Conservatives of Georgia, Are You Listening?

Whether it’s while running for city council or for Congress, activists rallying at a conference, or just every day folks trying to swing a moderate their way, Republicans can’t stop talking about serving justice. We’re ‘tough on crime!’ and we tout how many awful people we ‘put away’ in a certain period of time. Constituencies expect it and it seems to be low-hanging fruit for many hard (R’s)…but what they don’t know is they are all wrong.

The justice system has long been on the decline and in an era where Americans are becoming less and less trustworthy of the process from arrest to probation, Republicans shouldn’t be showcasing what they believe to be effectiveness in the legal system.

Mandatory minimum sentencing practices came about in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in response to criticism that judges had too much power. Additionally, it was part of a crackdown on certain offenses to serve as a deterrent – one that has since be deemed virtually ineffective.

We made some mistakes. It’s okay to admit that. It’s even better to admit that there have been a series of unintended consequences from the enactment of these laws. There will likely be more with any reforms we make. This is trial and error, but we have to start somewhere. The important thing is that we acknowledge our failures and work to remedy them.

First, and most conservatively, there are fiscal and economic repercussions to these mandatory minimum sentences:

  • Cost – We’re arbitrarily maxing out on the cost of incarceration at the expense of taxpayers. On average, it costs between $35,000-50,000 annually to house an inmate. If someone is sentenced to a mandatory 10 years, the state is on the hook for a minimum of $350,000 in direct economic costs. If the crime lacked severity, costs could top out at a mere $70,000-$100,000, but that type of cost-savings analysis relative to the crime committed is not permitted.
  • It’s forcing overcrowding – The Federal Justice Judicial Center reported that 70% of the prison growth related to sentencing since 1985 is attributed to increases in drug sentence length.
  • Job availability – Would you be more willing to hire someone who has served 15 years or less than five years in prison? The longer someone is incarcerated, the less likely it is they will attain a sustainable long-term job that will keep them a member of the workforce. The cyclical nature of this is social program dependency, another thing conservatives are against.
  • We aren’t actually fixing anything – Mandatory minimums don’t reduce crime. There are various studies out there that show the correlation between the length of time in prison and recidivism rates. They’re rather high. Why? Because we aren’t rehabilitating, we aren’t correcting behavior…Recidivism will cost us. The conservative argument is to transition these folks into a role of productivity in society,

Despite knowing these economic impacts, our state legislatures are still proposing legislation that would impose mandatory minimum sentences on various crimes – new and old. Since 1991, crimes punishable by MMS’s have doubled.

Another issue of concern: This sentencing structure completely eliminates judicial discretion. If you truly think about it, judicial power has actually been usurped by the legislature and portions of the judicial branch are operating under the direction of the legislature. It also places the power in the hands of the prosecutors because they are the ones filing charges. Remember, prosecutors keep statistics on how many people they lock up each year. This isn’t just wrong for our judicial system. It’s wrong for a Republican form of government. Judges should have the ability to weigh the facts and circumstances of every case individually because no case is the same. The justice system was never intended to operate in the one-size-fits-all mentality. Sentencing power needs to be restored to our judges from the legislative branch.

Georgia’s made minuscule progress. Aside from various rankings giving us a D- (or worse) in civil forfeiture practices and the highest number of citizens on probation, Georgia finally removed the convicted felon box on in-state job applications, made the parole process a smidgen more transparent, and slowly informing elected officials who don’t even know what civil asset forfeiture is.

The conservative stance on justice reform is not helping us economically and it isn’t helping us win elections, It’s time to reevaluate. Everyone has a story. It’s time conservatives allow those stories to be heard in inside the courtroom and on the road to rehabilitation. Georgia, are you listening? It’s time to repeal mandatory minimum sentences.


This blog is part of a series following the FreedomWorks Justice Reform Briefing organized by Jason Pye in Washington, D.C. in May 2015. FreedomWorks partnered with the Center for American Progress to bring together bloggers and activists from all corners of the political spectrum to address reforms needed for the justice system, including mandatory minimum sentencing, the death penalty, and civil forfeiture.

To read Part 1 – An Introduction, click here.

 

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Too Much Skin in the Game

Friday afternoon whilst scrolling through the interwebs, I stumbled upon a disturbing photo heather hironimusand headline: “Mother Signs Consent for Son’s Circumcision.” The photos below showed a distressed woman praying and weeping.

The controversial case out of Florida has been dragging on for years, but my own ignorance has kept me from discovering it before this weekend. Because this story has been going on for some time and is quite lengthy, I’ll offer you a brief run down.

Heather Hironimus and Dennis Nebus were an unwed couple who discovered they were pregnant in 2010. While pregnant, the debate began, but in 2012 Heather signed a parenting plan to allow the circumcision. After additional research, she changed her mind and spent much time trying to block the procedure arguing there was no “medical need.” In 2013, Dennis filed a civil suit against Heather, which Heather countered with a federal suit (just recently dropped). He argued the procedure was necessary and not having it was causing their little boy Chase some health issues that could be remedied by the procedure. Heather fled with Chase in February of this year to again avoid the procedure, which brought about criminal charges including interference with custody which is a felony. As of today, Chase has told psychologists and other adults he is fearful of the procedure.

The issue has become such a controversial one in Florida, activists on Heather’s side have applied pressure and no doctor will perform the procedure. The judge has granted Dennis permission to take Chase out of Florida to have this procedure done.

Now, regardless of where you stand on the uncomfortable issue of circumcision, there is at least one thing most logical folks can agree on:

Signing a ‘consent’ form in handcuffs, while praying and hysterically crying under the guise that you will be released from jail is not entering into an agreement “freely and willingly.”

A spokesman for a Catholic organization in Ithaca, NY said of the duress: “A consent form signed under mental anguish and with the threat of staying in jail is not consent. That is coercion…”

heather hironimus2Several things went awry in this case:

  1. Chase is now 4 1/2 years old. There is a reason parents who choose to circumcise their children do so days after birth. It’s less traumatic and heals easier. Doing so at nearly 5 years old opens an entirely different can of worms.  In essence, Heather has already “won.”
  2.  This has been an ongoing battle between mother and father for over five years, and a legal one for multiple years as well. Why a judge has allowed this to drag out – and not done within the parameters of emergency hearings with final decisions – is beyond me. Every waking day Chase is aging and will remember more and more of this legal travesty. Because of his age, the procedure will require general anesthesia.

So now what happens. What do we do, legally, when two parents cannot agree on an issue such as this? And now at a point of no return – after everything that has already occurred – should the actions taken be different from had this been decided 4 years ago?

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Presidential Primary: A Single-Issue Race?

Ben Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Over the last 14 years, we’ve seen how much liberty Americans are willing to give up for the purposes of safety. Between the TSA and the NSA, very little goes unseen or untouched.

Recently, many of our Republican presidential candidates and expected-to-be presidential candidates have taken the media bait (to our advantage) to answer questions on the increasingly controversial issues like the PATRIOT Act renewal and the NSA program.

With the PATRIOT Act renewal at the forefront and on the heels of the Rand filibuster, here’s what we’ve seen so far:

  • Scott Walker said if he were in the Senate, he would not have supported Rand Paul’s protest against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs.
  • Jeb Bush said, with regard to Rand’s filibuster, “I think he’s wrong in saying that this is unconstitutional or saying that people’s freedoms have been violated by the Patriot Act.”
  • Marco Rubio has publicly pushed for the extension of the program while telling folks the government isn’t listening unless you’re a terrorist (how do they know if you are or not?) and there “is not a single documented case of abuse of this program.”
  • Mike Huckabee recently slammed Obama, saying, “Obama’s warrantless, NSA spying program is more than just illegal, it’s an unconstitutional, criminal assault on our freedoms as Americans.  As president, I will repeal this program and protect the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans.”
  • Ted Cruz, while supportive of the PATRIOT Act, opposes the NSA. He thinks we should “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
  • Chris Christie semi-supports the program but says, “you can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re in a coffin.” Umm…what?
  • Ben Carson thinks there’s a way to accomplish the ends of the NSA without the NSA.

So can Constitutional conservatives be distinguished by just one question?

I say maybe. If, after years of criticism and zero deterred terrorists attacks because of the NSA program, a Republican is still willing to circumvent the Constitution under the guise of “security,” that tells me a lot about their respect for the Constitution in other capacities. For me, I understand the importance of political compromise, but the U.S. Constitution is one place that I’m not looking for someone to offer ‘exceptions.’ Ever.

I’m certainly not saying that privacy and the NSA are the only threats to our country. While I personally believe civil liberties continue to be second only to the national debt and the stability of our economy, I recognize that not everyone prioritizes privacy the same way I do. My point, however, is not only is it one of the top issues we are facing, but rather a gauge of future behavior.

For what it’s worth, Hillary Clinton, who seems to support the program, believes it should be more transparent. I think that speaks volumes about where we should be on the program. The good news for Republicans is there is more than one contender who opposes the NSA.

Are We Going Colorblind?

I tell people all the time that when I got into politics, I was your typical cookie cutter Republican. I opposed the things the Democrats were for, I wouldn’t listen to their talking heads, and I was rather closed-minded. But one day I started listening and I realized that they’re not always wrong. This was happening not because I’m not a good Republican, but because we all make mistakes and no party is perfect. And also because every party gets a little overzealous while in power but we tend to forget that or turn a blind eye when they’re doing it.

Another thing everyone used to tell me is that the only thing Republicans and Democrats could agreejustice reform on is agriculture. But now, times are different. In an era where our nation seems largely divided by partisan politics,some issues are breaking down partisan walls. More recently we’ve seen this with the NSA privacy and data collection debate and now, reform of the justice system seems to be maneuvering itself through the political web to find the common ground of both sides.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to attend a FreedomWorksCenter for American Progress joint briefing as part of the Coalition for Public Safety on Justice Reform. The Coalition partners some unusual suspects like Americans for Tax Reform, the ACLU, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Right On Crime and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, in addition to the two who hosted the summit.

The briefing largely focused on the need for ultimate elimination of mandatory minimum sentences, specifically for non-violent crimes, and the pressing issue of the unconstitutional process of civil asset forfeiture in almost every state and on the federal level.

These issues are on the front line on the federal level, where the Smarter Sentencing Act is held up in the Senate Judiciary committee, the CORRECTIONS Act is still lingering in the background, and across the nation at the state level we’re seeing initiatives. New Mexico and Montana both just completely overhauled their civil forfeiture laws laying the groundwork with a template for other states to follow suit. They’re gaining momentum because they span far and wide across race, economic class, gender, and partisanship.

This isn’t just about poor, black Americans anymore and it no longer affects just those drug dealers many conservatives love to hate. Republicans need to take note of what is crashing down around us: our legal system.

Our criminal justice system is broken. Mandatory minimums and civil asset forfeiture are ruining the lives of people all around us. The Clyde’s Armory (a gun store) case in North Georgia. The seizure of every penny Joseph River’s had to his name as he traveled by train to start a new career out west. The case of a small Mississippi town of 7,000 using over $4 million in seized assets to build a new police station. A rural white businessman who had everything -over $100,000- usurped from his bank account without charge. Meanwhile, mandatory minimum sentences completely eliminate judicial discretion in punishment, while disallowing judges to use the facts and circumstances of each individual case – something we as conservatives should love and adore. It impacts all of us as our prisons are overcrowded and underfunded.

As former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said, “It’s not that you shouldn’t trust the system. But you cannot be unwilling to question the process and the players.”  We’ve acknowledged that there are issues Republicans and Democrats can come together on, and this is one of those issues.

Over the next few weeks, I will be doing a series of articles to raise awareness about the various aspects of our criminal justice system that need reform both in Georgia and in DC. I’ll examine the the initiatives above as well as the cost and economic impact of all of this.  I hope you’ll join me in educating those around you and encouraging our elected officials, Republican, Democrat and Independent, that the time for change is now. But we face an uphill battle in messaging this to our Republican fellows.

GUEST POST: Greg’s List 2015 Georgia GOP State Convention Predictions & Analysis

The following blog is a guest post from fellow blogger and radio talk show host, Greg Williams

In the bold tradition of Greg’s List, we choose not to endorse candidates for state office, we prefer the fine art of speculation, or predictions for Saturday’s Main Event…

Thousands of Republican activists, politicians, and candidates will descend on Athens, GA this weekend, with the goal of electing State officers and adopting resolutions for the next election cycle.

The Georgia Republican Party swept to a huge victory in November 2014 as the Democrat lily-white limosuine liberal ticket of US Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and Jimmy, er Jason Carter for Governor failed to resonate with voters and they were crushed by 8 point margins by Senator David Perdue and Governor Nathan Deal.

The GOP also swept every Constitutional office in the State, defeated John Barrow in Congressional District 12, and successfully defended several State Legislature seats from Democrat challengers.  In other words, it was a #blowout.

Following the success of these elections, most observers predicted a rather dull State convention process as there was no mandate for change in Leadership, at least at the November ballot box.

This dynamic changed rapidly though, as a dismal 2015 Legislative session manifested, a session that saw Republicans vote FOR tax increases while their Democrat counterparts voted AGAINST them.  (I’m still not sure how those insurgent Dems will ever face their constituents).  Dubbed the “Year of the Child”, the 2015 session was chock-full of heavy handed government regulations, new insurance mandates, taxes on businesses deemed scandalous, and, gasp, a $1 Billion tax increase (for Transportation) consisting of additional fuel taxes, hotel/motel taxes, and other “revenue increases.”

The additional taxes, regulations, and perceived cronyism enraged many Conservative activists, who looked to the State Party as a vehicle or medium to admonish Republican politicians that say one thing on the campaign trail and then vote opposite to their rhetoric once elected.

The frustration from the legislative session emboldened a slew of zealous candidates to announce their intentions to run for State office and challenge incumbents, who are likely surprised by the venomous fervor after what was widely viewed as a huge Republican victory in 2014.

Nearly every State office position is contested at the time of press, unfortunately published via Facebook and not the GregsListLive blog, which is suffering from website issues (thanksBlog.com!)

And now for the Predictions, which will include announced candidates, predicted winner, margin of victory percentage, and likelihood of additional candidates announcing at the Convention.  Once again, to reiterate, these are NOT endorsements, they are Predictions.  If you don’t like what I wrote, then please feel free to use your Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech and tell someone who gives a Rat’s ass (hint, not me).

1.  Chairman (Incumbent John Padgett vs. Alex Johnson)

An interesting matchup, as Padgett defeated Johnson in a runoff at the 2013 convention after Johnson garnered enough votes to knock off former

2nd Vice Chair BJ Van Gundy and force a runoff.  The 2015 campaign season hasn’t seen nearly the amount of debates and has actually picked up steam just during the past couple of months.  The Establishment backed Padgett boasts an impressive resume’ of wins and has strong legislative support while Johnson and his band of Merry Purgists, er Purists, seem to have a more enthusiastic voting base.

It’s a Tale of Two Mailers, as both Padgett and Johnson mailed full color direct mail pieces to Delegates and Alternates.  Padgett’s mailer shows photos of Gov. Deal, Sen. Perdue, and Congressman Rick Allen from GA 12 with the proclamation “Together We are Undefeated.”  The information side also highlights the amount of money raised, the employment levels, establishment of newly organized county parties, and increased Minority vote/engagement.

Johnson’s mailer shows a photo of Radio Talk Show host Erick Erickson, who has endorsed Johnson for Chair, and previews what Johnson “would” do if elected Chair.  I think this race will boil down to the difference between proven results and rhetorical promises.  Padgett will undoubtedly be the choice of the Nominating Committee, which holds weight at Conventions.  His proven track record and the power of the incumbency should provide him a comfortable margin of victory, Greg’s List predicts Padgett will garner 57% of the vote when matched up one on one with Johnson.

The likelihood of some last minute surprises in this race is extremely high as the temptation for some to grab their 15 minutes of fame may be irresistible, especially for the one issue/paranoid wing of the Party.  A rant against Agenda 21 is a distinct possibility.

*The Bob Mayzes “May-Vember” surprise email could swing a couple of points to Johnson but Greg’s List doesn’t think it will change the outcome.

2.  First Vice Chairman (Incumbent Michael McNeely vs. A Candidate to Be Named Later)

McNeely coasts to victory against Jesse “An email should suffice as a campaign” Sargent, the only announced challenger thus far.  McNeely swept to a huge victory in 2013 with no runoff required as he was matched up against two other challengers.  I don’t really see a last minute candidate in this race and predict McNeely will win with 90%+ of the vote.

3.  Second Vice Chairman (Open Seat as current 2nd VC Ron Johnson is running for the State Chair of the Under 80k Counties)

The two announced candidates at time of press are Debbie McCord, who is the current Secretary of the State Party, and Nate Porter, who was originally running for State Treasurer and then switched to 2nd Vice Chair.  McCord has been a stalwart in the State Party for many years now and would be difficult to beat even if a full campaign had been run, Greg’s List predicts she will get 75% of the vote in a head to head matchup against Porter.  The 2nd Vice Chair race does have the potential for last minute candidates, though not as likely as the Chairman race.

4.  State Treasurer (Open Seat as Bob Mayzes retired after 20 years of service, and Greg’s List thanks him for an impeccable record)

Two candidates have emerged, Mansell McCord and Brittany Marmol.  Greg’s List is actually predicting what many might feel is an upset in this race, as McCord boasts a very impressive resume’ of Republican leadership.  Marmol has been the Treasurer for the Gwinnett County GOP for the past couple of years and has been making an effort to get out and meet delegates and alternates.  In conversations I’ve had with folks from around the State, she has a surprising level of support from many outside the Cobb/Fulton Republican strongholds that will vote heavily for McCord.  In a close race, Greg’s List predicts Brittany Marmol as the winner by a 51%-49% margin.  Due to rules about the Treasurer’s education and experience levels, I don’t predict any other candidates to announce.

5.  State Secretary (Open Seat as current Secretary Debbie McCord is running for 2nd Vice Chair)

Two candidates have announced at time of press, Kirk Shook, who is currently the State GOP Assistant Secretary, and John Ferros, former Secretary of the Fulton County GOP.  While not exactly the incumbent, Shook will enjoy the ability to talk about serving the past two years as a State officer and is also from the Athens area which will help as a hometown candidates.  Ferros has sent out some emails detaling his plans to set up a Statewide Secretary council that will focus on implementing Roberts Rules of Order, an admirable missive, but not likely to be popular at a Convention which promises to be long and drawn out due to procedural manipulation of Roberts Rules of Order.

Shook wins with 65% of the vote.  There is certainly a chance for other candidates to emerge for this position as it is down ballot and will likely have far less total votes than previous races.

6.  Assistant Secretary (Open Seat as Incumbent Kirk Shook is running for Secretary

At time of press, Floyd County COP Chair Layla Shipman is the only announced candidate.  If no other candidate emerges, then Shipman will win “Kim Jong Un” style, with 100% of the vote.  Greg’s List predicts there will be other candidates because, Why the Hell not?  Shipman has been active in the Party for many years and Greg’s List predicts she will coast to victory once this election finally occurs.

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Are we eliminating ‘transgenders’ from our society?

It seems that ‘transgender news’ has been through the roof lately. Whether that’s because there is growing number of people actually switching genders or just an increase in folks publicly discussing their journey, it really doesn’t matter. What we’re facing is a moral standoff that is causing a great divide while dealing with a governmental structure that is well behind what has become somewhat of a societal norm.

With all due respect, this isn’t about whether your faith commands you to tolerate these “types” of people and it isn’t about your personal beliefs. No, we are far past that. With a government that regulates and controls just about everything we do, we find ourselves in a great predicament. It’s becoming extremely litigious as well. Businesses without policies find themselves at the center of discrimination suits, like Barnes & Noble and a blood bank.

This is about the fact the transgender people, regardless of how you feel, are now a part of our society and we have to address the realities of that. For decades, we have ignored the shift and turned our backs.

To many, it seems cut and dry. I’ve heard countless people say that transgender – or even cross-dressers – should use the restroom based on ‘what they were at birth.’ But those statements have consequences.

While the Bruce Jenner jokes have been in abundance, the issue has touched home plate in our states more than once, recently.  Just last week, Rutgers announced they would be adding additional mascots to the team to be more inclusive and story after story highlights parents allowing their children to be vocal about changing genders – which trickles into public school operations. The crux of the issue has arrived.

In Virginia, parents and pastors are vehemently opposing a public school policy change to be more accepting of transgender students. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education is threatening to pull funding if a change is not made.

And Georgia has had to sort out a very complicated situation which forced the U.S. Justice Department to intervene. A young man, who was in the process of changing sexes but was already living life as a female named Ashley Diamond, was arrested for robbery and sentenced to several years in prison. Ashley Diamond was transferred to a mens prison facility where she was disallowed from receiving her hormone therapy medications despite the fact that Georgia has a ‘freeze frame’ policy, meaning, hormone therapy can be continued while in the Georgia Department of Corrections but not increased or progressed while in custody. Ultimately, the Justice Department strong armed Georgia into administering the drugs and Diamond is now up for a transfer to a woman’s facility.

These concerns aren’t just in the public restrooms or the gym locker rooms or the high school prom. They’ve expanded to our tax code, our jails, our court systems, our schools, and so much more. It is no longer something we can ignore. We don’t live in a bubble where some people can operate under one guise and the rest of us under another.

No one should ask you to sweep your beliefs under the rug, but in the same vein, can you ask society to omit an entire group of people from classification? We can continue to resist, but it will only put off the inevitable. It’s already here.

Presidential Field Too Green?

Remember in 2008, when Barack Obama starting making headway and everyone shouted from the rooftops that he was too young, too inexperienced, too green? I’m not sure if that was the argument because people actually believed it or if they had grown too concerned with appearing ‘racist’ in an election cycle that was a constant racial attack from the Left. Either way, it left me cringing when some of our GOP counterparts rose through the ranks over the last few years and we went far beyond overlooking it.

In fact, I am currently wondering why we are not relieving that right now. Consider the announced GOP field as of today:

  • Marco Rubio
  • Ted Cruz
  • Rand Paul

The were all elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, meaning, they are just wrapping up their first term. Neither Paul nor Cruz had served in public office before, something I personally believe should happen before being elected as a U.S. Senator (or President) and my belief is that we simply ‘lucked out’ with them. But I digress.

If you consider their political resumes, Barack Obama’s is technically more diverse.

Presidential Seal

Carly Fiorna and Dr. Ben Carson also have legitimate supporters and encouragement to run. Neither of them have served a day in public office before. There are people that love that about them.

Then, there are gubernatorial candidates who have only served a little over 4 years in office. And serving as a Governor presents different experiences. Walker, Jeb Bush, Christie, Jindal and all the others bring very different backgrounds to the table.

So how much experience is enough experience? The arguments of executive branch picks versus otherwise are abundant. The number of years they have served…too much versus not enough. The reasons are endless.

In our own state, we saw last fall that ‘absolutely none’ was a level of experience many Republicans wanted to see in their elected officials with the election of Senator David Perdue and Congressmen Jody Hice (GA-10) and Rick Allen (GA-12). Whether that works for us still remains to be seen, but we won’t know unless we test it.

Regardless of what you believe about these Presidential candidates (or soon-to-be candidates) ability to win, their supporters, their fundraising tactics, and their match-up against Hillary, you still have to admit it: They’re all green in some capacity. None of them have ever served as President of the United States before.

Our country continues to evolve. The challenges we face will continue to evolve as well, and with that, so will the electorate as we decide who can best arrange the deck chairs on this already sinking ship.

My question is this: Is there a trend toward newbies or are we just hypocrites? Is it now politically expedient to support these greenies or were we wrong before? I’m okay with either, but we should probably be prepared to message that when things heat up.

Anyone Can Run for Office?

I suppose my idealism takes me off the reservation a little too often, but with the primary for 2016 just 13 months away, we’re starting to see candidates announce. So of course that got me thinking…

I will preface with the fact that I am of the belief that incumbents should be challenged. Often.Uncle Sam The good ones and the bad ones. Primary challenges ensure that our elected officials hold to the values of their district. Heck, it just puts elected officials IN the district to have interaction with their constituents – something some of them wouldn’t do otherwise.

We gripe and groan after every controversial vote and complain that “S/He should go home!” “[X] needs a primary!” We’ve seen the episode but the season finale is always the same: when a small town, no-name candidate announces, we gawk and point fingers at their unprofessionalism, their lack of funds, or the small to non-existent campaign team.

It just so happens that nine times out of ten, it is the no-name political junkie who announces a challenge. Our more “seasoned” candidates will wait for an open seat, so these primary challenges for our bigger incumbents always bring about a different breed. They’re Joe-Schmoe who has been enraged in his day-to-day for the last 10 years and finally wants to do something about it.

Because our seats were created for the little people.

This happens a lot. We get them from city council to U.S. Senate but the higher offices seems to make ‘looking legitimate’ a whole lot harder because of the whole fundraising thing. In 2013, running for U.S. Senate cost, on average, $10,476,451. That’s $14,351 per day in spending. It actually cost Elizabeth Warren over $42 million to defeat Scott Brown. Additionally, House candidates who won in 2012 raked in an average of $1,689,580 in campaign contributions. That’s about $2,315 each day.

Here in Georgia, we have people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaigns for State Senate, a position that pays less than $25,000 per year. We see the same for county commission seats and even our city council and mayoral races force fundraising numbers over what many people are paid in a year. The burden to run for office is high and it’s also become the ‘legitimacy ranking.’

But our seats were created for the little people.

When I was working on a campaign in the 12th district, the primary discussion for the Republican primary focused on 4 candidates, but there were actually 5. A lady by the name of Diane Vann campaigned across the entire district. She was everywhere and worked really hard with the resources she had. She said some things that were a little kooky and she didn’t have much money at all, but she ran for Congress because she wanted to run for Congress and she believed the message she was sharing was the right one.

Why do we not support this? We complain about incumbents. Congress – and many of our elected officials all the way down to city council – have devastatingly low approval ratings. We want someone who will stand up and talk about the issues. We want someone new. We expect others to do what we ourselves are unwilling to do. And then when that person shows up, we slam the ‘You don’t belong here!’ door in their face.

I’m not saying that every candidate with a lot of money is bad. That certainly isn’t the case.  And I’m also not saying we HAVE to support the grassroots candidate because sometimes the person serving is already doing a great job. I’m not naive enough to think that everyone is qualified to serve, either.

What I am saying is that people run for office because they believe they are serving a purpose. If someones kooky campaign gets a few new people involved in the game of politics, shouldn’t we support that?

Our seats were created for the little people.

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Oh…The Humanity!

It happened. All of my frustrations from a ridiculous election season followed by an even more absurd legislative  session culminated into one, giant hate-filled implosion. But before we get to the “fixing,” let’s start with the “causing.”

I went into this session excited, which is surprising considering this was not my first. But my excitement quickly crumbled into little bits of ‘what the hell?’ when an entire group of people I trusted abandoned what I knew of them – a complete toppling of conviction in this mess of politics because of ego and greed.

I couldn’t take one more second of the blow hards on Facebook pretending that ‘their’ elected official was somehow ‘immune’ to the ridiculousness and still had ‘pure tendencies.’ The lies, the backstabbing, and then my phone was changing “Amen” to “amendment”. I couldn’t even end a prayer without thoughts of politics. I had had enough.

I left work early on Wednesday mad as hell. I went home, walked the dogs and headed to the
gym. Except that made it all worse. The lady three treadmills down from me was talking on her phone and I could hear her entire conversation over the ever-so-timely Cee Lo Green song on my headphones. I was about ready to march off my machine, yank her cord right out of the socket, and rip her a new one when I actually made eye contact with her. I felt this overwhelming guilt consume me because I didn’t hate the lady on the treadmill. I hated that all of the hate had consumed me and I no longer recognized myself. I…hated it.

I’m not sure if you know this, but I too am a human. Despite the disparaging blogs, the sassy, IMG_1842 sarcastic comments, and the sometimes anti-political tirades, my heart is still pure. I am a grateful cheerful person. I like wine, pizza, puppies, and babies who aren’t weeping – just like everyone else. And despite the hype, I am not as bad as some make me out to be. Like everyone else, I pick my battles and burn bridges, but I do so carefully. If you look back over 4 years of writing, I’ve only lit the match for 2 bridges: the one connecting me to Sen. John Albers and the other to Rep. Christian Coomer.

Why does this matter? Because I had a heavy heart over the people who did not see my tenacious effort to discuss things, not people. And then I realized, it isn’t my fault that elected officials take their job so seriously that a criticism of their work kills any conversation and most of the time, all friendships. It isn’t my fault that their pursuit of ‘what is right’ does not look like mine. It isn’t my fault that they have a problem with me.

But the humanity.

This humanity thing, it keeps us immune to many things, like melting and time travel, but not from the hatred we see amongst us in politics. Not the hurt of finding that a mutual contributor who writes alongside side you says horrible, nasty no-good things about you’ and tells people they want nothing more than to see you fail.

Humanity does not make you immune to the deafening silence of no one around when you’ve been raked over the coals. It does not keep you warm in the ice-cold reality of knowing those you depended on won’t be there.

Humanity does not make you immune to recognizing that just about every legislator, or citizen for that matter, from Gwinnett county is trying to make your life a living hell because you don’t like a few of their ‘concepts.’

Humanity does not keep us from hating people back because they hated us first.

Humanity does not make you immune to the pain of a defeat, no matter how small.

Humanity does not make you immune to the fact that the ‘minority’ in this state is not a party or a race, but a group of people who have nothing to gain from this vicious, cyclical game that most of us cannot escape.

I’ve been called a lot of things in the last 90 days – some under the Gold Dome and some from those people on Maple Avenue. Pro-predator, someone who supports human trafficking, just about every curse word you can imagine, and of course, someone who has ‘close ties to the adult entertainment industry.’ But I am none of these things.

What I am is “green.” Even after 5 years. I’ve never been in situations where people hate others. High school was a pretty easy time in my life and most of my jobs have yielded friends, not enemies. I have a few weird family members, but I am told that is normal.

In politics, there is no shoulder to cry on. In fact, there isn’t really a time, place, or purpose for crying at all. And unless you’re married to someone in politics – which I thankfully am not – you go home to find that what you feel is even harder to explain to someone on the outside. Your mom will just want to “fix it” and if she can’t, she’ll want to fight those battles for you. Your friends just want you to have a glass of wine and forget about it.

Then social media complicates things. When you aren’t consumed with the political rants, your feed is bombarded with wicked skinny witches who are leaving the maternity ward with skinny bird legs that are still somehow smaller than yours at your own birth and that pesky, annoying person from high school who has received yet another promotion. There is no escaping humanity.

But the truth is: I don’t want to be immune from the humanity.

You see, the “me” in this isn’t just me and all the “I…” is really just the voice of a lot of other people like me. The people who see no appeal in the actual game. The people who want to make a difference. The people who have nothing to gain. Replace “Jessica” in this article with the person you can’t stand and want to see fail. Ask yourself if you’re forcing them to face unnecessary battles.

Sometimes we all need slack and understanding. Sometimes we need a break to restore ourselves to the softness of which we know of ourselves to embody. Sometimes we forget that we are dealing with living, breathing human beings. We forget that human beings, by nature and the grace of God, have feelings.

The biggest problem is that we forget that we all got into this because we had ‘some feelings’ about ‘some issue’ at some point. We suffer when we forget what those feelings are. Personally, that is my new daily task and it will take nothing short of a valiant effort.

In the meantime, I implore you to look at how you treat those around you. Specifically, those you find yourself disliking and hating the most. Ask yourself how much better off you’ll be by putting someone else down. It’s time we start distinguishing between the people who truly hurt our cause and our progress from those who, much like ourselves, are fighting the battles for the things they believe to be right. We need to make a concerted effort to not destroy PEOPLE because their POLICIES do not look like ours.

Most people in politics are terrible people. Those of us who cling to our purity should not succumb to being like ‘most people.’

“Where Did You Come From?”

The question I get most frequently in the realm of politics is ‘Where did you come from?’ or rather, why am I the way I am? Don’t worry, this isn’t the beginning of an Eminem song.

Like any person, my direct route from day 1 to present is full of twists and turns.  So many experiences mold us into who we are, but for many people, it is difficult to pin point the exact moment in time when they became who they are. I don’t have that problem.

I have always had an argumentative streak and my 11th grade history teacher at Centennial High School, Mr. Porter, did no disservice in allowing me to speak my mind early and often despite his love of Abraham Lincoln and his first edition Toyota Prius. In 2004, I was still the cookie cutter solid suburban (R) who would defend the party until I was blue in the face, and God bless him, he had to deal with me in an election year. It served us both well and prepped me for college and graduate school where I continued to evolve.

But my life changed the day I met Andrew Wordes, the Roswell Chicken man. A man of small stature and a unique voice you could pick out of any crowd, I met Andrew at a campaign event in 2009. He was kind and gracious and wanted to know what, as a young person, drove me to get involved in politics. “It was an accident,” I told him. But he shrugged it off, said that was impossible, and went on to show me pictures of his dog, pigs, and of course, his chicken. I entertained the conversation because I couldn’t believe he had chickens in the ‘burbs.

Over the next few months, I saw Andrew several times and eventually, someone filled me in on his battle against the City of Roswell. I was mortified to learn about his years-long debacle. The man withstood a retroactive vendetta ordinance, lawsuit(s) against him by the City (an unprecedented act in the State of Georgia), the grading of the land around his home by the City without permission and notice, pressure to submit to eminent domain far below FMV, multiple nights in jail due to police harassment, city employees meddling with his mortgage holder, and the poisoning of his animals which caused the death of over half of them, yet some how some way, the man managed to get up every day to see another fight and volunteer to help others.

I was enamored by his lengthy story and asked him if I could document it on my blog. Of course he said yes and we began talking almost daily so he could fill me in on updates between the lawsuits and the police casing his home.

He sometimes appeared angry, but that was mostly out of frustration of people not listening. He wanted to be heard. He was often characterized as ‘crazy’ but that was purely because he was unwavering and was doing things no one had ever done. He had compassion and showed complete devastation when his animals were poisoned and dying – he held them and nurtured them in their suffering. He was never short on emotion and I adored that about him.

He was a man of controversy because he challenged his government, bucked the system, mouthed off, often stood alone, and never gave up. He ultimately took his own life under pressures many of us will be lucky enough to never face. He made some mistakes and he wasn’t always the most eloquent man, but he was a man of conviction and principle. He loved his freedom, his country, and his God.

Tomorrow, March 26th, marks the 3 year anniversary of the death of my sweet friend Andrew Wordes. I still have a page on my blog dedicated to highlighting his stories. Three years and I can’t take it down, despite that fact that it highlights my reel of immature and unrefined elementary writing skills. I still have a voicemail on an old phone from Sunday, March 25th, 2012 from Andrew. He told me things were “good” and he was expecting things to turn around. He said we would talk tomorrow so we could plan our next course of action to keep fighting. Session was in and he wanted to go down and talk to his State Senator who wouldn’t take his calls.

He died the next day but left a fire in us all that reminds us we can’t just fight our own battles and we can’t always choose the big “flashy” battles. He left behind an inspired and an enraged league of Liberty-lovers who don’t forget to mention his story. He didn’t win his battle, but he’s winning the war because every day someone, somewhere inches closer to awakening on an issue and someone new gets involved. He taught others to further this and to do so with conviction and emotion – so as never to come across as disingenuous.

I don’t believe in coincidences. It was no accident that I met Andrew on my very first campaign at the very first event. It’s no accident that Andrew’s story was one of the first controversial blogs I ever penned – an extreme illustration of government overreach that went largely unnoticed by the media – two things I stomp and raise a ruckus about now.  It’s no coincidence that –right or wrong- even the drama surrounding the incident of Andrew taking his own life was a political statement that continues the conversation.

I have no doubt that I documented Andrew’s story on my own blog, not for his benefit, but for mine.  So that when I felt like giving up, I would have a written journal of what he encountered and a shiny mirror of reflection illuminating the fact that he never relented. A staunch reminder that I was taught to stand tall and loud even when I’m alone and to never withhold my emotion and passion from a cause – no matter how small.