Political Notes: June 2011

Ups, Downs And In-Betweens

Top Cop Honor: Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan is the 2011 recipient of the Weltner Freedom of Information Award given by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. The award, named for the late Charles L. Weltner, a former Georgia Supreme Court chief justice and congressman, is presented annually to a public official who is a strong supporter of open government.

Keenan, GBI director since 2003, was a major force in creating “Georgia’s Blue Book,” a guide to the state’s open records act for law enforcement. He has said, “The best police officer is public scrutiny.”

Kennan’s award was presented at a banquet this spring by Sally Quillian Yates, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Guest speaker was Attorney General Sam Olens, who is spearheading the effort to rewrite and strengthen the state’s sunshine laws.

Immigration Bill: Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law the oh-so-controversial House Bill 87, which lets police check the immigration status of criminal suspects. It also requires businesses to check the status of prospective hires via the E-Verify program.

The bill rallied an impressive group of opponents, in addition to immigrants’ rights groups and some high-powered business folks.

Among them, the Atlanta City Council, the Georgia Restaurant Association, Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory, Fifth District Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) and President Barack Obama.

New Chancellor: Henry “Hank” Huckaby, a native Georgian and longtime supporter of higher education in the state, is the new Chancellor of the University System of Georgia. Board of Regents Chair Willis Potts says Huckaby, elected to the Georgia House of Representatives from Oconee County as a Republican, was the lone finalist for the job.

His background includes administrative positions with the university system, including a six-year stint as senior vice president of finance and administration at the University of Georgia and three years as a special advisor to UGA President Michael Adams.

He has experience in state government, as director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, head of the Department of Community Affairs and director of the Georgia State Senate Research Office.

Huckaby’s selection has drawn praise from most quarters. His predecessor, Erroll Davis, was an out-of-stater and a former utility company CEO with no previous experience in government or higher education and had a frequently contentious relationship with the state’s lawmakers. The new chancellor’s financial and governmental smarts should serve him and the state’s colleges and universities well, as the system grapples with increases in enrollments and decreases in state funding.

Raise A Glass: As expected, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law Senate Bill 10, which allows cities and counties to vote on Sunday alcohol sales. The bill’s prospects throughout the 2011 legislative session ranged from initially good, to not-so-good, to surprisingly good, before it finally passed with considerable support from suburban legislators.

Even before the bill was signed by the governor, the Loganville City Council voted to hold an election so its citizens can determine whether Sunday sales will be permitted in that jurisdiction. Several other communities are expected to follow right behind them.

Going Up: Students in Georgia’s 35 public colleges and universities will see a three percent increase in tuition this fall and a jump in fees that will add another 6 percent to their total bills. The increase was approved by the Board of Regents in response to a $346-million decrease in state funding. The university system promises to “offset the gap between revenues and expenditures with additional and pervasive cost-cutting measures at all institutions.”

Reforming Criminal Justice: Nathan Deal the father and Nathan Deal the governor both had a part in signing HB 265 into law. The bill, which creates a Special Council of Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians, was signed by the governor in the Hall County courtroom where his son, Judge Jason Deal, presides over drug court.

The governor said the council’s effort would seek strategies to save taxpayer dollars, but acknowledged, “We are first and foremost attacking the human costs of a society with too much crime, too many behind bars, too many children growing up without a much-needed parent and too many wasted lives.”

Leadership Change: Just before the legislative session ended, State Sen. Cecil Staton (D-Macon) stepped away from his duties as Senate whip, a consequence of a fracas over a series of email communications critical of some Republican lawmakers that were signed by “Beth Merkleson,” who doesn’t seem to exist but who, apparently, shared an internet connection with Staton.

Work Ready: Gov. Nathan Deal has named Crawford County as a Certified Work Ready Community and eight other counties Georgia Certified Work Ready Communities of Excel-lence for their work in “transforming their workforces and encouraging economic development.” The eight are Cherokee, Clay, Glynn, Jones, Macon, Miller, Randolph and Tift.

Mark Your Calendars: If you are missing your Gold Dome-style political drama, hold on until Aug. 15, when the General Assembly will re-convene to consider reapportionment based on the 2010 U.S. Census results. The lawmakers will re-draw state and Con-gressional districts; Georgia’s population increase from 2000 to 2010 will give the state another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The re-districting process was purely political when the Democrats controlled the statehouse, and there’s no reason to expect that to change now that the Republicans are running things.

And, if there’s any shortage of fireworks, there’s still the possibility that lawmakers will take up the issue of tax reform.

Categories: Political Notes