Tag Archives: David Ralston

“I’m Sorry I Raised Your Taxes”

We’ve all heard about it by now. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston plans to introduce the “Pastor’s Protection Act” during the next legislative session.

Let’s call a spade a spade. This is actually the Legislator’s Protection Act. Don’t be fooled, people. This is an apology, an olive branch, a caucus career saver, the “I’m sorry I ran over your dog” bouquet of flowers. The ice pack the punk offers you after slugging you in the jaw.

The same man who spent two sessions making sure the religious liberty bills never hit the House floor for a vote now wants to swoop in Cavalia style with a unicorn horn to the tune of Flash! by Queen and introduce this bill to appease a very specific group of the Republican electorate. To save the souls of the Republicans who went out on a limb to appease him and the Governor this spring.

Forget about Representative Sam Teasley and Senator Josh McKoon. Forget about the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the various groups of united religious denominations, and any Georgian of faith

You can close your jaw. I’m telling the truth. I know I’m telling the truth because folks on both sides of the issue will admit this is the least necessary aspect of the religious liberty controversy. It would only apply to clergy. Not churches. Not businesses. It wouldn’t do much. This is an easy way out for a feel good bill.

While this certainly isn’t a religious liberty bill, the issues have the same roots. This initiative comes on the heels of the Supreme Court decision that has the far religious right up in arms. The same religious right that was mortified by the legislative priority list for the General Assembly last session, what with the taxes, the expanded government, the strippers. The same religious right that turns out election after election. Religious liberty is a hot button issue that will be at every candidate forum come spring 2016.

And the truth is that Republicans who voted in favor of the $900 million tax increase for transportation faced heat at home. (Unless they quit or took an appointment.) Constituents are angry, the grassroots and Tea Party folks are still nailing them to the wall and when polls came out illustrating that voters overwhelmingly didn’t care for the tax, it was clear that the Republican caucus needed a plan.

The truth is that there are plenty of people who would appear more qualified and genuine carrying a bill like this. But it isn’t about that. It’s about an agenda. An agenda that will protect a a particular group of the caucus.

It isn’t supposed to be about who gets the credit. It’s supposed to be about quality legislation and doing the right thing. And if that means Ralston carries this bill, so be it.

But this, this is why people hate politics. It’s manipulative, calculated, and disingenuous. It’s everything they say it is and more. And worse. And then the voters have to make a decision. What is our priority when we head to the ballot box? Civil liberties? Or lower taxes? Because only some Republican districts get representatives with both.

Ballot Access Legislation Coming in 2015?

Over the course of the last election cycle, I spent a lot time complaining about the need for ballot access reform. Georgia is currently rated 50th (that’s worst, for those of you playing at home) in the nation for ballot access for third-party candidates, or “independents” since our state only “recognizes” two political parties under election law. “Rogue candidates.” The rebels without a cause. What it means to be recognized as a political party is also defined by state law.

Georgia currently requires these candidates to obtain signatures from 5% of prospective voters. If you’re running for Congress, that’s about 18,000 signatures – and no third-party has been on a general election Congressional ticket since 1943. Whether you’re running for county commission or Governor, you have 180 days to collect the signatures and then turn them in accordance with the qualifying period outlined specifically for independent candidates. This mess unfolded publicly for both Jeff Amason in House District 21(who obtained far more than 5%) and  candidates like Bill Bozarth in Atlanta during the last general election. There is no doubt the process is a bureaucratic, unequal mess.

And we’ve sort of tried. During the 2011-12 legislation session, Secretary of State Brian Kemp recommended by way of Rep. Mark Hamilton and HB 949, along with many other ballot access reform initiatives, a reduced number of signatures required for third-party candidates. Not perfect, but a step in the right direction. The legislature denied this and passed almost every other ballot reform measure in HB 899.

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Support for fewer barriers to entry goes back further than that, though. A similar bill was introduced by the late Rep. Bobby Franklin and, wait for it,…David Ralston, pre-speakership days. In fact, Ralston was the first signer on HB 927 in the 2005-2006 legislative session. The bill, which is worded in so many ways that I adore, states the following:

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Consistent petition standards for all public offices. What a novel thought. The legislation reduced the number of signatures required to 2% of voters based on numbers from the last election. While this legislation is contradictory in and of itself, seeing as though ‘consistent’ would imply that everyone, even “Republicans” and “Democrats” are subjected to the same rules, the mere introduction of the legislation indicates that we have a problem. In September, 58% of Americans favored third parties. It’s time to stop ignoring this issue.

Whether legislation should eliminate signatures for an ‘unrecognized’ party, or we stop using parties on the ballot (Georgia Washington didn’t like them!), or we start messing around with the qualifying fees as a barrier to entry is still up for debate. One thing is for sure: no candidate should have to sue the state to be on the ballot. That’s not a government run by The People and Georgia needs to do better. Perhaps we can shoot for 49th. Regardless of whether you will ever vote for a third-party or not, the inequity based on political affiliation is resounding.

What legislation will actually look like if it comes about in the upcoming session -if it even does- is still to be determined. Rumor has it that legislation will indeed be introduced, perhaps by Rep. John Pezold (R-Columbus). But you know what they say about rumors: Only good ones are spiced with truth.