Political Notes – Some hopeful signs from Tennessee?

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There may be some softening of official attitudes in Tennessee towards the idea being floated by House Speaker David Ralston to have Georgia build transportation improvements, such as a rail link to Chattanooga, in return for access to the water in the Tennessee River.

Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports in Friday’s edition that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t automatically rejecting the Ralston proposal.

Writes Sher:

A crack appears to be opening in Tennessee’s previously solid dam of opposition to letting some Tennessee River water flow into Georgia.

But whether it turns into a stream of water directed into Tennessee’s increasingly thirsty neighbor remains to be seen.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s spokeswoman Yvette Martinez indicated Thursday the governor would not summarily reject overtures from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal that the two states work out a trade of Volunteer State water for Peachtree State transportation improvements.

“We are relying on our [environmental] experts … to continue to monitor the issue in terms of what is in the best interest of Tennessee,” Martinez said by email. “Governor Haslam has said that he is open to sitting down and discussing the issue with Governor Deal.”

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Haslam seemingly threw a wet blanket on the idea, which was first floated by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who said Georgia officials would be interested in swapping better access to Hartsfield-Jackson International and Savannah’s port to exchange for Tennessee water.

“I think that was one legislator who presented that idea,” Haslam said. “I haven’t heard that from the governor of Georgia at all, who I do see and talk to on a fairly regular basis. And he hasn’t ever mentioned it to me.”

Haslam’s Georgia counterpart, Gov. Nathan Deal, has said he’s on board with Ralston’s proposal and would be open to having talks with Tennessee’s leadership about working out some sort of arrangement on these vital issues.

Ralston first raised the idea of a rail-for-water swap in a public radio interview.

Interestingly, the media coverage of the Ralston proposal has failed to mention at least one salient fact that would suggest where the idea came from in the first place.

Last November, Ralston and his family, along with his legislative chief of staff, went to Europe on a $17,000 junket paid for by lobbyists with Commonwealth Research Associates, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. It was one of most expensive lobbyist expenditures on a Georgia legislator in recent years.

Commonwealth Research has been involved in six U.S. rail project proposals, including plans for a maglev line that would connect Atlanta and Chattanooga.

Ralston told a reporter who asked about the European trip, “I was very impressed both in the Netherlands and in Germany with the way that rail has brought economic development in terms of being able to develop residential commercial recreational facilities around rail stations.”

Big Deal, big money

That Nathan Deal fundraiser planned for Savannah next week is progressing nicely, according to Larry Peterson of the Savannah Morning News.

Peterson writes that the fundraiser’s organizers, who originally were shooting for a haul of at least $100,000, now have commitments for more than $153,000.

That’s one way to build up a war chest for 2014 that would scare off would-be challengers like the Christian Coalition and their guy, Herman Cain.

In related contribution developments, the committee that raised money for Deal’s transition and inauguration said this week they will not release a list that would show how the $1.6 million was spent. As reported by the Associated Press’s Shannon McCaffrey:

The Deal inaugural team late last month released a list of the larger donors who helped the incoming Republican governor rake in $1.6 million for a bash to celebrate his election and for the costs of his transition.

When asked this week whether Deal would be releasing details on how the money was spent, the co-chairman of the inaugural planning committee said they would not be.

“We’ve exceeded what our commitment was,” said co-chair Jay Morgan. “We’re done.”

State law does not require any disclosure of inaugural committees, which are treated as private entities. It has been recent practice, however, to make information public after the event, although the level of disclosure has varied by administration.

Barr blast

Former congressman Bob Barr has some libertarian concerns about the federal E-Verify program that is used to check the citizenship status of newly hired employees and is a key provision in Georgia’s new immigration law.

Barr contends that the E-Verify program is actually a “stealth” form of a national identification law like the “Real ID” proposal of a few years back:

Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, has identified several criteria necessary for a program to constitute a national ID. Obviously, federal standards would be applied in this instance; as would a requirement that it carried at all times, which is why Congress has attached the standards to driver’s licenses.

The final requirement, as noted by Harper, is that it be used for identification. This would mean that the ID card or driver’s license would contain some sort of biometric identifier; such as facial recognition. Both REAL ID and PASS ID met these criteria.

The latest stealth attack by the feds to implement a de facto national identification system, however, lurks in the E-Verify program, designed to “assist” employers in determining the work eligibility of a prospective employee. This program was designed to help prevent illegal aliens from obtaining employment in the United States.

Members of Congress are pushing to have the E-Verify program mandated in all 50 states. As explained by Harper, employers would not be allowed to opt-out of this “cardless” national ID system.

“[N]ot having data in the E-Verify databases means not having legal work, so ‘participation’ in E-Verify can be fairly called practically required. Second, try to opt out of the system and you will meet a dead end,” Harper wrote at the Cato Institute’s blog earlier this month. He added that E-Verify is “legally required if the state or federal governments have got your identity data.”

In addition to verifying Social Security numbers of prospective hires, E-Verify would meet the final requirement for a de facto national identification system, by allowing the federal government to gain access to state databases; ostensibly allowing access to other identifiers, including the photo on your state-issued driver’s license.

Some hope for Gingrich?

Despite the mass resignation of virtually his entire staff on Thursday – leading to mass usage of the words “implode” and “en masse” by the national press corps – there is still a chance that Newt Gingrich could move ahead with his presidential campaign.

Chris Cillizza and Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post made this historical note:

Recent political history provides some rays of optimism for a Gingrich campaign recovery. In the 2008 presidential race, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suffered a similar staff exodus in the summer of 2007. He slowly rebuilt his campaign, won the New Hampshire primary and went on to be his party’s nominee. But it’s not clear whether Gingrich has the organization or support from the GOP establishment to pull off a similar feat. Throughout his career, Gingrich has been known as a prolific idea man who has lacked management skills.

While the “Newt-tron” bomb has eliminated his top staffers, Gingrich is also being deserted by the high-profile names who voluntarily lent their names to his campaign. Former governor Sonny Perdue, one of the nimblest bandwagon hoppers in Georgia politics, has already bailed out of the Gingrich entourage and signed on with Tim Pawlenty.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who served in the House with Gingrich with several years, said Friday he is sticking with his former colleague.

“When the going gets rough, I don’t cut and run on my friends,” Deal said in a statement released by his office. “Whether he stays in the race is his decision, not mine, and I will support whatever decision he makes.”

Smith named to national post

DOT Commissioner Vance Smith has been named chairman for the next two years of the standing committee on public transportation of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The committee develops policies related to mass transit and commuter rail issues.

“This is an important committee dealing on a national level with many of the same issues we have in Georgia,” Smith said. “So many of its topics are our topics – effective urban and rural transit development; shared-use commuter, intercity and freight rail operations; bus rapid transit.”

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: David Ralston , lobbyist junkets , Nathan Deal fundraising , Newt Gingrich , rail links , Tennessee River