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Georgia editorial roundup

November 1, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Oct. 28

The Brunswick News on Sen. David Perdue’s vote against a bill to provide emergency funds for natural disaster relief:

Senator David Perdue of Georgia may call the Golden Isles home, but his vote this week on a bill to provide $36.5 billion in emergency spending to pay for ongoing natural disaster relief must not have been made with Coastal Georgia in mind.

Perdue was one of 17 senators who voted against the bill, which includes $18.7 billion for recent disasters that impacted places from Puerto Rico to the vineyards of Northern California. The bill also forgives about $16 billion of the National Flood Insurance Program’s debt to free up money for additional loans.

Following the damage wrought locally by Hurricane Irma in September — which included plenty of flooding by a storm surge that nearly topped 7 feet before the gauges broke — we would have expected a U.S. Senator like Perdue, who has a home on Sea Island, to quickly vote yes. After all, his hometown saw millions of dollars in damages from one of the several natural disasters that have wreaked havoc across our country and elsewhere in recent months.

His senate colleague Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-1, both voted for the bill in their respective houses of Congress, as they should have. They saw that beyond Coastal Georgia, the rest of the state was damaged, as was Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and California. Many of those places are reeling much more so than here.

Perdue currently has a laser focus on tax reform, which we agree is an important and necessary pursuit. As is cutting spending in a federal government that for years has bloated its budgets beyond sustainable levels. We stand behind Perdue in those efforts and hope he and his fellow Republicans come together to accomplish one of theirs and President Trump’s top priorities.

Spending on emergency aid, however, is a different situation altogether. Perdue indicated that by stemming the growth of the national debt and fixing the overcomplicated tax code, the U.S. economy will be churning and Congress will then be able to afford major emergency spending.

While we would like to see that come to fruition, the people who need their government’s help in emergency situations can’t wait for Congress to act, especially considering the speed with which it has moved lately and the lack of success in enacting major legislation.

People this emergency aid is intended for cannot wait for tax reform to pass to begin rebuilding after Irma, Harvey, Maria and devastating wildfires.

Thankfully, Perdue was one of only a handful who voted against it and the measure passed.

We hope next time, he will think a little more about home in a time of emergency.

Online: http://thebrunswicknews.com/

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Oct. 28

The Marietta Daily Journal on low voter turnout for local elections:

Though no federal or statewide offices will be on the ballot, the stakes are high for the Nov. 7 election.

Voters in five of Cobb’s six cities, a state House district and a state Senate district will head to the polls to choose who represents them at the local levels.

The seats vacated by former state Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, and former state Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Smyrna, both of whom are vying to be governor next year, proved to be a study in contrasts — only one person qualified for Evans’ seat, while eight are vying for Hill’s.

In Marietta, two City Council and three school board seats are being contested.

In Smyrna, the only election will fill former Councilwoman Teri Anulewicz’ seat. Anulewicz lucked out when she ran for Evans’ statehouse seat and garnered no challengers, all but ushering her to victory.

Kennesaw has three contested council races, as does Austell. Powder Springs has one.

Turnout for municipal elections is traditionally poor. In Marietta’s Nov. 2013 municipal election, only 5,126 of the 27,500 registered voters (18.6 percent) completed their civic duty. Austell saw only 19.6 percent voter participation while Kennesaw saw only 12.6 percent that year.

Cobb GOP Chairman Jason Shepherd finds it odd people don’t vote in local elections given that most of the key issues currently dividing our nation are almost exclusively governed at the local level.

Conventional wisdom, he maintains, lists a handful of reasons for this outcome: a lack of publicity, lack of knowledge about the candidates and lack of party identification, which helps voters make a choice when they do not have more information about a candidate. During presidential elections, Shepherd said, more than $1 billion is spent on get-out-the-vote efforts and media coverage is dialed up to 11.

“There is no doubt which party the candidates belong to, and most voters know where the candidates stand on the issues. That is not the case in mid-term elections, which see about half of the turnout numbers of presidential years and less so for municipal elections,” he said.

The GOP chairman even sees some of these forces driving down turnout in primaries during regular election years. Republicans or Democrats can’t simply press the screen for the Republican or Democratic option, but have to figure out which Republican or which Democratic will best represents their party. And if they don’t know the candidates, Shepherd said they are less likely to vote.

“If you are less likely to vote, you are less likely to be targeted for get-out-the-vote efforts and direct mail, so you never receive information which may better inform you about all of the candidates,” he said.

In addition, he said there is little to no party involvement in municipal elections, given they are nonpartisan. Not a single candidate running on the local level has come to the Cobb GOP and asked for assistance for get-out-the-vote activities, Shepherd said. His offers to do so received no response. Perhaps they’re afraid of being branded Republican and losing Democrat votes.

Like Shepherd, Michael Owens, chair of the Cobb Democratic Committee, cites a lack of awareness for the low turnout, arguing most people do not know there is an election underway. Owens believes while this is true to a degree in nearly every election, it is particularly acute in municipal and special elections. The majority of candidates running at the local level do not have the funds to saturate mailboxes and airwaves that candidates serving in higher office do, he said.

Two other contributing factors come to his mind: accessibility and apathy. Owens believes access to polling locations challenges municipal elections voters. Only a few sparsely-located early voting sites are spread throughout the county.

As for apathy, he said “a combination of problems ranging from ill-qualified candidates, voting system integrity issues, increasing corporate influence and hyper-partisanship has made many people believe that the system is ‘rigged,’ that their vote doesn’t count or that regardless of the candidate elected things aren’t going to change.”

But each vote does count. In the 2013 Marietta City Council election between incumbent Annette Lewis and challenger Stuart Fleming, Fleming one by a single vote.

Whatever the reason, the electorate only gets serious about politics when the White House tops the ballot and it’s down to two contenders or during a particularly unusual race like that of Karen Handel vs. Jon Ossoff earlier this year.

Meanwhile, those who dutifully vote in every election find themselves standing in long lines every presidential year, wondering, “Where were all you people the last three-and-a-half years?”

To vote for commander-in-chief or Congress is vital to democracy. But in many ways, it’s the “locals” who have a greater impact on your life, your community, your neighborhood and your street. Local officials set policies and launch initiatives closer to home — they also set property tax rates and decide how to spend the millions that those taxes bring in.

Afraid of what might be built on that vacant lot at the end of your street? Would you like to see the bike path through town extended to your neighborhood? Could increased safety patrols ease your angst? Looking for some relief on property taxes? These are the matters under the control of your local elected officials.

Democracy works. It works best when the citizenry is informed and the participation level is high.

If you are a registered voter, be part of the process. Advanced voting is available this week. Election day is Nov. 7.

Online: http://www.mdjonline.com/

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Oct. 31

The Augusta Chronicle on civil discourse and fines to protect free speech:

He’s both a politician and a political junkie. And he should be breathless about the coming political year, when top Georgia posts are completely up for grab.

But state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, is dreading what the political discourse might become.

Fleming told the Downtown Augusta Kiwanis Club Monday that a brouhaha involving Democratic candidates at a liberal convention this summer is an ominous harbinger.

Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans are two Democratic women running for Georgia governor. But at the progressive Netroots Nation confab in Atlanta in August — after Abrams was “was treated like royalty,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — Evans was shouted down and largely prevented from speaking.

The incident had racial overtones — as Evans is white, and her hecklers were shouting chants about trusting black women, which Abrams is. But perhaps more important is the utter contempt Evans’ agitators showed for free speech and civil discourse.

Nor did it help that Abrams would not condemn the heckling, which she characterized as a “peaceful protest.”

What a canard! “Peaceful” does not mean moral or legal. And in a civil society, preventing others from speaking, particularly when they have the floor, is its own kind of violence.

And, as Fleming notes, that assault on political speech at the Atlanta event was purely internecine — among those with Democrat leanings. What happens when such rabid partisans are let loose on the general election, to go after Republicans?

What should happen is more than just the rote and often forcible removal of the belligerents — as we saw ad nauseam at Trump rallies last year. The offenders, who are acting in a wholly premeditated and calculated way — often coordinated with others in the room and sometimes with prior training in disrupting political events — should be absolutely hammered by the courts.

Fleming believes existing law is well-suited for the chore, if only enforced. Perhaps. We wonder, though. Is an hour in the pokey and a $100 fine for disturbing the peace — or maybe no jail and no fine, which is more likely — sufficient to deter such behavior? We hardly think so.

One of the things that lawmakers must do is respond to new levels of old problems, which spiral upward as people push the boundaries of the law. Existing statutes never contemplated the kind of widespread and coordinated attacks on free speech that we’re seeing today, and are ill-equipped to deal with this new method of silencing political opponents.

Even if disturbing the peace fit the crime, the punishment may not.

The only way to protect political speech going forward is to protect it with the full force of new law — and, in our view, massive fines for disrupting speeches and similar public events.

And we mean massive. Five-figure territory.

How much is free speech worth, after all? What price, civil discourse?

Online: http://chronicle.augusta.com/

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