Nathan Deal offered a window into selection of new MARTA CEO

The Dunwoody MARTA station. The station is across the street from the High Street property that is a possible location for Amazon’s second headquarters — should the company choose Atlanta for its new home away from home. CASEY SYKES / CASEY.SYKES@AJC.COM

Certain signals that have been flashed over the last few days bode well for the issue of transportation in metro Atlanta.

Last week, MARTA board chair Robbie Ashe named Chris Tomlinson, the executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, as a non-voting member of the search committee for a new general manager to replace Keith Parker.

That may not sound like much, but given the suspicion that has existed between MARTA and state authorities over the last several decades, it’s not just important, but unprecedented.

For the first time, through Tomlinson, a sitting governor will have a window into the process. Moreover, unless he pulls a Dick Cheney, the move signals that Tomlinson isn’t in line for the position.

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On Saturday, the 10th District/Baldwin County GOP hosted a Republican gubernatorial forum that featured the four major candidates. Two of the candidates addressed transportation in terms that metro Atlanta business interests would appreciate:

First there was Hunter Hill, the former state senator from Buckhead:

“Transportation is a foundational, economic development issue for our state. It’s also a constitutional priority that our leaders should fund. In the ‘70s, when Georgia and Atlanta, in particular, were growing at a rapid rate, transportation was 15 percent of the budget. The career politicians have underfunded this core competency of government, and now they always come to you and ask for a tax increase to fund what should have been funded on the front end.

“That’s why, as a constitutional conservative, we ought to prioritize transportation funding, and I am for larger investments in transportation, because that is directly attributable to job growth and economic growth for our people. I’m for funding transportation from the general fund…There are meaningful projects that we have discussed for years, but career politicians have not been willing to bring the resources to bear to get them done, to move our state forward.”

Hill called for doubling the state’s financial commitment to transportation, “without raising taxes.”

Then came Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who didn’t hesitate to use the word “transit.” Said he:

“Absolutely. Transit is a big piece, a tool in the toolbox that is going to be critically important, just like we’re dealing with Amazon coming to our state. Transit is a part of that decision as well.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been emphasizing rural Georgia in his policy statements, and continued to do so:

“My first question is going to be is how much is it going to cost, and who’s going to pay for it. Nobody likes congestion in Atlanta, but to relieve that congestion, what’s it going to cost you in Milledgeville or Baldwin County?”

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On another topic, state Sen. Mike Williams of Cumming, also a GOP candidate for governor, appeared to be the only major candidate willing to consider the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes in the state. Said Williams:

“I know there are parents out there who are suffering. I do not believe that the government needs to be in their way. We need allow access … to make sure they can take care of their family members.”

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At the same forum, dozens of Republicans picked their favorites for the slate of open GOP seats: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle won the straw poll for governor, former state Rep. Geoff Duncan led the tight field for lieutenant governor, state Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, topped a close secretary of state race and Shane Mobley bested the field for insurance commissioner. See the results here.  And click here if you’d like to listen to the entire debate. (Greg Bluestein)

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No doubt, many of you raised an eyebrow when you read a recent piece by the AJC’s Dan Klepal that began thusly:

If the next Atlanta mayor wants to make a change in the Atlanta Beltline’s chief executive office, it’ll cost taxpayers $600,000.

Brian McGowan, who took over as the Beltline’s CEO last month, has a three-year contract that pays him $300,000 annually. The contract includes a stipulation that McGowan gets two full years of salary if he is terminated without cause.

But some of us were hit by a wave of nostalgia. Decades ago, one of the most corrupt practices in state government was known as “involuntary separation.”

Originally intended to protect civil servants during regime changes, a state law was passed to give fired individuals instant and lifetime pensions – which were paid as if the sacked individual had worked until age 65, even if he were only 40. Governors quickly learned to subvert it.

If you wanted to reward a supporter, you gave him a state job. But if you really, really liked him, you then arranged for that job to be abolished. And your friend was set for life.

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State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, a long-time Republican powerbroker in Cobb County, faces a Democratic challenger who could grab a lot of attention over the next year. Jen Slipakoff of Kennesaw has attracted national attention advocating for LGBTQ issues, in part because her 9-year-old daughter Allie is transgender. She faces a tough battle. Ehrhart is the longest serving Republican in the Georgia House. (GB)

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., once got heat for asserting that he would look to Tennessee’s Bob Corker as an example in the Senate. We’re guessing Perdue, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, might have a different view of his GOP colleague after Sunday’s Twitter back-and-forth, which crescendoed into this lede in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

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Speaking of U.S. Sen. David Perdue, his legal immigration bill got another big lift from the White House on Sunday. Many of the key principles from his legislation — including moving to a more merit-based system, ending a diversity lottery and limiting the types of family members given visas — were included in the immigration wish list President Donald Trump unveiled last night — demands the president may ask for in exchange for providing legal status to so-called “dream kids.” (Tamar Hallerman)

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In our coverage of Equifax last week, we quoted U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who compared the awarding of a new IRS contract to the credit bureau to “giving Lindsay Lohan the keys to the minibar.” It turns out Lohan’s parents aren’t too pleased with the comparison and are planning to sue the freshman senator for slander. (TH)

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