Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

National politics is not usually what this blog is about, but hey, it's the State of the Union for God's sake. And since we've been talking party politics recently, I'd like to start a new open thread and/or continue the old one and get some thoughts on the speech.

As a teaser, my impression (I'll admit that I only saw the last half or so) is that Bush said a lot of things that sound nice, but which he either has no intention to really do (make health insurance affordable), is in no position to talk credibly talk about (govt. ethics), or has no specific plan to do (energy reform). Then again, without those three things, what would politicians talk about?

Ok, Gov. Kaine is starting, so I'll be back.

Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King died this morning in Mexico.  She was 78.

Related: Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Coretta Scott King dead at 78” 01/31/06
             Washington Post (via AP): Coretta Scott King dies at 78” 01/31/06

Party Politics

There was some interesting discussion going on in the previous post about parties, straight-ticket voting, etc., that got me thinking.  It’s good fodder for an open thread, which you’ll find below, and I hope you’ll enjoy.  Of course, you’ll have to read through all of my crap first, so in defense of parties, let me just give everyone my take on things.

I'm a Democrat.  What little money I donate goes to Democrats, I only volunteer for Democrats, and in a past life, I was paid decent sums of money by Democrats to help them lose elections.  Most of the time, I vote Democratic.  But notice I said most.

Parties are important for a couple of reasons.  First of all, they're supposed to provide a pre-existing means of support for candidates.  This usually works better for the R's than the D's.  

Second, we have to face facts.  Most voters know more (or at least think they know more) about where a party stands than an individual candidate, and most voters don't go to the trouble to determine for themselves where a candidate stands on the issues.  Having the label next to a candidate's name does give a voter a clue about where that candidate is, ideologically.  And until voters start doing more research and get more involved in the process, which is unlikely anytime soon, party labeling is a convenient way to make sure that a voter who believes in issue X votes for a candidate that, at least, on paper, also does.  For what it’s worth, it’s usually a tool to help a voter who hasn’t done their homework make a reasonably informed choice.

Most importantly to me, party identification is important because it represents an encoded set of beliefs (you can think of it as the party's platform, although I think it goes deeper than that) to which you subscribe.  It's interesting that in conversations I have with friends who are as dissatisfied as I am with the Democratic Party, one phrase as been coming up more and more often - "core Democratic principles."

Now, I'm not going to be egotistical enough to say that I, and I alone, should be able to define those core Democratic principles for everyone else in my party, but I'd imagine that most of the disagreement within the Democratic Party is about how we manifest those principles in campaigns and in government, rather than on what those principles actually are.

To return from digression land, here's my take.  You choose to identify with a party because it represents a close approximation of beliefs that you already hold.  That doesn't mean that you can't or shouldn't work within the party to make it an even closer approximation.  It doesn't mean that everyone out there should party identify or else.  And it definitely doesn't mean that you should vote a straight ticket every two years.  

Here's the central point of this whole rambling post.  If you identify with a party, great.  I certainly do, and I imagine the majority of our regular posters here do as well.  But when I see a Democrat that doesn't represent what I think are those "core Democratic principles," then I don't vote for him or her.

By the way, in case anyone's interested, if I don't vote Democratic, I usually vote Libertarian, if there's a Libertarian candidate running against a Democrat I don't like.

Open thread time:  Notice that I talked about core Democratic principles without enumerating them.  Here's your open thread fodder.  Take your party of choice and list a few of what you think are its core principles.  This should spark some interesting debate.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Redistrictgate 2006: Is Cowsert Destined to be a One-termer?

Bill Cowsert may be the smartest politician we know.  Throughout the entire redistricting hullabaloo, he’s kept his mouth shut, and as a result, the majority of the anti-redistricting attacks have been leveled at either the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce or their personal legislative gopher, Sen. Ralph Hudgens.  While it’s a stretch to say that Cowsert is emerging unscathed, he certainly isn’t taking the same heat as Chamber President Larry McKinney, or Hudgens, or even ACC Commissioner Tom Chasteen.  

The reason for Cowsert’s reticence is clear – he stands to benefit the most from the new Senate districts.  While the current district, which encompasses all of Athens, has been pretty good to the GOP lately, his proposed new district eliminates just about any chance of a Democratic takeover of the seat.  

Maybe, though, Cowsert is keeping quiet on this for another reason as well – because he knows that there’s a good chance that he might lose his Senate seat in two years.  Don’t get us wrong here, we’re not predicting a massive Democratic victory in 2008; nothing we’ve seen or heard out of the local or state Democratic parties indicates that that will happen.  

No, Bill Cowsert could lose his seat to a Republican in the 2008 GOP primary.  Here’s how.  

Given that the GOP tends to march in lockstep on just about every issue up in Atlanta, and there’s no dissent within the party, you can conveniently divide the Republican state legislators into two groups.  You’ve got the folks who vote for every cockamamie piece of legislation the GOP leadership tells them to vote for (or else!), and you’ve got the few, the proud, the safely-districted, the wild-eyed zealots who actually conceive and write the aforementioned cockamamie pieces of legislation.  

This is not to say that the first group doesn’t write bills, or that they don’t have an effect on the legislative process.  But while senators from the first group are busy working out a budget compromise or trying to get real legislation out of committee, the senators in the second group are grabbing headlines by introducing feel-good (if you’re part of the GOP base), do-nothing bills that promote little more than controversy.  Maybe the best example is the current bill that requires the Secretary of State’s office to provide every county with a copy of the Ten Commandments for exhibition in the local courthouse.

The problem with Bill Cowsert is that he is in the first group.  While we don’t agree with his politics, we’ll be the first to tell you that Cowsert wants to go to Atlanta, and get his hands dirty working on the real issues.  You won’t see Cowsert introducing legislation to ban homosexuals and illegal immigrants from listening to Tim McGraw, or whatever the next crazy bill is going to be.  If he wins in 2006, Cowsert will roll into 2008 with a solid record of voting the right way on the right things (for the GOP, that is), but he’ll be vulnerable to any right-wing zealot with a war chest and an agenda.  

Because of the way his district is drawn, Cowsert is going to be forced to go mano-a-mano with a string of right-wingers, and the name of the game will be, “Who’s More Conservative?”  

“I voted to allow counties to display the Ten Commandments in their courthouses,” Senator Cowsert will say.  

“Not good enough,” says his generic steely-eyed GOP challenger, “when I get to Atlanta, I’m going to introduce a law that forces all schoolchildren to recite the Ten Commandments every morning.  In Aramaic.  And I’m going to make sure it passes.  And then I’m going to make sure that anyone who ever listened to Menudo will be cut off from being able to call the fire department, because immigration is bad.”

An exaggeration, maybe, but you get the point.  Of course, Cowsert could surprise us.  He could become a leader in churning out ill-conceived, useless legislation as well.  But knowing Bill Cowsert, we wouldn’t say that’s likely.  We don’t like his politics, but Cowsert understands that we’ve got serious problems that call for serious men and women to address them, and he’s going to devote his time to those, and he could care less about Menudo.  And because of that, he could well lose.

Do you think that Bill Cowsert is Ralph Hudgens’ first choice to fill this brand new Senate seat that the Chamber of Commerce asked him to create?  Absolutely not.  As strange as it may seem to folks here in Athens, Bill Cowsert is too moderate for Hudgens and his ilk.  We’d bet that Hudgens is already thinking about who he can groom to challenge Cowsert in the 2008 primary.  But you redistrict with the candidates you have, not the candidates you wish you had.  

Until 2008, that is.

Related: Athens Banner-Herald: Opinion: State lawmakers are overreaching from Gold Dome,” 01/29/06
             Athens Banner-Herald: Winders: Duck, cover on redistricting question,” 01/29/06

Friday, January 27, 2006

Red and Black Reporter Connected to Chamber

A news story written by a reporter for The Red and Black may have been influenced by her connections to the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.  Sources within the Chamber of Commerce and the Athens Clarke-County government confirm that the reporter, Cristen Conger, is the daughter of the Chamber’s communications director, Dan Conger.

Ms. Conger’s story, published in Thursday’s edition of The Red and Black, covered the proposed redistricting of state senate districts in Athens Clarke-County.  The proposed redistricting measure was introduced in the Georgia General Assembly by State Senator Ralph Hudgens (R-Comer).  Hudgens has said publicly that he introduced the legislation based in part on requests from the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce.

Representatives from The Red and Black and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as Ms. Conger herself, did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Related: The Red and Black: Sen. wants to redraw lines,” 01/26/06

New Voter ID Law Signed

You know, in all the excitement over redistricting, we’ve kind of fallen down on the job with respect to another Republican attempt to monkey with where and how you vote – the Voter ID Law.  

Since our last report on the Voter ID Law, the new version of the law has made it out of the General Assembly and was signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue.  

This is a big victory for the Democrats in Georgia.  They took on the majority party, the General Assembly, and the Governor himself and they won a partial victory.  Rather than endure another round of losses in federal court, the GOP blinked.  They took their law into the woodshed, tuned it up, put a new coat of paint on it, and came out with a better law.  We’re not happy that it’s still on the books, but it’s better.

Democrats should congratulate themselves on this one.  For about five minutes, and then it’s time to get back to work.

Face it folks.  Whether the law is well-intentioned or not (and we imagine you know how we feel about that), this thing has stank to high heaven from day one.  Let’s review the stinkiness.

  • When the law was introduced, one of its primary champions was Senator Bill Stephens, who himself has been fined for ethics violations.

  • Another outspoken proponent of the bill, Rep. Sue Burmeister was quoted in a U.S. Department of Justice internal memo as saying that black people in her district only voted if you paid them.

  • Legitimate concerns about the oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice have been raised, in this blog and elsewhere, following revelations in The Washington Post that the original Voter ID law was rejected by career civil rights lawyers at DOJ.  Their recommendation was overruled by the Republican political appointees that have final approval.

Related:  The Washington Post: Politics alleged in voting cases” 01/23/06
              The Washington Post: Criticism of voting law was overruled” 11/17/05
              AthPo: Voter ID Law – Political influence at the Department of Justice?” 01/23/06
              AthPo: More on the voter id bill” 11/17/05
              Athens Banner-Herald: Governor approves voter id legislation” 01/27/06

Redistrictgate 2006: Inside the Commission

As promised, here are a few thoughts on Wednesday’s meeting of the Mayor and Commission.  There’s not much to add on the opinion front; JMac’s got you covered there.  (http://safeashouses.blogspot.com/2006/01/wishy-to-washy.html)  

We exchanged few emails with sources close to the Mayor and Commissioners with respect to Wednesday’s meeting.  First of all, the two Commissioners not in attendance at the meeting were District 5 Commissioner David Lynn, and District 6 Commissioner Carl Jordan, both for pretty good reasons.  Jordan is currently in Idaho, as we mentioned previously, and Lynn had a death in the family.

Obviously, the big news coming out of the meeting was Tom Chasteen’s nay vote on the comdemnation measure.  Sources close to the Commission tell us that Chasteen’s fellow local electeds were surprised that he wouldn’t join the “Magnificent Seven.” (Eight if you count the Mayor, who didn’t vote, but has made her position on the issue more than clear.)  The conventional wisdom around the Commission, according to one of our sources, is that Chasteen made a massive miscalculation.

One source with close ties to the ACC government tells us that Chasteen’s move is less a vote on the issue, and much more of a way to pre-emptively differentiate himself from Heidi Davison, who is looking more and more like a candidate for re-election.  In an email we received today, our source informs us that, in some Commissioners’ opinions, Chasteen’s brand of amoeba politics might have backfired on him among his colleagues.  According to our source close to the Commission, words like “weak” and “lack of leadership” are coming up in private conversations among some Commissioners and their confidants in reference to Chasteen.

Chasteen is running for Mayor, and yet he chooses to vote against the condemnation because he’s afraid that it will piss off our state legislators?  Well, if you’re looking at mayoral candidates, we reckon it’s good to know that without a single vote being counted, Tom Chasteen has already placed himself and Athens-Clarke County in a subservient role to Ralph Hudgens and Bob Smith.  

Do what you want with us, Mayor Chasteen will say, we don’t want any trouble.

Will Chasteen’s dodge work for him this November?  Probably not, in our opinion.  Heidi Davison may or may not be a candidate again, but you can bet that she’s going to have an effect on the election either way.    In or out, the Heidi effect will not be beneficial for Chasteen.

And let’s talk about the Mayor for just a moment.  We’ve been critical of her in the past.  There are a number of issues upon which we respectfully disagree with Heidi.  But, we’ve got to give her an A+ for her behavior lately.  Her work on the poverty initiative is one reason, and this whole redistricting imbroglio is another.

Whether you like her or not, if you’re opposed to redistricting, you should thank Heidi Davison.  She’s been out there working her tuchas off and tilting at every windmill she can find to make sure that people know how absolutely opposed most of Athens is to this.  We all know that the petition isn’t going to do any good, and we all know that condemnation from the Mayor and Commission isn’t going to change any minds in Atlanta.  It would be easy for Heidi to make some sympathetic noises and write redistricting off as a hopeless cause.  

But she didn’t.  She sent emails to everyone and their brother with a link to the petition.  She called a meeting and pushed the condemnation through.  She’s been to Atlanta, and, knowing Heidi, we’re sure she rattled every cage she could get her hands on while she was up there.  Why?  Because dissent is important.  Because open government is important.  Because unlike Tom Chasteen, Heidi Davison knows that there is a time to stand up, and that people don’t want someone who acquiesces to bullying simply to make nice.

We’ve disagreed with the Mayor in the past, and we’re sure we’ll disagree with her in the future.  But, on this issue, we’d much rather have her in our corner than Tom Chasteen.

Related: Athens Banner-Herald: Commissioners condemning Clarke split” 01/26/06
             Athens Banner-Herald Editorial:  Vote could hurt Chasteen’s run for mayor’s seat” 01/27/06
             Athens Banner-Herald Letters:  Steve Wiktorski: Chasteen showed courage in stand on redistricting” 01/27/06

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I Don't Blog I Just Post A Lot

Well, blogger was acting like a little bitch yesterday, at least for me, and I couldn't even read comments, much less post.

And on top of that, the fun police at work (also known as the CIS dept.) have decided not to let us post on blogs from the work computers.

So I'm kinda jonesin' to post. Since my co-editor has promised a post on redistricting, I'll let that lie for now. Here goes:

GOTD - A profile of Athens on Budget Travel Online.

Cathy Cox goes on her Tour de Georgia.

UGA shows Richt the money (and the long-term contract).

The Clarke County split passes out of committee.

Query: How many people will Tom Chasteen piss off in the process of trying not to piss anybody off?

Giving Ralph Hudgens the Business

Major redistricting post coming up later today with respect to the Mayor and Commission’s vote of condemnation last night.  We’re still waiting on a couple of sources to check in.  We would however, like to go ahead and express our strong support for the move and congratulate the Mayor and Commission for stepping up to the plate and taking a good swing on this one.  (We’ll get to Tom Chasteen in our later post.)

But, we wanted to get a post down about redistricting and an interesting letter in the paper today.  (Athens Banner-Herald: Michael Williams: Hudgens not serving his constituents,” 01/26/06)

Mr. Williams, according to his letter, is a resident of Madison County.  Like many of his neighbors here in Athens, he is less than pleased with his representation in the State Senate.  

Although Ralph Hudgens would like for us to believe otherwise, the orphaned precinct in Madison County is hardly a big political issue.  If it were, then the State House would be considering Keith Heard’s compromise plan, rather than voting it down 6-3 in committee yesterday.  As everyone knows, this is politics, and it has nothing to do with the poor little orphaned Madisonians who are deprived of the benefits of Ralph Hudgens’ inspired legislative leadership.  They’re just pawns in a Republican game of “Stomp on ACC.”

Maybe more interesting is Williams’ mention that Hudgens is going to be monkeying with changing Madison County’s government – at the behest of, guess who?

The Madison County Chamber of Commerce, of course.

Things like this raise some significant questions about exactly who Hudgens works for?  Actually, it doesn’t so much ask the questions as answer them.  

Ralph Hudgens is a tool of any local businessman with a campaign contribution and a political agenda.   Don’t believe us?  That’s cool – we’re Democrats, and we’re biased.  But, before you dismiss us out of hand, take a look at Ralph’s contribution reports.  They’re available to the public, and you can view them at the handy links we provide below.  Here’s a few gems, though.

From Hudgens’ December 31, 2005 disclosure report, which covers the period from July 1, 2005 through December 31, 2005, we see that Hudgens received $37,250.00.  Of that, $29,250.00 was from corporations.  

We’re going to put that on a separate line, because you really need to see this.

Of the $37,250.00 that Ralph Hudgens received from July 1, 2005 to December 31, 2005, 78.5% came from corporations.

Oh but wait, it gets better.  Of the leftover $8,000.00, another 4% ($1,500.00) came in direct donations from corporate officers.  In fact, including those two personal donations, only three of Ralph Hudgens’ 54 donors are actual living, breathing people.  The one personal contribution that wasn’t from a corporate officer was for $200.00

By the way, if you’re curious, the remaining $6,300.00 came from PACs, many of whom (like the Troutman-Sanders, LLP PAC) represent – say it with us now – business.  (Troutman-Sanders is a posh Atlanta law firm that makes its bundle defending insurance companies and corporate polluters.)

So, who exactly is Ralph Hudgens in bed with these days?  

Related: Campaign Disclosure Reports for Senator Ralph Hudgens (R-Comer), via the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.

12/31/05     06/30/05     03/31/04     06/30/04     09/30/04     10/25/04     12/31/04    

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

YD's host Holcomb

FYI, the Young Democrats of Athens are hosting Scott Holcomb, candidate for Secretary of State at their meeting tomorrow.  The shindig kicks off around 6:00 pm in room 350 of the UGA Student Learning Center.  We understand that pizza might be provided as well.

Free Ralph Reed!

Ralph Reed has the best friends money can buy, and we’re not just talking about lobbyist (and indicted felon) Jack Abramoff.  According to an article in Saturday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC: Times are tough, Reed has to pay for a crowd,” 01/21/06), Reed’s campaign offered to pay supporters’ entry fees to Saturday’s Christian Coalition event, to make sure that he had plenty of beaming faces in the crowd.  Out-of-towners got an even sweeter deal – hotel rooms paid for by Reed’s campaign.  What’s the matter, guys?  Couldn’t get tickets to the Georgia Aquarium too?

Reed’s camp wants you to think that this is all routine, and to be fair, it is in some respects.  Campaigns routinely hand out incentives to get folks to their events, usually free food, maybe some t-shirts or other campaign swag.  Of course, $20 and a night at the local Super 8 ain’t exactly a handful of buttons and a bumper sticker.  

One thing we know for sure, though.  Bill Shipp must be sleeping well these days, as the mighty Reed juggernaut has thrown another rod on the highway to public office.  

Even folks who in the past were strong Reed supporters are starting to smell something fishy about the whole Reed/Abramoff/Indian gambling thing, and Reed’s polling and fundraising numbers are starting to show it.  

Reed should’ve just called up Larry McKinney at the Chamber of Commerce.  Heaven knows the COC-squad would have been more than happy to drum up a crowd for Ralph.  Chamber friend Ralph Hudgens, who is a firm believer in helping your fellow Ralph, could have introduced him.  It would have been fantastic, and all it would have cost Reed would have been a few more State Senate seats.

Cheap at twice the price, we say.

Busy now.

Busy now.  Blogging maybe later, maybe tomorrow.  Go read JMac, because he drops some science all over Larry McKinney and the COC-squad.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Blog Shoutout to: Molly Ivins

We don’t normally do the national political discussion here.  Heaven knows there are enough other places to get that stuff around the internets.  But we did want to point you democrats out there to this article by Molly Ivins. (Molly Ivins, “Not. Backing. Hilary.” 01/20/06, Creator’s Syndicate)

We like it, and would humbly suggest that it has significant local implications as well.  

If you’re scoring at home, we’re not sure, but we believe that Ivins got as least some of her numbers in the fifth graf from this poll.  (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “Beyond Red and Blue,” 05/10//05)

Hello Nurse!

I'm gonna try to refrain from any juvenile jokes here, but wow, what a horrible picture. This is from an ABH article today about Athens Tech.

Oh, and by the way, just so this post is not totally devoid of political content, the article says that Sonny screwed us again on funding, this time denying funding for increased space for more students in the nursing program. This despite the unbelievable shortage of nurses and the hella-long queue of would-be nurses on waiting lists to get in nursing programs in this State.

Poverty Initiative in Final Planning Stages

The new community group that has dedicated itself to cutting down Athens’ 28% poverty rate is meeting today to get organized.  Members of Partners for Prosperous Athens, including Mayor Heidi Davison, Chamber of Commerce President Larry McKinney, and Clarke County Superintendent of Schools Lewis Holloway will convene today to prepare for a February 11th meeting with all 33 members of the PPA steering committee.

After the February 11th meeting, we understand that PPA will be ready to being including other members of the community – meaning the average Joes like us – in the process, and thanks to our friends inside PPA, we look forward to giving you all the information and encouragement you need to get involved.

Related: ABH: Anti-Poverty group getting organized” 01/23/06

Voter ID Law - Political Influence at the Department of Justice?

Speaking of the GOP monkeying with voting, as we did in the previous post, the Voter ID Law (New Slogan: “Brand New Amendments, Same Great Racism!”) is back before the Senate tomorrow.  

Expect the same kind of fireworks we saw last year on this thing, and expect about the same result.  Trust us, no one can dissuade the Georgia Republicans when it comes to suppressing black votes.

Of more note however, is an article in today’s Washington Post.  (“Politics Alleged in Voting Cases”)  WaPo staff writer Dan Eggen has done his homework, and put together a preponderance of evidence that something is rotten in the Department of Justice.

This is related to something that we mentioned some months ago, when the WaPo got a leaked copy of the staff memo to the higher-ups at Justice.  (“More on the Voter ID Bill”)  If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll know that there are essentially two strata of lawyers at the DOJ: the career attorneys, who work at DOJ from administration to administration, and are essentially non-partisan, and their politically-appointed superiors.  According to the WaPo, that politically-appointed upper layer has been reversing opinions from the career civil rights lawyers, in order to help the Republican Parties in Texas and Georgia.  

Related: Athens Banner-Herald: Voter ID back before Georgia lawmakers” 01/23/06
       Washington Post: Criticism of Voting Law was Overruled” 11/17/05
       DOJ Section 5 Recommendation Memorandum, via Washington Post,
pages 1-11, 12-19, 20-31, 32-38, 39-51

Redistrictgate 2006: JMac gets it right, the ACC Dems kind of get it, the DPG doesn't get it at all

Two redistricting things we’d like to draw your attention to today.  First off, Jmac has two pieces up at his blog.  (“Is this the End” and “Roundup of the Absurd”)  We’re not so sure that the Chamber is making itself totally irrelevant, but we’re open-minded on the issue.  JMac makes good points.

In our continuing coverage of redistricting, we submit to you today’s opinion piece by John Jeffreys, chairman of the Athens-Clarke County Democratic Party.  (ABH: “Democrats offer views on redistricting bill”)

Jeffreys makes a good point, and one that most of the opponents to the redistricting have missed.  Ralph Hudgens and his gang did pretty much slip this one in under the radar, and decided to forego the common courtesy of letting the local government know, to say nothing of notifying the other members (who happen to be Democrats) of the Athens legislative delegation.  Why all the secrecy?

However, we have to take issue with Jeffreys on another point.  Sez Jeffreys:

“…it would weaken, not strengthen, the voices of the majority of citizens of Athens-Clarke County, if the most Democratic-leaning county in this area is ‘represented’ by two Republican state senators.”

Hold on.  Last we checked, the bill was going to carve ACC in half, which is bad enough, but apparently the bill mandates that, regardless of how the actual vote turns out, the winner will always be a Republican?  Hooboy, that’s some mighty fine bill-writing there.

Or maybe not.  Obviously, the voters still get to decide, and clearly, Jeffreys is stating the obvious – the districts are drawn in such a way that a Democrat being elected in either is somewhat less than probable.  So why are we making a big deal about this?  

Well, Jeffreys’ comment kind of sums up a major problem we have with our local Democrats around Athens.  They just give up too easily.  If the ACC Dems owned a peach orchard, we would hope that none of their trees grew more that four feet high, because all they want to do is pick the low-hanging fruit.  

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and the ACC Democrats default back to the races that they were already going to win.  That’s the kind of behavior that helped Brian Kemp beat Doug Haines by a handful of votes in 2002, and it’s the kind of behavior that helped Kemp beat Becky Vaughn by more than a handful in 2004, while the local Democrats ignored non-partisan elections and concentrated on “helping” Jane Kidd, who already had her House district sewn up anyway.  

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and you miss almost 100% of the shots you half-ass.  Speaking as a local Democrat who has no connection to the local party (Those guys can’t stand me.  Wonder why?), I would love to see them getting in Bill Cowsert’s face, and especially in Ralph Hudgens’ face.  Look at the numbers in ACC.  In 2004, we went 58% for John Kerry.  The Democrats in ACC are the big dogs in the kennel, but instead, they’ve spent the last few years acting like a puppy who just got nipped on the rump.  As John Jeffreys himself says today, we are, “the most Democratic-leaning county in this area.”  

We think it’s high time our local party started acting like it.  Just win, baby!

However, as annoyed as we are at the local Democrats, we’re equally annoyed at the Democratic Party of Georgia.  Where’s Bobby Kahn on this one, and why doesn’t he have the local party’s back?  The state party needs to come out and take a few swings at this one too.  Unfortunately, they haven’t made it to the dugout yet.  If this were a solid red county, we would understand the DPG’s diffidence, but then again, if this were a solid red county, Ralph Hudgens wouldn’t be trying to carve his own personal road to glory outside the Loop.  

Boobs and Stuff

Hey, never say we don't give the people what they want. Our friend Lefty takes note of a decision by a federal judge in Florida ruling anti-nudity laws unconstitutional, and analyzes the decision's impact on local establishments like Topper's and Chelsea's.

Read all about it here, and if Lefty's correct, we might just be moving AthPo Global HQ to that corner table at Chelsea's. Don't act like you don't know which one we're talking about.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Redistricting Backlash

Redistricting continues to be the story of the day, and the “wee protest” outside the Chamber notwithstanding, we think the backlash on this has been impressive.  Here are a couple of nuggets for you to mull over.

ABH Executive Editor Jason Winders thinks that Ralph Hudgens has bitten off more than he can chew, and that Eric Johnson and Chip Rogers should be embarrassed, if they aren’t already.  More important, he gives us the inside skinny on what the gentlemen said in an editorial meeting with the ABH, where they apparently got just a little desperate to prove their case.  Here’s what Ol’ Man Winders has to say:
“…Rogers claimed if you pulled aside University of Georgia administrators they would support this idea. For our friends inside the Ivory Tower, thought you might like to know.
He said if you asked our county commissioners off-the-record they would all voice support of this idea. For our friends behind the rail, a little FYI for you.
Rogers also said he wouldn't make a move unless the sitting senator gave his approval. Thought Sen. Brian Kemp, R-Athens, might like to know since he has said all along he had nothing to do with this plan.”
Read his whole column here, and yes, it’s worth the read.
Now, as to what the Senators said, UGA has yet to take a public position on the whole matter.  We’d bet that they don’t really care that much either way, because they know the truth: UGA’s funding is not contingent on the representation of one Senator, or even two, if Hudgens and the Chamber get their way.  UGA has more lobbyists in Atlanta than any other organization in the State – for instance the Governor, most of his staff, and a good number of your elected senators and state representatives.  UGA has never put all of its legislative eggs in one senator’s basket, and they never will.
Similarly, the ACC Government itself has not taken a formal position, and it never will.  But that hasn’t stopped individual members of the ACC Commission from taking a position.  If you check out the petition located here, you’ll see that as of this writing (4:05 pm on January 23), two of our elected officials, Carl Jordan and Heidi Davison, have signed on.  We encourage you to do the same, even though it will probably do no good.  We imagine that Carl and Heidi would encourage you to do so as well.
Chamber of Commerce President Larry McKinney weighs in to give the party line on redistricting, while failing to prove that increased representation would actually give UGA a better chance to get its hands on even more of our tax dollars.  He also addresses the same old wage argument.  We’ll say it again.  If you think that an increase in funding will cause UGA to raise wages for the workers that need it, then you probably also believe that an increase in state dollars will keep UGA from raising tuition every time they want a shiny new learning center, or a parking deck, or some new pictures for Michael Adams’ office.  If so, we’ve got some lovely mixed use land on Cedar Shoals Drive that Stu Cofer would like to sell you.  Read Larry McKinney’s drivel here.
Finally, Don Nelson addresses the issue in his column today as well.  Don comes as close as we’ve seen yet to asking the question: What did the President (of the Chamber of Commerce) know, and when did he know it?  We hope that this line of questioning will make its way from the editorial columns into the hard news pretty soon.  Notice that, when asked how many of the Chamber’s members support the redistricting, Chamber President Larry McKinney refused to give a number.  We would speculate that it’s probably far less than half, and that further, we doubt whether most of the Chamber’s members were even consulted about this particular legislative priority.
Read Don’s piece here.

Steel Curtain, bitches!

Since Denver decided not to contest the AFC Championship today, I decided to take a time out to check in. I'll check the game a little later to see if they change their minds.

GOTD - Pic of the Cindy Sheehan vigil from last year on flickr.

Students want a seat at the table. Good luck.

There's a proposal to allow helper monkeys for disabled people in Georgia. Ok, wow. First of all, I didn't know it was currently illegal to keep monkeys as pets in Georgia. Second of all, it's a guy with an R beside his name that apparently gives a shit about disabled people enough to introduce the bill (Doug Holt from Social Circle; one of his constituents was gonna get a free monkey from a group that does that sort of thing until she found out about the ban). Query: if this thing passes, what kind of crazy ordinance will the Commission pass to deal with the presence of monkeys downtown?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Serendipity, Baby!

We love it when serendipity helps us create content.  Case in point, I was walking around downtown on my way to lunch yesterday and thinking about some local races, especially the campaign for the 9th district here in ACC.  (Tom Chasteen’s current seat, which he’s giving up to run for Mayor, if you’re scoring at home.)

I remember thinking to myself, dag, I wish Ed Vaughn would run for something.  And lo and behold, in the news today, we see this.  So, Ed Vaughn joins Alvin Sheats in the race for supercommissioner from District 9.

If you don’t know Ed, don’t judge him just by the fact that he ran as a Green back in the day.  In fact, Ed renounced his Green Party ties to us about a year ago.  Ed’s a good guy, and he knows the issues.  He’ll be a good candidate, and we think that he’ll end up impressing a lot of folks before this thing is done.  

Also in serendipity news is a little thing about the Chamber.  I was just mentioning to a friend who reads the blog that I thought the Chamber as a whole was getting a bad rap lately here on AthPo, due in large part to their backing of the redistricting.  Now, this runs counter to everything that you might expect to hear out of AthPo, but buckle your seatbelts – I’m about to kind of defend the Chamber.

The Chamber of Commerce is just like any other community group, at least in one respect.  You’ve got the members who pay their dues but don’t participate in much, and you’ve got those members that are hyper-involved – the ones who come to everything and usually bring baked goods too.  As the wise folks say, decisions are made by those who show up, and the case is no different here.  

The problem is, the people who show up do have a political agenda.  And they make sure that the decisions that they get to make reflect that agenda.  So, in our opinion, the Chamber itself has been hijacked by a handful of political activists who would rather spend their time and resources playing politics than practicing business.  They’ve brought in a paid staff who reflects those priorities as well.  

But do the views of the powerful handful of business owners who call the shots reflect the views of every member of the Chamber?  Not by a long shot.  In fact, we would imagine that most of the Chamber members don’t care one flip about politics, and they just joined the Chamber for the networking.  We would also imagine that there are quite a few members who are pretty disgusted with the whole thing, as the writer of today’s letter is.  

For those folks, we have to throw some of the blame on them as well.  You can get disgusted and walk away, or you can work inside the organization that you joined, and make it what you want it to be.  We would rather see the latter, but a number of Chamber members are choosing the former – perhaps not giving up their membership, but certainly disengaging themselves from the day-to-day business of the Chamber.

It’s unfortunate, because when you walk away, you’re just giving the handful of hijackers more power to determine how they want you, as a member of the group, to be seen in the community.  

There once was an alternative Chamber of Commerce in Athens.  We wonder what happened to that?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

This and That

As I left downtown this afternoon, I spotted a lone protestor patrolling the downtown streets in the vicinity of the Chamber building carrying a sign containing something along the lines of the following (I don't guarantee a verbatim quote, cause I was driving kinda fast for downtown):

Chamber of Commerce: You don't speak for the citizens of Athens-Clarke County!


GOTD: A 2002 archived CNN.com article about the creation of the WAG wireless cloud network in downtown Athens.

Question: Why doesn't Sonny wanna pay for the Courts? I'm gonna have a longer post on this later, but suffice it to say that Sonny has been giving the courts the shaft when it comes to funding.

Griffin Bell: Tie 'em to the desks!

Former Attorney General Griffin Bell is weighing in on education.  Now, Bell has got pretty good credentials on public education, including his work brokering a deal to desegregate the public schools in Georgia while working for then-Governor Ernest Vandiver.  His bona fides in the realm of public policy in general are unquestionably sound, so we were ready to hear what he had to say with a very open mind.

Unfortunately, Bell’s comments on education make him sound less like the elder statesman he is and more like a cantankerous old man.  Worse still, he seems, to put it mildly, out of touch with what’s actually happening in the classrooms.

There’s no denying that his suggestions are outside the proverbial box.  Among other things, he suggests publicizing the names of teachers whose students fail standardized tests, lengthening the school day, and mandatory homework.

Now there’s a problem with standardized tests, to be sure, but we don’t think it’s the fault of the teachers.  The problem is the tests themselves, combined with the fallacy that standardized tests are an effective measure of how good an education a student is receiving.  All a standardized test demonstrates about a student is how well the student has learned to take that particular test.  The sad fact is that far too much of classroom time is being devoted to learning how to take the standardized test du jour.  

It’s called “teaching to the test,” and it’s little more than scholastic regurgitation.  It’s a disservice to the students, their future employers, and the teachers themselves.  Our classroom focus should be on critical thinking skills, the ability to process and analyze information for retention and application, not regurgitation.  Those are the life skills that lead to lifelong learning, and success in a 21st Century society.

As far as lengthening the school day, we say great.  Go for it, as long as you’re doing it in conjunction with other measures, such as a serious initiative to reduce class sizes.  If you just elongating the school day, in the belief that that will fix the whole problem, then all you’re really doing is consigning students to longer days in classrooms where their teacher is still overburdened with too many students to pay any attention to a single pupil.

Mandatory homework is fine by us, especially in light of our earlier comments about teaching critical thinking skills instead of standardized tests.  So, if the homework actually reinforces the life skills that will make our children into successful adults, then we’re ok with it.  

The most disturbing thing about Bell’s proposals is his assertion that such measures, “would obviate the long-overused excuse of the home environment.”  (Quoted in the ABH, story here.)  The fact is, the home environment is part of the problem.  Parental involvement is shrinking, and many students aren’t getting the scholastic discipline they need in the home.  

Here’s the thing.  A teacher’s job is to teach your kid, not raise your kid.  A teacher can do a lot, even beyond teaching a child to master a particular chunk of subject matter; they can, for instance, facilitate successful social maturation, which is a useful byproduct of the public school system.  But it’s the parent’s job to instill the discipline a child needs to study successfully.  Think about it this way.  The average parent in Georgia has about 1.8 kids.  The average teacher in Georgia has 15.7 kids.  

Not that the teachers and administrators get off scot-free either.  Our public schools have to do a better job of reaching out to parents and keeping them informed on the progress of their children.  Not all parents may reach out to teachers, and the schools may have to meet them more than halfway.

More on this later, perhaps.  Unless you guys would like to address Bell’s suggestions about higher education.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and...Recess!!

Political observers probably won’t be too shocked to learn that one of the bills being bandied about during this year’s legislative session is a proposal to authorize public schools to begin teaching the Bible as part of their curriculum.

What might surprise you is who is introducing the bill – the chairman of the State Senate Democratic Caucus.

Tim Golden, the bill’s sponsor, asserts that the Bible course, as authorized in the bill would consist of, “nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study,” about the Bible’s influence on our culture.

There are two schools of thought on this. One viewpoint says, back away very slowly. We’re teetering on the precipice of a very slippery slope here.

On the other hand, the Bible is a legitimate work of world literature, and a darn sight better read than, say, Dubliners by James Joyce, which at least one member of your crack editorial staff had the displeasure of struggling through in high school.

Then there’s the politics of the matter. Are Tim Golden and the Senate Dems trying to out-Republican the Republicans? Are they running to the right to establish some measure of credibility on the so-called “values issues?” And even if they are, will the Republicans sign on en masse?

Needless to say, the ACLU is a bit nervous about the whole thing.

We want to know what you think. Weigh in below.

[Related: the AJC writes it up here.]

(The AthPo Useless Infographic is a new feature which will appear to assist our readers, whenever we get bored, or when we want to make fun of USA Today.)

More on Durden, etc.

As a follow-up to the earlier post on Durden running against Judge Sweat, we've become privy to some internal courthouse chatter on the matter, and a few others. Here goes:

1) Some of the specific complaints about Judge Sweat (it's not clear whether these are Durden's complaints or just generally shared ones) are that he goes way too long on some of his hearings, and that some of his rulings, in particular those involving domestic cases, have been questionable. In my opinion, the first is probably due to lack of judicial experience more than anything else, a problem which Durden would obviously have if elected as well. The second complaint is more substantive, but without some more specific data about the propriety of specific rulings, it's hard for me to say.

2) The general feeling around the courthouse is that, although there might be room to challenge Judge Sweat based on some of these issues, Mr. Durden is probably not the man for the job. The consensus seems to be that Sweat will be better at the politics involved than Durden.

3) In non-Durden courthouse gossip, it appears that Mr. Mauldin might put up a candidate to beat Mr. Wiltshire in the Solicitor General election. Word is Mauldin is afraid that otherwise Wiltshire might do a good enough job as Solicitor to mount another challenge against him for DA in the future. However, what happens if, and I'm just throwing this out there, Wiltshire loses and decides to come after Mauldin's job anyway? At least if he were SG, he'd have to decide whether to resign to run. Mauldin may end up making his own bed if he's not careful. If Mauldin goes this route, ADA Brian Patterson has been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Redistricting and the Chamber of Commerce

Just a reminder that your elected officials, at least some of them, are holding a town hall tonight to discuss the proposed redistricting. Go give Jane Kidd and Keith Heard an earful tonight at 7:00 pm, at the Athens-Clarke County Public Library.

Speaking of redistricting, we managed to get our hot little hands on the pro-redistricting talking points that the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce is passing around amongst their membership. We’re not going to post the whole email here, because the Chamber rivals us in their tendency to ramble and bloviate. According to the email, the Chamber supports the redistricting for four reasons.

“1.Two of the five largest employers in Athens-Clarke County (UGA & CCSD) get a large source of their funding from state government. These 2 entities alone employ over 11,000 working individuals. If wages for the majority of these employees are to increase, it will come as a result of increased funding from state government. This reason alone is enough to support increasing ACC’s representation in the legislature.

2. Clarke is the only county over 100,000 in population that has only one state senator representing it. A number of much smaller counties listed below have more representation than Clarke. [Editor’s note: in the email, the Chamber includes a list of counties with smaller populations than ACC with more than one representative. We omitted it for reasons of space.]

3. Athens Technical College is in desperate need of increased funding to simply meet the existing demand for highly skilled individuals, especially in the area of healthcare. More representation in Atlanta gives our community a better chance of helping our young people get the skills they need to make a living wage.

4. Our community’s largest employer and the state’s flagship university needs full funding in order to reach its potential, especially in area of the biosciences.”

First of all, to think for even one moment that the Chamber has any interest in a wage hike for UGA and the CCSD is just fallacious. We know that you already know that, but let’s work through the logic, just for grins. UGA and the CCSD are among the five biggest employers in Athens, as the Chamber acknowledges. The Chamber of Commerce is composed of the owners of employers number six through whatever. What happens to them if UGA and the CCSD raise their wages? It pushes the market value of labor in ACC up, meaning that the wage they pay will also rise, if they expect to remain competitive in the resource market for labor. In fact, the membership of the Chamber has a vested economic interest in keeping wages low.

Not that that really matters, because if there’s one thing more fallacious than thinking the Chamber is suddenly the standard-bearer for higher wages, it’s thinking that increased funding for UGA will be used to increase wages. Sure, some folks at UGA may get more money out of a funding increase, but we’re betting that it’s going to be more like professors and administrators, rather than the folks who mop the floors and cook the food. More likely though, most of any increase in funding will go to projects that we can’t complain about, more research, perhaps better facilities. Of course, there’s no reason to suspect that having more Senators will necessarily lead to increased funding.

Under the current system, UGA is the big ugly couch in Brian Kemp’s political living room, and he has to arrange all of his other furniture around it. With two Senators, the proportion of UGA to other constituents is much smaller, and the big ugly couch becomes kind of like that ashtray your nephew made you at summer camp last year. You still have to have it on display, but you can hide it behind your DVDs most of the time.

In fact other than the sudden and hilarious dedication to raising wages at UGA and the CCSD, the Chamber’s entire set of talking points is predicated on the assumption that having two Senators will increase, rather than decrease UGA’s representation in Atlanta, an assumption that is, at the very least, arguable.

Finally, please note that the Chamber is trying to rally its forces for the town hall meeting tonight. According to the email: “We urge your attendance to show unaninimity in our desire to see increased representation for the people of Clarke County.”

Rallying the troops, on either side, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s our impression that this thing is a done deal. Don’t expect the feds to make a big deal about this one, either.

[Edited to add: Here's a good analysis from PeachPundit. Eds.]

GOTD, Etc.

What can I tell ya; we've been out of it for a couple of days. Here's a few scraps to get you back in the swing of things on this fine Wednesday:

First, a new GOTD. It's the history of the Athens music scene from the Georgia Music Hall of Fame site. Interesting stuff, especially if you didn't live through it, or if like me you did live through it but mostly as a toddler. Check it out.

Next, Jefferson turns 200. Happy Birthday Jefferson! I drove through there last weekend on my way to a funeral in Dahlonega, and I had forgotten what a quaint little downtown area it has. Some beautiful old school Southern houses with the big front porches that I like.

A source close to the State Court tells us that they are looking at getting big sponsorship from State Farm for the DUI Drug Court. The program is a wildly successful one, with a recidivism rate of 3%, or something ridiculously low like that, for graduates of the program. The program is making the streets safer while treating the actual problem instead of crowding the jails. It's actually a win-win-win, because it's ultimately cheaper than enforcing DUI laws with jail time too (not to mention the ultimate reduction in DUIs in the first place, and the resultant savings to taxpayers and others, like, for example, State Farm, which is why they're willing to support the program).

The Navy School Local Redevelopment Authority will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday at the DOL office on North Avenue. Jackson County got some new voting machines to speed things up at election time. Read about these and other stories here.

Chew on this for a bit, and we'll see what else we can come up with.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


LPDS of course was approved unanimously again in the Planning Commission recently, and it is on the Agenda setting Commission meeting Thursday and up for vote at the February meeting. I found one comment from Planning Commissioner Biron interesting; he said that while LPDS had made great strides to meet with the opposition and make requested changes, in his opinion LPDS was "not there yet, as [Biron] feels the building is still too thematic." Now, to be clear, Biron is not opposed to LPDS (obviously, since there was unanimous approval), but I still find it interesting that he would imply that if LPDS would pull back on its Latin theme, it would have a better chance of passing. I know, I know, all opponents will deny this is relevant at all. But is it?

Bill Shipp and Predatory Lending

Bill Shipp compliments Sonny Perdue today, while trying as hard as he can to raise awareness of all the issues that could come back to make the Gubner’s path to re-election more difficult.  Among the issues Shipp targets are: illegal immigration, school funding, ethics, health care, and predatory lending.

It’s that last one that we wanted to say a little bit about today.  Remember the times we’ve said that affordable housing might be the sleeper campaign issue of 2006?  We might be wrong on that; it just might be predatory lending.  

A few years ago, in the last years of the Roy Barnes administration, Georgia had one of the toughest predatory lending laws in the nation.  Not surprisingly, that was one of the first pieces of legislation undone by the new Republican majority when they came to power, and since then, Georgia has been a haven for predatory lenders.

Interestingly enough, we’ve always thought of predatory lending in terms of houses or cars.  Shipp puts it in terms of payday loans and car title loans, and we’re not 100% sure that even though smaller in scope, the title loans and paycheck loans aren’t the bigger problem.  Put it this way: how many poor people even get to the point of buying their own homes?  In any event, we’d like to address it from the standpoint of those smaller loans, since we’ve had a little experience with that end of this particularly shameful little industry (fortunately not as a borrower.)

Now the more conservative free marketers out there are already revving up to argue with us on this one.  “It’s a free market economy,” they’ll harrumph, “and that means people are free to make their own choices, even if they are stupid choices.”  The kicker is they’re right.  People should be free to make stupid choices.  Heaven knows they are, and heaven knows they do.  But the thing is, you and I are paying for those stupid mistakes, and the United States is not a pure capitalist economy, anyway.  

We’ve got no problems with entrepreneurs making an honest dollar.  But, the key word here is “honest.”  25% interest rates and hidden fees are not, in our opinion particularly on the up-and-up.  The fact is, the loan racket is just that, a racket.  Particularly egregious is the title loan racket, where the object is not to loan money but to obtain as many cars as possible through repossession, and sell them.  For example, a borrower comes in to borrow $500.00 from you for three months, and puts down the titles to their pickup truck or whatever as collateral.  After those three months are up, with the exorbitant interest rate and the fees involved, that $500.00 is closer to $1,200.00.  And, if the borrower doesn’t get the payments made in time, then the lender gets to repossess the truck, and sell it for a few thousand dollars, all from an initial outlay of $500.00.  Pretty nice business model, if you ask us.

We’re all in favor of open markets, and giving everybody a chance to make their bundle.  But the debt problem in Georgia, and in America is rapidly becoming endemic.  It’s time that the government did something.

More on Redistricting

For what it’s worth, both the ABH’s editorial board and Jason Winders more or less agree with us on the proposed redistricting of Athens’ state senate districts.  Of course, that’s kind of saying the ABH and Jason Winders agree with us that the sun rises in the east.  Everybody knows that the redistricting is a political move.

One interesting angle is how the ABH approaches the situation, by complimenting current Senator Brian Kemp’s service in taking care of Athens and UGA.  Kemp has done pretty well for the University, and it’s a valid point that two senators with part of Athens may not be as effective as one senator who represents the whole thing.

Winders agrees that it’s all political, while admitting that when you control both chambers and the governor’s mansion, you can monkey with the districts all you want, as long as the Feds give you the thumbs-up.  He also thinks, as do we, that Jane Kidd should stay in the race for State Senate, or as Winders puts it, “Kidd needs to step up, not give up.”

And that’s actually something we wanted to address again.  We pretty much said everything we needed to say yesterday, but we did want to add one thing. There’s another reason Jane Kidd should stay in the Senate race, and that is this very issue.  It’s tailor-made to get Athens voters all hacked off at the State Legislature, and Kidd certainly did her part on the House floor to fight this thing down.  Athens-Clarke County tends to be fairly Democratic for sure, and we would wager that Kidd already has 55% - 60% of ACC’s voters sewn up, just by virtue of being a Democrat.  But, an issue like this can activate some of those swing voters that might have been leaning Republican, and pull them over to her side.  The big question is: will any Athens backlash from moderates and swing voters outweigh the traditionally large Oconee County turnout numbers that have put this race in the R column in years past?  Heck, we don’t know.  But if Kidd decides to stay in the race, she’s got an A-1 issue to add to her message.

The 65% Solution and Perdue's Education Plan

Education is all the rage today; rather than do separate posts on every education-related thing in the paper today, we’re going to mesh them all together into an incoherent mass.  Would you expect anything less from us?


First off, the much-discussed 65% solution is examined.  We would expect that most superintendents and administrators are opposed to the 65% solution, and if Jeff Welch, who runs the Oglethorpe County Schools, is a representative example, we’d be right.  Now, we don’t pretend to know much about the schools in Oglethorpe County, and we know even less about Mr. Welch’s job performance, but the article certainly makes it seem like his priorities are in the right place.

And in the end, that’s what the whole 65% solution is about – priorities.  We’ve listed a few reasons in the past that cover why we’re against it, but the most salient point that we can make is that we believe that school districts shouldn’t be held to some contrived standard that may or may not help the students in that particular district.  

Of course, you can’t always trust the superintendent and the district administration to make those choices wisely.  We’ve argued in the past that our administration here in Clarke County doesn’t have their eye on the ball most of the time.  But there’s accountability built into the system – elections for school board members.  

The best part about the ABH article in our opinion is the list at the bottom, so that we can all get a better idea of what is and isn’t included in the definition of “in the classroom” spending.  We were surprised to see some things that are included that we didn’t think would be, such as field trips and funding for athletics and the arts.  But even so, those factors are outweighed by the things that aren’t included.  We’ve already mentioned counselors and nurses in previous posts.  You should also know that this doesn’t include social workers (and don’t even get us started on the conditions that necessitate having social workers in our schools.)  It also doesn’t include librarians or even libraries.  School cafeterias will also end up getting cut under the 65% solution.

The bottom line on the 65% solution is that it isn’t a good solution at all.  As we said, it’s all about priorities, and, despite the problems in the system, we do trust the folks in the classrooms and, to a lesser extent, their bosses to determine our district’s priorities more than we trust the state or a random number to do so.

Perdue’s Education Plan

Also in education-related news is the Gubner’s plan to pump more money into education.  Like the 65% solution referenced above, it sounds pretty good on the surface, and we’ll be the first to tell you that it’s better than nothing at all.  But, under the surface, education is going to continue to get the same raw deal it’s been getting for the last lo these many years.  

Joe Martin, who, if we’re not mistaken, was a candidate for state school superintendent back in 2002, does a lot of our homework for us in an op-ed that we presume was sent around statewide.  The ABH picked it up, and you can check it out here.  It’s chock full of numbers and figures and whatnot, and we’d suggest a careful read before you make up your mind about Perdue’s education plan.  Like we said, Perdue’s ideas are better than nothing, but we believe that as a state, we can do more, now that Georgia’s economy is starting to pick up some steam.  

Here’s the thing.  Education is what the pointy-headed folks who teach political science like to call a “valence issue.”  For the rest of us, that means that no one hates education.  Everyone, from the most hardcore conservative to the most raging liberal legitimately wants a better-educated citizenry.  Sonny Perdue wants good schools, and so do the Democrats.  As a society, we still value education, although arguably less so than in previous generations.  Good education is an investment, and while we might disagree on exactly how to go about achieving that goal, even to the point of disagreeing with the whole idea of public schools, we all agree that it is in the best interests of all not to have ignorance running rampant in society.  

So here’s a chance for Sonny Perdue to score some points and be a leader.  Let’s look briefly at the politics behind the policy.  The prohibitive favorite to challenge Perdue in November is Cathy Cox.  Cox has a well-deserved reputation for being more or less bipartisan; heck, the Republicans even tried to sway her over to the dark side of the Force last year.  We’ve even seen one or two “Republicans for Cathy Cox” bumper stickers tooling around town.  Sonny has a chance to cut into Cox’s burgeoning bipartisan street cred and show that he’s a leader on the issues.  Here’s how.

Scrap the education plan.  Stand up before the people of Georgia, save a little political face if you want to, and say, “You know, this was an okay plan.  It would have done some good, but it isn’t good enough.  We’re going to work together with Mark Taylor and Robert Brown and DuBose Porter, and we’re going to hammer out an education plan that does more for our schools.  And then we’re going to pass it.”  Ignore the press and the bloggers like us who will inevitably portray this as a backpedaling move from the GOP, and just be a leader.

Education is a valance issue.  More importantly, it’s consistently one of the top issues in every opinion poll we’ve ever seen.  For a lot of those suburban swing voters that both parties are angling for, it might just be the issue.  

Of course it’ll never happen.  If fixing education was as easy as paying lip service rather than teacher salaries, then we’d have fixed it a long time ago.  The solution is more complex than handing out $100.00 gift cards so that teachers can buy supplies.  Eventually, when budgeting for education, you’re going to have to make some tough choices, and you’re going to come face-to-face with some difficult issues, including the third rail of Georgia politics – race.  And nobody wants to face those issues, especially during an election year.

(Related:  Educators call shenanigans on Sonny’s plan.)

The Money Story: Statewide Version

In case last week’s local money story didn’t satisfy your process story jones, here’s the statewide version of the money story, courtesy of Morris News’ Atlanta Bureau.  

To sum up, Sonny Perdue has lots of bread, Cathy Cox and Mark Taylor are also doing well (although Taylor loaned his campaign a million bucks; more on that in a minute.)  Everybody else is more or less meeting the media’s expectations, but Ralph Reed’s fundraising is looking more and more anemic after a strong start.

Now, back to the Mark Taylor loaning himself a cool mil thing.  It’s nothing new, obviously.  Candidates do it all the time, and if it’s getting down to crunch time, and you need a few thousand more GRPs, it’s probably a good thing to do.

For the purposes of this speculation, you have to stipulate that there is no reason at all why Taylor’s campaign needs that extra million bucks now, as opposed to six months from now.  No one is buying media yet, and Taylor’s campaign is more than solvent enough to pay it’s overhead and expenses as they currently exist.

The last ten years or so, though, candidates have been putting in a healthy infusion of their personal cash just to make their fundraising totals look better on the quarterly reports.  We wonder if this really does any good at all.  Obviously, anyone with the capacity to read (and that does include most of the reporters we know) can see the candidate loan on your filings, and draw their own conclusions.

In fact, far from making your campaign look healthy from a fundraising standpoint, this can actually cause the exact opposite effect, and make it seem that the campaign is struggling on fundraising, even when the campaign is doing just fine.

That’s kind of the case with Taylor here, especially if you look at the totals.  Taylor has $5.4 million, his opponent in the primary, Cathy Cox, has $4 million.  Even without the $1 million loan, Taylor has still raised $400,000 more than Cox.  Granted, if you look at the quarterly totals, the story changes a little bit.  Without the $1 million of his own money, Cox would have outraised Taylor 2 to 1 during the last quarter.

The conventional wisdom among the state’s Democrats is that Cox’s political star is rising quickly, while Taylor’s is – well, not exactly rising at all.  We’d be willing to bet that one of the reasons for Taylor’s infusion of his personal cash is his desire to avoid the “Cox is doing well, while Taylor struggles” story.  

There’s another reason that might explain Taylor’s cash transfusion.  Kicking in a significant bundle of your own money is a signal to your potential donors that you’re serious and in the race to win.  That works with some donors, others see through it.

Athens Google of the Day

Well, it might not end up being every day, but this is a new feature I'm gonna try out where I, you guessed it, Google Athens and see where our little city shows up on the ol' net. The inaugural AGOTD is Athens' Wikipedia entry. Anybody have any idea who originally authored this?

Day of Service

For those of you with MLK Day off from work, I would encourage you to participate in the ACC MLK Day of Service. Here is some info.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A couple of new candidates

As our previous two posts indicate, it was a pretty heavy news day for a Saturday today.  Here’s a third and final post before we get up and see what’s shaking in the ACC tomorrow.  We’ve got a couple of new candidates in the mix.  Alvin Sheats (formerly the Commissioner for District 3) is jumping in the open seat race for Tom Chasteen’s District 9 super-seat, and local attorney Stan Durden has announced that he is going to challenge incumbent Superior Court Judge David Sweat.

As far as the District 9 race goes, we don’t really have much to say.  Alvin Sheats has represented about a quarter of the district in years past, he’s got community ties across the city, and he’s pretty well liked.  That, plus the lack of opposition, pretty much means that, at this point, he’s going through the motions, and barring unforeseen candidates jumping in, he should do pretty well.

But this Judge Sweat thing…now that’s interesting!  Well, it’s interesting if you’re in to the obscuria of political campaigns, and we are.  The neat thing about this race is that it’s more or less unprecedented.  We’ve never really had a sitting judge challenged in ACC, at least not in our recollection, so this is going to bring up a number of interesting issues.  You might know, first of all, that rules on judge’s races in Georgia changed right around the time that Judge Sweat first ran in 2002 (right after the election, if memory serves), which loosened the restrictions on what candidates for judgeships could say.  (It opened the doors for campaigning on more than just judicial philosophy, and made it ok, legally, for candidates to go negative, more or less.)  It will be interesting to see how that affects this race, although we doubt that Judge Sweat or Stan Durden will choose to go negative, at least we hope not.

Another interesting factor, kind of tied into that is what exactly Stan Durden is going to talk about to convince folks that he’s better for the bench than Judge Sweat.  We’ve pondered for awhile, and can’t really come up with anything.  For what it’s worth, Judge Sweat doesn’t take his politics to the bench, and while he has presided over some of the better-known trials recently (most notably, the UGA Library arson case), those decisions were handed down by a jury, not by Judge Sweat himself.  Could a reasonable challenger oppose some the bench rulings that His Honor handed down on motions and whatnot?  Probably so.  Will the voters care, and can a challenger explain those disagreements in laymen’s terms?  Doubtful.

An interesting question that we’ll sure we’ll get answers to in the coming months is: Why is Durden running against Judge Sweat?  There’s no question that, if one wanted a judgeship, conventional wisdom says that Sweat is the best one to challenge, since he’s the most recently elected, and on paper at least, the most vulnerable.  But, considering our experience with judge’s races is exactly nil, other than observing Sweat’s campaign from afar in 2002, we think that the incumbency advantage is particularly strong for judge’s races.  In other words, Stan Durden is going to have to come up with a really good message to convince voters not to vote for David Sweat.  It goes without saying that he’s going to have to have enough resources to get that message out to an electorate that is going to be more interested in other races.

Which brings us to another question.  Is the local bar association going to get involved?  Well, probably not, but it will be interesting to see which local lawyers get behind which candidates.

In any event, this may be as interesting as any local race we’ve got going on this year, so stay tuned.

Redistricting Madness

The big news coming out from Atlanta during the last few days, as least as far as Athens is concerned is, of course, the planned redistricting of Athens-Clarke County to give us two State Senate seats. Athens is currently the center of one State Senate district, and we’re represented by Brian Kemp, who is leaving his Senate seat behind to run for Commissioner of Agriculture. Everybody all caught up now? Great.

The thing is, this is obviously a political move. Heck, even most of the Republicans are rubbing their hands together in glee over their political prowess, while the Republicans who sponsored the redistricting and a few others cling to the “It’s time Athens had two State Senators” rhetoric, if only for decorum’s sake.

So, it’s political. And that’s just fine. When your party is in charge, you get to make changes like this. If you’re a Democrat and you’re pissed off, we don’t blame you. We’re pissed off too. But we all, and we include your crack editorial staff, are to blame. Maybe we should have worked a little but harder for Becky Vaughn in 2004. Of course even had Becky been elected, this thing would still be plowing through the Legislature. We would also point out, in fairness to our Republican friends, that the Democrats certainly made the most out of redistricting in 2000 when they controlled the pencils and the maps.

Anyway, we’re going to try really hard not to get worked up about this. Fact is, it’s going to pass (it still has to make it through the Department of Justice up in D.C., but we’re not sure if there’s a legitimate Constitutional objection here, so it’ll probably fly), we’re going to get two State Senators, they’re probably both going to be Republican, and if you’re pissed off about it – and we are – then go volunteer for Jane Kidd (if she’s still running) or whoever runs in the other district against Ralph Hudgins.

So, that being said, we’d rather talk about two issues that are related to this whole nonsense. First there’s this article from Tuesday’s Athens Banner Herald which implies that Kidd may not run for Senate after all, if the redistricting goes through. Now that’s a bad idea for a couple of reasons. Kidd is arguably the most prominent Democratic member of the Athens legislative delegation, and whether or not you believe that, she is the big fish in the electoral pond around these parts. The Clarke County Democratic Party has high hopes for her future, and it would be quite a boost to the GOP to more or less scare Jane Kidd out of the race with their redistricting hijinks. And if someone with Jane Kidd’s election cred (meaning she’s run for and actually won office, a rarity among the ruling Democratic elite in ACC) gets scared out, what kind of message does that send to any other candidates, maybe running for the first time, who might be thinking about jumping into the race?

There’s also the more idealistic part of it. Jane Kidd is a good legislator. She does her homework, and she fights the fights she should, most of the time. She’s got character, and she looks out for her constituents. However, when she talks about dropping out of the Senate race when the chips get down, we can’t help but be a little disappointed. You see, as we said before, Kidd is a good legislator, and talk like this makes it sound like she’s more interested in winning than governing. We know, we know, you’ve got to win before you can govern, and if Kidd dropped out and went back to run for her current House seat, she would both win and govern. But, the Senate seat is a better fit for Kidd. She could do us proud there, which is not to imply that she wouldn’t or hasn’t in the House. The thing is, it’s time she started angling for a promotion. If there’s anything Kidd lacks as a politician, it’s that fire in the belly that makes you good and angry and juiced up for the rough and tumble of campaign politics. So Jane, if you’re reading this, here’s some advice. We like Bill Cowsert; he’s a nice guy, and we honestly think his heart is in the right place. But do us a favor. Go out there and wipe the floor with him.

The other issue that we wanted to address is the topic of redistricting itself. Call us crazy, but isn’t it about time we had some redistricting reform in this state? You’ve got the Democrats monkeying around with maps in 2000, and the GOP doing the exact same thing in 2004. Now, we have a well-deserved reputation for being pretty partisan here, but we say, and we hope you agree, that you can’t trust either party to make truly representative maps. Of course, good luck getting any kind of meaningful redistricting reform through the state legislature, since no matter who’s in charge they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Still, here’s what we’d like to see. An amendment to the state constitution that takes redistricting out of the hands of the politicians, and places it in the hands of a non-partisan redistricting commission, with the help of the best technology we can get our hands on. By technology, we mean computer programs that analyze the data and crunch it into meaningful districts. Those districts would then be pored over by actual human beings to make sure that they are common sense, and the map then gets approved by a nonpartisan panel, and, since it’s the law, reviewed and pre-cleared by the federal Department of Justice. Now, notice we said a non-partisan commission, not a bipartisan commission. Bipartisanship naturally lends itself to the brokering of deals, which is sometimes a good thing for legislation, but never a good thing for redistricting. Of course, a non-partisan commission is harder to find, since everybody has some sort of partisanship, but we would suggest that retired federal or upper-court state judges are a good place to look. But who appoints the non-partisan commission? Eventually the politicians have to get involved. We’re not sure how to keep the politics out of the appointments, to be honest, but we’re open to suggestions. Maybe a 2/3 majority in the State Senate? We don’t know. In any event, systems like this are in place in a handful of states, and have been suggested in others. And, it’s long past time to take redistricting out of the hand of the politicians. It’s kind of like asking Microsoft to appoint the members of the SEC, if you think about it.

Oh and remember when we said good luck getting something like this past the state legislature? Well, there may be a ray of hope. We’re going to check into this, or maybe one of you guys know, but if we’re not mistaken, citizens of Georgia can put a referendum on the ballot if they collect enough signatures.

Finally, back to the whole redistricting mess that sparked this post. We’ve got one other thing to say, in reference to this quote by Sen. Ralph Hudgens. Sez Hudgens, “Monroe (in Walton County) has a lot more in common with Athens than anything else.”

Really, Senator Hudgens? We can think of one place that Athens has more in common with than Monroe. It’s called the other friggin’ half of Athens!!


(Related: Reps. Kidd and Keith Heard are hosting a town hall meeting on this issue on Wednesday at 7:00 pm at the ACC Public Library. The ABH writes it up today here.)

Gold Kist? James Madison would like a word with you.

It’s come to our attention recently that at least a handful of our local lawyers here in Athens read AthPo, and we’d like to send a shoutout to them.  Please, ladies and gentlemen of the bar, for heaven’s sake, call the guy in this story, because it looks like he’s got something of a First Amendment case here.

If you’re too engrossed in AthPo to click the link, here’s the abridged version.  Guy works for Gold Kist.  Every year for the last four years, he’s celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday by posting the full text of the “I Have a Dream” speech in the employee breakroom.  Everything’s cool, until this year, when Gold Kist informs him he’s got to take it down.

I don’t know from law, but my co-editor does, and I’m sure he’ll have a thing or two to say about this when he gets back into town.  I do, however, have it on good authority from the prettiest third-year law student I know that this at least appears to meet the requirements for protected political speech.

Now, we’ll leave it to the real lawyers to weigh in, but this seems pretty cut and dried to me.  Political speech is protected, there’s no credible argument to made for incitement, and the fact that the company allowed him to do it in previous years goes a long way, in my opinion, towards negating any argument along the lines of the workplace not being a public forum.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Big Three Oh

Mike Lynch makes a good point today about the hypocrisy of the proposed split of Athens' Senate districts.

Oh, and speaking of blatant, shameless self-interest, today's my birthday, bitches! I'll let you put 2 and 28 together on what the age is. Yes, I'm getting old. Probably time for me to do something with my life. I'll keep you posted on my efforts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Turmoil in the DA's Office?

A source close to the DA's office tells us that there has been a recent rash of ADA's quitting the office. At least two have quit recently, including the chief assistant DA, and word is that others are looking to jump ship as well. Is this coincidence of personal circumstances, or a larger problem within the office? Not clear. But with a string of bad recent defeats, including the arson case (which was the UGA police's fault, in my opinion, although it perhaps could have been handled better by the DA's office as well), it doesn't look good. And losing a lot of people at once probably doesn't help matters. Here's hoping that Mr. Mauldin, who we think is overall a pretty good guy and a good DA, can keep it all duct-taped together over there. We hope to have more on this later.

The Money Story

We guess campaign season is officially underway now, since the ABH has published the first “money story” of 2006.  We’ll sum up.  Chasteen and Maddox, decent fundraising; Andy Rusk, not so much; Heidi Davison and Keith Johnson, none at all.
And that’s a great example of why the “money story” is more or less useless at this stage of the game.  If Heidi Davison runs, do you think she’s going to have any trouble at all raising the money she needs to be competitive?  Are Tom Chasteen and Andy Rusk going to run remotely similar campaigns?  Then why would you expect Andy to be competitive with Tom in fundraising?
It’s not so much how much you raise, although that’s important.  Andy Rusk, for example, has a fantastic message (albeit one in need of some tightening up), but we’re worried that he won’t have the money to get that message out.  Tom Chasteen will have plenty of money, but if his behavior as the Commissioner from D9 is any indication, his message will be safe enough not to piss anyone off.  (It’ll also be safe enough not to inspire anyone who wants to move past the status quo.)
It’s not how much you raise, it’s how you spend it.  Take a look at Charlie Maddox.  According to the ABH, “[Maddox] spent $3,764.47, about two-thirds of it on a campaign Web site.”  We were told there would be no math, but by our rough calculations, that comes to about $2,400.00.  Ain’t no website in the world worth that much dough, unless you’re running a national or very large state campaign with a fulltime web person to do frequent updates and lots of multimedia and interactive content.  We’ve seen Mr. Maddox’s website, and we think he got hosed big time.  In a town where you can’t spit without hitting a web designer, he could have done that cheaper.  Put in real terms, $2,400.00 buys a decent amount of radio on the local AM stations, which would reach a lot more people, if used at the right time.  (By “right time,” we mean October or November.  Please, candidates, do not buy advertising now.)
We use that as an example only, of course.  We don’t know Mr. Maddox, and he probably doesn’t know about us.  But, to tie things back into democracy, you might want to take a look at your favorite (or least-favorite) candidate’s fundraising reports and see what they’re spending money on.  It might give you a clue about how they’re going to act with your tax dollars if they win.
More on the money chase and how we’ll contradict everything we just said when we talk about the Jane Kidd/Bill Cowsert race at some nebulous later date.

Bar Roundup

So yesterday was the bimonthly Western Circuit Bar Association meeting. It was announced that Upshaw Bentley had received a Robert Benham lifetime achievement award for community service at last week's State Bar meeting in Atlanta. Judge Bailey from the Northern Circuit was the guest speaker. John Barrow was in the hizzie, and got "recognized" by President Ken Kalivoda as "now being a resident of Savannah." Heh...that was a little amusing.

Meanwhile, you'll be happy to know that your county tax dollars (I mean you really will be happy...not sarcastically...unless you're fishplate or dawgcorleone and don't want government collecting money in the first place, much less spending it on anything useful) are going in part to renovate the State Court courtroom, starting in mid-February. The jury box will be expanded to accomodate the much-more-frequent 12-person juries in State Court these days, and the courtroom will be brought much closer to the state of the art in technology and such, not to mention aesthetic enhancements.