APN Endorses Patillo, Thomas, Gardner, Bell, No T-SPLOST

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Board of Directors of the Atlanta Progressive News has issued the following endorsements in our first round of endorsements for this 2012 election cycle.  We are endorsing in four State House races (HD 53, HD 56, HD 57, HD 58), where we sent detailed questionnaires to nine candidates, receiving responses from all nine with the exception of State Rep. Rashad Taylor (D-Atlanta).

We are also taking a position against the T-SPLOST.

We also completed a sit-down interview with Michael Johnson, who is challenging US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).  Lewis declined an interview through spokeswoman Beverly Isom.  Isom, did, however, promise a response to a questionnaire, which was sent on May 20, with a deadline of July 01.  APN attempted to reach Isom by phone today, but she was not available and the campaign said they did not have a cell phone number for her at this time.  APN left a message with the campaign office that has yet to be returned.

We recently sent out a second set of questionnaires to candidates in HD 59, HD 62, and HD 63, with responses due next week.  APN will be publishing a second round of endorsements shortly.

HD53 – ROBERT PATILLO

Incumbent State Rep. Sheila Jones (D-Atlanta) has been a reader and strong supporter of APN over the years, and she has also been very helpful to State Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), being one of the only elected officials willing to publicly support her prior to Waites getting elected.

Therefore, APN gawked at the notion of this young person, Robert Patillo, coming along and challenging Rep. Jones.

In what is now a three-way race, APN sent questionnaires to Jones, Patillo, and Jason Esteves, who has been endorsed by former State Rep. Elly Dobbs (D-Atlanta).  Dobbs and Jones had been redistricted to run against each other, but Dobbs chose not to run and endorsed Esteves instead.

Upon reviewing the questionnaire responses, we are convinced that Patillo is the most progressive candidate.  Patillo is opposed to nuclear power, while Esteves and Jones are open to it.  Patillo also is opposed to state-approved charter schools; Esteves is also opposed, while Jones is in support of the upcoming November referendum.

When questioning Democrats, it is difficult to find questions where the candidates will have different answers.  In our questionnaires, we attempted to identify questions that would sort out progressive Democrats from more moderate ones.  Our questions regarding charter schools and nuclear power are two of those issues that help us sort candidates out.

HD 56 – FORMER STATE REP. “ABLE” MABLE THOMAS

We are supporting former Rep. Thomas, who is running for former State Rep. Kathy Ashe’s (D-Atlanta) seat, because of her ongoing progressive activism in the community.

We’ve always said that we could count the true progressive elected officials in Atlanta on one hand, and that’s largely still the case.  When Rep. Thomas was in the Legislature, she was one of those, along with Sens. Vincent Fort and Nan Orrock, and State Rep. Stephanie Benfield, who is now leaving the Legislature.  It’s not only about voting records; there are certain progressive elected officials who are more willing than others to take stands, speak at rallies and press conferences, and work closely with progressive organizations.

There are too many issues to list where former Rep. Thomas has taken stands.  The murder of Kathryn Johnston by the Atlanta Police Department is one issue that comes to mind.  Another is opposition to the demolition of public housing.

In fact, APN endorsed Thomas in 2008 when she challenged US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), because we determined she was more progressive than he.

Ken Britt, the so-called Gay Godfather, as he was described by Fenuxe Magazine, is clearly the establishment candidate.  On his Facebook page, he is promoting the Beltline, Atlanta’s primary gentrification project.  He has worked for campaigns for Alex Wan, now one of the least progressive members of the City Council of Atlanta; and Joan Garner, who has opposed ethics reform, and when running, refused to take stands on major issues like the privatization of Grady Hospital.  Many of the same campaign staffers for Wan and Garner are now running the Britt campaign, making the Britt campaign essentially Alex Wan Part Three.

To be sure, Britt has been responsive, including, for example, to the APN questionnaire.  He supports nuclear power, which is problematic, but he was good on other issues including medical marijuana, ethics reform, and affordable housing.  Thomas has also been good on those issues, and far surpasses Britt when considering her history of progressive activism in Atlanta.

HD 57 – STATE REP. PAT GARDNER

We are supporting State Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) over Rep. Rashad Taylor.

Gardner’s questionnaire responses were good.  She opposes state-run charter schools, supports medical marijuana, and supports ethics reform.  She fell short of stating opposition to nuclear power, limiting her response to opposition of its funding mechanism, the Construction Work in Progress fee on ratepayers’ bills.

Taylor, on the other hand, was the only candidate out of nine to fail to respond.  As the song goes, the cheese stands alone.

APN also took into consideration Gardner’s long-time support for universal health care, being one of the only legislators willing to stand in support of a single-payer plan back in 2006.

Taylor, on the other hand, has failed to answer questions about his residency; has baselessly accused APN of participating in a homophobic conspiracy against him; helped orchestrate the takeover of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education by the Gang of Five; and as a political operative, has run some of the dirtiest, ugliest campaigns in recent Atlanta history, including the Kasim Reed for Mayor campaign in 2009 and the John Eaves for Fulton County campaign in 2010.  In his own previous elections, his attacks on Joel Alvarado in 2008 and former Rep. Thomas in 2010 have been beyond the pale.

Now, in endorsing Gardner, there are some concerns regarding her positions and voting record that we believe are important to note.  Gardner made herself available for a sit-down interview recently in which these issues were all discussed.  First, Gardner is in support of a regional transportation governance structure which would supercede MARTA.  While it would be nice to have greater coordination of schedules and transfers between MARTA and other mass transit systems in the Metro Atlanta area, this could be accomplished through interagency agreements.  A regional transportation governance structure would create the mechanism to allow other counties to get together and make decisions regarding MARTA, in terms of fares, schedules, unions, and privatization, despite the fact that only DeKalb and Fulton Counties pay into MARTA.

Gardner was one of only four Democrats to support making further changes to the MARTA Board, giving Fulton County appointees to a consortium of North Fulton Mayors.  Gardner said it was imperative to support it because Republicans were demanding such support in return for MARTA having the flexibility to spend more of its funding on operations.

In 2005, Gardner also voted yes on HB 36, companion legislation to the creation of the City of Sandy Springs, which among other things included the so-called Shafer Amendment.  The Shafer Amendment required that special service district taxes collected in non-contiguous, non-incorporated areas of the same county must be spent on those respective areas.  The result was that Fulton County could not spend SSD taxes collected in North Fulton on unincorporated South Fulton.

Rep. Taylor was not in the legislature at the time, so it is unclear how he would have voted.  The legislation passed 119 to 31, with the Democratic delegation split on the measure.

The Fulton County Commission challenged the Shafer Amendment in court.  In 2006, the Supreme Court of Georgia upheld the law and the ruling of Fulton County Superior Court Judge John Goger, in the case of Fulton County v. Perdue.

However, even with those three issues on the table, we still believe that Gardner is the best choice.  Rep. Taylor’s style of dirty, hateful politics is bad for Atlanta and for the democratic process.  Rep. Gardner, while she may not be perfect, has shown herself during this campaign season to be accessible and willing to listen, something which cannot be said for Mr. Taylor.

HD 58 – STATE REP. SIMONE BELL

We are endorsing State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) over Rep. Ralph Long (D-Atlanta), mainly over differences in their voting record and questionnaire responses regarding charter schools.  Along with State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, Rep. Long has been over the staunchest supporters of charter schools among the Democratic delegation.  Long voted for the referendum on state-run charter schools in all of its forms; Bell voted against.  Long also voted for SB 79, giving Gov. Nathan Deal the power to appoint new Board of Education members for Atlanta Public Schools; Bell opposed.

T-SPLOST – NO

We are opposing the T-SPLOST, a proposed additional penny in sales tax for transportation projects, for many reasons.  First, sales tax is a regressive tax and the Atlanta sales tax of eight cents is already too high.  Second, Fulton and DeKalb counties would be the only two counties to pay two cents for transportation, while the other Metro counties would pay one.  Third, the T-SPLOST will pay mostly for roads and not enough for mass transit.

All three of those things would be counterbalanced if the mass transit projects being proposed were major MARTA heavy rail lines or MARTA line extensions.  Line extensions to the west, east, north, and northeast, were all proposed but rejected by the consortium of elected officials who selected the projects for the final, constrained list.  A single line to Emory University, which would not even be fully funded by the penny, is not enough to make up for this.

The worst part of the T-SPLOST, as previously covered by APN in a recent analysis, is the fact that it would fund major segments of the Beltline, meaning that those segments would not be funded through the Beltline Tax Allocation District, and accordingly, no funds will go into the Beltline Affordable Housing Trust Fund (BAHTF), for those segments.  Again, the Beltline is a major gentrification project for the City of Atlanta, and funding it through the T-SPLOST would represent a major betrayal of Atlantans who demanded some measures, such as the BAHTF, to mitigate that.

(END/2012)

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