Friday, July 13, 2007

My Evening with the Young Republicans...and Mike Jacobs

Rep. Mike Jacobs (D-to-R, Atlanta) has steadfastly refused to speak with any Young Democrat since at least December, and the only Democrats I know he's deigned to speak to since then are either living in his district or have been sources of money for him. His switch to the GOP has not only been a political betrayal but a personal one, as someone who worked on his campaign in 2004 to get him elected in the first place. The only way I was going to get any answers directly from him was to seek him out in his new environment. When I found out he was the special guest at the Young Republicans of Buckhead meeting this month, I knew I had to go, not only for myself, but for the Young Democrats in general.

The meeting was held at Copeland's, which is across from the Disco Kroger at Piedmont and Peachtree. I knew I was going to be alone in this venture, although we were trying to get someone in there who could stealthily record Mike's comments for internet distribution. Shelby had rigged a spy camera with audio, but I'm not certain as of now how much he got.

I'll admit that I was nervous going to this meeting. This was YR turf, and I was invading it. I did not want to disrupt, but I was hoping to throw Mike off his game. I was also curious if his change of party also belied other, more fundamental, changes in his beliefs on certain social issues close to my heart, namely being pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

I came at 7:30pm, hoping to avoid the social hour that started at 7pm. Interestingly, Republicans don't know how to start on time any more than Democrats do. Must be a political thing. :-) I went to the bar and ordered a beer to calm and nerves and to have something to do while I waited for things to start.

I noticed that Mike was holding court right in the doorway, and there was no way to enter without him seeing me. I managed to slip in and make my way to a back table where I sat with a couple of other newcomers to YR-Buckhead meetings. I was a relatively well dressed white guy, so I didn't immediately stand out. To be fair, there was a nice mix of people. Male and female, and about 3 black folks in a crowd of 30. I sipped my beer and just observed.

It wasn't long before Mike spotted me. He was pretty subtle, but I did notice him spreading the word to his YR hosts. They weren't quite as subtle at turning to get a look at me. The meeting finally started with a man named Rufus shouting that if we were proud Republicans to stand up and cheer for Mike Jacobs. The room erupted in a standing ovation, except for me.

The YRs had a nice bulletin to hand out to everyone with Mike's law firm biography and a schedule for the evening. We started with the Pledge of Allegiance, which I gladly participated in. Then came the word of the prayer. Democrats do the same thing at major meetings, and I have no qualms about the pledge or opening in prayer. Well, non-sectarian prayer that asks a Higher Power to bless our meeting, etc. This prayer was not such a prayer.

It began by asking strength to fight those who would "take You out of the public square". It continued by remarking that God has ANNOINTED the GOP to enact His Will here on Earth, and asking for guidance and wisdom in the American people to fight the forces of evil who will lead our country astray. So now I'm with the forces of evil seeking to destroy God and drive Him from the public square. Oooooookay. It made a couple of more references to evil ones (aka Democrats) but stopped short of calling for a mighty jihad by the Army of Christ to strike down the infidels. Then they asked all this in Jesus's name, amen.

The prayer disturbed me on several levels. First, it assumes that everyone in the room was or should be Christian. There were several Jews in the audience. Secondly, the whole invocation of God as having anointed a particular political party to enact His Will smacks of theocracy. How is that different from the radical imams of Iran? They think they are anointed by God to enact His Will too. Then the references to Democrats as forces of evil seeking to undermine God, drive him from the public square, etc. was just laughable if I didn't know they were quite serious. There was a demonization of people who disagree in the prayer that made invoking the name of Christ blasphemous in my opinion. To me, it was nothing short of taking MY Lord's name in vain.

Then Mike was introduced and started speaking. He immediately called attention to me by saying that I should "take notes" on his transformation to a Republican. I was sort of live texting with a few people just to have something to do other than stare at Mike. He started with his story of transformation.

The story began with growing up in Broward County, Florida...home of the hanging chad. I suppose the point was to say he comes from a stock of people who were closely divided between Democrat and Republican. He mentioned Florida several times in his talk from his discussion of property taxes to vouchers to general competition between states. It was weird how much he seemed enthralled with the Florida experience, and I'm not sure why he chose Florida over other border states with Georgia like Tennessee, South Carolina, or Alabama.

He started with taking us back to a night in November 2006 when Mike and his wife took their ballots, sat at the kitchen table, and decided how to vote. I guess this means Mike votes absentee since everyone else votes on electronic machines, and you can't haul one of those to the kitchen table. Anyway, the result of this voting for 2006 was almost a straight GOP ticket. It was a profound awakening for Mike that something was terribly amiss.

Then, the John Eaves ad for the Fulton County run-off happened. This was the infamous ad where John Lewis, Andy Young, and Shirley Franklin said that electing a GOP county chair would be like going back to the days of fire hoses and attack dogs. The ad was way over the top, but effective. Mike said it was typical of race-mongering in the Democratic party and infuriated him. He pointed out that not one Democrat spoke out against it at the time. That is true, and my guess is that the reason was the ad had a point. It was over the top, and not to be taken literally, but the GOP hasn't exactly had the best interests of black folks in the South close to their heart since 1964 when they decided the way to break the "solid South" was to make racist appeals to Southern Whites. It still works...look at the ad against Harold Ford last year in TN which blatantly appealed to the old stereotype of an over-sexed black man out to steal "our white women". I know the GOP doesn't like to be called on their subtly racist appeals to voters, let alone have the tactics used so openly against them. I think the ad was over the top and probably should not have been made, but I can't say the underlying premise that the GOP is hostile to black people as a group is not true.

He continued on a laundry list of wrongs committed against him by the House Democratic Caucus and the DeKalb Democrats in general. Now I'll be the first one to admit that DeKalb Democrats are a special breed. Many could say that they are a bat sh*t crazy bunch, and they would not be wrong. Race issues run long, hard, and deep through the County and the Democratic party. Most people could find a reason to be frustrated by DeKalb Democrats, especially when you ARE one.

Anyway, his point was that the Democratic Caucus continually insisted he vote against the interest of his constituents. This included killing his drive to expand charter schools and his drive to stop DeKalb from making general obligation bonds without going to the voters first. There's a loophole in the law that allows the county commission to load up on debt without asking voters first. Mike has a point that such behavior is wrong and should be stopped. It may not make him popular with the county delegation, but it is an issue important to District 80 who really does not see any of these bond improvements.

This also led to the death of his reform of the DeKalb government, which he oddly blamed on some kind of "deal" that made no sense to me at all. Especially when I know that it was the county commissioners going down to lobby in person against the bill that killed it. It wasn't Vernon Jones, but it was all but one of the county commissioners telling the legislature the bill was unwanted and unnecessary.

The Dunwoody bill was also another part of Mike's grievances. He mentioned that Rep. Stan Watson, who is running for DeKalb CEO next year, said at a forum, "I'm not racist, but this issue is about race." Mike says it is purely about local government. Interesting how the local government angle wasn't a real problem until black folks completely took over the reigns of power in 2000 with the election of Vernon Jones as CEO. The drive behind all these cities is for white folks to keep their money in their neighborhoods. They have grown tired of having their money pay for improvements in black neighborhoods, or at least neighborhoods that are not theirs. I don't know if the recipient neighborhoods were white if it would make a difference, but the timing of this drive is suspect. Mike mentioned he's close to drawing up boundaries for a city of Brookhaven, and that he's even had calls about creating a city of "Toco Hills" to stop the massive development at North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Rds. Toco Hills is a shopping area, not a city. Maybe my area can become the city of Oak Grove. LOL Local control, you know? Not to mention, higher taxes to pay for it all.

Mike also talked about his vote to save vouchers for special needs kids. He mentioned several times that he got 20 (count'em....twenty...two, zero) emails from his district on the issue, and they were ALL in favor of the bill! Some were from constituents who had special needs kids. Not ONE email from his district was received against the bill. So 20 people out of the thousands he represented informed his policy. Mike is now in favor of vouchers across the board to create competition. He doesn't mention how a $7000 voucher will allow a child from a crappy school in a crappier neighborhood to attend the private school of his choice when private school tuition around Atlanta generally starts at $15,000. Vouchers solve nothing in crumbling schools with parents who don't care and children who struggle to just survive. Until they do, there is no point in pursuing them except to give a taxpayer subsidy to those wealthy enough to afford private schools for their kids.

Mike then went on a love fest about tax reform. He believes property taxes are completely unfair and should be abolished. He wants to replace that with a sales tax that will tax just about everything we do in the course of a day. Says it would be revenue neutral. Wonder how neutral it will be when we have an economic downturn and people don't buy stuff? Ask TN how a sales-tax only has worked. They pay about 10% in sales tax there, and that's just the STATE tax. Local taxes can make it go up to 12%. Getting rid of property taxes in GA would allow us to have unfettered development and steal residents and businesses from Florida which suffers a very heavy property tax burden along with a heavy homeowners insurance burden thanks to being a hurricane magnet. So in the rush to take jobs and development from other states, no property taxes will be the answer! I'm a bit skeptical.

This crowd ate it up though. Tax policy is important, but it doesn't jones me up like other issues do. To me, tax policy is the nuts and bolts of government, and people really don't understand how taxes drive everything else. People want to pay little to no taxes, but they want lots of cops on the street, firemen ready to save their home, and paved streets and lights that work. They also want sewage, water, trash collection, etc...all of which are not free. They come from taxes, and someone has to pay them. It's silly to think that you can not pay taxes yourself and still receive the kind of services you demand from government. That kind of Republican thinking makes me question their logical thinking skills.

Mike also went into a litany of complaints about how mean the House Democratic Caucus was to him, all because he voted his district. I'm not sure his district was for keeping kids off Peachcare, as Mike was. There are other examples, but I've already mentioned them in a previous blog. I do remember that the legislatures I knew all referred to him in very demeaning terms. When legislators I know to be generally respectful and even-keeled started calling Mike "that little turd", I knew it was bad for him. Perhaps the schoolyard bullying was not the tactic to use with Mike, but he also did not know how to play the legislative game. There are Democrats in the House in good standing who vote against the caucus quite a bit, but still maintain relationships. Mike does not know how to do this, and it's his way or the highway...exactly what he accused the Democratic caucus of being. He also used the old canard of the Democratic party being held in thrall of the "far left fringe" that doesn't allow for individual expression. OLD argument that continues to go on in the party to this day. If it were true, the Democratic party would be much different than it is. The difference is that Democrats take their squabbles public while Republicans fight behind the closed doors but give a locked down united front when the doors open.

Mike talked about how nice it was to go to a GOP caucus retreat a couple of weeks ago to discuss the tax reform issue, and how open the Speaker was to different viewpoints, etc. He contrasted that with the nasty Democrats who berated him and called him names when he spoke in the well. It was like Mike was on the Student Council, not in the legislature. He also accused Sen. David Adelman of trying to kill one of his bills quietly while voting for it. He doesn't have proof of that, as he'll readily admit, but that's who he thinks it was. Legislators of both stripes do that sort of thing all the time. It may be odd, but it's part of the process. That's why there is a saying that there are two things you never want to know the details of: sausage making and legislating. Mike can't handle the relationships that it takes to be effective within his own caucus, let alone the legislature.

Mike also mentioned several times that Democrats will be gunning for him in 2008 and he will have a very tough race. He will need volunteers and money. That sounded familiar. It was a call we answered in 2004 when he first ran, but to hear Mike talk last night, his 2004 campaign was composed of him and his wife. End of story. They were the ones who knocked on every door in the district and fundraising at the same time. Mike and Evan did do an amazing job walking every street of the district. It was an effort that all of us marveled at. But he did NOT do it alone. He did not hand write all those "Dear Neighbor" cards, and he did not flier his district several different times for community meet-and-greets. The Young Democrats working his campaign did all that, and the Red Clay Democrats had a huge hand in his fundraising. But nary a peep was mentioned, not even a side remark of the work we did for him in that initial race. Ungrateful, rude prick.

He also mentioned immigration and how illegals shouldn't consume government services, period. I would agree with that statement, but then he went on to talk about how we need to build a wall at our border. Like a wall worked so well in Berlin. And it's interesting how we only need a wall at Mexico, but not at Canada. Some guy piped up that we didn't need a wall, just more rifles at the border. I'm not for illegal immigration, but the notion of "hunting" Mexicans driven by desperation to try to enter the US illegally is chilling to me.

Mike also made a comment about Middle East security and Israel, and how quite frankly, the Democratic approach is dead wrong. All but called us anti-Israel. I personally took offense to that, along with the stated notion that to be pro-military is to be GOP. I daresay that Democrats care more about the troops and their wellbeing than any GOPer who looks at them as mere pawns in a hunt for terrorists. Not to mention the GOP which votes to cut the benefits and care for our soldiers.

Anyway, the talk FINALLY ended, and Mike opened it up for questions. There were many follow-ups on economic policy, which is the heart of Mike's Republican change.

I did raise my hand for a question, and Mike actually called on me. I asked him if was still pro-choice and pro-gay rights. I could tell the question angered him, because I pointing out an area that his new Republican friends would not likely appreciate....his socially liberal views. He tried to "politician" me by saying he's always said he supported individual rights, to which I replied, "But that doesn't answer..." and then he erupted. "YES! Alright? YES! The answer is YES." He lost his cool, and I had pointed out a difference that many of the GOP faithful would NOT approve of. My work was done.

That was when I was completely outed. I was asked to introduce myself and who I represented. I told them. "My name is Jason Cecil, and I am the President of the Young Democrats of Georgia." A murmur went through the room, and someone said, "That figures!" We somehow got onto a discussion of gay rights, and I was told there were many people in the room who were pro-gay rights, and I said, "Well, you should speak to Sadie Fields about that then." Snarky? Yes. But here was a group of Republicans seriously trying to tell me that pro-gay rights stands fit within the GOP philosophy when every bit of evidence suggests otherwise.

Rufus at this point told me to shut up, that I was at a Buckhead YR meeting and I could be escorted out. I had wondered if I would be kicked out, and I was prepared to go quietly. But the leadership, both the Buckhead YR chair and the state YR chair told people to calm down, leave me alone, and that I was welcome and safe here. I admit that was pretty classy of them, and it provides an excellent example of civility that I would expect Young Dems to provide to them should they ever come to our events. In fact, I'd insist on returning that kindness. They did not have to step up like that, and I truly appreciated it.

Anyway, we discussed the gay issue more, and Mike seconded that many GOPers would be supportive of gay rights, and I had to pipe up to mention that Jill Chambers was the only GOPer to vote against it in 2004. Mike said had he been there, he would have been a 2nd GOP vote against it. Then people said I was harping on one issue that wasn't important, etc. Well, it's vitally important to me, as a gay man in Georgia who was profoundly affected by the 76% vote in favor of stripping me of any relationship recognition EVER in Georgia. I became quite the focus of many comments, and one girl even remarked, "Be nice, maybe we can convince him to join our side."

The meeting ended with announcements, and the Vice Chair who delivered the prayer had a message for me. He said all Republicans are not white, rich, homeowners. Many rent! But what the GOP provides is opportunity. What the Democrats provide is a guarantee, and a pretty mediocre guarantee at that. And that our nation would never have moved forward had the Democratic mentality been in force at key times. Abe Lincoln wasn't happy with the status quo, and saved our country and freed the slaves. Then he invoked Martin Luther King as not being happy with his guarantee and fighting for more. Yes, MLK was invoked as a key GOP figure in history. He ended with a hope that I would return and perhaps join Mike in seeing the light and joining the GOP.

It was a breathtaking misunderstanding and/or distortion of what it means to be a Democrat. Yes, we stand for having having a floor...a bare minimum that every citizen deserves to have no matter what. But saying that we want that floor and nothing more is ridiculous. Democrats today stand for having welfare recipients actually work to better themselves to maintain benefits. Democrats are also devout Christians, but we don't disdain the Atheist, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim who seeks to participate in our civic discourse. We also don't believe in shoving our faith down the throats of others. We don't think we are "anointed by God" to do His will, but we hope and pray that our actions reflect God's will. We also do not want to drive God from the public square, but there is a difference between being against theocracy and the establishment of a sect of Christianity as the standard for laws in the nation, and driving God from the public square. We wouldn't do half the things we do as Democrats if we didn't take Christ's message of love and compassion VERY seriously.

I could go on, but this post is long enough. I left the meeting after it broke with an offer to come on some radio show to face irate right wing callers, and without saying a word to Mike Jacobs. I have had my say with him. The rest will take place on the streets.

11 comments:

Tim said...

And the ballot box. I can't wait to tell my neighbors about this little traitorous slime and what havoc he's brought down on Georgia by siding with freaks like Glenn Richardson and Earl Ehrhart...sigh.

Thanks for the report Jason and thanks for calling Mike out on the carpet.

Steve Barton said...

Jason:

Democrats who worked for Mike Jacobs have an honest beef. I'm glad you were able to have your say....But, I've gotta call BS on your description of the prayer. "Anointed"? "Evil ones"?

Hey, I could believe that they slipped and had a non-ecumenical prayer with a Jesus name-check, but what you say you heard is just unbelievable. You shouldn't make up crap, it detracts from the rest of your points and opinions.

All the best,
Steve Barton
Dunwoody, Georgia

Jason said...

Steve, unfortunately I did not make the prayer up. I have an audio recording of the prayer that is being transcribed by the person who recorded it. Look for Shelbinator to post something in the next week. You will be able to hear for yourself.

Jason

gatordem said...

As a Florida Democrat, I have seen more than my share of legislators of the ilk of your former friend Mike. He would fit in quite well with the Goper legislators we have here.

Is his stand on all these positions even remotely similar to his positions when he ran in 2004? I wonder what made him think he was ever a Democrat in the first place.

BTW, one other common tactic of the Gopers is to entice a perceived to be unhappy Dem with promises of campaign support, slush fund money and other perks to get them to switch. It would be interesting to learn what Mike "got" in the deal to switch.

Keep up the good fight.

Amy Morton said...

Jason:

Perhaps you can upload the audio of the prayer.

Trackboy1 said...

This is great stuff, but you're incredibly way off in one aspect. You're stuff on cityhood in DeKalb is so far from the truth it belongs on another planet. It has nothing, nothing to do with race. Live in DeKalb, follow the day to day governance, and you'd know how poorly the CEO - Commissioner structure is set up.

You did great work here, but your take on DeKalb cityhood is incredibly off base.

Melanie said...

Great report Jason! Thanks for going into the belly of the beast. I wonder if joining the party of Jesus Christ now means we can expect Jacobs to convert to Christianity. He seems to avail himself of every possible expediency, so it would be the next logical step.

Trackboy1 said...

This is great work. But you are so way off when it comes to Dekalb cityhood. Race is a non-factor. The county governance set-up is so unfairly built for the CEO with no checks & balances for the Bd. of Commissioners, so no matter whom the CEO, that person has free reign. The last CEO was a white Jewish woman, who received the same type of complaints Vernon receives.

Your stiff on Jacobs was great, but your take on DeKalb is in no way accurate.

Button Gwinnett said...

Well done, Jason. Well done.

Jason Shepherd said...

You are always welcome to attend any YR meeting to participate in the process. Our elected leaders on both sides should have to answer tough questions. While the YRs would be expected to be softer on fellow Republicans, come by when we host candidates in heated GOP primaries. You'd think your questions to Mike were softballs comparatively.

As for the prayer, one of the main differences is we feel that is the small stuff. When we ask someone to open in prayer, we are asking them to bring their brand of faith with them. We do have all manner of Christian denominations, Jews, one Muslim, and assorted other backgrounds, some of which we not represented at this past meeting.

If Ramsey were there and gave a prayer, we wouldn't get uptight because it was Muslim based. Christians don't get upset because a Jewish member doesn't end with, "In Jesus's name..."

I find it amazing how bent out of shape people are seeming to get over the prayer. That may be the fundamental difference between our two sides; one celebrates the belief of the individual, the other the collectivity of the group.

Same thing about your comment about Sadie Fields. Not all of our members agree with her. Mike said it before I could, but I was going to point out although Jill Chambers and I think very differently on a lot of social issues, I would support her in a primary over a more conservative Republican because I believe she represents her district and puts her constituents before her party, which is how our Representative should represent us.

You're welcome back anytime and don't feel like you have to hide and sneak in. I'd hope I'd be afforded the same hospitality should I ever drop in.

Your counterpart Across the Aisle,

Jason Shepherd
Chairman, Georgia Federation of Young Republican Clubs

Michael said...

Jason Shepherd,

Though I understand and appreciate your defense of the invocation of Christ in the YR meeting opening prayer, I don't think you even began to address the greater concern many (if not most) have with that prayer, that being the Officiant's pronouncement that the GOP has been anointed (by God?) to do God's work. If indeed that statement was part of the prayer, it is incredibly troubling -- not least to say in that I now must question God's politics. Assuming you at least screen the opening prayers (to avoid the embarrassment that would certainly accompany an invocation of the mighty wrath of Ba'al to make barren the wombs of liberal women and turn red with blood the waters of the blue states), would you not discourage such blatant theocratic folly? Certainly you would frown upon an Imam including in his opening prayer at a YR event a statement that the GOP has been anointed to carry out Allah's will in the form of sharia. It's easy for you to dismiss any concerns over the prayer by explaining away only a fraction of the objection, but it's also disingenuous. So what’s the answer? Is the official GOP policy that it has been anointed by God? Whose God? Is a Jesus a Kristol-ite neo-con? What about the Holy Spirit, how does it feel about Romney -- has it asked Moroni for insight?