Political Notes – Chambliss cites ‘huge’ need for farm workers

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While state officials like Gov. Nathan Deal have tried to downplay the adverse impact of Georgia’s immigration law on the availability of farm labor, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss sounded a more urgent note of concern during an Atlanta appearance Monday.

“The problem with immigration and agriculture is huge,” Chambliss said in a talk to the Atlanta Press Club. “If our folks involved in agriculture, both in Georgia as well as all other 49 states, don’t get some relief on a real workable guest worker program, then agriculture in this country is in real trouble.”

The enactment of HB 87 last year is credited with scaring away a large number of migrant farm workers, leaving the growers of fruits and vegetables unable to hire a big enough labor force to pick their crops. The lack of workers cost the state’s farmers an estimated $300 million to $400 million.

Chambliss for years has urged Congress to revise the federal H2A program that provides visas for guest workers from other countries, an effort that has come up short so far.

“I was just on a panel in Europe where the issue was, how is the world going to feed 20 billion additional people over the next 20 years?” Chambliss asked. “The United States has got to take the lead on this. If we don’t have a real solid guest worker program, it’s going to make it much more difficult on us to do.”

Chambliss’ math was little fuzzy on that statement. The current world population is just over 7 billion, a number that is expected to grow by about 2 billion, not 20 billion, over the next few decades.

The senator also said there is still no definitive answer on “where’s the money going to come from” where the $650 million deepening of Savannah harbor is concerned.

“This is going to cost a lot of money,” Chambliss said. “Where we get it from is a critical question, obviously. Because 100 percent – 100 percent — of corps (of engineers) projects historically have come from earmarks and we are now in a post-earmark world, so that means we can’t go in and request it. We’re going to have to have it come from the corps, or from the administration.”

He added: “We are leaning on the corps every day to make sure they make the right request and we have the right kind of in-roads to the White House. (Atlanta Mayor) Kasim Reed has just been a great champion. This has been a model bipartisan effort on the part of Kasim and the governor. But it’s going to take big money in a very short period of time.”

Bond retires from academic post

Julian Bond is hanging it up after 20 years as a history professor at the University of Virginia.

Bond, 72, announced last week he will retire May 1 from the job he has held since 1992 in Virginia’s Corcoran Department of History, teaching about the civil rights movement in the context of American history.

UVA said it will establish a Julian Bond Professorship in Civil Rights and Social Justice, a permanent position in the College of Arts & Sciences, to honor his legacy. A fundraising event is scheduled for May 2 at New York’s Plaza Hotel Ballroom, with appearances by Harry Belafonte, Dave Matthews, Wanda Sykes and Chris Tucker, to fund the professorship.

“Though this was not my idea, I’m very happy and flattered by it,” Bond said. “It isn’t something that I sought, but having had it come my way, I’m as happy as I can be.”

Bond is one of the iconic figures of America’s civil rights movement and he played a pivotal role in national and state politics for more than 25 years.

When the Georgia General Assembly was reapportioned after the demise of the county unit system, Bond was one of eight blacks elected to the House of Representatives in 1965.

The House’s conservative white leadership refused to seat Bond in January 1966, however, because of public statements he made in support of Vietnam War protestors. When one of Bond’s supporters asked what Bond would have to do in order to be sworn into office, he was told: “This boy has got to come before the committee, recant, and just plain beg a little.”

Bond declined to “beg a little” and instead challenged the actions of the white lawmakers. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that he had the same freedom of speech rights as anyone else and ordered him to be seated, which he was.

Bond served eight years in the Georgia House and 12 years in the state Senate before running for Congress in 1986. He lost a bitterly contested U.S. House race to John Lewis, which turned out to be his last attempt at running for elective office.

Defending ALEC

It’s been a difficult few weeks for the conservative political group known as ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council).

There has been stepped-up media scrutiny of the organization that works in conjunction with business lobbyists to write model legislation that is often adopted by state legislatures, including the Georgia General Assembly.

ALEC has caught some flak for its role in drafting “stand your ground” gun laws and voter identification laws. Several of ALEC’s corporate contributors have cancelled their membership in the group as a result of the intense media coverage and pressure from civil rights organizations.

Another advocacy group, Common Cause, filed a complaint with the IRS on Monday asking that ALEC’s tax-exempt status be revoked because of the organization’s lobbying activities:

ALEC says its work is not lobbying.

Common Cause disagrees. “It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, in a statement. “ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer.”

Common Cause wants an IRS audit of ALEC’s work, penalties and the payment of back taxes.

Some of the most fervent supporters of ALEC’s work are members of the General Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers told the Cherokee Tribune:

“The question is whether supporters of free markets and limited government will yield to these type of tactics. ALEC is the leading conservative legislative organization in the nation. It will continue to stand for free markets, less government and federalism. These are the principles on which America was founded and we need more lawmakers to stand by them.”

State Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) told the Rome News-Tribune: “Part of the problem with legislators is that we live in a bubble. When you actually have some industry people involved, they bring insight into how that industry is affected.”

Fraud charges

The attorney general’s office said it has secured indictments from a Tattnall County grand jury against three former corrections employees who are accused of participating in a scheme to steal money from the state.

Debbie Lynn Wright, who was a senior clerk at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, allegedly entered fraudulent timekeeping data that resulted in her daughter, Christin Lynn Wright, and Paul Sylvester Thornhill being paid for overtime hours they did not work. Prosecutors charged that Christin Lynn Wright was paid about $14,000 in unearned compensation and Thornhill received at least $63,000.

© 2012 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: ALEC , attorney general , Barry Loudermilk , Chip Rogers , fraud indictments , Julian Bond , state employees