The Jolt: An open records ruling in Washington state that won’t happen here

On Thursday, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled ruled 7-2 that its lawmakers are subject to the state’s public records act, giving media outlets and transparency advocates a major victory.

Legislative leaders, in a feat of bipartisan pique, had argued that they should be exempt from an open records requirement applied to executive branch agencies and other government offices. From the Seattle Times:

Justice Susan Owens wrote in the ruling that “under the plain meaning” of the records act, “individual legislators’ offices are ‘agencies’ subject to the PRA’s general public records disclosure mandate. Legislative history confirms rather than contradicts our conclusion. Accordingly, we hold that the News Media Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on this issue.”

Prevailing in such a case in Georgia is a trickier matter. The state Legislature has explicitly exempted itself from the state Open Records Act, even as that branch receives about $45 million in taxpayer funding a year and has the ability to regulate the health, taxes and professions of Georgians.

A state Court of Appeals panel recently upheld the Legislature’s desire to shield records from the public in a 2-1 vote in a case brought by a libertarian public-interest group that was looking into a 2012 vote about music therapy.

In that case, our AJC colleague James Salzer reported, Chief Judge Christopher J. McFadden cast the lone dissent, writing that the act applied to “every state office,” which should include offices of the General Assembly.

“The General Assembly has the authority to decide whether to subject itself or its offices to the Open Records Act,” he wrote. “The clear and unmistakable language of the statutes before us does subject legislative offices to the Act.”

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On that same note: In a case with broad implications for government transparency, a Fulton County jury on Thursday convicted a former city of Atlanta official of deliberately frustrating requests for public records.

The verdict brought relatively light punishment for former Kasim Reed aide Jenna Garland, but the case sends a signal to government officials across Georgia that they can be held criminally liable for blocking access to the people’s records.

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About a decade ago, when state Republicans were debating a tough crackdown on sex offenders, then-House Majority Leader Jerry Keen had a favorite argument.

He’d tell crowds he wanted to make restrictions so onerous on convicted sex offenders released from prison that they would move out of the state. 

(Those words might have come back to haunt him when the prohibitions were later found to be so draconian they were struck down by the courts because they rendered just about piece of ground in Georgia off-limits.) 

Gov. Brian Kemp has taken to using a similar line in describing his plans to increase penalties on sex traffickers and gang members. From WJCL in Savannah: 

"My message to any gang member in this area or anywhere in the state of Georgia, you should move to Florida or South Carolina."

...He said he said something similar the night before in Albany, telling those gangs to move to Alabama or Florida.

"I'm tired of our law enforcement officials being shot up for no reason by gangbangers," the governor said.

We await the applause that’s certain to come from the governors of Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina.

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The long-festering feud between Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg erupted Thursday night in a high-stakes debate in Los Angeles that tested the strength of the Democratic Party's shrinking pool of presidential contenders just six weeks before primary voting begins. From the Associated Press:

Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has emerged as an unlikely presidential power player, gaining ground with a centrist message. Warren, the Massachusetts senator who has become his progressive foil, attacked Buttigieg's fundraising practices. And Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is competing with Buttigieg for moderate voters, challenged his limited governing experience.

...The forum highlighted the choice Democrats will have to make between progressive and moderate, older and younger, men and women and the issues that will sway the small but critical segment of voters who will determine the election. The candidates sharply disagreed about the role of money in politics, the value and meaning of experience and the direction of the American health care system.

The evening’s backlash over Buttigieg’s visits to onyx-laden West Coast “wine caves” to collect checks from millionaires got your Insiders thinking of the swanky places in Georgia where donors gather to shower candidates with cash.

There are the fancy hotels, of course: The Intercontinental Buckhead, the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, the Whitley - where President Donald Trump recently hosted a business roundtable that cost $100,000 a pop to attend.

There are the multi-million-dollar estates on gilded streets like West Paces Ferry and Tuxedo Drive, or in the tony neighborhoods of Sandy Springs. We’ve been holed up in many a basement or holding room while staffing those events to at least get a sniff of the rarefied air. 

Then there’s exclusive Sea Island, where vast seaside mansions sit behind multiple security gates and feature spacious wine cellars, two-story gaming compounds and boundless infinity pools. 

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The Democratic presidential campaign of billionaire Michael Bloomberg has let it be known that its senior advisor in Georgia will be Howard Franklin, a well-known strategist and state Capitol lobbyist.

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In a rare breach of solidarity in the evangelical world, Christianity Today has called for an end to Donald Trump’s tenure as president. The editorial was written by Mark Galli, editor-in-chief of the magazine founded by evangelist Billy Graham. From CT:

To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.

If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?

The editorial has been the morning focus of President Trump’s musings on Twitter:

A far left magazine, or very “progressive,” as some would call it, which has been doing poorly and hasn’t been involved with the Billy Graham family for many years, Christianity Today, knows nothing about reading a perfect transcript of a routine phone call and would rather.....

....have a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President. No President has done more for the Evangelical community, and it’s not even close. You’ll not get anything from those Dems on stage. I won’t be reading ET again!

We think the president meant CT, as in Christianity Today, but this is only a presumption. But even more interesting was this reaction from Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition:

The @CTmagazine editorial calling for Trump’s removal as president is an insult to the intelligence & good judgment of the faith community. Few evangelicals read CT & even fewer care what it says. This will only deepen its irrelevance.

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Hours before attorneys for the state of Georgia returned to federal court Thursday to defend removing more than 300,000 voters for the rolls, the state government announced that it was reinstating 22,000 of them.

The AJC’s Mark Niesse and Maya T. Prabhu reported that Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action organization described the change-of-heart as a victory.

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We reported in the Jolt yesterday about Kelly Loeffler’s Senate committee assignments, but hours later we learned more about how Johnny Isakson’s retirement will also impact the work of Sen. David Perdue.

Perdue is taking Isakson’s seat on the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. He said that assignment, coupled with his existing role on the Armed Services Committee, will make him uniquely positioned to become an expert on national security.

Both chambers of Congress are now on holiday break and not expected to return until Jan. 6 or 7, so we expect Loeffler’s to be sworn in then.

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The entire Georgia congressional delegation has lent support to a proposal to re-designate the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site as the "Jimmy Carter National Historical Park.”

This would affect the Plains farm where Carter grew up, the high school he attended and the train depot that served as his presidential campaign headquarters in 1976.

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An interesting development from Emma Hurt at WABE (90.1FM):

In its quest to open a vertical launch spaceport, South Georgia’s Camden County has for years failed to provide the Federal Aviation Administration with safety information needed for its application, according to internal agency emails reviewed by WABE.

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If you want to dodge sleep tonight, take a look at this New York Times piece on a massive data file on cell phone users it has obtained, allowing it to track the movements of individuals. A taste:

It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.

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Note to readers: This is the last Morning Jolt of 2019. Your Insiders are taking a break for the holidays. The Jolt will return on Jan. 2.

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