I live in Georgia, a…
I live in Georgia, and was here during Zell Miller’s time as governor of the state. At the time, I considered him to be a rather liberal Democrat. Miller is speaking tonight at the Republican National Convention, and I’m of two minds about him.

One of his legacies in this state was the Georgia Lottery. Conservatives saw as a tax on the poor, giving them a false hope with a get-rich-quick scheme that had a near 0 chance of helping any specific individual. Democrats saw an untapped income source that would ostensibly go towards education. At that time, I would call computer bulletin board systems (message boards that predated the explosion of Internet use by the general public), and my prediction to the guys in the Debate forum was that this would turn into a slush fund. I was asked how I could predict this before the Lottery even existed; was my crystal ball really showing me the future? I responded by saying that it took no precognition to know that politicians who had bunch of money coming in would find way to spend it on their pet projects.

Within a year or two of the start of the Georgia Lottery, heavy rains in north and central Georgia caused flooding in the southern part of the state. Gov. Miller said that relief for the towns and families there would come from “excess lottery money”. I got back on the Debate forum and proclaimed that every student in Georgia had access to computers, that all the old books had been replaced with new ones, that the HOPE Scholarship was fully funded, and that teachers were getting generous and well-deserved raises. I said this had to be true because Gov. Miller had said himself that there was “excess” lottery money. My crystal ball was working perfectly. From the naysayers on the forum I got virtual silence. While the cause for the reallocation of funds was laudable, why weren’t we told about this possible use for lottery proceeds up front, and what other uses were we not being told about? The Georgia Lottery had quickly become a slush fund.

And today, the HOPE Scholarship, funded solely by lottery proceeds, is having funding difficulties.

Though the Georgia Lottery is facing a record year with $1.33 billion in ticket sales during the last six months of 2003, $376 million of which will go to HOPE. Lawmakers are struggling to streamline the scholarship because of concerns that the program could run out of money within the decade.

For more than two decades, states have been using legalized gambling to help fill shrinking coffers. At least 41 states have lotteries that fund everything from senior citizen centers to prisons.

But it has been the promise of better public education that has caught the interest of most voters. Still, when money for other programs dries up, lawmakers have been known to dip into education reserves.

This paragraph of the story I found interesting.

While about two dozen states, including Illinois, New York, Michigan and Missouri, devote 100 percent of their proceeds to education, Georgia was among the first to include legislation that forbids lottery proceeds from going anywhere but to specific pre-kindergarten and post-secondary programs.

I don’t know for sure, but I do wonder if we passed that law after “excess lottery money” was found lying around by Zell Miller. Nonetheless, the future for lotteries doesn’t look good.

However, several states, including Illinois, have seen a drop in education funds in the last decade as lottery proceeds have declined.

“Supporters have been able to sell the lottery to voters with the idea that they will raise money and give students more opportunity for education. But you are gambling on education with gambling dollars, and that doesn’t work,” said Rodney Stanley, an assistant professor at the Institute of Government at Tennessee State University.

OK, I didn’t originally intend for this to be an anti-lottery screed. The point is that this particular bit of liberal thinking came from Gov. Zell Miller, who is being touted as a conservative Democrat, and one who’s been that way from the beginning. He’s also voted to expand hate crime legislation, and was a big supporter of Bill Clinton for President.

On the other side of things, Miller has done quite a number of things that conservatives support. He got the nation’s first two-strikes-and-you’re-out law against violent felons, for example. While supporting the option of abortion, he still outlawed partial-birth abortion in Georgia and doesn’t believe that public funds should pay for it. He cut taxes in Georgia and has voted to cut taxes in Washington. This web page summarizes his views on many issues, and you’ll find that overall he’s been quite conservative, with the lottery being perhaps his most egregious counter-example (in my view).

Last night, while I was channel-surfing looking for the best convention coverage, I hit a channel showing Zell Miller speaking to a political convention, but after a while it was obvious that this was not the 2004 Republican National Convention. It also had underneath the video a website, www.ListenToThisVoice.com. I went there this morning to see what was there, and it’s a site accepting donations for the Democrat Party of Georgia. They feature 3 clips of Zell’s speech to the 1992 Democratic National Convention. In it he blasts George Bush, who he says “just doesn’t get it.” Now, if you don’t read the dim fine print, you might not realize he’s talking about the first George Bush, especially when they make a “then and now” contrast. He’s trying to make the case that health care and the failing economy are things the elder Bush doesn’t understand and won’t take care of as the “then” side. For the “now” side, they have one quote: “I am for President George W. Bush because he is the right man at the right place at the right time.”

This is a very interesting non sequiter, on two levels no less. They’re comparing Zell’s response to two different presidents, and on different issues. Miller’s quote is obviously referring to the point in history that George W. Bush found himself on 9/11, and on that point Miller is particularly harsh in criticism of liberal Democrats. That has little to do with standing with working families, as the web site claims Miller used to do (although protecting those working families from terrorism is certainly standing with them). Zell’s change of heart vis-a-vis his party has pretty much hinged on the homeland security issue, although his voting record hasn’t made him many friends in his party even before that. Because of all this, this attempt to challenge Zell is simply a smear. I’m all for negative campaigning and showing the other guy’s record as long as you don’t have to slice it and dice it in order to get him to appear the way you wish him to appear. If accurately portraying someone’s views is “negative campaigning”, I want to see more of it, but the Democrat Party of Georgia isn’t doing that. They’re throwing digital mud, plain and simple.

What it all comes down to, after this bit of rambling, is this: While I’m of two minds on Zell, and while I disagree with some of the things he’s done, on balance the label “conservative Democrat” does fit him rather well. I’m certainly happy with his senate record and his support of President Bush. Additionally, if the Democrats have to stoop to smears to try to paint him in a bad light, that can only mean they’re worried (and that they don’t have much on him in the first place).

See you tonight Zell. Make us proud.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!