Posted: 10:16 am Thursday, August 7th, 2014
By Greg Bluestein, Daniel Malloy and Jim Galloway
Last year’s inexplicable decision by Gov. Nathan Deal to remove links to his executive orders from his official website has attracted national attention.
The links to the orders vanished from his website in late November, and at the time his office said the executive orders would be available for public review in the governor’s second-floor suite. That’s no huge hurdle for the Capitol press corps, but it puts media and residents far from the statehouse in a bind.
The Sunlight Foundation reports that Georgia is the only state in the nation that doesn’t put its executive orders online for the public to view. From the foundation’s story:
Deal is no slouch when it comes to executive orders — he’s issued more than 200 of them since the beginning of the calendar year and issued around 600 in 2013. Georgia ranks second in the country in number of executive orders issued in the last five years, a product of the structure of Georgia’s constitution, which requires many executive branch responsibilities to be fulfilled by executive order.
Many orders are appointments to state agencies, commissions and boards — including the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, the Georgia Port Authority and Board of Natural Resources. Others concern the transfer of funds from emergency accounts and responses to natural disasters….
The somewhat good news is that despite the governor’s apparent intentions, these documents are in fact not entirely inaccessible to the public online. Georgia Government Publications (GGP), a project of the Digital Library of Georgia (part of the University System of Georgia), has been uploading these documents as part of their digitization project. While the lag time is in the order of weeks and the document titles aren’t available, at least the full text of the documents is searchable.
Which is how the Sunlight Foundation found three executive orders that weren’t on the office’s official list and weren’t publicized by Deal’s press team:
The orders appoint members of the Deal administration to a review commission examining the indictment of Harris County Commissioner Charles Wyatt for bribery and violations of oath, and appoint representatives to two interstate commissions — a state representative to the Goldwater Institute-engineered Compact for a Balanced Budget and two to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.
Update: The governor’s office said it intends to restore the executive orders online, and that they will soon return to the website. It said the plans were in the works since last week.
Deal’s office said that the orders were taken off line because of “administrative” reasons and always made available to the public through media requests or a UGA database, though often they took days or weeks to update.
“Nothing was ever kept in secret. It was always available to the public,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. “But we agreed it is important to restore these orders to the website.”
On Wednesday morning, we told you of the dust-up between Georgia Voice, the newspaper of record for the LGBT community in Atlanta, and Jason Carter, the Democratic candidate for governor, over his failure — in the Voice’s view — to enunciate properly on the topic of gay marriage.
Later in the day, Carter continued to clear the air. He told Creative Loafing that he unequivocally supported gay marriage and that he helped convince his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, to take a similar stance.
Jason Carter took more nuanced stances on two other questions. When asked whether he backed Attorney General Sam Olens decision to defend the state’s gay marriage ban in court, Carter called it a “tough question legally” but said it could ultimately be a “waste.”
And he offered this to the Creative Loafing when asked if he would support legislation that would protect state workers from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation:
“I’m against discrimination. How we get there with the Republican legislature is a question. But one thing I know for a fact is that, right now, there are state employees who are living double lives because they’re not allowed to be who they want to be, and who they are, when they’re at work. That’s something where if they know that they have someone in the governor’s office that is a friend, that will make a big difference in those people’s lives. That’s important to me. That’s important to a huge number of other people.”
Our WSB Radio blogging colleague Jamie Dupree has a look at today’s Tennessee (mainly) GOP primary races. His handicap on the challenge to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander:
One thing working against the possibility of upsets is that Tennessee does not have a runoff, so any incumbent running in a race with more than a two person field can survive with less than a majority, as Sen. Roberts did this week in Kansas.
And that could be the case in the Volunteer State, where Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) faces six GOP opponents.
Much of the Tea Party focus has gone for Joe Carr, a member of the Tennessee legislature; but Carr doesn’t have the field to himself, as a doctor named George Flinn has self-funded his campaign to the tune of almost $2 million for the race against Alexander.
Susan Mitchell Grant, a chief nurse for Emory Healthcare, has an op-ed in the Washington Post that challenges those worried about two Ebola-infected missionaries to Africa who were admitted to her hospital this week. The piece includes these paragraphs:
Those fears are unfounded and reflect a lack of knowledge about Ebola and our ability to safely manage and contain it. Emory University Hospital has a unit created specifically for these types of highly infectious patients, and our staff is thoroughly trained in infection control procedures and protocols. But beyond that, the public alarm overlooks the foundational mission of the U.S. medical system. The purpose of any hospital is to care for the ill and advance knowledge about human health. At Emory, our education, research, dedication and focus on quality — essentially everything we do — is in preparation to handle these types of cases….
Most importantly, we are caring for these patients because it is the right thing to do. These Americans generously went to Africa on a humanitarian mission to help eradicate a disease that is especially deadly in countries without our health-care infrastructure. They deserve the same selflessness from us. To refuse to care for these professionals would raise enormous questions about the ethical foundation of our profession. They have a right to come home for their care when it can be done effectively and safely.
But Emory, at its heart, is still a college campus. Which means you have faux first-person articles in the Emory Spoke that begin like this:
I, Ebola, like all of you freshman out there, am very excited to begin my journey in the United States at Emory University, a world-class institution with an impressive reputation. It’s not every day that a hemorrhagic fever from West Africa gets the chance to come to such a prestigious university. While I’m a little bummed about not getting to spend some time in Yale hospital’s class four containment facility, I am definitely going to seize all the opportunities Emory is giving me on my way to a hopefully long tenure in the US.
Holly LaBerge, the top staffer for the state ethics commission, isn’t the only state employee Gov. Nathan Deal endorsed for the prestigious Leadership Georgia program. A records request revealed that Deal and Chris Riley, his chief-of-staff, backed more than a dozen applicants over the last three years. Many of them are allies or aides, including Bart Gobeil, his chief operating officer, and David Werner, a top aide.
LaBerge’s letter of recommendation was among the shortest; Deal spilled the most ink on a Gainesville banker who is a long-time friend of his family. You can find each of the letters here.
Our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin has a piece on House Speaker David Ralston’s formal answer to a State Bar of Georgia complaint lodged by a former client:
…Ralston is also accused of sending [accident victim Paul E.] Chernak $22,000 via 12 separate checks to help Chernak pay for living expenses. The complaint claims the money came from other clients, third parties and Ralston’s personal accounts. It is generally the most serious of the charges Ralston faces.
On Wednesday, however, Ralston’s attorneys — Robert Ingram of Marietta and Jim Spence of Decatur — said the complaint is simply wrong.
Instead, they said, Ralston used money from his “earned, but previously undisbursed legal fees from an unrelated case. Mr. Ralston denies that he said funds belonged to his other clients or third persons.”
It’s becoming very clear that, in both the race for governor and U.S. Senate, the Middle East and support for Israel will continue to be an issue.
Appearing on CNBC yesterday, Gov. Nathan Deal let slip that Georgia would be doubling its investment in Israel bonds to celebrate closer ties between the state and the nation. Deal’s staff said the investment is in the works and that more details would be available in the next two weeks.
But Deal spokesman Brian Robinson did tell our AJC colleague Nicholas Fouriezos this much:
“The state was already investing $5 million annually under Gov. Deal and decided to add more. That transaction is in the process of being completed, and we’ll provide details once it has happened. This money is core deposits at the state treasury and these are floating rate bonds issued by the state of Israel.”
In initial reports on that leaked Michelle Nunn campaign memo, the National Review reported that $33,000 passed through Points of Light Foundation to Islamic Relief USA — a number we picked up and used as well. The magazine has corrected that figure to $13,500, because of a misreading of one of Points of Light’s IRS forms.
The Super PAC called Ending Spending Action Fund continues to hit Michelle Nunn on the memo. It has taken out this full-page ad (right) in Friday’s Atlanta Jewish Times, per the Washington Free Beacon, to highlight how the memo referred to Jewish supporters as a “tremendous financial opportunity,” but one that might rely on her position on Israel.
Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Swafford has tacked to the left of Democrat Michelle Nunn on gay marriage. Swafford tells Project Q Atlanta that she “fully support[s]” her party’s position on marriage equality — an embrace she points out came decades before the Democrats.
Nunn has said she personally supports gay marriage but as a legal matter it should be left to the states. Republican David Perdue says he supports the will of Georgia voters who backed a same-sex marriage ban in 2004 but considers it a state issue that he would not get involved in as a U.S. senator.
In Washington-based The Hill newspaper, Matt L. Barron has an op-ed about the Democratic Party’s rural problem — a topic with real implications for Georgia. These paragraphs from the president of a political consulting and “rural strategy” firm in Massachusetts caught our eye:
With the exception of a Native American outreach effort, the national party committees have no rural vote components anymore. When the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced its community outreach chairs in March 2013, labor, LGBT, New Americas, defense and tribal panels were named to accompany the women and Latino councils that were previously appointed. The councils are designed to keep the DCCC connected with various communities supportive of Democrats. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has no rural desk.
Over at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Rural Council is unstaffed and still stuck in second-class status, unable to become a full-fledged caucus. Why? Because under party rules, the group must represent at least 2 percent of the DNC membership and its members must share an “immutable characteristic.” As a result, the roadblock is that being rural is not a permanent trait. I swear, you can’t make this stuff up.
Things are no better at the state level — only a handful of state parties have a rural caucus to recognize geographic minorities. Despite running on platforms that included pledges to form rural caucuses in their states, the Democratic chairmen in Georgia and South Carolina have yet to create them. In Massachusetts, a rural subcommittee adopted by the state party in February remains stillborn, having never met.
This is as good a time as any to note that the Democratic Party of Georgia will have its state convention on Saturday in Dublin, Ga., the rural hometown of chairman DuBose Porter.
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.