Tom Baxter

Sprawl minus growth equals where we could be headed

Recently a group called Smart Growth America issued a report on sprawl in the nation’s metropolitan areas, and to the surprise of no Atlantans, we were No. 1: the most sprawling large metro area in the country, again.

Actually, we were ranked No. 220, but that’s because Smart Growth America considers it a bad thing when people have to live a long way from work or a grocery store, and metro areas gobble up huge chunks of the countryside.

Many Atlantans have a different view. They don’t like their long commutes, but look upon sprawl as an emblem of booming economic health. For years, as the sprawl reached record proportions, a widening circle of metro counties made it on the list of the nation’s fastest growing.
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To get elected, you need political intelligence more than a degree

Last week National Journal editorial director Ron Brownstein led an interesting teleconference devoted to the various ways in which the American electorate is being reshaped by changing demographics. One of the trends he noted was the increasing economic edge which those with college degrees have over those who don’t, with the graduates of the nation’s most elite schools at the top of the heap.

Consider the U.S. Supreme Court, for example. From 1900 to 1950 there were always between one and three graduates of the Harvard or Yale law schools on the court. Today the only justice who didn’t graduate from one of these schools is Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and that’s only because Ginsberg transferred from Harvard Law to Columbia Law after her marriage.
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When the jury hugs the plaintiff, that’s not a good sign

The verdict which came down Friday in the Stacey Kalberman trial was bad news for Gov. Nathan Deal. Worse still was the enthusiasm with which that verdict was rendered.

You just don’t see that many discharged juries flocking around the successful plaintiff to embrace and congratulate her very often at the end of a civil suit. That was the scene last week after Kalberman, the former state Ethics Commission director, was awarded $700,000 in damages, plus court costs and back pay to kick the state’s tab up over a million, for being fired in retaliation for her tough investigation of Deal’s 2010 campaign finances.
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Political alienation bubbles up in Senate race, to Perdue’s advantage

Last week a century or so of political experience sat around a lunch table in Cobb County and pondered this question: Has there ever been a U.S. Senate race in which neither the Democratic nor the Republican candidate had previously held elected office?

We’re pols, not political scientists, so there may have been some race we don’t know about or overlooked. But all agreed that we’d never covered or worked on a race of that description. It may be time for a little more rigorous research into that question, because just such a race has appeared on the horizon, shimmering like a pundit’s mirage.

If Michelle Nunn and David Perdue become their party’s nominees, their race would be a striking sign of the American public’s alienation from politics and distrust of incumbency in general.
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The little session that couldn’t

Want to hear a good Georgia joke? Last week the Alabama legislature passed a medical marijuana bill and ours couldn’t.

Couldn’t, not wouldn’t. In both states, Republicans sponsored the bill, there was a lot of citizen support and a broad consensus over the issue. But in Georgia an unrelated measure requiring insurers to cover autism therapy for children was amended into the bill, and both causes went down in flames. There were some problems in the bill, but it wasn’t the problems that doomed it. It was the bolloxed nature of the process.

That was common in the session that closed last week. It was a banner year for show-out, red-meat election year bills. But whenever the subject shifted even slightly away from the billboard issues like guns and ObamaCare, this legislature collapsed into incoherence, unsure what it believed about much of anything and incapable of moving forward.
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Bo Callaway and the crossroads of modern Georgia history

If Bo Callaway had become governor in 1966, it’s quite possible the obituaries of the past weekend would have proclaimed him the most important political figure of his time in Georgia. But by losing the race in which he got the most votes, Callaway’s real impact on our state may have been far deeper than it would have been if he had occupied the governor’s office.

Twice since the Second World War — a cynic might say at least twice — the leadership of Georgia has been determined by something other than the pure will of the people. One episode — the chaotic period  following the death of Eugene Talmadge, the governor-elect, in 1947 — led directly to the other in 1966.

A court ruled the state legislature acted improperly when it elected Herman Talmadge to replace his father in 1947, so after the younger Talmadge was elected governor by the people in 1948, he passed legislation formally ratifying the legislature’s power to elect the governor if no candidate got an absolute majority in the general election — the law that would deny Callaway the governor’s office in 1966. Continue reading

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Urgency over federal money for harbor deepening contrasts with laxity in processing food stamps

Little noticed amid all the furor last week over the Obama Administration’s failure to include the Savannah port-dredging project in the next federal budget were the latest dispatches from the Panama Canal Zone. They might have helped everyone sleep a little easier over the delay.

The federal money was desired and expected because Savannah is racing with other East Coast ports to be deep and wide enough to accommodate the larger container ships coming with the completion of the Panama Canal Zone widening project next year.

We’ve already raised questions about just how big a hurry there really is to prepare for this new trade. Now comes word that massive cost overruns and contract disputes have pushed back the opening of the expanded canal from June to December of next year, or possibly longer.
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As water becomes more precious, a battle for control of the faucet

You might say the politics of water is very fluid these days. There seems to be a gathering sense, here and elsewhere, that water policy is no longer as simple a matter as turning on a faucet. But the battle over who exactly controls this increasingly precious resource is still in its early stages.

In this year’s legislative session, that battle has centered around Senate Bill 213, Gov. Nathan Deal’s attempt to gain unprecedented power over the faucet in the Flint River basin. The bill would give the state the power to tell farmers when they could withdraw water from the basin, but what makes it controversial are the provisions which would give the state the additional power to “augment” the river’s flow with a stored supply of water in times of drought to protect endangered wetland species downstream.

It’s in that word “augment” where the real controversy begins.
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‘Dropping bills as fast as Legislative Council could draft them’

The Georgia House has a long tradition of upstart bomb-throwers with a burning desire to change the world in a hurry and a knack for getting under the skin of leadership. One of them once so infuriated the late House Speaker Tom Murphy that he pinned him against the wall of the House anteroom. Some have been one-termers, while others — I’m thinking here of Brian Joyce and Bobby Franklin — stuck around long enough to become elder statesmen of a sort.

But it’s hard to remember any rules-waving freshman making a bigger stir than Rep. Sam Moore, who last week provoked a parade of Republicans to denounce Moore’s bill abolishing the state’s loitering law.
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Hell No-ism could leave state in a hell of a mess

Hell No-ism is riding high in state legislatures this year, and nowhere more so than under the Golden Dome.

The Missouri legislature is considering a bill that would require schools to notify parents of any instruction related to the theory of evolution, which the author of the bill described as “indoctrination,” and allow parents to hold their children out of the classes where it would be taught. The Kansas House last week passed a measure which would allow businesses not to serve gays, provided they said they were doing it on religious principle.

Not to be outdone, a legislator in Oklahoma has proposed doing away with marriage altogether — at least, the state’s role in it — to avoid being required to recognize gay marriage.

All this is great fodder for the liberal blogs, and gives the nation’s East and West Coasts another opportunity to opine the backwardness of its middle. But these are all just tantrum bills, destined to die in their state’s senate chambers or their courts.
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