Thursday, December 23, 2010

Elections of the Future

Will probably continue to look like this.

Continuing with the news I have neglected to link to in this interim period, I want to draw attention to the Elections Advisory Council convened by Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Baldwin County is lucky to have two representatives, state Representative Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) and Baldwin County Probate Court Judge Todd Blackwell, on this council that is charged with creating cost efficiencies in the state's elections system and improving the system overall.
Georgia's elections system is a mixed bag of efforts to open the ballot box to as many people as possible and throwbacks to the partisan warfare of Georgia's one-party past and present. The Athens Banner Herald editorial board has this to say about some of the opportunities for improvement that they hope the council will consider.
In terms of guaranteeing ballot access, Georgians should watch how much time and effort Kemp and the panel spend in considering current state law for third-party candidates to get on the ballot.
Georgia is widely acknowledged to have one of the most strict ballot access laws in the country. Independent candidates - that is, candidates not running under a major party banner - must obtain the signatures of 5 percent of registered voters in their respective electoral district to get on the ballot when running for local offices, including seats in the state legislature and Congress. Independent candidates seeking statewide offices must obtain the signatures of 1 percent of the state's registered voters.
In some of the state's metropolitan areas, and, obviously, in any statewide race, the signature requirements mean that prospective independent candidates must get thousands of people to sign their petitions to seek office. In those cases, it's fair to see the ballot access laws as a de facto means of keeping third-party candidates off of ballots.
I'm sure Rep. Kidd, who has used that ballot petition in the last two years to send a message to opponents about the number of voters who will be showing up to support him, will have plenty of ideas to share about how we can open the statehouse to Georgians who don't necessarily fit the Republican/Democratic dynamic.
Judge Blackwell's inclusion is a welcome surprise as I've spent much time in his office talking about the ins and outs of election law. He is a great logical thinker, who can objectively explore the many facets of an issue. And most importantly, he knows what he doesn't know and retains the curiosity to explore it.
The image above comes from a photo story I submitted after shadowing Blackwell on Election Day 2008.
To put myself out on a limb, I'd recommend that the council look into the amount of time allocated to early voting. The 45 days of early voting put a significant cost on county governments to employ poll workers for dubious results in bringing people to the polls. I'm not saying that the state should walk away from early voting altogether, but I doubt that the overall turnout numbers would be affected much if early voting was confined to the two weeks before the election.
Despite the obvious opportunities for fraud in the absentee ballot system, it remains as a release valve for engaged voters to cast their ballot despite their scheduling conflicts.
So I look forward to reading the findings of this group and, as others before me, commend Secretary of State Kemp for convening an inclusive commission to consider the future of Democracy's most solemn responsibilities.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Washington Ethics Group Names Deal to Top 10

Blake Aued of the Athens Banner-Herald would like to remind everyone that there was some shady stuff going on before Governor-elect Nathan Deal resigned his seat in Congress.
Why He Do That?
Read the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's Top 10 Ethics Scandals 2010 report here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

You don't see these to often in the blogosphere

I've been a little late on everything recently, but I thought this was worth highlighting.
I especially like how they changed the identifying information from the first entry.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"If they want to get paid, they shouldn't commit crimes."

It seems like common sense. But somehow, state Senator Johnny Grant (R-Milledgeville) has created a stir over statements he made concerning a strike by inmates in several state prisons over conditions in the state prisons and the state's practice of not paying prisoners for their labor.

Commenting in his role as Senate State Institutions and Properties Chair, Grant told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he's not about to change the state's practice of not paying the majority of prisoners who provide labor to Georgia counties and municipalities and who toil away in the Correctional Industries program.
"If they want to get paid, they shouldn't commit crimes," said state Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, chairman of the Senate Institutions and Property Committee, which oversees prisons.

Besides, he said, "If we started paying inmates, we'd also start charging them for room and board, as well. They ought to be careful what they ask for."

Georgia is no stranger to trouble in its penal system. Prison Historian Larry R. Findlay Sr. writes in "History of the Georgia Prison System" that Georgia's Department of Corrections has often been a venue for moral questions about the treatment of prisoners.

Governor John Milledge first lobbied the General Assembly to establish a penitentiary system "to soften the penal code in use at that time,"which drew heavily form the English system of penal law wherein "branding, pillory, and stocks, in addition to imprisonment and execution were used."

By 1820, the state's penitentiary system was in debt. The General Assembly abolished the system eleven years later in 1831, re-instating the punitive practices of the past and returning many prisoners to the counties they where they were convicted. But the state couldn't abdicate its responsibilities for long and the legislature re-established it the penitentiary system by the next year.

In 1866 the General Assembly laid the infrastructure to take its prison system from a money pit to a money maker.
In December 1866, the legislature passed an Act to regulate the management of the penitentiary and to provide for the inferior courts of each county to hire out offenders to contractors engaged in such repair work [for the penitentiary, itself, at the time]. No lease was to be made which did not relive the state of all expenses during the term of the lease, and no lease was to be made longer than five years. This is the Act that led to the Georgia chain gang.

By operating the Convict Lease System,in which male and female prisoners were leased to individuals or companies for hard labor details such as railroad construction, Georgia's Penitentiary emptied its prison buildings and began turning a profit.

As you can imagine, its hard to keep the state government from going hog wild with any program that it is making money on. Findlay writes that by 1870, there were no more convicts in the penitentiaries and the state discharged all corrections employees the next year. Six years later, the program had become so engrained into the system that the state was able to lease all its prisoners "to three companies for twenty years for a total of $500,000."

Now this is a privatization plan that many legislators will wish they had access to as budget negotiations begin this session.

But public opinion was turning against the Convict Lease System, and Findlay describes 1890 as the beginning of a decade marked by "public outcries over brutalities suffered by the convicts under the lease program." Newspapers including the Macon Telegraph, Atlanta Georgian and the Columbus Enquirer-Sun rallied the people against the system of leasing convicts to private companies.

The legislature ended the Convict Lease System in 1908 by passing an act "to provide that misdemeanor convicts could work on public roads under state or county supervision. In no case, were they to be placed under the control of private parties. Female convicts were sentenced to the female prison instead of the chain gang."

More than 100 years later, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and New York Times are reporting a complex network of prisoner groups that are "not known to cooperate," organized via contraband cell phones, word-of-mouth and the help of family members and prisoner advocates.

These prisoners' story is an interesting study in networking and promotion. No one can doubt that they undertook this large task of organizing these disparate factions because they are upset about the conditions in the prisons. Those same kind of conditions that led the federal government to intervene in the administration of Georgia State Prison in Reidsville in the 1970s and '80s when 52 prisoners at filed a class action lawsuit over the issues of overcrowding, racial segregation, violence and intimidation on behalf of the guards

No one can doubt that the effects of the economic recession have been particularly harsh on those Georgians who have been shoe-horned into a smaller and smaller DOC footprint.

The Times reports that these strikes began in earnest when the department banned cigarettes earlier this year. And the organizers say they will be ready to unleash another wave of protests, which may not be as peaceful, if their demands are not met.

I hope that prison and state officials will work diligently to find some kind of compromise with the men and women in their charge. Georgia's prison guards' jobs are hard enough, we don't need to be putting them directly into a hostile situation after we've asked them to sacrifice so much already. Access to better healthcare and more educational opportunities are something that can expand jobs for Georgians who don't need to go to jail to find a job. But I don't believe there are many Georgians who are going to get behind a plan to begin paying inmates.

We've come a long way since the beginning of the penitentiary system in Milledgeville, but we haven't come that far yet.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Need for Improvement: Mental Health Ombudsman's Year One Report

Former AJC writer and current Georgia Health News CEOAndy Miller brings us the story that's being missed amidst all the press coverage of the settlement agreement between the US Department of Justice and the State of Georgia concerning the treatment of persons in its mental health system. An interim report summarizing Georgia's Disability Services Ombudsman Jewel Norman's first year on the job cites the need to improve clients' access to timely care and concern over the continually growing role of Law Enforcement in the lives of many Georgians who are living with mental illness. Miller writes that despite the high profile of the settlement between Georgia and the Feds, there are many issues that need addressing in the state's network of mental health service providers:
A little-noticed state report says an independent review team found poor medical care in the deaths of 23 patients at Georgia’s mental hospitals during the past fiscal year.

The report, from Georgia’s disabilities services ombudsman, also shows that the state’s mental health system remains plagued by other major problems, despite more than a year of scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice. Many patients still sit for hours in general hospitals’ emergency rooms, waiting for mental health treatment. And jails across the state still house a high percentage of people with psychiatric illnesses, the report adds.

Still, the state ombudsman who produced the report, Jewel Norman, said she sees improvement in the seven state-run psychiatric hospitals.

The report, itself, addresses the critical issue that there are not adequate resources throughout the state to assist people when they are experiencing a mental health emergency:
Georgia law requires the sheriff’s department of each county to transport mentally ill persons who are a danger to themselves or others to an emergency receiving facility. State policy requires medical clearance before any state hospital or Community Services Board Crisis Stabilization Program (CSP) can accept such a transfer. Most of the time the closest destination to achieve the required medical clearance is a general hospital emergency room (ER)...

In a late spring meeting of the Psychiatric Council of the Georgia Hospital Association, the Ombudsman discovered that many people with mental illness were experiencing excessive periods of waiting in the emergency rooms after medical clearance...

The average wait time for these patients, many of whom were experiencing an acute episode of their illness, was 36 hours... The average time for those persons exceeding the 36-hour mean time was 64 hours or 2.67 days.

These long wait times do more than put Georgians living with mental illness at risk, they have a multiplier effect on society as they tie up vital law enforcement, emergency medical services and hospital resources while these placements are being made. And then there is the worst-case scenario--an unfortunate societal situation that happens far too often in Georgia and elsewhere around the world--in which mental health consumers are adjudicated and incarcerated until a suitable placement can be made in a state forensic unit .
Preliminary data suggests that the corrections system, both local jails and our state prisons have become major providers of mental health services. For example, the Chatham County Sheriff provides data that, on any given day, he has between 200 and 250 people with mental illness in his jail. The Augusta Chronicle, in a July 11, 2010 article reported by Sandy Hodson, stated, “184 men and women who have been deemed mentally incapable of standing trial are locked in jails for weeks and months because there isn’t enough room in the state’s seven mental health hospitals [Forensic Units].” "That's what jails have turned into -- mental hospitals," said Richmond County Sheriff's Maj. Gene Johnson, who oversees the county's overcrowded jail. The Georgia Department of Corrections reports that 15.6 percent of the inmate population is receiving mental health services.

The settlement agreement with the federal government is forcing Georgia to make revolutionary changes to the way people receive treatment in the state's mental health system. In order to realize those anticipated outcomes, Georgia will have to conquer some of the most challenging sets of circumstances seen in the history of the treatment of mental illness. The Justice Department is requiring Georgia to allot the resources necessary to meet the federal government's benchmark of providing care in the most integrated setting appropriate to an individuals’ needs, but it will take the dedication of the Governor-elect, the entire General Assembly, many departments of state government and the people of the State of Georgia to decisively bring an end to this sad chapter in the state's history.

Friday, December 10, 2010

House Party Jumpers Already Moving Up the Ladder

AJC's Election's Central is reporting that Governor-elect Nathan Deal's House Floor leaders will include newly-minted Valdosta Republican Amy Carter.

**It looks like the General Assembly's Webmasters have been hard at work updating the legislature's website as Carter's bio reflects her recent decision to caucus with the Republican Party.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rusty: I'm just Me

As the tally in the balance of power continues to correct itself in the run up to the 2011 session, Baldwin County’s Caucus of One says the 2010 election, and its aftermath, have changed little in Georgia politics.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m a Republican or a Democrat, if I can’t produce, people will elect someone else,” the state House’s loan Independent Rusty Kidd (Milledgeville) said about his campaigning season. “’It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, as long as you can bring something home for me.’”
Talking on the day news broke that Minority Caucus Chair Doug McKillip (Athens) was the sixth Democratic Representative to quit the party and caucus with Republicans, Kidd said legislators are joining the majority on the other side of the aisle to remain relevant in the modern era.
“Politics are going to be controlled by the Republicans, so [these Democrats] feel they need to be Republicans to play the game,” he said. “Republicans don’t just own the bat and the ball, they own the whole club.”
But Kidd says his years under the Gold Dome, both as a lobbyist and a one-year incumbent returning for his first full term in office, have afforded him the ability to transcend the partisan jockeying and be a vote to win or lose on any piece of legislation.
“I’ve been building good relationships with Republicans and Democrats for 20 years,” he said. “They just look at me as Rusty, I’m not cast out by the R or the D behind my name.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A holistic approach to government

"I personally moved to a diet based heavily on fruits and vegetables on the advice of my doctor and have seen firsthand how proper diet can lower cholesterol, which has been a serious problem in my family for generations."

State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) to the AJC about the decision that led him to seek work as a lobbyist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Democratic hemorrhaging continues under Gold Dome

AJC's Political Insider writes that state Rep. Doug McKillip, the House Democratic Caucus Chair from Athens, announced that he will now caucus with the Republicans.
As the Athens Banner-Herald's Blake Aued notes in the post, Republicans now enjoy a 114-66 advantage in the legislature's Lower Chamber, six votes away from the coveted Super Majority that will make House Republicans unstoppable.
“As an independent-minded Republican, I can accomplish a great deal for my constituents and my city,” [McKillip told the ABH].

Details Emerging on Tax Commission Strategy

“Republican rhetoric has a great opportunity to be put into practice,” Deal said. “We believe in smaller government and less spending. Guess what? We got lower revenue, there’s going to be smaller spending. And when you have less spending, you’re going to have smaller government. Those are the realities of the world in which we live.”

The Associated Press has the details of Governor-elect Nathan Deal's trip to speak to the Georgia Farm Bureau Convention at Jekyll Island and what he had to say about the soon-to-be-released findings of the General Assembly's special Tax Commission. And let me tell you, he's not talking about tax increases.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rep. Tony Sellier

Former Telegrapher and Lucid Idiocy blogger Travis Fain is reporting that state Rep. Tony Sellier (R-Fort Valley) died last night.

Senate Appropriations Chair Allocates time to local business leaders

The Georgia Senate’s Chief Budget Writer told area business leaders to prepare for another hardscrabble session under the Gold Dome in 2011.
State Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) told an audience at Georgia College & State University’s monthly Executive Forum that rising revenues may not be enough to subdue a double whammy of dwindling shortfall reserves and disappearing stimulus dollars in the state’s 2012 budget.
Reading notes from a presentation he delivered last week to incoming freshman in the General Assembly’s Upper Chamber, Hill said state budget writers will be faced with the same challenges as last session, but fewer options once the state deplete its revenue shortfall reserve and allocates its last federal stimulus dollar to pay the $17 billion it will take to run the State of Georg ia through Fiscal Year 2011.
“Our spending has gone down,” Hill said. “But not as much as our revenues have gone down.”
Despite US Census Bureau statistics that show Georgia’s population growing 20 percent over the last decade, Hill said legislators will struggle to fund state government at FY2005 levels at a time when the state employs 2.3 percent fewer people than it did in 2000.
Growth in local school systems, the Board of Regents, the Technical College System of Georgia and the state’s Medicaid obligations may exceed revenue growth, Hill said.
In light of that potential reality, Hill said Governor Perdue is asking state agencies to submit the same worst, worster and worstest budget scenarios this year as pessimists predict a possible $1.3 billion deficit in FY2012.
Hill advised the audience to think earnestly about the hard choices elected officials will have to make this coming year and help their legislators decide on paths that will help Georgia meet its long term goals.
The former Senate Higher Education Committee Chair talked about the one-sided view of lottery-funded HOPE scholarships for students attending public state universities and asked the audience to think twice before defunding what might possibly be one of the “best things the state has ever done.”
In keeping with the dire predictions Hill provided the audience, he made no grand promises for the legislature’s Tax Commission, which is tasked with re-imagining Georgia’s outdated tax code saying he was not sure legislators could muster the political fortitude to pass meaningful reform, such as reinstituting the state’s penny sales tax on groceries.
But on an upbeat, Hill had great things to say about state Senator Johnny Grant (R-Milledgeville). Grant, who was seated in the audience reacted to Hill’s platitudes by jokingly asking him if he would like the check now or later.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Print Prospectus


One Capital Removed

One Capital Removed is happy to be revived by the introduction of a print column in The 'Ville. Electronic readers should download Caminova's DjVu Browser Plugin to view links from the Milledgeville Historic Newspaper Archive.

“By the collision of different sentiments, says an eminent philosopher, sparks of truth are struck out, and political light is obtained.”

When Seaton Grantland published the first edition of The Georgia Journal on November 13, 1809, he did so confidently, knowing that every reader understood the value of another newspaper advocating the rights of the people and instilling in them sound principles on political and moral subjects. “[It] is a truth too evident to require illustration,” he wrote.

Despite readers’ modern reluctance to pay for that value, The ‘Ville subscribes to Grantland’s supposition — wherein any person speaking openly and honestly on the workings of the government will gather around them others of equal temper and passion so as to ignite dialogue on the great challenges of our times —in inaugurating publication of One Capital Removed, a regular column on Georgia, its General Assembly and the revolving cast of characters who’ve made the state noteworthy in times past, present and future.

To celebrate the embarkation on this task of commenting on the present, the writer will oblige himself to stray from the agreed upon format of this column and seek the counsel of those who have come and gone before in attempts to evoke the spirit that led others to put their thoughts to the page in years past. History has much to tell us about our present and future, and as viewed through the lens of the Milledgeville Historic Newspaper Archive, Milledgeville’s past can provide ample insight into today’s issues, events and the idiom that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

As a means to finding that end, readers need not search farther than Grantland’s Prospectus of the Georgia Journal, to recognize the deep-seated suspicion and begrudging acceptance of political parties, as appropriated from Benjamin Franklin’s musing that the “different factions, which at present divide us, aim all at the public good; the differences are only about the various modes of promoting it.” And even recent converts to the political faith will recognize Phillip Guieu and John Jones’ entreaty in the February 1828 debut of The Southron that “every patriot should arm himself with the constitution and the laws, and oppose with the firmness of a free man, the efforts made to change the public institutions of the country.” Under that advice, few readers can question John Polhill’s July 1830 decision to open the first edition of The Federal Union with transcripts of the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and Washington’s Farewell Address, reasoning that although most subscribers have read these important documents, many have not paid them the attention they deserve.

"The present seems to be an era of Constitutional discussions" — Polhill wrote almost 180 years before our current Constitutional fanaticism — "discussions which go back in argument to the primitive principles of our government."

As if they were ripped from newspapers published just two weeks ago, these issues have a way of staying on the tips of people’s tongues: division between opposing political ideologies, fear over a perceived hijacking of the machinery of government and a desire to return to the fundamental building blocks of our republic.

Like its predecessors in the Milledgeville penny press, One Capital Removed lays no claim to the knowledge necessary to answer these questions, nor does it make any guarantees on the veracity of the views expressed within this column. But like Seaton Grantland before me, I can promise that One Capital Removed "will not decline the discussion of political measures, or other subjects of general concern, where truth may probably be elicited by the enquiry."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Two hours later

Two-and-a-half years of dust in the wind

Seconds before the accident...

The view from 5 p.m. Friday afternoon

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thank You For the Two-and-a-half Great Years

To Everyone Who Has Helped Me Bring Quality News to the Community,

As of Friday, May 14, I resigned my position as a staff writer at The Union-Recorder to accept a communications coordinator position at Digital Bridges in downtown Milledgeville.

I am writing you today to express my appreciation for the patience and understanding you have shown me over these last two-and-a-half years while I tried my best to inform The Union-Recorder’s readers about goings-on in the Milledgeville-Baldwin County community. In addition to lending me your time so that I might convey the importance of pertinent community events and information to the paper’s readers, many times you took a few extra moments to share the humor and unique insight that have encouraged me to want to become a more permanent part of this community.

Although I'm not entirely convinced of the supposed demise of print media, I am confident Milledgeville and surrounding communities will continue to look to The Union-Recorder to read and learn more about Baldwin County’s story, no matter the format it arrives in each morning. But there is a new day rising in this community, and I feel this opportunity with Digital Bridges will put me in a better position to positively impact Milledgeville’s future.

If you have not yet taken the opportunity to learn how Digital Bridges is working to assist Milledgeville as it moves into the 21st Century, then I invite you to come out to the Knight Community Innovation Center, next to the Campus Theatre on Hancock Street, to see how we can work together to build the future we want for Baldwin County.

Thank you again for all the time you have spent helping me cover this community, I look forward to continuing to work with you to help build a stronger future for Milledgeville. Please feel free to contact me at through the comments section of this blog or by stopping by Digital Bridges in downtown Milledgeville


Daniel McDonald

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Griffin launches Baldwin election season with coffee talk

Former Milledgeville Mayor and state Senator Floyd Griffin launched the campaign for his old state Senate seat today by hosting an early morning get together at the Blackbird Coffee in downtown Milledgevile.
And as it was indeed early, he provided the coffee.
The former state Senator from the 25th District, who resigned his Senate seat to seek election as Lieutenant Governor in 1998, is hosting four local coffee talks to talk with voters about his candidacy. Today's installment focused on legislation Griffin said he'll introduce should he be tapped by voters come November.
Griffin said he'll introduce legislation to urge a study on Central State Hospital that will inventory all the resources no the South Milledgeville campus and identify the institution's mission in the future, another bill would urge the creation of a new Youth Development Campus in Milledgeville and to require an impact study be performed before any state facility is slated for closure in Georgia.
Don't be surprised if legislative oversight becomes the rallying cry in Baldwin elections this year. See Thursday's Union-Recorder to read about another candidate who's making oversight Milledgeville's main issue this year.
Griffin said he'll be meeting again at the Blackbird next Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. to talk about jobs.

Rosalyn Carter on The Daily Show talking about Mental Health

Thanks to Jessica for pointing me in the direction this clip featuring an interview with Rosalyn Carter from yesterday's Daily Show.
Carter is promoting her new book "Within Our Reach" about the ongoing mental health crisis in America.
In addition to mentioning Central State Hospital, Carter tells the unrealized truth about the way our society is turning incarceration into the primary method of dealing with mental illness.
Watch for yourself:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rosalynn Carter
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Qualifying Day 2 Recap

There is nothing new to report in Baldwin County elections from Tuesday, but read Thursday's Union-Recorder to find out which Baldwin County pol is jumping into one of the two local races for the General Assembly.
U.S. Senate candidate R.J. Hadley stopped by 165 Garrett Way yesterday to tell us about his campaign. We'll have a recap of that conversation later this week.
And in somewhat election related news: State Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, and state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, announced that they've negotiated a $3.2 million allocation to reopen the Powell Building at Central State Hospital.
The allocation was couched in the terms of saving the state's only designated emergency receiving facility. The money has already passed the state Senate and has to make it into the conference committee budget to go to the governor's desk.
Despite all its implications, One Capital Removed welcomes the return of the strong man Baldwin County legislator.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Joining the 1 Percenters

Upstart goobernatorial candidate Ray Boyd has announced his intention to run for the state's top administrative position as an independent.
Boyd raised eyebrows last Monday with his inability to fall in line and sign an oath of loyalty to the Republican Party. And this week he's cutting ties and shoving off to run independent.
It sounds like Travis Fain at Lucid Idiocy feels Boyd is going to have a hard time getting the signatures of the 1 percent of total state electors in order to get on the ballot as an independent.

2010 Qualifying Day 1

A 68-year-old Republican Special Investigator from Savannah is the first new name in the Congressional race for the 12th.
Mike Horner's website says he's a former U.S. Air Force special investigator who currently conducts background investigations for the FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Horner saysid the March on Washington was a wake up call to the Sleeping Giant that is the American public and inspired him to run for public office.

Getting back into the Swing of Things

Update: Gold Dome Live will be holding down the "pair of conference rooms on the second floor" of the present Capitol for the Atlanta paper.
In news of local interest: Republican Ray McKinney and Democrat Regina Thomas have been the first to throw their hats in the ring again to unseat incumbent Dem John Barrow in the 12th District race for Congress.
State Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, is the first local incumbent to sign in for the General Assembly--though it is reported that state Representative Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, will run again as an independent, requiring him to file a petition with 5 percent of the 141st District's registered voters, so he will probably not get posted on this link immediately.

One Capital Removed has taken a lot of time off recently to revive and start several new and old part-time projects. Milledgeville's only state politics blog also has been experimenting with emerging Internet technology through its new twitter feed.
Check 1 Capital Removed out on Twitter for more up-to-date information about state matters that might affect the State's Antebellum Capital. I'm going to continue blogging here when issues require more analysis.
But to the point of this post, statewide election season starts today! Candidates for statewide offices from U.S. Senate to Governor to state House of Representatives will qualify at the state Capitol in Atlanta throughout this week.
Check here to learn who is qualifying at the Capitol.
One Capital Removed is still out of the office today (Monday), so any qualifying news will post here before it ends up on your lawn in The Union-Recorder.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ox Refuses to Implement First Phase of Health Care Reform

From the desk of Insurance Commissioner (and Goobernatorial candidate) John Oxendine:


Atlanta – Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine announced today that he will not participate in the first phase of recently enacted federal health care legislation which calls for the implementation of a temporary high risk insurance pool in Georgia. In doing so, Oxendine cited that the program could potentially cause taxpayers severe financial hardship.

"I have no confidence in any federal assertion that this so-called temporary program will not burden the taxpayers of Georgia," Oxendine said. "I am concerned that the high risk insurance program will ultimately become the financial responsibility of Georgians at a time when our state is furloughing teachers, laying off employees, and cutting public safety and education funding."

On April 2, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to Oxendine asking him to express his interest in participating in the temporary high risk insurance program established by the new health insurance reform law. Oxendine responded that he cannot commit the state to implement this program which is part of a bill he believes the Supreme Court will hold to be unconstitutional, lead to the further expansion of the federal government, and undermine the financial security of our nation.

Sebelius gave Oxendine an April 30 deadline to indicate his intent to participate.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hold Still Little Catfish

AJC's Jay Bookman filed this recent update on the House Speaker's ethics reform bill.
It's a good thing Mr. Bookman found a way to put this back in front of our noses, because I, like the majority of Georgians, may have stopped caring about the General Assembly after reading that corporations and other interests are no longer employing prostitutes in the hallways of the Capitol.
The "Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act of 2010" also could have eluded Georgians as it came to be in the form of a Senate Bill that hit the House floor on March 17, 2009.
If it's Sunday morning and you have an hour or so like I did today, you might take the time to learn how this simple bill to increase filing fees and late fines for disclosure reports turned into this No Ethics Reform Package in a little over a year.
Yeah, yeah, we get the picture:
Even Congress now bans the giving of gifts to its members by lobbyists, but in Georgia, legislators are apparently more interested in maintaining the flow of expensive trips, meals, golf excursions and sporting events than in improving their reputation for ethical behavior.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Campaign Contribution Reports are Out

You can look to see who's winning over contributor's hearts and wallets here.

Barrow Not Leaving the Party of his Predecessors

Thankfully, AJC's Political Insider laid to rest the rumor that Congressman John Barrow would forsake the Democratic party and become a Republican.
Hearing this, I can only wonder what Democratic maven Maxine Goldstein would think. On more than one occasion, Goldstein has told me about how she's known Barrow since he was a young child attending statewide Democratic meetings with his mother, Phyllis Barrow.
I don't think she would ever think Barrow could become a Republican, but game on with the continuing punishment of dissenting ideas!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Not to Harp on it, but a Pledge is a Promise

It seems that with his vote in favor of House Bill 307, state Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, is shirking his pledge to "oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes."
Now, we can get into an argument over the semantics of what passed the state Senate yesterday--was it a tax increase, a fee, revenue enhancement or the state's match on federal funds--but I'd rather take the stance that it was probably a bad idea to lock one's self into any kind of 'just say no to new taxes' promise during a session (the two-year sense of the word) in which the legislature is tasked with getting the state out of this dire of a budget catastrophe.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maybe Baker does stand a chance against the Barnes Machine

Ratcheting up the partisan fervor today, I just received an e-mail from the state House Communications Office informing me that state Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, introduced a resolution recognizing Attorney General Thurbert Baker for independence and courage.
"I applaud the Attorney General for his independence," said
Representative Mitchell. "Thurbert Baker has consistently stood up for his beliefs. He deserves great recognition."
Baker has been riding a wave of national media attention appearing on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" and "The Rachel Maddow Show" yesterday to talk about this impeachment thing.
And to add to it, state Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, appeared on Fox News yesterday to talk about his end of getting the Baker message to the people.
As I am a firm believer that state politics aren't important to people because they know nothing about them, I think this national exposure may give Georgia's Attorney General a positive bounce in the polls, and I'm sure Georgia Democrats who positively hate the Republican majority are absolutely ready to get behind the man that's standing up to right side of the aisle.
Either way you look at it, this is a whole lot better than some crappy Web animation of a bull hitting a rat out of the Ted (which is where I'll be this Monday for the Home Opener!).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Like We Aren't In the Biggest Crisis Since
The Great Depression

In further proof that the General Assembly could care less about the state's dire economic straits or the well-being of any state employees--aside from the ones who now run their separate-but-equal budget offices--House lawmakers have moved forward with threats to impeach Attorney General Thurbert Baker.
AJC's Political Insider has the details here.
This is an unsurprising move from the chamber that convened until almost midnight on last week's Crossover Day to make up for 29 legislative days of getting nothing done.
So now House lawmakers want to tie up another legislative day or two--they only have nine left--by staging a show trial to make sure every Georgian knows how upset they are about the President's health care reform package.
As if we couldn't tell already.
But bill resolution author Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, (you can't make this stuff up!) tells the AJC that he is "not concerned with the politics of the situation."
I assume that must be because the entire situation is politics.
Get back to work General Assembly, this state of people who are suffering through higher-than-the-national-average unemployment is losing patience with your posturing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Kidd Takes the Floor

Here is a picture that goes along with tomorrow's stories about state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, taking the well to pass legislation and raise hell.

Lucid Idiocy Exposes the Green Door Committee

And he has pictures too!

Some of y'all might remember state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, talking during the special election about some unknown committee that does all the real budget writing for the State of Georgia. It may have sounded like some kind of election year mumbo jumbo at the time, but the Telegraph's Travis Fain stumbled upon the end of the rainbow today and found the committee's secret meeting spot.
Read all about it here.

Who'd a Thunk It

In news that anyone could've guessed, but few took the time to actually find out, the AJC is reporting that in this time when no state department or agency is safe from drastic budget cutting, legislators' own budget is rising.
...under the original budget lawmakers approved for this year, spending on the House, Senate and joint legislative operations jumped more than 20 percent from 2003.
The story says the rising budget is due in part to increases in legislators' per diems (not sure if that spelling is correct) and the creation of separate budget offices for each legislative chamber.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kidd Passes his first bill

State Representative Rusty Kidd passed his first piece of legislation through the house Wednesday.
Kidd authored House Bill 1310, which--with the utmost efficiency (see the link)--amends the Official Code of Georgia Annotated to allow the Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Commission to solicit federal funds.
Mr. Modesty, Kidd didn't mention that anything special had happened when I interviewed him Thursday about Crossover Day and his perception of his first session, so far.
I read it on Tom Baxter's Twitter feed this morning:
Rep. Rusty Kidd passes his first bill. Says dad Culver is looking on with pride "from somewhere."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lessons from the Healthcare Debate

If we've learned anything from the healthcare debate in Washington, I think it is that the American Republic is unable to consider a complicated issue without reverting back to the most base of reactionary behavior.
To illustrate my point, I'll link you to two stories describing scenes from the final days of the healthcare debate: This post appeared in the AJC's Political Insider blog about racist taunts hurled at U.S. Congressman John Lewis last week; and here we have an aftermath story from the Washington Post detailing a spat of attacks and threats against Democratic Congresspersons before, during and after the healthcare vote Sunday.
"It was surprising and alarming to know that people, when they have so many opportunities for expression in this country, that somebody would resort to a brick."
It's amazing to hear about these kinds of reactions from people on an issue as innocuous as healthcare reform--and I say innocuous because this is an effort (at least initially) to open healthcare to more people. You'd hope debate would grow this intense when the government is thinking about sending its military to some foreign land or when lawmakers decide to write legislation that lets corporations send the country's manufacturing base to another part of the world.
As I posted sometime a long time ago--and yes it is sad that it takes me this long to read a book--I have been reading Rolling Stone Editor Matt Taibbi's "The Great Derangement" about the growing divide between Americans of opposing political view points. Well I finally finished the book last night and although I don't feel Taibbi did a good job of reporting his purported observation--going to the ideological fringes of society will undoubtedly illustrate your point, but does little to prove the depravity is seeping into our societal DNA--his thesis is definitely valid and a good primer for what we're seeing from this healthcare debate.
I think the healthcare overhaul has been a total failure in the sense that it could have been a conversation about expanding a sector of the economy that can't be easily outsourced to somewhere else. If the debate could have been couched as an effort to encourage Americans to get a medical education so as to train enough doctors and nurses to put federally-subsidized medical clinics within reach of every American, I think it would not have become this black hole in which bureaucrats are throwing taxpayer dollars by the bundle. I think that more accurately describes the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Like Taibbi in his book, I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I know where I'd like to end up: A place where we can calmly talk over our differences, come to the best conclusion possible and then forget our differences and move forward on making the best America possible.
I get the feeling that may be too much to ask.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The power of the gavel and those who wield it

Picture of former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy by the Associated Press
Now that health reform has passed its latest hurdle, newspapers' feature writers are getting in on the action.
The Washington Post has this interesting story about the history and symbolism behind the three gavels House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used to signal the final moments of the health care debate in the nation's capital this weekend.
The article also gives some insight into the history of the gavel in the United States and its meaning in modern politics.
Those of you in Atlanta can go to the Capitol Museum on the top floor of the state Capitol to see one of the gavels used by the state Speaker of the House, which looks like a wooden Foster's Oil Can on a stick to me. Now that we know all this, I'd be interested to know a little about the wooden block that is struck by the gavel, ie. is it made of a certain kind of wood?, how often is it replaced?, etc.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare, Reform or Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)?

Let it be known that I first heard they passed the health-reform bill In The Talking Straight Zonee with Quentin T. Howell and Beverly Calhoun. Then they played Michael Jackson and the Jacksons "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)." As they should have.
Both my wife and I agreed that neither of us know what this means, if anything, for us.

Raising A Little Hell--What Can It Hurt?

Update 2: Silly of me not to notice this, but legislators changed the General Assembly's calendar and will not be meeting today. Although I haven't talked with since the calendar change was enacted, I assume Kidd will address the state House Thursday morning.

Update: Representative Kidd just texted to inform me that he will be scheduled to speak about the situation at Central State Hospital from the well Wednesday morning.

State Representative Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgegville, called me Sunday evening to say he is going to take a point of privilege Monday morning and go to the well on the House floor and speak against the closing of Adult Mental Health Services the Powell Building.
Kidd said he has been talking with employees on the phone and at his downtown offices all weekend.
"I've been meeting with employees and the things they are saying make me want to take the well and raise hell," he said. "It's not right to any employee to fire them when they only need four more months to retire with 34 years."
Kidd said he also has questions about the specific reasoning behind closing Adult Mental Health Services at Central State--was it a federally mandated or recommended closure, or was it a budgetary decision?
Kidd said, and several Central State employees have told me, that physical plant, staffing and training changes were being made to meet federal requirements right up until the January announcement that Adult Mental Health Services was closing.
You can keep him honest live here.

Making the most of the furlough weekend

Milledgeville became the focus point Saturday in the hunt for the Democratic nomination in this year's goobernatorial primary when the Central Georgia Democratic Coalition invited all statewide candidates to speak at a job and career fair on the Georgia College & State University capmus.
I think there is room somewhere in this post to ponder the implications of a group of taxpayer-employed public servants--almost all of whom are undercutting their collective performance in their current positions to spend significant amounts of time applying for a better, higher-paying job--talking to residents of one of the hardest hit areas in the state economy--many of whom were recently subject to state separation letters--about how their brand of Georgia politics is going to get everyone back on their horses and riding.
Well if it worked once, and that is all you can remember, then it might be worth another try.
One notable non-candidate, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, provided useful information by addressing extensions in federal unemployment benefits, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and the HOPE grant for gaining an education at one of the state's network of technical and vocational colleges.
But Thurmond also gave what was possibly the most progressive vision of what the recession can be, relating the story of a simple family produce business that paved the road for his climb to public service. He said the recession may make you unable to buy those things that you used to supplement the love you showed family and friends during good times, but it can't prevent you from being the loving person you want to be during these hard times.
"That $120 pair of LeBron James tennis shoes may help you jump one centimeter higher, but it does nothing for your reading comprehension. We can't continue judging our families by what we can buy our children; we must return to judging them by how much we love our children.
"Just because they can lay you off, downsize you and furlough you, doesn't mean they can downsize the love you have for your child."
Master of Ceremonies Quentin T. Howell introduced Thurmond saying the Commissioner was in Milledgeville despite lingering pain from a car accident suffered several days earlier.
Because I'll undoubtedly be rewriting something of this for Tuesday's print edition, I'm going to keep it lite and hopeful this Sunday morning.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Barbecue returns to political spotlight today in Statesboro

Peach Pundit is bull-horning a Statesboro barbecue party aimed at swaying Congressman John Barrow's vote on Healthcare Reform.
Barrow is one of several Georgia Blue Dog Democrats sitting on the fence with their vote for or against healthcare overhaul legislation. Georgia Public Broadcasting reports that eighth District Democrat Jim Marshall has already signaled he will vote no on the reconciled bill and says that Barrow will likely side against the bill as well. Sanford Bishop, a southwest Georgia Democratic representative, is reportedly undecided at this time, according to GPB.

Buzz From the Capitol: Post Spring Break (pt.1) Edition

The following is a newsletter from state Senator Johnny Grant's office.

This week, the Senate returned from a two-week working recess. We took that valuable time to go over the FY 2011 budget line by line to find inefficeinces and waste in order to close the revenue gap. Unfortunately, we are at the point where no one will be spared cuts. Everyone must do their part and share the burden.

The last two weeks have seen a frenzy of talks about drastic cuts and massive layoffs within the University of Georgia. A large concern for rural areas is cuts to the 4-H and county extension programs. I strongly support these programs and will fight to see they are not completely cut from UGA’s community outreach program. 4-H touches the lives of more than 156,000 students and aides them in developing valuable life skills that prepares them for being leaders in their careers and community. Economic growth and success of Georgia agribusinesses greatly rely on the next generation of innovators. The Extension Service helps Georgians become healthier, more productive, financially independent and environmentally responsible. Most counties have a combination of agents who specialize in agriculture and natural resources, youth development and family and consumer sciences. These vital areas, run through the university system, will face some reductions, but they cannot shoulder the burden alone.

The Senate unanimously passed a significant bill targeted at protecting one of Georgia’s most vital natural resources: water. This conservation legislation will change the fundamental way water is conserved throughout the state. Local governments will now have the right to impose more stringent outdoor watering restrictions during non-drought periods whereas current law only allows them during drought periods. Many state agencies are reviewing practices, policies, programs, and rules/regulations to identify opportunities to provide programs and incentives for voluntary water conservation and enhancement of the state’s water supply.

The most sweeping overhaul of the Georgia property tax system in decades received unanimous consent in the Senate this week. This bill is the result of much testimony highlighting the inefficiencies and errors of the property tax system. One of the biggest issues is that the system is based on human assessment of value that is rampant with error, politics, and inaccuracies.

The two major concerns we heard from citizens was subjectivity of the process and lack of clarity in the appeal process. Many Georgians stated the inconsistencies of tax assessors who didn’t even enter their homes or take into account the actual market price of their homes. Many noted the lack of transparency and the convoluted nature of the process. Many of you in Middle Georgia have had your requests for appeal turned down simply because you missed a deadline you didn’t know existed.

Simply put, Georgians and Middle Georgians deserve better. I am proud of the work we accomplished this week in the Senate and I am ready for the work ahead. There is much work left to do with the FY 2010 and FY 2011 budgets but I am confident we will come together and face the uphill battle with a common understanding that Georgia will come out of this recession a stronger state.

As always, it continues to be an honor to serve in the General Assembly on the behalf of my constituents throughout the 25th district. I look forward to the remaining days in session and I vow to work tirelessly ensuring all legislation that comes across my desk works for you and all Georgians.

# # # #

Whoah, it's been a while...

Sorry to have been so absent for so long. And I can't really promise that today's posts will mark a reinvigorated One Capital Removed in the month to come. Continuing projects, new opportunities and the prospect of a personal life that remains a top priority have pushed this blog to the back burner for the time being.
But in keeping with my promise to at least forward on the content other people are writing I've signed back in--if just for an early afternoon.

Monday, March 1, 2010

New York Ordered to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act

An anonymous reader--or perhaps one whose e-mail address I should recognize--sent this link from The New York Times about a federal judge ordering the State of New York to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and seemingly though not mentioned, the Olmstead decision by building 4,500 units of supportive housing over the next three years to move adult mental health consumers out of "warehouse-like" adult homes in New York City.
"The judge said that only people with the most severe mental illness, including those deemed a danger to themselves or others, should be housed in adult homes. He also said that residents who were eligible for supportive housing may choose to stay in adult homes as long as they have been apprised of their options."
The article goes on to say that the judge has ordered the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the process of making supportive housing available and transitioning consumers into it.
More stories like this are sure to lend credence to The Baldwin Bulletin headlines that say President Barack Obama's administration is advocating for adult mental health services to be administered in the community setting, in accordance with Olmstead, and not in the institutional setting.
But now there is a measuring stick with which we can compare what is yet to come in the State of Georgia's struggles to retain control over its mental health system.

Rep. Kidd's Mid-Session legislative update

The following is a legislative update from state Representative Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville.

Mid Year Update

The Georgia Legislature of 40 working days is ALMOST half over but Senator Grant and I have been at the capital some 30 plus days so far this session with weekend appropriation meetings to begin this month.

As you read daily the main topic is the budget and the lack of State funds to continue State programs. We here in Baldwin County are very knowledgeable about budget shortfalls for we have seen over 2200 State jobs lost and another 1700 regular jobs lost just over the past 2 years with possibly a few more before the bleeding stops.

At Central State the real culprit is the buildings are old and cost too much to retrofit or to build a new facility. Hence the Federal Justice Department and the State Department of Behavioral Health have closed and are closing some of the older buildings moving the clients to other facilities within the region.

Senator Grant and or I have met with the Governor 4 times, the director of Behavioral Health 5 times and the Federal Judge once trying to find ways to better utilize what we have left and how Baldwin County can continue to have a “significant” mental health presence, maintaining current jobs and hopefully creating more jobs.

One good announcement hopefully will breed more positive results.

Yes Baldwin County was selected as the site for a new 1000-2500 bed privatized prison. Construction should start around July 1, 2010.

With our growing prison population there is a new interest on the part of Oconee Regional Hospital to take over management and re-open the Kidd Medical Surgical Hospital at CSH. If all works out it would be available for inpatient and outpatient treatment of prisoners in and around Baldwin County. It would also treat those who are housed at the War Veterans Home, Craig Nursing Home and CSH patients. It would also be available, via its emergency room, to treat the general public for those in need on the Southside.

We are looking now for a privatized provider to begin talks about a nursing home on the Southside to house only the elderly prison population. This the state needs and will contract with or build in the near future.

Already we have people looking at the Ireland YDC property to reopen as a traditional YDC or as a State compound to begin transferring some of the 22,000 county jail inmates who have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Relieving the responsibility of these prisoners with mental illness from our county jails and county budgets.

July 1, 2010 the State will issue an RFP for another 200 bed forensic facility. Hope we will get that also.

As you see we are constantly working trying to find ways to replace the unemployed with good jobs in Baldwin County. Bring us your ideas, for we want and need them.

Some of the main issues being discussed now are obviously the budget. Roughly 88% of the state budget goes toward Education, Medicaid and Prisons. That leaves only 10 – 12% for all other state programs and services.

Half of Georgia’s budget goes to Pre-K through 12th grade schools and education. Some of the approved budget is 29 million going to school nurses. Teachers a bonus of 7.2 million. The University system budget is cut by 236 million which will probably result in higher tuition.

Funds were restored to fund Liberal Arts at Georgia College.

23 new State Troopers are funded and 1.7 million for a center of Health Science at our Tech School.

$1.38 million is appropriated to design and construct diverting the Baldwin Building at CSH to a Mental Health Building. $2,245 million to replace natural gas lines at CSH. $505,000 for improvements to Georgia War Veteran Home. $315,000 for improvements to the Vinson Building at CSH.

Some of the issues I have received calls or emails about are:

HR 1177 Pari-mutuel Horse Racing
HR 1090 One term for Governor for 6 years
HB 669 Boating under the influence
HB 307 1.6% hospital bed tax
HB 919 2% sales tax increase to be repealed when revenue equals 2006 level
HB 1141 Voters Petition
SB 99 Lake Sinclair
HB 919 Ethics
HB 1030 Merging Department Pardons and Parole with Department of Corrections
HB 788 Animal euthanasia
HB 180 Tattooing
HB 1073 Absentee ballots for those in Military
HR 1401 Coroner education
HB 819 Handgun License
HB 39 Increase tobacco tax by $1 per pack
SB 425 Community Health Boards – members shall have no conflicts of interest
SB 5 Seatbelts – Mandatory to all drivers wear seatbelts, to levy a Gov. Proposal 1% sales tax for transportation
HR 912, HB 912 & HB 920 Ethics legislation and lobbyist disclosures
Georgia Trauma Centers – Several bills
Beer Alcohol Tax increase

To contact Representative Rusty Kidd:
Atlanta (404) 655-0334
M’vill (478) 452-1354
Cell (478) 451-7029

To contact Senator Johnny Grant:
Atlanta (404) 656-0082

# # # #

I think Rusty's update is interesting as it includes the list of things constituents are calling him about.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Accepting or Rejecting Web site: AP's Perspective

"I would say it's a little bit art and a little bit science, but we're mindful of the fact that we don't want the Stylebook to be a 9,000-page thing that hits your desk with a thud."
Read this delightful story about how the changing world looks to the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Buzz From the Capitol: Supplemental Budget Edition

The following is a newsletter distributed by state Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, and the Senate Press Office:

As the General Assembly reached the midpoint this week, the Senate took a major step forward and passed the amended FY 10 budget. It will now sit in a conference committee so that we can reconcile our differences with the House. While I know there is much work left to do with FY 11 budget, I m proud of what we have accomplished so far.

It would be nearly impossible to find a Georgian who has not felt the effects of the current financial crisis. January brought additional sobering revenue news, making it more difficult for the Senate to produce a balanced budget. (Note: The sobering news is that January revenues were down 8.7 percent from January 2009 figures. With January numbers recorded, Georgia's revenue collections have been sliding for 14 straight months. This is especially troubling because Governor Sonny Perdue's recommended 2011 budget was written on the expectation of four percent revenue growth.)

The Appropriations Committee diligently went through the House version of the FY 10 amended budget and changed very little. However, one of the significant changes we made was regarding the Quality Basic Education formula. It was increased by $92.8 million to account for K-12 enrollment growth. This is partly offset by the $203 million saved by teacher’s furlough days.

During budget negotiations, I worked closely with the Department of Corrections, ensuring Middle Georgia receives fair consideration in the planning process. We worked collectively to address the pressures placed on county jail programs by closures of state prisons. I helped secure $9.8 million to assist with jail backlogs across the state, and particularly in our area.

Working alongside the Department of Behavioral Health, I combed through the extra $20.3 million allotted for mental health in Georgia. We continue to work and ensure every penny is spent for improved patient care. The largest portion of the increase in funding will be spent on hiring personnel to improve provider to client ratios. Mental health is a very integral part of our district, so we must be vigilant in our efforts to maintain and improve Central State Hospital and our other mental health facilities.

Apart from the budget, Baldwin County has been a big focus of attention. News broke recently that a new prison facility is likely to be constructed in south Baldwin County. Upon the final approval processes, construction will begin and the prison is planning to open as early as 2011. More than 200 jobs will be created as a result of this new prison and it will hopefully ease the pain of the Scott and River’s state prisons closing earlier this year.

It is exciting that in the face of major budget cuts within the Department of Corrections and throughout the state, we will get a new facility that better suits the needs of correctional officers and inmates. It will host 1,000 beds but that could become 2,500 beds in the future, meaning an additional increase in jobs as well.

As always, it continues to be an honor to serve in the General Assembly on the behalf of my constituents throughout the 25th district. I look forward to the remaining days in session and I vow to work tirelessly ensuring all legislation that comes across my desk works for you and all Georgians.

# # # #

This is the second One Capital Removed edition of state Senator Johnny Grant's semi regular newsletter. I'm posting this now, while waiting to get back in touch with Grant to ask him questions about said AFY2010 budget. Check out The Union-Recorder's print edition to find out how that conversation goes.

"Perishable items produced in the state do not even have to be reported"

Last Friday, the AJC had this delicious vignette about culinary culture under the Gold Dome.
"Whoever said there is no such thing as a free lunch never stepped inside the Georgia Capitol when the state Legislature comes to town.
Not only lunch, but breakfast, brunch, dinner and an endless array of artery-clogging snackage are heaped on lawmakers’ plates every day -- and night -- during the annual 40-day session.
I guess they were simply trying to whet readers' appetites for this hearty main course in the paper's Sunday edition.
"New House Speaker David Ralston has advocated for ethics reform at the state Legislature, but that doesn’t mean he’s steering clear of meals with lobbyists.
Reports to the State Ethics Commission show lobbyists spent about twice as much on Ralston in January as they did on Glenn Richardson, the man he replaced, during the same month last year.

Monday, February 15, 2010

If You Know He Has the Solution, Why Didn't You Tell Us to Hire Him Before?

The Telegraph's Travis Fain gets the skinny on the newest state partnership to get Georgia's Mental Health Delivery System up to snuff.
Get the details about the plan, the man--including a good background about National Mental Health Czar Dr. Nirbhay Singh--and legislators' thoughts here.
Reading the piece, it seems the state may have jumped the gun on this one as it sounds like Singh's contracted scope of work centers on the hospitals.
The U.S. Department of Justices' January filing clearly requests the proposed monitor to oversee the process of putting the state in compliance with the Olmstead Decision by making the hospitals a last-resort service provider, as opposed to the front door--if not only entrance--to the state's mental health delivery system.
You can read more about Olmstead here.
Note Johnny Grant's concerns at the end of Fain's story:
State Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, said he’s criticized the state for spending money on private consultants instead of patient care. But he said the Department of Justice, with its difficult demands for a quick turnaround in a massive system, “changes all of the equilibrium,” Grant said.
Said Grant: “I don’t know where all of this will take us.”
As a side note: Georgia's Old Capital Museum will present a lecture by mental health advocate and local historian Bud Merritt at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Old Capitol Building's Legislative Chambers.
"Silent Witnesses: Cemeteries at Central State Hospital" explores the strange relationship between the Milledgeville community and one of the nation's largest mental health institutions, focusing on the discovery and restoration of several of the hospital's nearly forgotten cemeteries.
I recommend this as a must hear for those who want greater insight into this watershed moment in the community's history.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Shorter Terms for Transpo Board Members?

Apparently last month's mutiny by DOT Board members is fueling more legislative proposals curtailing the governing organization's grip on the Transportation Department.
Read more--well not much more--at AJC Political Insider.

Monday, February 8, 2010

From the Desk of Senator Johnny Grant

State Senator Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, has been providing our newsroom with these weekly updates from the Upper Chamber of the Gold Dome. In keeping with the mission statement, I'll try to disseminate them here when they are forwarded to me.

The Buzz from the State Capitol

By Senator Johnny Grant

As the weeks have moved along, the Senate has turned their focus to other pertinent legislation while we wait for the House to pass their version of the FY 10 amended budget. In the meantime, the Senate has continued Appropriations Sub-Committee meetings in an effort to prepare for the version we will get from the House.

At these appropriations sub committee meetings, agency heads come and present their budgets and agendas, much like the joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee meetings a few weeks ago. This is a more in-depth look at agency budgets. Two particular agencies I have been working closely with are the Department of Behavioral Health and the Department of Corrections.

Central State Hospital is a vital element of the economy of Middle Georgia. It is the largest mental health treatment facility in the state and is a source for many jobs. It is also called home by many Georgians. As most of you know, under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, the state has an obligation to improve its mental health facilities. Dr. Shelp, head of the Department of Behavioral Health gave his presentation to the committee, vowing that he would transform his department into a more effective, functional service organization. To make this possible, there is a significant increase of almost double the mental health funding in the FY 10 and FY 11 budgets and we intend to see that every dollar is effectively used for improving patient care.

Another major sector of the Middle Georgia economy is the correctional facilities. Coupled with Central State Hospital, the jobs at these facilities represent a big chunk of the work force in Middle Georgia. It is hard to imagine prison facilities closing, as was suggested right before the governor’s budget was released. In dealing with an amended budget of about $36 million less than the original FY 10 budget, we must work even harder to ensure that instead of closing facilities, we eliminate waste and create efficiency.

We have to be proactive and work with legislators, the governor and the agency heads to ensure these vital pieces of the economy remain fully functioning. There is no doubt that it will take work. We have a long road ahead of us, but it’s worth all the time and effort to see a thriving community.

As always, it continues to be an honor to serve in the General Assembly on the behalf of my constituents throughout the 25th district. I look forward to the remaining days in session and I vow to continue to work tirelessly to make sure all the legislation that comes across my desk works for you and all Georgians.

# # # #

note: Grant is a Georgia Tech graduate, I imagine the title of his newsletter is some reference to that as the Georgia Tech College Republicans publish a newspaper titled The Conservative Buzz.

A Few Notes about the City of Milledgeville

With a new Council seated this year, one of their first tasks will be to place a permanent City Manager. Water and Sewer Department Director Barry Jarrett is manning the helm on an interim basis, and back-to-back personnel-issue driven City Council executive sessions would lead one to believe that Council is at least talking about naming a replacement for Milledgeville's first City Manager, Scott Wood, who took a job in Canton last year.
But the City of Milledgeville may be posting another job opening in the coming months as City Planner Russell Thompson appears to be looking to take on more responsibility.
The Summerville News in Summerville, a north north west Georgia town of about 4,500 people in Chattooga County, reported last month that Thompson was one of two finalists for the Summerville City Manager position.
Thompson played an integral role in helping launch the city's municipal wireless broadband network, and Wood had attempted last year to have Council approve an Assistant City Manager position for Thompson to reflect the role he played in city administration. That initiative failed to come to fruition, with Council citing budgetary concerns.
Thompson also recently began a term as a member of City Council in neighboring Gray.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Framers' Intent

Freedom of speech issues gone awry. This line from an AP story in the Washington Post made me guffaw:
"Half the pickup lines in bars across the country could be criminalized under that concept," he said.

The Plight of Local Governments

The AJC has a good, long sign-of-the-times piece about how Atlanta bedroom communities are handling the first major hiccup of their nascent existences.
Despite the apples-and-oranges ATL-centric focus of the story, it has some points that are just as applicable for Micropolitan Baldwin County:
‘Squeezing blood’

It’s a given that people who best weather rocky financial times are those who diversify their investments. A professor at Kennesaw State says public agencies are similar: Those with diverse revenue sources aren’t as hard-hit as single-industry towns.
And the article does good by highlighting some of the cost-cutting measures and progressive steps local governments are taking to weather the economic storm.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Transportation Board Comes Full Circle

Kiss any major federal transportation money goodbye until voters can decide on a constitutional change in November.
I have yet to hear what will probably be a brusque retelling of how this went down, but I'm sure it will be excellent.
From the AJC:
“I had never been over to the state capitol where I saw so much consistency in the disbelief of what the board did, and anger,” Transportation Board Chair Bill Kuhlke told his fellow board members.
No Parham quotes in this one.

Friday, February 5, 2010

DOT AccountingGate Keeps On Moving

AJC has the details from Thursday's state Senate Transportation Committee meeting in which senators railed on state Transportation Board members about the vote to go back to a form of accounting that would allow GDOT to begin multi-year federal transportation contracts without having the entire amount of money needed to pay for the project on hand when the project is let.
The thing that is getting me at this time is legislator's insistence that GDOT is right to be accounting that way, but anger that the board voted to actually go forward with it.
Per my discussion with transpo lobbyist Chuck Clay, this really is a race to get back in the federal highway/transpo money game.
"For the good of Georgia—not GDOT, the Governor or the legislature—please let these people sit down and get behind the effort [to resolve this issue]. Because once that [federal roads] money goes to Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina, it cannot go back to Georgia. It is not simply sitting in an envelope in Washington with Georgia’s name written onto it."

As the AJC article states at the bottom--where they always put his quotes: "Board member Bobby Parham, who first raised the issue last month, said he did not plan to change his vote."

Lame Duck or Not, Perdue is Swinging for the Fences

State Representative Rusty Kidd turned me on to this article in the AJC this morning.
It seems Governor Sonny Perdue has some more far-reaching plans to expand power in the Governor's office by proposing a constitutional referendum to allow subsequent governors the ability to appoint the Agriculture, Insurance and Labor commissioners, as well as the state School Superintendent.
The change, should it be adopted by two-thirds majorities in the state House and Senate and a majority of voters in the November election, would go into effect in 2014.
AJC is reporting that the Governor is looking to other states in his decision to move to appointing these state officers.
"Georgia is one of only five states that elect a labor commissioner and one of only nine states to elect its agriculture commissioner. Twelve other states elect an insurance commissioner and 14 vote for state school superintendent."
The measure is being sold as a way of ensuring that commissioners are staying focused on state issues and not out chasing higher offices.
Kidd wonders whether the Governor has the political capital to move forward on a sweeping change like this his last year in office. But he added that House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, told him he is contemplating the idea of packaging Perdue's proposal with Kidd's proposed constitutional amendment to limit the governor to one six-year term.
Expect to hear more about this in the coming week

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Westsiders Best Be Boiling

This was just sent out by the City of Milledgeville Water Department:

Public Notice to Boil Water

Due to a major line break and reduced pressure, the City of Milledgeville water system has issued“Notice to Boil” water for the residents of Meriwether Circle, Pine Lane, Stevens Drive and Central Georgia Technical School.
To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking, and making ice should be boiled and cooled prior to use. The water should be brought to a vigorous, rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes. Children should be monitored closely during this time. In lieu of boiling, you may purchase bottled water or obtain water from some other suitable source.
When it is no longer necessary to boil the water, the water system officials will notify you that the water is safe for consumption. The water system officials are anticipating two to three days. The City of Milledgeville water system officials are sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.

If you have any question concerning this matter, you may contact the Water and Sewer Department at (478) 414-4052.
Barry Jarrett
Interim City Manager