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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The legislation dubbed "Georgia's Promise"

Yesterday's Political Insider informed us that Democrats are seeking to drive a wedge with Republicans with a Senate bill providing that all high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class would be guaranteed a spot at the state university of their choice.

The Political Insider says the bill is intended as a balm for rural whites who think the state's flagship university has been captured by high-flying students from the suburbs north of Atlanta.

Today I read in InsiderAdvantage Georgia that House Democratic Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin, who will push the House version of the Democratic legislation, said freshman admissions to the University of Georgia from Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett Counties have run as high as 44 percent.

InsiderAdvantage Georgia also noted that the issue that could divide Republicans along suburban-versus-rural lines.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bills plentiful, unity lacking on immigrant issue - An idea of helping address the cost issue

Monday's ajc had an article entitled "Bills plentiful, unity lacking on immigrant issue" discussing all of the pending legislation on how to go about tackling -- and even whether to tackle -- the issue of illegal immigration on the state level.

Much of the proposed legislation concerns costs.

Addressing the issue of cost reminded me of one possible solution to partially address the cost issue. It was a covered in a 10-9-04 post entitled "The time is now; the need is acute; sponsors solicited and welcome -- In 2005 the Gen. Assembly needs to remove the sales tax exemption on groceries."

Some follow-up to the 10-9-04 post was contained in an 11-30-04 post entitled "Removing the sales tax exemption on "groceries," Part III. -- Advice to state from the Atlanta academic think tank study: Accountability." That post provided:

Part I: A 10-9-04 post entitled: "The time is now; the need is acute; sponsors solicited and welcome -- In 2005 the Gen. Assembly needs to remove the sales tax exemption on groceries.

"This post, along with the earlier posts linked therein, reviews the history of the sales tax and also the exemption on "food and beverages," how the exemption is not applicable to SPLOST, why "food and beverages" might not be what you think, and the the current state of the tax situation in Georgia.

Part II: A 11-28-04 post entitled "The Macon Telegraph: Tax breaks, including sales tax exemption for "groceries," costing state hundreds of millions in revenue. Programs to suffer.

"This post reviews the same academic study reported in the ajc article highlighted below, and notes that the issue of tax reform and various exemptions is expected to be at center stage in the 2005 legislative session, when state government is expected to consider ever-deeper cuts in human services.

And the posts note that if this doesn't happen, with the costs of education and health-care rising faster than spending cuts can keep up with them, Georgia may reach a state of "permanent fiscal crisis," according to Alan Essig, director of the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, the academic study discussed below.


The article in today's ajc is more concerned with accountability for tax breaks for industry recruitment, etc., actually, the lack thereof. But because of some of the quotes that are relevant to the topic of this series of posts, I have included it. The title of the article and some excerpts follow:

Tax breaks get no oversight
Report suggests state cheating itself

State government is losing about $2 billion a year from tax breaks, but lawmakers aren't keeping track of the long-term cost or whether the tax cuts are helping the economy, a new report says.

The report released Monday by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an Atlanta think tank, said putting some kind of accountability into the mishmash system of tax breaks is particularly important now because the state could face another budget shortfall of $550 million to $700 million next year.

Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) [says] that most of the $2 billion a year Essig points to comes from politically untouchable tax breaks often widely supported by the public, such as the state's decision in the late 1990s to remove the sales tax from groceries at the prodding of then-Gov. Zell Miller. Georgians save about $642 million a year by not having to pay a sales tax on groceries.

And tax breaks approved by Democratic-controlled Legislatures aren't likely to go away under the new Republican rule.

[Alan] Essig is a former Georgia State University fiscal researcher who started the nonpartisan institute a few months back to study state budget policy.

"Once you get a tax break, it's in forever," he noted. "If we're talking about dropping 45,000 children from public health care, we ought to look at some of these expenditures. Maybe there is a strong public policy argument, but we're cutting funding for children, for education." [By "these expenditures," Essig was talking about tax incentives or breaks to create jobs, etc.]

Even with rising tax collections, Essig said the state faces a huge shortfall next fiscal year just to pay for education, health care and prison programs. Because of growth in those areas, collections can't keep up. He said, for example, that while 20 percent more students attend college now than in 2001, there has been almost no increase in the number of college instructors.

Essig said such trends are likely to continue into the next budget year, when Gov. Sonny Perdue and legislators will have to come up with about $500 million just to fund rising health care costs.

House Democratic Leader Dubose Porter replies to: "What are the legislative goals of the Democratic caucus this session?"

From GeorgiaDailyDigest.com:

Our goals this session are to work towards those ideals that have defined Georgia Democrats. We are for providing opportunity and security for all Georgians. Georgia Democrats would restore the nearly $1.1 billion in cuts to public education that have happened over the last three years which has forced 100 school systems to raise local property taxes. We would pay teachers what they deserve and give them a 6 percent raise. We would reduce class sizes, which have been postponed under this Governor, and have been proven to increase student achievement. We would protect the HOPE scholarship, secure the opportunity for a technical school education and improve access to all higher education. We would insist that every child’s education be funded equally and adequately throughout the state. We would expand PeachCare for Kids to provide health insurance to more uninsured children. We would provide state employees with a solid health benefit plan that would be affordable and ensure that doctors and hospitals in our local communities are in the state’s network of providers. We would oppose any attempt to close government to the public and fix eminent domain so it protects property rights and serves the public good. We would also work for more public/ private partnerships bringing economic development and jobs to neglected areas of Georgia and make the Commissioner of Economic Development a statewide elected position.

Georgia's Growing Diversity Changing Statewide School Demographics

According to Dick Pettys in InsiderAdvantage Georgia:

The signs of Georgia’s growing diversity have been evident for years, but here’s a statistic that could be an eye-opener for some: white students remain the largest racial group in Georgia's public K-12 system but now represent fewer than 50 percent of the students, their percentage of total enrollment declining in just 10 years from 58 percent in 1995 to 48 percent in 2005.

The percentage of black students grew only slightly during that period, from 37.6 percent in 1995 to 38.2 percent in 2005, while the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 2.1 percent to 8.4 percent, and the percentage of children identified as multi-racial grew from 0.55 percent to 2.45 percent.

In raw numbers, there are 7,130 more white students in state schools today than there were 10 years ago, but 118,358 more black students, 106,819 more Hispanic students, 22,604 more Asian students and 31,830 more multi-racial students.

White students first fell below the 50 percent mark in total school population in the October, 2004 attendance reports. State School Superintendent Kathy Cox said it is not the result of more white students opting for private schools or home schools, since other statistics continue to show that 92 to 93 percent of all school-age kids are enrolled in the public system. Rather, she said, it is the result of an increasingly diverse mix of students as Georgia’s population soars.

Doug Bachtel, a University of Georgia demographer, generally agreed with her assessment. “The private school and the home school are going to siphon off some white kids, particularly in some rural areas, but the reason you have that imbalance is minorities tend to be younger than whites and minority women tend to have a higher birth rate. As a result, you have this imbalance of a larger minority-youth population,” he said.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tilting at Alito

From The Boston Globe by Joan Vennochi:

IN MASSACHUSETTS, old liberals never die. They just keep tilting at windmills.

At the last minute, Senator John Kerry called for a filibuster to stop the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. Senator Edward M. Kennedy joined the fight.

The initial reaction from fellow Democrats was tepid. Tepid it should remain.

Alito is conservative. But radical? The Democrats failed to make the case during hearings which proved only one thing beyond a reasonable doubt: their own boorishness.

Calling for a filibuster is a late, blatant bow to the left. It seemed more theatrical than realistic. Still, any such bowing from Massachusetts helps the Bush administration. ''Bring it on," chortled the Wall Street Journal after Kerry announced his effort to rally fellow Democrats from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There, the Journal snidely observed, he was ''communing with his political base."

Calling for a filibuster makes political sense for Kennedy, who is adored by every left-wing constituency in America. He isn't running for national office; he can afford to stick to strict liberal principle. He wants to go down fighting. For Kennedy, a filibuster call mollifies the left at no political cost. It is also an attempt to make up for the obvious: He used the wrong tone and tactics during the hearings. Going after Alito as a bigot backfired. Forget about Mrs. Alito's tears. The moment Kennedy was exposed for belonging to a discriminatory college fraternal organization, it was over. He lost the moral high ground.

Kerry's enthusiasm for a filibuster is harder to fathom, except as more of the same from a perpetually tone-deaf politician.

Why volunteer to look like a creature of the left if you are plotting a second presidential campaign? The perception helped undercut Kerry's first presidential campaign.

Why champion a cause your fellow senators show little interest in following? The quick dismissal of Kerry's call for a filibuster by fellow senators reinforces the underlying theme of an unflattering piece in GQ that was part of the week's political buzz.

The two Supreme Court vacancies that occurred after George W. Bush's reelection demonstrate the importance of winning elections. Democrats should be focusing on 2006 and 2008. For once, they are being helped in their quest for electoral success by the GOP. The reign of Republican power is unraveling on several fronts, from Jack Abramoff to Iraq.

National security is the only drum left for Republicans to beat. But Karl Rove's scare tactics won't work forever. The country, collectively, is smarter than Bush's brain. It just needs time to think things through and an election day.

Bush's sometimes hesitant and awkward answers at press conferences can be scarier than another videotape from Osama bin Laden. But Democrats have yet to figure out the alternative voice the country wants to hear. What Democrats still know best is what the left wants to hear. Speaking to the liberal base in 2003, Kerry said: ''I am prepared to filibuster, if necessary, any Supreme Court nominee who would turn back the clock on a woman's right to choose or the constitutional right to privacy, on civil rights and individual liberties, and on the laws protecting workers and the environment."

It was a bad pledge to make in the abstract, and it is the wrong pledge to live up to now. It defines fitness for nomination strictly in ideological terms. A Kerry Supreme Court nominee could be opposed by Republicans on the very same grounds. Sticking to it now, after Democrats failed so spectacularly during the Alito hearings, is pointless. Voting no on Alito is fine. But a filibuster serves no one but the Bush adminstration. It fuels the conservative base, helping to heal internal party splits.

The longer Democrats and Republicans in Congress maintain the high level of hostile partisanship, the less attractive any would-be presidential candidate who hails from Congress looks. These senators who would be president help the cause of governors -- Democrats and Republicans -- who hold the same ambition.

Diehard liberals will not change. The ones in Massachusetts are an especially stubborn crew, convinced of the righteousness of their cause and certain they will one day hold important positions in a Democratic White House. But if these would-be Cabinet secretaries and ambassadors in Cambridge and Boston are to assume their rightful posts, they need a winning cause, one that engages more than the left.

Filibustering the Alito nomination won't do it.

Dean Comes Under Fire

According to Roll Call:

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are privately bristling over Howard Dean’s management of the Democratic National Committee and have made those sentiments clear after new fundraising numbers showed he has spent nearly all the committee’s cash and has little left to support their efforts to gain seats this cycle.

Public dissatisfied with Congress

From The New York Times:

A New York Times/CBS News poll published on Friday found that 61 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of Congress, the highest in a decade.

With Washington consumed by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Republicans know they need quick legislative gains to turn around those numbers. In addition to tax cuts, immigration, health care and energy prices, a new item is on the agenda, lobbying reform.

Republicans see Medicare as a potential trouble spot in November, and Representative Jack Kingston, the Georgia Republican who is vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said he was urging his colleagues to confront the issue head on at home. "Our members have to get out there and engage in this Medicare confusion," Mr. Kingston said. "Medicare is a big problem."

The Senate has begun hearings on lobbying law changes, and both chambers hope to pass bills by the spring. . . . The idea, Mr. Kingston said, is to dispatch quickly with the lobbying changes, to change the topic to more winning issues.

"If the main re-election topic is Jack Abramoff, it's going to be hard because you're an incumbent," he said. "If the main topic is the economy, the war on terrorism and fuel independence, then you should be O.K."

Bush's Midterm Challenge - Rebuilding Public Support May Bolster GOP Candidates

From The Washington Post:

President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday night marks the opening of a midterm election year eagerly anticipated by Democrats and fraught with worries for Republicans, whose hopes in November may depend in large part on how successfully Bush can turn around his troubled presidency.

After his reelection victory in 2004, Bush often pointed out that he would never again be on a ballot as a candidate. But the coming year in many ways represents another national campaign for the president, aimed at preserving the gains his party has made in the past five years, as well as rehabilitating a reputation that has come under brutal assault from the opposition in recent months.

There is no doubt that Bush intends to run this campaign as forcefully as if he were on the ballot himself. He ended 2005, the worst year of his presidency, with an aggressive defense of his Iraq policies, and he has begun the new year with an uncompromising justification of his policy of warrantless domestic surveillance.

Tuesday's speech, with its massive prime-time audience, may be the most important forum Bush has all year to try to seize the initiative from the Democrats and frame the election season on his terms. But he will be standing in the House as a far less formidable politician than when he stood on the same podium a year ago. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Bush with a lower approval rating than any postwar president at the start of his sixth year in office -- with the exception of Richard M. Nixon, who was crippled by Watergate.

Bush's approval rating now stands at 42 percent, down from 46 percent at the beginning of the year, although still three percentage points higher than the low point of his presidency last November.

The poll also shows that the public prefers the direction Democrats in Congress would take the country as opposed to the path set by the president, that Americans trust Democrats over Republicans to address the country's biggest problems and that they strongly favor Democrats over Republicans in their vote for the House.

The political stakes this year are especially high. What happens will affect not only the final years of Bush's presidency, but also will shape what is likely to be an even bigger election for his successor in 2008. Republicans have been on the ascendancy throughout the Bush presidency, but they begin the year not only resigned to some losses in Congress but also fearful that, under a worst-case scenario, an eruption of voter dissatisfaction could cost them control of the House or Senate or both.

Frist: Gov't Unwanted in End-Of-Life Cases

From The Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who took a leading role in the Terry Schiavo case, said Sunday it taught him that Americans do not want the government involved in such end-of-life decisions.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

I'm with Kaine on this one - Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for Center

From The Washington Post:

Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.

These activists -- spearheaded by battle-ready bloggers and making their influence felt through relentless e-mail campaigns -- have denounced what they regard as a flaccid Democratic response to the Supreme Court fight, President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the Iraq war. In every case, they have portrayed party leaders as gutless sellouts.

First, liberal Web logs went after Democrats for selecting Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to deliver the response to Bush's speech next Tuesday. Kaine's political sins: He was too willing to drape his candidacy in references to religion and too unwilling to speak out aggressively against Bush on the Iraq war. Kaine has been lauded by party officials for finding a victory formula in Bush country by running on faith, values and fiscal discipline.

The Virginia Democrat said he will not adjust his speech to placate the party's base. "I'm not anybody's mouthpiece or shill or poster boy for that matter. I'm going to say what I think needs to be said and they seem very comfortable with that."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Miller Apologizes For Past Support Of Abortion Rights

“I realized how wrong I’d been and I was thankful there is a forgiving God,” Miller said today.

This is getting hard to believe. Nevertheless, remember my earlier statement that "I am pro-choice, not because I am a Democrat, but because I think it should be a woman's choice, and definitely not mine unless it happened to be my wife or daughter."

Also, as we reach out to religious voters, we should quit arguing the legality of abortion, and rather shift the theme to Mr. Clinton's formulation for abortion, that is, that abortion should be 'safe, legal and rare.'

And finally, remember that we are the big-tent party. Thus just because some have religious convictions different from me, we still have room in our party for such persons.

Politics Alleged In Voting Cases -- Justice Officials Are Accused of Influence

According to The Washington Post:

The Justice Department's voting section, a small and usually obscure unit that enforces the Voting Rights Act and other federal election laws, has been thrust into the center of a growing debate over recent departures and controversial decisions in the Civil Rights Division as a whole.

Many current and former lawyers in the section charge that senior officials have exerted undue political influence in many of the sensitive voting-rights cases the unit handles. Most of the department's major voting-related actions over the past five years have been beneficial to the GOP, they say, including two in Georgia, one in Mississippi and a Texas redistricting plan orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) in 2003.

The section also has lost about a third of its three dozen lawyers over the past nine months. Those who remain have been barred from offering recommendations in major voting-rights cases and have little input in the section's decisions on hiring and policy.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Rove Offers Republicans A Battle Plan For Elections

According to The Washington Post:

White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove offered a biting preview of the 2006 midterm elections yesterday, drawing sharp distinctions with the Democrats over the campaign against terrorism, tax cuts and judicial philosophy, and describing the opposition party as backward-looking and bereft of ideas.

"At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security," Rove said. "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic -- not at all. But it does make them wrong -- deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

Rove spoke at the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee and, with RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, provided a campaign blueprint for fighting the Democrats.

At a time when Democrats have staked their hopes in large part on the issue of corruption, Rove and Mehlman showed that Republicans plan to contest the elections on themes that have helped expand their majorities under President Bush. They see national security and the vigorous prosecution of the campaign against terrorism at the heart of the GOP appeal to voters.

Cathy Cox proposes taking the partisan politics out of all county races by making them nonpartisan.

In a 12-10-04 post entitled "Taking nonpartisan elections a step further beyond judges. School board members doable now. Sheriffs? Maybe in the future." I wrote:

I would like to see Georgia law changed so that counties could, through local legislation, have the offices of county commissioners, clerk of the superior court, judge of the probate court, sheriff, probate judge, tax commissioner (some counties have a different office here), coroner, surveyor and whatever else I am overlooking, be added to the offices of judges and school board members that can be elected on a nonpartisan basis.

That post also noted:

Official Code of Georgia Annotated Section 21-2-139(a) provides in pertinent part that "the General Assembly may provide by local Act for the election in nonpartisan elections of candidates to fill county judicial offices [and] offices of local school boards . . . ."

I do hope we have had our last partisan school board elections in Coffee County. If you would find this change desirable in your county, contact your local House and Senate representatives to discuss a change.

We did make the change here in Coffee County last year, and thus future school board elections will be nonpartisan.

But as noted at the beginning of this post, I would like to see all county elections nonpartisan.

This past week Cathy Cox proposed this.

According to the ajc:

Only weeks after the State Ethics Commission abruptly ousted its longtime director, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cathy Cox called for the state to let judges, rather than partisan politicians, appoint the panel.

Cox, Georgia's Secretary of State, also proposed taking the partisan politics out of all county races by making them non-partisan.

Her campaign staffers said the proposal will not be filed as legislation this year, as it would have little or no chance of winning approval in the Republican legislature.

Taylor, Cox's primary opponent, said he has no problem with stricter ethics laws.

"Lt. Gov. Taylor has always supported strong ethics laws, transparent government and non-partisan elections, including sheriff's races," said Rick Dent, Taylor's campaign consultant. "

Friday, January 20, 2006

GOP Contest Prompts Yawns Outside Beltway

According to The Washington Post:

As some House Republicans campaign to oust their scandal-blemished GOP leadership team, they are facing an obstacle back home. It seems many voters could not care less.

Even many of those voters who are closely following the leadership contest or the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal reportedly tend to deride all lawmakers as money-grubbing operators, and express little faith that Congress can be cleaned up by any politician.

[A]t least in the first weeks of January, lawmakers said gas prices, the new prescription drug benefit and the Iraq war are more immediate concerns among voters. And there is mounting polling evidence that voters consider both parties corrupt and distrust Washington in general. A Diageo/Hotline Poll released yesterday found that 72 percent of registered voters said corruption is equally bad inside the two major parties. Less than one in five said Republicans are more corrupt. Other polls show Democrats with a significant edge when voters are asked about who they want elected to the House.

Alabama Dems Jump on Board the Bible Elective Course Wagon

The headline being according to the Southern Political Report.

I love it. As stated before on this blog, Democrats are tired of letting Republicans own the faith and values message. As some have put it, the GOP does not own God.

The rank and file Democrats want the party to come out and say we are not ashamed of our faith and belief in God and our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Doing so will get our party's agenda in tune with the rest of the state of Georgia and the nation.

Like it or not, the role of faith in the public square has been made a wedge issue. We as Democrats must not be timid in saying we recognize that we want our children to learn good values at home, in school, and Sunday school and at church with their parents.

If you disagree and find this repugnant to your core beliefs and feel as if this makes us joining them in their game, suck it up for the cause, for my friends, the rules of engagement have changed. Page two.

On a completely unrelated topic, sometime back all of a sudden I began receiving an inordinate amount of spam. This is why I made it so readers cannot leave comments, something I expect this post would elicit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Three Dems Proposing Bible Study In Public Schools

According to Georgia InsiderAdvantage:

Georgia’s public high schools would be allowed to offer an academic study of the Bible as an elective under legislation introduced Wednesday not be Republicans, whose base would seem to be most supportive of the idea, but by Democrats.

A trio of Democrats – Sens. Tim Golden of Valdosta, Doug Stoner of Smyrna and Kasim Reed of Atlanta – announced the legislation at a news conference, offering statements of approval of the proposal from some religious and education groups.

“This is an important education initiative,” said Golden, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “The Bible is the basis for so much of our history, literature, music and art. It is woven into the very fabric of so many things we teach in Georgia schools.”

Under the proposal, public schools would be allowed – but not required – to offer the elective course in grades 9-12.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Georgia lawmakers take this week off

The ajc reports:

Lawmakers take this week off --- a legislative tradition --- so the budget committees can pore over the $18.6 billion budget bill proposed last week by Gov. Sonny Perdue in his State of the State address.

Legislative leaders have predicted a smooth, and likely short-lived, 2006 General Assembly as lawmakers rush to get back to their home districts to raise campaign funds. All legislative seats are up for election this year, and lawmakers cannot raise money while the Legislature is in session.

They will, however, soon confront several major issues, including a high-profile, and possibly divisive, push to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Speaker Largely Silent Amid Scandal

The Washington Post reports:

With his affable demeanor and his open-door policy, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert remains unchallenged in the most powerful post in Congress, even as a growing corruption scandal roils the Republican leadership and more Congress-watchers say the speaker bears some responsibility for the troubles that have developed on his watch.

As details emerged about unsavory dealings between lobbyists and lawmakers -- including his top lieutenant, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) -- the House speaker stood on the sidelines. As DeLay's legal peril mounted, Hastert backed him at every turn, attempting to change House rules to allow an indicted leader to stay in power and even altering the leadership of the ethics committee, which had been exposing misconduct by the majority leader.

Only now has Hastert publicly moved to address the ethics controversy, leading a push to tighten rules on lobbying and persuading Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) to temporarily relinquish the chairmanship of the House Administration Committee.

Although Hastert's job appears safe for now, there are rumblings among some lawmakers and aides that he waited too long to act -- and that his prior conduct has eluded close inspection, even when the speaker himself rubbed elbows with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients.

DeLay's announcement this month that he had permanently withdrawn from the House GOP leadership after his indictment on political money-laundering charges has touched off a scramble among Republicans for practically every high-level leadership post except that of speaker. Hastert, an amiable onetime high school wrestling coach, enjoys tremendous personal loyalty from many in the House GOP conference, and he has been credited with holding together the sometimes warring factions within the party.

After years as a friendly backbencher and low-level leadership member, Hastert suddenly emerged to become House speaker in 1999. Newt Gingrich (Ga.) was drummed out of the post after a disastrous election season, and his heir apparent, Bob Livingston (La.), resigned amid allegations of an extramarital affair. DeLay, then majority whip, shepherded Hastert from the post of his chief deputy to a position two steps from the presidency.

Hastert took a laid-back attitude to his job, opening his door to lawmakers, soothing hurt feelings, fixing problems and holding the party together while the bare-knuckled DeLay, first as whip and then as majority leader, drove the political agenda. To some lawmakers, it was a "good-cop, bad-cop" routine.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dick Yarbrough: Georgians have lost their best friend in government

Dick Yarbrough writes:

Teddy Lee was recently fired as executive secretary of the State Ethics Commission. It is your loss - and a big one.

He was sacked by a bunch of politicians who couldn't bend him, fold him or intimidate him from representing your interests above theirs. It is not an overstatement to say that many in political power in the state, whether Democrats or Republicans, view the State Ethics Commission with equal parts odium and disdain. Some of that attitude is our own fault. We could demand better ethical behavior from our public officials if we really cared, but we have low expectations of our politicians. Unfortunately, they willingly meet those expectations.

Teddy Lee believed public officials should be above reproach, not above the law. For 15 years he managed a minuscule staff with a puny budget, administered some of the weakest ethics laws in the nation and was highly effective in spite of these obstacles. That turned out to be his problem. Politicians don't want their ethics commissions to be highly effective. Politicians want ethics commissions to stay the hell out of their business.

Matt Towery, chairman of national political polling firm InsiderAdvantage, and a former Georgia Republican state senator, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I think it was an unwise move and very poor timing to remove a man who has labored in a department that was understaffed, underfunded, and with rules that were ill-defined, just as ethics in Georgia started to have sharper teeth." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Gov. Zell Miller appointed me to the State Ethics Commission in 1997 to fill a vacant seat and later reappointed me to a full term. It was a great experience, even with the limited power we had. We nailed a couple of high-level Democratic legislators and a one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate (not Sonny Perdue) for their cavalier approach to financial reporting. We were also on the case of former Democratic kingmaker, state Sen. Charles Walker of Augusta, long before the feds got him.

Sonny Perdue came into the governor's office trying to exert influence over the commission - supposedly an independent body - by forcing the resignations of previous appointees, blocking new appointments and clearly putting Teddy Lee in his gunsights. It took Perdue three years and the appointment of compliant yes-men to the commission to accomplish his goal. Strange behavior from a man who describes himself as the "ethics governor."

Ethics - like motherhood and apple pie - is something all politicians pay homage to, but that's about all they do. Perdue is touting new ethics laws that have just gone into effect, but the law has more holes in it than Bonnie and Clyde. For one thing, the commission overseeing the law is now firmly under the governor's control, in spite of what his minions say, and the measure allows lawmakers to police each other for ethical violations. Oh, please.

While Democrats are busy pointing to Lee's dismissal as an example of the GOP's lack of commitment to ethical government, they are crying crocodile tears. Democrats don't care any more about strong ethics than do Republicans. They had ample opportunity over the years to put some strength in the ethics laws in Georgia, but they didn't. Former House Speaker Tom Murphy refused to give us adequate funding, and during Roy Barnes' term as governor we were hassled by his staff, who wanted to treat us like a branch of the administration. We told them not only "no," but "hell, no." We were an independent body. They wisely decided to leave us alone.

Much of the state's media has decried Lee's removal, but the issue will soon blow over because the politicians know we really don't care. And we don't. But just remember that you have lost your best friend in state government and a rigorous watchdog against political corruption.

There is one glimmer of good news in this whole sordid mess. Teddy Lee leaves the job with his head held high and without one scintilla of taint on him. What's more, he won't have to put up with double-dealing, self-serving politicians and an apathetic public anymore. Frankly, neither group deserves his time or his talent.

GOP Leadership Race Seen as Harbinger

The Washington Post reports:

The leadership contest playing out this month in the House of Representatives represents more than a battle of personalities. At stake is the direction of a Republican Party that, by some lights, is facing the most serious confluence of problems in the decade since it roared to power on Capitol Hill.

In both good ways and bad, House Republicans have helped define present-day conservatism. The House in the late 1980s and 1990s was the incubator for many of the policy ideas and political strategies that produced the current era of GOP dominance.

The House is also home to a brand of confrontational politics that has played a large role in souring the Washington environment. And the transactional style favored by many House GOP leaders -- in which the trade of special-interest support in exchange for access to power became more open than ever -- contributed to the downfall of former House majority leader Tom DeLay, setting off the current race to replace him.

What a number of Republicans fear is that the new leaders may define their roles in the most narrow and limited way -- passing minimal lobbying reforms, lubricating the gears inside the House, keeping their colleagues happy and enacting as much of Bush's agenda as possible but not much more. Gingrich has been outspoken in his warnings that, unless the House Republicans embrace a much broader reform agenda that goes well beyond the interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, the party could suffer in the 2006 elections and beyond.

Poll shows embattled DeLay trailing in Texas race

Reuters reports:

Embattled Republican Tom DeLay trails a Democratic challenger for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and is viewed favorably by only 28 percent of people questioned in a poll of his Houston area district, the Houston Chronicle said in its online edition on Saturday.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Red Clay Institute deadline extended

The deadline for registering for the third annual Red Clay Institute has been extended to Tuesday, January 17th. The fee is $25, and the session is open to all Democrats interested in learning the best practices for running an effective political campaign.

If you are considering running for office or just curious to learn more about campaigning for a better Georgia, Red Clay Institute is for You! Candidate prospects from around our state will have the unique opportunity to network together and learn winning techniques for a successful campaign from hard-hitting professionals and elected office-holders.

What: Third Annual Red Clay Institute Democrat Candidate Training

When: Saturday, February 4, 2006, 8:30am to 4:30pm (Attendance is $25, lunch will be provided) Where: Kilpatrick Stockton, LLP 1100 Peachtree St, Suite 2800, Atlanta, GA 30309

Space is limited and admittance is by application and acceptance only. To apply, download one of the forms below and return to redclayinstitute@yahoo.com.

Red Clay Training Flyer & Application:Microsoft Word Version PDF Version

For questions or comments, contact redclayinstitute@yahoo.com

Politically, the end of Roe would crack open the Republican coalition in the country and on Capitol Hill.

Eleanor Clift has an interesting column in Newsweek entitled "The Republican Party is full of secret pro-choicers. If Alito helps to overturn Roe v. Wade, it could crack open the GOP coalition in the country and on Capitol Hill."

In it she writes at one point:

A pro-choice Republican who spoke with NEWSWEEK but didn't want her name used said she is more worried about Alito after hearing him testify, and wishes the Democrats would spend their time finding a candidate to beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries "or we're going to get four more years of judges like this." She thinks that to win the White House the Democrats need a more centrist candidate than Clinton. "The math is against her." (That debate is raging within Democratic circles, but no candidate has yet surfaced who could plausibly overtake Clinton, given her rock-star hold on party activists and the esteem in which she and her husband are held by African-American voters, a core Democratic constituency.)

It's pretty clear where Alito is headed on abortion rights. He refused to say whether he agreed with the characterization of the 1973 Roe ruling as "settled law," that couldn’t be re-examined. Now that the GOP is within striking distance of overturning Roe, they're having second thoughts. The public is not ready to abandon the landmark case legalizing abortion, and neither is the Republican Party. They used abortion as a wedge issue because the politics worked; they really didn't think abortion would ever be banned. "Any activist will tell you they'd rather have the issue out there than to have it resolved," says this pro-choice Republican, who has worked on the Hill and for various Republican interest groups. "If Roe were overturned, we'd be electing Democrats as far as the eye can see."

According to this source, even committed right-to-life activists don't want Roe struck from the books before society is ready. "They think if given the time, they can change the culture. I think they're deluded, but they know it's going to take time."

So what is the most likely scenario? The fight over Roe is not imminent. The more immediate challenge will be whether underage pregnant women will have to notify their parents of abortion plans, and extending the right of privacy to minors. "Would we have had Sandra Day O'Connor with us on that?" says the pro-choice Republican. "I'm not sure." She expects Alito to vote to erode Roe, and then the argument will be, sometime in the not too distant future, that the ruling is a shell, and it will be overturned.

Then the battle moves back to state legislatures, and some places—like Utah, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma and South Dakota—would outlaw abortions while other states, like New York and California, would be decried by the Right as "abortion mills." Politically, the end of Roe would crack open the Republican coalition in the country and on Capitol Hill. The party is full of secret pro-choicers, Republicans who signed on to a package that included the pro-life position with the belief that it would never happen. They've kept their mouth shut all these years, but they'll be mad as hell and not willing to take it any more. "Even if there's no right to privacy in the Constitution, there ought to be," says this pro-choice Republican. "It's an American virtue.”

Newt Gingrich as a possible presidential candidate.

In a good column on Newt Gingrich, Bill Shipp writes:

Newt Gingrich has been looking for a new place in the sun ever since he exited Congress in semi-disgrace in 1998.

The former House speaker and congressman from Georgia may have found his latest calling. He could become the Great Healer of Washington's Moral Sickness - the anti-DeLay, anti-Abramoff Republican who could once again haul the GOP out of a ditch.

Gingrich could handle his new position best if he held public office. Some pundits mention Gingrich as a possible presidential candidate. That is absurd.

On the other hand, the presidential idea seems not quite so nutty since the Newtster publicly and vehemently staked out a national position against wholesale (or was it retail?) corruption in Congress. Gingrich was the first Republican big fish to dare to declare that accused crook Tom DeLay of Texas ought to quit as House majority leader.

I think Gingrich likes to think about himself becoming a presidential contender in 2008, and this is at least part of what he has been up to as of late. And it is not out of the question that this could happen.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Unlikely Face of Reform - Newt Gingrich has recreated himself as Washington’s agent of change. Can he persuade the GOP to shift its agenda?

Eleanor Clift in Newsweek writes:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is doing what he does best, tossing out oversized ideas that grab media attention. There’s too much money influencing legislation, so Newt suggests banning all fundraising in the Washington metropolitan area. That will never happen, but Newt is on to something.

He understands that voters are disgusted with both parties. The polarized model of politics we have today is ready to implode with the revelations of influence peddling on a scale not seen since the days of Teapot Dome oil field scandal rocked the Harding administration more than 80 years ago. Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to two sets of federal indictments this week, and his tentacles touch almost every place within Republican circles.

He has recreated himself as a bipartisan reformer, running against the party he brought to power in 1994 and decrying the GOP’s corruption with the same zeal he expressed against Democrats. Next to John McCain, who embodies the reform agenda and exposed Abramoff’s bilking of Indian tribes in Senate hearings, Gingrich is the face of reform in Washington. That is an astonishing development when you consider the circumstances that led to Gingrich leaving his leadership post in the House. Ethics questions about a lucrative book deal followed by a failed coup staged by his fellow Republicans forced him out.

For Gingrich, this is personal. Among the coup-plotters was Tom DeLay. There’s been bad blood between them for years. DeLay never bought into the reform agenda. The result of his disregard for the niceties separating money and politics means that it’s taken the Republicans just 10 years in power to reach the same level of corruption it took the Democrats 40 years to achieve. Now it’s Newt’s turn to say ‘I told you so.’

In the mid-1980s, when the Democrats controlled the House, California Democrat Tony Coelho tried to impose party discipline, checking lobbyist donations and leveraging access with donor lists. But many Democrats were uncomfortable cozying up to the business community. They didn’t share the same views, and they didn’t like the hardball tactics. When the Republicans took over the House in 1994, they found the nexus between lobbying and money a much easier fit. The free-market ideology of the Republicans dovetailed with the business community’s wish to deregulate. The contributions flowed, and legislation reflected the close kinship.

What we have now is a perversion of conservatism with the free-market banner becoming an excuse for greed. Marshall Wittmann, a conservative activist turned centrist, attended the first meeting in 1993 hosted by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, to rally conservatives of different stripes around a common agenda. “There were about a dozen of us wanting to stop this or that Clinton plan,” says Wittmann. “When the Mariana Islands came up, I wondered how did this become a conservative issue?” The Northern Mariana Islands were the first big project that Norquist and Abramoff worked on together. An American protectorate in the Pacific Ocean, the government there wanted help to resist certain U.S. laws, like paying minimum wage. Norquist talked up the Marianas as a model of free enterprise, and Abramoff collected $9 million in lobbying fees, smoothing the way for members of Congress to take fact-finding trips to the islands and play golf.

“It was the first time I scratched my head and thought there’s something amiss here,” Wittmann told NEWSWEEK. “The seeds that were planted then developed into the fauna and flora we have now.” The weekly strategy sessions hosted by Norquist have become an institution in Washington. Known as “the Wednesday meetings,” they attract dozens of conservative activists and thinkers. White House adviser Karl Rove is a regular attendee.

The web of connections that propelled everybody around the table to power is now threatening to bring them down. Among those made most nervous by Abramoff’s decision to tell all has got to be Norquist, who has worked closely with Abramoff since he managed his campaign to become chairman of College Republicans in 1981. When the GOP took over the Congress in ’94, Abramoff abandoned his career as a producer of B-grade movies in Hollywood to link up with Norquist and capitalize on his Republican connections.

The college revolutionaries had come full circle, accumulating power and status to the point where they were the new Republican establishment. Not everybody in the party was happy. A handful of House Republicans who Wittmann calls “the new Newts” are tired of the dictatorial way the House is run and think the emphasis on pay-to-play politics is a perversion of Republican principles. The new Newts are pushing for a whole new leadership team while the old Newt plays the Pied Piper from the outside, says Wittmann.

The Democrats are not associated with cleaning up Washington. They’ve got a package of reforms, but no reformer to lead the way. Gingrich is urging his party to pick up the reform mantle. If they do, it will be a triumph of political cross-dressing.

DeLay Ends Bid To Regain Post As GOP Leader -Congressman Bows to Pressure From Fellow Republicans Over Scandals

The Washington Post reports:

Rep. Tom DeLay (Tex.), one of the most powerful and feared Republican leaders in Washington, abandoned his quest to regain his House majority leader post yesterday, bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans worried about the growing corruption and campaign finance scandals linked to his office.

DeLay's announcement . . . ends his decade-long tenure as a legislative juggernaut and conservative ideologue who revolutionized the relationship between power and money in Washington.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Perdue draws high ratings in poll - Governor popular as Legislature convenes

The ajc reports:

Gov. Sonny Perdue heads into this re-election season and next week's legislative session riding some of the highest approval ratings of his three-year tenure, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.

The Zogby International poll of 501 likely voters gave Perdue a nearly 61 percent job approval rating, and about 70 percent had a favorable opinion of the Republican governor.

In head-to-head matchups with two Democratic candidates, Perdue holds a 53-37 percent lead over Secretary of State Cathy Cox, and a 56-31 percent advantage over Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, according to the poll.

Perdue drew higher approval ratings than Cox, Taylor and President Bush.

Poll: Public Uneasy With GOP Leadership

From The Washington Post:

Dissatisfied with the nation's direction, Americans are leaning toward wanting a change in which political party leads Congress -- preferring that Democrats take control, an AP-Ipsos poll found. Democrats are favored over Republicans 49 percent to 36 percent.

The polling came as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to tax evasion, fraud and corruption charges and agreed to aid a federal investigation of members of Congress and other government officials.

President Bush's job approval remains low -- 40 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll, with only one-third saying the country is headed in the right direction. Bush also remains low on his handling of Iraq, where violence against Iraqis and U.S. troops has been surging.

Republicans are watching the situation unfold with some nervousness.

"I don't think anyone is hitting the panic button," said Rich Bond, a former Republican National Committee chairman. "But there is an acute recognition of the grim environment that both parties are operating in."

"If the Democrats had any leadership or any message, they could be poised for a good year," Bond said. "But in the absence of that, they have not been able to capitalize on Republican woes. Because of the size of the GOP majority, Democrats have to run the board, and I don't see that happening."

"Neither one of the parties has done a very good job so far," said Cristal Mills, a political independent from Los Angeles. "They get away with murder, they get paid to pass certain things. It's the good ol' boy syndrome."

All 435 House seats are on the ballot this fall, and Democrats need to gain at least 15 to become the majority party and take control of the House.

While many House races are noncompetitive, Republican strategists fear that fallout from the Abramoff scandal will give Democrats fresh opportunity for gains. But they dismiss suggestions that Democrats could take control of the House.

Republicans became the dominant party in the House in 1994, when the GOP picked up more than 50 seats held by Democrats. In that midterm election, Democrats won four open seats that previously were held by the GOP.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the GOP's congressional campaign committee, said about 30 House seats are competitive this year, compared with more than 100 a dozen years ago. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who heads the Democrats' campaign efforts, put the competitive number in 2006 at 42 . . . .

Paul Oulton, an independent from San Ramon, Calif. [said]: "Give me somebody conservative with common sense. There's too much left and too much right. Give me somebody in the middle of the road."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

When a Firebrand Burns His Bridges -- Gingrich, the former House speaker, echoes a 2006 Democrat campaign slogan as he charges the GOP of cronyism

From The Washington Post:

The fiery phrases and righteous anger were straight out of 1994. But this time, Newt Gingrich was turning his famous indignation on fellow Republicans:

"Cronies behaving as cronies!"

"Indifference to right and wrong!"

"A system of corruption!"

"Clean up this mess!"

A day after former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff's first guilty plea, the former House speaker was in the Hotel Washington yesterday, telling a group of Rotarians how rotten the capital has become -- and warning that the Republican Revolution is being betrayed.

"There are a series of behaviors, a series of attitudes, a series of crony-like activities that are not defensible, and no Republican should try to defend them," Gingrich fumed.

The ex-speaker is an imperfect messenger on such matters (he had to pay $300,000 in 1997 to settle ethics violations). But Republicans who remember how Gingrich vanquished the Democrats in 1994 with charges of corruption have reason to worry: His charge of cronyism echoes one of the Democrats' campaign slogans this year.

"It's very important to understand this is not one person doing one bad thing," he advised. "You can't have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have a corrupt member or a corrupt staff. . . . This was a team effort."

It was an incongruous setting for the dire alarm the former speaker sounded, calling the scandal "central to the survival of the United States" and "a serious, profound challenge" to our system of government. "The Abramoff scandal has to be seen as part of a much larger and deeper problem," what the Founders would see as "a system of corruption," Gingrich said.

"The election process has turned into an incumbency protection process in which lobbyists attend PAC fundraisers to raise money for incumbents so they can drown potential opponents, thus creating war chests that convince candidates not to run and freeing up incumbents to spend more time in Washington PAC fundraisers. So, in effect, this city is building a wall of money to protect itself from America."

At points, Gingrich was careful to mention that the abuses are bipartisan. But voters usually punish the majority party when conversation turns, as Gingrich's did yesterday, to Congress's "orgy of spending" and the complaint that lawmakers "raise the same money with the same cronies."

Gingrich skipped some of the most inflammatory rhetoric in his prepared text, including the suggestions that "Abramoff is only the tip of the iceberg" and that Congress should "eliminate from authority those with bad judgment."

Was he talking about Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.)? Reporters surrounded Gingrich after the speech to find out -- and Gingrich confirmed that Republicans should elect a new House majority leader. "I see no prospect that DeLay will in any sense be cleared in any reasonable time," he said. Gingrich was asked whether DeLay's leadership had contributed to the GOP problems. "I'm not going to comment on that," he said, thereby providing all the comment necessary.

The speaker advised his former colleagues to hold urgent hearings, and to come up with legislation that, among other things, bans fundraising in Washington and forces disclosure of all contact with lobbyists. The Spirit of '94, he said, is at stake.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What was the K Street Project?

From The Washington Post:

Jack Abramoff represented the most flamboyant and extreme example of a brand of influence trading that flourished after the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives 11 years ago.

Abramoff was among the lobbyists most closely associated with the K Street Project, which was initiated by his friend Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), now the former House majority leader, once the GOP vaulted to power. It was an aggressive program designed to force corporations and trade associations to hire more GOP-connected lobbyists in what at times became an almost seamless relationship between Capitol Hill lawmakers and some firms that sought to influence them.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) who . . . effectively used issues of corruption to wrest control of the House from the Democrats in 1994, said the Abramoff scandal should trigger a broader review in Congress of the way politicians finance campaigns and deal with lobbyists.

"I'm going to talk at length about the need for us to rethink not just lobbying but the whole process of elections, incumbency protection and the way in which the system has evolved," he said. "Which is very different from the way the American system is supposed to be like. I think Abramoff is just part of a large pattern that has got to be rethought."

Monday, January 02, 2006

Democratic hopes of winning back the U.S. House are somewhat remote. They have a better shot at capturing the Senate.

From The New York Times:

IT has been a while since Democrats have held such high hopes for an election year - confident of, at the least, making significant gains in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

In truth, Democratic hopes of winning back the House are somewhat remote. They have a better shot at capturing the Senate. A few races are worth tracking for early signs about how realistic these hopes are.

Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate, to 44 for Democrats, with 1 independent. Republicans have reason to worry about seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana and Missouri, and conceivably Tennessee and Arizona. If Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi does not run again, even that seat could be in play, strategists for both parties say.

But this is not an easy road for the Democrats. Not only would they have to win races in the South, hardly friendly territory, they would need to hold off potentially strong Republican challenges to Democratic seats in New Jersey, Minnesota and Maryland.

"It's not likely, but I can see the math," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter.

What to watch?

Start with Arizona and Tennessee, the toughest of the bunch. If Republican senators there start to falter, Democrats could indeed be poised to take back the Senate. In Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl, after winning a second term without Democratic opposition in 2000, faces a well-financed challenge from Jim Pederson, a former Democratic Party leader. In Tennessee, Senator Bill Frist's exit has set up a potential three-way Republican primary, while the Democratic candidate will be a well-known moderate Congressman, Harold E. Ford Jr.

From there, look to Montana to see if Republican ethical problems might help Democrats this year. The state's Republican senator, Conrad Burns, had to return a $150,000 campaign contribution from Jack Abramoff, the indicted Washington lobbyist at the center of a Congressional corruption investigation, and Democrats are viewing him as increasingly vulnerable.

For one sign of whether the war in Iraq is playing to the Democrats advantage, look to Ohio, where Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran who lost a bid for Congress last year, is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Senator Mike DeWine, a Republican. Republicans are having all sorts of problems in Ohio this year.

On the other hand, if Democrats seem to be struggling to take out Republican incumbents in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania come the fall - both Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island seem particularly vulnerable right now - that will not bode well for the party.