Wednesday, March 16, 2011

16 MAR 11: The Audacity of Less HOPE

Why is it in the world of politics that "hope" is such a Democratic word? President Clinton believed in a "place called Hope." President Obama wrote a book with the title we're borrowing today. And the last time Republicans were thrilled about something named Hope, it was a comedian named Bob.

Georgia Governor Zell Miller was a full-fledged Democrat when he signed the HOPE Scholarship program into law. But Tuesday, Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill making major changes in the rules. The bill was called "Enduring HOPE," but the circumstances remind me of an old Sandra Bullock movie - trying to keep HOPE afloat.

Governor Nathan Deal says HOPE had to be scaled back, because the trust fund built from Georgia Lottery money faced a $300 million deficit by July 2012. But part of this adjustment doesn't seem quite right. For one thing, shouldn't the budget-balancing project have been given to high school math students as a college preparatory exam?

The biggest change in the HOPE program is that the bar for a full scholarship will go up. Georgia high school seniors will need a 3.7 grade point average, instead of 3.0. They'll also need a score of 1200 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test - which is about 250 points below the current Georgia average. So only part of the bar really is going up, and that seems crooked to critics.

Students with a grade point average between 3.0 and 3.7 will receive a partial HOPE scholarship, covering 90 percent of tuition. Those children in the latest Georgia Lottery ad must be thrilled - because all they asked to control was 70 percent.

The Georgia General Assembly moved quickly to approve Enduring HOPE. Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill only three weeks after he announced it -- which in legislative timing is almost like playing an "Instant Win" scratch game.

But not all Georgians are happy with the HOPE adjustments. Georgia NAACP President Edward DuBose is threatening to call a boycott of the state lottery. At last we may have found the issue where DuBose can team up with Jerry Luquire of the Georgia Christian Coalition -- although I'm not sure DuBose would be welcome at some of the churches which back Luquire.

Edward DuBose seems especially upset with the end of HOPE money covering college textbooks. In a news conference this week, he called it a case of "rob the poor and give to the rich." As if the Mega Millions game wasn't set up that way already?

(WRBL had better be careful, or Edward DuBose will boycott it as well - for borrowing from Jesse Jackson and titling the bill-signing "Keeping HOPE Alive.")

In a way, Edward DuBose's proposal to boycott the Georgia Lottery is a stroke of genius. African-American residents who don't buy tickets will have more guaranteed money in their pockets - money they'll need for those college textbooks, if convenience stores don't take it first with higher gas prices.

But opponents of this protest say a boycott will leave even less money in the lottery trust fund, and prompt the governor to make even more adjustments. Before you know it, a classic Frank Sinatra song would be back on TV - without the final "s" in the title.

The Enduring HOPE bill also will bring adjustments in the Georgia pre-Kindergarten program. Governor Nathan Deal wanted to reduce classes from full-day to four hours per day, but changed his mind after a lot of parents complained. Pre-K for a half-day could take too many jobs away....

-> Our other blog starts with poker, then goes in directions you might not expect. Visit "On the Flop!" <-

BLOG UPDATE: Comedian Gilbert Gottfried apologized Tuesday for the Japan disaster jokes which cost him a "spokes-duck" job with Aflac. A pair of Twitter messages called it "an attempt at humor" -- adding: "I meant no disrespect." We'll have to see if Gottfried's career now has a core meltdown of its own.

While Aflac disapproved of Gilbert Gottfried's humor, his number of Twitter followers has jumped by more than 13,000 since Monday night. I read one comment Tuesday night accusing Aflac of censorship. That's strange - I don't think Aflac hired any hackers to remove Gottfried's jokes from the Internet.

(Several Twitter users put it much better than I have - Gilbert Gott-fired.)

Meanwhile, THE BIG BLOG DUCK HUNT remains open for your "audition tape" to replace Gilbert Gottfried. Record your short audio clip (no videos) of a duck saying "Aflac," and e-mail it to the blog. We'll let readers vote for the best duck voice - but no, I refuse to call this contest Aflac Idol.

Let's set our sights on other Tuesday topics....

+ Republican activist Meghan McCain headlined a Women's Leadership Conference at the Cunningham Center. Too bad the Georgia Legislature was in session - because State Senator Josh McKoon missed a golden romantic opportunity.

(McCain admitted to reporters when she took an active role with her father's 2008 presidential campaign, some advisers wanted her to lose weight. There must be a better way to illustrate the bloated federal budget than this.)

+ Phenix City Central High School hosted a forum on dropout students. One school official told WTVM the dropout rate in Phenix City is only three percent, compared with 12 percent across Alabama. Take that, Jimmy Wetzel! The project with the classic car was worth every dollar the school superintendent spent on it.

+ WXTX showed commercials urging soldiers to move to a housing development in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Huh?! Is there a second part to base realignment that the Chamber of Commerce has kept hidden for years?

+ Alabama coasted past Coastal Carolina 68-44 in the National Invitational Tournament. Then Clemson clobbered Alabama-Birmingham 70-52 on opening night of the NCAA men's tournament. Maybe the selection committee didn't know there's a school with a similar name in Tuscaloosa.

+ Instant Message to attorney Glennon Threatt: Is it safe to assume your client "Al from Dadeville" hasn't received any invitations to Earth Day events?

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