Monday, January 29, 2007

Democratic Party of Georgia Elections

Saturday was a very long day. Those of us on the State Committee of the Democratic Party of Georgia met at the IBEW auditorium in Atlanta for 7 hours of fellowship, speeches, and good ol' fashioned voting! Below are the results of the Democratic Party of Georgia (DPG) leadership elections. Turnout was over 70%, and I was thankful to be under an air vent with my fellow 5th District members.

Democratic Party of Georgia Executive Officers:

Jane V. Kidd (Clarke)

First Vice-Chair
Michael Thurmond (Clarke)

Congressional District/County Liaison Vice-Chair
Sally Rosser (Fulton)

Constituency Group Vice-Chair
Virgilio Perez Pascoe (Forsyth)

Candidate Recruitment Vice-Chair
Winfred Dukes (Dougherty)

Stephen R. Leeds (Fulton)

Rex Templeton, Jr. (Chatham)

The elections were exhausting. The last couple of weeks featured plenty of behind-the-scenes intrigue as the elected officials and old guard of the party worked overtime to make sure Mike Berlon did not get elected chair. It took 4 ballots, but Mike was defeated. His vision for the party was probably too radical in the end, the changes too great.

That's fine, really. It is in the great American tradition to vote for change, but not radical change. But make no mistake, the DPG of our fathers and grandfathers is gone. For the first time ever, we have had truly democratic elections for the party leadership. A real debate of ideas was forced, and the conversation moved the party forward. The ideas that Young Democrats need to be embraced by the party, and that grassroots is the way to fight our way back into the majority have gained real traction.

From a Young Democrat viewpoint, the election was definitely positive. At least three of the executive officers have made an explicit point of valuing the Young Democrats and the benefits we can bring to the party as we move into the future. This includes the new chair, Jane Kidd. Jane has been a friend of Young Democrats for a while, and she has been especially close to the UGA chapter, which has worked heavily on her state house and senate races. The state GOP felt threatened enough by Jane Kidd to redistrict her senate district to add enough GOP voters to prevent her election. That decision is one they will come to rue. I guarantee you that the GOP will one day wish they had just left well enough alone, because dealing with Chairwoman Kidd will be much more of a painful experience than dealing with State Senator Kidd would have been. I look forward to helping Jane put the hurt on.

We have an Hispanic businessman from Forsyth County whose campaign almost gave the exact talking points that the Young Democrats of Georgia has been promoting for our own future. Plus, with Hispanics being a crucial electoral block in the future, having DPG with a major Vice Chair who is Hispanic will only help us reach out to that community which is currently under attack by the GOP.

The best part of Mr. Pascoe's election was the defeat of an anti-gay, anti-choice candidate for the office. Mr. Pascoe was unapologetic about his past as someone who worked very closely with the LGBT group at Coors. He is thoughtful and business oriented. One of his opponents was a key turncoat vote in 2004 to force a vote on the gay marriage amendment. Not only did he advocate openly in the Democratic caucus against gay people, his actions led directly to the loss of at least 5-6 seats in the GA House that we might have kept had Rep. Smyre been allowed to sit on the amendment in the House Rules Committee. This man's followers claimed he was a preacher, and had to vote and advocate against gay people, and against abortion rights. That's fine, and if his constitutents don't care, that's fine too. But bigots don't need to apply for major office in the Democratic Party. That DPG said "NO" to this individual warms my heart and makes me proud to be a Southern Democrat!

Mike Thurmond is not only Commissioner of Labor, but our 1st Vice Chair. He will have the support of elected officials not only in GA but also in DC. Steve Leeds and Sally Rosser provide crucial leadership, and a perspective of what has and has not worked in the past. They are also forward thinking people whose talents promise to be unleashed under Chairwoman Kidd.

In two crucial contested elections, Young Democrats came out on top. In my own 5th District, home of Representative John Lewis, my good friend Will Curry was elected chair of the the 5th Congressional District by a vote of 17-10. He unseated the incumbent who happened to be his own state representative. Will is a fine addition to the DPG Executive Committee, and Congressman Lewis will find that he has a fine, dynamic young leader as the focal point for his party in his district.

In the 13th Congressional District, home of Representative David Scott, another good friend, Nikema Williams survived a nasty campaign to defeat the incumbent District Chair 8-5. The incumbent used every trick at her disposal to force Nikema out of the race, and then to intimidate the committee members voting in her district. If looks could kill, Nikema would have been gutted like a fish during her speech. But poise, and actions, spoke louder than words and nasty looks. Nikema, unlike her predecessor, will work WITH her congressman, not against him. She certainly won't run against him for office! David Scott will have a true Democratic partner in his district now, and everyone will be better for it.

So, while the day was exhausting, the elections were a good thing. I have great hopes that the new leadership will move us forward, and chip away at the GOP machine that has arisen since 2002. Georgia is rightfully a purple state, and if our leadership is as bold as I hope they will be in enacting their campaign promises, we will finally become a swing state.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Milton County

Milton County was created on December 18, 1857 from parts of northeastern Cobb, southeastern Cherokee and southwestern Forsyth counties. Alpharetta was the county seat until the end of 1931, when Milton was merged with Fulton County to save it from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. At that time,
Campbell County, which had already gone bankrupt, was also ceded to Fulton, giving it its long irregular shape along the Chattahoochee River.

Georgia already has the constitutional maximum of 159 counties, the 2nd highest total number of counties in the nation after Texas. Yet, with the Republicans in control of the state government, Milton County may be ressurected. All in the name of making damn sure that rich white folks' money won't be spent on anything that might benefit a person of color! Jim Crow racism, 21st century style....alive and well here in Georgia.

This whole movement started with Sandy Springs begging for cityhood status starting in the late 1960s, early 1970s. At that time, white flight from Atlanta was in full force, and Sandy Springs was terrified that Atlanta might come incorporate them into the city. Democrats in the city of Atlanta blocked cityhood attempts until the GOP took over the legislature following the 2004 elections. At that time, the long tradition of honoring a local delegation's wishes regarding local legislation was abandoned. What the GOP representatives wanted for Sandy Springs was to seal it off from the majority black Fulton County, despite what a majority of the Fulton delegation wanted.

Personally, while I know that Sandy Springs cityhood push was steeped in racism, I cannot deny that a 90+% vote in favor of cityhood does clearly indicate where the citizens wanted to go. They'd been pushing for a city for 30 something years, so while it did hurt Fulton for Sandy Springs to incorporate, the movement didn't bother me too much.

What has happened since Sandy Springs became a city has bothered me a great deal because the obvious racial hatred driving it is blatantly obvious. The drives to incorporate Johns Creek and Milton in North Fulton were not based in history, but on a childish fit by people who are consistently outvoted by their fellow citizens to the south. Admittedly, Fulton County government is a mess, but until this year, it's been run by Republicans since 1994! The County chair has been a member of the GOP all that time, although the commission was usually 4-3 in favor of Democrats. The chairs have also been white, so I don't know where the spoiled rich people in North Fulton got the idea that if they could just seal themselves off from the "darker" South Fulton and Atlanta, they'd be fine.

Milton and Johns Creek were about destroying Fulton County's government by making sure all local taxes went to the cities. However, Fulton still runs schools, libraries, health centers, etc. The entire former Milton County is now incorporated into different cities, but that still allows some taxes from wealthy North Fulton to potentially be spent in poorer South Fulton. For the rich bitches in Alpharetta, that's UNacceptable!

It has been reported that North Fulton has 42% of the property wealth in the entire county, although it's land mass is much smaller. People have written into the paper furious that while they provide 42% of the tax base, 42% of the taxes are not spent on them. That kind of logic is ridiculous, and it would mean that only the wealthiest citizens deserve any government services at all. I realize we're talking about Republicans here, but haven't they heard of the social contract? To those whom much is given, much is expected. Rich people who have gained tremendous benefits from the entire society have an obligation and responsibility to give back to that society. They deserve good schools, police protection, etc....but so do the poor. To achieve the American dream of upward mobility, we must have a tax structure that gives the poor a chance to get a good education and to better their circumstances. We do a piss poor job of it now, but if we follow the "I provide 42% of the tax base, so you must spend 42% of the taxes on me" philosophy, we will re-create a medieval society where the poor get poorer, the rich get richer, and the middle class disintegrates.

Luckily, there are many obstacles in the way of giving rebirth to Milton County. First, the Constitution of Georgia forbids it. Unless you want to go South Georgia and dissolve, say, Jeff Davis County in order to make room for a reborn Milton County, you must amend the constitution to allow more than 159 counties. That requires 2/3 of the both houses of the General Assembly plus a vote by the people. Thankfully, the GOP does not control 2/3 of the legislature, so if Democrats just stick together on this question, the proposal can be defeated.

Let's say the GOP does peel off enough Democrats to get their 2/3 majority to send the question to the people of Georgia. It's likely Georgia will yawn and vote "yes" to Milton. But there are unanswered questions as to how to affect a divorce. Fulton has contracts with Grady Health System, MARTA and others. Milton cannot just shirk those contracts, although you can bet they will look for the first chance to break them. After all, Grady provides services to the poor (and probably too many black folks for Alpharetta's tastes), and we all know they don't care for MARTA. Then there is the matter of the school system. How do you split that?

The GOP sponsors of the drive to recreate Milton County have no answers for these questions. It's because this drive is not rooted in anything that makes good governmental sense. It is steeped in racism, pure and simple. Exposing this basis for separation is the new proposed map of Milton. Milton County reborn would not stop at the Chattahoochee River at the thin neck of Fulton County, as would be historically accurate. Milton would absorb Sandy Springs too, and some would like for it to also include Buckhead. Gee, I wonder why that map exists. The demographics carefully cherry pick the wealthy, mostly white areas of the county and cleave them into a lilly white, conservative, GOP bastion.

This drive to re-create Milton County must fail. It's intent is to financially destroy the city of Atlanta, and to cause the fiscal collapse of the southern portion of Fulton county simply because the citizens there are mostly of the wrong color and have too low of a bank balance. Democrats in the legislature must make a united stand against this foolishness, because only they can put a stop to it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Nigeria Working My LAST Good Nerve!

Lost in the din of pre-Christmas news were a few articles about Episcopal parishes in Northern Virginia, including George Washington's parish, voting to leave the Episcopal Church and recognize the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, as their leader. Then there was news of a law in Nigeria that the Archbishop is pushing to make homosexuality subject to the death penalty.

I have written about the struggles of the Episcopal Church of the USA regarding homosexuality. My adopted church not only ordains openly gay clergy, but also has an openly gay bishop. This summer, at our General Conference, our deputies and clergy elected the Katherine Jefferts-Schori as the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA. As such, she is considered the "primate" of the United States in the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the equal to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. This turn of events, some have decided, must not stand.

The wealthy, largely conservative, and most certainly Republican, parishes of Northern Virginia who voted to leave and join the Anglican Church of Nigeria are bigots who should be faced with the full legal force of the church to strip of them of the property they hold in TRUST, a trust they have broken. For them, it was bad enough when we let women become priests and bishops. It got much worse when homosexuals were allowed to wear the clerical collar, and they reach the end of their rope when an openly gay man was elected Bishop of New Hampshire. Apparently, having a woman as the chief bishop of the church in the United States was the straw that broke the camel's back. They simply REFUSE to acknowledge the authority of a woman, and instead back a man who holds their views that women shouldn't be priests, let alone bishops, and gays deserve jail and death rather the the love of Christ and the church.

These people are stalwarts of the Republican Party nationally, considering the location of the fleeing parishes. They hold nothing but contempt for a process based on the US Constitution and written largely by our Founding Fathers. This contempt is based on the fact that they have lost the argument. They are on the wrong side of the great issues of the day, and they will not tolerate it.

Personally, I'm tired of mollifying these conservatives and their right wing, hate-filled agenda. If they want to leave the Episcopal Church, fine. Lock the doors and give us the keys as you leave. All property is held in trust by Parishes on behalf of the National Church. That national church should be vigorous in enforcing its rights in court. Let these bigots meet in a field for all I care. We have tried and tried to reach compromise, approach these people in good faith and loving spirit, and they spit in our eyes each and every time. It's their way or the highway, and I'm personally sick of it. We have a woman as the head of our church, and some dioceses may feel called to elect an openly gay person as their bishop. Get over it. Time marches on.

Let's look at what this "savior" of theirs from Nigeria has been up to. Peter Akinola is a proud bigot. He claims he must discriminate against women and gays because the bible commands it (it doesn't), and because he's in competition with Islam for the souls of Nigeria. Nigeria is a state that is 50% Muslim and 50% Christian. The Muslims control the northern parts of the country, and the Christians control the southern parts. There is a real competition for control of Nigeria's religious life. Since Islam hates gays, Christians must to in order to "compete".

In this spirit, Archbishop Akinola has openly supported a new law in Nigeria that would not only outlaw gay marriages (which are now legal in South Africa), but ANY form of association between gay people, social or otherwise, as well as the publication of any materials deemed to promote a "same sex amorous relationship." Under the law, anyone attending a meeting between gay people could receive a sentence of 5 years in prison. Other activities prohibited by this law are participating in gay clubs, reading books, watching films, or accessing Internet sites that "promote" homosexuality.

Take a moment to digest that paragraph. It's stunning the malice and sheet hatred of gay people expressed in this new Nigerian law. Two men having DINNER together could be construed to be illegal under this law. Straight people who allow more than one gay person in their home would be eligible for a prison sentence of up to 5 years! Reading this blog could get you put in prison or stoned to death. Apparently, the Christian south would only use prison, but the Muslim north would be allowed to use the death penalty, which constitutes stoning to death. The Republican Episcopalians in Northern Virginia have aligned themselves with Peter Akinola and his precious Gay Holocaust law. Make no mistake, that this bill is intended to eliminate any person deemed to be homosexual. No one will be safe.

In NYC, Archbishop Akinola was visiting a church. Afterward, he was greeting parishoners, and a man shook his hand, told him how much he enjoyed his sermon, and then introduced him to "my partner, who's been with me for several years." When Akinola understood that the man clasping his hand was GAY, he recoiled in horror, jerked his hand away, and jumped back. Later, he recalled this story with PRIDE.

Personally, I'm done with Nigeria too. In my work, I've known the problems they cause in polio eradication, the corruption, the graft, etc. We should simply build a wall around Nigeria and them rot. Oh wait, they have OIL, so we can't do that. Still, my disgust with this country leads me to support such a wall nontheless. They are trying to destroy my church, and if I went into their country, they would try to take my very life.

Reading my blog, one might think that all I care about are gay issues. That is certainly not true, as anyone who knows me could tell you. I care about access to quality healthcare, women's rights, strong families, fiscal responsibility, patriotism, fighting terrorism, etc. The list goes on and on. Yet, as a gay man, I feel a sense of danger in the political world surrounding me. I do have the sense that all will be OK in the end, but it will take a while. I do not think that any state in the USA would dare pass a law as draconian as the Nigerian law. Yet, I see people from the other side of the political spectrum rising up to CHEER the very men who push forward such laws. Perhaps my being a gay man makes me more sensitive, and more likely to have a vociferous opinion when it comes to gay issues. I would love to have no reason to blog about it ever again. Unfortunately, I think I will be an old man before that happens.

Is Massachusetts for Real?

On January 2, while the rest of the nation was watching coverage of Gerald Ford's funeral, the outgoing Massachusetts General Assembly decided to move forward a "citizens petition" to ban gay marriage in the Massachusetts Constitution, despite the fact that gay marriage has been legal since May 2004 and over 8500 same sex couples have wed without destroying straight families or causing Massachusetts itself to be washed into the sea by a vengeful and angry God.

Yet, there's hope in this petition. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts told the legislature it had a duty to vote on citizen petitions. In November, the Massachusetts General Assembly simply adjourned a constitutional convention without voting on the anti-gay measure. The rule on citizen petitions is that only 25% of the legislature, sitting as a constitutional convention, has to OK an initiative for it to pass. Out of 200 legislators, only 62 voted for the anti-gay petition. That's only 31%!

The newly elected governor of Massaschusetts, Deval Patrick, had this to say about the vote:

"I am disappointed by today's vote in the Constitutional Convention. We have never used the initiative petition to limit individual freedoms and personal privacy, but today's vote was a regrettable step in that direction.

"We have work to do over the next year to turn this around. I am heartened by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the members of the Legislature — a margin of over 2 to 1 — voted to move on. I pledge to do what I can to build on that momentum, so that our Constitution will continue to stand for liberty and freedom, and not discrimination."

I cannot imagine a day where Sonny Perdue or any elected Governor in Georgia would issue such a statement. Here's a man who was overwhelming elected to his office, and he's quite forcefully advocating that the amendment be defeated, and not be put to a vote. Unlike Mitt Romney, who lead rallies against gay marriage, and railed about how evil it was and how it harmed children, Gov. Patrick personally petitioned lawmakers to vote down the proposal, and seems to indicate he will continue to do so.

The roll call is now a matter of public record, and the newly elected Massachusetts General Assembly has a gain of 6 votes in favor of keeping gay marriage. That means only 6-7 more votes are needed to defeat the measure, and many think that those 6-7 votes can be found before the issue arises again later this year.

The Boston Globe's editorial board said it best:

"When a final vote is taken by the new Legislature, the members must consider whether this is an appropriate issue to put to the voters. We believe Massachusetts voters would not take away this right, and a popular endorsement might be considered healthy. But civil rights are fundamental, and gay marriage should not be subject to plebiscite here, any more than it would have been appropriate to have Alabama voters directly decide school integration or Virginia voters decide interracial marriage."

That's the whole problem with the "let people vote" mentality. Civil rights really shouldn't be put to a vote. You know that old time segregationists are kicking themselves for not using this method to block those "uppity" blacks who had the temerity to demand to be treated as equal citizens. Imagine what the vote totals would have been all throughout the South in the 1950s and 1960s if segregation, interracial marriage, or school desegregation had been put to a vote. What sense of decency stopped those bigots of the mid-20th century from using the popular vote as a bludgeon? And more importantly, what happened to it?

You KNOW this is true!