The year 2016 is over, but I want to start 2017 by looking back at some of the positive things from last year.
Gov. Nathan Deal did possibly the biggest favors he’ll ever do for Georgians when he vetoed two measures passed by the legislature: a “religious freedom” bill and a “campus carry” bill that would have allowed firearms at public colleges.
The governor’s critics complained that he caved in to outside pressures by vetoing that religious freedom bill, but Deal was actually standing up for one of the most conservative principles of our system of government: the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
He also enabled Georgia to avoid the mess in North Carolina, where the passage of anti-gay legislation cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in new business and entertainment events while contributing to the defeat of a Republican governor.
As for the gun bill veto, Deal was merely emulating the late Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices to ever sit on the Supreme Court. Scalia once wrote: “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
While commending Deal for those vetoes, I’ll also commend Georgia’s voters for turning down one of his not-so-good ideas: a constitutional amendment to authorize a state government takeover of low-performing public schools. Nearly 60 percent of the voters went against this ballot measure.
One of my colleagues at the Atlanta newspapers continues to blame the school amendment’s defeat on “teachers’ unions” and other suspected radicals, but a quick scan of election returns shows that Republicans and Democrats alike united to reject it.
Such counties as Forsyth, Coweta, Hall, Bartow, Cherokee, Fayette, White, Rabun, Whitfield, Oglethorpe, Jackson, Dawson, Gilmer, Ben Hill, Bulloch, Candler, Clinch, Pierce, Liberty, Effingham, Grady and Seminole rejected the Deal amendment at the same time that they gave majority support to Donald Trump. The combined margin of defeat for the amendment in those counties alone was roughly 109,000 votes.
Sadly, I must note that one of the state’s most thoughtful lawmakers, Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R-Johns Creek), decided to step down from the legislature and not run for another term.
Dudgeon was a rare member of his caucus who had the courage to speak out against the huge corporate giveaway that helps finance construction of a new football stadium for Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, a billionaire who has the resources and financial connections to easily pay for his own stadium.
Dudgeon also had the political skills to get a bill passed that will make it easier for homeowners and small businesses to install solar energy panels on their buildings by leasing the equipment. This concept had long been opposed by Georgia Power, but Dudgeon persisted in seeing it through.
On the other hand, legislators like Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) and Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn) will be back for another term, as will Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna).
Hill and England chair the appropriations committees in their respective chambers that take on the enormous task of writing and revising the state budget. Many folks may not agree with some of the items that are included—or not included—in the budget, but I have usually found that these two lawmakers try to be fair-minded about the process.
Evans is part of a Democratic caucus that doesn’t control many seats in the legislature, but she is able to work with a Republican governor and a GOP majority to occasionally get some of her ideas enacted into law. A good example is the revision of the HOPE scholarship fund to provide more assistance to technical college students.
Lastly, we should all say thanks to the many non-profit organizations that speak up at the capitol for good causes: family advocacy groups like Georgians for a Healthy Future and Voices for Georgia’s Children, along with entities like Georgia Watch and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy that try to protect citizens from the negative impacts of corporate greed. They all do their part.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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