Posted: 10:07 am Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
By Greg Bluestein, Daniel Malloy and Jim Galloway
Recognizing some state Capitol unhappiness with this year’s new election calendar, which cut short the annual legislative session and rewarded Republicans candidates for U.S. Senate and others with an expensive, nine-week runoff, Secretary of State Brian Kemp may be trying to head off some rash fixes.
In a letter dispatched last Friday to the governor, lieutenant governor, and leaders of the House and Senate, Kemp said he was aware that “many potential solutions” are being discussed by state lawmakers and others.
Both Georgia and Mississippi have drawn objections from the U.S. Department of Justice for calendars that don’t permit the timely transfer – particularly in runoff elections – of ballots by U.S. military personnel overseas and other ex-pats.
Mississippi was able to cut a deal with the Justice Department that allows it to use, at least temporarily, a system of instant runoffs. That won’t work in Georgia, Kemp told the Capitol’s Republican leadership:
“I know that many have discussed a system like this in Georgia that would allow us to return to our traditional elections calendar. Let me tell you in no uncertain terms that the voting and tabulation equipment that Georgia uses now cannot facilitate an instant runoff or ranked voting procedure.
“If an instant runoff or ranked voting procedure were legislated to cover [overseas] balloting, that procedure would have to be conducted outside the perimeters of the State of Georgia’s certified voting system…We are currently looking at other electronic options for military and overseas voting and will share these with you as we learn more in coming weeks. “
In an interview this morning, Kemp said Mississippi’s agreement with the Justice Department is for one year. That state’s legislature will have to address the problem head-on in 2014.
Kemp also told us that one option he’s looking at is a secured, Internet-based voting system for overseas military personnel currently being used by West Virginia. But the price tag is $3,700 per ballot, he said.
Kemp said that he understands that state lawmakers may want their imprint on the 2016 calendar, which includes a presidential primary. “We just want to be in on the discussion with them,” he said.
Former Georgia Democratic party chairman Mike Berlon has surrendered his law license to the Georgia Supreme Court – tantamount to being disbarred, Dave Williams of the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports:
The justices acted one year after reprimanding Berlon for violating legal ethics for failing to pursue a child custody case on behalf of a client he had agreed to represent and then misinforming that client on the status of the case.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s suggestion a few weeks back that he wanted to more narrowly define who can file a whistleblower lawsuit caused a stir, particularly given its timing after the first in a wave of settlements of ethics lawsuits that rocked state government.
He elaborated on Monday, days after the second round of settlements pushed the total cost to taxpayers to nearly $3 million to end the legal battles. He said lawmakers “certainly” need to review a court’s ruling that automatically granted whistleblower status to government employees charged with investigating state agencies and employees.
“None of us want a situation where you have any agency within state government where someone cannot be fired for legitimate reasons and could seek the protection of a whistleblower statute as a defense to their being removed.”
The governor said he doesn’t want to tamper with the purpose of the whistleblower statute, which he said was “very useful and good.”
“But you should not create, by virtue of the opinions of the appellate courts, a class of state employees who are virtually immune to having their positions altered or their jobs terminated – regardless of the purpose or justification for that – simply because they’re classified as a whistleblower-protected individual.”
He pointedly added:
“Just remember – you don’t have to be right about what you claim you’re blowing the whistle about. You can be totally wrong and still be entitled to receive damages. That’s what I think is misunderstood.”
On that same topic, Common Cause Georgia today is calling for the dismissal of Holly LaBerge as executive secretary of the state ethics commission.
“This is about accountability,” said William Perry, Common Cause’s executive director. “The leadership of this agency played a major role in the mismanagement that led to Georgia taxpayers being on the hook for $3 million paid out to ethics whistleblowers.”
Our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin tells us that he asked commission chairman Kevin Abernethy about LaBerge’s job status last Friday. She “is and remains” the top staffer for the agency, Abernethy replied.
On the heels of Georgia Right to Life’s announcement of a national personhood group, we asked if, after supporting U.S. Rep. Paul Broun in the U.S. Senate primary, the group would weigh in on the runoff.
“There are no efforts to endorse either Congressman Kingston or David Perdue,” spokeswoman Genevieve Wilson said.
Both Kingston and Perdue have declared themselves to be in favor of allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest. This does not comport with the GRTL view.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., is seen as the Deep South tea party candidate for majority whip, the No. 3 leadership position in the House. But a lot of conservatives don’t agree with the characterization, and the wounds stem from his time at the conservative Republican Study Committee — a post he won with the backing of the current leadership over Georgia’s own Tom Graves.
Breitbart.com’s Jonathan Strong gives a detailed account of the Scalise criticism from the right. A taste:
A leading point of contention were the RSC’s “legislative bulletins,” which include detailed summaries of each bill and amendment, including any “conservative concerns” the RSC had about those bills.
The guides have long been valued reading to GOP lawmakers, and under past chairmen, the bulletins had the power to sway a lot of votes. But the documents have become watered down under Scalise, former aides said.
“Staff were encouraged as a whole not to issue conservative concerns. It created almost a policy of appeasement in RSC with a clear goal of trying to elevate Scalise personally,” says a former RSC staffer who chafed under the restrictions.
A U.S. House Democratic Super PAC is circling the wagons in John Barrow’s 12th District of Georgia. The Washington Post reports that House Majority PAC has reserved another $6.2 million in TV airtime around the country this fall, including $268,835 in Augusta and $279,904 in Savannah. Interestingly, the group did not reserve any time in Georgia in its first round of buys in April.
In the coastal First Congressional District, state Sen. Buddy Carter is out with an ad attacking his Republican runoff rival Bob Johnson. Watch below.
Wondering about the pro-Obamacare association for which Johnson is a “dues-paying member”? It’s the American Medical Association — the country’s largest organization of physicians.
UPDATE: 11:30 a.m. Via our friends at Georgia Tipsheet, here’s the response ad from Johnson, calling the AMA attack “misleading” and declaring Carter is a “liberal” who once said Obamacare is “not so bad.”
The “not so bad” is from this clip, where Carter says “some of the things that have happened so far are not so bad.” Carter has said repeatedly he wants to repeal the law.
In the 10th Congressional district GOP runoff, Newt Gingrich has endorsed Mike Collins — son of former Rep. and Newt colleague Mac Collins — over Jody Hice. The video is here.
Collins and Hice have three debates coming up, held by local GOP groups, that are open to the public. Here’s the schedule, via our AJC colleague Jeremy Redmon:
7 p.m. June 24
Old McDuffie County Courthouse
337 Main St., Thomson
6 p.m. July 8
Oconee County Library
1080 Experiment Station Road, Watkinsville
7 p.m. July 16
Georgia Military College
Goldstein Center for the Performing Arts
201 E. Greene St., Milledgeville
Twenty-four Democratic state lawmakers have endorsed Valarie Wilson in her runoff against state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, for state school superintendent.
The list includes nine senators and 15 of Thomas’ House colleagues:
Sens. Vincent Fort, Ed Harbison, Emanuel Jones, David Lucas, Nan Orrock, Freddie Powell Sims, Gloria Butler, Ron Ramsey, Steve Henson;
And Reps. Simone Bell, Carolyn Hugley, Sharon Beasley-Teague, Debbie Buckner, Roger Bruce, Pam Dickerson, Gloria Frazier, Mary Margaret Oliver, Henry Howard, Nikki Randall, Earnest Smith, Mickey Stephens, David Wilkerson, Melvin Johnson and Coach Williams.
From the press release:
“The most important thing we can do to improve educational outcomes is to have in place the right leadership. In order for Georgia to have economic success, we must first create educational success of our children. I believe Valarie Wilson is the right leader to ensure educational success for Georgia’s children,” said Rep. Carolyn Hugley, whip of the House Democratic Caucus.
The opposition is not unexpected. Morgan is allied with charter school forces that have targeted some of these same Democrats over the last two election cycles.
The results of the 2013 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released last week, provides proof that the bliss of ignorance is still a powerful force. From Andy Miller of Georgia Health News:
In a CDC-sponsored survey, Georgia high school students answered questions on smoking cigarettes, wearing bicycle helmets, carrying a weapon, drinking alcohol, having suicidal thoughts and trying marijuana.
But the state’s students, once again, did not answer questions about their sexual behavior. They didn’t get the chance.
For more than a decade now, Georgia has deleted the questions on sex. So unlike most of their counterparts nationally, the state’s students were not asked about whether they have ever had sexual intercourse, and whether they wore a condom during intercourse.
About the Authors
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He joined the newspaper in June 2012.
Daniel Malloy is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington Correspondent, covering the Georgia Congressional delegation and other D.C. goings-on that affect the state since 2011. He's a zealous fan and proud graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.