Political Roundup: November 2006
A slender Reed: Ralph Reed was effectively banished from the state's political scene with his crushing defeat by Casey Cagle in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor, but his influence here will live on after he is gone. An anti-tax group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has launched a Georgia branch that will try to generate grassroots opposition to any future plans by the General Assembly to raise taxes. AFP is headed nationally by Tim Phillips, who worked with Reed in his Century Strategies lobbying firm. AFP's Georgia director is Jared Thomas, a young political operative who managed Reed's campaign for lieutenant governor.
The cost of a new machine: A tax increase may be needed if Georgia wants to outfit its electronic touch-screen voting machines with a paper-based backup system to record vote totals. In a recent budget estimate prepared for the governor's budget director, Secretary of State Cathy Cox estimated it could cost as much as $75 million if the state decided to buy entirely new machines with the paper backups. "I want to stress that our current voting platform is secure, reliable and extremely accessible and it will continue to function as such," Cox wrote. "I am providing this information since there seems to be wide support for the addition of a voter verifiable paper audit trail to increase voter confidence."
Curiouser and curiouser: Oh, the strange turns politics can take. One of the many TV spots that Gov. Sonny Perdue aired in his re-election campaign was a commercial about biofuels in which Perdue said that by growing crops to produce these fuels, "everyone wins ... except the big oil companies." Ironically, the commercial was first aired on the one-year anniversary of Perdue's decision to close the state's public schools for two days - at the request of petroleum industry lobbyists. A few hours before Perdue made the school-closing announcement, these lobbyists met with some of the governor's top aides and suggested using "snow days" to shut down schools so that farmers would have enough diesel fuel to harvest their crops.
Big ideas: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made a rare appearance in the state he represented in Congress when he talked to a legislative study committee about the future of health care costs. Gingrich started a think tank that ruminates on health care issues and suggested several ideas his center has studied to bring about better care at lower costs. Among them: "If you want a black man to start checking his blood pressure, pay his barber. ... Every adolescent kid in this state should be weighed at least once a quarter. If you can get them to eat less and exercise more, you'll have fewer health problems when they're adults. ... Paper kills. Show me a paper prescription and I'll show you a chance to have a medication error."
DOT agenda: The State Transpor-tation Board's legislative agenda will be surprisingly modest; it will be pushing two minor bills concerned with the size of negotiated contracts and the relocation of power lines along state roads. Board member David Doss is disappointed that the priorities don't also include legislation that would create a state infrastructure bank to provide loans for local governments to build and repair their roads and bridges. "This is one of our most critical needs," Doss said at a recent board meeting.
You can go home again: Lobbyist John Bozeman, who spent a year working for Sonny Perdue as the governor's legislative director, left the governor's office in September and will return to the public affairs firm where he previously worked, GeorgiaLink.
Changes in attitude: When the legislature was rewriting the state's tort laws last year, House Speaker Glenn Richardson insisted the bill include a $350,000 limit on non-economic ("pain and suffering") damages resulting from medical malpractice or similar negligent acts, even though several Republican lawyers objected that the cap was unfairly low. Richardson, a Paulding County lawyer, had an entirely different attitude when representing a client whose daughter was accidentally killed in a police training incident: He'll help her file a lawsuit against Cobb County in which the mother will seek $5 million in damages. "Clearly, the speaker recognizes that the loss of a family member should be compensated at a level higher than the $350,000 cap on damages that the legislature approved in 2005," said Allison Wall of the consumer group Georgia Watch, a critic of the tort reform law.
Sex crime board: Gov. Sonny Perdue has appointed 11 people to the new Sex Offender Registration Review Board that will determine the classification of sexual offenders under the state's get-tough sex crimes law. Of course, if Georgia were to implement Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor's proposal that repeat child molesters receive the death penalty, Perdue's appointments would become a moot issue.
High honors: Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein was recently inducted into the Stetson University College of Law Hall of Fame. Hunstein received her law degree from Stetson in 1976 and later served as a Superior Court judge in DeKalb County before then-Gov. Zell Miller appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1992.