Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 9, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 9, 2017

The first modern circus was held in London on January 9, 1768.

Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled, “Common Sense” on January 9, 1776. The pamphlet is considered to have united colonists to the cause of American independence.

Herman Talmadge was sworn-in to his second term as Governor of Georgia on January 9, 1951.

Segregated seating on Atlanta buses was held unconstitutional by a federal court on January 9, 1959.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter arrived in Athens to register at the University of Georgia on January 9, 1961.

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, debuted the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Republican Chuck Payne and Democrat Debby Peppers meet at the ballot box tomorrow in the Special Runoff Election for Senate District 54.

Turnout is expected to be key in Tuesday’s special election runoff for state Senate District 54.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Just 6.6 percent of registered voters, less than 5,000 total voters, turned out for the Dec. 13 special election for the seat for the district that includes all of Whitfield and Murray counties and parts of Gordon and Pickens counties. And turnout in runoffs is typically just a fraction of the turnout in the first election.

That means the race could swing on which candidate does the best job of getting his or her supporters out. The race includes Chuck Payne and Debby Peppers.

Payne, a former chairman of the Whitfield County Republican Party, received the most votes in the five-way special election with 1,792 (36.1 percent). Peppers, a former member of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, received the second most votes with 1,361 (27.42 percent).

Early votes cast in December 2016

mail in person
52 1070

Early votes cast as of yesterday:

mail in person
70 1641

Sharp-eyed readers will note that the mail-in ballots number for the runoff is down from what I last reported – last week I reported hom many mail-in ballots had been sent to voters, while today’s number is those who returned their ballots to elections officials.

At 10 AM, the Georgia General Assembly convenes in the first day of the 2017 Session.

Religious liberty bills are not at the top of leadership wish lists for this Session.

Republicans at the helm of Georgia’s General Assembly aren’t including “religious liberty” legislation among their top priorities for the coming session, shifting away from the issue that has prompted accusations of discrimination and fears of economic damage in past years. But they may not be able to head off all discussion when the legislative session begins on Monday.

Senate Republicans didn’t include any such legislation on the list of priorities they unveiled Thursday at the Capitol. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who leads the Senate, said President-elect Donald Trump’s election reduced the need for the measures.

“We have a new president, a president who I think is going to appoint a (Supreme Court) justice that’s going to be conservative,” Cagle said. “And much of the fears that existed prior to that may have subsided.”

House Speaker David Ralston, never a fan of the various “religious liberty” measures, said he thinks state lawmakers have spent enough time debating them during the past three legislative sessions.

“Georgia has got so many good things going right now and I’m not sure we want to model after North Carolina and Indiana,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge.

Taxes and medicinal cannabis will, however, top the list of priorities for some legislators.

[Senator Butch] Miller said he expects to tackle a wide range of issues in 2017, from potential amendments to medical cannabis laws to broadband internet expansion, a reworking of the hospital bed tax and incentives for rural hospitals to succeed, and water quality and access initiatives.

Miller also wants to keep Georgia running strong as a place to do business, and economic development and education are likely to be a critical part of the governor’s agenda.

Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, is one of the biggest backers of the so-called “Fair Tax” in all of the Georgia General Assembly.

He is currently preparing a bill that aims to begin lowering state income taxes while raising sales taxes to offset any lost revenue.

He said he supports efforts by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, to expand access to the drug and stands behind a new effort Peake is making to bring the issue to a ballot referendum.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Dunahoo said. “I’m an ally with him.”

Rep. Tim Barr, R-Lawrenceville, said he will co-sponsor Dunahoo’s bill to reform the state’s tax code by lowering income taxes.

“I think that’s very important,” he said.

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, is perpetually focused on improving health care and access to it for Georgians, and that doesn’t change in 2017.

Hawkins said he is also searching for ways to better fund mental health programs across the state.

Funding right now is inadequate, he said, and jail or prison has too often become a substitute for better programs.

Finally, Hawkins said state lawmakers are anxiously awaiting the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act on the federal level. But while he supports such a move, he knows something will need to replace it.

“We want all Georgians to have good health,” Hawkins said. “But we get into a situation about how to pay for it. Hopefully, (Washington) can come up with a better plan that can replace Obamacare, but at the same time not leave people without access to health care.”

Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, knows that education will be front and center on the GOP’s legislative agenda this year.

“I think we’re going to have to continue to increase our commitment and funding to education,” Wilkinson said.

Casino gambling will take center stage this session in a push for a statewide referendum.

“Allowing casinos in Georgia is a complex issue, and you have to determine what model you want to take,” said House Speaker David Ralston. “And then you have to decide what to do with the money, whether it’s for the HOPE scholarship, substance abuse prevention programs or another purpose.

“I’m still not sure that casinos in Georgia are consistent with where we want to be as a state.”

The only duty the legislature is constitutionally required to perform each year is pass a balanced budget. “And we’re going to maintain our AAA bond rating from the three major rating agencies,” said Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations committee.

“I come from a very conservative district and the balanced budget is important to them,” England said.

Transportation funding continues to be important to us due to our proximity to Atlanta, Athens and Gainesville and will remain a priority for me.”

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer spoke to their local electeds about casinos.

It will be a statewide issue, but it will have keen local interest because Columbus could be a potential site, depending on how the legislation plays out over the next three months under the Gold Dome.

Columbus entrepreneur Robert Wright Jr. said two months ago he would like to bring a $200 million resort casino to south Columbus if the state of Georgia legalizes gambling. The Columbus Council voted in November to ask the local delegation to let voters consider a statewide referendum that, if passed, would legalize casino gambling.

“There is no question casinos will be a big issue,” said Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus. “I know a bunch of companies have hired a bunch of lobbyists.”

“There are two questions that have to be answered here,” Smith said. “First: ‘Do we want casinos in Georgia to begin with?’ Then, if that passes, we have to ask, ‘What model do we want?’”

“One, do we want the mega-casino in Atlanta? (Or) do we want one in Atlanta and another one over the coast to get the I-95 and Jacksonville traffic? Or do we want four, five, six of them scattered around the state?” Smith said. “The latter would be the only way you could have a casino in Columbus.”

The Gainesville Times takes a look at what a 2017 budget will look like.

With a nearly $23 billion budget, Georgia lawmakers have as much money to spend as ever.

Revenues are estimated to increase 8.8 percent, bringing in $1.9 billion more this fiscal year.

But expenses are growing, too, as an aging and growing population emerges statewide.

Education is the top spending priority in the state, followed closely by health care.

Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, said new education spending likely is needed to hire additional teachers and build new schools to meet the demands of a growing population.

Lawmakers roundly agree changes are needed to the 31-year-old formula the state uses to distribute funding among its 180 public school districts, but changes aren’t likely this year. Deal said Friday he wants to postpone that discussion a year and instead focus on helping underachieving students.

Health care spending, meanwhile, is likely in for major changes as Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., look to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But just what impact that will have on Georgia is unclear, said Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville. One thing he is sure of, however, is that there’s never enough money to go around.

Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, one of Deal’s top floor leaders, said legislators likely will revisit the hospital bed tax and other initiatives aimed at shoring up the viability of rural hospitals throughout the state.

In addition, expanding broadband internet access to both urban centers and rural counties, while also funding transportation improvement projects, is crucial to growing industry and jobs, Miller said.

“Those are two real challenges,” he said.

Senate Democrats released a list of priorities for the Session.

“Senate Democrats will be focused on four priority areas in 2017: economy, education, environment and equality,” said Liz Flowers executive director of the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus.

Democrats are also pushing for a constitutional amendment to create a paid family leave fund to provide up to six weeks paid leave for people suffering from disability, or to care for ill family members, paid for by a payroll tax of up to 1.5 percent.

And efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, with annual increases tied to the consumer price index, remain a critical part of the state Democratic platform.

Democrats are gearing up to oppose any federal changes to environmental policy under President Donald Trump, including deregulation of Environmental Protection Agency policies, public land protections and water quality issues.

Democrats hope the state will expand nondiscrimination protections, which provide legal cover to individuals based on race, color, religion, natural origin and sex, to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

And they are pushing for a law that would mandate equal pay for women by prohibiting employers from paying employees less based on gender. Employers would not be allowed to retaliate against employees that discuss their pay under the proposal.

Republican State Rep. Matt Dubnik will be among the new faces in the General Assembly.

“We have a very tight group of freshmen,” said Dubnik, 35. “We’re all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. We’re ready to go.”

For the Jackson County native, his political journey began long before he threw his hat in the ring in March.

“I was approached a couple of years ago (about running) by some friends and elected officials,” he said. “They said, ‘If and when Carl decides to get out, would you be willing to run?’ I said yes.”

Some of his main concerns heading into the legislature are postsecondary education and workforce development.

“I don’t want to take away from K-12 education … but what are we doing to get the workforce of this state ready for the jobs that are out there?” Dubnik said.

“I have a lot of friends in this community who own businesses who say, ‘My No. 1 challenge is finding qualified people.’ So, how do we marry the two?”

The Atlanta Journal Constitution asked legislative lobbyists for pro-tips for citizens trying to affect the legislative process.

Lewis Massey, ofMassey, Watson & Hembree, LLC

What makes an effective lobbyist? An effective lobbyist establishes relationships with decision makers that allow for the opportunity to share relevant information with legislators that is both factual and persuasive.

What can citizens do? Besides getting to know local lawmakers before the session, cultivate a champion in the General Assembly for your cause. Speak in committee meetings and bring like-minded citizens to do the same. Be respectful, reliable, resilient and resourceful.

 State Senator Vincent Fort has received an assist in his campaign for Mayor of Atlanta.

Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders formally endorsed Vincent Fort’s bid for Atlanta mayor on Saturday, urging his millions of donors to support a “powerful ally” running to lead the city.

Fort, a state senator representing an Atlanta district, has made no secret that he’s trying to model his bid to succeed Mayor Kasim Reed on Sanders’ insurgent presidential campaign. He’s called for the decriminalization of marijuana, free tuition at Atlanta city colleges and other left-leaning initiatives.

“The establishment in Georgia did everything they could to exact their revenge on Senator Fort – they even recruited a primary opponent to run against him in the last election cycle as punishment,” wrote Sanders. “They failed to take him down then – and now that he’s running to be the next Mayor of Atlanta, we expect the entrenched political establishment and their billionaire backers to do everything in their power to defeat him.”

Fort is among at least a half-dozen politicians in the running for mayor, a field that also includes several former and current councilmembers. It is his second big endorsement; earlier former Gov. Roy Barnes went public with his support for Fort by hosting a fundraiser for him.

The Georgia Republican Party prepares to elect new leadership in the 2017 GAGOP State Convention, to be held in Augusta.

[Gwinnett County Republican] Party Chairman Rich Carithers announced Precinct Mass Meetings will be held at 10 a.m. on Feb. 4 to elect delegates and alternates to the Gwinnett County Republican Convention in March. Precinct officers for the 2017-19 term will also be elected at the mass meetings.

The meetings will be held at Central Gwinnett High School, 564 W. Crogan St. in Lawrenceville, and registration will begin at 9 a.m. Admission to the meetings is free, although the party will accept donations to help offset the cost of holding them.

“All Gwinnett County residents who are legally registered to vote as of the date of the Precinct Mass Meeting and who believe in the principles of the Republican Party are eligible and encouraged to participate in the process,” Carithers said in a statement.

The congressional district conventions will be held on April 22 at locations that will be determined at a later date, and the Georgia Republican Party State Convention will be held on June 2 in Augusta. Like the mass meetings and county convention, officers for the next two years will be chosen at the congressional district and state conventions.

Augusta is once again discussing changing the dates of local elections.

Mayor Hardie Davis, who was first elected in May 2014, slipped the recommendation that nonpartisan races move back to November on the Augusta Commission agenda last week, asking in backup materials that his name not be used.

“Historically in this city, elections have always taken place in November,” Davis said, declining further requests for comment. “It still happens for our school board members.”

Five years ago the Georgia General Assembly changed the dates of most nonpartisan county and consolidated government elections – including offices such as judgeships and the Richmond County Marshal – from November to mid-year, initially to July.

A major impact on holding elections midyear is reduced turnout. Board of Elections Executive Director Lynn Bailey said while turnout for midterm November elections – those not coinciding with presidential elections – typically ranges from 45 percent to 60 percent, turnout for midyear elections is at best 45 percent.

The commission voted 10-0 to send a resolution of support for the election date change to the the city’s legislative delegation, comprised of five Democrats and three Republicans, including two Republican state senators.

Commissioner Marion Williams said he supported the November resolution because it would result in fewer costly elections, although the government can’t opt out of conducting the May statewide primary. Members of the delegation didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, said at a recent meeting that conducting local elections in November might be less subject to court action than locals have claimed.

The first Right Whale calf of the birthing season was sighted off the coast of Saint Simons Island.

The new year brought with it the first North Atlantic right whale calf of the season as researchers spotted the mother/calf pair in shallow waters about two miles off Little St. Simons Island on Jan. 1.

The highly endangered whales, whose population numbers about 450, migrate in the late fall from feeding grounds off New England and Canada to their birthing area off Georgia and Florida. Researchers fly aerial surveys to scout for the whales starting Dec. 1. Only one other whale, a known calving female, was seen in Georgia in December.

The first new mother of the year is a 30-year-old whale, number 1711, who doesn’t have a nickname. She’s known to have calved twice before. But she’s also been elusive. Prior to being spotted on New Year’s Day, the last time she was seen was in 2011.


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