Tag Archives: Politics and Government

Remembering Lithia Springs

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During the weekend, the Douglas County Sentinel ran an article looking back on the brief and colorful history – and dissolution – of the city of Lithia Springs.

I was, at that time, a cub reporter for the local daily, and spent many an hour in a chair in what passed for the chambers of the Lithia Springs City Council, recording for our readers a city’s death throes. It left a lasting impression on me of a resident’s relationship with a municipal government. But, more than that, it left me with some wonderfully idiotic stories.

Picture, if you will, the great centers of government now established throughout Douglas County. The Douglas County Courthouse, constructed in the 1990s, features a domed rotunda complete with the inspiring words of the preamble to the Constitution spiraling down it. In Douglasville, the city’s business is conducted in what was, when I was young, O’Neal’s, which is where my Granny bought me my husky Levis for school. Prior to that, it was the Alpha – a movie theater still recalled by many long-time residents for its “Coloreds Only” balcony. Now, the old space on a corner of downtown’s historic area looks out over a beautifully fashioned plaza and, soon, a new downtown convention center.

Douglas County Courthouse

The Douglas County Courthouse -- a fine, and still fairly new, home for government operations. In Lithia Springs, they had Ty Hall. It wasn't like this.

In Lithia Springs, city bid’ness was conducted around back of an old hardware store.

Seriously.

A gravel parking lot, a flagpole dedicated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a dumpster and an old SUV with the city seal on the door and “CODE ENFORCEMENT” painted on the fender stood in place of the statues and memorials many have come to expect before government buildings. The story of the city, however, was sadly detailed by the blocks upon which the city’s lone government vehicle – the SUV – had been lovingly placed.

To conduct formal city business inside, such as council meetings and court, the desks of the city’s handful of employees – a code enforcement officer, a secretary, and someone who probably handled filing or something like that – were pushed aside and folding tables were set up. These were the city council’s dais.

By the time I began attending the city council meetings, then-Mayor Brian Hilton had resigned (surprisingly, not under allegations of impropriety; rather, he was seeking to advance his political career and left to run for a seat in the General Assembly).

That left Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Poole to assume the gavel and the formal obligations of the mayor. A mayor pro tem is sort of a vice president; a member of the legislature (the city council) who fills-in for the mayor if he or she cannot attend a meeting and serves as mayor should he or she be incapacitated, expelled from office or resign. However, the mayor pro tem does not become mayor – rather, he or she serves as mayor until a new mayor is elected.

Mayor Pro Tem Poole, however, saw it differently; he was doing the job of the mayor, and he was serving as mayor pro tem. So, with the powers of mayor, he began to pay himself the salary of both. Just as one cannot be in two places at once, however, one also cannot hold – and be reimbursed for – holding two elected positions in city government.

Adding to the mix was that Mayor Pro Tem Poole often appeared, I don’t want to say inebriated, but a bit, er, staggered at city council meetings. But then, perhaps overseeing the business of running the great municipality of Lithia Springs would leave anyone glossy-eyed.

There was one man on the city council who seemed to make sense. He was a good guy, always showing up in a suit, actively participating in the discussions. One night, the council adjourned into executive session – that is, to conduct business in private, which happens often when personnel issues are being discussed. And, as it happens, city council members are considered “personnel.”

Since the whole city facility was essentially the city council chamber, and since the weather outside was inclement that evening, the council was kind enough to adjourn themselves to the small, windowless office of the mayor rather than forcing all in attendance out into the muddy parking lot to mill around the city SUV on blocks. By then, mind you, the city council’s antics had begun to draw quite a crowd of spectators.

At the close of the executive session, said councilman returned to his seat, scrawled a letter of resignation on the napkin under his cup, handed it to Mayor Pro Tem Poole, and walked out into the night, never to be seen at a city council meeting again.

The mayor pro tem struggled to focus on the councilman’s handwriting – probably because of the poor lighting, lousy penmanship and farsightedness as opposed to being under the influence of anything in particular – and announced that it appeared the councilman had resigned, effective immediately.

Above the front – and, I believe, only – door to the city’s municipal complex was a sign that read “CITY HALL.” It was painted on particle board. After an especially vigorous storm, with lots of wind and rain, the sign was damaged, the particle board ripped and the first two letters blew away. It was never repaired. Rather, the city – without the revenues to repair its roads much less its sign – simply began to call the facility “TY HALL.”

Finally, the city died. Residents elected a mayor, in the person of Glenda James, who had resolved herself to be the bullet that brought down the leviathan of Lithia Springs. Mayor James, who had been a vocal participant in the city council meetings from the peanut gallery and who, I’m sure, had been escorted out into the gravel lot at least once and most likely more often by the sheriff’s deputy who began to be required to police the raucous meetings (the city not having a police force of its own, thank God) began the work of dissolving the city.

Residents sued, alleging the city was not providing enough services to justify its existence. In Georgia, an incorporated municipality (as opposed to an unincorporated part of a county) is required to provide a certain number of services beyond what the county provides. Often, this means something along the lines of trash collection, perhaps utility services (Austell operates a natural gas company) or its own fire department. Lithia Springs had a couple of guys with a bucket of gravel and a shovel. They were the Roads Department. Everything else – EMS, police, fire rescue, etc. – they contracted with the county to provide. Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputies patrolled the streets and answered calls. Douglas County Fire Rescue personnel provided fire protection and ambulance services. Various large projects were contracted to the county, often at a friendly discount. Outside of the pure entertainment value of the city council, there wasn’t much reason for Lithia Springs to exist, and a Douglas County Superior Court judge agreed.

The city’s only recourse was to provide more services, which would require more revenue. More revenue would require leveraging a city property tax, the absence of which was one reason many in the city had voted for incorporation. Suffice to say, with the threat of a city-mandated property tax looming, residents voted overwhelmingly to dissolve the city. The county’s local delegation to the General Assembly – the representatives and senators whose districts included some portion of the county – introduced legislation to dissolve the city (lacking sovereignty, cities and counties exist at the pleasure of the state, and only the state can create or destroy a city or county). The legislation carried pretty much unanimously, as most local legislation does (or did back in the day, anyway) and the city ceased to be.

The county came to collect what remained of the city’s assets. The commission chairman and the county commissioner who represented the eastern part of the county watched as crews loaded filing cabinets into the back of box trucks. They even towed away the old code enforcement SUV. The doors to Ty Hall were locked, and the era (or error) of Lithia Springs came to an end.

Last time I drove past, the hardware store was gone, and a computer repair shop was in its place. The times, they are a’changing. But still, in downtown Lithia Springs, stands the ornate clock in a green patch of grass between Highway 78 and the railroad tracks – a reminder of the city that was and, with incorporation run amuck in metro Atlanta – might one day be again.

Romney: ‘Not Concerned About the Very Poor’

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Well, these are certainly some odd values, aren’t they?

In an interview with CNN earlier today marking his Republican primary win in Florida, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he was “not concerned about the very poor,” and said the nation provided an “ample safety net” to those in that category.

“You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus,” Romney said.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney ain't none to worried 'bout 'dem po' folks. Says dey's gonna' be jes fine, yessuh. (Source: nmfbihop, from Flikr)

(By the way, Romney’s income over the past two years has come to more than $42 million.)

Rather, Romney said, he plans to focus on the middle class, which has been squeezed mightily in the last decade-and-a-half.

Just where do we think the once-proud denizens of the middle class have gone? Up the economic ladder? No, they’ve fallen further and further behind, with high unemployment and stagnant wages and an ever-growing cost of living taking larger and larger bites out of their plans for the future. Once-stable two income households are making hard decisions to get by with one.

Add this to the chorus of his concerns about getting a “pink slip,” even though he hails from a very wealthy family and is himself a millionaire several times over, and his defense of his work at Bane Capital, a venture capital firm that, along with acquiring and successfully reorganizing a number of firms, also liquidated quite a few others, leaving many unemployed. What is emerging is a portrait of a candidate who is far more Herbert Hoover/Warren Harding than Ronald Reagan.

I know a thing or two about the plight of the poor, having been poor for a considerable portion of my life. It isn’t easy. They turn off your electricity. Sometimes there’s not heat in the winter, and when there is, it’s turned up just high enough to keep the pipes from freezing. Sometimes, that’s not a concern, because the water’s been shut off. There are resources – heating assistance, assistance from utilities, etc. – that can be accessed, but these are very limited and I couldn’t begin to tell you how to access them or what the criteria are. Most of these have a cap – a number of people they can help at a given time. If you’re outside that limited number, you go cold.

America is experiencing very little growth except in one area: the poor. There is a vast and swelling population of dissatisfied Americans living in a land of milk and honey, a land of plenty, but barely getting by with precious little. It is aggravating to worry constantly about how you will feed yourself or your children, which bills you’ll pay from month to month and how you’ll keep yourself sheltered. A lot of people have known nothing but, and others are experiencing this for the first time. They were raised in the middle class, pursued their education, gained experience, and are now struggling mightily. They played the game according to the rules, and their parents’ promises were for naught. It is one thing to have been raised on the government’s tit (which is still not a good or comfortable life), but quite another to go hat-in-hand to ask for assistance for the very first time.

I remember my grandfather telling how his own father had to go into town one day for government assistance. My great-grandfather had been a successful man, a merchant who owned his own shop in Winston. When the Great Depression came and his customers could not afford their purchases, he let them buy things on credit, including food. When he could no longer pay his own bills because his customers were unable to pay theirs, he lost the store and had to turn to sharecropping.

My great-grandfather had one of the first, if not the first, automobiles in the county – a Ford Model T, which he used to haul merchandise from the rail station to his store. Penniless after losing the store, he could not even afford the gas to drive his car into town, and so walked from Winston into Douglasville to seek government assistance. They provided him with a sack of flour and a side of bacon, which he carried on his back and shoulders back down Bankhead Highway to feed his family. My grandfather told of how grateful they were for the food, but how ironic it was that, even though he was one of the few people to own a car, his father was not even able to use it because they were so poor.

Of course, Romney would not be very concerned about people like my grandfather. Hoover wasn’t, either. But my grandfather kept a framed portrait of FDR hanging in his living room, and often would point to it and say, “that man saved my life.”

“We will hear from the Democrat Party the plight of the poor, and there’s no question; it’s not good being poor. And we have a safety net to help those that are very poor,” Romney said. “We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor. But the middle-income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now.”

You’re right, Gov. Romney. Middle class Americans are struggling. Because they’re poor.

Ah, Hell – My State’s Run by Nutjobs

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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.

Stand By Your Convictions, Jessica Ahlquist

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In Cranston, R.I. – a state that began its life as a colony conceived with the purpose of protecting people from religious persecution – a 16-year-old girl is going through hell because of her refusal to believe in it.

Jessica Ahlquist, the daughter of a firefighter and nurse and a student at Cranston High School West, now requires a police escort to safely walk the halls of her public high school. Florists refuse to deliver her flowers, and she faces threats online from members of the community who are outraged over her stand against school prayer.

Jessica Ahlquist

Jessica Ahlquist, a student at Cranston High School West in Rhode Island and an avowed athiest, is going through hell over her objection to a school prayer that hangs in the school's auditorium. (Credit: New York Times)

Not just any school prayer – the school prayer. Yeah, Cranston High School West had one, written by a seventh grader and hung, eight feet tall, on the wall of the school’s auditorium in 1963; the year after the United States Supreme Court struck down school-mandated prayer as a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment separation of church and state. The display was a gift from that year’s class of graduating seniors.

“Our Heavenly Father,” the prayer reads, “grant us each day the desire to do our best, to grow mentally and morally as well as physically, to be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers, to be honest with ourselves as well as with others. Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win. Teach us the value of true friendship. Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring honor to Cranston High School West. Amen.”

The New York Times reports that Ahlquist was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church as a young girl, but stopped believing in God when she was 10. She had been unaware of the prayer adorning the school’s walls until it was brought to her attention by another student during her freshman year. From then, every time she saw it, it struck her more and more.

“It seemed like it was saying, every time I saw it, ‘You don’t belong here,’” she told the Times.

A parent – not one of hers, presumably – filed a complaint about the prayer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which led to a series of hearings on what to do about the display. Ahlquist spoke at all of them, imploring the board and the school to take down the prayer. After a meeting that a federal judge described as having all the tones of “a religious revival,” the board voted 4-3 to keep the prayer on the wall and fight it out with the A.C.L.U. in court.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the prayer was a violation of government neutrality in religion, and since then, the school board has had the prayer covered with a tarp while it decides whether or not to appeal the judge’s ruling or take the prayer down from where it’s hung for almost half a century.

Meanwhile, Ahlquist continues to suffer the stones and slights of a community the Times describes as deeply religious and Christian. The harassment, I believe, could be described as anything but Christ-like. And if the mission of a Christian is, as I believe it to be, to bring people closer, to love your enemies so that they may come to know the boundless love of Christ, then it can be assured that these actions are only pushing Ahlquist further away.

I do believe in Christ as my Lord and Savior. But, I also believe in the Constitution, under whose law I’ve been blessed to be born. I believe that the Constitution protects religion from government intrusion, and protects government from religious intrusion. It is not the role of government to proselytize or otherwise enforce prayer. When I want religion, I go to church or, more often than not, I turn to the Bible and personal prayer, seeking not assistance, but direction from the Almighty. When I want education, I go to school. One ought not to trespass upon the other.

Ahlquist is an atheist, and I admire and respect – hell, I even understand and empathize – with her position. My own faith is rather tenuous and has been tested mightily through the years. But it is my belief that, as her world turns against her, Jesus would stand beside her. And so would James Madison.

As a Christian, I stand with Ahlquist. And I stand with her as an American as well.

Cracks (And Crackpots) in the GOP Conglomerate

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Bachmann

This is Michelle Bachmann. She's crazy as batshit. And some Republicans wanted her to be president. (Though, mercifully, not many.) (Credit: AP)

We independents like to whine and moan about the abominations of our nation’s two-party system, but it is increasingly evident that the two-party system is a lie. It is a myth we told ourselves to make ourselves feel better. Just because every time we go to cast a ballot, each candidate has either a “D” or an “R” next to his or her name does not at all mean that the choices were so simple as one or the other; rather, it seems, the race begins much earlier, in small contests in America’s backwoods to which we have traditionally paid very little attention. Until it is too late.

That fact has become ever more apparent now, with the close of the Republican caucuses in Iowa last night that brought former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a fire-breathing moderate, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, an iconoclastic fundamentalist, within eight votes of carrying the first contest of the 2012 presidential race.

And in third, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a one-time Libertarian Party candidate for president who has his very own wing of the Republican party.

The way the two parties have managed to secure their stranglehold on the American politic has been by holding up a wide umbrella – or casting a wide net – to usher different beliefs into the fold. This means that people often affiliate with one party or the other for fundamentally different reasons. Civil rights, abortion rights, populism and a secular government are the reason many become Democrats. Evangelical Christianity, socially conservative principles and fiscally conservative principles are among the leading reasons that people become Republican.

But these standards are frequently in conflict. Black Christian congregations have not taken a shine to abortion rights, and many leaders in the black Christian organization have said that they do not consider the quest for gay marriage or gay rights to be the same as the quest for civil rights. The party was all but ripped asunder in 2008, with a white woman (many women vote Democratic) and a black man (again, many blacks are staunch Democrats) vying for the party’s presidential nomination. Many debated which deserved to head a major party ticket for the first time in history, just as many debated whether blacks or women should first get the vote a century before.

In the end, Barak Obama got the Democratic nomination and Sarah Palin became the Republican candidate for vice president, in order to woo all those disenfranchised women who believed that Hillary Clinton ought to head the ticket.

(Indeed, this played out within my own house; I was partial to Obama, and my wife to Clinton. Though, it turned out, her affinity was not due to Clinton’s policies or even her gender, but because my wife happens to own an autographed copy of Clinton’s memoir, which sits on the bottom shelf of an upstairs bookcase and that I’ve never once seen her open, except, oddly, to make sure the signature is still there.)

But in the Republican Party, the ties that bind seem to be absolutely strained to the point of snapping. In 2008, the Democrats had Obama, about whom everyone was excited – young, articulate, attractive, and vigorous. The Republicans compromised with each other and gave the nomination to John McCain, a candidate about whom no one was excited and who likely ran because, well, it was his turn (see Dole, ‘96). He wasn’t especially socially conservative, religious or fiscally conservative. He was, you know, the other guy.

Democrats turned out in droves to vote for Obama. I waited in line for more than an hour. With a baby. During early voting.

Hardly anyone came out to vote for McCain.

In 2012, the Republicans want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. They want a candidate all their members can be excited about. The problem is, what each sect of their party wants is not wholly embodied in a single candidate, and in fact, some strands of the fold are feeling so disenfranchised by the party that they may be inclined to run their own third-party candidate (see Roosevelt and Taft, 1912), which could split the vote and give President Obama a clear course to a second term – and possibly even a perceived (though fictitious) mandate (see Bush, 2004).

Santorum opposes a woman’s right to choose, believes that church has an important role to play in the affairs of the state and appeals to people like the Duggars, who have something like 19 kids and (obviously) don’t believe in birth control. Romney was governor of Massachusetts, a notoriously liberal state (elected Ted Kennedy for, like, what? a century?) and whose “Romneycare” reform in Massachusetts was the basis for the now much-decried “Obamacare,” and who used to support a woman’s right to choose and was OK with gay people but now says not so much.

And neither has especially broad appeal. Romney is a quintessentially Republican, er, Republican. Owns a few houses, has a lot of money, is “pro-business” (whatever that means), doesn’t like high taxes, goes to church a lot and has beautiful hair. Santorum is a fundamentalist Republican – without compromise on “traditional” beliefs to which a “Christian” nation such as ours ought to adhere (see Huckabee, 2008 – but without the charm or sense of humor).

Iowa Caucus Results

Results of the Iowa Caucus. A lot of Republicans think Ron Paul is batshit crazy, too. And they voted for him for that very reason. (Credit: Google, AP)

Then there’s Paul wants to close all our military installations overseas, shut down a whole bunch of government departments, make everyone pay the same tax rate, rich or poor, and do a bunch of other stuff that scares the hell out of anyone who’s not part of his messiah-like following. And he finished third. And not a distant third, either! He had more than 21 percent of the vote! Romney won the thing with barely more than 24 percent!

The only thing these candidates really have in common is that, well, they don’t really want Obama to be president anymore. And it’s nothing personal; they don’t want any of the other guys to be president, either. But the vision they have for the nation is very different, because at the heart of it, the Republican Party is very different.

This is not a single party – it’s a group of parties who pool their votes to be stronger en masse than they are individually. And the strange thing is, they act like it’s some kind of a big secret. Some Republicans will whisper to you, their voices low, that they’re really Libertarians, but they know the Libertarian Party doesn’t have a chance, so they vote Republican so they can elect politicians who might help move the Republican party in a more fiscally conservative direction. Some Republicans will say, “I really wish Sarah Palin would run,” but they don’t know why, nor can they name one policy position of hers with which they were familiar. Some Republicans will say, “well, the Democrats want to let gay people marry, and I just don’t think that’s right,” and will be in direct contrast to the Libertarian Republicans.

The Republican Party is actually the Republican Parties. And in some instances, when it comes to treating corporations like individuals, Republican Parties, Inc. That the group has tried to corral so many separate and distinct ideologies under one banner for so long – without giving any one of them what they’ve asked for in exchange for their vote – is bound to be the party’s undoing.

So, next time someone says they’re voting Republican, ask which one.