Sunday, March 30, 2014

Republicans have chance for Senate pickups; Georgia, Kentucky become tossups

According to many analysts, it is becoming increasingly likely that Republicans will wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Vaunted liberal columnist Nate Silver enraged liberals last week with his forecast of a GOP victory in the Senate. As Examiner reported last year, Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win a Senate majority. A pickup of three to four seats is almost certain with the possibility of a gain of as many as 10. A new series of Rasmussen polls released on March 28 offers insights on the most competitive races.

A total of 36 Senate seats are up for reelection this year. Democrats are defending 21 seats and Republicans 15. The majority of these seats are safe for both parties, but 16 races are competitive enough to offer a challengers a chance.

Analyst Larry Sabato has labeled three races as tossups: Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina. All of these seats are currently held by Democrats. Charlie Cook adds the Democratic seats in Arkansas and Michigan, as well Republican seats in Georgia and Kentucky, to the tossup column. Both Sabato and Cook rate the Democratic seats in Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia as likely GOP pickups. Both men also rate Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Virginia as likely, but not certain victories for Democratic incumbents. Mississippi is a likely Republican victory.

Below is a state by state rundown of the most competitive races:

Alaska: Rated as a tossup by both Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato, Democrat Mark Begich is defending his seat against three possible challengers. According to Rasmussen, Begich is behind Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and tied with former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. Begich holds a double-digit lead over Tea Party candidate Joe Miller. Alaska’s Republican primary will be held on August 15.

Arkansas: Rated as a tossup by Cook and leaning Republican by Sabato’s estimate. Republican challenger Tom Cotton has a five point lead over incumbent Mark Pryor in the latest Rasmussen poll.

Colorado: Both Cook and Sabato note that Colorado currently leans Democratic. Mark Udall, the incumbent, will likely face Republican Cory Gardner. The latest Rasmussen polling shows that the race may be more of a tossup with Gardner within one point of Udall. A PPP poll from mid-March showed a two point gap. Udall has been hurt by the fallout of a scandal in which Udall’s office challenged statistics from Colorado’s Division of Insurance that showed 250,000 insurance cancellations due to Obamacare.

Georgia: Charlie Cook has rated the race for retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss’ seat as a tossup, while Sabato considers it leaning Republican. A host of Republican candidates including Georgia’s former secretary of state Karen Handel, Tea party favorite Rep. Paul Broun, Rep. Phil Gingrey, and businessman David Perdue. According to Real Clear Politics, current polling shows Perdue as the leading Republican candidate. The likely Democratic candidate is Michelle Nunn, daughter of longtime Democratic senator, Sam Nunn. Georgia’s primary will be held on May 20.

Iowa: In Iowa, Democrats have a slight edge in the race for retiring Democrat Tom Harkin’s seat. Rasmussen gives Democrat Bruce Braley a slight edge over three Republican challengers: Joni Ernst, a veteran who made headlines recently for comparing cutting federal spending to castrating hogs, businessman Mark Jacobs, and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker. Braley leads a fourth challenger, Sam Clovis, by 10 points. Braley recently damaged his campaign by making disparaging remarks about Iowa farmers, which may put the race in the tossup category.

Kentucky: Minority leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign has been damaged by a Tea Party challenger backed by the Senate Conservatives Fund. Recent polling shows McConnell with a big lead over challenger Matt Bevin, but Rasmussen shows that he is in a tight race with likely Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Sabato gives McConnell the edge, but Cook calls the race a tossup. The Kentucky primary is on April 21.

Louisiana: Both analysts rate Louisiana as a tossup. Incumbent Mary Landrieu faces several likely Republican challengers, Rep. Bill Cassidy, state Rep. Paul Hollis, and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness, who is backed by the Senate Conservatives Fund. In Lousiana, there is no primary; all candidates will be on the ballot in the general election. If no candidate receives 51 percent of the vote, the top two candidates, regardless of party, will face each other in a runoff. According to Rasmussen, Cassidy leads Landrieu by four points while Hollis is in a dead heat. Maness is a distant third.

Michigan: Democrat Carl Levin’s retirement opens the door to a possible Republican pickup in Michigan. Cook rates the state as a tossup while Sabato gives the edge to Democrat Rep. Gary Peters. Terri Lynn Land is the likely Republican candidate. Rasmussen currently shows Peters with a two point edge.

Minnesota: In Minnesota, Al Franken is likely to be reelected. A host of Republican candidates with no clear leader will vie for the chance to oppose him on August 12.

Mississippi: Incumbent Thad Cochran (R) faces a primary challenge from another Senate Conservatives Fund challenger, Chris McDaniel. The winner will face Democrat Travis Childers. Cochran is the likely winner of both the primary and general elections. The primary is June 3.

Montana: Both Cook and Sabato rate Montana as leaning Republican. The Democratic incumbent, John Walsh, lags against both a GOP challenger, Steve Daines, and a Democratic primary challenger, John Bohlinger. The primary is June 3.

North Carolina: Rated as a tossup by both analysts, Kay Hagan trails her two Republican challengers according to Rasmussen. Thom Tillis, state speaker of the house, has a seven point lead while physician Greg Brannon leads her by four points. The primary is May 6.

New Hampshire: Jean Shaheen has an edge in keeping her seat according to both analysts. Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown recently entered the race and has an edge over former N.H. senator Robert Smith. The primary is September 9.

South Dakota: South Dakota is a likely GOP pickup according to both analysts. Democrat Tim Johnson is retiring. Former governor Mike Rounds is the likely Republican candidate and holds a 20 point lead over Democrat Rick Weiland whose signature issue is a proposed constitutional amendment to limit spending on federal elections.

Virginia: Democrat Mark Warner is likely to be reelected. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie faces an uphill battle. Rasmussen currently shows him trailing by 14 points.

West Virginia: West Virginia also leans Republican. Democrat Jay Rockefeller is retiring. Republican Rep. Shelly Moore Capito is likely to face Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in the general election. Capito holds a 14 point lead according to Rasmussen.

While much can change between now and November, Examiner predicts that Republicans will pick up Senate seats in Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Winning any two of six more possible pickups would mean that Republicans would control the Senate for the last two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Those six possible victories for the GOP are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, and Michigan. At this point, the only likely pickup for Democrats is Kentucky.

Originally published as National Elections Examiner

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fates of 2005's top ten RINOs should alarm GOP purists

temporaryIn recent years, many conservatives have blamed RINOs – Republicans in name only – for the recent Republican failures at the polls as well as for the failure of the GOP to stop the explosive growth in government. The use of RINOs as a target and scapegoat is not new and predates the advent of the Tea Party. But are RINOs really to blame for Republican Party’s woes and would the party be better off if RINOs were kicked out?

In 2005, four years before Barack Obama became president and sparked the Tea Party movement, Human Events published a list of that year’s top ten most wanted RINOs. Where are these RINOs today? Have they been replaced by Tea Party inspired conservatives or are they still subverting the Republican Party from within?

The first RINO on the list is Lincoln Chafee, at the time a senator from Rhode Island. Chafee lost his seat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in 2006. He left the GOP a year later according to Ballotpedia and was elected governor of Rhode Island as an independent in 2010. He became a Democrat in 2013.

Next is Olympia Snowe, a senator from Maine. Snowe retired from the Senate in 2012 and was replaced by Angus King, an independent who consistently votes with the Democrats. Since her retirement, Snowe started Olympia’s List, a website that promotes candidates who “follow the principles of consensus-building.”

Arlen Specter, the next RINO on the list, is infamous in conservative circles. Specter left the Republican Party in 2009 to become a Democrat. He lost the 2010 Democratic Senate nomination to Joe Sestak, who then lost the general election to Republican Pat Toomey. Arlen Specter died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2012. Since taking office, Senator Toomey has scored 100 percent from the American Conservative Union.

Susan Collins, also a senator from Maine, is number four. Collins is still serving in the Senate as a Republican and faces reelection in 2014. Her voting record makes her the most liberal Republican in the Senate according to the American Conservative Union, but she remains to the right of most Democrats.

Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays was replaced by Democrat Jim Himes after the 2008 elections. In 2010, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat. He lost that primary to Linda McMahon, who in turn lost the general election to Richard Blumenthal, a far left Democrat.

Gov. George Pataki of New York was the next most wanted RINO. Pataki was succeeded by three consecutive Democrats, Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson, and Andrew Cuomo, when he left the governorship in 2006. Cuomo was instrumental in passing strict new gun control laws after the Sandy Hook mass murder as well as introducing same sex marriage into the Empire State.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York retired in 2006. His congressional district in the Utica area is now represented by Republican Richard Hanna, a moderate with a 52 percent lifetime score from the American Conservative Union.

The next name on the list, Mitt Romney, is also well known to Republicans. In 2005, Romney was governor of Massachusetts. Human Events singled him out for his support of gun control and civil unions. Unmentioned was his namesake health care program, Romneycare. Romney declined to run for reelection and was succeeded by Democrat Deval Patrick, whose expansion of Romneycare significantly drove up costs and who is staunchly in favor of strict new gun controls.

At number nine is Mike Castle, at the time the sole congressman from Delaware. In 2010, Castle ran for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden. Castle lost the nomination to Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell, who subsequently lost the general election to another liberal Democrat, Chris Coons. O’Donnell is perhaps best remembered for her declaration in a campaign ad that “I am not a witch.”

In the final analysis, the majority of the 2005 RINOs were replaced by more liberal representatives. Five eventually lost to Democrats and one was replaced by a leftist independent. Another lost a primary to a more conservative candidate who lost the general election to a Democrat. One was replaced by another moderate Republican. With one 2005 RINO still serving, only one was replaced by a more conservative official.

The important thing to learn may be that when a state’s voters elect a moderate, it is because that is what they feel is best for their state. Staunch conservatives are not likely to get elected in New York and Maine. If a moderate Republican there is to be replaced, the odds are good that it will be with a liberal Democrat. Those who think that moderate Republicans are as bad as or worse than Democrats need look no further than Obamacare. When the Affordable Care Act was passed, not a single Republican in either the House or the Senate voted for it. Not even the RINOs. Ninety percent of Democrats did.

NOTE: The quest for political purity is no longer limited to the Republican Party. James Taranto of the Wall St. Journal recently described how Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos celebrated the fact that many moderate Democrats had been evicted from Congress as well. Although Moulitsas did not use the term “DINO,” he cited ten Democratic moderates from 2004 and celebrated the fact that eight are no longer in office. The remaining two Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) are likely to lose this November. The results of this cleansing were similar to that of Republican RINOs. The majority of moderate DINOs were replaced by members of the other party. Only Joe Lieberman (Ct.) was replaced by a more liberal senator.


Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Friday, March 21, 2014

Advice for Republican candidates: ‘It’s the economy and Obamacare, stupid.’

As this year’s midterm primary and general elections approach, analysts in many quarters are preparing for a sweeping Republican victory that may fundamentally change the balance of power in Washington, D.C. The collapse of Obamacare at the starting line, a faltering economy and deteriorating conditions around the world from Syria to the Ukraine make a Democratic implosion seem all but assured. In fact, to paraphrase cartoonist Walt Kelly, the greatest threat to a Republican victory may be the Republican candidates themselves.

2012 was proof that, even if voters are dissatisfied with Democrats, they still need a reason to vote for Republicans. Merely being opposed to Obamacare and higher taxes will not be enough in many cases. Voters are not flocking to the GOP even though approval of Obama and the Democrats is falling. In 2012, several flawed Republican candidates who did not connect with voters – or worse, alienated them – preserved Democratic control of the Senate for at least two more long years.

As Arthur Brooks pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last year, conservatives must make their policies personal to voters instead of railing against abstract ideas and things. By connecting with voters on a personal level and explaining how conservative ideas can help the poor, Brooks says, “Conservative leaders will be able to stand before Americans who are struggling and feel marginalized and say, ‘We will fight for you and your family, whether you vote for us or not’—and truly mean it.”

As Brooks puts it, conservatives often find themselves fighting against things instead of saying what they can do for people. This doesn’t mean compiling a list of giveaway programs like the Democrats. It also doesn’t mean compromising principles. What it does mean is presenting a positive vision of how conservative free market policies can help people make their lives better.

A telling statistic from the 2012 presidential election was that, according to CNN exit polls, a majority of voters said that Mitt Romney shared their values (55 percent), was a strong leader (61 percent) and had a vision for the future (54 percent). However, by a margin of 81 to 18 percent, a strong majority thought that Barack Obama cared more about people. Romney simply did not credibly show his concern for ordinary Americans and paid the price on Election Day.

To present a positive vision about their beliefs, conservative candidates must necessarily spend less time fighting against things, i.e. talking about negative policies. Most voters don’t care as much these abstract ideas as conservatives do. A few topics that are almost guaranteed to make undecided voters lose interest – or worse, become hostile to Republican candidates – are the Seventeenth Amendment, Obama’s birth certificate, and the NDAA. There are also other important issues that simply don’t connect with voters. Fast and Furious, Benghazi, and border security are examples of these.

If undecided voters don’t care about these issues, what do they care about? A Rasmussen poll from January 2014 showed that the most important issue was the economy (76 percent of 1,000 likely voters). Not far behind were job creation (68 percent) and health care (66 percent). Government spending and education (both at 63 percent) rounded out the top five. Four of the top five issues were Republican issues. Health care, which has long been a Democratic issue, has now been ceded to the GOP because of the Affordable Care Act’s disastrous implementation.

If conservative candidates know what voters are concerned about and have policies to address those issues, the obvious strategy should be to spend time talking about how Republicans can fix the economy, foster job creation, and repair the damage to the health insurance industry caused by Obamacare. It is much easier to connect with voters by addressing their concerns than by trying to tell them what they should be concerned about.

Republican candidates should concentrate on these three key issues and hammer home the point that President Obama has had five years to fix these problems, but has only succeeded in making them worse. Candidates should stay on this message.

To make Obama’s failures personal, candidates should find people who have been hurt by his policies in their districts. This would include people like Edie Sundby, a stage 4 cancer patient from California who is losing her insurance due to Obamacare and is being forced into an inferior policy that does not cover all of her doctors. There are others all over the country that have lost their insurance or seen rates skyrocket under Obamacare.

Candidates should find local people who have dropped out of the work force because they cannot find jobs. These unemployed workers should help point out that the labor participation rate has fallen throughout Obama’s presidency and now stands at the lowest point in 35 years according to CNS News. The percentage of working Americans is now lower than at any time since 1978.

This strategy is not dishonest, mean spirited or an abandonment of conservative principles. It is an attempt to focus conservative candidates on the issues that voters care about. Focusing on what voters care about is not being unprincipled. It is focusing the candidate’s message on those conservative principles that address the primary concerns of voters. Focusing the message on certain principles does not mean abandoning the rest.

If conservative candidates are to act on their principles rather than just talk about them, they must win over voters and give them a reason to vote Republican. Fighting for the American people rather than against things will provide that reason for many voters. As Arthur Brooks said, “In the end that approach will win. But more important, it is the right thing to do.”


Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Malaysia 370 may have been hundreds of miles off course

Speculation about Malaysia 370, the Malaysian Airlines flight that has been missing since March 8, has reached a fever pitch. The disappearance of the jumbo jet has fueled the imagination of the world as people try to understand how a 775,000 pound airliner with 239 people could seemingly vanish into thin air. New information released on March 11 now indicates that the searchers may have been looking 350 miles from the actual crash site. As reported by Reuters, an anonymous Malaysian military official now says that military radars tracked the plane long after civilian air traffic control lost contact. When the plane’s transponder disappeared from civilian air traffic radar, the plane apparently turned west and descended several thousand feet below its cruise altitude.

When contact was lost about an hour into the flight, MH 370 was flying at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) and nearing the southern coast of Vietnam. According to the Reuters report, the plane then turned west and lost 1,000 meters (3,280 feet in altitude). The flight then traveled west for about an hour, crossing the Malay Peninsula. Head of the Malay air force, Gen. Rodzali Daud, told the Malay newspaper Berita Harian, that the plane was last detected at 2:40 a.m., approximately two hours after takeoff, near the island of Pulau Perak, located at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca.

The new information may explain why four days of searching have not yielded any trace of the missing plane, but it prompts new questions as well. It appears that the airplane did not suffer an abrupt structural failure or catastrophic bomb attack that caused an immediate crash, but no one can be certain what caused the airplane to fly under control for hundreds of miles before it presumably plunged into the sea. A timeline of the flight in International Business Times reported that weather along the route was good so loss of control due to storms or lightning strikes can be ruled out.

There are several possible scenarios. One possibility is a rapid decompression combined with an electrical failure. If the airplane’s pressurization failed at 35,000 feet the time of useful consciousness for the pilots would have been about 30 seconds (possibly less since at least one of the pilots was a known smoker, which inhibits the ability of the blood to carry oxygen). Normally, this is plenty of time for a pilot to don his oxygen mask and initiate an emergency descent to the thicker air at lower altitudes.

This theory also does not explain the fact that the plane’s transponder stopped responding to radar queries. One possibility is that that some sort of catastrophic failure caused the pressurization problem as well as a total electrical failure. If trimmed properly, the plane could have flown for hundreds of miles until its fuel was exhausted or something disturbed its equilibrium. It is possible that a bomb that did not immediately destroy the airplane may have caused it to depressurize and lose electrical power.

There are additional problems with this scenario. The airplane had fuel to fly well beyond the two hours when it was last in radar contact. The plane was fueled for a flight to Beijing that would have landed at 6:30 a.m. (Beijing is in the same time zone as Kuala Lumpur). It is possible that the plane flew even further into the Indian Ocean before running out of fuel and crashing.

Further, airliners have more than one source of electricity. Multiple generators and batteries make an instantaneous electrical failure unlikely. Using battery power, the crew should have been able to at least report their situation to ATC. An electrical failure without some sort of crew incapacitation would require a series of serious pilot errors to wander 300 miles off course without any radio contact.

Another possibility is a hijacking, although this is unlikely due to the scrutiny given to the plane’s passengers since its disappearance. Two passengers from Iran were revealed to be traveling on stolen passports, but authorities report having found no links to terrorist groups with these men or the other passengers. Yahoo News Australia reported that several Chinese journalists had received an untraceable email from an encrypted service that claimed responsibility for the attack and referenced last week’s knife attack by Uyghur separatists in China that killed 29.

The Malaysia Airlines website notes that the 777-200 is equipped with satellite phones. In the event of a hijacking or other nonelectrical emergency, it is likely that passengers would have attempted to use these phones to contact authorities or their loved ones as many passengers did during the September 11 attacks. A hijacker in the cockpit might have been able to disable the phones by pulling the cabin circuit breaker, however. They would also likely have been unavailable in a catastrophic electrical failure.

There are problems with the hijacking scenario as well. The biggest is that the plane likely crashed into the sea. Terrorists would have probably chosen a high value target for maximum destruction or landed and presented demands to authorities. It would probably have taken more than the two identified Iranians to control the 239 passengers and crew on MH 370. Yahoo Australian News did report on March 10 that Malaysia’s transport ministry was looking at four suspect passengers.

Perhaps the most likely theory is that one of the pilots committed suicide, taking the rest of the passengers and crew with him. In this scenario, one of the pilots would have left the cockpit, perhaps for a trip to the lav, and the other pilot would have locked him out of the cockpit and disabled the satellite phones in the cabin. At that point, the flying pilot would have turned off the transponder and flown the airplane until either its fuel ran out or until he decided to deliberately crash.

There have been a number of pilots who committed suicide by crashing their airliners. Suicide is suspected in the November 2013 crash of a Mozambique Airlines Embraer 190 according to the International Business Times. The most famous case of pilot suicide was the 1999 crash of Egypt Air 990 enroute from New York to Cairo. Two more crashes in the 1990s, one in Indonesia and the other in Morocco, were also attributed to suicide. A Japan Air Lines DC-8 crashed in 1982 during the captain’s unsuccessful suicide attempt.

It may be days before the wreckage of Malaysia 370 is located. In 2009, it took five days to locate the remains of Air France 447. Even without full radar coverage, the South China Morning Post reported that Rolls Royce, the manufacturer of the plane’s engines, tracks all its engines from its control center in England. It is believed that Boeing has a similar capability for tracking its airplanes.

With Air France 447, it took years to retrieve the flight data recorder and determine the cause of the accident, the answer was finally found. In the case of MH 370, due to the long elapsed time between the loss of contact and the ultimate crash, many of the answers may never be found. Engine parameters will be recorded by the flight data recorder, but cockpit voice recorders are only required to record 30 minutes. They typically delete earlier recordings as they record in a loop. This may mean that the crew’s reaction to whatever happened near the coast of Vietnam is forever lost.

Read the full article on National Aviation Examiner

Thursday, March 6, 2014

GOP has chance for pickup in NY-21

temporaryIn the far reaches of upstate New York, two Republicans are seeking the 21st congressional district seat of Democrat Bill Owens, who is retiring according to a January report from the Daily Kos. Owens is serving his third term in Congress after originally being elected in 2008. Joe Gilbert, a retired army veteran and Tea Party conservative, will face off against Elise Stefanik, a businesswoman

Joe Gilbert was born in Ogdensburg, N.Y. in 1966 and joined the army reserves at 18 while he was still in high school. After an abortive attempt at Potsdam State University, he joined the active duty army. In 1987, he began his military career in Germany guarding the strategic Fulda Gap opposite a Cold War Soviet army. During this time, Gilbert says he “caught glimpses of the misery and poverty that resulted from an all-powerful government on the other side.” At the same time, Gilbert began studying college courses. He earned degrees from the University of Phoenix and the University of Maryland and was selected to attend Officer Candidate School. Gilbert specialized in military intelligence and after 9/11 served three tours in Iraq.

After retiring from the army, Gilbert became the Director of Emergency Services for St. Lawrence County, N.Y. In that position, he is responsible for 41 fire departments, 28 ambulance squads and more than 2,000 employees and volunteers. His policies have resulted in savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars to St. Lawrence County taxpayers. Gilbert also served as a contributor to in the role of Watertown Tea Party Examiner until 2013.

According to, Plattsburgh, one of the main cities of the district, has an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, just below the national average. Nevertheless, incomes are well below the national average and job growth has been declining. Gilbert’s platform is based on opposition to the tax increases and health care reforms of the Obama Administration. He believes that these policy positions will help to bring economic relief and spur job growth in the district.

He is also a friend of the Second Amendment and is a member of the National Rifle Association. The right to bear arms has been under assault in New York in the past few years with the passage of the SAFE Act, which placed strict limits on ammunition and magazines and extended New York’s “assault rifle” ban.

In New York, local party officials have the power to choose a candidate instead of using the traditional primary system. If other candidates do not accept the party’s choice they can insist on a primary.

In February, WAMC Radio reported that businesswoman Elise Stefanik was the choice of district Republican leaders. A third candidate, Michael Ring, immediately endorsed Stefanik, but Gilbert exercised his right to a primary.

Elise Stefanik grew up learning her family business, a distributorship of wood products in upstate New York. An honor graduate of Harvard, she became the first member of her family to graduate from college. During the administration of George W. Bush, Stefanik served on the White House staff where she worked on economic and domestic policy. In 2012, she worked as the policy director of the Republican National Platform and served as the debate coach for vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Having won support of 11 of 12 counties in the district, Stefanik must be considered the favorite for the primary as well.

The Syracuse Post Standard reports that district Democrats have chosen Aaron Woolf, a documentary filmmaker, to be the Democratic candidate. Woolf has no political experience, but has produced award-winning films that highlight the societal effects of government policies. In the time since beginning his campaign, Woolf has been somewhat reclusive. According to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, he has given no real interviews and says that is a “press release kind of guy.”

Whether the Republican candidate is Gilbert or Stefanik, the Republican candidate will face a stiff battle. The district has voted Democrat in presidential elections since 1992 and has been represented by a congressional Democrat for the same length of time. This year a retiring Democratic incumbent paired with widespread dissatisfaction with President Obama’s policies may reverse that trend. Two very capable Republicans against a weak and inexperienced Democrat may boost the GOP’s odds.

Originally published on National Elections Examiner

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Jefferson Davis capture site park threatened by funding catch-22

In early May 1865, the Confederacy was in its last throes. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia a month earlier. According to the History of Irwin County, Confederate president Jefferson Davis, along with his family and a party of escorts, held the Confederacy’s last cabinet meeting at the home of Robert Toombs in Washington, Ga. It was decided that Davis and his family should make for a port where they could sail for safety in England. From Washington, the group moved southwest, eventually making camp just north of Irwinville, Ga.

Unbeknownst to the Davis and his party, the group was being trailed by members of the First Wisconsin and Fourth Michigan cavalry regiments of the Union army. The Yankees split into two groups, one reaching Irwinville ahead of Davis and doubling back while the other followed the Confederates.

According to the New Georgia Encylopedia, the Union soldiers found Davis’ camp in the early morning hours of May 10, 1865. In the darkness, the two groups of Yankees fought a brief battle with themselves in which two soldiers were killed. In the end, Jefferson Davis was captured after throwing on the cape to man’s overcoat, which later led to rumors that he was disguised in women’s clothing.

The site of the skirmish and Davis’ capture was purchased by Reuben Clements in 1865 and his son, Honorable J.B. Clements deeded the land to the State of Georgia in 1920 for the creation of a park. In 1939, a monument was erected to mark the spot where Davis was captured and a museum was built by FDR’s Works Progress Administration. According to GPB, the site was officially established as a state park in 1997, which eventually included a walking trail, picnic tables and shelters, a playground and a gift shop.

After the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, state budget cuts threatened the closure of a number of parks around the state. Several of these parks were transferred from the state to local governments according to a report from Yahoo at the time. In June 2009, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site was transferred to Irwin County.

John Hughes, the site manager for Irwin County, says that a catch-22 in the transfer was that the state owed money on several bonds that used the Davis park as collateral. Hughes told Examiner that the deed could not be transferred to Irwin County until the liens were removed from the property. Due to the fact that Irwin County does not own the park, county bylaws prohibit the local government from spending money on the park’s structures.

Hughes said that the park and its facilities were in good condition when the park’s operations were transferred from the state, but, almost immediately, problems started to mount. One of the first problems was a lightning strike to the park’s well. After five years, normal wear and tear has led to the need for costly repairs to the park’s septic system and the museum’s roof needs to be replaced.

Cuts have already deeply impacted the park. When the state operated the park, there were four employees and an annual budget of $139,000 according to Hughes, who has worked at the park for ten years. After Irwin County assumed control, three employees were laid off, leaving only Hughes. The park’s budget is now $36,000. Hughes was told that the state had signed a five year contract with the county that will be up in June 2014. Hughes said that he was told that the bonds originally had a balance of $200,000 in 2009, but that the balance to be paid was now at $400,000, making it seem that Irwin County was further than ever from taking full possession of the land that makes up the park.

Kim Hatcher, Public Affairs Coordinator of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, confirmed that the park property is still owned by the DNR and that there is agreement with Irwin County to operate the park. Hatcher stated that there are three bonds that are tied to the Jefferson Davis Memorial Site with a total of $400,000 owed, but says that the amount due has not increased. The bonds will mature in 2020 at which point the title to the park can be transferred from the state to Irwin County.

In December 2013, the funding problems almost led to the closure of the park. Albany’s WALB reported that the park cost about $50,000 annually to operate, but was only generating about $10,000 in revenues.

Supporters rallied to save the park a few days later. Private contributors donated money and the Sons of Confederate Veterans pledged $25,000 per year according to WALB. Supporters also restarted the Friends of the Park group and planned to seek state grants for further repairs.

For the time being the crisis at the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic site has been averted, by volunteer groups and charitable donations, but the underlying problem of ownership has not been resolved. It will be years before Irwin County is able to take full ownership of the park. Until the Georgia state bonds are paid, a permanent solution and funding will not be available.


Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner