than the HOPE legislation, no hot-button bills have reached the Governor's desk. Nothing on abortion, immigration, or open government. But never fear, seven days is an eternity on the legislative clock, there's still plenty of time for nasty bills to slip through, and since this is but the first of a two year cycle - there's always next year. For this year, just to keep you on your toes through the end of session, from Georgia Legislative Watch, here's a list of the bills that survived crossover day. For all our sakes, let's hope most never see the Governor's desk.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro: Bending the Arc of History

If the arc of history bends toward justice, it is because of trailblazers like Geraldine Ferraro who speak up, step up, grab the moment and give what is good, just and right a chance to thrive. Today, after battling multiple myeloma for years, Ferraro died. Most people know her as the first woman of a major political party to run for Vice President, but her advocacy for equality began years before she was chosen as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984. As a prosecutor in Queens County, she started the Special Victims Unit and sought justice for victims of sex crimes, domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse. Then, she was elected to Congress where she fought for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and sponsored The Women's Economic Equality Act that stopped pension discrimination against women. Never deterred by the inevitable critics who feared the change she represented, Ferraro continued throughout her life to advocate for justice and equality for all.

Geraldine Ferraro helped build the ladder for women who aspire to political office. Indeed, when Hillary Clinton kicked all those cracks in the ultimate glass ceiling - she was standing on Gerry's shoulders. In so many ways, we all do.

Friday, March 25, 2011

N.C. Lawmakers Mock Students

This one's personal. I'm from Rutherford County, N.C. North Carolina Policy Watch has this article about Rep. Debbie Clary (R-Rutherford County) and her Republican pals mocking and ridiculing students who wrote them to advocate for funding for public schools. (It appears the county is struggling to fund both charter and traditional public schools, so students got involved in advocating against passage of a bill that will make an already bad situation, worse.)

The context is really irrelevant. Like schoolyard bullies passing nasty notes, these "representatives" shared emails making fun of the students' grammar. Instead of praising the students for becoming civically engaged, or seeing the errors as "Exhibit 'A'" in support of the students' argument, these fine examples of how elected officials should never behave made the students the butt of their jokes. Never mind that the unemployment rate in Rep. Clary's district is nearly twice the state average. She's more concerned about whether these students embarrassed her. I hope my friends and family who still live in Rutherford County are busy finding Rep. Clary an opponent.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Epidemic of Lunacy Under the Gold Dome

Perhaps it's a good thing that the CDC is located in Atlanta. Given the number of idiotic, insulting and, yes, dangerous bills that make their way through the fairly challenging gauntlet of committee and floor votes, there has to be more than one lunatic among the elected. Not everyone is amused with the focus on making sure folks can carry their pistol to communion, or with the efforts of the far right to make it easier for people other than patients to sue doctors.  Can patients who are injured by ER docs sue with ease? No, we are not for that. How about incestuous fathers who are upset about an abortion? Why, yes, step right up, in the weird world that is the Republican-dominated Gold Dome, that's just fine and dandy. At this time, we are unclear about whether the incestuous father would be able to carry his pistol to court, either civil or criminal. If Georgia Republicans have their way, I'd put that in the likely category.

Unfortunately, it turns out, Republicans are only interested in protecting doctors from lawsuits when doing so doesn't trample on any of their special interests. If you don't believe me, read Sen. Barry Loudermilk's SB210, a bill that passed with only 16 'nays'. For the record, this lunacy epidemic may be jumping species, attacking Democrats and Republicans alike.  For those who are not political nerds (i.e. who are normal) there are 20 Senate Democrats. I see only one "yes" vote from a Democratic Senator (Curt Thompson), but others were excused or did not vote.

Given the number of ridiculous bills he has sponsored, Sen. Loudermilk earned  this tongue lashing from the Rome New-Tribune, but he is not alone. 

The question is simple. When will the Georgia legislature stop the epidemic of lunacy and focus on job creation? We're on pins and needles.

What's Happening to Georgia Schools?

Have you ever wondered what's the matter with Georgia's public schools? Try a 25% decrease in per student finding since 2002.  According to a flier I received yesterday from the Georgia School Funding Association, the group Joe Martin is associated with, one of the problems for our schools is a steadily declining state investment in public education, with more of the burden being shifted to local governments. Often the state mandates what it is unwilling to fund, and when the recession hit, local governments were less and less able to cover the gap between expectations and dollars. The flier provides a picture of the problem and an excellent summary. I've pasted the flier below, but it's easier to read here, and worth the jump. Thanks, Joe! We can always count on you to do good things for our schools!