Originally created 02/11/01

Kent: Budget maneuvers; 'Taylor-made' district



THE GEORGIA House last Wednesday approved a $15.3 billion state budget that generally tracks the governor's proposals, with a slight increase in borrowing for parks and colleges.

For the first time in six years, Republicans offered no amendments to the proposed budget. In fact, most Republicans crossed party lines to vote for the budget, which includes $10 million for tourism and economic development for Augusta. Just 19 voted "no," including Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta.

Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, says "it is generally a good budget with good projects, including the Augusta money." "However it could have been improved," he quipped, "if Republicans were in the majority."

A footnote: Rep. Jack Connell, D-Augusta, and other local lawmakers were vigilant and moved swiftly to eliminate the governor's proposed $250,000 funding for a Savannah River "water study." Connell, Harbin and other lawmakers fear the study - with its vague guidelines - could be used to justify attempts to siphon away water from the river for use in fast-growing Atlanta.

Reapportionment scheme

ALL 50 STATES will wrestle with state and U.S. congressional reapportionment based on March census numbers. In Georgia, it had been announced that a special session of the General Assembly would be convened in July to adjust and create districts based on population trends. But some lawmakers are cooking up a different calender.

They argue that the special session should be held in late October. That would allow Democrats who control both the House and Senate chambers to pull off a clever scheme. You see, anyone running for the legislature has to reside in the district to be represented for at least a year. So, after some quick strokes on the computer in the redistricting office, and after speedy passage, some potential November 2002 opponents to key lawmakers could be barred from running. Ratifying the configuration of the new districts by, say, Nov. 1, wouldn't give a potential challenger time to move into the new boundaries.

All this talk leads veteran Linda Meggers of the state reapportionment office to speculate that "this will be the most partisan redistricting ever."

Furthermore, Democratic strategists believe, after looking at preliminary census numbers, that one of the two new congressional districts Georgia will have can be drawn near Augusta.

The present turf of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga, could be shrunk, and these sources and Meggers speculate there might be enough people in south Richmond and various area counties to create a district friendly to a Democrat.

Democrat Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor particularly wants this district drawn for none other than Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta.

Some in the Walker camp have advised their man to run against and defeat Taylor in a 2002 lieutenant gubernatorial primary, since the incumbent is perceived to be the weakest statewide Democratic officeholder. That's why the lieutenant governor and his friends plan to draw a "Taylor-made" congressional district around here to entice the senator to make an easy run for Congress.

Paid state help

SENATE MAJORITY Leader Walker took an embarrassing hit last week when Atlanta Constitution columnist Lucy Soto exposed a cozy relationship. The state Department of Human Resources actually assigned one of its bureaucrats to Walker's office to "research and analyze legislation" on children's health and education issues.

"Taxpayers who already pay (Rosalyn) Bacon $75,576 to run the family health branch of DHR's Public Health Division also pay her an extra 10 percent of her monthly salary, $1,887 for the session's three months, to work in Walker's office," Soto reports.

It's the only known instance where a state employee has been assigned to a lawmaker's office - and since Walker doesn't appear to be ashamed, his patron Gov. Roy Barnes ought to be. The governor ought to pull the plug on this sweetheart deal.

Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, mocks Walker and Barnes by saying, "Where's my highly-paid state employee to research and analyze things?"

Cheerleading a sport?

Should teen-age high school girls who basically jump up and down and yell - "Give me a W" - have their activity officially considered a "sport" by the Georgia Board of Education?

Some over-enthusiastic parents and teacher allies think so. They claim naming it a sport along with baseball or football also helps implement new provisions of a gender equity law.

An onerous federal law dubbed "Title IX" says high school sports opportunities offered to boys and girls must be comparable. So even though the federal government doesn't recognize competitive cheerleading as a "sport," it's not inconceivable that the majority of the Georgia Board of Education could be swayed by the girls with pom pons.

'Open-minded'

As the jury was deliberating after the trial of Arthur Hastings Wise, who went on a 1997 killing spree inside Aiken's R.E, Phelon Co. plant, a juror reported that some half-wit colleague was holding out on voting for the death penalty. She thought Wise "showed mercy" by skipping some employees while murdering others!

Fortunately, the other jurors finally talked her into to executing this monster. (As the old saying goes, "It's great to be open-minded, just don't let your brain fall out.")