Tag Archives: Georgia politics

Ah, Hell – My State’s Run by Nutjobs

Standard

OK, so this possibly falls into the category of “what else is new,” but Georgia has some real nutjobs occupying corner offices up around the Capitol.

Gov. Nathan Deal, while still a corrupt congressman before becoming a disquietingly astute governor, tested the “birther” bandwagon, suggesting in interviews and speeches that President Barak Obama – who birth certificates and recollections of impartial people who were there at the time indicates was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, one of the United States of America – might not be American by virtue of not having been born in Honolulu, Hawaii, despite all evidence to the contrary. Several Georgia legislators last session introduced the Presidential Eligibility Assurance Act to the General Assembly last year, which – graciously – didn’t go far, and ultimately sent supporters scurrying from its nutter-ness like rats from a sinking barge of dog food.

And now, Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi, a state administrative law judge, has had the audacity to order the President of the United States to appear before him, at the behest of Georgia birther nutjob Orly Taitz (a suitably nutty name, no?), to prove he’s American enough to be on Georgia’s Democratic primary ballot in March. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, rather than snuffing out the nuttyness, instead got on his knees and stoked the nutjobs’ flame by sending the president’s lawyers a letter that said the president – the nation’s chief executive, commander-in-chief of the strongest military Earth has ever known and leader of the free world – would fail to appear before Judge Malihi “at your own peril.”

Brian Kemp

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp loves him some birther nutters.

To borrow an abbreviation, WTF?

Is that where we are now as a state? We’ve devolved to the point of ordering the president to come on down here to Atlanta and appear before a deputy chief administrative law judge who’s evidently siding with a crazed dentist over the White House?

Suffice to say, President Obama did not attend last week’s hearing. Neither did his attorneys, nor anyone from the state’s Democratic Party. The hearing was boycotted, and a bench, taped with sheets of printer paper reading “RESERVED FOR DEFENDANT” sat vacant.

Ultimately, Secretary Kemp will have to decide whether or not President Obama, who has served as president these past four years and is seeking reelection to serve four more, and who, according to every official document anyone can find, was born in Hawaii, will appear on Georgia’s primary ballot. A moot point, given that the president is evidently running unopposed in Georgia, and even if he wasn’t, no one of note seems inclined to run against him for the state’s Democratic nomination.

I hope the good secretary will decide not to humiliate himself – and us – any further with this nuttery. And I also hope that, next time we start electing statewide office holders such as himself, we’ll remember the embarrassment he brought upon us.

In Tag I Trust: Georgia License Plate No Place for Mandatory ‘In God We Trust’ Motto

Standard

The standard Georgia license plate: State name, letters on the left, numbers on the right, ad valorem tag on the bottom right, and, ah yes, the ubiquitous sticker detailing the county of your residence.

I rather like this feature. I get to experience the sense of indignation when I see someone with a “foreign” tag littering on my county’s roadways (how dare they!), and they provide some insight on whether someone is lost, owing to their having a tag from a distant destination, or just driving like an asshole because, damn it, you know they knew this was going to become a turn lane.

I’ve owned one “specialty” tag in my life; an “old car” tag for my ‘68 Plymouth Barracuda. Otherwise, I’ve taken the standard gummit-issued tag for every automobile each time a new tag was issued. Year after year, my wife reads off the list of specialty tags she thinks I would be interested in wearing on my car (she’s a breast cancer awareness tag herself), and I ponder whether I should break down and get something that better expresses myself – a Georgia State University tag, perhaps, or an Atlanta Falcons tag – but, no. The plain old tag fits my style just fine. Besides, if the Falcons have another losing season – and they will – then the team tag would become my bright-red “A” that I would be forced to wear in my shame, and I like my cars to be inconspicuous so as not to be recognized by anyone I might have wronged in traffic, and having a Georgia State University tag would certainly make my car much more recognizable.

TacoLoversPlate

Some people love specialty license plates. Me, not so much. (Courtesy therag.com)

I even have, somewhere, a stack of old tags, going back many years, that my grandfather kept. Some are rusty, many are scratched and dented from wear, but they provide a small snapshot of an automotive history; each one, I imagine, lovingly crafted by an angry murderer in state custody.

Also, I admire the tag because it’s something I philosophically agree with; that is, the ad valorem tax. It’s unfortunate that it rears its ugly head each year on the anniversary of our birth, but that is at least an easy way to remember that it is due. And it is a fair tax. This perception is, perhaps, owed to the many years that I drove pitiful automobiles and, therefore, paid very little tax, but still it stands: The nicer your car, the more you’re taxed. If you want to avoid paying the tax – or pay less of it, anyway – drive a P.O.S. car like mine. Otherwise, drive a nice car, but be prepared to pay your dues.

So, when it appeared the state was considering making “In God We Trust” an official part of our tag, I was incensed.

It came to pass (eventually) that the theistic legend was added to the tag by the graphic designers who had submitted to a statewide contest to design the new plate, and that it was still the same sticker that can be purchased and affixed to the tag for a buck from your local county tax office. No big whoop.

But, State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, has said, “why not?”, and is moving to make “In God We Trust” the official slogan on all Georgia tags, and let you pay $1 to purchase a tag with your county’s name that could be used to conceal said slogan.

Sen. Heath has led other misguided and ill-conceived legislative efforts in the past, such as his addition of “piercing” to a bill intended to ban female genital mutilation; a common practice in some African nations intended to ensure that females receive no pleasure from sex. That the bill banned piercing for women – a perfectly common and safe form of expression that many women (though none I’ve had the pleasure of dating) have performed – but not for men seemed on its face to be sexist, and further, that the addition put in danger a bill necessary to protect young women from the barbaric ritualistic traditions of their families was absurd. I left the newspaper office in Douglasville, jumped on a MARTA train, rode to the Georgia State Station, and stood for hours in front of the Capitol holding a sign that read, “Female genital piercing is a human right.”

Asked why he added that to the bill, the always-erudite then-Rep. Heath said something to the order of, “I just don’t think people should do that.” Which has been the basis of legislation going back to Hammurabi’s Code.

NewGeorgiaTag

In the current instance of short-sighted legislative cataloging, the Senator asks: “If our nation’s motto is good enough for our currency and our patriotic songs, how can it not be acceptable for our license plates?”

As for the history of the motto on currency, I cannot improve upon the official Treasury Department history of the slogan. Suffice to say, the Civil War led to religious fervor, and the Treasury Department has abided it ever since. I do not find this offensive; as I’ve written before, I do indeed trust in God, and for those who do not, they are welcome to apply their own meaning to the phrase. I understand and agree with many of the arguments concerning removing the motto from currency; it’s just a matter upon which I’m willing to yield the floor to the opposition.

As for our patriotic songs – I’m stuck on this one. I can’t think of one from my upbringing that referenced “in God we trust.” But I see no problem with patriotic songs that seek God’s divine blessing and presence; indeed, I, too, wish he would “bless America again.”

And he is further correct that it is our national motto. So be it. But it is not our state motto, which happens to be “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.”

(It’s that last part that we could use a lot more of when it comes to shoving our beliefs upon others.)

A government-issued tag that states the county of my residence and my unique tag number are utterly inoffensive; in fact, they’re necessary. But forcing me, by state edict, to bear upon my personal automobile a legend that implies my religious adherence is insulting and, I would propose, unconstitutional. Currency belongs to the government; my car belongs to me, and State Farm Bank. Mostly to State Farm Bank.

So, Sen. Heath, in the interest of your party’s policy of self-determination and “Don’t Tread on Me” propaganda, might I kindly suggest you take your mandatory “In God We Trust” tag and shove it in your personal collection plate.

Douglasville Mayor Thompson Near-Sighted on TSPLOST

Standard

Douglasville Mayor Mickey Thompson seems to have misgivings about the upcoming TSPLOST vote, and does not feel that the city, nor the western part of Douglas County, have been adequately represented in the allocation of funds possibly raised by approval of this one-cent sales tax.

To refresh your memory, earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law allowing citizens in huge swaths of the state to vote on referendums that would impose a 1 percent sales tax in their respective swaths, with the tax going to fund a number of predetermined transportation projects.

Now, coming up soon, the registered voters of Georgia will have the opportunity to decide whether or not we will tax ourselves for one cent on every dollar we spend to improve the region’s transportation, with new road projects, new infrastructure and even a rail line or two, maybe.

But Thompson, who was part of the committee that had a voice on what projects would and would not be funded, now says that Douglas County will be a “donor county” in the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, with 78 percent of the money the county would pay into TSPLOST being returned to fund projects within the county.

Thompson’s solution to the city’s transportation troubles appears to focus on building more four-lane roads, more interstate off-ramps and funneling more traffic into the black hole built on top of wetlands that is the local mall.

Douglasville has long had an “if you build it, they will come” attitude about transportation, structuring unnecessary four-lane roads here and there in the hopes of attracting development. To their credit, development has come; though it was almost all retail, which supplies low-paying jobs and works only when people actually have money to spend. Now, the city is once more in the midst of a glut of existing, vacant “big-box” development. Big box development is what you might think of when you consider the vacant Wal-Mart on Stewart Parkway, or the empty Hi-Fi Buys on Douglas Boulevard next to Outback Steakhouse, or the empty Circuit City at The Landing at Arbor Place, or countless other places throughout the city. Unlike smaller retail spaces, big box stores cannot be relatively easily filled with boutique clothing outlets, second-hand stores or hobby shops, simply owing to their immense size and square footage. It’s damn hard to fill a Wal-Mart if you’re not already a Wal-Mart, and with the exception of Big Lots, most retailers have little interest in setting up where another has failed. Often, then, these retail outlets would rather build their own, new development, which will itself be rendered vacant when hard times come calling and they once more pack up and leave town.

Another function of big box retailers is that they serve as “anchors” for a residential development. Most of their business is incidental, from people stopping in on their way to the Wal-Mart or Kmart or Target or Publix or Kroger. Without an anchor, it’s hard for a smaller retail operation to survive because the sheer traffic going past their storefront is so greatly diminished.

In Thompson’s view, an Interstate 20 interchange is needed at Bright Star Road to help relieve traffic at Highway 5 and Chapel Hill Road. This is, perhaps, the idea the city had when it built the seldom-traveled Bright Star Road Connector: pull traffic off of I-20, send it down Bright Star Road to Wal-Mart or down Douglas Boulevard to the mall. In an interview published in today’s Douglas County Sentinel, Thompson cites statistics to how many cars use the current interstate interchanges, though I gather the mayor has precious little concern for the fact that his vision constructs an interstate interchange in a residential area, streaming traffic past the homes of county residents who are not (yet) part of his jurisdiction.

His honor’s worries stop at the city limits, and that’s a problem.

Even if just 78 percent of what Douglas County puts into the TSPLOST is returned, the remaining 22 percent is nonetheless going to improve transportation in our region, making it easier for people who travel outside of the county’s boarders (and since Douglasville has done such an abysmal job in growing well-paying local jobs, most of us do travel beyond the county lines frequently, or even daily). And for those county and city residents idled by slashed transportation budgets, this means work – jobs, laying asphalt and installing traffic lights and generally working again. (Also, though no one’s hardly said it, this is a good time to get some transportation improvements done on the cheap while costs are depressed. It’s a bargain for taxpayers overall.)

Because the mayor didn’t get what he wanted in the TSPLOST, he’s ready to send the whole thing to hell by defaming it, even as he had more voice and influence to shape it than any of us who will be voting on the thing.

TSPLOST isn’t going to pay for paving subdivisions or replacing culverts down barely travelled back roads; it’s going to pay for major transportation improvements with a regional impact. One of the projects for which Douglasville and Douglas County advocated was improvements to the interchange at I-20 and I-285 – a problem interchange that regularly backs up eastbound traffic to Thornton and Lee roads and beyond and causes residents to lose countless hours due to delays.

In the Sentinel, Thomas said: “With the downturn in the economy and the struggles many are experiencing, I think it will be difficult for people to give up another 1 percent of their disposable income. You have an identical school board referendum question on the Nov. 8 ballot. Of course, if both are approved, that’s an additional 2 percent reduction in disposable income for each resident of our county.”

Perhaps we could look at it that way. Or, we could call it an investment in our community. As a region, transportation is the single greatest hindrance to attracting employers. The state is relatively business-friendly, and we have the post-secondary schools and research facilities to make this a whiz-bang place for potential employers, especially in the areas of technology and biotech with Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State and many other smaller area colleges contributing research and well-equipped alumni to the workforce. Still, companies are hesitant to commit investment to an area that is unwilling to invest in itself. Supporting transportation, just like supporting schools, is how we prove we have some skin in the game. It’s how we build our future.

We can no longer expect to hinge our local economy on large-scale retail and the building of strip malls. We must realize that our financial future is tied to the fortunes of metro Atlanta. Where goes Atlanta, so goes Douglasville. We’re beyond being a distant island out in the west; if that is what we wanted to remain, then we needed to develop a self-sustaining local economy. We didn’t do that. We don’t have the jobs to pay our residents a livable wage, and we certainly don’t have the jobs to empower people to spend dollars locally by virtue of the fact that we aren’t paying them enough dollars to spend, period. Our people need work, and there’s no longer any point in trying to build more houses that will be underwater in value by the end of the week that the certificate of occupancy is granted. There are no factory or production jobs to speak of. Not here, anyway.

By and large, I’ve thought a great deal of Mayor Thompson, and I was disheartened to hear that he would not be seeking a third term as mayor. But if this isolationist view of the city is what he would have pursued, we would have been wiser to elect a rival.

It Pains Me, But Don’t Blame Nathan Deal for Troy Davis’ Death

Standard

Look, I’ll be the last guy who takes up for Gov. Nathan Deal. Really, it’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

But, I’ve got to do this. I’m just going to lay back, and think of England.

This morning, I saw a retweeted tweet scroll across my Twitter feed from Alec Baldwin: “Nathan Deal has disgraced Georgia, the justice system, the country.”

That may be. But not because of Troy Davis.

History lesson ahead. You’ve been warned.

Once upon a time, there was a state. We’ll call it Georgia, but that’s what most everyone else calls it. And once upon a time in the state of Georgia, there was only one real political party.

That party didn’t care for black people.

So, to make sure that black people didn’t have the opportunity to have a voice in the affairs of the state, the Democrats conceived of the “white primary,” in which only white people could vote. This was OK, the United States Supreme Court said (though about nine years later, they changed their minds).

Also, this one party – the Democrats – decided that it would be unwise to have one big political boss with too much power. Though the Democrats were members of one party, they still hardly saw eye-to-eye on many topics. (Really, the one-party system was an excuse to have a white primary; the divisions within the party were nonetheless very deep.)

Eugene Talmadge

Former Georgia Gov. Eugene Talmadge, who was partial to the white primaries. When he died before taking office for a fourth term, his son, Herman, assumed office. Because that's how we do things down here in Georgia.

To make sure no one person gained too much power, the Democrats devised a way of structuring government that meant that, while the governor was the head of state and technically the chief executive, the power of government was shared among the members of his cabinet, which were elected independently of the governor.

So – while on a federal level, the president gets to nominate his attorney general, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture, etc. – in Georgia, all those people are elected. We elect a commissioner of agriculture, a labor commissioner, a state schools superintendent, an attorney general and a secretary of state, among others.

Also, the power of the governor was further limited by splitting traditionally executive power among a number of politically appointed boards. The governor doesn’t decide which roads get paved; that’s decided by the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The governor’s authority over the state’s judiciary is similarly limited. In some states, the governor can commute the sentence of death row inmates wholesale; the governor of Indiana did that just a few years ago. In Georgia, however, the governor simply doesn’t have that kind of power.

Now, over the years, the power of the Democrats has waned and the Republican Party – Gov. Deal’s party – has become resurgent. The last governor, Sonny Perdue, was the first Republican elected to the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction. The Republicans also control both houses of the General Assembly, though friction there runs deep nonetheless. Republicans have tried to replace their own Speaker of the House and have clipped the power of the Lieutenant Governor, who presides over the Senate just as the vice president does at the federal level, taking away his influence over legislation and committee assignments.

Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who doesn't have the power to grant clemency to death row inmates.

So, we’re right back where we began with a one party system. And, for all intents and purposes, because that one party is the Republican Party, we’re also faced with what are essentially white primaries.

So it goes.

Last night, it came down to only three entities that could stop Troy Davis’ execution. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroled – stacked with political appointees who are sympathetic toward law enforcement and prosecutors but not so much felons – heard Davis’ appeal Monday. Worth noting, perhaps, is the fact that they cut off Davis’ defense team, and allotted the prosecution more time to present their case. They denied clemency for Davis and unceremoniously said they would not reconsider their decision.

There was then the Georgia Supreme Court, but they bowed out pretty early and denied his appeals.

Last was the United States Supreme Court. The appeal was handed to Justice Clarence Thomas – a black man from Georgia who hates to be reminded of either – and he led the discussion at the court. A temporary stay was granted while the Court deliberated.

Troy Davis

The late Troy Davis. If the phone on the wall next to the gurney rang and it was the governor on the line, he probably had a wrong number.

Ultimately, the Court denied the appeal and, by 11:08 p.m., Troy Davis was dead.

We all kept praying that the phone on the wall near the gurney would ring. But if it did, and it was the governor on the line, he probably just dialed a wrong number.

There. I stood up for Nathan Deal.

Don’t look at me. And please, just leave the money on the dresser.

I’m going to take a shower.

Vance Smith, Georgia DOT Going Nowhere Fast

Standard
Commissioner Vance Smith

GDOT Commissioner Vance Smith, politically connected boob.

Well, we’re out another one.

When Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith resigns at the end of the year, that’ll mark the end of the fourth GDOT commissioner in as many years.

Smith, a former Republican state legislator whose family’s construction and grading business went bust with the rest of the housing market, will have served about two-and-a-half years in his post.

Those two-and-a-half years haven’t been extremely productive. As of late, GDOT has seen the departure of a number of high-ranking executives, leaving vacancies that Smith proved incapable of filling. Instead, Smith tapped one member of his staff – Gerald Ross, GDOT’s chief engineer – to serve triple duty, as the head engineer for the department as well as interim deputy commissioner and, just weeks ago, as interim director of GDOT’s toll roads program (the one that’s going to make you pay private companies to drive on roads for which you’ve already paid in gasoline taxes when you filled up your car).

Finally, the 13-member GDOT board decided it was time to “go in a different direction” – which, presumably, means something other than straight down.

The problem here is beyond that which Smith was capable of facing. The economy of our region depends on effective solutions to our transportation problems. Every advantage our region has – an educated workforce, an abundance of technical schools and universities, etc. – is for naught if workers cannot get to their jobs. No company in its right mind would relocate to metro Atlanta such as it is, with the region so unwilling to address what is its single greatest challenge.

Part of the problem is that the region is comprised of 13 counties – with 13 county governments – as well as many, many more municipalities. Each of these entities has its own transportation priorities, and few of them play nice together. In Douglas County alone, we’ve seen flare-ups over such issues as the new Bright Star Connector, right down the road from my house, where the county government put up concrete barriers to prevent traffic from accessing Bright Star Road from the city of Douglasville’s new connector.

The only arbiter who can effectively address these problems – the only one with the sovereignty to do so – is GDOT. Their job, ultimately, is pretty clear: make sure people can move around. But in the past several years, GDOT has encountered such uncertainty at the top through a series of politically-appointed leaders who lacked the diplomacy and management to take on the region’s obstacles.

Counties and cities exist at the pleasure of the state, and are obligated to do what the state tells them to do. GDOT needs a leader who can be heavy-handed, who can recruit and retain top talent, and who can last longer than a year or two to ensure that the incredibly important projects that begin on his or her watch have continuity to reach fruition.

Unfortunately, the state’s leadership – such as it is – will probably find another politically-connected incompetent boob to head the agency, leaving the citizens of Georgia making right turns from here to oblivion.