Posted inTom Baxter

Newt Gingrich’s long goodbye

The most protracted presidential campaign departure I can recall before the present example was Wesley Clark’s in 2004, and that was only because the general got cold feet halfway down an elevator in Memphis heading toward his withdrawal speech after the Tennessee Democratic Primary. As a result he made the press corps take an extra bus ride to Little Rock the next day before he faced the inevitable.

That was nothing compared to Newt, of course. In what he may well consider to be a template for how future unsuccessful candidates should structure their goodbyes, Gingrich let it be known a week in advance that he’d be officially leaving the campaign on Tuesday, and then – you’ve got to love this guy – postponed the announcement until Wednesday.

Posted inTom Baxter

War on ALEC looks more like corporate reshuffling

It serves the purposes of both sides to portray the recent departure from the American Legislative Exchange Council of several of its corporate sponsors as a “War on ALEC,” in which left-wing groups pressured Coca-Cola and other corporations into defecting from the organization. A war, for both the left and the right, makes for great fundraising.

In a sense this story line is accurate. The campaign led by the African American group Color of Change was the catalyst for the corporation’s break with ALEC over its promotion of “stand your ground” gun laws like the one involved in the Trayvon Martin case. Much the same can be said about the Media Matters for America drive against Rush Limbaugh in the wake of his comments about Sandra Fluke earlier this year. If you want to elevate these interest-group scrimmages up to the status of full-scale armed conflict, fine, we can call it a “war.”

But the alacrity with which so many companies followed Coca-Cola’s lead, like the rush away from Rush, makes it seem as if they were just waiting for the chance to close the checkbook on ALEC. Which makes sense, when you consider how much the contemporary corporate mindset is geared to the ruthless elimination of the extraneous.

Posted inTom Baxter

At filing time, Sonny’s Gift funds a modest ‘tax triumph’

“Filing feels good! Share your tax triumph with your friends!”

That’s the cheery message, along with that familar FB button, which greets you on TurboTax this year when you’re finished with the annual ordeal. I’ve embraced social media, but posting my “tax triumph” on Facebook is pushing it just a little too far. It’s vaguely un-American to post the news of your tax filing as if you’d just bought a new puppy.

Shame, too, because for once, I have something to share. Quite unexpectedly, our household has been the beneficiary of Sonny’s Gift.

Posted inTom Baxter

Remembering the Great Recession

Officially, what has come to be called the Great Recession ended nearly three years ago, although Friday’s paltry jobs report was yet another demonstration of how hard it’s been for the nation to put it in the past tense. Still, there has been time now since the economy hit a bottom and began this all-too-modest recovery to begin thinking about what the Great Recession really was, and what lessons from it we’ll pass on to future generations.

When parents tell their children and grandchildren about it decades from now, they will first have to struggle with the Orwellian nature of the name. English provides a perfectly good word for a really big recession – depression – but for telling reasons, we’ve shirked from this usage.

Posted inTom Baxter

A flash of transparency lights the end of a dismal session

Late in the last night of this year’s legislative session, in that hour when so much mischief famously has been done, there was a brief but illuminating flash of red which revealed the way things work under the Golden Dome and the potential of social media to disrupt the old order.

You can it watch it, starting at the 3 hour 16 minute mark, on this Georgia Public Broadcasting archive video.

Posted inTom Baxter

Diverging timelines favor Democrats, so far

The insensate calendar says we’re at the end of March, but without the basketball you wouldn’t know it. It could be well into May by the way it feels outside, and the political calendar has become just as confusing as the weather.

The presidential election has spun out into very different timelines, Red and Blue. A lot of Republicans still want it to be February, while the Democrats should be hoping this was July.

Posted inTom Baxter

Election-year tax package a serious stretch

Seriously? Seriously?

That little mirror phrase has spread recently through comedy shows and social media, to a point where it has become nearly as hackneyed as the dreadful “at the end of the day.” But you can’t help but think that when a lot of people picked up their Sunday paper and read about the plan to launch yet another attempt at a major tax overhaul late in this election-year legislative session, their response had to be, “Seriously? Seriously?”

Posted inTom Baxter

Republicans getting mighty like their predecessors

Southern Republicans are coming to their Pogo moment.

Back when they were a persecuted minority in states across the South, Republicans used to wail about the corruption and arrogance of the Democrats, at their blatant abuses of power and craven self-aggrandizement.

Now the Republicans are riding high, and looking forward to riding higher with the new legislative and congressional maps aimed at cementing their control. Republican presidential candidates swear their affection for grits, and Southern Republican legislators feel secure enough in their seats to quarrel with Southern Republican governors.

Yet all does not rest well within the region’s now solidly majority party. They have met the enemy, and to paraphrase Walt Kelly’s Okefenokee critter, they are them.

Posted inTom Baxter

Panamax plans run aground on South Carolina politics

If you’ve seen Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed give a speech over the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard his pitch about how important the deepening of the Savannah River is to Atlanta’s future.

For Reed, deepening the Port of Savannah’s channel to accommodate the larger ships soon to be coming through the Panama Canal is key to the development of the region, and thereby to the future health of our city.

If the mayor is correct, events took a fateful turn last week. Reed and other supporters of the Savannah harbor-deepening project now find themselves hostage to something with which they are ill-prepared to cope, namely, politics in South Carolina.

This is really the story of a sort of three-legged sack race, prompted by the Panama Canal expansion to be completed in 2014, and the lure of the riches to be gained by accommodating the larger container ships coming in its wake.

Posted inTom Baxter

At least we’re not California: Americans grade the states

To see ourselves as others see us: That, presumably was the idea behind a mostly pointless but nevertheless fascinating poll which asked Americans to rate the 50 states in the way polls more often ask about politicians or new auto models.

Georgia came out with a net favorable/unfavorable margin of plus 11, tied with New York. Only 15 states have lower margins, but take heart. A Republican entering the GOP presidential field right now would kill for 31-20 favorable/unfavorable poll numbers.

The survey,  conducted by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., found several of the top vacation destinations were the most favored states. Hawaii was by far the most popular with a net favorable of 44, followed by Colorado (+35), Tennessee (+34), South Dakota (+34) and Virginia (+32).

Posted inTom Baxter

Logic of GOP campaign shorts Georgia voters

Under the rules which award states for recent Republican performance, Michigan, which holds its Republican presidential primary on Feb. 28, will seat 30 delegates when the GOP holds its national convention in Tampa this August, fewer than Alabama or Mississippi. Arizona, which votes the same day, will seat 29.

The following week, Georgia, with 76 delegates, is the biggest prize on the Super Tuesday, when 10 states with a combined 437 delegates make their choices.

Based solely on the numbers, one might think this would put Georgia in the national political spotlight. Instead, Georgia Republicans who’ve seen their kindred in other states whoop and holler through a score of debates, will have nothing more exciting to watch Monday night than Colbert’s return. The next televised debate will be Wednesday in Arizona, and Michigan appears to be getting the lion’s share of Super PAC ads.

Posted inTom Baxter

Georgia becomes Ground Zero for energy, environmental issues

Where do we go from here, in the struggle to keep the lights on and the factories humming, while insuring the earth doesn’t become an oven and the water we drink a luxury? A satisfactory answer to that question is still a long distance away, but Georgia is looking more and more like the “here” referred to in that question.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency made available a new database showing the nation’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and the top two sites – the Southern Company’s Plant Scherer in Juliette and Plant Bowen near Cartersville – are in Georgia, and within a 65-mile radius of Atlanta.

Along with the nation’s third-largest emitter — Southern’s Plant Miller near Birmingham, Ala. — these sources for the electricity which lights the screen this is being written on account for more carbon emissions than the entire nation of Finland, according to one report.

Posted inTom Baxter

Komen story bespeaks a cultural change of pace

Last week’s story of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure cancer charity’s hasty retreat from its new policy excluding Planned Parenthood from funding followed what in the past few months has become a familiar arc.

Like Bank of America’s abandonment of its announced debit card fee, the Netflix retreat from its bivalved pricing system, and the reversal of fortunes for the SOPA/PIPA anti-piracy bills in Congress, that arc was a very short one. An aroused universe of customers/contributors/online users emerged quickly and a blast of media exposure forced the organizations involved to reverse themselves.

Certainly, these examples speak to the already well-understood power of the internet to focus a firestorm of negative attention, sometimes on subjects as passing as a singer’s performance on Saturday Night Live. But they may point to something deeper, a new wrinkle in a culture already molded by the requirements of rapid response.

Posted inTom Baxter

Despite 1% treatment, legislature trending 99%

The little secret a lot of legislators don’t want you to know isn’t how lavish some of the meals lobbyists feed them are. It’s about how hungry they are by the time they line up at the trough.

You already know about those big-tab dinners lawmakers are fed, and if you don’t, a story by Chris Joyner in Sunday’s AJC about one thrown by a convoy of lobbyists for the House Natural Resources Committee will give you a good idea.

Lobbyists have been wining and dining legislators since time immemorial. But what is seldom remarked is that over time, the net worth of those being fed, compared to that of those who are feeding them, has seriously declined.

The same financial disclosure forms which make it impossible to tell exactly how rich the legislators are, also make it impossible to tell how many of them have gone broke. But the Great Recession has had a deep and sometimes tragic impact on the General Assembly.

Posted inTom Baxter

Gingrich steals Mitt Romney’s Mr. Green moment

Last week was not the first time Newt Gingrich has gone ballistic over the media’s interest in his private life, but never before has he achieved the sort of afterburn which propelled him into his huge win Saturday in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary.

On the day the Republicans, under his leadership, won control of the U.S. House in 1994, Gingrich is said to have been so infuriated by a Mike Lukovich cartoon which referenced his first divorce that he dented the ceiling panel of the car he was sitting in when he saw it. Whether that story is true or not, it’s a fact that Gingrich demanded an apology from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and refused to have any contact with the local paper, until practicality and the indefatigable Jeanne Cummings wore him down, weeks into his term as speaker.

Posted inTom Baxter

Happy days are almost here again: Republican governors send an upbeat message

State-of-the-state messages often come with a heavy load of navigational imagery.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a pilot, portrayed the state as a plucky little plane, weaving between the storm clouds. In his second state-of-the-state message last week, Gov. Nathan Deal exhorted the legislators to think of themselves in a league with Columbus, da Gama, Vespucci and Magellan – brave explorers who set their course by the stars and plunged confidently forward into the unknown. In the advance text, the speech was titled “Charting the course to prosperity.”

It would be nice if one year, the governor would trim his metaphorically sails somewhat and compare himself to a harried Atlanta commuter trying to make it back and forth between home and work. That would not only mirror the experience of many voters, it would better describe the way government really works.

Posted inTom Baxter

There used to be two Georgias; now there are a dozen Atlantas

Oh to have Gertrude Stein back, if only for a day. It was she who said once of Oakland, “There’s no there, there.” What wonders of grammatical compression might she have concocted in an age when the very concept of thereness is under stress?

The Southern Baptist Convention is considering dropping the “Southern.” The St. Petersburg Times has retired one of the most honored mastheads in newspaperdom to become The Tampa Bay Times. Texas A&M and Missouri will kick off next fall in the Southeastern Conference, and Kansas (where I spent a pleasant spell last fall as a fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics) may join the Big East.

These signs of cultural dislocation ought to be of special interest in Atlanta, a city