By Michael Mumper
Thursday night the Atlanta Press Club hosted “Georgia’s General Assembly Unplugged: Behind the Headlines with the State Capitol Press” , at the Commerce Club. Some 80-90 folks attended, by my count. The moderator was Jeanne Bonner of Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Tom Crawford, The Georgia Report
Charles Edwards, Public Broadcasting Atlanta
Walter Jones, Morris News Service
Aaron Gould Sheinin, Atlanta Journal Constitution
The four issues that received the most attention:
BedTax – maybe the most important piece of legislation given its $700 million price tag, coupled with the implications of “tax” that could have derailed action. Gov. Deal’s support of quick movement of this through the Assembly is probably a huge win for everyone.
“What do Los Angeles Falcons Do?”
“What do Los Angeles Falcons Do?”
Ethics Reform – Sheinin: probably a 60% chance that this will pass this session. Depends on what’s really in Ralston’s heart and mind about this, and that’s hard to tell. Supposed poison pill elements of the bill would need to be addressed.
Gun Control - something like 1 bill in favor of more stringent control; 12 for less control. Crawford: But Deal and Ralston seem to have put their foot down that there’s not much taste for gun legislation this session. Edwards: Will the Price Middle School shooting impact this? Sheinin: only if It’s true that an armed counselor at the school helped subdue the shooter.
Other issues that got a notable mention:
- Juvenile Justice Reform should pass easily (said Jones), like last year’s Criminal Justice Reform, given how this issue meets both progressive criteria (shifting punishment to treatment) and conservative criteria (cheaper).
- Adjustments to tax reform from 2012 (e.g. car leasing problem)
- Elder Abuse
- Dog Bill – Jones is kinda kiddin’ with us here
Key Missing Legislation (things Georgia really needs but there just ain’t the climate for it, according to the panelists):
• Investment in K-12 (Edwards), even though (wrongly) more attention is currently being given higher education.
• Roads & Bridges (Sheinin), and I might add, transportation in general, as many predicted would happen if TSPLOST fell last July, which, well, you know…
• Uninsured Georgians (I can’t recall if Crawford or Jones mentioned this)
No one discussed Chip Rogers on the record. Well…
Governor Deal’s legacy
Criminal Justice Reform and Juvenile Justice Reform, so far, are Deal’s key achievements. Per Sheinin, after May 25, 2014, when qualifying for next term elections for Governor are due, we’ll find out if Deal has any real competition. If not, we may see a “new Deal”: bolder, stronger, faster. Could be tackling Georgia’s underinsured problem. One attending journalist cautioned that we’ll never again see the boldness of a Zell Miller-type Governor, given today’s 24-hour news cycle, the transparency that social media engenders, etc.
Any future legislative leaders emerging?
Senator Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), Rep. Charles Gregory (R-Kennesaw) hold promise.
Is the Tea Party impacting the Assembly?
Sheinin: Some 87 of 180 in the General Assembly are freshmen, and perhaps 20-30 of those are Tea Party members or sympathetic thereof. So, electorally, not yet a major impact; no “big” wins like the Tea Party defeat of Senator Lugar in Indiana. (Though some think US Senator Chambliss’ not seeking a 3rd term is bowing to Tea-party pressure.) But from a policy standpoint, there’s much agreement among the panelists that the Tea Party is an important factor.
Do journalists impact/cause legislation? (e.g. school dropouts, sex trafficking)
As Jones relayed, back in the day, media could more easily impact legislative action. When one journalist pursued a story, others in the Assembly hallway would hear, pursue and drive the story forward. Many papers would be propelling a story line. The antagonist couldn’t claim that one paper’s geographic or political leanings were motivating the angle. Nowadays, with fewer papers and smaller staffs, it’s harder to gain and keep momentum. (My note: Ethics legislation certainly was propelled this year by considerable coverage from every political bent last year.)
Journalism’s business model
On a separate note, I had a discussion with a journalist before the panel discussion about the future of journalism models, given the slam that has hit print news media in the last 10 years. It was noted that Tom Crawford’s Georgia Report is completely “behind the firewall” – meaning you have to pay to read any of it. We both gave kudos to Tom for making that happen. The Saporta Report is completely free, paid for by some advertising and mostly (we think) from guest columnist thought-leaders. Of course PBA has a member-donation model, and I am a regular listener. The AJC is partially behind the firewall, but, my friend said, “If the AJC goes totally behind the firewall, I would definitely pay to read it.” I agreed with my friend, but said that I would never tell the AJC that.
See Michael Mumper’s bio in the About Us section above.