Political Notes: March 2014

Early Voting: House Bill 310, which moves state and local primary elections from July to May 20 this year, passed easily in both legislative houses the first week of the 2014 General Assembly session and was quickly signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The date change is a result of a U.S. district judge’s ruling ordering earlier federal primaries for congressional races in Georgia to allow sufficient time for receiving and counting overseas ballots from Georgia citizens serving in the military or working abroad.

It also avoids the costly and potentially confusing situation of separate voting calendars for state and federal elections.

Not the least, the bill increases the likelihood of a short, efficient session, since legislators may not solicit campaign funds while the General Assembly is open for business.

Rep. Joe Wilkinson (R-Atlanta) sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) was the Senate sponsor.

Here’s what the 2014 election schedule looks like: general primary, May 20; primary runoff, July 22; general election, Nov. 4; runoff, Jan. 6, 2015.

Greer Heading State Chamber: Ernest L. Greer, an attorney who is vice president and Atlanta managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, is the 2014 board chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

He succeeds Steve S. Green of Morris Manning Martin & Green Consulting LLP, who led the group last year. Georgia Power President and CEO Paul Bowers is 2015 chair-elect.

“The chamber has gone through a significant transformation in recent years, becoming a more proactive organization that truly serves the interests of all Georgia companies,” Greer said in a press release. “I look forward to achieving much success in the year to come.”

Greer led the chamber’s 2013 membership campaign, which exceeded its $2-million goal. Chris Clark is president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber.

Smyre, Barnes Honored: State Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) and former Gov. Roy Barnes are among the 10 new inductees added this year to the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. The walk is sponsored by the Trumpet Awards Foundation to recognize “foot soldiers of justice who sacrificed and struggled to make equality a reality for all.”

Smyre, a former community organizer, is a 40-year veteran of the Georgia House and its longest-serving member. He is Executive Vice President, Corporate External Affairs, for Synovus Financial Corp.

Barnes, who served in both houses of the legislature, was responsible for removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag while he was governor. He is an attorney now in private practice in Marietta.

Staying On Top: In an address to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Nathan Deal touted the $25 million for economic development included in his 2014 budget and said he intends to keep Georgia the No. 1 place to do business. He said the state has attracted more than 1,100 projects and $16.3 billion in investment since he took office.

New Albany State Leader: Dr. Arthur Dunning, a 27-year veteran of the University System of Georgia, is the interim president of Albany State University. Most recently, he was a professor and senior research fellow at the University of Alabama.

Off Probation: The DeKalb School System has been upgraded from “accredited probation” to “accredited warned” by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the independent accrediting agency.

The SACS report called the progress made by the school system since last May “commendable.” Mark Elgart, president and CEO of the SACS parent company, AdvancEd, indicated the system would continue to be monitored.

“The stain of probation has been eradicated from the DeKalb School District,” says DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond, a former Georgia labor commissioner. “The decision to upgrade the district’s accreditation status provides a sense of pride and relief.”

Gov. Nathan Deal, who had removed six board members from office and appointed a commission to find replacements, was on hand for the announcement.

Medicaid Expansion: An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, released as the 2014 legislative session was beginning, indicated that some 57 percent of Georgians favor the state expanding Medicaid under terms of the Affordable Care Act – something Gov. Nathan Deal has said he will not do, despite the availability of federal funds that would allow the state to expand the program significantly.

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