Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 12, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 12, 2017

John Percival, an Irish Member of Parliament who served as a Georgia Trustee, was born on July 12, 1733.

In the British House of Commons, Percival served on the committee on jails with a young member named James Oglethorpe, who shared his idea about a new colony in North America for the deserving poor. Percival, like Oglethorpe became a Georgia Trustee, and during Georgia’s first decade, with Oglethorpe in America, Percival worked harder than anyone to champion Georgia’s cause and secure its future.

The United States Army Medal of Honor was created on July 12, 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation authorizing the award.

The first U.S. Army soldiers to receive what would become the nation’s highest military honor were six members of a Union raiding party who in 1862 penetrated deep into Confederate territory to destroy bridges and railroad tracks between Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia.

Lt. Frank Reasoner of Kellogg, Idaho died in action on July 12, 1965 and was later posthumously awarded the first Medal of Honor to a United States Marines.

On July 12, 1984, Congresswoman Geradine Ferraro (R-NY) joined the Democratic ticket with Presidential nominee Walter Mondale. Ferraro was the first woman and first Italian-American woman nominated for Vice President. Mondale and Ferraro lost the General Election in the largest ever Republican landslide to Republican President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal announced that June state tax revenues were up 2.6 percent over June 2016.

Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that Georgia’s net tax collections for June totaled nearly $1.96 billion, for an increase of $50.2 million, or 2.6 percent, over last year. Year-to-date, net tax revenue collections totaled almost $21.75 billion, for an overall increase of $930.5 million, or 4.5 percent, compared to June 2016, when net tax revenues totaled $20.81 billion.

CNBC ranked Georgia the #2 Top State for Business.

The Peach State finished with 1,616 (finishing one point above the No. 3 state, Minnesota), rising six spots this year due in part to its economy — the best in the nation, according to our study — boasting solid state finances and solid growth. The state also finishes near the top for Workforce (No. 3) and Infrastructure (No. 4).

Senator Johnny Isakson is receiving favorable coverage for his leadership of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

As the rest of Congress fights over the health care overhaul and looming budget deadlines, the committees responsible for writing legislation affecting veterans are quietly moving forward with an ambitious, long-sought and largely bipartisan agenda that has the potential to significantly reshape the way the nation cares for its 21 million veterans. It could also provide President Trump with a set of policy victories he badly wants.

“It’s a case study in Washington working as designed,” said Phillip Carter, who studies veterans issues at the Center for a New American Security and advises Democrats. “And it’s shocking because we so rarely see it these days.”

“We don’t want to have a fight for fights’ sake. We want to find solutions,” said Johnny Isakson, the courtly Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “So when we have opposition to an issue from a member, we try to bring them into the fold and sometimes maybe address the concern they have.”

Mr. Isakson, 72, a former real estate executive, is among an increasingly rare breed of deal makers in the upper chamber. Those watching the 15-person committee say he has gone a long way to set the tone for its work. He has found a willing partner in Jon Tester of Montana, the committee’s top Democrat, who along with being a political moderate is up for re-election next year in a rural state that voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump.

“With Johnny at the helm, we’ve been able to get a lot of stuff done,” Mr. Tester said. “Do Johnny and I agree on everything? No, we don’t, but we believe we can communicate and move forward.”

Muscogee County taxpayers are seeing property tax reassessments as high as 1000 percent this year.

The drastic increase has outraged many taxpayers, some of whom showed up at Columbus Council on Tuesday morning. For the most part, they sat quietly in the audience while city representatives grilled tax assessment officials during a two and a half hour discussion. But at times, the crowd broke into applause.

“I just know from my law firm alone, on the low end people have come to us asking about bills at a 100 percent increase,” said Councilor Walker Garrett. “On the high end, we’ve got people that have over a 1,000 percent increase. Why are we not flagging these before people get alarmed and they see their properties go up 10 times within a year? I mean that’s got to be obvious that there’s some sort of error in the system.”

Jeanette Brown, a Upatoi resident, said her family has owned her property since 1968. She said her property tax assessment jumped from about $400 to $1,807 this year.

“I don’t get that much a month,” she said. “They saying about they took pictures of the house years ago and then they took pictures now and overlapped it. That don’t mean nothing.”

She said the house was valued at $35,000 prior to the recent assessment, and no improvements were made. Now it’s valued at $107,000.

Councilor Glenn Davis said councilors are elected to represent their constituents, and he’s very concerned.

“My constituency is, quite frankly, mad as hell,” he said to the applause of the audience. “I don’t use that word much, and I don’t think I’ve used it before in council chambers.”

The Georgia ACLU is threatening to sue over letters sent to Fulton County residents.

The ACLU of Georgia says a letter mailed to nearly 50,000 Fulton County voters, telling them they could be declared inactive because they filed change of address forms but didn’t update their voter registration, is illegal.

The letter states that voters have 30 days to confirm their address on their registration record before being deemed inactive, meaning they could be removed in the future. ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean J. Young said the organization plans to sue if Fulton doesn’t correct the issue.

The mailers referenced by the ACLU in its Tuesday letter specifically involve voters who have moved within Fulton County.

In a letter to the Secretary of State’s office and Fulton County, Young calls the mailing a “voter purge,” something Fulton Director of Elections and Registration Richard Barron said proves the ACLU simply doesn’t understand the process to check where voters live.

The mailing, Barron said, is sent every two years to voters who have submitted a change of address to the postal service, had county mail returned as undeliverable or has not voted within the past three years.

Under state law, registered voters who do not respond to address confirmation notices within 30 days are designated as inactive — something that does not prevent them from voting and does not change their registration status.

Some legislators want to require paper receipts for voting.

Representative Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, filed House Bill 641, which would require that any new machines the state buys would have to print out paper “receipts” for voters.

“If there is a malfunction of any type or sort, the voter’s going to be able to see right way, before their vote is actually cast that there’s been a problem and they can fix it right there,” explained Rep. Turner.

The state currently has about 27,000 direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, which it began purchasing in 2002.

“How frequently do we update our iPhones or our computers?  Are any of us using systems from back in 2002?  I don’t think so,” said State Representative Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta.  “And that’s the system that we’re using for our voting?  It’s insane.  It’s time to fix it.”

Rep. Holcomb hopes lawmakers can pass legislation and the state can secure a contract for replacement of the machines in time for the statewide elections in November 2018.

““I can’t really see any legitimate opposition to what we’re trying to do,” said Rep. Holcomb.  “This is a system that we know can be accessed, we know it can be hacked and there is no way that we can ensure that each vote is counted without moving to a system that provides for lack of a better term, a receipt that the voters can look at.”

Great idea, guys. Let’s spend millions of dollars replacing a system that has never had an actual problem with something newer and shinier. Meanwhile neglecting actual problems.

Varnell City Council voted to eliminate the municipal police department and turn over local policing to the Whitfield County Sheriff.

Councilman Jan Pourquoi made a motion to eliminate the entire agency, which employs five full-time officers and four or five part-timers. Councilman David Owens seconded the motion, and Councilwoman Andrea Gordy sided with them, tipping the scales. Councilwoman Ashlee Godfrey was the lone “no” vote, though Mayor Anthony Hulsey said he opposed the decision.

Owens later said shedding the department will save the city money and boost its reputation after some controversial cases. He told residents to expect more money for playgrounds and a community center coordinator.

“It’s going to free up a lot of funds for this council to use for quality of life purposes,” he said. “… There will be a lot of good to come back to citizens.”

Godfrey, however, criticized the other council members for rushing the decision. They had not moved to eliminate the department publicly before the vote, and she believes the elected officials should have held weeks of meetings to discuss everything about what would happen next.

“You plan those things,” she said. “That’s any decision in life — at least it should be.”

[Chief Lyle] Grant said the decision to disband the department was politically motivated. He said Pourquoi, who filed the motion for Tuesday’s vote, is going to run for mayor in November, when three council seats are also up for election. Grant believes Pourquoi is trying to garner attention, though he wasn’t clear about why this would win him votes.

Rural Georgia

Trump Pence Sign

Cordele, Georgia, July 10, 2017

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle convened the Senate Health Care Reform Task Force in Tifton on Monday.

“It’s not a one size fits all and there’s not a silver bullet. We have to be committed to really helping rural Georgia meet the needs they have to give patients a quality-based health care system, obviously at a price they can afford as well,” Cagle said.

He said Georgia is going to be a leader in innovation with health care on Monday.

“We’re excited to really look to the new waivers and ways in which we can deliver a better healthcare service to all our citizens of Georgia at a much more affordable price,” Cagle said.

A few resources are patient centered medical homes and telemedicine. These services give those in more rural areas access to healthcare at their fingertips.

Microsoft announced it will invest significant funds to bring broadband internet access to rural areas.

Microsoft President Brad Smith laid out his vision on Tuesday for a new effort to bring broadband internet access to rural communities.

In a blog post, Smith said that the U.S. should aim to eliminate the urban-rural internet access gap by July 4, 2022. He emphasized that the best way to approach the issue is by taking advantage of “TV white spaces” — television broadcast waves that are unused, which “enables wireless signals to travel over hills and through buildings and trees,” Smith writes.

“It’s why people could watch television programs in rural communities long before the advent of satellite television,” he wrote. “Microsoft itself has considerable experience with this spectrum, having deployed 20 TV white spaces projects in 17 countries that have served 185,000 users.”

He called for the federal and local governments to free up spectrum for the effort, invest matching funds in private sector projects and provide updated data on rural broadband coverage.

Microsoft also plans to step up its investment into broadband expansion projects.

“We will invest in the upfront capital projects needed to expand broadband coverage, seek a revenue share from operators to recoup our investment, and then use these revenue proceeds to invest in additional projects to expand coverage further. We’re confident that this approach is good for the country and even for our business.”

Gizmodo has details on how it will work.

On the regional level, we’ll need to build special base stations, equip them with white space antennas, and supply them with electricity. (Solar power is an option for base stations that are off the electric grid.) On the local level, white space customers will need to access to special receivers that can turn the white space signal into something their computer understands, like wi-fi. All of this will cost money.

Customers will have to buy the hardware for their homes at a sobering price of $1,000 or more, but Microsoft says these costs will come down to $200 per device by next year. That’s not nothing for a lot of rural Americans, and then they’ll have to pay for access — a fee that Microsoft says will be “price competitive” with regular old cable internet (again: not cheap).

A story in Advertising Age has a tantalizing tidbit about Georgia:

Politicians have been talking about fixing the shortfall in rural access for years. Recently, much of the spending on connectivity has added capacity to areas already connected rather than hooking up new ones, Smith said. Some of the $7.2 billion spent on rural broadband in President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill was wasted, said Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. Aid went to more prosperous areas that may be more profitable for providers but did little to expand access, he said recently.

[Microsoft President [Brad] Smith, who is from Appleton, Wisconsin, and other Microsoft officials have been visiting small-town America since November. They’ve met with students who drive to library parking lots to piggyback off the Wi-Fi to turn in homework and veterans who are hours from VA clinics but could use telemedicine if only they had a decent internet connection. Microsoft’s initial projects will be in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Medicaid cuts being discussed in Washington could dramatically impact rural health care.

Republican bills to replace the federal health law would worsen rural areas’ financial straits through reductions in Medicaid funding. Patient advocates predict that would lead to fewer enrollees, more shutdowns of rural facilities, reduced payments to doctors and fewer programs for people with health needs or disabilities. In the aggregate, such changes threaten the health of thousands of state residents, especially those in rural areas.

“I’ve seen changes, and I’ve seen cuts, but I’ve never seen changes like what’s being proposed in this bill,” said Eric Jacobson, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. “This is the first time it’s been this scary.”

“Cuts now would cripple rural Georgia,” said Dr. Ben Spitalnick, president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

He said that is because most primary care visits, which include OB-GYN, pediatric and adult care, in the state’s sparsely populated areas rely heavily on Medicaid reimbursements.

The federal cutbacks would have to be offset by the state. But that means taking money from other programs or raising taxes. As a result, state officials facing those shortfalls would likely scale back an already lean Medicaid coverage.

“If you cut back, [people] still go to the hospital, they’ll still need care. No matter what you do, the buck stops somewhere,” said Renee Unterman, a Republican state senator who chairs the health and human services committee. In the end, she added, the cost for that uncompensated care gets passed to taxpayers and consumers through higher health costs and insurance premiums.

Trump Heartbeat

Cordele, Georgia, July 10, 2017

How “Dirty Money” made it to GA-6

A website called Backpage is in the news over allegations that it created an online market for trafficking underage children.

For years, Backpage executives have adamantly denied claims made by members of Congress, state attorneys general, law enforcement and sex-abuse victims that the site has facilitated prostitution and child sex trafficking. Backpage argues it is a passive carrier of “third-party content” and has no control of sex-related ads posted by pimps, prostitutes and even organized trafficking rings. The company contends it removes clearly illegal ads and refers violators to the police.

Among the sex ads posted on Backpage.com are those for underage boys and girls, authorities and advocacy groups say. The National Association of Attorneys General has described Backpage as a “hub” of human trafficking, which involves children or adults who are forced or coerced into prostitution. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said that 73 percent of the 10,000 child sex trafficking reports it receives from the public each year involve ads on Backpage.

It’s a long and sordid story. Here’s where it gets interesting from a political perspective. The website’s founder donated $10k to a Democratic PAC, which then spent $700k in Georgia’s special election for the Sixth Congressional District.

A political action committee formed to help elect Democrats to the House says it will no longer accept contributions from people associated with the company Backpage, an advertising business that has been under fire for allegations that it enabled prostitution and sex trafficking.

In October, Backpage founder James Larkin donated $10,000 to the House Majority PAC, and to several Democratic efforts in Arizona and Colorado, according to the elections clearinghouse website opensecrets.org.

A statement from an official with the Democratic House Majority PAC seemed to imply that they weren’t able to return the donations, but said it would no longer take money from the company.

“The contribution from James Larkin was received and spent during the 2016 election cycle,” said Charlie Kelly, Executive Director of House Majority PAC, in an email to the Washington Examiner. “The allegations against Larkin are reprehensible, and HMP will not accept any future contributions from Larkin or his associates at [Backpage].”

The House Majority PAC has been an instrument for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to try to increase the Democrats’ numbers in the lower chamber of Congress. The political action committee recently spent about $700,000 in the recent special election in Georgia, in which Democrats hoped to show they were gaining momentum against the Trump administration by plucking off a safe Republican seat. The efforts didn’t pay off however, as the GOP kept the seat.

2018 Elections

Judge John Ellington announced he raised $370k for his campaign for an open seat on the Georgia Supreme Court.

Considering we launched this campaign just a few short weeks ago, I’m encouraged by the tremendous support we’ve received from throughout the state, from Ringgold to St. Marys and all points in between,” said retired Appeals Court Judge Herbert Phipps, the campaign’s treasurer. “Our donations come from Republicans and Democrats, business leaders, law enforcement and every segment of the legal community.”

Ellington’s report will show more than 500 individual donors, which include the board chairs of the Georgia Ports Authority, the Regents and the Department of Natural Resources. The campaign is yet to incur any expenses so the total raised is also cash on hand.

“While this is a great start, it’s just a start,” said Ellington. “I’ll work hard until the election next year to raise the significant funds needed to communicate with voters in a state with 10 million people. I appreciate all those who have shown their faith in this effort. After many years serving on every level of court in Georgia, I’m running for the Supreme Court because I believe an excellent judiciary is critical to the quality of life of Georgians.”

Matt Reeves announced he raised $55k running in Senate District 48, being vacated by Sen. David Shafer.

Republican Houston Gaines raised $65k in a campaign for House District 117, which is currently held by State Rep. Regina Quick (R).

“I’m running for House District 117 because this community has been home my entire life, and I want to serve my neighbors by working for better educational opportunities for our children, good-paying jobs and new investment in transportation options to improve mobility,” said Gaines. “I believe in low taxes and smaller government, the value of free enterprise and personal responsibility – and as a lifelong Republican in this community, I always have.”

Gaines, a third-generation Northeast Georgian, is a consultant for a local company that works with nonprofits to increase mission awareness, organizational effectiveness and philanthropic support. He is a former student body president at the University of Georgia and a 2015 graduate of LEAD Athens. Gaines sits on several local nonprofit boards and has been actively engaged with local and state government.

“It’s time for a new generation, a new conservative voice at the Gold Dome for District 117 voters in Clarke, Oconee, Jackson and Barrow counties,” Gaines said. “I want to be that voice for my neighbors, and my neighbors can trust that my principles won’t change based on political calculations. That’s the choice that our campaign is providing the voters. My grandfather, Judge Joseph Gaines, served this community for more than 30 years with dignity and honor. I want to carry on that legacy by giving back like he did.”

Gaines’ 120 donors include respected members of the community such as Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson, Oconee County Commission Chairman John Daniell, Oconee County Board of Education Chairman Tom Odom, other elected officials, business owners and citizens of all walks of life. His campaign advisers include Tom Willis and Brian Robinson, who previously served as campaign manager and communications director respectively for Gov. Nathan Deal.

Former State Rep. Doug McKillip announced in April that he will run against Quick.

Nathan Foster will run for the Snellville City Council seat being vacated by Bobby Howard.

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