Johnny Isakson on mass transit in North Fulton: ‘Voters are there. They would be willing to do it’

A MARTA train makes its way north past Ga. 400 traffic near Sandy Springs on a typical afternoon rush hour. Ben Gray, bgray@ajc.com

A MARTA train makes its way north past Ga. 400 traffic near Sandy Springs on a typical afternoon rush hour. Ben Gray, bgray@ajc.com

As the weekend broke, while reporters focused on what he thought about Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson dropped a bit of news that, in a different climate, would have dominated the cycle.

It was Friday morning in Sandy Springs. Following a breakfast address to local business leaders, the Republican incumbent was going one-on-one with an express lane of reporters. The last asked him about transportation in metro Atlanta. The future of rail in particular.logo-all

“Mass transit is a part of the puzzle. It’s not the end-all solution. It’s certainly part of the solution,” Isakson began. “You can’t pave enough lanes to solve the problem.”

That sentiment alone, coming in the middle of a general election campaign, would be worth citing as an example of how much Republican thought has changed on the topic in just a few short years.

But Isakson went a step further, and seemed to take note of the recent survival of state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, who beat back a primary challenge after sponsoring a bill that would have permitted MARTA to send a rail line across the Chattahoochee River and deep into north Fulton County. Said Isakson:

“North of the North Springs station — there’s been lots of talk about taking MARTA to Milton. Voters are there. They would be willing to do it. It would have to be a heavy rail line. There is a BRT – bus rapid transit – proposal involved in that, where you would use dedicated lanes instead of heavy rail traffic, which is a lot more expenses.

“But I think North Fulton people are ready for us to come up with a solution to get them a better connection to the airport through the North Springs MARTA Station, but that’s going to take about 7.2 miles of accessibility and make it available to them.”

Notice that Isakson left himself an out – a bus rapid transit leg. But the senator also ruled out a light rail system. The hilly terrain of metro Atlanta won’t allow it, he said.

Why is this important? In the end, Brandon Beach’s bill to expand MARTA rail was turned aside. The legislation that passed only permits expansion within the confines of the city of Atlanta proper – subject to a November referendum.

But if/when the topic returns to north Fulton, much federal funding would be involved. That would require an advocate in Washington. Isakson just raised his hand.

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Speaking of Fulton County. We haven’t heard much from Andre Walker of Georgia Unfiltered lately, but he has this today:

Fulton County Commissioners are considering a tax increase for unincorporated south Fulton County. The proposed rate would move from 11.579 to 12.009, if approved by Commissioners at their 17 August 2016 meeting…

South Fulton residents have seen their taxes increase seven of the last eight years, while county spending in their communities remained largely the same.

***

State Rep. Ron Stephens launched a pre-emptive strike on casino opponents.

It’s quite the preemptive strike. Supporters are preparing a new push next year to legalize casino gambling in Georgia. Arguments over morality could again dominate. But one of the most outspoken advocates of high-end gaming wants critics to put up or shut up.

State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, sent over a text of a proposed constitutional amendment (at right) that would prohibit the state lottery and “all forms of betting, bingo, raffles and gambling.” In short, the measure would not only end the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, but also church bingo games and charity raffle sales.

“I just wrote the bill for them to save them time and in this election year, let’s see who becomes the author,” said Stephens. Consider it his attempt to reduce the number of fence-sitters in next year’s debate.

***

Newt Gingrich thinks Donald Trump doesn’t talk enough. Last Friday, the former U.S. House speaker and Trump surrogate was on Fox News, when the topic of the Republican presidential candidate’s penchant for creating the wrong kind of attention jumped up. Here’s the transcript, courtesy of Real Clear Politics:

“One of the things that is frustrating about his candidacy is the inprecise language. He sometimes uses three words when he needs ten. For example, I think it is perfectly fair to say, and it is a very powerful debate to say, that the Obama-Clinton decision to pull out of Iraq created the vacuum that enabled ISIS to emerge…

But instead he compresses it into ‘Obama created ISIS,’ I know what Trump has in his mind, but that is not what people hear.”

***

Donald Trump is leading Clinton in a new poll of likely Georgia voters from YouGov and CBS News. The real estate magnate bests the former secretary of state 45 percentage points to 41, which falls within the survey’s margin of error.

You can view the full poll results here, but a few things caught our eye:

-Most Georgians are pretty set in terms of who they’ll support for president in November. Only 7 percent said they might be willing to change their position.

-A whopping 70 percent of Georgians say Clinton could not be described as “honest and trustworthy.” Nearly 60 percent say she does not have “good temperament and judgment.”

-Two-thirds of respondents said Trump also doesn’t have “good temperament and judgment,” but a majority thinks he could fix the economy and bring change to Washington. More voters rate him as better on immigration, terrorism and gun policy than Clinton.

-Voters are evenly split about whether it matters that some key Republicans haven’t endorsed Trump.

-Voters are separately more angry and scared about Clinton and Trump being president than they are excited or proud.

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South Carolina is another Southern state that the Republican presidential candidate may need to worry about. On Sunday, in a New York Times op-ed, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., strongly suggested that his continued support for the candidate could be contingent on Trump’s release of his income tax returns. A taste:

I am a conservative Republican who, though I have no stomach for his personal style and his penchant for regularly demeaning others, intends to support my party’s nominee because of the importance of filling the existing vacancy on the Supreme Court, and others that might open in the next four years. However, my ability to continue to do so will in part be driven by whether Mr. Trump keeps his word that he will release his tax records.


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