2014 to be a major election year in Georgia

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ATLANTA — Four years after Republicans claimed every statewide office in Georgia, voters will have the chance to weigh in on whether the state is on the right path or changes are needed at the top.

It will be a major election year with all statewide officials, including the governor, facing re-election. There also will be a hotly contested race for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat with Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss set to retire at year’s end. In addition, all 56 state senators and 180 state representatives will be on the ballot.

While the general election isn’t until November, key primaries worth watching will be held early this year after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit saying Georgia wasn’t allowing enough time for military members and others living overseas to return absentee ballots in federal runoff races.

As a result of that case, the U.S. Senate primary is scheduled for May 20. And state lawmakers gathering for the legislative session this month are expected to quickly change the date of the statewide primary so both can be held the same day, sparing the costs of separate elections.

The earlier primary dates will mean a compressed campaign season, putting pressure on state lawmakers to get in and out of Atlanta. During the session, set to start Jan. 13, elected officials are prohibited by state law from raising campaign money. So there will be an extra incentive to move swiftly on their legislative agendas.

Lawmakers have 40 calendars days to work with, but those are usually spread out over the course of roughly four months. Some observers predict the session could be over by late March, but that depends on how budget deliberations and other key issues progress.

A major question will be how the governor and state lawmakers handle growing state revenues after the lean years that followed the recession. Will state employees see a pay raise? Will education funding significantly increase?

Gov. Nathan Deal has indicated he wants to spend about $7.4 million in state funds to shore up the Department of Child and Family Services, after the deaths of two children with whom the agency had contact. The money would be used to hire more employees.

One of Deal’s Republican primary opponents is state schools Superintendent John Barge. He has been critical of the governor over budget cuts he says have resulted in two-thirds of school districts reducing classroom days below the 180-day limit set by law. Barge will likely cast any proposed education funding increases as election-year politics.

Meanwhile, Deal’s other Republican primary challenger is Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who’s eager to woo tea party and fiscal conservatives with his message of smaller government. Pennington, who argues that the governor has failed to reduce taxes and cut spending, will likely use any budget increases as another line of attack on Deal.

And then there is state Sen. Jason Carter. His decision to run for governor energized Democrats who are hoping that changing demographics – increases in minorities and residents moving in from other states – will transform Georgia’s political landscape despite tough odds. Most state Democrats had been looking to 2018, but Carter and Michelle Nunn, who’s running for U.S. Senate, think they can move the electorate now and see hope with their early fundraising. Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, has decided to remain in the Senate for the session, forgoing an opportunity to gain some ground in fundraising. He may be banking on the fact that he’s not expected to face a primary challenger while Deal’s two opponents will force him to spend money.

By staying in the Senate, Carter also will benefit from being the most visible opponent to Deal’s legislative agenda and will look to challenge the governor on education issues and the decision not to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law. Deal will continue to make the case that his focus on economic development has bolstered the economy, producing jobs.

Other issues likely to arise in the legislative session include an effort to toss out the Common Core academic standards, a push for medical malpractice reform and a call for more criminal justice reforms with an emphasis on improving rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. One lingering question from last year’s legislative session is what lawmakers will do with a proposal, still active, to expand gun rights on public college campuses.

And while some attention is focused on the Capitol, a crowded field of Republicans vying for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat will be traveling the state and looking for any advantage heading into the May 20 primary. Major GOP candidates include U.S. Reps. Paul Broun of Athens, Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Jack Kingston of Savannah, along with former Secretary of State Karen Handel and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue.

Kingston and Gingrey already have more than $2 million each in the bank, while Perdue has put up $1 million of his own money.

All three are likely to spend the cash on TV ads and mailers to boost name recognition among Republican primary voters. Meanwhile, Broun will work to rally support from tea party and social conservatives and Handel will tap her grassroots network, built during her previous campaigns.

Expect health care to remain a major topic as the GOP candidates look to position themselves as the strongest opponent of the federal law. Broun has already attacked Kingston for signaling a willingness to make changes to the law while seeking to repeal it. Given the crowded field, a July 22 runoff is expected.

Among Democrats, Nunn is considered the front-runner in the U.S. Senate race. The daughter of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, a moderate who represented Georgia for 24 years, she will campaign on her experience leading Points of Light, one of the nation’s largest volunteer organizations. Look for Nunn to try to keep her distance from national Democrats as she argues her independence and pragmatism is what’s needed in Washington, and for Republicans to try to portray her as lock-step with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

After the Nov. 4 general election is over, much will be known about whether Georgia remains a reliable Republican stronghold or if the state might turn a little blue.

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Riverman1 01/05/14 - 08:40 am
Deja Carter

I thought never in my lifetime would I be subjected to Jimmy Carter involved in Georgia politics again. Then here comes Jay Carter signing Jimmy out of the nursing home so he can show him off to the low information Democrats. Billy was the only one of those boys that made any sense and he had to have at least a six-pack before he did.

GaWhig 01/05/14 - 12:45 pm
Time for a change

I personally feel that many in office have forgotten their oath to the people of this great nation. This nation was founded because of the tyranny of a government that did not respect the people.

Members of congress say that the issues of the government are too complicated for most Americans to understand. They think the American people are too stupid to see that it is Congress that is muddying up the waters to hide facts and figures from the people they represent and are supposed to be working for. The complexity of government has developed over years of deliberate subterfuge to keep the people like mushrooms, (Kept in the dark and fed manure). The federal government has developed the system to keep the people looking at the smoke and mirrors and not look at the men/women behind the curtain. They put out bits and pieces to the American people but never the whole truth.

Of course there are no absolutes in national issues. There has to be a middle ground between the far left and the far right. The GOP and Tea party movement and the DNC can’t agree on the time let alone running of the Nation. At least the Whig party does not tell members how to think.
When the parties are so polarized it is the people of this country that suffer, not the politicians. Both the DNC and the GOP, because they are the two big boys on the block, don’t care about the middle. But it will take a group, like the Whig Party, that can see that there is always a middle ground that will be in the nation’s best interest. Whigs believe it is time to change the antiquated two party system with a more open and citizen-centric solution. This very "Un-party" concept troubles many who meet us for the first time. At least the Whig Party does not tell members how to think.

There has to be a departure from the status quo. The GOP and DNC think they are the only parties that count. It takes the people standing up and saying I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore! It is the United States of America and we the people count.

Join the Whig party and start making a difference. www.Gawhig.org

Darby 01/05/14 - 12:50 pm
Does not bode well for any governor to face

a primary challenge from within his own party.

Deal will will that contest but will go into November weaker than he would have been otherwise.

WalterBradfordCannon 01/05/14 - 01:56 pm
Deal made significantly bad

Deal made significantly bad moves on education. Under his leadership, school funding has been cut and cut again. University inflation adjusted funding per student is down 16% just in Deal's tenure. The state has underfunded the QBE formula for per student spending by roughly 10% each year Deal has been in office. These are historical precedents. Georgia started the Deal years 35th in inflation adjusted expenditures per student, and is at 38th now and sliding.

The funny thing is, Deal ran on a platform of being strong on education. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me...you can't get fooled again."

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 01/05/14 - 03:00 pm

I agree with you at least 90% of the time, WBC, but here I think you missed some information. Sure, education dollars from the state to the local school systems and to the Board of Regents did drop off since 2007, but that was because state income tax revenues, state sales tax revenues, state excise tax revenues fell off dramatically as a direct result of the recession. The state cannot transfer money it does not receive.

Tax revenues crept up a little in 2012 and 2013. So you are likely to see 2014's General Assembly start increasing education money this year.

bright idea
bright idea 01/05/14 - 10:07 pm

Why does no politician ever say when elected he/she will demand more efficiency from DFACS, education, etc. with the money that is budgeted? DFACS is now a 1-800 number to save money but is more inefficient than ever which leads to deaths, more abuse and ultimately more costs. Education is smothered by the feds and curriculum changes which cost money. Georgia needs a governor that has at least a basic understanding of how these departments should work.

Darby 01/06/14 - 12:09 am
"Under his leadership, school funding has

been cut and cut again."

Not really, but if it had then he would have had my blessing. There should be no more money to schools until we come up with a plan to teach only academics and fire any teacher, or administrator who uses our tax money to indoctrinate Georgia's children.

Simply pouring money into the school system without conditions is just plain stupid and irresponsible. America's poor standing on the world stage should make that indisputably clear.

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