APN Chat with Michael Johnson, Congressional Candidate

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(APN) ATLANTA — Former Fulton County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson is challenging US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in the Democratic Primary this year for the fifth Congressional District of Georgia.

In 2010, Lewis faced no opposition except Fenn Little, a Republican, in the General Election.

In 2008, Lewis faced State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas and activist Markel Hutchins in the Democratic Primary.

Lewis has been campaigning strongly this year, suggesting that he is not taking this election for granted.

At age thirty-six, Johnson was the youngest elected Fulton County Superior Court judge, when not counting those appointed by a governor.

Johnson was elected in 2004 and took the bench in 2005.  He was reelected in 2008.  He resigned to run for US Congress in June 2011.

“The first public case I had was an open records case, involving a bid for a NASCAR museum as well as the Superbowl, the bidding process that was to be disclosed.  Central Atlanta Progress and others were fighting against the disclosure,” Johnson told Atlanta Progressive News.

“I ruled that they had to disclose those documents to the taxpayers given that taxpayer moneys or dollars were utilized to prepare these bids,” Johnson said.

Johnson also ruled on high profile cases such as the Atlanta Police Department shooting of Kathryn Johnston, 92.

Johnson also ruled on February 20, 2009, in the VoterGA lawsuit, which, as covered extensively by APN at the time, challenged the practice of electronic voting with no voter verifiable paper audit trail, as is conducted currently in the State of Georgia.

In upholding E-voting in Georgia, Johnson ruled that “following the election, each voter’s ballot can be displayed and printed.”

“The touch screen voting machines also have a paper printout (internal to each machine) which records the votes cast,” Johnson ruled.  “The paper trail created by each voting machine allows their results to be physically audited, as does the electronic information from CES servers, voter cards, and PCMCIA cards.”

However, VoterGA says that many of the claims made by Johnson in his argument are simply not true.

“We disputed that.  There’s no evidence the Defendants entered to show that whatever is printed is the candidate the voter actually selected and in fact that would be impossible. You can recreate the images but there is no evidence that the images recreated and reprinted actually contain what the voter selected,” Favorito told APN in 2009.

“The machines do have a paper printout [in addition to the so-called votes it records], but they only contain the total, they don’t contain the original ballots that were cast.  The ballot was not captured independently before the vote’s cast.  The audit was simply a reprinting… produced internally from the machine, not independently,” he explained.

During Johnson’s recent interview with APN, he defended his ruling.

“I ruled against the challenge and stated the voting machines were legal, and that in fact there is a paper trail.  There is not a paper trail with respect to the voting machines, but if you choose to use an absentee ballot.  You have the right to use absentee ballot,” Johnson said.

APN asked whether he would encourage people to use an absentee ballot to preserve their rights, he said “yes, absolutely.”

Johnson also spoke about his thoughts on US Rep. Lewis.

“I respect and admire his accomplishments during the course of the Civil Rights Movement.  I think certainly one could say he came of age during that movement and certainly deserves the accolades he has received with respect to all the things he did in the course of that movement,” Johnson said.

“Because I have respect, I went to speak with him about his plans before making the decision to run.  He made it clear he has no intent to ever retire.  He’s said very publicly I’ll be here as long as the people want me,” Johnson said.

“I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t believe that we needed new leadership with all due respect to our Representative.  I’ve certainly done our homework – I’ve looked at our district and needs of our district with securing federal dollars.  In 2009 to 2010, he was fourth out of five Georgia Democrats in dollars secured.  There were Republicans that took home more money for their district than was brought home for 5th,” Johnson said.

“I’m a strong Democrat.  I would probably say that’s true,” Johnson said when asked if he is more moderate than John Lewis.

“I was a judge, obviously that’s a nonpartisan position.  I had people from across Fulton County, whether north or south.  I have tremendous support from across the 5th Congressional District now, from all over our district.  A number of folks are very excited about my candidacy: Blacks, Whites, young, seniors, and everyone in between,” Johnson said.

“It’s sometimes how you approach some of the issues.  When I say I’m moderate, I’m a pro-business Democrat, we need tax reform.  President Barack Obama has recently come out with a plan that I have been espousing all along, to lower corporate tax rates to make the US much more competitive, also to do away with tax loopholes, was endorsed by Simpson Bowles, one that I support,” Johnson said.

APN also asked Johnson about his position on numerous other issues (SEE BELOW).

APN will also be requesting an interview from US Rep. Lewis.

WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH CARE?

I would have to take a look at the program.  I don’t know specifics.  I’m hesitant to comment on programs I’m not as familiar with.

(US Rep. Lewis was one of 87 co-sponsors of HR 676 universal health care though a single-payer, Medicare for all system).

WOULD YOU HAVE VOTED FOR THE PATIENT PROTECTION AND AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, AKA OBAMACARE?

Yes.  One of the things many Americans came to understand, you had quite a few members of Congress simply passing a bill without having read the bill.  Imagine if as a judge I was making decisions without reading materials submitted to me.  I would have supported it.  I’ve read it.  I don’t believe it’s perfect in any way, shape, or form, but I don’t think because it’s not perfect that you throw it all out.  I think what you do is you work on the aspects that are problematic.

DO YOU SUPPORT NUCLEAR POWER?

I don’t have a problem with nuclear power as long we do things to ensure it’s safe.  We’ve learned a lot over the past several years, particularly given the fact other installations throughout the world have had some issues.  I don’t have a problem with those [federal loan guarantees].

WHAT IS YOUR PLAN TO INCREASE SOLAR AND WIND ENERGY?

The President was on track.  Companies fail, and the President has taken a hit for investing in various companies.  It doesn’t mean we should abandon doing what we can to encourage entrepreneurship [from…] the green industry, biotechnology, and any other programs that would bring together the public and private sector.

WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON PUBLIC HOUSING DEMOLITIONS?

I don’t have a problem with demolishing the public housing as long as the plan is to make them better and to provide for those who need public housing and do it at an affordable, reasonable rate.

The initial public housing has been torn down or demolished and those that initially were displaced have not been provided for adequately.  It’s not so much that you tore down, but what happened to the people displaced?  Many could not afford to come back to the newly rebuilt public housing facilities and therein lies the problem.

(US Rep. Lewis has been a strong supporter of the Atlanta Housing Authority’s mass demolition and eviction program, siding with AHA in 2008 when residents sought his support and intervention.)

WOULD YOU SUPPORT RESTORING FELON VOTING RIGHTS IN FEDERAL ELECTIONS?

I would agree with that.  You need to ensure they’ve abided by the parameters set for them.  If you’ve done your time and paid your [fines] and abided by paramaters.

WOULD YOU SUPPORT A FEDERAL CREDIT CARD INTEREST RATE CAP OF FIFTEEN OR EIGHTEEN PERCENT?

I would’ve.

WOULD YOU SUPPORT THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA?

No.  I’ve not given that much thought.  I would never support the use.  The legalization and use are two different things.  I support a woman’s right to choose but it doesn’t mean women simply running off and having abortions.  As far as the legalization, I don’t know.  I’m not in favor of anything that will make our drug problem a worse problem.

(US Rep. Lewis is not currently a co-sponsor of HR 2306, which has twenty co-sponsors and would legalize marijuana at the federal level.)

WOULD YOU SUPPORT THE PRODUCTION OF NEW NUCLEAR BOMB MATERIAL, AS IS CURRENTLY BEING PURSUED BY THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION?

No.  That’s the other aspect of saving money.  When I talk about trimming the Defense Department budget I certainly don’t mean benefits for our veterans.  Our nuclear stockpile is about five thousand missiles, thousands of missiles.  I’m looking to significantly reduce our nuclear stockpile, rather than turning around and building more.  I do understand our stockpile is aging.  There is some concern our weapons need to be updated and maintained.  We do need to make sure maintain the ones we don’t dismantle, but I do support dismantling the vast majority.

WOULD YOU SUPPORT RESTORING FEDERAL FUNDING FOR THE LOW-INCOME HEATING ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (LIHEAP)?

I would support restoring LIHEAP to its original amount.  Our country is a very wealthy country.  There is no reason that a country as wealthy as ours would have a situation where we have so many in need, when we have been comparatively speaking a very wealthy country.

WHAT PROGRAMS WOULD YOU SUPPORT CUTTING?

What to cut?  Let’s start with Defense, year in and year out one of our biggest expenditures.  There are a number of items – you can go line by line.  I’ve had the opportunity to read various publications, such as warplanes the Pentagon has suggested we not continue to make, some are very expensive.  It talked about how expensive they are to make and the Pentagon itself suggests we don’t continue these airplanes.  Because certain Members benefit from these contracts, they receive contributions from various contracting companies, they push projects not in the interest of taxpayers.

Right now there are about 80,000 troops spread out throughout Europe.  There was a suggestion we could decrease to 20,000.  That’s a tremendous cost to our taxpayers.  We no longer fight the wars that we fight the same way.  Those are just two examples of things that we can do to continue to fund the Defense Department budget to save millions, no, billions of dollars.

We’re also going to have to rethink our policies of engagement, the criteria we use for getting engaged in various conflicts around the world.  I’m not sure the US has really and truly defined when we will intercede and when we will not.

I think we need to reconsider what we’re doing in Afghanistan quite frankly.  The US has never really and truly defined why it is that we’re in Afghanistan and our goals in terms of winning and losing and how we define winning and losing.  We’ve been fighting the war in Afghanistan for over ten years.  I’m not sure we made the progress we initially intended.

I would probably look to cut other expenses before cutting those that are there to help the least of us.

WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON EXTENDING THE BUSH TAX CUTS FOR WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS?

Our tax code is probably about this thick.  The tax loopholes would make a pile of paper from the floor up to the ceiling.  We have approximately 2,300 tax loopholes.  Some of those loopholes were created solely for the benefit of a singular company in some instances.

I believe we can create a tax code that is conducive for the creation of jobs, one that will also eliminate many of the tax loopholes that a number of corporations enjoy, I think that will help us to increase the revenues that our country needs.

[Regarding the Bush tax cuts] I’m going to vote to do away with them.  The trickle down theory quite a few have spoken about has not really trickled down in my opinion, not in the manner in which those who supported it thought it would.

If you look at Ronald Reagan – I’m not sure Ronald Reagan could get elected today.  He raised the debt ceiling on numerous occasions, he taxed the wealthiest among us because he understood that was something that had to be done.

We have to adopt policies of paying as we go.

WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE UPCOMING T-SPLOST VOTE FOR METRO ATLANTA?

I support the T-SPLOST.

(END/2012)

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