Will Georgia Voters Rebuff Republicans this November?

Twit-FacebookThe national media continues to probe Georgia politicians about the political campaign landscape in the statewide races, especially the Michele Nunn and Jason Carter races. There are discussions about the other statewide races but the national attention is focused on the Senate and gubernatorial races. The primary question to me is whether Georgia voters as diverse as they are—will rebuff the politics of Georgia’s Republican leadership? Or will the demographics shifts in Georgia make a big enough difference to ignite high voter turnout to sweep Nunn, Carter and others into statewide elected positions? In case you are wondering what some of the issues are take a look at Jason Carter’s recent release.

Rankings That Matter: Deal’s Record for the Middle Class

As Gov. Deal continues to trumpet a ranking from CNBC, let’s remember the rankings that show how the middle class is really doing under the governor:

  • A study released this week said that Georgia’s schools rank 32nd overall. The study shows that Georgia has the 4th highest dropout rate and the least safe schools in the country. (WalletHub, accessed 8/6/14)
  • Georgia has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the country (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 8/6/14).
  • Georgia is one of only two states in which real per capita GDP has declined in the last 15 years (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/20/14). Adjusted for inflation, the average Georgia family in effect makes $6,000 less than the average family did 10 years ago (Politifact, 1/23/14).
  • The same CNBC ranking that Gov. Deal is trumpeting found Georgia to be among the worst states for “quality of life” and “education,” ranking 32nd in both categories. (CNBC, 6/24/14)

Some other statewide issues like healthcare, transportation and water can be added to the Carter list. Many Georgians live with only emergency healthcare services because Governor Deal refuses to acknowledge the benefits of expanded Medicaid. Healthcare is a critical quality of life issue for Georgians. Without viable transportation solutions, the negative impact of snarled traffic in metro Atlanta will continue.

Our water challenges continue while Georgia enjoys a AAA bond rating in part because state funding of infrastructure isn’t a high enough priority for Governor Deal.

Deal does not advocate for the financing Georgia’s desperate need to expand, renovate and build reliable transportation networks of safe bridges, efficient roads, connected transit, trails and paths and statewide water supply, storm water and sewer systems. In fact, from our experience last winter there is evidence emergency service system and planning needs investment as well.

The data clearly illustrates the problems in Georgia; the only question now is will Georgia voters rebuff the Republican leadership this November.

Voter turnout in a midterm election is usually less than presidential elections. Progressive candidates are counting on a larger than usual turnout to sweep them into office. Georgia’s ineffective leadership and voters desire to change that leadership may be the perfect equation to make this year’s midterm election the exception to the rule.

What Difference Do Our Differences Make?

There but for the grace of God go I.

Creative Loafing photo credit

Creative Loafing photo credit

A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution article by Bill Torpy highlighted the funding crisis for homeless shelters in Fulton County. He points out that in spite of some incredible success stories of programs that have served thousands of homeless men, military veterans, women and children, and the work of the Gateway Center, there is still more work to do. Torpy adds homelessness to the running tally of Great 21st Century American Challenges, which include public education, job development, hunger, affordable housing, and affordable healthcare.

It appears from the article that Fulton County is having second thoughts about their responsibility for funding the human service needs of some of its residents. The same might be said about the State of Georgia as well. Whatever we were doing right for homelessness, we need to get back to doing. There is more hard work to do. Some of that work requires more money–not less. And it means a serious commitment to finding resources not just reordering priorities and shuffling line items in budgets.

A team of 25 civic minded, fully engaged volunteers had the nerve in 2003 to tackle homelessness in a different way. They forged a partnership with dozens of nonprofit organizations across the region to create the seven-county Atlanta Regional Commission on Homelessness. The group was under the awesome and committed leadership of retired attorney Horace Sibley in partnership with then United Way of Metro Atlanta CEO, Mark O’Connell. They along with Jack Hardin, Nancy Boxill, Debi Starnes, Bonnie Ware, Rev. Jim Milner, Bill Bolling, Elizabeth Omilami, and others set the region on a course to improve the lives of those who found themselves homeless. Many people were locked out of services, disenfranchised of their rightful benefits and completely isolated from any chance to get back on their feet. A few trusting foundations, some local and state government funding and individual donors resulted in an infusion of $60 million in seven years of new funding for substantive, reasonable programs to address the urgent needs of metro Atlanta’s most needy.

Talking about this in hindsight might give you the impression this was easy work, one grant or one speech and the work was done. No, this was hard work that took months of research, collaboration and planning. We had to put aside our differences, listen to the people we served, be attentive to the challenges of those organizations on the frontline and disregard our differences. This problem was bigger than any differences we might have had. We had to be flexible and respectable that in some cases those we wanted to serve didn’t want our intervention. A few organizations chose not to join the effort. And that was okay, they had every right to refuse assistance, because their specific mission was different and they didn’t want to get away from their purpose.

We can dwell on what didn’t happen but the more compelling stories are of those 7,000 people served by the Gateway Center last year, thousands of women and children served by City of Refuge and the dozens of families served by Odyssey Villas. None of these organizations existed in 2003. And there are the stories of dozens of veterans who have resettled into apartments with the help of federal grants and local donations.

I know and love an Atlanta that works to get things right. An Atlanta that cares as much about those in need as we do our own success, that can unite to raise $60 million for homelessness, and in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Maynard Jackson–doesn’t give up. As mayor, I often referenced the legacies of Mayors Allen and Young as examples of men who were willing to work through the City’s historic and cultural differences in order to make a difference. In tribute to their efforts and so many others, I know that Atlanta is smart enough to find answers to the tough questions surrounding homelessness.

Works Not Words Offer the Best Solution to Poverty

PaulRyan-npr photo

PaulRyan-npr photo

Last week on Bill Bennett’s radio program, House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI) made some comments that can only be described as uninformed and insulting regarding the issue of poverty in American cities.  He said, “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

Ryan was addressing a report on poverty that he released earlier which detailed his version how federal spending was impacting our nation’s poor. The reaction was swift from journalists, political pundits, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the Congressional Black Caucus. Ryan’s views on poverty are neither new nor surprising but the recurring attack on race and class in this country under the guise of the federal budget and big government is disingenuous and ridiculous rhetoric. The Lyndon B. Johnson war on poverty 50 years ago did not end poverty but his political response to a policy issue  cannot be understated or denied. The LBJ administration responded to poverty with action not rhetoric. The government raised the minimum wage; created programs to train and educate Americans for better jobs, provided rent subsidies and student loans as well as enacted Medicaid and Medicaid for those who could not afford healthcare.

The Congressional Black Caucus has invited Rep. Paul D. Ryan to a CBC meeting where a more robust and thoughtful conversation on poverty might be possible. CBC Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio has said that she thinks it could be a teachable moment, let’s hope so.

 

Governor, what is the Option?

Online Athens

Online Athens

There have been numerous local and national commentaries on the remarks made by Governor Deal last week in which he said the uninsured should be turned away from emergency rooms because it is too expensive to care for them.

Deal said at an event held at the University of Georgia, “I think we should be able in this passage of time to figure out ways to deal with those situations but not have the excessive costs associated with unnecessary visits to the emergency room.”

It is no secret in Georgia that Deal does not support the Affordable Care Act and has refused to support the expansion of Medicaid that would offer thousands of Georgians much needed healthcare benefits.  A federal government 1986 law required hospitals to provide emergency care whether patients were citizens or they had the ability to pay. Even staunch progressives would argue that seeking emergency care instead of preventive care is expensive no matter how you look at it.  But if you don’t want to expand Medicaid to meet the needs of low-income citizens and you want to close the doors to emergency rooms for desperate patients who can’t afford to go anywhere else. Governor, what is the option?

It is easy to become mired in statistics, budget lingo and the righteous indignation that affords those who have healthcare options to discuss disenfranchising others. And for those who would debate the merits of what is governments’ moral obligation to its citizenry. The answer should never be the horrible consequences of denying the least among us because it is fiscally responsible to do so. It is outrageous and incorrigible.

 

Breaking Barriers to Fulfill America’s Promise

AP photo credit

AP photo credit

What does it really mean when those who were never considered leaders become leaders? Or Pioneers? Millions of Americans were captivated by the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson who signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and became the first African-American to play on a major league team. And while the story obviously focused on racism and his individual battle to break a major barrier, it also created a generation of new baseball fans.

Some 50 years after Robinson stepped on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger in a game against the Boston Braves while the entire country watched and gathered around radios to follow the game, inning-by-inning, and minute-by-minute. Many people were baseball fans and others were simply curious about what would happen when Robinson made his debut. Others became baseball fans because it was exciting to witness this moment in history.

There have been other sports moments like the rise of Billie Jean King in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf, both had similar cultural impacts on increasing interest in their respective sports. In politics, President Obama is the first African-American President and Nancy Pelosi was the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, Janet Yellen who was sworn in yesterday as the first woman to head the Federal Reserve breaks through another barrier. Hopefully, Yellen’s rise to the pinnacle of the finance world will have a history making affect on generations of women.

These breakthroughs serve as a reminder that barriers have to be broken if we are to fully realize the promise of an America that exclaims equality for all.

 

Isn’t Being Poor Enough?

foostampsAs factions in Congress debate whether the federal government can afford to support needy Americans through extended unemployment benefits, food stamps, and social security benefits, millions of Americans live everyday in poverty. Researchers suggest that 1 in 5 American households need federal assistance for food security. Food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP at $80 billion a year it has doubled in five years.

And now those in the medical community are making the link between cutting food aid and higher medical costs. “If you’re interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,” said Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children’s HealthWatch pediatric research.

Today, poverty is a painful reality for many Americans. States challenging expansion of Medicaid/Medicare, no unemployment insurance extension, minimum wages that are not living wages, a recovering economy with people who have given up looking for work and increasing empty shelves in food banks are logical explanations for why Americans live in poverty.

CBS News reported that Georgia State Representative Greg Morris introduced House Bill 772, which would force low income Georgians to pass drug tests to qualify for food stamps. According to Morris “it’s just fairness and protecting taxpayers’ dollars.” Georgia law currently mandates welfare applicants pass drug tests. Chances are House Bill 772 would be challenged as unconstitutional. Such details don’t seem to matter to some legislators.

Morris’ leadership is needed in Georgia to find ways to expand the economy, to support increased funding for every level of education from preschool through college and technical school, to adopt healthcare coverage for all needy Georgians. What a waste of taxpayer money to chase a bill that most believe is unconstitutional. Though democracy requires full participation from every quarter of the electorate, it is frustrating to have our legislators waste taxpayer money on such frivolous efforts.

 

Public Advocacy Gets A New Look in NYC

lJamesNYCThis post is more about the grave and distressing challenges facing homeless children and their families in American cities. But I confess it may sound more like a high-five for the first ever African American woman elected as New York City’s public advocate.

On the day that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took the oath of office, Councilwoman Letitia James was also sworn in as the City’s Public Advocate. The city’s watchdog position was previously held by the new mayor and has an enormous responsibility in addressing the services and concerns of New York’s more than 8.3 million residents.

Letitia James’ election would not be nearly as important here if we had not been introduced to one of her constituents, Dasani Coates, in a heartfelt and grisly feature in the New York Times in early December. As told through the life of just one of New York’s homeless children and her family, it is both riveting and heartbreaking. So I was elated in a progressive Democratic kind of way, when I saw James taking the oath of office with Dasani Coates holding the Bible during the ceremony. Cynics are questioning James’s motives and her exaggeration about arranging the New York Times feature—which she didn’t but that is a mere distraction to the people who benefit from someone whose responsibility is to have their back in City Hall. Segments of her remarks are posted here and the New York Times link to the series that give us a peek into the life of Dasani Coates is below.

Excerpts from New York City elected Public Advocate Letitia James Inaugural Remarks                                                                                “The wave of progressive victories our city has recently enjoyed, thanks to the City Council, was in some ways inevitable. The fabric of our city, of our nation, is made strong by the untold sacrifices of so many who are left defenseless, unrepresented, unspoken for. But at some point in history, the tide must turn. The policies that make them voiceless must give way to a government that works for them, that speaks for them, that cares more about a child going hungry than a new stadium or a new tax credit for a luxury development.

To live up to that challenge and to be morally centered in our decisions is the task before those of us who think of ourselves as the progressive wing of our city. Even as the tide turns towards progress, we do not have the luxury to rest.

If working people aren’t getting their fair share, if our government isn’t securing the reforms New Yorkers were promised, you better believe Dasani and I will stand up—that all of us will stand up—and call out anyone and anything that stands in the way of our progress.”

http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2013/invisible-child/#/?chapt=1

Aren’t We Tired of Being Sick and Tired?

guardianlv“We are in the midst of the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has known.” Those were the words of HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan at a press conference in Washington, DC.

Add his comments to one of the coldest Thanksgiving in awhile in Atlanta, which means higher heating bills. Plus sustained high demand by working families for food assistance from Atlanta Community Food Bank and others. The Food Bank serves as the primary source of food for many food insecure homes and nearly 59,000 different people visit each week. Some 1.8 million Georgians currently live in poverty. Let’s not forget the persistently high post 2008 Recession unemployment rates which mask the high rates of the underemployed and those who after months of searching have given up their fruitless job search. For all of its strengths and renowned business successes America hasn’t cracked the public policy code to eliminating poverty for vast numbers of Americans. There have been some poverty solutions like Social Security that has helped many seniors avoid poverty. The growing national debate and local and state government action about raising the minimum wage has the potential to help lift thousands of Americans out of the grasp of poverty.

According to economist Paul Krugman, “the main effect of a rise in minimum wages is a rise in the incomes of hard-working but low-paid Americans — which is, of course, what we’re trying to accomplish.” Krugman’s assessment is something that many have known for awhile, in fact more than a decade ago a distinguished panel of scholars, business and civic leaders led by former Morehouse College President Walter Massey studied the minimum wage issue and recommended Atlanta adopt a Living Wage Ordinance based on the State of Utah’s model. In the spirit of no good deed going unpunished-the Georgia Legislature decided Atlanta shouldn’t incentivize bidders in procurements to pay their employees a living wage which was calculated at the time at $10.50 an hour. Private businesses, nonprofit organizations nor other governments would have been directly impacted by the city’s ordinance unless they sought to do business through its procurement processes. Since Atlanta’s well-meaning, progressive efforts, currently there are over 120 cities that have wage ordinances.

Taking liberty with famed civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer, “Aren’t we tired of being sick and tired” and broke when we do a good day’s work and still unable to pay the rent or feed our children and ourselves.

America shows its compassion in a crisis, now millions of working men and women need us to show compassion in action every day.

Learn more about the needs of hard working people and children in need

Hands on Atlanta  http://www.handsonatlanta.org/HOC__Affiliate_Home_Page

Atlanta Community Food Bank    http://www.acfb.org

Feeding America      http://feedingamerica.org/?show_shov=1

Meals on Wheels     http://www.mowaa.org

Toys for Tots http://www.toysfortots.org/about_toys_for_tots/toys_for_tots_program/default.aspx

Salvation Army    http://salvationarmyusa.org/usn/christmas-assistance

 

Civility in Civil Discourse is Not Too Much to Ask

cruzThe “Million Vet March on the Memorials,” rally this weekend in Washington, DC was more protest than March and more Obama hate speak than rally cry.  The protest focused on the national war memorials closures because of the government shutdown. Some well-known Tea Party speakers included former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz hijacked the occasion to politicize his Tea Party agenda by asking, “Let me ask a simple question. Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep veterans out of this memorial?”

Speaker Larry Klayman of the Freedom Watch conservative organization went even further.  He said,  “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up,” said Klayman.

While we support the significance of free speech to balance the discussion of ideas in our democracy there are still times when we are shocked by who says what, when they say it and who stands with them when they speak.  Some protesters at the march carried “Impeach Obama” signs and casual observer could catch a glimpse of the Confederate flag in the foreground of the war memorials.

Haven’t we learned intense and heated debate is one thing, spewing hate and prejudice is another. The march was a tribute to our war veterans we should expect civil behavior from the gentleman Senator from the Lone Star State.

 

 

Janet Yellen—A Deserving Barack Obama Federal Reserve Nominee

gettyphoto

gettyphoto

I met Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve Bank Conference on Community Development and the launch of the book, Invest in What Works, which is a product of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Low Income Investment Fund. The book offers an introspective practical solution driven look into the challenges of efforts to break the cycle of poverty in America through strong thriving communities. It highlights the pioneering community development work of the Harlem’s Children Zone in New York City, Purpose Built Communities which started in Atlanta and is now in seven other cities, and Neighborhood Centers Inc in Houston.

During the conference, Yellen’s interest in the groundwork of dozens of organizations who tackle the multiple and complex challenges of low-income families and the organizations that serve them was refreshing. She caught conference attendees pleasantly off guard and gave us insight into the Federal Reserve Bank’s national strategy for a slowing recovering national economy. We had no idea then that we were meeting a woman who could make history as the first woman Chair of the Federal Reserve.

This appointment is significant and President Obama is to be applauded along with the hundreds of economists and supporters who advanced her name as the right person at the right time.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/10/09/janet_yellen_six_things_you_ought_to_know.html