Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 5, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 5, 2017

On December 5, 1887, Georgia voters approved a new State Constitution and voted to keep the state capital in Atlanta instead of moving it back to Milledgeville.

On December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing the 18th Amendment and ending prohibition. Earlier that day, Pennsylvania and Ohio had ratified the Amendment.

On December 5, 2000, the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou was released.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Today is runoff election day for the City of Atlanta Mayor’s race and a number of municipal runoff elections, as well as state legislative runoffs.

The most interesting story today involves $310,000 paid by the Keisha Lance Bottoms for Atlanta Mayor campaign to the Georgia Democratic Party. I learned about it on Twitter.

KLB_DPG

Here’s a link to the two pages from Lance Bottoms’s disclosures showing the payments. You can look up the original document in its entirety here.

There are two reasons to do that. One is if you can get the party to do things you’re not willing to have your name attached to. The second reason is that state party organizations can send direct mail at the nonprofit rate, dramatically reducing the cost of mail.

Democrats Bee Nguyen and Sachin Varghese face off today in a special runoff election for State House District 89.

Both candidates in a runoff for a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives were often told by their immigrant parents to keep their heads down and stay out of trouble.

But no matter who wins Tuesday, they’ll make waves by becoming either Georgia’s first Vietnamese-American or Indian-American state representative.

Bee Nguyen, the founder of an education nonprofit, faces Sachin Varghese, an attorney, in the runoff for an eastern Atlanta district formerly held by Stacey Abrams, who is now running for governor.

Nguyen and Varghese, both Democrats, led a field of four Democratic candidates in the Nov. 7 special election for House District 89, a majority-black district that includes Cedar Grove, Druid Hills, East Atlanta, Edgewood, Gresham Park and Kirkwood.

The candidates, both 36 years old, say their upbringing influenced their priorities: public education, equal rights and health care access.

Lee Jenkins and Lori Henry meet in the runoff election for Mayor of Roswell.

Polk County Board of Education District 6 will elect a new school board member in today’s runoff election.

Only voters who live within the District 6 boundary are being asked to come back to the polls at the Rockmart precinct in the Nathan Dean Community Center at 60 Goodyear St. are being asked to come back to the polls one last time this year to decide between Judy Wiggins and Chris Culver.

Two Special Elections have been scheduled for January 9, 2018.

Two special elections will be held Jan. 9 to fill the seats in the Georgia General Assembly left vacant by former Sen. Rick Jeffares and former Rep. Brian Strickland.

Jeffares, R-McDonough, resigned to compete in a crowded field for Georgia lieutenant governor to replace Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor. Besides Jeffares, other Republican candidates for lieutenant governor include Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, and state Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming.

Strickland, R-McDonough, is running to replace Jeffares in the state Senate. Gov. Nathan Deal called for the elections Monday.

Senate District 17 seat covers parts of Henry, Newton and Rockdale counties. House District 111 is in Henry County. The field of candidates will be set by the end of this week. Candidates can file to run for office from Wednesday to Friday.

Former Attorney General Sam Olens spoke about sex trafficking and drug abuse.

“We as a community, and I’m principally talking to men now, need to ensure a culture of respect, because you and I both know that a lot of times when you’re watching those commercials on TV during a football game, and that lady is not dressed fully, you’re smiling at your teenage son and sending the opposite advice, the opposite counsel. If you don’t think there’s a correlation between dating violence, dating rape, sex trafficking, sexual assault — it is all part of the same continuum, and we as men need to educate our sons about respecting women,” Olens said, which drew loud applause from the audience.

Olens said the sex trafficking trade has become a form of “modern-day slavery” for children, often between the ages of 12 to 14 who may have experienced prior sexual abuse, face mental health problems or addiction, and/or who may have run away from home. Signs of sex trafficking, he said, may include habitual truancy, unexplained physical trauma, branding on one’s body and traveling with an unrelated older person.

According to Olens, more than 64,000 Americans died last year from opioid overdoses, making it the leading cause of death of Americans under age 50. Of those deaths, more than 1,400 were from Georgia.

Locally, the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office’s 2016 report says the county saw last year 141 drug- and alcohol-related deaths. More than half of those deaths, 73, involved heroin or fentanyl, a substance similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent.

The impact of sex trafficking is evident in the eight to 10 cases currently pending in the county, Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds said.

Reynolds said he believes the two topics Olens presented were crucial for chamber members to hear, and he hopes the local business community will partner with law enforcement and local nonprofits who focus on those issues in order to make the Cobb community safer.

“I think he did a good job of highlighting to an audience that perhaps, through no fault of their own, they just are not aware of some of the issues that law enforcement and part of our community is dealing with on a daily basis,” Reynolds said. “We have a high number of overdose deaths here in Cobb based on opioid and heroin addiction, so these business people need to know about it … and they need to hear the fact that there is human trafficking occurring in the metro area, and Cobb is not exempt.”

Some Gwinnett County residents are asking commissioners to keep Sunday early voting.

The proposed $1.67 billion 2018 county budget includes money for one six-hour day of Sunday voting during the November general election, as well as expanding advance voting hours. It’s a move the county’s Board of Elections requested earlier this year, along with additional staff to help with bilingual voter assistance requirements.

Residents got to weigh in on the budget during a public hearing Monday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The Sunday voting proposal attracted the most attention from speakers such as Donna McLeod, who said the additional day would benefit voters who cannot get to the polls on weekdays or on the two Saturday voting days.

“It is important, if you really, truly believe in representative democracy … that you understand the importance of making sure voting and voter access is a priority for you,” McLeod said. “It shouldn’t have to be where we have to come here and ask you for that. That should be automatically done.”

Atlanta City Council voted to annex Emory University and the CDC, the largest influx of land into the city limits in decades.

The Atlanta City Council voted 13-0 to approve annexing the 744 acres along the city’s eastern edge. The incorporation of the prestigious research university into the state’s capital city is the most significant annexation since Buckhead was added in 1952.

It’s a move that brings an additional 6,400 residents into the city and could allow MARTA to run a new streetcar line to the campus. The Clifton Corridor project would use Atlanta transportation sales tax money to build the line from Lindbergh Center station.

The annexed areas, which also include Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Villa International, will remain in DeKalb County but become a part of the city on Jan. 1, according to the ordinance approved Monday by the City Council.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the Savannah harbor expansion is in its final phase.

The project, which first began in 2015, will deepen the harbor from its current 42 feet to 47 feet, will allow large ships that are now coming through the Panama Canal. The latest phase will complete the deepening from Fort Pulaski to nearly 20 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, according to Spencer Davis, project manager.

Because the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will cause salt water to intrude into coastal freshwater spawning grounds for the endangered shortnose sturgeon and other fish, the Corps must provide mitigation for that habitat loss. Work to deepen the inner harbor in Savannah can’t start until the mitigation issue is resolved, according to Augusta engineer Tom Robertson.

The Water Infrastructure Im­prove­ments for the Nation Act, passed in 2016, authorizes a rock weir and fish passage, while deauthorizing the Lock and Dam.

Several local leaders, including the mayors of Augusta and North Augusta, oppose that plan and want to see the Lock and Dam rehabilitated. They took their case to Washington in July and got a pledge from U.S. Rep. Allen to take the lead in drafting legislative language that would authorize money for repairs.

For locals, it’s all about “maintaining the pool,” from which both cities and nearby industries draw water, Robertson said. A working Lock and Dam has gates that can be opened and closed. A rock weir can’t be manipulated.

The Warner Robins City Council voted to adopt an ordinance restricting pan-handling.

City officials said it was done especially to combat “aggressive” panhandling that causes a person to feel threatened.

“Mayor and Council find that there has been an increase in aggressive solicitation in the City, which threatens the security, privacy, and freedom of movement of both residents and visitors,” the ordinance states.

The definition of aggressive panhandling includes using obscene or abusive language, touching someone without consent, or behaving in a manner that would “cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm.”

It restricts panhandling on any bank property with an ATM, or within 20 feet of a free standing ATM. It also forbids panhandling in public parking lots at night or on busy roads, specifically naming Watson Boulevard, Russell Parkway, Houston Lake Road, Ga. 96 and Moody Road.

State Senator John Albers (R-Roswell) pre-filed legislation to address property tax assessments in Fulton County.

“It is my absolute intention to pass this legislation during the next legislation session,” said Sen. Albers.

“Work was done in advance to ensure everyone is on the same page and that each piece of legislation moves efficiently through the legislative process. We must do all we can to protect our citizens and make sure they are not dealt the same card twice like the tax fiasco they experienced earlier this year,” said Albers.

According to the Senator, “it is imperative that we pass this legislation, give the citizens an opportunity to vote and show those who elect us that we can fix what is broken by providing solutions quickly and efficiently.”

Each piece of legislation would change property tax assessments for the cities of Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park and Roswell as well as the Fulton County School District.

The legislation would limit the tax increase residents see each year by creating a three percent cap on property tax assessment increases. This proposed legislation also addresses property tax exemptions and includes referendum language, which would leave the implementation of the laws to a vote by the citizens of each respective city and the Fulton County School District.

Nuclear Options

Georgia Public Service Commission staff say that completing two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle will be too expensive unless shareholders contribute.

In a strongly worded document filed with the PSC last Friday, the PSC staff said Georgia Power’s now $12.2 billion projected costs for its 45.7 percent share of the project are too much for customers to bear. The commission must take steps to ensure that the reactors — now the only ones in the nation that are under construction — make economic sense to finish, or they should cancel the project, staff said.

“Assuming the project is completed, ratepayers would incur significantly higher revenue requirements and a reduced economic benefit while the company’s profits would increase,” wrote PSC staff consultants Phil Hayet and Lane Kollen, and Tom Newsome, the PSC staff’s utilities finance director.

Georgia Power has routinely argued that the delays and cost increases at Vogtle are not the company’s fault. Indeed, Vogtle’s schedule changes stem mostly from increased federal safety standards and a series of contractor problems.

“The company’s failure to manage the project in a reasonable manner resulted in repeated schedule delays and increases in actual and projected costs,” [staff] wrote, later adding, “It is unreasonable for ratepayers to have to bear increased costs as a result of the units not being constructed efficiently.”

Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said the electric company is reviewing the testimony and will discuss any areas of disagreement during upcoming hearings.

“We remain confident that the unified recommendation to move forward with construction represents the best choice for customers while preserving the benefits of a new carbon-free energy source for our state,” Hawkins said in a statement. “We also understand that this is a complex and difficult decision and it is ultimately the decision of the Georgia PSC on whether or not we will move forward with the Vogtle project.”

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Completion of the project is no longer economic given the additional costs and schedule delays,” the analysts said in written testimony to commissioners.

They recommended that a reasonable Total Project Cost be set at $8.3 billion, $3.9 million less than what Georgia Power estimates for project completion.

The experts opposed Georgia Power and partner company requests to shift the projects financial risks resulting from contractor’s failures to customers as some costs “incurred by the company were not reasonable to allocate to customers.” Instead, they said Georgia Power and it’s shareholders should shoulder the risk.

The company has not provided justification in its requests to apportion ratepayers 100% of its forecasted costs, the analysts said.

Georgia Power through spokesperson John Kraft argued the company shared in the “financial risk of the Vogtle project,” citing “severe consequences for delays in place under an agreement with the Georgia PSC.”

Mississippi Power, also a Southern Company subsidiary, reached a settlement with the Mississippi Public Service Commission staff over construction of an advanced coal plant.

• Over the summer, Mississippi Power asked for $250 million more than the PSC was willing to approve in a settlement agreement, leading to a series of negotiations that appears to have concluded. Regulators must still approve the settlement.

• In a statement, Mississippi Power said the settlement removes risk to customers for the costs of the gasifier and related assets, ensures there will be no rate increases and continues operation of Kemper as a natural gas facility. The company said it is expecting a final order to be issued in January.

If approved, Mississippi Power officials say the company will be making changes to how it operates as it adjusts to a significant loss of revenue.

“If this stipulation is approved, we expect significant changes to our business,” said Mississippi Power President and CEO Anthony Wilson. “As we adjust to this considerable loss of revenue, our top priority will be to maintain safe and reliable service to our customers.”

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