Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 13, 2016

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 13, 2016

On December 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court organized three regiments of militia to guard against attacks by the Pequot Indians. That day is recognized as the birth of the National Guard.

Echols County, Georgia was created by the Georgia General Assembly on December 13, 1858.

Former Georgia Governor Ellis Arnall died on December 13, 1992. Arnall served in the State House, as Speaker, Attorney General, and in 1942 at the age of 35, was elected Governor.

Arnall also led the fight to outlaw the poll tax and the white primary, and is noted for making Georgia the first state to allow 18-year-olds to vote. He is further remembered for his role in obtaining a new state constitution for Georgia in 1945.

Al Gore conceded the presidential election to George W. Bush on December 13, 2000.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters in Northwest Georgia’s Senate District 54 go to the polls today to elect a new State Senator to succeed former Senator Charlie Bethel.

Polls for the special election are open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. as five candidates try to replace Charlie Bethel, a six-year veteran whom Gov. Nathan Deal appointed to the state’s court of appeals last month. The position covers Whitfield and Murray counties and parts of Pickens and Gordon counties.

In Georgia, the seat holder has to earn more than 50 percent of the vote to win. And with a crowded list of contenders today, there’s a chance the two most popular candidates will have to face each other in a runoff on Jan. 10, a day after the Senate session begins.

The candidates for the seat are:

* Conda Lowery Goodson, an active community volunteer

* Chuck Payne, a retired juvenile court probation officer

* Debby Peppers, an attorney and former county commissioner

* Shell Underwood, an insurance counselor and former teacher

* William Vinyard, a contractor

The race is nonpartisan, but four of the candidates signed up as Republicans. Peppers registered as an Independent candidate. She and Payne were the two most politically active candidates prior to this week’s race.

Payne, a member of the local Republican Party since 1991, was the group’s chairman from 1998-2005 and again from 2013-15. He stepped down the second time to volunteer for Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

Peppers is the most liberal candidate in a staunchly conservative region. During a candidate forum, she was the only one who argued against cutting property taxes while boosting sales tax, telling the audience the maneuver would disproportionately tax the poor. She also said she would not support legislation banning abortion in Georgia, arguing it would lead to a costly lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The candidates appeared together in a public forum on Monday.

Goodson noted that people may be familiar with her from her previous run for Senate District 54, when she unsuccessfully challenged then-incumbent Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, in the GOP primary earlier this year.

“I’ve been studying Georgia laws, and I’ve talked to tens of thousands of people. I’ve talked to hundreds of small business owners to find out what’s hurting them and what I can do to help them,” she said.

Payne said that although he was worked on numerous campaigns for others, this is the first time he has run for office.

“I’ve spent all of my adult life serving my country and my community, first in the Army and then for the Department of Juvenile Justice,” said Payne, who recently retired after 30 years with the department as a juvenile probation officer.
[Republican William] Vinyard said he is “a Christian, a conservative and a constitutionalist.”

“I’m a Marine Corps combat veteran. I’ve fought for my country, and I’ll fight for you,” he said.

Burrell Ellis is back at the helm of DeKalb County’s government after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his convictions for official corruption.

Ellis’ suspension from his elected position was lifted Monday, when the Georgia Supreme Court gave official notice it had overturned his convictions and sent the case back to the trial court.

After serving an eight-month prison sentence for attempted extortion and perjury, Ellis will return to power as a short-term leader of a county government trying to put corruption scandals in the past.

Ellis will complete the last three weeks of his term in charge of DeKalb’s $1.38 billion annual budget and 6,000 government employees. He’s been suspended from office since he was indicted in July 2013.

A jury found Ellis guilty in July 2015 of trying to shake down a county contractor, Power and Energy Services, for a $2,500 campaign contribution and threatening to end its $250,000 contract with the county. Ellis was also found guilty of perjury for lying under oath about his role in awarding county contracts.

But the Georgia Supreme Court threw out the convictions Nov. 30, ruling that Ellis didn’t receive a fair trial. The state’s highest court unanimously decided that a judge should have allowed Ellis’ defense attorneys to have other county contractors testify that they didn’t feel they were threatened after declining to donate to his campaign.

By winning his appeal, Ellis is entitled to back pay from the time since he was convicted, which could exceed $220,000. The Supreme Court also reinstated his law license, which had been suspended during the appeal.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp‘s office sounds less than fully convinced after the Department of Homeland Security explained its side of what appeared to Kemp to be attacks on Georgia’s databases.

A senior DHS official told Kemp last week that there was no attempt to hack Georgia’s network, but did acknowledge an agency employee left an electronic paper trail that might make it appear something nefarious was afoot. Kemp’s office said Monday that federal officials cannot say that with certainty.

“After contacting our office late this afternoon, DHS has still not been able to confirm the origin or intent of this attack,” David Dove, Kemp’s chief of staff and legal counsel, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This was a reconnaissance scan that raised red flags with our vendor’s counter-threat unit.”

South Fulton residents learned more about how incorporation of the City of South Fulton will take place.

Gov. Nathan Deal will be naming a five-person transition team in the coming days to help manage the effort. Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, said he came to the meeting from the governor’s mansion, where the list of names was being finalized.

Fulton has already formed an internal team that will help the county transition its own services to the new city, but the Deal-appointed team will help create the new city’s structure. Todd Long, Fulton’s chief operating officer, said that team would not be able to sign contracts or spend public funds. But members of that team will serve as a conduit between the county and the residents. The new city’s government will be elected in March and the city officially forms May 1.

Reminding residents that the county board had unanimously supported their right to vote on forming a city, Fulton Chairman John Eaves said the county would continue to provide for residents until the transition to a new government was complete.

“Our hope is that the handoff will be seamless and smooth,” he said. “A successful City of South Fulton translates into a successful Fulton County.”

Federal water legislation in Congress currently will benefit the Port of Savannah.

The measure, now dubbed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, or WIIN, passed the House on Thursday and the Senate on Saturday.

Both U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter hailed the final passage of the legislation and the benefits it’s expected to bring to Georgia.

“For Savannah, WIIN requires the federal government to be responsible for a greater share of funding for SHEP,” Carter said. “Specifically, the WIIN Act increases the federal cost share of deepening construction to 75 percent, which is expected to bring more federal dollars into the project’s coffers.”

“With the WIIN Act, the federal government will finally be held accountable to support SHEP moving forward.”

Isakson, the senior senator from Georgia, agreed.

“Ensuring better funding for the deepening of the Port of Savannah is good news for Georgia,” he said.

“Keeping this project on track has required a nonstop effort from countless leaders to ensure we are progressing, and this law will help to save the state of Georgia millions of dollars towards this project, which is a win for trade, a win for the economy and a win for the hundreds of thousands of jobs supported by the Port of Savannah.”

Other changes in the legislation could ratchet down the Florida-Georgia water lawsuit.

The legislation eliminated a 2014 directive that warns the governors of Florida, Georgia and Alabama to negotiate a settlement in the decades-long water dispute – or risk Congress intervening.

Georgia’s contingent in Washington says Congress should have no role in the water dispute. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins called it a “state issue” and the delegation united behind the fight to erase the directive. Georgia’s power-play worked, and the language was stripped from the final version.

“I am proud to have worked with our Georgia Congressional Delegation to get Congress out of the ongoing tristate water dispute between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, which should be resolved at the state level,” said U.S. Sen. David Perdue.

The new federal law will also affect water projects in Augusta.

The bill would de-authorize the [New Savannah Bluff] Lock and Dam on the Savannah River but allow for repairs to the Lock wall and the rest of the structure to maintain the pool of water upstream. That pool is vital for drinking water for both the cities of Augusta and North Augusta and important for local industry.

The bill also says the structure should be modified “to allow safe passage over the structure to historic spawning grounds of shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon and other migratory fish” or the construction of a structure that could do that and also maintain the pool, allowing the Lock and Dam to be removed once it is completed. The bill also conveys to Augusta the nearby Lock and Dam park for free.

The lock, dedicated in 1937 to make this section of the river navigable for boats, had been authorized for repair by an earlier act of Congress that was never funded and its future had remained uncertain. With the $706 million Savannah Harbor Expansion Project likely to impact those migratory fish who spawn in freshwater by allowing more saltwater to creep up the river, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had looked at allowing the fish a way around the Lock and Dam to spawning ground they have not been able to access for decades.

But that plan raised the concerns of landowners who fear losing the Lock and Dam will have a disastrous impact, particularly from flooding. Allen said in a statement that the bill passed Thursday “fails to address the needs and concerns of my district back home” concerning the Lock and Dam. “Myself, along with stakeholders in the community, worry that the bill language is not a long-term solution to the future of this project,” he said. He vowed to “continue to work hand-in-hand with the community to produce a plan that all parties involved feel confident in.”

Georgia’s Congressional Delegation has requested a battalion of Apache attack helicopters be stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah.

“We’ve gotten language in the last (National Defense Authorization Act) to build new hangars at Hunter, so we’re looking for as much equipment as we can,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, who represents Georgia’s First District in Congress, said Monday.

Carter, along with U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop, Austin Scott and Tom Graves, sent a letter to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley last week requesting an Apache battalion from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade be sent to Savannah.

“We recognize that the heightened tensions in Europe make difficult any decision to move forces out of the region,” members of the Congressional delegation wrote in their letter to Milley. “However, we maintain that reinforcing the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade with an AH-64 Apache battalion … is a prudent move. A fully-equipped Apache Battalion along our southeastern corridor, coupled with the support infrastructure at Hunter Army Airfield, could prove to be a highly lethal force that provides flexibility and options to our Army.”

Carter says adding more helicopters may further bolster the airfield’s longevity in the event that a Base Realignment and Closure process is initiated.

“We don’t want to see any more cuts or any more battalions leave or anything else,” Carter said. “… If there is another BRAC, this helps us.”

Cobb County legislators heard local concerns ahead of the 2017 General Assembly.

Expect the second phase of the Atlanta Braves’ transportation plan in mid-January, Mike Plant, the ballpark’s development president, told the Cobb Legislative Delegation during its annual meeting on Monday.

Lawmakers were interested in the ballpark’s transportation plans.

“The second phase of this plan is where you’ll see a lot more specifics as far as specific parking locations. Where you get in. Where you get out. We’re working with traffic management, with police,” Plant said.

State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-east Cobb, said residents in her district were concerned about traffic. Cooper said while she wasn’t likely going to be attending ball games herself, now that the Braves have made Cobb County their home, she wanted them to be as successful as possible.

“So I look forward to hearing the next phases and seeing all we can do to make sure the people in my district can get home, can go about their lives, even if it doesn’t include going to a ball game,” she said.

Harold Simmons will take over as the new City Manager for Senioa in January.

The Coweta County Board of Education was named an “Exemplary School Board” by the Georgia School Boards Association.

A federal judge in Albany will hear details on a proposed agreement to settle a criminal case arising from a salmonella outbreak at a Sylvester, Georgia peanut processing plant a year ago.

Oakwood City Council voted to close a loophole in which some establishments would stay open past permitted hours for serving alcohol.

Middle Georgia bear populations are rising, according to a new state estimate.

Based on research by the University of Georgia, the state had previously estimated the bear population in Middle Georgia at 240.

However, with a new look at the same data as well as including a larger area and an additional year of research, the population is now estimated at 458.

Researchers reached that number using a model that estimates the number of bears in an area based on hair collected from snare traps. By calculating the probability, which is low, that a bear will leave a sample in the trap, researchers can use the number of samples collected to help determine the actual number of bears. DNA testing of the hairs is done to determine how many different samples are collected.

Bobby Bond, a senior wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the latest estimate is based on the most sophisticated model used to date. He believes it’s also the most accurate estimate.

“It’s good news for the bear population,” he said. “I think it gives us a more rounder, completer picture of the bear population.”

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