State House Speaker David Ralston, interviewed during a visit to Statesboro this week, said he supports passage of all four proposed amendments on Georgia’s Nov. 8 ballot – including the Opportunity School District amendment.
Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, came to the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau’s visitor center Wednesday evening for a reception in support of Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet. She faces a Democratic challenger, James “Major” Woodall for the District 160 seat. Ralston’s remarks to the crowd were limited to greetings and his endorsement of Tankersley. The Statesboro Herald asked him about the amendments.
“We’ve got four and they’re all important, and I hope people will take the time to read them and to read the arguments for and against them,” Ralston said.
He said he knows Gov. Nathan Deal is “working very vigorously for his Opportunity School District amendment,” and that the Safe Harbor and Judicial Qualifications Commission amendments are also generating interest.
The Amendment 1 ballot question doesn’t mention the Opportunity School District by name but instead asks, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”
What it would do is allow the creation of a statewide school district, under a special superintendent to be appointed by the governor. Schools that fail a state-prescribed measure of success, currently a 60 percent score on the College and Career Ready Performance Index, for three or more consecutive years could be assigned to the district and managed by charter school organizations or under other alternative leadership.
Ralston said the Opportunity School District is needed.
“I think that we are doing a disservice to our children in Georgia to continue to require that they go to failing school systems,” he said. “This is a tool that I hope, if it passes, will be used very, very seldom, but if the occasion arises that this is the only opportunity for the kids in that system to have an adequate education, then I think we owe it to them to do that.”
Teacher organizations including the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, or PAGE; the Georgia Association of Educators, or GAE; and the Georgia Federation of Teachers are opposing it, as is the Georgia PTA, which is made up of parents and educators. Opponents describe the legislation as seizing control of schools from elected local boards of education. State GAE and PTA leaders have objected to the ballot question and its preamble as misleading.
Amendments 2, 3 and 4
“I’m going to vote ‘yes’ all the way down,” Ralston said when asked if he supports the amendments.
Amendment 2 would authorize added fines on keeping a place of prostitution, pandering, sexual exploitation of children and other sex crimes and also allow state fees on adult entertainment establishments. Money from these sources would go to a Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care, rehabilitation and social services for exploitation victims.
Amendment 3 would abolish the current Judicial Qualifications Commission and allow the General Assembly to create a new one empowered “to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges” subject to due process and review by the state Supreme Court.
Amendment 4 would dedicate revenue from already established excise taxes on fireworks to trauma care, firefighter equipment and training and other local public safety purposes. It is a follow-up to the state’s legalization of consumer fireworks last year.
Ralston, leader of the Georgia House of Representatives by vote of a majority of its members, wasn’t campaigning for the amendments. But he had made campaign stops for three House candidates this week and planned to campaign for a fourth such candidate Friday.
He expects to campaign for 15 to 20 Republican candidates for the House from now until Nov. 8, he said.
“I think we’re probably looking at six or seven, maybe eight at most, really competitive races in November for House seats,” Ralston said.
He told Tankersley’s supporters he expects her to win, but takes nothing for granted.
“I subscribe to the Vince Dooley theory of football as it applies to politics,” Ralston said in the interview. “ You know, anybody who puts their name on the ballot, anything can happen, and so we try not to take anything for granted, and I encourage my candidates to work hard and keep a full-court press going to the end.”
In an Aug. 21 story on Woodall’s campaign, the newspaper stated that it would request an interview with Tankersley the next week, and did so. Tankersley’s interview is scheduled Tuesday for publication later next week.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.