Originally created 08/20/00

Kent: Gore's class warfare; free speech in Ga.?



LOS ANGELES - Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore got it right in his acceptance speech when he said, "The future is at stake" on Nov. 7.

Gore got it wrong on his main policy issues that affect the future lives of Americans: taxes and Social Security reform.

Gore played the "class warfare" card again during his Thursday night speech. "Mr. Inclusiveness" loves to use the divisive "us-against-them" theme. It's the working class versus the undefined rich.

But one reason George W. Bush has been capturing the high ground, especially with independent swing voters, is that the Republican nominee understands much has changed since Gore and Bill Clinton took office in 1993. Over 100 million Americans are now part of an investor class with 401(k) plans at work or through other investment plans.

All Bush wants to do is allow younger people to voluntarily opt for private Social Security investment retirement accounts. At the same time, Bush emphasizes that no one on Social Security or planning to receive it would lose any promised benefits.

Further undercutting Gore's opposition to any privatized Social Security accounts is that many prominent Democrats - ranging from Sens. Daniel P. Moynihan, D-N.Y., and Charles Robb, D-Va. - agree with the Bush approach. Polls also show it is popular with the electorate.

AS FOR TAX cuts, look at the numbers released by Gore's own administration, courtesy of the White House budget office. It forecasts that the general fund tax surplus alone will be $2 trillion by 2010. The Bush tax cuts would cost about $1 trillion during that period. That leaves another $1 trillion (or more) to pay down the debt or address unforeseen needs.

Gore, to his credit, proposes tax credits for college costs and health insurance, but does nothing about the income tax rates. Why doesn't he have the courage to address either a flatter tax rate or a national sales tax as the country looks forward to a decade of projected budget surpluses?

HEAD:Ax the Gang of Four

While preparing to leave the "City of Angels," I telephoned an Atlanta attorney on the side of the angels in an important First Amendment case with national ramifications.

George Weaver, who in 1998 unsuccessfully ran for a Georgia Supreme Court seat against incumbent Leah Sears, brought me up-to-date on his lawsuit against the state Judicial Qualification Commission - an anti-free speech bunch who deserve to be run out of business.

U.S. District Judge Willis Hunt Jr. will decide the case by the end of the month. At issue is that the commission - through its notorious Gang of Four panel - accused Weaver of circulating "false, misleading and deceptive" campaign ads.

This "official rebuke" was issued to the media just six days before the Weaver-Sears primary. It was blatant government interference in an election, something more akin to what goes on in Third World countries. The phony rebuke undermined Weaver's right to free speech, and caused a fine candidate to lose.

The Gang of Four is also tone deaf to the words, "conflict of interest." It was chaired by Macon attorney John James, who openly gave money to Sears' 1998 campaign. Another Sears crony on the commission (and past Sears contributor) is Judge Alice Bonner.

The Weaver TV ad singled out by the gang stated:

"What does Justice Leah Sears stand for? Same-sex marriage. She's questioned the constitutionality of laws prohibiting sex with children under 14. And she calls the electric chair silly."

THIS WAS not only Weaver's opinion, it's true: Sears told a gay and lesbian group that she supports all the goals of the Stonewall Bar Association, and that includes same-sex marriage and underage sex. Sears confirms that she made this speech, and one of her written court opinions also appears to underscore this support.

Shouldn't a judicial candidate, just like a presidential candidate, enjoy the constitutional right to speak out - in this case, through an advertisement? Voters can then make up their minds, as they ultimately do in all elections where charges are thrown around.

Why should some misnamed state legal panel be allowed, in Caesar-like fashion, to issue an imperial edict about "misleading ads" on the eve of an election in order to sway it?

Will a biased Judicial Qualifications Commission, for example, condemn and smear GOP candidate Ben Jackson during his campaign against liberal Augusta Judge William Jennings?

And get a load of this: It came out during the discovery phase of this suit that the Gang didn't even know Sears' position on same-sex marriage. The panelists swore they had no specific knowledge of her opinions.

The good news is that Judge Hunt, who will decide Weaver's suit, has a strong record regarding First Amendment rights. He's got to be asking himself how the Gang could declare that the ad was false if they didn't even know Sears' position on the issue. The bad news is that Hunt was one of the jurists who originally drew up the flawed rules that now govern Georgia's judicial elections.

WEAVER, AND all who treasure the First Amendment, can only hope that a fair-minded judge will reject a setup whereby the state, through some un-elected panel, can issue proclamations deciding when free speech is "misleading" and when it isn't.

Phil Kent is senior editorial writer for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3327 or philkent@augustachronicle.com