Do you have strong feelings about gambling, abortions, or the influence of lobbyists?
If you do, there’s a straw vote question on the July 31 election ballot that will give you a chance to make your voice heard.
Both parties have placed several non-binding questions on their primary ballots that will serve as statewide surveys on those particular issues. They are unofficial votes that don’t have the force of law, but they can be an effective way to gauge public sentiment.
These are the questions on the GOP ballot:
Should Georgia have casino gambling with funds going to education?
Do you support ending the current practice of unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators by imposing a $100 cap on such gifts?
Should active duty military personnel who are under the age of 21 be allowed to obtain a Georgia weapons license?
Should citizens who wish to vote in a primary election be required to register by their political party affiliation at least thirty (30) days prior to such primary election?
Should the constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the paramount right to life is vested in each innocent human being from his or her earliest biological beginning without regard to age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency?
The questions on the Democratic ballot:
Should the Georgia constitution be amended to allow the state to override locally elected school boards’ decisions when it comes to the creation of charter schools in your county or city?
Do you support ending the current practice permitting unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators?
Should Georgia adopt an income tax credit for home energy costs to support the economic security of our families?
Should Georgia reduce sales taxes on made in Georgia products so as to support the growth of small businesses in our state?
Both parties offer differently-worded versions of the question about capping the amount of money that lobbyists can spend to entertain legislators. Georgia is one of only three states that still allows unlimited spending or gift-giving by lobbyists when they are trying to influence lawmakers to pass or defeat a piece of legislation.
Even if a majority of voters should support this limitation on lobbyist spending, the leadership of one chamber of the General Assembly has indicated it will ignore them.
While some of the Senate leaders have said they are open to the idea of a cap on lobbyist spending, House Speaker David Ralston remains opposed to the idea. Ralston contends that public disclosure of lobbyist expenditures, which is currently the state requirement, is sufficient.
There is one additional thing voters can do on July 31, however, that just might catch the attention of Ralston and the other leaders who are reluctant to derail that lobbyist gravy train.
Several of the most powerful state officials on the ballot have credible opposition on July 31.
This list includes state Sen. Don Balfour, the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee (Travis Bowden and Steve Ramey are running against him); Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (he’s opposed by Brandon Beach); and Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise (who is being challenged by Pam Davidson).
Balfour, Rogers and Wise are three of the heaviest lifters at the capitol when it comes to raising money from lobbyists and political action committees.
Wise also gets a large portion of his campaign funds from people who either work for or represent the utilities that Wise and other PSC members regulate.
A recent example occurred June 19, when Wise reported contributions totaling $10,000 from attorneys with the Troutman Sanders law firm, which represents Georgia Power in rate cases before the PSC.
Two days after receiving those campaign funds, Wise cast the deciding vote to give Georgia Power a $3.2 million financial benefit by allowing the utility to charge off some disputed expenses resulting from nuclear plant service outages to its customers.
If voters on July 31 should defeat one or two members from that trio of Balfour, Rogers, and Wise, they would definitely get the attention of the power structure at the state capitol.
They might even inspire the leadership to get serious about placing some limits on the influence of lobbyists. Stranger things have happened.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)