Just when you might have thought SnowJam 2014 was the only thing anyone in Georgia cared about, along comes a day at the state Capitol that shows the depth and breadth of the issues facing Georgians.
Here’s a short list of the issues addressed Tuesday at the Capitol, through legislation on the floor or in committee or through a rally or press conference:
*Convening a new Constitutional convention to introduce amendments aimed at reining in federal spending
*Barring the use of Georgia tax dollars from implementing any part of the Affordable Healthcare Act
*Officially “legalizing” the use of the phrases “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah”
*Disentangling Georgia’s schools from the Common Core curriculum standards currently in use here and in 45 other states
*Allowing small groups of regions to band together to pay for transportation projects the state won’t fund
*And, last but not least, considering state expenditures for 2015 (as in, budget subcommittees)
In some ways, you could say it’s heartening to think of all of the discussions and debates taking place under this Gold Dome. The legislature is reflecting the diversity of issues Georgians care about. And if nothing else, it’s a break from SnowJam.
But it’s also somewhat beguiling when you think of the rush with which lawmakers are heading for the door so they can campaign for re-election.
Now come along with me as we look closer at some of these issues.
Constitutional Convention Minus The Quill Pens
State Senator Cecil Staton has sponsored legislation to apply to hold a constitutional convention. He said with the way Congress works, it’s time to say “enough is enough” to what he described as runaway federal spending.
“I’m concerned about the direction of the federal government,” the Macon Republican told colleagues from the floor of the Senate. “And I’m looking into our Constitution for what is the Constitutional way that is given to the states to redress those grievances with Congress.”
It’s been a while since we had a Constitutional convention. Most of our amendments have come by way of Congress proposing a bill, and the states then ratifying the proposal. But, Staton said, that’s not the only way. And it’s time to take matters into our own hands, he said.
Some think there may be a reason we haven’t held a convention in a while. Sen. Steve Thompson, a Marietta Democrat and the Dean of the Senate, said there’s only one word to ascribe to the Constitutional convention movement in Georgia and beyond: danger. He said the issue is divisive and undermining the beliefs on which the nation was formed.
“These folks are dividers,” Thompson said. “And we have elements in this society who are talking about militias in such a way that they should become a very thriving part of our state to the point of drawing lines we once drew and found out the biggest enemy we ever had was ourselves. And I’m against getting to that point."
Too deep for you? You’ve got to watch Sen. Thompson; his rhetoric can sneak up on you.
Is Common Core The New Obamacare?
Let’s move on to the Common Core. The curriculum has become a political hot potato with some conservative Republicans decrying it as a federal takeover of Georgia’s education system. In fact, judging from interviews and posters at a rally at the Capitol Tuesday, the new mantra is: “Common Core will do to the educational system what Obamacare is doing to the healthcare system.”
A Republican strategist even lamented recently that Pres. Obama boosted the anti-Common Core movement simply by saying something nice about the curriculum standards.
Common Core is used by nearly all of the states in the U.S. and it’s voluntary. Georgia adopted the standards in 2012, and while Gov. Deal has called for a review, he hasn’t backed opting out. But that hasn’t dissuaded people like state Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick from filing legislation to remove Georgia from the Common Core.
Who’s the face of the movement? It could be Jean Garner from Cherokee County, a retired Air Force service member who worries the Common Core tramples over each child’s individuality. She came down to the Capitol to make her voice heard.
“Everyone’s unique and different,” she said in an interview. “And these types of systems that make everyone equal and everyone the same are wrong. There are always some people who excel, and there are always those who enjoy being in the middle and there are always those who need extra help. Why do you drag everyone down or push everyone up to be the same?”
Introducing The Common Corettes
To the Republicans who back the Common Core, including Gov. Nathan Deal, Garner said, “There are a lot of reasons people back this – maybe it’s lucrative. I don’t know exactly why they do. And then there’s also that thing that people don’t like to say they made a mistake.”
Many Georgia teachers are worried the state will succumb to pressure and opt out of the standard. Georgia’s 2014 Teacher of The Year, Jemellah Coes, said as much as at an education policy conference last month. She said if Georgia abandons the Common Core, it will waste three years of training teachers have undergone to learn the standards.
Garner admits Georgia would have chalk up the money and time devoted to get up to speed on another curriculum. But she said it’s better to admit you’ve made a mistake than continue making the mistake.
Want to hear more? You will. On Wednesday, the Georgia Chamber and the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education will take the unprecedented step of announcing the formation of a new coalition in support of the Common Core State Standards. The two groups plan to put forth business, education and community leaders who will talk about the importance of improving education.
Onward And Upward – With the Budget
This tour of issues at the Capitol brings us now to the place it all starts and ends: the budget. On Wednesday, GPB’s primetime public affairs show, On The Story, will feature Rep. Terry England of Auburn and Sen. Jack Hill of Reidsville, the Republicans heading up the appropriation committees. They will be providing insight on a “problem” that’s been in scarce supply in recent years: a budget surplus.
More to come Wednesday from your GPB News Now correspondent on the budget, and on the transportation bill that might give a boost to Georgia’s transit push, which is currently moving at the pace of a car stuck in SnowJam. Plus, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court will be giving the annual State of the Judiciary address.
All of that, and coverage of the coalition backing the Common Core in Georgia. Buckle up, folks.