Ooooh, nothing like pissing off the alterkockers before 10am.
Yesterday, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens came to speak at the Jewish Educational Alliance, and before I could even start asking him annoying questions, I got into it with two extremely conservative members of the community about Edward Snowden, the NSA and President Obama.
“Snowden’s a traitor!” groused one gent. “Should be extradited back here and strung up by his toes!”
“That sorry excuse for a president, it’s all his fault,” nodded the other. “Using the NSA to spy on innocent Americans. Outrageous.”
I turned around. “Excuse me, but wasn’t it President Bush who passed the Patriot Act that allows the NSA to collect information? And if you’re so upset about the government spying on you, why wouldn’t you consider Snowden a hero?”
They both looked at me, shook their heads and said “Feh! What do you know? You liberals…”
Usually I avoid these kinds of
confrontations conversations at all costs but I just adore these guys, and I think the debate is good prep for arguing with my children. But before I could find out what my Republican friend had to say about liberals, JEA director Adam Solender took the podium. He was followed by a new member whose name I didn’t catch but who works for the FBI, a fitting warm-up for the number one lawyer in the state.
AG Olens forewent the podium, pacing and talking at our level. He was considering the audience when he introduced himself as the first Jewish candidate to win any elected position in Georgia, but promised, “I didn’t campaign on those grounds.”
Affable and clearly passionate about his job, Olens is an unapologetic conservative, which you’d need to be to win anything at the state level around here. I liked him anyway, even after he told us he’d recently helped broker the settlement between South Carolina environmental groups and his biggest client, the Georgia Port Authority, over the legality of Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or as I prefer to call it, The Dread River Dredging. (I’ve written just a leetle bit about it here, here and here.)
He’s touting the party line, and I can forgive him for that, since he’s made tremendous headway in other social issues near and dear: He’s been instrumental in keeping Georgia’s open records laws full of sunshine and has helped write a bill that will ensure that those ubiquitous strip mall pain clinics are medically supervised instead of just Oxycontin-pushing “pill mills.”
My favorite piece of Olens legislation is by far HB 200, a sex-trafficking bill that goes after not only the pimps that kidnap and prostitute young girls, but also the sick pigs who create the demand.
“Georgia has one of the highest sex-trafficking rates in the country,” he told us. “We’re trying to attack the problem from different angles.”
HB 200 also includes a partnership with the FBI to help educate hotel workers and requires law enforcement training so that young women caught in this modern slave trade can be recognized. Anywhere that hosts large sporting events or conventions is magnet for sex trafficking, and Olens described how the bill enabled a huge “Georgia’s Not Buying It” awareness campaign during this year’s Final Four championships in Atlanta.
“If it scared one person away, then it’s helping,” he said.
AG Olens also touched on immigration reform (“There’s total dysfunction in Washington at the moment,” he said frankly) and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s lawsuit against the EPA for allowing King America Finishing to keep dumping toxic effluent (“Uh, let’s move on,” he grinned sheepishly.)
He talked about his partnership with Facebook CEO Cheryl Samberg that aims to help parents keep their kids safe online, and his total disgust with Obamacare (“Employers are going to choose to pay the penalty than keep paying for their employee’s rising insurance premiums.”)
Of course this yenta asked what he had to say about the NSA, and he gave a measured response that lambasted people who are trying to make this a political foothold instead of looking out for America’s safety.
The alterkockers harumphed behind me.
That’s cool, I’m used to being the weirdo in the room. I enjoyed the chance to talk with AG Olens in such an accessible atmosphere – programming director Jenn Rich is doing a kicktush job of bringing interesting folks to the JEA, and I can’t wait to see who the alterkockers and I get to hear next.
I can always use the sparring practice.
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My provocation for the week: Southern Jewish right winginess is an assimilationist strategy.
I’ll buy that, Dan. Especially ’round these parts.