Legislative Day 1: A Day of Hope?

Today marks the beginning of the legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly.  The General Assembly has always convened in the winter months, giving a historic nod to Georgia’s agricultural economy.  For me, it seems also appropriate that it sits snugly in the lull between the end of the Christian seasons of Christmas and Easter.

A few weeks ago, I found myself invited to a holiday party of a friend that is located in the town named after Jesus’ birthplace.  On this evening, I attended what I have many times before in my hometown area: a live nativity scene.  The congregants of the Nativity Lutheran and Bethlehem First United Methodist Churches gathered to tell the story of Jesus in the manger, and naturally there was a crowd of the devout.

The experience this time was different and somehow more poignant to me in a year of so much conflict and anything goes. Continue reading “Legislative Day 1: A Day of Hope?”

ATL Identity: Business, Trade, and Transportation

On a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I had the opportunity to take in the city’s art and restaurant scene, which I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone for a weekend.  More than just giving me loads of inspiration, the visit called me to reflect/question how a city’s identity is constructed.  Does the run of the mill Jane Smith typically reflect more on the history of a city or the trends of the present before she visits?  And what draws people to each city?  What makes them move there?  What makes them stay?  What drives them away?  Me?  I like low taxes and a great art scene.  I like walkability and commerce.  Others like quiet and quaint, picturesque views and still more love the hustle and bustle of of big city life.  As I focused my lens on Charlotte, I tried to think how my own city projects itself to the world.

Atlanta-rolling-1871Atlanta has a rich history, long before rising from the ashes of the Civil War.  My city, named Terminus, for its rail identity was one that sprang up from necessity of business, trade, and transportation.  Long before she ever became the Gateway to the South, Atlanta was buzzing with people moving to and fro, selling their wares and has always had a more transient population as a result.  Locals here know there are few true “native” Atlantans, as most Georgians coming from small towns move here to either try their hand at making it “big” in the “big city” or to escape the narrowness of living in a small town straight out of Faulkner.  My story was similar: farm girl grows up in Social Circle.  Studies hard in small town and attends the women’s’ college (Agnes Scott College) in small town close to bigger city.

I always like to ask people I meet why they moved here.  I know why I did, but I assume different strokes for different folks.  The resounding answer I tend to get is for “jobs” and the opportunity for upward mobility.  Is this legacy of a business oriented city still true?  Are we really a city that allows outsiders to come in and pull themselves up by the bootstraps to “make it”?  If so, how are we continuing to foster that image and promote growing business?

Atlanta has done a great job of promoting itself as a city “too busy to hate” and a place whose Mayor tries to be responsive to his business community.  Most recently, Mayor Reed had his Bobby Kennedy moment in the spot light as he tried to calm the #BlackLivesMatter movement protests in the streets.  In many ways, he navigated the storm well, with respect for the protestors and the blue line.  The moment Reed welcomed peaceful protests in the streets of Atlanta while asking them to stay out of the expressway was a moment I was truly proud of him!  I wish more people in the nation had the opportunity to see that side of our city.  In a city with a black mayor, a black city council, county commission and school board, we know from the bottom to the top that #blacklivesmatter here.

Mountaintop moments did not end in Atlanta with MLK, Jr. Continue reading “ATL Identity: Business, Trade, and Transportation”

Red Clay and the Challenge of Equality: To Be Mired In or Molded

georgiaredclayThe holiday season is drawing to a close, and soon the legislative session for the Georgia General Assembly will be upon us.  As the state closes out its year, we look to the future and what promise or plague our policy makers will bestow upon us.  I have spent an unhealthy amount of time this season pondering the fate of Georgia, as if I have any real means of addressing it.  I have not blogged in some time, as I have had little hope that the politics of the day are bearing anything other than strange fruit.  It is hard, even for an eternal optimist in these days of constant rain to see the silver lining.  Across the red hills, I see a lot of barriers that not only exist, but are perpetuated without real cognizance of their consequence.

Along with the temperature, I see the passion of Georgia’s people heating up like a kiln.  Many of us in the political sphere refer to this time as “the calm before the storm” of legislative session.  We spend time with our families, count our blessings, and prepare ourselves for the battle of will in government.  Under the surface though, there is something simmering here and in the nation that Presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement have accentuated and possibly exploited.

It is widely assumed that the upcoming session will be brief and not much policy other than education passed.  Incumbents need time to raise money and campaign in their districts.  This abbreviated session may be a mixed bag of course, addressing a big problem, yet not the only one the state faces.  I am grateful to see the QBE funding formula finally addressed (as the last time was almost before my birth), yet I cannot shake the very real feeling I have had for the last five years or so.

The General Assembly is thinking too small. Continue reading “Red Clay and the Challenge of Equality: To Be Mired In or Molded”

Über: Disrupting More Than Just Transportation

uber_appThis past week I had a flat tire, unexpectedly.  I was rushing out the door to a meeting and as I turned the corner, saw very plainly that the tire was not a slow leak, but an all-out flat.  Curses were said, patience tried, then I moved on.  Being undeterred, I decided to take Über- my go-to for any event where I avoid driving.  At the end of the day, I had very different drivers, all with a story to tell, all with an interesting perspective, and all who had strong feelings about their commitment to something large than themselves.  Some had children which motivated them, others did not.  Yet all felt compelled to do something- to go beyond the basic and I was left feeling that these were my kind of people.  It was an eye opening experience for me, and I hope it will be interesting for you as well.

First off, I do not typically talk casually about what I do.  For a long time I used to tell people I encountered and was certain I would not meet again I was a secretary or an events planner.  I did this because whenever I say I work in politics, people always want my opinion. Or, more accurately they wish for me to affirm their opinion as right because I am (in their eyes at the moment) some subject matter expert.  I’m not, and I tire of this easily.  It was especially difficult in my early twenties at bars in Buckhead when the boys buying drinks wanted to talk about the latest Presidential election or to impress me with their lack of knowledge of foreign policy. But those are posts for another type of blog; just know that I do not bring up what I do in conversation unless I am asked directly and I try to offer the most basic explanation possible before switching the conversation back to them.  It saves us all some headaches.  Trust me.

My first driver was a fellow Jeep driver, so I felt some level of connection to him with this.  We spent the first part of my thirty minute ride discussing Jeeps and other makes and models we had driven and considered driving.  I learned he was a musician and did some video production as a primary job with Über as his back-up.  Cool.  Made me think of all the film productions going on here in Georgia and I silently thanked the tax credits that have encouraged that sector’s growth.  The driver then asked me what I did and my answer seemed to engage him far more intensely than I had expected.  This could go south, quickly.

…But it didn’t. Continue reading “Über: Disrupting More Than Just Transportation”

The Driving Force Behind Our Quality of Life

1428555803-brief3-traffic3This week my family found ourselves a single car family. I do recognize that there are many families who exist every day as single car families and the struggles we faced this week are just another part of their normal lives. However, that aside, we still felt quite clever for figuring out how to get everyone everywhere they needed to be this week. See, we hatched a plan for our family to get up Wednesday morning, pack everyone into the car to drive my husband to work, then drive our one working car back home to do all of the things. (And yes, it did take us two days to figure this out, and you can giggle at us since this work flow is probably the most common solution for single car families). There is, however, a small difficulty with this brilliantly simple plan. See, we live in Gwinnett County…my husband is currently working at a client site in Vinings.

There are now three types of people reading this post:

  1. People who don’t live or work in the metro-Atlanta area, and are unfamiliar with the way Atlanta interstates are laid out. They read that sentence and are thinking, “So what?”
  2. People who don’t live or work in the metro-Atlanta area, but they know how Atlanta interstates are laid out (or they looked at a map). They read that sentence and are thinking, “That seems like a pretty direct shot.”
  3. People who live and work in the metro-Atlanta area. They read that sentence and are thinking, “Doh, y’all are screwed!”

The day came for us to implement our brilliant plan, so we left the house early (to “beat” rush hour), because we know that we’ll be riding with the traffic going in. Thankfully, our traffic sensing GPS directs us to the “fastest” route. Now, looking at the map, you’d think that route would be down I-85 and across I-285, but those of us in the metro know that’s just not the case. The GPS predictably sent us on the route with 6 bonus miles! This took us down I-85, all the way in to the top of the connector, and back up I-75 to I-285. More importantly, we had to repeat the “bonus mileage” journey to return home “against” traffic.

Atlanta-mapFor those keeping score, this is what our morning looked like:

  • We left the house at 6:30am
  • Total trip mileage should have been a little over 70 miles
  • Average interstate speed limit is in the 60 mph range
  • We just made it back to my eldest child’s first event…and it started at 9:30.

That’s nearly three hours for a roughly 70 mile journey with half of it being a “reverse commute.” Keep in mind that this was just our experience with morning rush hour (fortunately, my husband had a coworker bring him home that evening). Having to execute the roundtrip commute only served to shine a light on the quality of life issue that we face every day in the metro Atlanta area. The reality of an hour and a half commute for a thirty mile trip means that parents miss t-ball games and swim meets. It means that families don’t get to sit down to a meal at a kitchen table as a unit, or if they do, their children have to wait until 7pm or 8pm to eat. It also means that we’re losing three hours of productivity a day, productivity that could make our businesses more successful or our lives fuller.

The only people I’ve ever found who can identify with this madness are those who have lived in Los Angeles, but here in Atlanta we seem to accept this as a frustrating way of life. I hear lots of clamoring for more lanes on the interstates, new roads to divert thru traffic away from Atlanta, and other such suggestions. Those things have to happen, but realistically, they are not enough. We have that bill from this session that starts to address maintenance, now can we please talk about congestion relief?

P.S. – If you want to be a part of that conversation, come on out to the Wild Wing Café in Suwanee tonight at 7pm…the Gwinnett Young Republicans will be “Drinking and (Talking About) Driving”

Nuance in the John Wayne Era of Politics

John WayneSome months ago, I took great pride in being blocked on Facebook by a member of the Tea Party.  It was amusing to me as I had not only worked with this person before, but she also prides herself on being the voice of “grassroots” conservatism in Georgia (whatever that means), which tends to vocalize a lot of dissent.  For so many, they can dish it out yet cannot take it.  From my experience in politics in the peach state, people can call themselves anything nowadays and with a mic loud enough, others will believe them.  Uninformed assertions are more welcome than humble questions.  Yet for successful navigation of policy, business, and most human interactions a little nuance goes a long way.

“Nuance” is a word of French origin (but don’t hold that against it), coming from the infinitive of “nuer”, or “to shade”, referring to the slight shades of gray that are the embodiment of nuance- both literal and figuratively policy-wise.  So as we embark on the campaign cycle across Georgia, the black and white contrast between candidates will be hotly purported as a means of each candidate to differentiate him/herself from the other.  The otherwise gray-areas of difference between stances taken on transportation, RFRA, same-sex marriage, and the Opportunity School District will help sculpt the images of candidates in vibrant litmus-test tinged hues as office seekers assert they are the “true” conservative/progressive/believer/liberty lover/tax payer champion/ethics guru/patriot.

Take your pick.

This is somewhat amusing as we exist in an area of the country where the term “bless your heart” can mean so many different things.  There’s very few things more Southern than nuance.

Yankees don’t understand that the Southern way of talking is a language of nuance. What we can do in the South is we can take a word and change it just a little bit and make it mean something altogether different.~ Lewis Grizzard

Continue reading “Nuance in the John Wayne Era of Politics”

Raging Against the Machine

The AJC has recently reported that there is a “feud” going on in the state Senate chambers.  Jim Galloway wrote about the emailed newsletter following the adjournment of the General Assembly from Senator Bill Heath, in which Senator Heath describes Chicago style tactics happening under the Gold Dome.  Feel free to read it in its entirety.  Despite the fact that I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Galloway’s work, I will respectfully disagree that this is a feud, yet congratulate the AJC on the sensational headline choice.

Like Mr. Galloway, I watched as the Senator rose in opposition both to Floor Leader Miller and the Lt. Governor, yet my recollection of the evening’s events were a bit less sensational.  It should be said, I’m a big fan of Senator Heath, Floor Leader Miller AND our Lt. Governor.  Each gentleman is easy to like, the Lt. Governor and Floor Leader have self-depreciating senses of humor, and none of them are camera hogs- sort of a rarity in the Senate.  I got to know Senator Heath a bit when I served as a Senate Aide in 2010.  He has a quiet, stern, yet warm way about him.  He’s as straight as an arrow, and he is not a rabble rouser.  His policy stances and mine could probably not be farther apart, yet I respect the man immensely and it was for all of these reasons his raging against the Senate political machine that evening was eye opening.

Continue reading “Raging Against the Machine”

Bike Sharing is Coming to Atlanta

I am thrilled that the bike sharing movement has made its way to Atlanta. Being that the south is at best, a sore spot for overall health, I think this movement is an excellent step in a healthier direction. Through this initiative over five hundred bikes will be distributed around the city for shared. I have a few questions though.

  1. Who is paying for this?

This type of program is costly for sure and naturally my first question is… Where is this money coming from? Initially this program was sponsored by the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation and the City of Decatur. In Order for these bikes to hang around, additional sponsorship will be needed which I am sure will not be hard to find. Health conscious foundations and companies would be smart to back this program and it helps to keep costs down for consumers. Not to mention, healthier employees make for a better work place! So far so good.

  1. Is Atlanta a bike friendly city?

I personally do not remember the last time I rode a bike. Nor do I recall seeing a lot of bike lanes in this wonderful city of ours. So while I love the idea of saturating the city with bikes… Where will these go-getters ride?? The good thing is someone else thought this too. Atlantans recently voted to add 12 bike lanes to some major streets that would help create more routes for bikers. This would make cycling safer and people more willing to use them. It would create more opportunities for bikers to get from point a to point b safe and sound. Good job Atlantans.

  1. Do enough people live within biking distance of work/play to utilize this resource?

According to the Bike Share Feasibility Study, in the beginning stages the bikes would be available to about 15% of the Atlanta/ Decatur area. In the specific areas that it would cover, about half of the individuals who live there live within biking distance of their jobs. I’m no expert but this seems like a pretty decent start. I would love to see the culture of our city adjust to a lifestyle that would allow for a quick bike commute to become the norm. Not just because traffic here is horrific but also for the health benefits. It’s a win win.

  1. Are helmets provided?

No. They aren’t. Georgia law does not require individuals over 16 to to wear a helmet. So while people wouldn’t be breaking the law it definitely raises some concerns for me. Helmets keep you from smashing your head against the pavement so despite the fact that they are dubbed “uncool” they are kind of important. Especially if you are biking on a main road. I would hate to see an increase in head injuries because of this but I don’t expect many people to wear helmets if it’s not the law. Perhaps that’s another issue for another post though.

Overall, I think this is a win for Atlanta and a win for health. The potential environmental and traffic benefits were probably enough to convince us all that this is a step in the right direction. It appears that the technology accompanying this movement will make this addition an easy, fun and convenient one. It is very much in the early stages but I am definitely looking forward to sharing bikes with you all! More information is available here.


Tweet me your thoughts– @Lbriana12

Raises, Roads, and Retirement: What Not To Do

Yesterday the AP released a review of the Governor’s staff raises.   Last Thursday through the weekend, the Governor flew twelve General Assembly members and members of the press corp. out to New Orleans. Meanwhile, the General Assembly has proposed cutting teacher’s pensions, and raising our taxes for transportation.

Protip: Don’t do this all at once.

This is my eleventh legislative session, and while I have so much faith in Georgia’s future and confidence in the talent growing from this red clay, the leadership seems to be horribly out of touch with the basics of tact and honest brokering.  It has led me to question, “Is this legislative session to become a lesson in what NOT to do?” Continue reading “Raises, Roads, and Retirement: What Not To Do”