The Young Democrats of Atlanta had a triumphant day at the Georgia State Capitol yesterday. During our third and final Lobby Day of the 2007 Session, the legislative marathon that we call “Crossover Day,” we fought the good fight on many bills an even eked out a victory or two in extremely hostile territory.
We were truly a force to be reckoned with!
Our chapter is primarily young professionals (instead of students), so I was extremely proud of our showing – fourteen people took some part of the day to stand up for their fellow Georgians. Two brand new members came – what courage! And many of our old hands came down to work the ropes. Senator Nan Orrock commented that she was “mighty proud” of our efforts.
Our First Bill: Payday lending (HB 163)
As we were getting briefed on the key environment bills scheduled to come up, one of our favorite labor advocates rushed over to ask if we could help on Payday lending. This bill has been much in the news – the payday lending lobby has poured buckets of money into the effort to open the state back up to these modern day loan sharks. These loans prey on the most vulnerable people in our communities, often military families, taking advantage of their need. According to talking points provided by Georgia Watch and the AARP, “a typical payday borrower ends up paying back $793 for a $325 loan.” Further, “harassing collection tactics, dishonest marketing schemes and arrangements with out-of-state banks beyond the reach of state consumer protection laws are all common practices of payday lenders.”
There was a small contingent of House Democrats who had previously voted to allow the payday lenders back into Georgia. So we went to work on them, asking them to keep Georgia’s strong protections for consumers against payday lenders.
I had a long conversation with Sheila Jones (44th) to understand why she was voting Yes. She was gracious and calm, explaining that she felt that there was a need in her district for this type of loan and that she felt the protections written into the bill were enough. I explained that even the Republican Insurance Commissioner felt the protections had very dangerous loopholes, making them all but useless. I encouraged her to support legislation that would create better jobs and raise the minimum wage if she truly felt that people in her community needed short term loans such as these.
One of our normally strong Dems, Al Williams (165th) was actually, inexplicably, a co-sponsor of the bill. Ellis Black (174th) is totally a usual suspect to vote wrong. Sheila Jones and a few others in the LBC (Legislative Black Caucus) voted with Representative Williams: Tyrone Brooks, Keith Heard, Lynmore James, and Ron Sailor. Many more LBC stalwarts either “walked” (e.g. Billy Mitchell, Able Mable) or voted No (Calvin Smyre, Lanett Stanley-Turner, Roger Bruce, David Lucas, Virgil Fludd, Howard Mosby, etc, etc, etc).
And then there was……Mike Jacobs?? Mike “Young Democrats” Jacobs? Mike “we all spent countless hours working on his campaign” Jacobs? What was Mike doing voting Yes to let Payday Lenders back into Georgia? But there it was, plain as day on the board. We called him out to ask why. He didn’t come.
But never mind, on this bill, justice prevailed! The bill needed a simple majority or 91 votes to pass. With the vast majority of Dems voting NO, a few walks that we needed, and considerable Republican support as well (too many to mention), the well funded lobby effort on behalf of the payday lenders could only muster 82 Yeas. So…..YEA!!
The Young Democrats of Atlanta were one for one.
On to the next bill: Private Cities (SB 200 and SR 309)
This bill would provide our thick THICK drama for the day. We moved across to the Senate side to talk to folks about a complex and bad bill which would essentially allow developers to establish their own private cities. The environmental community from Environment Georgia to the Sierra Club was firmly opposed to Private Cities. Georgia PIRG also opposed, because of the weak safeguards provided to residents/homeowners who buy in private cities. Essentially, this bill helps developers and hurts the environment. The spin was that it would help rural Georgia to participate in the land boom, but truly, it’s more harvesting of our shared public resources to put money in the already well-lined pockets of the developers and their lobby. To read more, check out the Sierra Club’s summary: http://www.georgia.sierraclub
Essentially, we believed that the caucus would hold, but we called out a few folks that had been identified as “loose in the saddle.” Senator Adelman assured me he was voting NO. I spoke with a few others while other teams worked the ropes as well. Senator Steve Thompson was a co-sponsor, so he was past redemption, but Senator Curt Thompson, who was getting extreme pressure to vote Yes, came out to chat with Benson. I’m not sure what magic Benson worked, but Curt Thompson was one of several shaky Dems who walked for the initial vote. Three other “walkers” who play prominently in the drama were George Hooks from Americus, Michael Meyer von Bremen from Albany, and JB Powell from near Augusta also walked. So, the bill which needed a 2/3 vote to pass since it required a constitutional amendment, received only 37 votes: two shy.
Hooray. Two for two. At that point.
So back to the House side to shore up the vote against HB 340, “Bad PeachCare” as we called it. This lousy piece of legislation was sponsored by none other than Speaker Glenn Richardson and co-signed by the veritable Rogues Gallery – Earl Ehrhart, Mark Burkhalter, Rich Golick, Jerry Keen. You get the picture – ICK. This bill cuts health care coverage for Georgia kids. Period. That’s about all you need to know. It lowered the income eligibility, cuts dental and vision out of the program, adds complexity to the state plans, and in fact SAVES VERY LITTLE. It saves a paltry 1.2-2.4 million from the budget and in fact shifts those costs to other, hidden, and more expensive places in the health care system – such as covering emergency room care and paying for expensive complications that could have been handled more effectively if caught early by preventive care.
Long story short, we were asked to check in on all the Dems, particularly the shaky conservative ones. I was speaking to one of those and he said to me, “this is going to pass. It’s the speaker’s bill. But we’ll hold the caucus firm against it.” Depressing, but true. In the Richardson regime, no Republican dares vote against Richardson. We lost, and it was very nearly a 100% party line vote. A few Republicans walked – a very few. Judy Manning, R from Cobb and Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus walked. Bless her – she’s the Chair of the Children and Youth committee and she knows a travesty when she sees one. A couple of our recent party-switchers also walked – showing a little bit of leftover compassion. But not a single Republican voted No. And not a single Democrat voted Yes. Except. Wait – there’s old Ellis Black from Valdosta again. Currying favor with the speaker? Voting against Dubose and the House Caucus – how annoying. But that’s Ellis Black for you.
Scanning down the vote count, he’s the only Democrat who crossed lines to vote for this horrid bill. Right? Wait….that can’t be right…..what’s that say? MIKE JACOBS???? Voted YES? Mike Jacobs, Democrat from Dekalb County, voted to kick children off Peach Care? Are you freaking kidding me????
This guy is up to no good. And the friendly advocates and many of his colleagues have had it with his bullshit. I heard him described twice as a “little turd.” And that pretty much sums it up. As one good Democrat said, “we need to find someone to run against him.” Watch out, little Mike, you are in very sketchy territory. With this vote, you managed to cross not only your Caucus and several your key campaign supporters, but also the Georgia PTA, the March of Dimes, and the American Academy of Pediatrics…..GREAT F-ING JOB, dude. You know what? Your buddy Glenn didn’t even need your crummy vote. It passed with 101 votes for. Dis-gusting.
But enough. Mike Jacobs – he moved from “on notice” for the Payday Lending vote to “dead to me” in the short space of crossover day.
So, back to our Private Cities drama.
After the bill failed, in what can only be described as “shenanigans,” the bill sponsors quickly moved to “Reconsider.” Meaning – vote again. But guess what – according to Senate Rule 6-7.5, when you reconsider a bill, it has to go back on the calendar and therefore it would be the following day before it could be on the floor of the Senate again. And “tomorrow” was too late for the bill to cross over to the House this year.
Guess what comes next? You’ll never guess. They moved to SUSPEND Senate Rule 6-7.5. You can-NOT make this shit up.
So then the bill gets tabled, meaning that it can be brought up for a vote again at any point during
the day. Read: as soon as the Private Cities lobbyists feel they have the votes they need, they’ll bring it up again.
So we quickly set about working on Curt Thompson again. But he must really be feeling the pressure, because he is literally refusing to come out of the Senate Chamber. For ANYONE. Long time friendly advocates are calling him out. The Young Democrats, who have worked on his campaigns, are calling him out. Constituents are calling him out. Advocates from the environment and labor lobbies start to call him, text him, anything – he won’t come out!!!!
I went back to the House side to talk about the benefits of trees over billboards, and a few of us started working on SB 66, trying to keep the Dems firm against mandatory first trimester sonograms for women seeking abortions when we heard that Curt Thompson was actually seen exiting the chamber and entering an elevator. A friendly said she watched the paid Private Cities lobbyists bolt in six different directions to cover the six elevators and pounce on Senator Thompson.
Shortly thereafter, the bill came back up.
Mercifully, it seems as if Senator Thompson cleverly eluded the Privates Cities lobby because he was not present for the vote. Good for him. Wish he had stayed and bravely voted NO (like his good friend Senator Adelman who was also under pressure) but at least he didn’t vote Yes. But this time it passed with 40 Yeas. So three new Yes-votes…….let’s see: a quick comparison reveals that two of our rural Dems, whose districts could possibly stand to benefit, at least superficially, voted Yes. On the first vote, as you recall, Curt Thompson and three other Dems walked rather than vote Yes. Curt walked again, so it must be those other three…..
Yes, there’s Michael Meyer von Bremen. There’s George Hooks. They didn’t walk again, they voted Yes. But wait….JB Powell walked again!!! Where’s that third vote coming from??
Doug Stoner from Smyrna?
Doug Stoner from Cobb voted for Private Cities? Voted to empower developers and weaken environmental controls?
Interesting. Very interesting. We’ll remember that. Senator Stoner, consider yourself “On Notice.”
All in all, a very good day. Our chapter had a fine showing and did a great job – we were truly a credit to our organization. We were knowledgeable, credible, and powerful spokespeople for the issues we care about.
Thanks to all of you who made it out – what an amazing contribution to your community.
Our work this day made me proud to be a Democrat.