Three weeks after the state ethics commission voted to ask for a special investigation of problems at the agency, no investigator has been appointed because none has officially been requested.
The commission voted Sept. 30 to request what’s known as a special assistant attorney general — typically a private lawyer temporarily given state investigative powers — to conduct an independent probe of the agency. But before Attorney General Sam Olens can do so, the commission must make a formal request. That hasn’t happened, Olens’ office confirmed Monday.
Why not? Good question, say ethics observers who are concerned that the commission’s deliberate pace raises doubts about its commitment to finding the truth.
The commission is vetting candidates to investigate the agency and is also “reviewing and determining the scope and nature of the investigation,” commission vice chairwoman Hillary S. Stringfellow said in a statement.
“Numerous candidates have been and continue to be reviewed and considered to serve in this role,” the statement said. “At such time as the commission has reached a final decision, such decision will be announced.”
Days after the Sept. 30 meeting, commission Chairman Kevin Abernethy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the board was “still working through the precise parameters” of the investigation. ...
.... ...Kerwin Swint, the interim chairman of the department of political science and international affairs at Kennesaw State University, said the commission’s window is closing.
“We’re almost into an election year,” said Swint, a member of the Common Cause Georgia board and a former GOP activist. “I can understand three weeks, but if you give it a month and there’s been no major efforts, I would say time’s up or it’s time for some action.”
A fundraising ban during the legislative session may be broadened or even lifted in the wake of Georgia’s shift to a May 20 federal primary next year, with changes also possible to required campaign disclosures.
David Perdue hopes his business experience will distinguish him among the crowded Republican field running for a U.S. Senate seat. But his boardroom background poses challenges that will test his campaign like no other this election cycle.
He’s known on Wall Street as a turnaround specialist who helps revive brands and reap rewards for investors. But his rivals will try to depict the former Fortune 500 leader as out-of-touch with regular citizens. And he’ll face questions about his business setbacks.
Perdue also will confront the same problem facing Michelle Nunn, the only big-name Democratic contender running for retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat: Not since Mack Mattingly’s victory in 1980 has a candidate without public electoral experience won a Senate seat in Georgia.
He’s put together a formidable team of strategists, made up of some people who worked for his famous first cousin, former Gov. Sonny Perdue. But competition looms large from veteran politicians: Reps. Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun and Jack Kingston and former Secretary of State Karen Handel. ... ...
Political analysts say discontent with veteran lawmakers and Perdue’s famous pedigree could help him succeed where others failed. Said Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist: “He’s an outsider yet his name has so much power to it.”
Expect rivals to portray him as a jet-setting globetrotter with a Sea Island mansion and a checking account sizable enough to float his campaign. And expect Perdue to counter with stories of his Middle Georgia upbringing and homespun wisdom from his 87-year-old mom, the now-retired teacher.
“I’m not embarrassed by my success as a business person,” he said. “And I won’t run away from it.”
As Congress takes up a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) has come under pressure from a divided Republican Party on how he will vote on the topic.
“He is under pressure from both sides,” said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University. “The stalwarts that don’t want any kind of immigration package or the others who say we’ve got to do something, so he’s just kind of caught in the middle a little bit.”
When asked Friday about how he intends to vote on the bill, Isakson said, “We’re not going to prejudge what the final version is going to be until it’s marked up, debated and amended — so any question that precludes that process taking place is premature.”
A pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here is going to be highly controversial in certain key circles of the Republican Party, Swint said.
“The tea party and others are going to resist anything like that tooth-and-nail. They’re going to fight it tooth-and-nail, and that’s the kind of pressure that he’s under,” Swint said. “He’s a smart guy. He’s a reasonable guy, and I think he knows that the Republican Party is at a real crossroads, and they’ve got to do something, but doing something comes at a cost, and a lot of people on the right are going to say doing anything like that is unacceptable. You know, it’s ‘selling out’ or ‘giving up’ or whatever you call it.”
But, at the same time, the Republican Party must start winning at least a portion of Hispanic and female votes if it wants to be competitive, Swint said.
Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013 11:50 am | Updated: 7:11 pm, Fri May 3, 2013.
By D. Aileen Dodd First of two parts
During an era when the nation’s first African American chief executive is cruising into his second presidential term and a Latina is handing down opinions on the U.S. Supreme Court, Gwinnett County appears to be stuck in a cultural time warp under the leadership of all-white powerbrokers that do not reflect the county’s changing demographics.
The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners is all white. The Gwinnett County School Board is all white. So are the judges elected to Gwinnett County’s State and Superior Courts.
The lack of diversity in county politics has many Gwinnettians asking why, in this day and age, nonwhites have been unable to penetrate the glass ceiling. Gwinnett is Georgia’s most diverse county with a melting pot of more than 842,000 people, according to the U.S. Census. ...
Diversity hasn’t translated into political power for the county’s growing African American and immigrant communities. Minorities in Gwinnett have been hard hit by unemployment, crime, and the fallout of failing schools, which in Gwinnett serve mostly low-income African American, Asian and Hispanic students, statistics show. Two-thirds of those living in poverty in Gwinnett are nonwhite.
But minorities in Gwinnett frustrated with county politics want change now.
A movement is growing to improve the plight of diverse communities that are struggling for economic opportunities and political representation. A network of African-American, Asian and Hispanic community leaders are working to make sure future county boards are more reflective of diverse neighborhoods they represent. They see numbers as their greatest strength and are building allegiances with each other to gain political clout.
One group, Gwinnett Citizens-United, a political action committee launched by a coalition of African-American pastors, has signed up more than 4,000 people pledging to become politically active in upcoming races by either voting, running for office or contributing to campaigns. The nonpartisan group will offer a platform to those candidates that support minority community issues. Members include a network of black church congregations and Hispanic community leaders. The group also is reaching out to Asians.
“Democracy works best when people feel that they are represented,” said Kerwin Swint, professor of Political Science at Kennesaw State University. “Unfortunately, what happens in local politics is the old guard hangs on as long as it can. They have an advantage a lot of time with campaign contributions and business networks that keep electing the same people. It may take time for others to break through.”
ATLANTA — The race to fill an open seat in the U.S. Senate is evenly divided among Republicans, and voters of all stripes weren’t wowed by the recent legislative session, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The InsiderAdvantage/Morris News survey, done in conjunction with Atlanta television station Fox 5 (WAGA), shows no leader yet among the candidates for the 2014 Republican Senate nomination. U.S. Reps. Paul Broun, R-Athens, and Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, who are the only announced candidates, are tied at 15 percent each while their colleague Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, is just one percentage point behind, even though he hasn’t formally committed.
“It’s telling you who’s been in the news recently,” said Kennesaw State University professor Kerwin Swint. “... There’s no front-runner.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Paul Broun has declared the House Republican budget proposal insufficiently conservative, positioning himself once again to the right of his potential Republican competitors for the U.S. Senate.
The vote scheduled Thursday provides the latest measuring stick of how much other Senate-eyeing House members hew their voting records to that of the arch-conservative Broun, which will shape the race over the next year and a half.
Put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the plan balances the budget within 10 years, repeals the Affordable Care Act and imposes major revisions on the Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs.
It’s not enough for Broun, of Athens, who said allowing an increase in federal spending in future years is too much to bear. And he’s saying it to anyone who will listen, from interviews to an op-ed article in The New York Times.
Broun voted for the Ryan budget in 2011, even though it spent far more than this year’s version. Broun said he did so as a show of support for the new House’s first big attempt at a Medicare overhaul. He missed the vote last year because a meeting ran long but said he would have been a “no.” ...
Running to the right is typical for GOP primaries, but Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint said Broun’s positioning is the kind of thing that gives some Republicans chills.
“The fear is twofold: First the fear is that Paul Broun is going to get nominated, and second of all that whoever does get nominated, like (last year’s Republican presidential nominee) Mitt Romney, is going to be pulled so far to the right that it makes them vulnerable,” Swint said. “That may be truer in other places than in Georgia, but conceivably that could still happen in Georgia. It’s not outside the realm of possibility.”
A Kennesaw State University political science professor said he wasn’t surprised by the low turnout numbers for the SPLOST IV election or that it passed.
Voter turnout was dismal, with just 9.6 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.
“It’s easier to come out and support something like this rather than vote against it,” said Kerwin Swint. “Education SPLOSTs in general probably have a little bit of a leg up because ‘it’s for the kids,’ so I think it’s always had a little bit of an advantage.”
SPLOST IV, which will allow each district to collect a combined $773.3 million from a 1 percent sales tax between 2014 and 2018, passed by about 5,800 votes Tuesday with 23,248 voters in favor of it and 17,317 opposed.
“All of these aside from the first have passed relatively easily,” Swint said.
Ed-SPLOST was first introduced to Cobb voters in 1997 but failed.
Roughly 15 months later, another referendum was brought before voters, and it passed with nearly twice as many voters turning out for the election and about 58 percent of them in favor of it.
“(SPLOST IV) passed, but the margin is going down a little bit,” Swint noted. “We may not always be able to rely on this passing.”
He said passage of the initiative depends on the confidence people have in the economy.
There were approximately 3,200 more “no” votes in this SPLOST election compared to SPLOST III, while the difference in passage was about 3.5 percentage points less.
Uphill battle for opponents
J.D. Van Brink, chairman of the board for the Georgia Tea Party, which opposed SPLOST IV, said he knew it would be an uphill battle not just for his organization but for whoever wasn’t in favor of the initiative.
“As soon as the vote was set to happen in March, I was inclined in the beginning to not even oppose it because we figured we wouldn’t win,” he said.
Van Brink said the odds were against them, but he believes the media coverage of it may have helped their cause in the long run.
“From the very beginning, we were focused on reforming the SPLOST process,” he said. “Getting it defeated is not as important as reforming the process.”
Doing that would require changes to state law, which Van Brink said wouldn’t just benefit Cobb but all of Georgia.
“That would make the entire state more fiscally responsible,” he said.
He said the process will take time, but his group is looking forward to working with the school boards, county commissioners, state legislators and the governor to reform SPLOST.
In questioning the need for another Ed-SPLOST, Van Brink also wondered, “How much is enough?”
He said about two-thirds of the state budget is spent on public education, 70 percent of Cobb County property taxes are spent on public education and that they are accepting a 1-cent sales tax collection on top of the income and property taxes.
“We were told there were roughly $2 billion in needs,” he said. “My question is, are we getting the bang for the buck we deserve, and I don’t think the answer is yes.”
Van Brink said Cobb and Marietta schools can do much better.
“We keep throwing money at all kinds of problems, not just education, but what is it really fixing?” he said.
Van Brink said he does understand there are needs in Cobb and Marietta schools, though.
“We at the Georgia Tea Party believe that about a third of the project lists are needs,” he said. “The shame is that we have to accept so many other things that aren’t needs in order to get the tax collected for the needs.”
Digging deeper into results
In a breakdown of the results, 40,565, or 9.6 percent, of Cobb’s registered voters cast a ballot in the SPLOST IV election. Of those, 37,947 voters were from county polling places and 2,618 from the city.
Among Cobb School Board members, the largest numbers of votes — 7,330 — were cast in David Banks’ northeast Cobb precincts. There were 4,647 votes in favor of the initiative and 2,683 against.
The lowest turnout in the county was in Tim Stultz’s southeast Cobb district, where 2,090 total voters visited the polls. Of those, 1,094 said “yes” to the referendum and 996 said “no.”
For the City of Marietta precincts, the largest number of votes was cast in Ward 1, which is represented by Jill Mutimer. A total of 891 voters cast ballots in her post, 466 for it and 425 against it.
Irene Berens’ voters in Ward 7 had the worst turnout with only 67 voters participating in the election. Of those, 24 were for it and 43 against.
It’s a 20-mile drive from state Sen. Mike Crane’s home in Newnan to the farthest southern reaches of Fulton County.
But Crane and other non-Fulton Republicans are playing a big role in a debate over the county’s future. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review found more than a third of the people representing Fulton in the General Assembly live outside the county. That’s far more than the proportion of out-of-county lawmakers representing Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett.
And it’s no accident. In 2011 Republicans redrew legislative boundaries to gain control of Fulton’s delegation. Now Georgia’s largest county, where most residents are minorities and where Democratic President Barack Obama won 64 percent of the vote in November, has a white Republican majority in the General Assembly.
That majority plans to make big changes to a county government that has endured botched elections, jail overcrowding and complaints about dubious tax liens. Republicans say the county also spends too much money and is unresponsive to their constituents.
Among other things, Republicans have introduced bills to cut deeply into the county’s property tax revenue, to make it easier to fire employees and to redraw County Commission districts in a way that gives Republicans a chance at winning a majority. ...
None of it would have been possible without the redistricting that allowed Republicans to gain control of Fulton’s legislative delegation.
Though state law leaves much of the governance of the county to the locally elected Board of Commissioners, Fulton’s legislative delegation can dictate some of the details and limit the commission’s power through bills called “local legislation.”
Until this year, Democrats held a 14-8 majority of Fulton County’s seats in the House and a 4-3 majority in the Senate. But in 2011 the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew House and Senate districts across the state based on 2010 census data.
Now Republicans enjoy a 13-12 edge in Fulton County House seats and a 7-4 majority in the Senate. To accomplish that, they extended districts into Fulton that previously had not included the county.
As a result, 13 of 36 state legislators whose districts now include a piece of Fulton live elsewhere. Four live in Cobb County. Two each live in DeKalb, Gwinnett and Fayette counties. Others live in Cherokee, Coweta and Forsyth. Eleven of the 13 lawmakers who live outside Fulton are Republicans.
“It just seemed like it was a goal to have a (Republican) majority there, and they’re obviously making use of that majority now,” said Kennesaw State University political scientist Kerwin Swint, a redistricting expert.