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.

The University of Texas-Austin Victory is a Win for Diversity

UTA

UTA

Whether the 2-to-1 ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans decision to allow the University of Texas-Austin to use race in college admissions to achieve diversity will have an impact on other higher education institutions is not known. Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote. “It is equally settled that universities may use race as part of a holistic admissions program where it cannot otherwise achieve diversity.”

The decision is the result of a lawsuit filed by Abigail Fisher, a white Texan who sued the university after she was denied admission in 2008. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court said the federal appeals court should take another look at case. After the Supreme Court ruling, there was speculation that use of race in admissions policy at the University of Texas might be stuck down. Instead the Appeal Court upheld the decision. The University of Texas “10 percent” admissions rule states that Texas students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes can earn automatic admission. For the other 90 percent there is a combination of factors in the evaluation process and race can be one of them.

University President Bill Powers said in a statement, “We remain committed to assembling a student body at the University of Texas at Austin that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students. This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life.”

This decision might provide a moment of comfort for colleges and universities that use race as one factor or criteria for admission but the moral obligation to admit diverse students in academic institutions will not likely be won, if it has to battled in court from state-to-state.

Let’s Stand With Jada

A recent national survey from more than 300 colleges and universities reflect serious problems in responses to student reports of sexual violence. It also indicates that colleges and universities across the nation are violating federal law by failing to investigate sexual assaults on campus.

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) plans to use the findings for legislation that she is writing with bipartisan support that includes Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). The bill is scheduled to be released this fall when students return to campuses. Schools are required by law to investigate when they ARE  made aware of a sex crime on campus. But more than 21% of “the nation’s largest private institutions” surveyed conducted fewer investigations than they reported to the Department of Education.

It is good that sexual assaults and the reporting of those assaults is now being addressed by higher education and by government. It is critical that the safety and protection of girls be taken seriously no matter what academic stage they are in. Which brings us to the rape of 16-year oljadad girl last week in Houston. Jada is the teenager who attended a house party with a friend who knew the host her rape was recorded and shared on social media. Once the video started to circulate online and her friends began to call her, Jada knew something horrible had happened. The video went viral but that did not shame or stop Jada from telling her story to a local Houston television station. “There’s no point in hiding,” she said. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.” Jada was allegedly drugged and passed around by several men who raped her.

One of Jada’s perpetrators mocked her on social media by calling her a snitch and other derogatory phrases, which has encouraged cyber bullying. A disgusting social media trend has users posting photos of themselves bottomless and passed out mocking Jada. Recent reports from the ongoing investigation indicate that there may be other young girls who may have been victims. The police are asking for the publics’ help by asking young girls to call into the station if they see themselves in any videos online.

Jada’s case has gotten some very high profile help from actresses Mia Farrow and Jada Pinkett Smith. Jada Pinkett Smith recently posted on social media,”This could be you, me, or any woman or girl that we know. What do we plan to do about this ugly epidemic? #justiceforjada” Jada Pinkett Smith has also been a vocal public advocate for victims of human trafficking.

There are 237,868 reported rapes every year in America, every two minutes there is a sexual assault, 40% of the victims are under 18 and two-thirds of the attacks are by someone the victim knows. Here is how we can help Jada and every other victim of sexual violence. Acknowledge the facts. Pay attention to the reports of rape. Insist community leaders use the power of their influence to encourage training for schools and colleges and make the process for reporting and investigating sexual assault less traumatizing for the victims. Push police chiefs and law enforcement officials take immediate action to investigate and prosecute those who attack and violate girls and women. But most of all don’t be silent about assault.

Let’s stand with Jada and other sexual assault victims by pushing for fair investigations and laws that protects victim so that perpetrators will be justly prosecuted.

Will the Georgia State Legislature revisit religious freedom bills? Hobby Lobby ruling just may have opened a new door …

By Gary S. Cox

“Hobby Lobby stones gay employee to death,” read the recent headline on The Daily Currant, a self-described “global satirical newspaper.” Now that we virtueonlinehave your attention, of course, the headline isn’t true though it zinged around the web on social media as if it were a true story. Nonetheless, the point of the satire was that recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., best characterizes the “slippery slope” we are now on when it comes to practicing one’s faith in the workplace under the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The satire was emphasizing the fact that a “corporation” has the right to practice religious freedom. If this argument is taken to the extreme, then, could the company invoke Leviticus 20:13 which states, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood is on their own heads.” By claiming to be a Christian corporation that abides by Christian principles, how far can a privately held corporation take their religious beliefs? Could they refuse to hire or give service to gay people? Where is the bottom of the slope? No one really knows yet.

With the Federal government losing the Hobby Lobby challenge to mandated birth control coverage, Georgia’s extreme right political pundits are hailing the victory as an opportunity to have the General Assembly pass the previously failed Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. The prevailing argument is the ruling gives “political cover” to Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus, and State Representative Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) to re-introduce the legislation in 2015. Senator McKoon, in light of the ruling, is actively and openly courting support for his legislation. In a recent right-leaning editorial column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McKoon was quoted as saying, “The protection of people of faith, it’s a foundational reason that America exists … Yes, religious freedom is a priority in Georgia.” What does he mean by these comments? In reading Senate Bill 377 we know his priorities, according to the Credo-Mobilize website, “ … would authorize any business to refuse services and goods based on religious convictions. This would open a Pandora’s box of possible discrimination and anti-civil behavior targeting gays and lesbians, women, racial minorities and certain religious groups.” Senator McKoon’s editorial comments make it sound like re-introduction of his failed Senate Bill 377 is a foregone conclusion. Would it fail again post Hobby Lobby? The level of uncertainty is too great that we must call attention to the issue now, before the legislative session starts in 2015!

As a reminder, the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) does not apply to state laws. This was determined in the City of Boerne vs. Flores – RFRA was struck down in 1997 as it applies to states, but left intact Congress’s authority to make it apply to the Federal government. In reaction to the 1997 ruling, a new tool, such as the McKoon legislative initiative, emerged to impose “religious protections” at the state level. Versions of RFRA have been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Texas. Thus-far-to-date, none of these states have legislation as broad as McKoon’s bill which was defeated in 2014 because of the backlash from Georgia’s corporate Fortune 500 giants.

Even though the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to extent protections to the LBGT community in the workplace, Speaker Boehner announced the legislation was “dead on arrival” in the U.S. House of Representatives. Under current law members of the LBGT community may legally be discriminated against in the private sector workplace with no legal avenue available to them to redress of their grievances of possible workplace discrimination. In Georgia at the state level, the LBBT community does not enjoy a status as a “protected class.” The fallout of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., here in Georgia may very well be the re-introduction and ultimate passage of House Bill 1023 and Senate Bill 377. Those oft cited examples of signs in restaurant windows of “No Gays Allowed” could very well become true in less progressive areas of our great state.

Those of us in the progressive community will need to be ever watchful in the upcoming 2015 legislative session and call upon our friends in the business community and on civic leaders to speak out for equality and justice for all our citizens regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation.

 

Another School Shooting—We Have to Do Something!

AOL photo

AOL photo

There was another school shooting yesterday at Reynolds High School in an Oregon suburb, in which a teenager killed a 15-year old, wounded a teacher and presumably killed himself.

Everytown for Gun Safety is a group of mayors, moms, law enforcement personnel, teachers, survivors, gun owners, and everyday Americans advocate for policies that will limit gun violence everywhere. They have reported that there have been 74 instances of shots being fired on school grounds or in school buildings since the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn. There have been at least 37 shootings on school grounds this year alone.

Everytown has a list of states with shooting incidents reported and Georgia heads the list with 10 shootings. Florida had seven, Tennessee was third with five, and North Carolina and California each had four. Atlanta was the only city that had three such shootings. Some 31 states are on the list and there were 35 on a college or university campus and 39 in K-12 schools.

Here in Georgia, we are aware of the sweeping “Guns Everywhere Law” which extended where licensed gun owners could carry their weapons and extends the “Stand your ground” law. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal after signing the legislation said, “This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules – and who can protect themselves and others from those who don’t play by the rules.”

Richard Martinez, whose only son, Christopher Michaels-Martinez was among six college students killed in the Santa Barbara shootings last month said, “They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’ right to live?” When offered condolences by politicians and others he says, “I tell them, ‘Look, I don’t need your sympathy. What I need is for you to do something.’”

Mr. Martinez’s message rings true, we have to do something. We have to continue to fight for common-sense laws that protect us all especially our children and find a sensible balance between the right to bear arms and public safety.

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Honoring Veterans on this D-Day Anniversary

President Obama along with other world leaders commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing Normandy invasion in northern France.

USArmy“What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met?” Mr. Obama asked. The president continued, “We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way. But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it.”

Millions throughout Europe and the United State are reminded of that day years ago when young men in service to their countries gave all they had for a more peaceful world. The American soldiers were on average just 24 years old and the graves of 9,387 Americans who died that day are marked in where they gave their lives, in France.

We are filled with emotion by the courage and fearless actions of those men on that day and are forever thankful for their sacrifice. As we remember D-Day, we can put into action our community will by supporting all of our veterans including recent veterans who are struggling to transition back to their lives at home. Some 57,000 veterans are homeless, many suffer mental fragility from trauma or need substance abuse treatment, 40% are African American and Hispanic. Homeless veterans are younger on average than the total veteran population. Approximately 9% are between the ages of 18 and 30, and 41% are between the ages of 31 and 50. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. And it is reported that about 1.4 million other veterans are at risk of becoming homelessness because of poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

As we celebrate the service of our military men and women, we can’t just be satisfied with the personal commitments they have made without realizing the daunting challenges that face them when they return home.

A Senior Signing Day, We Can All Cheer About

BWBleadTake a look at what Achievement School District Superintendent Chris Barbic calls success in Nashville, Tennessee.

Dozens of students are experiencing success in high school at Lead Academy in Tennessee. There the students and their families celebrate Senior Signing Day, as the graduating seniors announce the colleges and universities they will be attending. The goal of this school district is to “recruit and authorize world-class school operators to serve students that are zoned to schools performing in the bottom 5%.”

These students were not “zoned” to succeed and many of their peers in far too many other cities and states across the country have dropped out of high school and believed college was beyond their reach. National attention on education and reports about the challenges of implementing Common Core requirements nationwide and whether teachers and administrators have had adequate time to prepare for the shift and the question of if Common Core certified textbooks are in ample supply had Blogging While Blue writers looking back 50, 40 and 20 years to our high school days. We were planning for college even when some weren’t quite sure we were “college material’ or at least not “their” college material. At least two of us – Beverly and I- were not standouts on standardized tests. It seemed the test didn’t ask the right questions about the meaning of life or how I might apply my knowledge and experience to addressing poverty and hatred or what lessons we might learn from the writings of Homer or Langston Hughes. The tests were and probably are necessary but they never seemed to tap my love of learning about distant places, the lives of history making pioneers or what motivated them.

Struggling to maintain a high B average in high school taught me much more than any test ever covered. I learned the importance of reading the assigned material as many times as it took to understand it. I learned the limits society placed on me as a young woman and African American weren’t fair but those limits had nothing to do with my potential. I learned hard work and perseverance would win the top prize more times than not. I learned that not every classmate would like me and some teachers would ignore me and most would underestimate my ability to succeed. I learned self-confidence and self- respect are more important to success than being the teacher’s pet, being popular with my peers or having average standardized test scores. I learned to survive and thrive in often the choppy, unpredictable waters of life, to seize opportunities and to seek my dreams. Lead Academy students are well on their way to reaching their dreams and succeeding well beyond the expectations of others. Congratulations to all of the 2014 graduates.YouTube Preview Image

This Tuesday, A Good Grassroots Campaign Could Be the Real Winner

Hank Johnson

Hank Johnson

John Eaves

John Eaves

The general primary election is Tuesday in Georgia and for some of the high profile African American local races you are not likely to see any television ads vying for votes. Races like incumbent US Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) from Georgia’s fourth District who is facing former DeKalb Sheriff Tom Brown; Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves race against long term elected official Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts as Democratic candidates. Former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones is running for DeKalb Sheriff against a crowded field.

South Fulton County will be carefully watched as candidates in three districts seek election. District 4 has current District 6 Commissioner Joan Garner against frequent candidate Eddie Lee Brewster; the crowded District 5 contest has former Atlanta Board of Education chairperson Brenda J. Muhammad, Johnnie Gordon, Dell Byrd of Atlanta, Kwame Thompson, and Marvin Arrington Jr., son of Atlanta political legend Marvin Arrington, Sr.; and redistricting has current Commissioners Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards in a face-off.

While it has been reported that Governor Nathan Deal will spend over $1 million in his primary and the US Senate candidates and political action committees will spend over $10 million on television, local candidates are heavily relying on direct mail and telephone calls to persuade voters. This probably means that the most successful campaigns next Tuesday are the ones that have built and can activate a grassroots campaign. The candidates who can connect with their supporters last and most frequently in the final days of the campaign are most likely to be successful.

It is predicted that once again, voter turnout will be low, which could mean that underdogs who can rally voters in the last few days have the best chance to pull off upsets. We’ve seen some internal poll numbers on several of the races mentioned in this post and can tell you that nothing has been decided. Sure there are favorites, but each of these races will come down to who shows up to the polls on Tuesday.

Note: Early voting offers convenience for voters to cast their ballot at any of the 19 locations within Fulton County. Friday, May 16 is the last day of Early Voting.

 

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.