Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

A MARTA promise: No invasion of Cherokee County

Lower that drawbridge, boys. The chairman of MARTA’s board of directors wants Cherokee County voters to know that the transit agency has no plans to send rail, buses or even skateboards into their territory. And couldn’t, even if it wanted to.

The details are to be found in a letter-to-the-editor in last week’s Cherokee Tribune, penned by MARTA board chairman Robbie Ashe. To wit:

I certainly mean no disrespect to Cherokee County, but Georgia’s Constitution is quite clear: MARTA may only collect a sales tax and operate in five specified counties — Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Cobb, and Gwinnett — and no others. And even in each of those specified counties, MARTA cannot operate without the approval of the county commission and the county’s voters in a countywide referendum….

Officially, Ashe was writing in defense of his transit agency. But the accusation that MARTA is lusting after riders in Woodstock and Ball Ground arises from a contentious state Senate primary featuring Republican incumbent Brandon Beach of Alpharetta.

Aaron Barlow, Beach’s primary opponent, has arranged for lines like these -- contained in a recent flyer -- to enter the discussion:


Beach has sponsored transit-oriented legislation, including this year’s SB 330, which would have created a pathway for MARTA to push rail up through north Fulton. The measure failed, but a smaller version of the bill – allowing the transit agency to pursue an extra half-penny tax within the city of Atlanta – was backed by Republicans and recently signed into law.

Seventy percent of Senate District 21 lies in Cherokee County – the work of then-Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers of Woodstock. Which is perhaps why, in the further paragraphs below, MARTA’s board chairman makes it clear that Beach isn’t the only Republican who has offered support to the transit agency:

During the 2016 session of the last year’s General Assembly, we were able to win approval for the city of Atlanta’s voters to decide for themselves this November whether to invest an additional ½-cent sales tax levied only within Atlanta to expand transit within the city.


This bill was carried by Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, and supported by every member of the Cherokee delegation (Scot Turner was absent). If voters approve the referendum, MARTA will use the funds generated by the new Atlanta-only ½-cent sales tax to build substantial additional rail and bus service to better serve folks who live, work and play in the city of Atlanta.

I guess in some ways we should be flattered about rumors we’re plotting secret expansions to other counties. But anyone suggesting that there’s a MARTA conspiracy to expand to Cherokee County is (a) not telling the truth, and (b) hasn’t read what Georgia’s laws and Constitution say about that topic.

We understand that opinions vary widely in our region — and even in MARTA’s service area — about the need for transit, including what types of transit works best and where. We encourage that important dialogue but, to be blunt, we have no desire to go where we’re not wanted and we’re darn sure not interested in violating the law or Constitution to get there.


An endorsement of U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, by the Marietta Daily Journal gives the Republican incumbent a pass on his vote for an omnibus spending bill last December, but faults him thusly:

While supporting the spending bill is understandable enough, Loudermilk’s vote to continue House Speaker John Boehner’s reign when he campaigned to vote against him is mystifying.

Loudermilk invoked the wrath of his constituents with that flip flop. The congressman cannot make such a serious mistake again and expect to retain voter confidence.

But taken altogether, his positive work outweighs this lapse in judgment.


State Rep. John Pezold of Columbus took a step this morning we rarely see in Georgia politics: The Republican lawmaker accused elites in his party of bullying. It stems from the dotted line one prominent Republican drew between state Sen. Josh McKoon's embrace of controversial "religious liberty" legislation, dust-ups with House Speaker David Ralston, and budgets cuts to Columbus State University.

Writing in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer over the weekend, Pezold told his own story about "bullying tactics" used by unnamed powerful politicians urging him to support the "bed tax" measure in 2013. Writes Pezold:

When I made it clear that I would be voting against SB 24 because it went against my principles, I was issued an ultimatum: If I voted against the bill, funding would be cut for Columbus State and for an upcoming additional judgeship for the Chattahoochee Circuit.

All this happened on the tenth day of my legislative career. I had not even figured out where the bathrooms were. I had not been bombastic. I had not been argumentative. But all too often, the modus operandi of the powerful under the Gold Dome is to resort to the tactic of bullying and intimidation. I was bullied when I was a kid. My response after a few years was to hit the kid across the bridge of his nose with my science book. It worked. We are often reminded that patience is a virtue. However, being patient with a bully and refusing to stand up to him only rewards bad behavior.

Which brings us back to the question that we should really be asking: Don’t the people of Georgia deserve better than the politics of retribution? Aren’t we better than bullying? We are in a day and age when people don’t trust politicians for one simple reason: Once elected, many of us vote much differently from the way we campaigned. We’re not trusted because we allow garbage like this to occur and say, “It’s just the way things are done around here.” Yet there are countless examples of people actually doing the right thing and voting their conscience, and being punished for it.


Let the party unity continue: U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, as among nine House chairmen to endorse Mr. Donald Trump over the weekend.

“We stand on the precipice of one of the most important elections of our lifetime. This great nation cannot endure eight more years of Democrat-control of the White House,” the chairmen wrote in a statement of their endorsement. “It cannot afford to put Democrats in charge of Congress. It is paramount that we coalesce around the Republican nominee, Mr. Donald J. Trump, and maintain control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.”


A weekend article in the New York Times, on religious conservatives coming to grips with Donald Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in November, includes these paragraphs:

Many of them want to believe he is someone who has evolved to become more conservative and religious.

“They love a convert because it’s what their faith is all about,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition and a friend of Mr. Trump.

“Contrary to the stereotype that is often assigned to them by the larger culture,” Mr. Reed added, “evangelicals are far more forgiving and extend far more mercy to political figures and others than is understood.”


A Marietta choir director has filed a federal complaint, saying he fired after congregants found out he was gay. According to WABE (90.1FM):

Ira Pittman had worked at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church for more than 20 years. His complaint -- which was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and shown to WABE -- comes as the United Methodist Church is in the midst of a debate about possibly changing its rules on LGBT exclusions. The church’s international gathering, the General Conference, in which changes to doctrine are decided every four years, is this month.


The National Federation of Independent Businesses is pairing up with WRLB-CBS 3 for a Wednesday forum in Columbus featuring the candidates vying to replace U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County. Nine candidates, seven Republican, are on the May 24 primary ballots. The 5:15 p.m. event is at the Columbus Public Library, 3000 Macon Road.  Attendees are asked to arrive and be seated at least five minutes early.


The U.S. Term Limits advocacy group is running ads in Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert's Athens-centered home district, boosting him as a lawmaker who "led the fight to put term limits on the career politicians in Washington." Cowsert has primary opposition in the form of Patricia Daugherty, a retired educator.


A case of permitted, concealed carry gone wrong at a high school graduation ceremoney, courtesy of the Wichita, Kan., Eagle:

A 37-year-old man concealed a small automatic handgun in his sock as he went into Hillier Stadium, according to police Chief Tyler Brewer, director of public safety in Augusta.

“An individual sitting on the southern portion of the stadium had brought this gun into the stadium. It was in his sock,” Brewer said. “It was uncomfortable for him. He went to adjust his sock, and the weapon went off, striking him in the foot.”

The bullet then ricocheted about 50 feet and hit a 28-year-old woman that was sitting underneath the media box. The bullet struck her in the leg.


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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.