"Four years as a congressman, he [U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson] never talked about MARTA."
Vernon Jones on Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 in a candidate forum
Congressman quiet on MARTA, Jones says
The population growth spurt in southeast DeKalb County over the past two decades has resulted in a grim reality: Traffic can be torture.
In recent years, elected officials have talked about extending the region's rail service, MARTA, farther east in DeKalb to make commuting easier for area residents.
Vernon Jones, a Democrat and former DeKalb County CEO who is running for Congress to represent the area, has complained incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson has not done enough to help MARTA since the congressman went to Washington in 2007.
Here's one verbal volley by Jones from a June 3 candidate forum in southeast Atlanta: "Four years as a congressman, he [Johnson] never talked about MARTA."
Never? Isn't that a little bit extreme?
"You can't find anything where Hank has talked about MARTA," Jones said in a telephone interview last week.
Well, PolitiFact Georgia decided to do a little exploring.
A spokesman for Johnson, who represents Georgia's 4th Congressional District, sent PolitiFact Georgia a letter dated July 10, 2009, from the congressman to U.S. Rep. John Olver. Olver is a Democrat from Massachusetts who is chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and other issues. Johnson asked for $9 million to help MARTA buy clean-fuel buses. Johnson also requested money for MARTA's I-20 East Transit Corridor and Clifton Corridor studies.
"How much did [Johnson] get?" asked Jones.
Johnson testified before Olver's committee on April 15, making another pitch for the I-20 rail study. He also asked the committee for $12 million to help MARTA buy new buses, to repair others and for security cameras.
"They're pretty inaccurate and unfair," Johnson's spokesman, Andy Phelan, said of Jones' claims.
Jones and Johnson, most DeKalb politicos know, worked together on the County Commission. Jones was DeKalb's chief executive officer from 2001 to 2008. Johnson was a county commissioner from 2001 to 2006, representing much of southeast DeKalb.
Since 2009, Johnson has been a co-sponsor of four separate pieces of federal legislation that obtained $5.725 million for MARTA, agency records show. The bulk of that money, $4 million, was for the acquisition of clean-fuel buses.
Jones argued that Johnson has been a bit player in these efforts to get money for MARTA.
"Hank is the least senior member [of the lawmakers who co-sponsored the legislation]," Jones said. "You cannot say he brought that money back [to Georgia]."
Jones contends that Johnson did not get serious about his interest in MARTA until Jones began talking about the transit system on the campaign trail. Johnson was appointed earlier this year to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Shortly afterward, Johnson and his wife took a first-class trip on MARTA with the agency's CEO as his guide through the district.
The fact remains that Johnson has talked about MARTA. The support of veteran congressmen such as Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson and Rep. John Lewis likely played a greater factor in getting the $5.7 million, but Johnson was a co-sponsor.
If Jones had simply stated that he does not believe Johnson has done enough for MARTA, he might had dodged the Truth-O-Meter. But with his "never" declaration, the former CEO wandered right into the path of the dreaded device.
Things are heating up in DeKalb County politics, it seems. We give Jones a Pants on Fire for this one.