Thursday, March 30, 2006

Registering Student Voters: The Myth

Chuck Jones brought up an interesting point yesterday when discussing his campaign, in between the levying of corruption charges and whatnot.  Sez Chuckles:

“In this election, I am going to call for the largest student vote turnout in the history of Athens.”

Chuck’s statement kind of implies that he’s going to embark on a quest to register a massive number of UGA students and get them to vote for him.  Well, good luck, pal.  The streets of Athens are littered with the shells of campaigns that tried to tap into the “student vote” as a path to victory.  To be perfectly fair, Chuck isn’t the first person to think of this – so please don’t think we’re picking on just him.  Andy Rusk has brought it up, and Chuck and Andy are just the examples from this cycle.  Every time we have an election, at least one candidate decides that the path to victory runs through Creswell Hall.  Here’s why it doesn’t.

It’s seductive, it really is.  You’ve got 30,000-plus students out there, many of whom have definite views, and most of whom would be attracted to a young, dynamic candidate, like a Blake Tillery or an Andy Rusk.  For the more idealistically-minded, there’s also no question, given their presence here for at least nine months out of the year (not to mention their contributions to the local economy), that the students deserve a representative voice.

And registering them is super-easy.  Go set up a table in any crowded area of campus, and you’ll get plenty of folks who are willing to register to vote or change their registration to Athens.  

But what do you do with them once they’re registered?  Ay, there’s the rub.  Registration isn’t the hard part – activating your newly-registered voters is the hard part.  Now that requires a field effort the likes of which has never been seen in Athens before.  

We were told there would be no math, but let’s play with some numbers real fast.  Best case scenario, let’s assume that a candidate registers 20,000 students to vote.   Now, in order for your 20,000 new registrations to be able to vote, you’ve got to have them all in to the Board of Elections by October 10.  The election is on November 7, giving these students almost a month to forget that they changed their voter registration.  In fact, quite a few of them probably registered because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but forgot about it by the end of the day.  By the way, unless you’re counting on registering those 20,000 new voters all in one day, then the time to forget about registering is even longer; state law says that the applications have to be in no more than 15 days after they’re filled out.

Anyway, you’ve got 20,000 new voters.  You’ve got their names, addresses, maybe even their phone numbers and email addresses.  How are you going to get them out to vote on November 7?  More importantly, how are you going to get them out to vote for you on November 7?  Remember, they’re swimming in the community pool now, and they’re fair game for any candidate with the wherewithal to get his or her hands on an updated voter file.  

Well, the first step is persuasion.  Again, just because you registered them doesn’t mean that they’re going to vote for you.  So how do you reach them?  Well, there’s direct mail.  Assuming an average cost per piece of mail of $0.75 (and we are so lowballing you here – the good stuff costs upwards of a buck per piece), then you’ve just added another $15,000 to your campaign budget.  But wait, one piece of direct mail isn’t going to do the trick.  You’re going to need multiple hits – at least three or four pieces. (Preferably targeted pieces based on demographic info, but we’re sure that you already thought of that, right candidates?)  So now that $15,000 has become $45,000 or $60,000 and that’s just persuasion, we haven’t even addressed GOTV yet.

Ok, so maybe direct mail isn’t our best tactic.  TV and radio, anyone?  Well, locally, that is going to cost you less than the mail for sure, but you’re also getting a lower ROI, because you can’t hold a TV ad in your hand and look at it carefully.  (Some people actually do read direct mail.)  In any event, expect to spend at least another $15,000 - $25,000 on TV and radio ads for them to do any good whatsoever.

Well, persuasion is expensive, but at least you can buy good persuasion.  Good GOTV work is more a matter of sweat equity.  You’re going to need volunteers, and lots of them, to dragoon those 20,000 college students into going to vote.  Vans to get them there (because not everybody on campus has a car), are also a must.  Even if all 20,000 of your new voters have brand-new SUVs, you still want to transport them yourself, because GOTV – really, really good GOTV – is a controlled process.  You’ve got to move people in the most efficient manner possible, while knowing the status of every targeted voter, and making sure no one falls through the cracks?  Sound complicated?  That’s why the really good field consultants get the big bucks.

Of course there are more passive means of GOTV than a balls-to-the-wall grassroots effort.  You can send emails reminding people to vote.  You can send out a slew of robo-dial calls.  But don’t ask me what your return on investment is going to be.  These are before-the fact reminders, nothing more, and thus far less effective than a real election-day GOTV campaign.  By the way, organizing something like this is, as Chuck says, difficult but not impossible, and there are ways to make the student GOTV somewhat less of a shitshow than it has the potential to be.  Of course, if you want to shell out the big bucks for someone with the knowledge to do it, be our guest.  We’ll even make some recommendations, if you ask nicely enough.

The worst problem any candidate is going to have to deal with in getting student turnout up is the dynamic itself.  There’s a vicious cycle as far as UGA students and Athens politics (the concept, not the blog) are concerned.  Students don’t vote because they feel like a separate entity from the local government.  They feel like a separate entity because they often get screwed by the local government.  They get screwed because they don’t vote.  And the cycle continues.  Can anyone break that cycle?

Probably not.  And there’s another dynamic at work here too.  Many students, as shocking as this might seem, do not consider Athens “home,” and that’s where you vote – home.  

Bottom line on this one.  The students who actually give a rat’s ass about voting in ACC are already, for the most part, registered.  The rest don’t consider this to be their home – they may live in Athens, but they’re from Dublin, or Columbus, or Millen.  

So is registering students and convincing them to take a more active role in their local government a bad thing?  Not at all.  Like we said way back at the top of this post, they live here most of the year, contribute gobs of money to the local economy, and are seriously underrepresented in local government.  But for a campaign to put all of their eggs in the “we’re going to win on the student vote” basket is just silly.  There’s a reason why it hasn’t worked in the past.  Resources (time, energy, and most importantly, money) are too scarce and too valuable on a campaign to do the kind of work that a successful effort like this would require.  And remember, while our hypothetical candidate is focusing on the 30,000-plus UGA students, his or her opponents may well be putting their energy where it belongs – on the 40,000-plus people who are already registered to vote.

Sure, the students need to get organized and start taking a role in local government, but the time to organize the students is in the off-years, not during campaign season, and the people to do it are the students themselves, not the folks who want their votes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bob After Dark

Forget about free speech!  I wanna watch Matlock and go to bed early!

So Athens-Clarke County Commission meetings go too long, eh?  Well, hell, tell us something we don’t know, Bob Smith.

As most of you already know from being the in-the-loop readers that you are, State Rep. Bob Smith has taken a page from Ralph Hudgins’ new book, “How to Meddle in Local Government Without even Being Elected!”  For Smith, his meddling is in the form of H.B. 1587, a measure designed to limit the amount of time for which local governments can meet.

Now Smith says that the measure isn’t specifically targeted at Athens, but we think you all know that he’s fuller of crap than a Christmas turkey.  Unless, of course, Bob Smith has suddenly taken it upon himself to represent the interests of Vidalia, or perhaps Powder Springs?  Maybe Albany?  If so, then perhaps he should run for office there.

Of course this thing is targeted at Athens, and it’s yet another attempt by the people who purport to represent us in Atlanta to usurp the power of the local government to, you know, govern locally.

Seriously, kids.  We don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or Socialist – you have to have some measure of respect for the system that gives us separate governments for separate jurisdictions.  If you don’t respect that, then heck, let’s do it all the way and go in for central planning all around.

Do ACC Commission meetings last too long?  You bet your sweet bippy they do.  (As JMac puts it in the best quote we’ve seen all day, “Mayor Heidi Davison has said so, and everyone not named Carl Jordan has said so.”)  Is it any of Bob Smith’s business how long the meetings of our local government take?  Not in the least.  (Aside: Does Bob even go to Commission meetings?)

The issue here is not that the Commission is occasionally a bunch of long-winded gasbags.  (They are.)  It’s whether the right of a free citizenry to question their duly elected leaders is within Bobbo’s purview to restrict.  (It ain’t.)  If it’s a legitimate local issue, and we’re not saying it isn’t, then let it be handled locally.  We were kind of expecting this to come up as a minor campaign issue among some of the local candidates this year, anyway.

We suppose the big political question to come out of this is whether the ACC community is going to get as up in arms about this as they did about redistricting.  In any event, much like redistricting, this is a good issue for someone to bring up when they run against Bobbo.  Anyone thinking along those lines?

And here’s one final thing.  So what if the meetings run long?  Is that really so bad?  No one ever said participatory democracy was supposed to be easy.  It’s a job to be a citizen, and it should be a job.  As a culture, we tend to expect the highest results from the least possible effort, and with democracy, that’s a prescription for disaster.  Frankly kids, we can’t think of any better sign that the system is working than the fact that people stay up until 2 a.m. to make their voices heard about speed humps and bike lanes.

To sum up, we’re going to paraphrase the mayor.  Qualifying for local races is in June, Bobarino.  ‘Til then, keep your sticky fingers off our free political speech.

Athens Banner-Herald: Burning midnight oil blasted in bill” 03/29/06
Safe as Houses: Whither local control” 03/29/06
Daily Douchebag: Bob Smith” 03/29/06

Updating the Blogroll

Hi kids,

More substantive posting coming later today, but please also note the wrap piece on the PPA meeting below.

Meanwhile, we've got to update our list of candidate websites, so if you are a candidate, or you know a candidate running for anything in or around Athens, drop us an email with the URL. Yeah, we could do all the research on our own, but many hands make light work.



PPA: Too much of a good thing

Sorry for the delay in the PPA post, but you know, life was calling, and we were on the phone for a little bit. Here goes.

First, as has been mentioned in the comments and in the ABH, the response from the community was overwhelming. with something around 750 people showing up. Just about anybody who is a candidate for anything showed up, but there were also plenty of ordinary folks.

The evening began with an intro from Judge Jones and Red Petrovs, and then there was an extensive presentation of the statistical profile of poverty in Athens-Clarke County by Matt Bishop from UGA, who did an in-depth analysis for this purpose. There was too much to summarize here, but the long and the short of it is that Athens has a problem that goes beyond "the poor will always be among us". It turns out that Athens essentially has no middle class, or at least not very much of one compared to the state and national stats. There are a handful of richie-riches and a lot of poor people.

Just a sampling of the stats:

The poverty rate is 28.3% including students, and 23.5 not including them.

39.3% of ACC lives below 150% of the poverty rate.

16.8% of ACC lives below 50% of the poverty rate, which is higher than the statewide poverty rate of 13.o%.

25.2% of the under 18 population in ACC lives in poverty (that's 1 in 4 kids, and that's by definition not influenced by the student population)

Poverty is relatively color-blind in ACC; 27.8 of whites, 28.5 of blacks, and 30 percent of the hispanic population.

65% of those in poverty in ACC are working.

Once the initial presentation was done, we broke into the sub-committee groups. Because there were six groups (Education, Physical & Mental Health, Housing & Transportation, Dependent Care, Economy, and Workforce) and over 750 people, each group was obviously large (in the case of my group, Economy, greater than 100). This made for a logistically difficult situation, especially since not quite this many people were expected. The first session, which lasted for about an hour, consisted mainly of random individuals in the groups standing up to offer suggestions of what we should do to address our specific part of the puzzle. We filled up several easels with the brainstorming ideas, and anybody who didn't want to or didn't get to say it out loud got to write what they wanted to say on a blue card for consideration by the steering committee.

The next meeting for my group, and I think all of the groups (although each group is going to meet at different places this time, I think) is April 24. If the groups are still large at that meeting, the plan is to break up into smaller groups for discussion, which should be more effective.

Obviously, no silver bullets were offered Monday night. This problem wasn't created in one night, and won't be solved that quickly (there is a problem that goes beyond normal poorness, though: the poverty rate in ACC 10 years ago was about 19%). Who knows if it will be solved at all. All we can hope for is that the collective efforts will have a substantial, noticeable, positive impact that will make this community more like what we want it to be.

I will be involved in this process for the duration and will give more updates in the future.

Monday, March 27, 2006

PPA: First Public Meeting Tonight

Partnership for a Prosperous Athens



Cedar Shoals

Be there.

Anyone want to run against Ralph?

Wanted: Candidate to challenge entrenched Republican State Senator. Good fundraising network essential; centrist street cred preferable. Contact your local Democratic party.

The ABH talks a little about the struggle to find someone to run against Ralph Hudgens this year. With a little less than thirty days to go before filing, the crunch is on.

Right now, you’ve got a couple of gentlemen flirting with the race. As we mentioned some two weeks ago, some well-connected Democrats have been whispering sweet nothings in the ear of one Jim Ponsoldt, law professor. Ponsoldt is a good choice; his law school connections will make raising money somewhat less of an uphill battle, and he has both run for office (ACC District 9) and served in office (Clarke County School Board).

The other person dipping their toe in the electoral waters is the chairman-elect of the Clarke County Democratic Party, Mac Rawson. Again, the fundraising may be less of a struggle, if the local Democratic machine gets behind Rawson. JMac has an interesting take on Rawson and today’s ABH story – check it out. We’re not sure if it isn’t pretty accurate. Either way, it’s pretty amusing.

Please also note that the Democratic Party of Georgia is saying that this race is a high-level target for them. Gee guys, will you be as forthcoming with the help as you were for Becky Vaughn, when you targeted her race in 2004?

So what does it take to run a good race against a bad Republican? Well, for starters, we’re not 100% sure that an Athens candidate is the way to go. We know, outside Athens, the bench of qualified Democrats gets pretty shallow. But, we also take exception to the remarks of Athens’ self-professed political swami, Charles Bullock, when he avers that a successful candidate will be someone with previous political experience.

Not necessarily. In fact, if you find a Democrat who can appeal to the areas outside Athens while making sure that Athens trusts him or her as well, well, that candidate has a shot. If the candidate has never run for elective office before, that might even be a plus; it opens Hudgens up to the usual “career politician,” “sold out our interests to the big money lobbyists,” type of charges. As long as the potential candidate is willing to put in the sweat equity it takes to introduce himself or herself to the voters (and retail politics still works to a large extent in a race like this), then being a relative unknown isn’t a huge hindrance.

What is a hindrance is the numbers in the district. Suffice it to say that the numbers aren’t exactly friendly to Democrats – we can’t imagine that Hudgins and his gang of thugs had that development in mind. Any candidate who wants to run and win in this district as a Democrat is going to have to do the legwork, identify the opinion leaders, and convince the voters that electing a Democrat isn’t going to be the end of the world.

The bottom line is that this election is going to be a referendum on Ralph Hudgins and the “leadership” that he has provided. Nonetheless, anyone running against Ralph cannot expect to run successfully on a platform of all-Hudgins-all-the-time. They’ll have to frame this election as a referendum not just on the arrogance of one state senator, but on the arrogance of the GOP majority since they took control of Georgia’s government. That means that a smart candidate has alternatives on all of the major issues.

The biggest question of all is this: Is the race winnable? Absolutely it is. By all accounts, 2006 is shaping up to be a good year for Democrats; that dynamic will help, although how much help it will provide remains to be determined. In addition, there is a rising tide, even in areas that overwhelmingly supported Hudgins in years past, that ol’ Ralph is becoming more of an insider and less of a public servant. So yeah, the race is winnable by the right Democrat, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and a near-perfect strategy.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fox News Gets it (gasp!) Wrong?

Extra, extra, read all about it. Shocking news from the media: Faux News screws up; misinformation hurts Democrats.

Ok, so not so surprising after all. To close things out on Friday, a little bit of national politics. Seems that the whiz kids over at the Screamin' Eagle network have bollocked it up again, as far as you know, actual facts are concerned - inaccurately listing former Congressman Dick Gephardt and former Senator Tom Daschle as registered lobbyists in this story. Coincidentally, Gephardt and Daschle, in addition to being Democrats, were among Fox News' favorite targets when they were in Congress.

Good luck getting a retraction on this one, fellow Democrats. In any event, just to make sure there's no confusion among our readers, we've created another AthPo useless infographic. Enjoy.

Oh, and by the way, don't just take our word for it. Visit the Senate and see for yourself.

Think Progress has the scoopy scoop scoop.

(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.)

Bumperstickers, hate crimes, and has the Chamber stepped in it again?

Not much happening in local politics lately.  The Chamber did a candidate training session yesterday, featuring some local experts, and locals who are not-so-expert.  JMac writes it up, but for what it’s worth, we think it was more of a nonpartisan affair than you might think, given the sponsoring body.  We wonder if some of our commenters like James Garland and Andy Rusk were in attendance, and if they were there, what they thought.

Anyway, as we said, not much happening in local politics lately, so you’ll forgive us for addressing a couple of non-local issues.  


The first thing is the case of the possibly obscene bumper sticker.  The ABH writes it up today, and the woman involved had a letter in Flagpole on Wednesday.  As all of you guys know, we are vociferous and sometimes strident in our defense of your First Amendment rights, and this is no different.  However, the issue is not the officer, it’s the law.  If you presume, as we do, that personal politics were involved to at least some extent in the stop, then the problem is much less with the officer who made the stop, and much more with the vaguely written law that allowed him to do so.  No matter how you feel, we’re going to speculate that, at this point, both the officer concerned and his department wish that he had taken a pass on this particular motorist.  

The other thing that we wanted to say is directed at our fellow liberals.  Guys, please, please, puh-leeze do not get too worked up about this thing.  It’s going to court, she’s got a lawyer, and we’re 99.9% convinced that this case is going to be resolved the correct way.  Save the histrionics for the issues that really matter, like the policy that our government is pushing on our communities.  And before you get all up in arms, we’ll say this.  Widespread government censorship of political speech is a major problem.  One cop with too much time on his hands, who may or may not have an agenda, and certainly does have an inadequate understanding of the law is not a problem.  It’s why we have a Bill of Rights, and it’s why we have a court system.  This is blogbait, designed to get the more histrionic folks on both sides of the ideological spectrum pissed off.  Don’t take the bait, mmmkay?  Also, it’s not even a particularly well-conceived or funny bumpersticker, not that creativity should count.

Having said all that, we do admit that there’s something about this whole situation that smacks of a slippery slope and the thought police slavering hungrily at the bottom.  

Hate Crimes

And hey, speaking of the thought police, hate crime legislation passed the State Senate.  Here’s another one of those things where the liberals are going to get pissed at us, or at least at me; I’m not sure how DiDDY feels about hate crimes legislation, but I’m sure he’ll weigh in.  

Folks, hate crimes legislation is bad policy.  You’ve got rights in this country; some, like your right to practice whatever religion you want to practice, are Consitutionally defined and absolute.  Others, like your right to privacy, are there but vague.  

Friends, you have the right to hate whoever you want to hate, and the government has no right to call you on it.  Don’t expect me, as an individual to sanction your hatred, and don’t expect society to sanction your hatred.  Hate is wrong, it’s the root of a lot of our problems – politically, economically, societally, and spiritually.  But, you can hate whoever you want, for whatever reason you want.  It’s wrong, it sucks, but it isn’t illegal – and if you make it illegal, you’re inviting the thought police into your living room and mine.  I’m not cool with that, and I hope you aren’t either.

Hate crimes laws are a great example of what happens when good intent is bad practice.  To prove a hate crime in court is difficult at best, because you can’t prove what a person was thinking when they committed a crime.  

Another problem with hate crimes is that laws that impose a stricter penalty based on some vague concept of “hate” inevitably does some victims a disservice.  Is the loss of a four-year-old to crossfire from a white-on-white murder attempt any less of a loss to society than a four-year-old who gets killed out of racial hatred?  Will the child’s parents grieve any less because – gosh, at least it wasn’t a hate crime?  Either way, civilized society has suffered another blow, and we’ve got another dead kid.  

Finally, you’ve got to question the purpose of hate crimes legislation.  Is it supposed to be a deterrent?  Is the possibility of a few extra years in jail going to keep another incident like the Matthew Sheperd case from happening?  Or are hate crimes laws supposed to be a way to keep the really bad sociopaths locked up for awhile longer?  If that’s the case, and that’s what I’ve heard often as a justification, then aren’t we saying that some homicides are more justifiable than others?  (Obviously there are mitigating circumstances, like self-defense, which do make some murders more justifiable than others.  Race, religion, or sexual orientation should not be one of those mitigating factors.)

I would also mention that, as a sop to my liberal friends, if hate crimes laws are to be seriously enforced, then someone had best take a look at the government.  The death penalty has been unfairly applied on a racial basis for decades, making the governments of Texas and Georgia among the country’s most egregious hate crimes offenders.

Hatred, bigotry, intolerance – it’s perhaps the worst aspect of human nature.  But you have to change these things socially and culturally, not legislatively.  Unjustified murder is unjustified murder, and if it’s proven in court, should be punished to the full extent of the law, regardless of race, creed, color, or sexual orientation.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

House 115

Not sure if this has been mentioned on here yet, but there is another candidate running in the House 115 race. His name is Chuck Jones, and the lawyer half of your editorial staff went to UGA Law one year ahead of him. Although he doesn't identify any party affiliation on his website, the issues profile contained therein, combined with prior knowledge of his issue profile from inane discussions on the law school listserv, pretty much assure us that Mr. Jones is running as either a Republican, Libertarian, or perhaps simply an independent leaning in that direction.

Mr. Jones promises to be a "Voice for the Voiceless", by which he evidently means Republicans, or at least non-Democrats. Quote from his site: "I am running in this mostly county-wide race because I want to send a message to the political machine that runs Athens, that its days of unchecked one-party rule are over."

All of this begs the question: Is Jane Kidd running here, or in the Senate race? And if it's the Senate race, who will be the Democrat to execute the slaughter of the sacrificial lamb that will surely be Chuck Jones (sorry Chuck; I'm all in favor of fellow Law Dawgs getting elected to office, but with all due respect, and with all histrionics aside, you don't have a f***ing chance).
There's about a month until the official filing period. Does anybody have any skinny on this? And has that pesky lawsuit been filed yet?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Denise Majette: Political Comeback in Progress

Georgia Democrats can put another race in the potential win column. Denise Majette, former Congresswoman, and 2004 candidate for U.S. Senate announced that she is running for State Superintendent of Schools.

Now, the Democrats didn’t have a whole lot going for them in this race until today. We’re sure Carlotta Harrell is a nice lady and everything, but we weren’t sure that she had what it takes to run statewide. For what it’s worth, Denise Majette, we believe, does.

It takes experience. Majette knocked off Cynthia McKinney in the 2002 primary, no easy feat. In 2004, she took on Cliff Oxford, who while better funded, didn’t have the experience that Majette had, and beat him handily. In the general election, she held her own and did respectably against Johnny Isakson when Johnny was holding all the cards. What we’re saying, in a roundabout way is that Majette has been around the block a few times as far as elections go, and she’s a good campaigner who connects well with voters across the spectrum.

It also takes money. We’ll be the first to tell you that Majette’s fundraising for her Senate race was somewhat underwhelming, but we’d also tell you that it takes far less to run for State School Superintendent than it does to run for Senate. One advantage that Majette has over her primary opponent, and we believe over the incumbent as well, is an existing network of donors that can be persuaded to pony up again thanks to her previous runs for office. Granted that even with a tried and true donor, they’re usually going to shell out less dough for a State School Superintendent race than a Senate race, but the numbers are going to work out in Majette’s favor. Not to turn this into a big lecture on fundraising tactics, but the key concept is access. Majette has a bigger list of people who will take her call the first time than her opponent in the primary and, we would wager, her opponent in the general as well. So even if they donate less, we maintain that Majette has a better list.

So yes, we’re excited to see Majette in the race, but we can’t help but wonder about the politics side of it. You go from Judge to Congresswoman to candidate for US Senate to candidate for State School Superintendent. It seems like something of a demotion, and makes us wonder what’s going on. If you want our rampant speculation, here goes.

To use a sports analogy, this is a “rebuilding year” for Majette. It’s a winnable race for her, and one that proves that she can get elected statewide. If she wins here, especially by knocking off a Republican incumbent in a very red state, her political career is back on track. Perhaps she learned a lesson from another Georgia politician who gave up his State Senate seat to run for Governor and got trounced in the primary. Said politician could have given up and gone back to his lucrative law practice, but instead he ran again – this time for State Representative, a demotion, some folks said. A few years later, having been successfully elected and re-elected a few times, that politician became governor of Georgia. His name was Roy Barnes, and that’s where the parallel ends, unfortunately.

All we’re saying is there’s always room for a well-timed, well-planned comeback, and Denise Majette for State Superintendent of Schools has all the hallmarks of such a comeback.

Inside Baseball: Reed goes after Cagle; parsing the polls

Man, we love it when campaign season starts to heat up. It gives us an opportunity to talk about some of the inside baseball that goes on with the different campaigns.

For instance, you’ve got this Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor between Casey Cagle and Ralph Reed. For all the apparent unity in the Republican Party, you’ve got to know that when Republicans fight, they don’t pull any punches. For instance, we’ve been getting at least one email per week from the folks over in Reed’s camp attacking Cagle on various things. While Cagle has launched a barb or two at Reed over the last few months, he’s got nothing like the well-oiled attack machine that Reed has.

For instance, this week, we got an email from Reed that accuses Cagle of taking a pass on a bill dealing with “eminent domain abuse,” lying about why he skipped the vote, and then raising a ton of money from developers.

The whys and wherefores of Reed’s continuing attacks on Cagle are less important than the fact that the two (or at least one of the two) are going negative four months before the primary. That’s the inside baseball aspect we wanted to address.

Is going after Cagle a smart political move for Reed? Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand, going negative this early, even in a limited way, kind of smacks of desperation. It implies to some observers – present company included – that Reed’s internal polling shows him so far behind Cagle that he’s got no choice but to try to take Cagle down early.

On the other hand, going after Cagle in March may be a bright idea for Reed. First of all, as James Carville has said, it’s hard for someone to hit you when you’ve got your fist in their face. We would also mention, given our presumption that these attacks are going to both the press (more on that in a second) and to folks who have subscribed to Reed’s email list on his website, that Reed’s supporters are getting the message, and they’re getting ginned up to hit the streets for Reed come July.

The best reason for Reed to come out swinging against Cagle, however, has to do with Reed’s own ethical baggage. While all of the facts about Reed’s involvement with Jack Abramoff and the barons of K Street haven’t come out yet, a lot of your registered and likely GOP primary voters know that something isn’t exactly above-board about good ol’ Ralph. By getting as much negative information out as possible about Cagle, Reed has a chance to level the playing field and show voters that both candidates are flawed in one way or another, while publicly proclaiming his innocence. It’s kind of a desperation move, but it’s about the only course open to Reed.

You might wonder why Reed’s attacks aren’t getting more play in the press. Simply put, most of what he’s putting out there about Cagle is a non-story. Take the email we cited earlier. Essentially, Reed is saying that Cagle skipped a vote, was less than upfront about why he skipped the vote, and has raised a lot of money from people who would approve of him skipping that vote. Well, skipping votes is hardly uncommon for legislators, especially when public opinion dictates a vote that is at odds with what your fundraising plan might require. It’s just not something that gets the press excited, and at best, things like this get folded into a larger story about the two campaigns.

Inside Baseball: Extra Innings
As we were wrapping this post up, we got another poll in the AthPo inbox. According to a recent Insider Advantage poll, Sonny Perdue leads Cathy Cox by 8 points, and he leads Mark Taylor by 16 points. In Democratic primary polling, Cox leads Taylor by 42% to 31%.

Looking at those numbers, it seems clear that if Democrats want to have a chance in November against Perdue, they’d better all jump on the Cathy Cox Express right now. In fact, it looks like about half of us already have. Still, we’ve talked about public polling before. Unlike our earlier post about polling, this is an independent poll, and not – as far as we know – affiliated with any particular candidate.

Nonetheless, we’re still going to pick on this poll, because that’s what we do. Quick question: what’s the most useless type of polling? Say it with us now: the horse race poll. A horse race test this early basically indicates what would happen if the election were held today. And, of course, we’re not holding an election today. (But don’t give the Clarke County School District any ideas.) In fact, this poll isn’t even a good indicator of what would happen if the election were held today, because in each of the three races tested, at least 12% of the respondents were undecided. In the head-to-head between Cox and Taylor, 27% of respondents were undecided.

Here at AthPo, we are big fans of polling; it’s a useful tool for campaigns to use to craft their message. But as we’ve said before, the actual horse race numbers don’t start mattering until a week out, and they don’t really matter until election day.

Bottom line is this. Any time that you see horse race numbers, especially this early, please know two things. First, they’re absolutely useless and in no way indicative of what might actually happen on election day. Second, and perhaps more important, please know that anyone who puts out horse race numbers this early has an agenda. In the case of a candidate releasing polling data, like Jim Martin did a few weeks ago, it’s an attempt to create the appearance of momentum. In the case of a polling firm releasing the data, the agenda is to call attention to the polling firm itself – a business move. If it’s a media outlet releasing the poll, they’re trying to create news and boost their share. Nothing wrong with any of that, and we’re not casting aspersions. Heck, if it weren’t for public polling, we’d have far less to write about sometimes. We’re just saying that these are things you need to consider, because Republican or Democrat, or in between, we want everyone out there to be more informed political consumers.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Our Legislature: Dedicated Public Servants or Dumbasses?

[Editor’s note: Guest blogging rules, which is why you’ll see a post below from GP of the Daily Douchebag, while half of your crack editorial staff gets to pick today’s d-bag. We’re not seeing another blog behind your back, cupcake, it’s just that, well…a blogger has needs.]

Our Legislature: Dedicated Public Servants or Dumbasses?
A few Dumbass moves by our legislature.

State Funded Bible Classes The house overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow state funded bible classes in public Schools. Despite, the ACLU cranking up their legal machine, the bill passed 151-7, with no opposition voiced. This is just what Georgia needs to attract new businesses and tourism.

SB 529 and Sponsor Chip Roberts
The only good thing about this bill is the tougher penalties that it specifies for human trafficking. The bill is not a solution to the illegal immigration issue in Georgia. It does little or nothing to prevent illegal immigration. It doesn't deal with the issue of the immigrants that are already here except to make it harder for them to assimilate into our society. The real feel-good portion of the bill aims to set tax penalties for those who employ illegals. The penalties are minor and only encourage further exploitation of illegals by paying them under the table (thereby reducing our tax revenue).

Jane Fonda
A great opportunity for posturing and self righteous outrage on both sides.

and my personal favorite....

The 65% SolutionIt's Sonny's imitation of Maude Flanders screaming "will someone please think of the children!" This won't help our kids and our school system, this will mean more mindless bureaucracy at the expense of local control. Sonny also proposed a bill that would set mandatory class size limits. These bills sound great to the casual listener. Hey, do you want your children to attend cramped classes with no individual attention? Do you want your tax money going to "wasteful" administrative expenses instead of your children. Well, do you? Of course you don't, but these bills only superficially address these issues while creating a host of other problems.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Housekeeping, bitches

Unexplained absence:
Will remain unexplained. Poverty post continues to spark debate, as will, hopefully, the new post on immigration.

Writers Wanted:
Want to write for AthPo? Here’s the deal. Both members of your crack editorial staff will soon be undergoing some major life and career changes, which may hamper our ability to blog regularly. You might have noticed the aforementioned unexplained absence. So, if you’ve got something to say, let us know. We need some folks to fill space for us.

New Linky Linky:
To the right, bitches. Might as Well...Politics is new to us, but Russ gets it. Classic City Moonbat is new and liberal. Enjoy. Also, we hyped it up once already, but if you’re not reading the Daily Douchebag, then you’re out of the loop.

Iron Balls:
We love JMac. He’s one of the smartest, best-intentioned, most reasonable people we know, and we note with amusement that Hillary, on the same day, compares him to Barack Obama (we sort of agree), and bestows a fine nickname upon our friend.

Rumors Abound:
Jim Ponsoldt for State Senate? Sources tell us that he’s been approached a few times recently about running against Ralph Hudgens. Go Jim go! A new PAC may be forming up in Athens – democratic, natch. Word has it that money is being raised.

The Quiet Before the Storm:
Damn this suddenly quiet mayor’s race! Anyone hearing anything about this lately?

Take our country back from who, exactly?

Thanks to everyone for keeping the political fires burning during our recent unannounced absence. Feel free to continue banging on each other about political philosophy and poverty and whatnot.

But in case poverty isn’t enough of a hot button issue, here’s a little more controversy. Now normally, we don’t tackle the letters to the editor section in great detail, unless the writer is already fairly prominent. In the following instance, we’re going to make an exception. The topic is immigration, and Gene Baldwin, who we’re sure is otherwise a pretty stand-up guy, is making some implicit points that we’re not altogether comfortable with letting stand on their own. Behold – the AthPo point-by-point rebuttal.

Sez Mr. Baldwin (our comments in red):

The motivation for Laura Davis (Letters, "Americans hypocritical on illegal immigration," March 10) is obvious when she notes her husband works for a company that hires "many undocumented workers." Those companies, and their greed, have passed the burden on to society and taxpayers.

Actually, no argument here. The fact is, that if companies weren’t champing at the bit to hire undocumented workers (who can be paid less, not given benefits, and generally treated even more like crap than management treats American workers), then there would probably be less illegal immigration. Except, here’s the thing. We’re all in favor of cracking down on companies who are taking advantage of you the taxpayer by hiring illegals, but please know that cracking down on the companies, whether by enforcing the existing laws or passing and enforcing new ones, is only a small part of the fix. You’re also dealing with a PR issue here, and no amount of law-passin’ is going to fix the fact that the widespread presumption in many countries from which illegal immigrants come, is that there are jobs a-plenty in the US, and it’s going to take some time to overcome that presumption. And you’ll pardon us for generalizing, but not too many people in Latin America who are looking to come to America read the Wall Street Journal.

Davis labels those who oppose illegal immigrants as racist, prejudiced, discriminatory, hypocritical and anti-American. She compares illegal aliens to those who immigrated to America in the 17th century and who legally came to this country in the 19th century. The key counter-argument is that these people came to this country legally, assimilated into our culture, spoke or learned English quickly, and were never a burden on government services.

Hmmm…one wonders if Mr. Baldwin has ever visited Little Italy (the NYC neighborhood, not the meth dealership/restaurant), Chinatown, or read anything by Upton Sinclair. Fact is, that while successive generations of immigrants (especially from the 19th Century) have assimilated, we’re still talking about the first generation of immigrants in this situation – and to imply otherwise is a little disingenuous. We would also note that, like it or not, immigration standards were substantially looser then than now, so we can’t really speculate as to whether or not there would have been illegal immigration in the 1800s, since there was no demand for it.

Today, we're inundated with approximately 20 million illegal aliens who have ignored quotas, visas, international law and our society.

Well, if you’re the victim of oppression, political or (in most cases) economic, you do what you can to survive. Actually, the kind of person that has the chutzpah to pack up themselves and in many cases their family and haul ass on an illegal and potentially deadly journey to America…well, it kind of seems to us that those are the kinds of rugged individualist, up-by-the-bootstraps kind of folks that we tend to celebrate in America. Unless of course they happen to be Hispanic.

We are forced to furnish free medical care for people who use emergency rooms as their family physician.

One of our favorite issues – health care. Now first of all, it may just be us, but the author seems to imply that there’s a teeming subculture of illegal immigrants that are willfully ignoring preventative care, in order to clog up the emergency rooms and put the burden on decent God-fearing legal Georgians like you and me, Bubba. Not exactly. Fact is, they’re here, they’re sick, they’re barely making minimum wage – if that – and forget about health care and benefits. Now, I know many of our more conservative brethren will spew their lunches all over their Rush Limbaugh neckties (does he still sell those) at the thought of providing health care for illegal immigrants (and the poor who are here legally as well), but ask yourselves this – is it worth it if it lowers your health care costs? Fact is, when the kids get sick, or when mom and dad get sick, it’s self-medication or the emergency room for most illegals, same as it is for most of the working poor. Having the infrastructure to provide universal preventative care – at least for kids – will lower your health insurance premiums. Will some folks get “something for nothing”? Yep. Will you actually pay soething closer to the non-inflated market price for your health care? Yep.

Schools are forced to accommodate illegals with bilingual teachers. Government forms, bulletins and documents are now printed bilingually. Tax dollars are being shifted to groups that aid and abet this illegal activity.

All of these statements can be answered the same way. They’re here and they’re not going anywhere. So, since they’re here, shouldn’t we make sure that they and their kids are educated so that they can participate in the society? Since they’re here, shouldn’t we make reasonable efforts to accommodate them within our government so that (again, since they’re not going anywhere) they’re actually part of our government. And yeah, we need to make it easier to become a citizen, so that illegal immigrants (who are already here and not going anywhere) are incentivized to do the right thing. As far as tax dollars being “shifted to groups that aid and abet this illegal activity,” that’s one way of looking at it. Another way would be to go right back to the assimilation argument above. In the 19th Century, there was a community to support new arrivals – and such a community still exists today. Problem is, life was a lot less complicated in the 1800s, and something’s got to fill in the gap, or we’re going to learn really fast what “counterculture” means on a sweeping sociological scale.

Consider also the impact on law enforcement, as many illegals drive with no insurance, ignore traffic laws and fail to have appropriate driver's licenses. The graffiti at schools and elsewhere is a clear indication of gang activity.

This is the part of the letter that sparked the whole point-by-point rebuttal. There’s an implication that illegal immigrants are the only ones driving without licenses and insurance, for instance. Your humble author is about as WASPy as it gets and I spent a good three months looking in the rearview and driving the speed limit, if you get my drift. The part about gangs is interesting. Newspaper reports lead us to believe that the majority of gang activity in Athens is Hispanic – los Primos, etc. That may be true, but suffice it to say that Athens ain’t the rest of the country. In some cities, most of the gangs are black. In the Midwest, you get gangs of milky-white neo-Nazis running amok. In lots of cities where illegal immigration has been going on for more than just one generation, the Hispanic gang members are just as American as you and me – they were born right here in the U S of A.

Illegal aliens don't have a "right" to be here. It's not discriminatory to demand that people enter this country legally. It's not racist to require people to obey our laws. It's not hypocritical to conduct school classes in English. There is a real cost to the taxpayer for providing social services to illegal aliens.

Those who share these views are disgusted with being called everything in the book by ultra-liberals, head-in-the-sand types and those motivated by greed. It's time to ignore the invectives and take back our country.”

Head in the sand. If anything, I think the more liberal views on immigration are the more clear-headed views in many cases. Again – they’re here now, and they aren’t going anywhere. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’ve got two choices – continue providing the assistance we’ve been providing, even ramp it up, make it easier to assimilate for those that are here, while tightening up border security; or we can throw every insane law and service cut we can think of at them. Either way, the illegals that are already here aren’t going anywhere – we don’t have the manpower to deport all or even most or them. The difference is this: Do you want a population of immigrants who are getting the tools they need, on a social, political, and economic level, to succeed in this country? Or do you want them here, starving, disenfranchised, and righteously pissed off?

Thus endeth the rebuttal-rant, but there’s also, if you’ll indulge me, a philosophical point to made here. I honestly wonder how the rhetoric would be different if the vast majority of illegal immigrants in America were coming from Belgium, or Ireland, or Sweden. I don’t know Mr. Baldwin, and I want to make it clear that I’m not including him in this philosophical discussion, but it seems to me that there is a pretty overt tinge of racism involved in the immigration discussion, at least as far as many of the more ardent anti-immigrant voices are concerned. It’s the elephant in the room, and no one wants to acknowledge it. Now, when talking about immigration, there are few rhetorical crutches I dislike more than the “We’re all immigrants” argument. It’s as trite as it is true. Still, let me introduce some new rhetoric for everyone to ponder.

The original European colonists came to America for one of two reasons: to gain profit, or to escape persecution. As a result of those factors, America is built on prosperity and inclusion. We’re not doing too well on prosperity, and we’re rapidly losing out on inclusion as well.

Here’s one point that I have yet to hear in the immigration debate. We’ve had large waves of immigration from specific cultural groups in the past. Irish, Italian, Eastern European, and other places in the 19th Century, and in more recent years from China, Japan, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan – to name a few. And, apocryphal as this point might be, with every culture to whom we’ve opened our doors, those immigrants settled, raised families, and in very short order, with the help of our government and their neighbors, those immigrants became contributors to our American society, and the nation as a whole benefited from their contribution.

Folks, when we let immigrants in and helped them succeed, we, as a nation, have never struck out. Maybe it’s time that we let history, and our better angels, be our guide on this one too.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Opposite of Progress

Busy day of potential doucebaggery under both domes today.

Today was "crossover" day in the General Assembly, the designated last day to introduce new legislation for the session (conveniently scheduled on the same day as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Democratic fundraiser). Sonny's "Hope Chest" amendment failed to pass. A bill allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill "morning-after" pill prescriptions stalled. A bill passed the House that will allow physician's assistants to fill prescriptions in certain emergencies. The Senate created a "Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Commission," which I suppose has something to do with stem cell research.

Meanwhile up in Washington, the Senate continues to work on the Budget Resolution, which in its current form opens ANWAR for drilling and assumes the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts will be continued at least through 2011. Also, Feingold introduced the Censure Resolution against Bush for the wiretapping fiasco.

Now, out of all of that, surely some of you will have comments; go for it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Poverty Update

Rather than try to put this in our own words, we’re just going to quote the email sent to us by a source.  Let us preemptively reiterate though.  The first meeting for the community at large is going to be on Monday, March 27 at Cedar Shoals High School at 7:00 pm.  Y’all come.

Here’s part of the email we received.  (Edited for typos.)

PARTNERS FOR A PROSPEROUS ATHENS COMMUNITY (INCLUDING YOU!!!) ENGAGEMENT: On Monday, March 27, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Cedar Shoals High School will be the first of monthly meetings of all six Subcommittees (as well as the Steering Committee) -- this is where the strategies and plans will primarily be developed, and it is vitally important to have your engagement, as well as that of multiple constituencies (including those you serve). There are six subcommittees, each with a Chair from the Steering Committee and each to elect a co-chair from the community at large. Other than the Steering Committee members (five of whom serve on each), the subcommittees will be self-selected (you join the one you want), though they are all charged with assuring diverse representation including all stakeholder groups. Each subcommittee will gather data and address issues related to their issue and poverty. Each will explicitly address race and culture, family, inter-relationship with issues of other committees, and other cross-cutting considerations. Each month (fourth Monday, usually from 6 to 8 p.m. with light supper provided) we will all meet in plenary for brief reports from the subcommittees, then break into our subcommittee groups to continue the work; professional facilitation will be provided for each subcommittee. The Subcommittees include Education (Vivian Fisher, chair); Workforce (Clay Gilbert, chair); Housing & Transportation (Beth Gavrilles, chair); Physical & Mental Health (Howard Stroud, chair); Quality Child Care (Flora Tydings, chair); and Economic Development (Jack Lumpkin, chair). It is important to have service providers (and educators, and business people, and service consumers, and others) in each and every subcommittee, so please think outside the box as you select yours! There will be other activities as well (such as the Providers Summit[s], focus groups, etc.), but the information will all go back to the subcommittees to draft the plans. There will also be technical assistance available for data, research, and other needs identified in the subcommittees.(image placeholder)
 We literally want hundreds of people engaged in this, and need you there plus your assistance in getting others!

The 411 on Public Polling

Jim Martin, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, has a new poll out that shows him beating his primary opponent, Greg Hecht, by a 3-1 margin.  

You know, I debated putting this thing up on the blog for a couple of days, for reasons that will soon become clear.  Finally, despite the fact that this poll means absolutely nothing, I figured if nothing else, it will fill some space, give me a chance to wax poetic about the inside baseball of political campaigns, and maybe, just maybe, educate a few folks about the mechanics of polling and exploiting those polls for your own benefit.

Exploiting a poll like this for the press hit is kind of a cheap move, which is why we weren’t even going to talk about it.  We didn’t really want to give Martin the publicity, even if it is only on AthPo.  

Anyhoo, the 3 – 1 margin that Martin’s campaign is so proud of is a 23% to 7% lead.  We were told that there would be no math, but that leaves 70% undecided.  Right away, this poll is looking less and less credible.  Of course, Jim Martin’s campaign is going to spin it by saying that Martin is such a strong candidate, people are starting to already make up their minds about him – a trend they will say is likely to continue.  Not so much.  

What else hurts the credibility of this poll?  Well, bear in mind that candidate performance in situations like this is usually measured in two ways – the uninformed vote and the informed vote.  The uninformed vote is usually a question like: “If the election for county assemblyman were to be held today, would you vote for Phineas Q. Windbag, or for Thaddeus D. Windbreaker?”  In most credible polls, the order of the candidates’ names are reversed each time, so that each candidate has an equal number of times where they are first – and yeah, it makes a difference, or at least the big brains that run the polling firms say so.

Now the “informed vote” is more interesting, and it can take numerous forms.  At its most innocuous, the pollster reads a brief, positive biographical description of each candidate (usually straight off their candidate biography) and then asks for a preference.  For instance, you might hear:
     “Phineas Q. Windbag is a democrat running for County Assemblyman.  He has served for 12 years as the county’s overseer of elevator maintenance.  In this election, he is stressing universal health care for all county residents and improving our public schools.  Phineas Q. Windbag has been married to his wife Eileen for 23 years and has three children, all of whom attend public schools.”
     “Thaddeus D. Windbreaker is a local attorney specializing in civil rights law.  He was instrumental in obtaining access for disabled residence to the weekly tractor pull.  He is a graduate of our public schools and his priorities are increased funding for our senior centers and putting more policemen on our streets.”

Sometimes, the test also includes relatively balanced negative information.  Maybe the pollster will tell you about Phineas’ 1992 DUI arrest, balanced with the fact that Thaddeus has run for County Assemblyman three times and lost.  (If you get all negative on one candidate, then that’s a push poll, a tactic everyone deplores, but many candidates still employ.)  

The bottom line on “informed vote” polling is that it is subjective by its very nature.  At this early date, we’re betting the 23% figure is an informed vote percentage.

The final thing we want to say is that there are two types of polls.  You’ve got the kind that are designed to shape campaign strategy, and the kind that are designed to make the candidate look good.  Both types are ethical, both are legitimate uses of survey data, but if you’re reading about a candidate’s poll in the newspaper, know that that poll (or at least part of that poll) was probably designed for the press hit.  

In fact, here’s the biggest thing of all.  The horserace numbers (who’s ahead, who’s behind, and by how much) are about the least useful poll numbers a campaign can have.  The polling data that helps candidates is the stuff you find in a benchmark poll – where the public is on certain issues, and how to frame your positions on those issues in such a way that your message resonates.  To a smart campaign, who’s ahead doesn’t matter one bit until about a week or two before election day, which is when a smart and well-funded campaign runs rolling tracking polls to adjust their media mix.  

Rhetorical question time, then we sum up.  Does anyone out there think that it is likely that Jim Martin is going to beat Greg Hecht on election day by a 75%-25% margin?  If so, we’ve got a vacant lot on Cedar Shoals Dr. we’d like to sell you.  It’s not likely, yet that’s what Jim Martin is wanting to imply to you.  So why give his poll any credence whatsoever?  That’s what we thought.

To sum up, here are some hard and fast rules on interpreting polls.
  • Smart candidates don’t put the useful numbers out for public consumption.  Any poll that isn’t internal is just being used for the press hit.  Smart reporters know this and report on the polls in that way.

  • Horserace polling doesn’t matter until less than two weeks out anyway, and no campaign in their right mind would release their rolling tracking numbers.

  • Here are a few things that an informed political consumer should look out for in any public poll: Margin of Error (not included in the email we got from the Martin campaign); Sample Size; Crosstabs (demographics on which likely voters go which way – also not included in the email from Martin’s campaign); the actual polling questions used (many campaigns keep these internal because insidious media outlets like us would seize on any perceived inequity in the informed vote descriptors – Martin did not release his); most importantly, who did the poll.  (Martin’s firm, Cooper & Secrest Associates, has a good reputation.  But be aware that online polls have no control over who responds, thus the sample is not representative, also be wary of anything by Survey USA or other companies that do automated phone polling, for similar reasons.)

Too much inside baseball?  Probably so, but we’d like to do our part to make everyone out there a more informed political consumer, and while Martin’s polling antics aren’t necessarily bad, it is kind of a cheap move for a press hit.

FYI: Big Clouds o' Smoke Over Athens

Just in case you were wondering about the gi-normous cloud of smoke hanging over our fair city this afternoon, it’s the result of a “controlled burn” of some 1,000 acres out in Walton County.  We understand that Elton Dodson is already furiously writing ordinances to ensure that it won’t happen again.

Feel free to provide your own, more humorous, explanations below.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Abortion Bill

The South Dakota abortion bill, which bans all abortions except those necessary to save the mother's life, and which does not contain exceptions for rape or incest, has been signed into law by Gov. Rounds. The bill is intended to and likely will set up a new review of Roe in the Supreme Court.

Drankin' and Boobies, Jackson County style

Jackson County is considering tonight whether to allow strip clubs in the county, all of which have to be in "industrial" zones and therefore not in the county's nine cities, to sell alcohol. The county is considering a liquor-by-the-drink ordinance in four months (beer and wine by the drink was already approved earlier this year by the commission). The commissioners apparently want to assure the residents of the county's cities that allowing liquor-by-the-drink won't mean allowing tittie bars in the cities (doesn't their zoning already cover this?).

Can we let this puritanical crap go once and for all? Look, if there's anybody who needs the option of buying liquor by the drink, it's a patron of a Jackson County tittie bar (are there actually any of these, by the way?). Looking at nekked meth-whore moms in their late 20s-but-looks-like-late 40s can get pretty rough, and whiskey goggles can help out a lot.

But in all seriousness, let it go Jackson County. Let the tittie bars sell liquor, let the restaurants sell liquor. Oh, and while we're at it, I haven't forgotten about you ACC; take away those nipple blankies.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Take Out the Trash Day

Some things that fell through the cracks this week, as well as an update on some new content today.

We’ve got a new post up, waxing rhetorical about the Clarke County School District and their overwhelming desire to spend $41,000 of your money on a special election they don’t need.

Also new today – more resignations in the DA’s office. Seriously, we’re pretty sure that felony cases are being tried by Ken Mauldin, two paralegals, and a pizza delivery guy that walked into the wrong office.

AOL, Yahoo, and the death of internet neutrality
We got an interesting email in out inbox recently from the American Progress Action Fund, calling our attention to some new developments on the internets. Seems that AOL and Yahoo are partnering up with a company called Goodmail to create an optional service that “certifies” emails from companies that pay between ¼ of a cent and one cent per email for the privilege. In exchange those companies get the satisfaction of knowing that their emails to customers will get through AOL and Yahoo’s anti-spam screeners and into customers’ inboxes. For some people out there, it sounds an awful lot like those “email tax” hoaxes that pop up every once in awhile. Anyway, draw your own conclusions. Here’s a link to the story we got in our inbox (they didn’t pay for the privilege, we presume), and here’s a link to an ABC News story about the same thing.

Norwood and Mine Safety
Charlie Norwood, who is more than likely going to be our next Congressman, is also the chairman of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee. Why is this important? Well, seems that ol’ Sorry Charlie decided to shut down a hearing on mine safety, cutting off the ranking Democrat in the middle of his questioning, a full thirty minutes before the hearing was scheduled to conclude. Just thought you’d like to know that your future congressman values protecting the mining industry executives and the government appointees charged with overseeing mine safety. Of course, the fact that he values protecting those d-bags more than protecting the guys in the mines risking their lives should be troubling, to say the least. By the way, 21 miners have died since January 1 of this year, only one less than the 22 that died during all of 2005. Here’s what the AFL-CIO has to say about the whole thing. If you’re really, really, wonky – and you know we are – here’s a link to a pdf of a report on the Bush administration’s record on mine safety, courtesy of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Dan Matthews
Local blogger, Oconee County Democratic Party Chair, political gadabout, and former professional breakdancer Dan Matthews has a new talk show on Hot 100 FM. Tune in, bitches.

Coming in September, a very special election of the CCSD

If the CCSD keeps this up, the September special election they want will be a moot point, since they won’t get around to making a decision until December.

According to today’s ABH, the school board once again failed to make a decision one way or the other concerning the proposed September 19 special election on the SPLOST referendum.  Basically, the community would rather they save the $41,000 and hold the election on – gosh, we don’t know – election day?  The school board, or perhaps the consultants the school board is employing, would rather see the election go down on September 19, where it would be the only thing on the ballot.  

In the ABH story, CCSD Superintendent Lewis Holloway is quoted.  Sez Holloway: “We're still getting a lot of concern about the amount of things that are going to be on the ballot.”  Oh really, sir?  We can’t help but wonder if Jane Kidd is concerned about the number of races on the ballot?  How about Doug Lowery?  James Garland and Andy Rusk both read this blog regularly – how about it fellers?  Are you guys worried about all those races above you on the ballot?  Maybe so, maybe not; doesn’t matter because Jane and Doug and James and Andy don’t have a choice.  They don’t get to have special elections because there’s “a lot of concern” that voters may get tired  “Ballot fatigue” is a real phenomena, be we don’t see any reason why the school district should have any sort of advantage that candidates don’t have.

We’d also like to point out the “consultant” factor mentioned in the ABH.  We’re all for calling in the pros from Dover when necessary, but is it necessary to have consultants advise you as to the appropriate election date?  To be fair, those consultants are probably doing much more than advising the CCSD to have a special election, but you’ll pardon us if we think that these financial consultants should keep their hot little hands off the political side.  How much are the pros costing us anyway?  More than the projected $41,000 for the special election they’re recommending?

Finally, we’d like to discuss the perception factor on this whole special election deal.  What’s the real story here?  Is the CCSD trying to put one over on us?  We ask this because that’s a legitimate perception that could arise from the situation.  You’ve got a school district that is bending over backward to ensure that an election on a fairly important revenue and spending program doesn’t happen on election day, when turnout is relatively high.  It isn’t outside the realm of possibility to ask why the significantly lower turnout for a special election is a benefit for the CCSD.  Is it because SPLOST isn’t particularly popular among some segments of the Athens-Clarke community?  Is it because they don’t want to make the effort to actually sell the program to the voters?  We don’t know.  Your crack editorial staff usually supports SPLOST, and we’ll be voting on September 19, if that’s when the election is.  

But here’s a gentle suggestion for the CCSD.  Take the $41,000 if it’s that important to you, but have the election in November, like you’re supposed to.  Spend the $41,000 on an effort to educate the voters about why they should vote for SPLOST.  If you’re going to spend millions of our dollars, doesn’t the community deserve to give you a real mandate?

Related: Athens Banner-Herald: Decision again postponed on tax referendum” 03/03/06

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Wanted: Assistant District Attorneys

We’d like to thank Ken Mauldin for his efforts to single-handedly create more jobs in Athens-Clarke County.  That’s right kids, more vacancies at the DA’s office to report.  Our sources in the courthouse tipped us off to three more resignations from Mauldin’s office in recent days.  Two ADAs are leaving before the end of the month to enter private practice.  A third, according to our source, attempted to give Mauldin notice, but was told by the District Attorney to leave that day.

By our source’s count, this brings the total number of resignations in the DA’s office up to 5 since January 1.  You might like to know that the DA’s office, which covers Athens-Clarke and Oconee Counties has somewhere around 11 – 12 attorneys on staff.  This is not normal turnover.

This is getting ridiculous, folks.  It’s time that the citizens in Athens-Clarke County start asking some hard questions about the turnover in Mauldin’s office.  It probably wouldn’t hurt for some folks in our local and state government to start asking those questions as well.  

We’re willing to admit that we’ve always kind of liked Ken Mauldin, going back to his days as Solicitor.  He’s friendly, approachable, and hardworking.  But in the last few years, a lot of things have been going on in the DA’s office that should raise some healthy skepticism about his leadership and management skills.  

Here’s hoping that those questions get raised loudly and sufficiently enough for Ken Mauldin to get the office back on the right track.

More RE: Redistricting and the law

There actually is some precedent, albeit persuasive precedent only, for the proposition that redistricting should only occur after the decennial census. First, some factual background:

In 2002, after the 2000 census, Colorado's legislature failed to perform its duty under the state constitution to redistrict after Colorado had gained a House seat. A suit was filed that sought the courts to redistrict in light of the legislature's failure to do so; the courts did so, and the 2002 elections went forward with the districts as drawn by the courts. In 2003, the legislature finally got off their ass and drew new districts. Another suit sought to enjoin enforcement of the new legislatively drawn districts and instead keep the court-drawn ones in place. The Supreme Court of Colorado struck down the new districts and kept the court-drawn ones, intepreting Article V, Section 44 of the Colorado Constitution (which says that the legislature is supposed to redraw the districts after each census) to mean that the ONLY time redistricting could happen was after the census. Therefore, the Court found, the districts drawn in 2003 were invalid. See Salazar v. Davidson, 79 P.3d 1221 (2003). There is now a challenge to that finding pending in federal court, based on U.S. Constitution, art 1, Section 4, which gives state legislatures exclusive power over Congressional elections; the argument is that art 5 section 44 of the Colorado constitution, as interpreted, is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution because it takes control of Congressional elections away from the Colorado legislature. See Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. ____ (decided February 21, 2006) (holding that the current suit is not procedurally barred by the prior state court case). New Hampshire has also found that Congressional redistricting can only happen after the census pursuant to its constitution, although under a similar scenario as described above that also occurred there, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire found that their legislature didn't lose its chance to do its once-every-10-years redistricting just because the session expired, and therefore allowed redistricting done at the 2004 session. See In re Below 151 N.H. 135 (2004).

So back to Georgia. All of the above is to say this: Georgia's constitution has a similar provision with regard to state legislature redistricting. Georgia Constitution, Article III, Section II, Paragraph II (The apportionment of the Senate and of the House of Representatives shall be changed by the General Assembly as necessary after each United States decennial census.) So, if the Supreme Court of Georgia interpreted that provision the same way that the supreme courts of Colorado and New Hampshire intrepreted their provisions regarding Congressional elections, they would find that the ONLY time redistricting could be done is as necessary after the census. What's more, if the Court did rule that way, the federal case in Colorado would have no effect, because the U.S. Constitutional provision regarding Congressional elections would not come into play when dealing strictly with Georgia legislature elections. Such a finding would invalidate the recent rending of Athens in twain.

Now, what are the chances that the Supreme Court of Georgia will rule that way? Your guess is as good as mine. It would be a case of first impression as far as I know in Georgia, and the Court has some new personnel that I don't really have a good read on yet.

Sonny to Athens: Redistrict this, bitches!

Well, as you all know by now, Athens has been cleaved in twain.  Frankly, other than the timing of the Governor actually signing the bill (on which I totally screwed the pooch), it was more or less a forgone conclusion.  

Speaking of redistricting, in a semi-related story, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Texas redistricting case yesterday.  They’re probably not going to change anything though.  The Texas redistricting case stems from an unscheduled redistricting that took place after the requisite post-Census reapportionment – similar hijinks to what the GOP pulled in Georgia after they got their majority in 2002.  The Texas case arguments stem from two areas, first the usual argument that minority voting strength was diluted, and second, that redistricting anytime except after a Census is illegal.  Don’t expect that latter argument to gain much traction.  According to a Washington Post story today, the opinion of the Court seems to be that if you ban mid-decade redistricting, you have no recourse to undo partisan redistricting that did happen at the right time.  (Some would say that undoing previous partisan redistricting is exactly what the GOP did in 2002, and to be fair, they’re right.)

Anyway, the redistricting is off to the Department of Justice.  Given what happened with the much more egregiously bad Voter ID Law, you can expect DOJ to pass it without objections.

So, where do we go from here?  Here’s what your crack editorial staff thinks.    There are two strategies that people who are righteously pissed about splitting Athens, a long term approach and a short term approach should consider.  You’ve got to concentrate on both.

In the short term, it’s time to buckle down and get to work.  Give Jane Kidd some money – she may not be perfect, but she’s the best we’ve got.  If you can’t give money (hey, I’m poor too, I dig you), give of your time.  Go knock on some doors, make some calls for Jane Kidd.  Tell your neighbors and your friends.  Find a candidate to run against Hudgens and make this the issue.  Not redistricting, per se, but the fact that Hudgens thinks that Athens and the counties surrounding us are his own personal fiefdom.  

Now, in the long term, it gets more complicated than just finding a candidate and working for them.  That’s right, I’m about to start beating the drum for redistricting reform again, and I’ll tell you what, if you’re not rattling cages on redistricting reform, then don’t ever speak negatively about “politics as usual.”  It’s time to take the maps out of the greasy, sweaty hands of the professional politicians.  Stop letting the foxes guard the electoral henhouse.  We would suggest that any candidate (especially around Athens right now) who could explain why redistricting is corrupt and pledge to push for measures that will make it nonpartisan and apolitical, would do very well.  

Your thoughts on redistricting below.