Now, about 2018…

Didn’t we just do this election thing?  And win it?  Well, yes… but that was only the 2017 special election, one race per district to fill the seats vacated by former Representatives Quick and Williams.  There’s still the regular 2018 election, with a whole slate of state, district, county, and local elections, plus our representative in the U.S. Congress.

So… for the first few months of 2018 we’ll have an eye on the Georgia legislative session, and we always have an eye on Congress (which is surprisingly necessary despite so little actually getting done), but… it’s time to talk about the road to November 2018.

Election Calendar

From the Secretary of State’s office, here are the key dates:

  • Voter registration deadline for the Primary: April 23, 2018
  • Primary election: May 22, 2018
    • Primary runoff, if needed, July 24, 2018
  • Voter registration deadline for the General Election:  October 9, 2018
  • General election: November 6, 2018
    • General election runoff, if needed: December 4, 2018

Additionally, although we don’t yet anticipate needing one, there could be a springtime special election on March 20, 2018; if so, its voter registration deadline would be February 20, 2018, and any runoff would be April 17, 2018.  No reason we’d need that, but… you never know.

Open Offices

There are a lot of offices up for grabs; you should consider running.  (We can teach you how,.)

Our candidates page lists the races that we know are currently in contention, but we might have missed one or two.  (Please tell us, by Facebook message or email, if you think we did miss anything!)  But this is the list of all the races we know are open, regardless of whether they have a Democratic challenger yet.

Federal

State

There are enough here that we’re going to separate the legislative and executive positions:

Legislative

Executive

County

  • County Commissioner Post 2, incumbent Chuck Horton (R)
  • County Commissioner Post 3, incumbent W. E. “Bubber” Wilkes (R)
  • County School Board Post 2, incumbent Amy Parrish (R)
  • County School Board Post 3, incumbent Kim Argo (R)

Local

  • Watkinsville City Council Post 3, incumbent Marcia Campbell
  • Watkinsville City Council Post 4, incumbent Christine Tucker
  • Watkinsville City Council Post 5, incumbent Dan Matthews

(None of Bishop, Bogart, or High Shoals have council seats open in 2018.  Bishop just elected a full slate to four-year terms, so they’re next up in 2021; the others have a half-council up in 2019.)

Interested in Running?

If you are, come to one of our meetings and talk to us about it.  Or contact us on Facebook or via this form to express your interest.

Even if you’re not sure, let us know; we can help you understand what the job would involve, what running for it would involve, and how we can help you do those things.  We can also help train you for the race, and maybe help you find volunteers to staff your campaign…

District 119 Candidate Forum, question by question

The Oconee Candidates’ Forum on Monday October 9th was, let’s be honest, a marathon: two races, six candidates, just under two and a half hours.   Which is exciting in terms of civic engagement, but does make it hard to find the questions and answers you were looking for.  So, while the full video of the entire evening is available here, this post gives you a question-by-question index into the video of the 119th district forum specifically.  (We have a companion post for the 117 forum too.)

District 117 Candidate Forum, question by question

We posted the entire video of the 117 session, but the questions being asked and links to those specific moments are below:

Calendar for 2017 Elections

It’s that time of year, as the “days until” countdown above shows.

The original schedule was adjusted slightly for the qualification deadline because of Hurricane Irma, but the critical dates are:

Last Day to Qualify: Friday September 15 If you want to run for any of this year’s offices, you need you have your paperwork filed and fees paid by today.  Typically that’s done at either the city or county election board offices.

Voter Registration Deadline: Tuesday, October 10  Anyone not registered to vote by this deadline can’t vote in 2017.   You can register on-line; remember you’ll need to bring a photo id to the polls.  (And if you miss the deadline, register anyway, to get it done… but you’ll have to wait until 2018 to cast your ballot.)

Early Voting: Monday, October 16 through Friday, November 3  If you want to vote, but don’t expect to be able to make the polls on November 7, here’s your window.  Early voting in Oconne is at 10 Court Street Watkinsville, GA 30677, Monday to Friday, 8AM to 5PM.  Absentee and mail-in ballots accepted in the same timeframe.  Saturday voting is available October 28 (only), 9am to 4pm, at the same location.

General Election: Tuesday, November 7 This is the big day.  Go to your polling place and cast a ballot!

Early Voting for Special Election Run-off: ends December 1  Assuming no candidate in the 119th race gets 50% on the first ballot (that’s the only race with more than two candidates), the top two face-off in a run-off.  The Secretary of State calendar doesn’t list a start for early/absentee voting on that (probably as soon as they can get ballots printed!), but the end is December 1.

Special Election Run-off: Tuesday, December 5 With four candidates competing for the 119th, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote on November 7th, it’s important that you cast your ballot again on December 5th.  (The run-off pits the top two candidates against each other.)

Interview with Deborah Gonzalez

This year, both of Oconee County’s two districts for the Georgia State House are up for special elections: both Rep. Regina Quick and Rep. Chuck Williams (both Republicans) have accepted other positions, as a federal judge and as head of the state Forestry Commission respectively.

Athens attorney Deborah Gonzalez is running in the 2017 special election for the 117th district, hoping to claim Regina Quick’s former seat.  She recently gave us an interview covering her background, her views on state government, and many of the issues facing the state house today.

Deborah told us of her life as an Army child, her first job in a factory, and the challenges raising her daughter as a single mother.  She went to law school to be able to give her daughter more, running her law practice as a small business.  Running for office she describes as “an responsibility, instilled in me by my father”… but also one that is worthwhile and rewarding for the people she meets, and for their stories.

Asked about the district she hopes to represent, which includes portions of four counties (Oconee, Clarke, Jaskson, and Barrow), she described the district as “gerrymandered” and said she had originally been worried the various constituencies would have different needs and concerns.  Instead, however, she has found that across the district, people largely want the same things: affordable care to keep themselves and their families healthy; a good education, whether college or technical training, and K-12 education before that; jobs that pay well enough to support themselves.  In that very basic sense, she finds the district very unified in its desires.

When discussing plans to keep in touch with voters after the election, however, she did acknowledge some separation, describing a need for county-specific contact people, and plans to keep her office available late at least once a month, in locations varying across the four counties.  This would make her accessible to citizens whose schedule might not allow them to see her during “business hours:” she promised that anyone in the office by 9:00pm would be seen.  This is an idea she borrows from former Atlanta Mayer Shirley Franklin, which she hopes will augment more traditional hours, as well on on-line and social media resources.

Like many candidates, Deborah has announced positions on many national issues on her campaign website.  However, we wanted to ask her about her views at the state level, since that is the office she is contending for.   As Deborah noted, we are nationally very divided today, but what divides us is known.  That creates an opportunity to find what will bring us together—a process which she believes government, and particularly the state government, has a large role to play.  It is also an environment in which her experience at mediation may be particularly helpful.

In Deborah’s view, elected officials have information, collected by aides or provided by lobbyists, that citizens do not have access to, nor time to understand.  She views it as the officials’ job to gather as many viewpoints as possible, consider all of them, and then to communicate accurate, reliable information to all stakeholders.  She cited the recent Campus Carry bill as an example of the system not working properly: the governor received over 14,000 calls against from citizens’ voices across the community, but passed the bill in response to about 1/100th as many supporters, many of them lobbyists.

And Deborah pointed out that the state government is relevant even on those national issues.  Healthcare, for example, is not only the ACA and its repeal and replace efforts: it includes expansion of Medicare, which  is a state decision.  So are school privatization decisions, livable wage and minimum wage laws, and other examples.  Asked about the top challenges facing Georgia specifically, Deborah lists representation as one: which voices are heard, who gets to vote, and how those votes are apportioned during redistricting.  All are issues addressed at the state level.

Deborah also brought up Internet privacy and accessibility issues during our interview; these are issues she feels strongly about, and has expertise in, from her previous work.  When I pressed about why she emphasized those, and why voters should care about issues that may seem abstract and technical, she reminded me of how deeply the Internet has penetrated our lives.  The issue for her is not only about bandwidth costs for large corporations like Netflix, but about Internet service costs to consumers, and costs to smaller entities: schools and on-line education offerings,  technology entrepreneurs, and “mom-and-pop” companies hosting their websites.  If Internet costs for those enterprises rise sharply, that causes a loss of access to what has become a necessary resource in modern business and modern life.

And, despite viewing the district as having been gerrymandered, Deborah sees an opportunity to flip the 117th.  The district voted for President Trump, but only by a 3% margin; her challenge, as she sees it, is ensuring turnout in the special election, particularly by those who are supporters, but hesitant of her chances: she feels she can win, but only with all of those voters’ votes.

How Medicaid Cuts Affect Us Here

It seemed a simple question: how would the Republican healthcare bills’ proposed cuts to Medicaid affect us here around Athens, GA?  And how would the various proposed amendments affect us?

It’s been a moving target, and the most recent Senate vote was literally to try to pass an almost unknown and unevaluated bill… but in short, in any variations to date, the bills would cost Georgia money, jobs and the health of many of its citizens.  The bills proposed so far do not directly affect the care people need, or the cost of that care… they only change how much of the total of Medicaid care is paid by the federal government. Using the government’s estimates, under the original Senate plan, by 2026 Georgia would have received $3.7 billion less federal money to pay for Medicaid care.  By 2030 the cumulative estimate is $10.7 billion. This is because the bills include place a lower cap on federal payments that grows less than the expected costs.   So while the government projects the growth rate for total Medicaid costs will be 4.4%, under the senate rules, payments can only increase by 2.4% annually.  The House plan was better in that regard, growing at medical inflation, estimated at 3.7% (but still less than 4.4%).

That’s cost for needed care, and Medicaid patients are, by definition, the poor, the elderly, low-income children, and the disabled; they can’t be expected to pay that much more out of pocket.  So either Georgia would have to come up with that money itself, foregoing other benefits in education, public safety, and infrastructure, or Georgians would have to go without care.  The explicit availability of waivers for coverage of pre-existing conditions, for example, provides one tempting path to resolve the gap… but, one way or another, people would lose coverage.

These people would have to live with chronic conditions and a lower quality of life—until something that hadn’t been a crisis became one.  Sometimes that would be fatal (higher mortality rates from preventable heart attacks, for example), sometimes it would require an emergency room visit.  Hospital emergency rooms cannot legally turn those in need away, but with the proposed changes to Medicaid, they wouldn’t be paid for the care. Increased “indigent care” means hospitals cannot maintain their staff, or update their equipment and services, and may eventually risk bankruptcy and closure. That has ripple effects economically as well as in public health.

What that means for the Athens area

We have two major hospitals in Athens, as well as many individual practices, laboratories, clinics, long-term and elder care facilities, and so on, most of which serve patients on Medicaid across much of northeast Georgia.  Using 2013 numbers, Clarke and its surrounding counties (Oconee, Barrow, Jackson, Madison, and Oglethorpe) contain about 3% of the state’s Medicaid enrollees.  Assuming costs follow that same proportion—which is a risky assumption, I admit—under the Senate plan, the region would lose about 3% of $3.7 billion by 2026: $112 million dollars less spending in the Athens economy.  By 2030, it’s a cumulative $321 million less in Athens.  That is a loss of medical employers investing in their businesses, hiring staff, offering raises; it ripples further to a lack of spending by healthcare workers at other, non-healthcare businesses.  Beyond the economic costs, there would also be a human cost in unmet care for low-income patients, including children and elders. In net,  the region would be sicker overall, and we would suffer losses to the local economy, compared to today’s law.

Looking specifically at the two hospitals, ARMC is Athens’ third largest employer, behind UGA and the county government; St. Mary’s is fifth.  (If you break the school district out from the government generally, they’re second and sixth.)  So, a big cut to Medicaid expenditure in the region is a big loss of revenue for two of our biggest employers.  Assuming we see a resulting increase in unreimbursed emergency care, it likely also results in cuts to other services.  For example, some rural hospitals, required to provide emergency care but underfunded overall, close obstetrics: you might have to go to Atlanta to deliver a baby, or for any of a myriad other non-emergency services we now get locally.

Revisions

Under the Cruz (R-TX) amendment, substandard plans are allowed.  That suggests a dangerous misunderstanding of insurance: any of us might get cancer, or be in a severe car accident, and need ruinously expensive care.  Allowing a tiered system, with a cheaper plan for healthier people, hurts us two ways: the less healthy can’t afford care, and the healthy-but-unlucky can’t either, because their “plan” doesn’t cover their suddenly increased requirements.  The recent Portman (R-OH) amendment does offer some assistance to those losing Medicaid through the loss of Medicaid expansion… but it’s not nearly enough to cover private insurance.

The repeal-only option, also rejected, is irresponsible because it provides no predictability for the insurance market; that can’t help but raise costs.  And in two years or so, should we expect Congress to agree on a replacement, when they’ve proven unable to do so already?

And today’s vote, to debate and then attempt to pass an unknown, un-evaluated variation of bills that already?  That’s irresponsible, too.  Even setting policy aside, if your bill has to be passed in a cloud of secrecy and dark of night… you’re doing something wrong.

Conclusions

Almost nobody likes the House or Senate bills, and they haven’t improved.  Keeping them hidden is worse.  We do have a serious problem with healthcare… but pushing the costs around doesn’t help; we need to address the rising costs themselves, head-on.

None of the Republican do that; they only reduce the federal payments, and would eventually force Georgia to either cut benefits, or to cut other services.  In Athens, that’s hundreds of millions of dollars by 2026; that reduces employment, as well as making people live sicker, unable to afford or unable to access treatment.

There is work we can do to address the actual problem of health care costs directly.  Sadly, many of the most obvious approaches are politically anathema to somebody.  So, rather than addressing the actual problem, Congress is merely passing the buck.  Literally.  And if the states don’t pay it, and patients can’t pay it… then we all go without.

But there is work we can agree on.

  • Medicaid helps patients avoid high-cost care, by offering reliable medication and preventative care.  Paying that “ounce of protection” makes more sense, as public policy, than leaving people sick.
  • If we stop changing the rules, then insurers can plan more accurately; according to those companies, the uncertainty, more than the market itself, has lead to the premium rises and exits from market we here about in the news.
  • Prescription drugs are more expensive in the U.S. than elsewhere.  They’re only about 12% of total medical costs, but the U.S. costs are often about 2-3x, or more, the costs in other developed nations.  So that’s about 6% of our annual medical costs that could probably be saved.  The companies do need to recover their R&D costs… but the U.S.A. doesn’t have to pay so much of it.
  • We can look at unhelpful state regulations.  For example, obstetrics care is expensive, and many pregnancies could be served at home by a midwife… but in Georgia, that is only legal in a hospital setting.
  • Medical insurers, including Medicaid, get negotiated pricing, often half or less of “retail” pricing.  So the uninsured both pay out-of-pocket, and pay higher prices.  Could we cap retail pricing, say to two or three times Medicaid’s (admittedly low) rates?  Doctors should be paid fairly for their time, expertise, facility costs, and risks (including malpractice suits)… but there’s clearly some room between today’s retail pricing, and the practice taking a loss.

A bill that used some of those ideas, or others, to reduce medical costs… that would offer some improvement.  It is, sadly, not to be found in Congress today.  Or at least there’s no reason to expect it, in the mystery box currently proposed.

Time to Speak

Wouldn’t it be nice for a political candidate to start by knowing what the district actually wants from their representative?

Deborah Gonzalez is running for the GA House of Representatives District 117 (which includes parts of Oconee County). Deborah wants to know what the residents in Oconee County are concerned about so she is inviting you to come to a forum so she can listen to and learn exactly what is on your minds.

Join us on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 in the Main Auditorium at the Oconee County Library from 7:00 – 9:00 pm.

This forum is open to and welcomes the public.  Oconee Democrats are sponsoring it, but the goal is a non-partisan discussion.

Deborah has some questions she’d like to ask you, such as:
• What do you like about living in Oconee County?
• What are the most significant issues facing our county?
• What should be the role of citizens related to legislation in the State?

Most importantly, she would like to hear your concerns and questions. As a candidate Deborah really wants to know what can she do for you.

The forum will be moderated by Oconee County resident, Margaret Holt, who has worked with the National Issues Forums since 1981. The process is designed for our community to have a conversation, not a protest. Ideas shared will be captured to help Deborah shape a legislative agenda that matches the concerns of the District. She’s a candidate who will speak to you clearly and honestly. She is also a candidate who will listen to you attentively and authentically. So stop by and share your thoughts, your story, your voice.

Non-partisan. All are welcome.

Website for Deborah Gonzalez:
votedeborahgonzalez.com

Oconee Democrats at Deborah Gonzalez’ Launch

Deborah Gonzalez
Deborah Gonzalez at her launch event

Today at Bishop Park, Deborah Gonzalez official launched her campaign for Georgia State House Representative for District 117, composed of parts of Oconee, Clark, Barrow, and Jackson counties.  She is challenging Regina Quick in November 2018.

 

Deborah Gonzalez
Deborah Gonzalez speaking at her launch

We’re excited to have a strong candidate to support, in a district which has been identified as one of the likeliest for Democrats to flip.  Ms. Gonzalez spoke of her father’s service in the U.S. Army and his Puerto Rican heritage, of her own career spanning from computer networking to entertainment law, and of her philosophy on the importance of “borrowing” the present from future generations: how can we ensure we not only give to our children all that we enjoy today, but more?  She also stressed her support for local entrepreneurship, environment, and education issues, all dear to the hearts of those of us who attended her launch from Oconee County.

Thank you for running, Deborah!  Those interested in volunteering to assist or, or merely in learning more about the candidate, can visit her website at http://votedeborahgonzalez.com/.

Oconee Democrats at Gonzalez launch
Oconee Democrats with Deborah Gonzalez after her campaign launch