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Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy

Snowjam puts Nathan Deal on the spot

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Atlanta’s worst snowjam in decades – the most comparable one is the mid-afternoon blizzard of 1982 — presents Gov. Nathan Deal with the worst weather disaster of his administration.

The irony here is about as thick as the 2.6 inches of snow on the ground. Deal took office in the middle of the January 2011 ice storm, but was absolved from blame because the paralysis came just as Sonny Perdue was handing off the baton.

Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blogThis time, there’s no doubt who is in charge.

The governor has scheduled an 11:30 press briefing at the statehouse, and has invited Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Deal is certain to be asked how he came to view Tuesday’s snow and ice as unpredictable. At last night’s press conference, Deal opened the press conference by describing an “unexpected storm” – despite ample warning from meteorologists.

We’re told the governor was referring to models his office received at 9 a.m. Tuesday that showed Atlanta and areas north getting a light dusting — forecasts that quickly proved wrong.

Click here for the analysis from UGA professor Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society, who cited National Weather Service warnings to the contrary as early as 4 a.m.

Already, Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who is challenging Deal from the right, is using the storm to target the governor.

“Government’s primary role is to protect the people’ Nathan Deal has failed miserably once again.”

Republican schools Superintendent John Barge, another challenger, said he’s concerned that metro Atlanta’s schools are packed with kids who never made it home last night.

“We knew as early as 3 a.m. Tuesday morning that the storm line was shifting further north and metro Atlanta was on the radar for snow accumulations,” said Barge. “We purchased lots of equipment after the 2011 storm to handle these situations, but why couldn’t we have more of the equipment out pre-treating roads and bridges?”

Barge said school districts should have “erred on the side of the caution.”

“When you’re talking about childrens’ lives, I’ll take heat for closing, especially when it involves safety.”

***

Our AJC colleagues Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres report a largely empty state Capitol today. House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle have told lawmakers and staff to stay away – and off the roads.

Nonetheless, the day will count toward the Legislature’s constitutional, 40-day allotment.

We received a bitter email from one lawmaker this morning, who complained that House and Senate leadership were just as inattentive on Tuesday to the dangerous conditions outside as other leaders.

Specifically, this lawmaker pointed out that the House judiciary and public safety committees “deliberately” chose not to cancel their meetings, forcing staff and concerned citizens to navigate hazardous roads. “Incredibly, incredibly stupid, cavalier and reckless” was the exact phrasing.

***

Mike Griffin, the lobbyist for Georgia Right to Life, sends word that he will also be the public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Convention, replacing Ray Newman, who died last year. The position can be an influential one, given that the state convention represents 1.3 million congregants in 3,600 churches.

***

The long overdue five-year Farm Bill is finally lumbering to passage this week, but several members of the Georgia delegation are not celebrating.

Witness Rep. Tom Price, the Roswell Republican who has backed House GOP leadership often on strategy and budgetary matters in the past year. On today’s vote, he classified himself as leaning no, despite the fact that the measure has the backing of House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Said Price:

“There’s a role for food assistance and there’s a role for agriculture policy and support, but when they get melded together it distorts the whole discussion. And so one of the key principles that I supported in the initial one as it came to the House is dividing those two. And my understanding is they are united again, and that’s troubling.”

The $956 billion bill combines spending on nutrition programs such as food stamps with agriculture subsidies. The House passed two more conservative versions separately. The Senate passed one bill with bipartisan support.

The conference report on the floor this week, the result of months of heated behind-the-scenes negotiations, actually saves less money against future deficits than either chamber’s approach: $16.6 billion in savings over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Of that sum, $8 billion comes from food stamps, in part from prohibiting undocumented immigrants and college students from receiving the aid. That’s far less than some of the restrictions House Republicans were pushing for, but Democrats such as Rep. Hank Johnson of DeKalb County say taking a dime from food stamps is a bad call:

“It comes at a time when so many people need relief. They need help. And to use those people and their experience as a throwaway to decrease the debt is unconscionable.”

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, unsurprisingly, told us he’s a “no,” because there are not enough food stamp cuts. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, who served on the conference committee, is supporting the bill. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, is a “no.”

Read the Congressional Budget Office cost breakdown here. If you want to read the whole thing and get ahead of your Member of Congress, the 959-page conference report is here.

***

At last night’s State of the Union event, Rep. John Lewis had the opportunity to offer President Barack Obama his hand. Along with the shake came some words from the president, Lewis reported: “You’re making real progress.”

It was a reference to the new voting rights bill, which Obama alluded to in this passage of his speech:

“Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened, but conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it.”

When Obama delivered the first sentence, to a standing ovation, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., turned around to vigorously shake Lewis’ hand.

***

In past years, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun has not shown up for the State of the Union – preferring to critique the president on Twitter rather than to his face. But the Senate-seeking Athens Republican was present and accounted for Tuesday night, with a prime seat next to the center aisle, where dignitaries enter.

But instead of going in for the presidential handshake (or vice presidential hug), Broun hung back and let some House Democrats past him to the aisle spot for a big, televised moment with POTUS.

Broun did wave and shake hands with a couple of senators. And, as noted by the eagle-eyed Dave Weigel of Slate magazine, he gave a fist-bump to Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

***

FYI, our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree has the full text of President Barack Obama’s SOTU speech here.

***

Public Policy Polling, a Democrat-leaning firm out of North Carolina, has posted what it says are “strongly” encouraging numbers for Democrats in Georgia and Kentucky. But we’re not sure the numbers fit the adverb:

Kentucky voters (by a 57/34 margin) and Georgia voters (by a 54/37 margin) both strongly support a minimum wage hike to $10 an hour. In addition to overwhelming support from Democrats the proposed increase also has an unusual amount of support across party lines, with 40% of Republicans in Kentucky and 27% in Georgia supporting it.

Blocking efforts to raise the minimum wage has the potential to hurt GOP prospects in these states’ toss up Senate races this fall. 42% of Kentucky voters say they’re less likely to support Mitch McConnell for reelection this fall if he votes against increasing the minimum wage, compared to only 25% who say they’d be be more likely to back him. Similarly in Georgia, 42% say they’d be less likely to vote for the eventual Republican nominee if he/she opposes increasing the minimum wage, with only 30% saying they’d consider that a positive.

***

Peanut Politics reports that former Macon congressman Jim Marshall has quit his job as head of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Be on the lookout for attempts to put him on the 2014 ballot in Georgia. A Democrat, Marshall lost his seat to Republican Austin Scott in 2010.

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