Political Notes – Smyre retires from Synovus, but not the Legislature

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Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), currently the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, announced this week he’s retiring after 38 years with the Columbus financial services company Synovus.

Smyre will step down as executive vice president of corporate affairs at the end of the year.  He joined the company in 1976 as a management trainee with Columbus Bank and Trust and moved up the corporate ladder at the same time he was moving up the legislative seniority ladder.

“I am blessed and thankful for a career that has spanned for nearly four decades at Columbus Bank and Trust and Synovus.” Smyre said. “I get up every day with no problems because I love what I do. I am also excited about the next phase of my life.”

Smyre was just reelected to his 21st term in the House of Representatives and plans to serve out that term, although he says he has not made a decision as to whether he’ll run again in 2016.

At the end of that 21st term, Smyre will have served 42 consecutive years in the Georgia House, tying a record set by longtime speaker Tom Murphy and Bill Lee.  Hugh Gillis served nearly 60 years in the Legislature, but those terms were not all consecutive and were divided between the House and Senate.

Right behind Smyre in legislative seniority is state Sen. David Lucas (D-Macon), who was first elected to the House the same year as Smyre in 1974.  Lucas left the House in 2011, however, to run in a special election to replace the late Robert Brown in the state Senate.

Although Lucas lost that special election, he came back in 2012 and won Brown’s old Senate seat.

Delta is raising some hackles

The people who run Delta Air Lines, one of Georgia’s largest employers, have caused some grumbling these days among more conservative Republican legislators because of the company’s persistent stance on hot-button social issues.

Last year, Delta was one of several major corporations in the state that opposed late-breaking attempts to pass a “religious freedom” bill in the General Assembly.

The company’s executives were concerned about the impact of such legislation on the state’s business image — the religious freedom movement is seen in some quarters as an end-run that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays.

Delta again is in the forefront of corporate opposition to the plans of state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) and state Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Marietta) to introduce similar religious freedom measures in the upcoming legislative session.

Delta is also one of several corporations that have filed “friend of the court” briefs to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit calling on the court to strike down Florida’s same-sex marriage prohibition (a similar federal court challenge to Georgia’s gay marriage ban is pending).

On top of that, Delta also supported President Obama’s executive orders to defer the deportation of as many as five million undocumented immigrants, with CEO Richard Anderson declaring that the company “needs to reflect the diversity and values and differences of all the people that we carry around the world.”

Delta’s stance on these issues runs counter to the position of a large number of GOP lawmakers, some of whom may go looking for some way to strike back against this corporate interloper.

One tool they might be able to use is a threat to repeal the sales tax exemption on jet fuel that the Legislature approved for Delta last year.  This tax break, which is worth more than $20 million annually to the airline giant, was first adopted in 2005 and renewed several more times before it was made permanent in 2013.

Several House members subsequently had second thoughts about that tax break and introduced HB 1045 in 2014, a bill that would have stripped Delta of the fuel tax exemption.  That bill was drafted after Delta opposed efforts by Paulding County to build a second major airport in that county.

The bill’s sponsors included Earl Ehrhart, Howard Maxwell, Paulette Braddock, Andy Welch, Micah Gravley, and Kimberly Alexander.  HB 1045 did not get out of committee, but a similar measure could easily be introduced in the 2015 session.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Calvin Smyre , corporate tax exemption , Delta Air Lines , gay marriage , immigration , Josh McKoon , religious freedom , Sam Teasley