When Georgians look over their ballots on election day, they usually make decisions based upon personality: Do I like this person better for this particular office, or am I more comfortable voting for this other person?
Politics is personal and always will be. The upcoming primary elections July 31, however, will offer an interesting change for the state’s voters. In many cases, the most important choice they make will be to vote for or against an abstract issue, rather than a flesh-and-blood candidate.
The major issue on the ballot is whether to charge an additional one-cent sales tax to raise revenues for fixing highways and building transit facilities, which goes by the acronym T-SPLOST. The state is divided into 12 regions that will each decide if they want to approve this sales tax increase.
There is some big money at stake in these transportation tax referendums. For the 10-county metro Atlanta region, the T-SPLOST would generate an estimated $7 billion to $8 billion over the next decade. If all of the 12 regions passed it, the projected revenues would total about $19 billion statewide. Your pocketbook will be directly affected by your vote.
Two other questions will be included on Republican primary ballots that promise to raise quite a bit of debate over the next two months.
At the GOP’s state convention in Columbus last week, it was agreed that non-binding referendums will be held on the issues of a $100 limitation on the money that lobbyists can spend to entertain legislators and the legalization of casino gambling.
The votes on these issues will not have the force of law, but they will provide a chance for many of the state’s voters to make their preferences known to their elected legislators.
The referendum questions won’t be listed on the Democratic primary ballots, but a majority of the state’s voters July 31 are expected to turn out in the Republican primary. The GOP also holds nearly two-thirds control of both the Georgia House and Senate.
The lobbyist spending question is at the heart of the ongoing battle between activists who want to strengthen the state’s ethics laws and legislative leaders who want the current standards to remain unchanged.
When they agreed to put the ethics issue on the ballot, GOP party officials effectively repudiated House Speaker David Ralston, one of the most powerful men at the state Capitol. Ralston has blocked the passage of ethics reform legislation because he contends the current requirement for complete disclosure of contributions and expenditures is sufficient. (Ralston was also the beneficiary of a $17,000 trip to Europe for himself and his family that was financed by a lobbyist.)
When he spoke to the delegates at the Republican state convention, Ralston derided supporters of stronger ethics laws as being in cahoots "with media elites and liberal special interest groups."
"In times of great majorities like we enjoy now, we must remember that there are those around us who seek nothing less than to divide us," Ralston said.
With all due respect to the speaker, that statement is a big steaming pile of nonsense. Ralston’s argument that ethics reform is a "liberal" issue is refuted by the fact that conservative organizations, such as the Tea Party Patriots, are among the groups demanding stronger ethics laws.
One of the legislators who tried the hardest to pass ethics reform legislation this year was state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), a conservative Republican lawmaker.
It would surprise me greatly if a majority of Republicans don’t vote for the lobbyist spending limitation, but we’ll know for sure after the ballots are tallied.
The referendum vote on the legalization of casino gambling is not as easy to forecast. It could pass in Metro Atlanta and be voted down everywhere else.
Even if a majority of Republican voters statewide expressed a preference for casino gambling, Gov. Nathan Deal and Ralston have both indicated they aren’t very comfortable with the idea. It will be interesting anyway to see what the public sentiment is on this issue.
There may not be a candidate in any of the local elections who catches your attention on July 31, but there are still some very compelling reasons to go to the polls.
(Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at email@example.com.)