Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 3, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 3, 2017

On April 2, 1513, Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, claiming it for the Spanish crown. Today he is best-known in Georgia for giving his name to be mispronounced daily on a sketchy street in Atlanta. It is not known if he was wearing jean shorts, or if those were developed later.

Georgia began its love affair with the regulation of what can and cannot be sold on this date in 1735, when James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony, helped gain passage of “An Act to prevent the Importation and Use of Rum and Brandies in the Province of Georgia.” The act provided that after June 24, 1735, “no Rum, Brandies, Spirits or Strong Waters” shall be imported into Georgia.” Permission was also required to sell beer, wine, and ale.

On April 3, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized “privateers” holding a letter of marque and reprisal to attack British ships. This essentially legalizes what would otherwise be considered piracy. Issuing letters of marque and reprisal is among the enumerated powers of Congress under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, though they have seldom been used. Thus, I hope to someday see the Jolly Roger flying at Tea Party rallies alongside the Gadsden flag.

In perhaps the most fitting historical tidbit ever, the United States House of Representatives first met on April 1, 1789 in New York City. Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected the first Speaker of the House. Georgia’s first Members of Congress were James Jackson, Abraham Baldwin, and George Mathews.

On April 3, 1865, Richmond fell.

On April 1, 1870, Robert E. Lee, President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Lee’s career in the United States Army began with his first assignment at Cockspur Island near Savannah. While in Savannah for the 1870 trip, Lee was photographed with former General Joseph E. Johnston, who was in the insurance business there.

On April 3, 1898, President William McKinley called on Georgians to contribute 3000 volunteers for the Spanish-American War.

On April 2, 1917, Jeanette Rankin took office as the first woman elected to Congress, representing Montana.

Born on a ranch near Missoula, Montana Territory, in 1880, Rankin was a social worker in the states of Montana and Washington before joining the women’s suffrage movement in 1910. Working with various suffrage groups, she campaigned for the women’s vote on a national level and in 1914 was instrumental in the passage of suffrage legislation in Montana. Two years later, she successfully ran for Congress in Montana on a progressive Republican platform calling for total women’s suffrage, legislation protecting children, and U.S. neutrality in the European war. Following her election as a representative, Rankin’s entrance into Congress was delayed for a month as congressmen discussed whether a woman should be admitted into the House of Representatives.

Finally, on April 2, 1917, she was introduced in Congress as its first female member. The same day, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress and urged a declaration of war against Germany.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., accompanied by Georgians Hosea Williams and Ralph D. Abernathy, was in Memphis, Tennessee, supporting a strike by sanitation workers on April 3, 1968. He delivered what is known as the “Mountaintop Speech.”

“[L]ike anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

On April 2, 1985, Governor Joe Frank Harris signed legislation recognizing the Right Whale as the official state marine mammal.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Deal’s office is busy reviewing legislation sent by the General Assembly for his signature. Here’s the running list of bills signed by the Governor.

The AJC Political Insider reviews legislation sent to Deal’s desk and what he has said publicly about the measures.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp made his first appearance on the campaign trail for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2018.

The keynote appearance of Georgia’s first gubernatorial candidate for the 2018 race was one of several reasons Cobb County Republican Party Chairman Jason Shepherd believed led to a standing room-only turnout at the party’s monthly breakfast Saturday.

Many of the 211 in attendance had to stand at the party’s Roswell Street headquarters as Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp spoke. The breakfast came a day after the Republican announced his entry into the statewide race, becoming the first from either major party to do so.

“We’re honored he chose Cobb County to kick off his campaign. It shows the importance of Cobb County in general — where Cobb goes usually goes the Georgia Republican primary,” Shepherd said. “I’m expecting Secretary Kemp to have a strong presence here in Cobb as his campaign gets underway.”

“It was never my plan to run or serve in public office,” Kemp said. “I literally ran for the state Senate because I was fed up and I’d had enough — all the rules, regulations, taxes and mandates that were crushing small businesses, as well as working Georgians.”

“We absolutely must take a dadgum chainsaw to burn some job-killing regulations, destroy mandates that penalize progress, stand firm against any health care overhaul plan that punishes growth,” he said.

“No playing favorites. Rural Georgia must be a priority, not an occasional talking point — better paying jobs, stronger economy, high-speed internet and quality, accessible health care,” he said. “What’s good for rural Georgia is good for all Georgia.”

Greg Bluestein of the AJC writes that Kemp’s campaign includes “Trump-ian” language.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp opened his campaign for governor Saturday by borrowing themes from Donald Trump, pledging a “Georgia first” strategy that would crack down on illegal immigration, as he took aim at establishment forces and the media.

And Kemp, a veteran of state GOP politics, drew applause from hundreds at a Cobb GOP breakfast with broadsides against “fake news” and the well-connected political status quo.

He promised his administration would “treat rural Georgia the same way we treat metro Atlanta” and emphasized his background as the owner of stone and construction firms – jobs he continues to hold while working in his $130,000-a-year state post.

“It helped that unlike many, I never, ever became a full-time politician,” said Kemp, a former state senator who was first appointed to the Secretary of State’s job by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2010.

His speech Saturday highlighted Trump-ian themes throughout, including tough talk about crackdowns on illegal immigrants and the need to boost rural Georgia’s economy. It was a reflection of rural Georgia’s importance in the Trump era: The president lost Cobb and the rest of core metro Atlanta, but still won the state thanks to huge margins in rural Georgia.

“This is Georgia,” he said, echoing another Trump mantra. “We will be putting Georgia first.”

State Representative Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) announced he is running for Secretary of State, following Kemp’s announcement.

“I’m running for Secretary of State because I’m committed to making Georgia the easiest place to do business, not just the best,” Brockway said in a statement. “I will work tirelessly to help every Georgian who dreams of owning their own business or obtaining an occupational license fulfill that dream.

“One of our most sacred rights as Americans is the right to vote. As secretary of state, every citizen in Georgia who wants to vote will know that their vote will count and their private, personal information will be fiercely protected.”

Brockway’s decision to run for secretary of state next year means there will now be an open seat in the Gwinnett legislative delegation that will be up for grabs. Brockway was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2010, and won re-election to his district 102 seats over a Democratic challenger in November with nearly 56 percent of the votes cast.

Bob Gray’s campaign for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District took a turn for the goofy on April Fool’s Day, releasing a stupid “joke” claiming Karen Handel was endorsing him.

The former Johns Creek councilman sent out an official campaign release declaring Karen Handel, the leading Republican in the nationally-watched race, had dropped out of the April 18 contest and endorsed him. He echoed it with a tweet from his official account.

It was a hoax, of course.

“The only people who think this dirty trick was funny are Jon Ossoff and the Democrats who stand to gain by a confused and divided Republican electorate,” said Sue Everhart, a former Georgia GOP chair backing Handel. “The Democrats are serious about flipping this seat and these games only help their cause.”

Judson Hill’s fundraising is no joke, with the campaign announcing nearly $500k in contributions.

The former state senator reported raising $473,000 and had $113,000 in his campaign coffers in the final stretch of the April 18 special election to succeed Rep. Tom Price.

Democrat Jon Ossoff now says his goal is to win the Sixth District Special Election outright.

“The campaign’s goal is not to get into a runoff, though we’ll be ready to fight a runoff if necessary,” Ossoff said as he announced endorsements from a handful of state legislators. “The campaign’s goal is to win this election outright on April 18.”

So far, Democrats have a slight advantage in early voting. According to The New York Times, as of Wednesday, 55 percent of voters have participated in a recent Democratic primary, compared to 31 percent who have voted in a Republican primary. And among voters who have requested — but not yet returned — absentee ballots, Democrats also have an early lead.

“That was a very big sign for Jon Ossoff,” said Georgia Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson. “We saw that the enthusiasm in this race right now is definitely amongst the Democrats.”

The Georgia Republican Party is gearing up for an expected runoff and plan to get fully behind whoever emerges as the nominee with full confidence that they’ll hold the seat.

“Once we know who our candidate is after the 18th, we will be ready with money and resources and a grassroots army to support our nominee and push them across the finish line,” said Ryan Mahoney, Georgia GOP spokesman.

“We’re working around the clock to make sure [Democrats] don’t get that win in Georgia. They are desperately trying to flip the script here, and it’s just not going to happen in Georgia.”

Early voting turnout appears to favor Democrats in the district, which is normally at least 60% Republican in General Elections.

Of the more than 8,100 people who have voted so far in the suburban Atlanta district, 44 percent were Democrats and 23 percent were Republicans, according to an analysis by Michael McDonald, a political science professor and election specialist at the University of Florida.

McDonald identified Democrats and Republicans based on the last primary each early voter participated in, information that can be found in state voter files. The remaining voters ― roughly one-third of the total so far ― have no record of primary voting in Georgia.

Although voters’ preferences can change from primary to primary, making that data imperfect, it is the most reliable indicator of partisanship in a state with nonpartisan voter registration.

It is important to note of course that early voting is not a rock-solid indicator of final election outcomes. Early general-election voting patterns in North Carolina and Florida, for example, appeared to favor Hillary Clinton but she ended up losing both states in November.

And early voting in Georgia’s 6th district continues until April 14. Election Day itself is April 18.

Campus Carry advocates and anti-gun advocates alike await word on whether Gov. Deal will veto or sign legislation to allow concealed carry on college campuses.

Some lawmakers involved in negotiating the final bill said they were “confident” that Deal will sign it. A spokeswoman for the governor wasn’t immediately available. Deal hasn’t taken a firm stance on this year’s measure, only suggesting that he was working with lawmakers.

This year’s version adds exemptions for on-campus preschools, disciplinary hearings and areas where high school students attend college classes. Deal said last year that he wanted lawmakers to exempt those areas.

The bill also preserves exemptions included in last year’s bill that would prevent weapons in student housing, including fraternity and sorority houses, and athletic facilities.

Deal has 40 days to decide whether to sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

“This is an example of the legislative body and the executive branch working together,” said Sen. Frank Ginn, a Republican from Danielsville. He was a part of a small group of lawmakers from both chambers who met Thursday night to negotiate details of the bill.

From the AJC:

This year, the governor said he was willing to reopen the debate. In a late compromise between House and Senate leaders, lawmakers approved a measure that acceded to Deal’s demands to bar guns from on-campus child care facilities, faculty and administrative office space, and disciplinary meetings.

Deal has said he is “receptive” to the bill as long as it made those changes, but he declined to comment on the measure Friday. Supporters expressed confidence he would sign the legislation, even if they had to include the restrictions that many social conservatives opposed.

“It didn’t do all that many members wanted it to do, but I understand that,” House Speaker David Ralston said. “You don’t all the time score a touchdown on a play, but we got a first down on that, at least. I’m pleased that we were able to get a bill that improves and strengthens the Second Amendment.”

House Bill 221 by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) rewrites the state’s Power of Attorney laws and is headed to the Governor for signature or veto.

“The Uniform Power of Attorney Act provides a much-needed update to Georgia’s power of attorney statute,” Efstration said in a statement. “The bill allows protections for individuals who grant the power of attorney while also giving clarification for responsible caregivers and financial institutions.”

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan said the bill will help protect someone who has to assign power of attorney to another person. Among other things, the bill says a person cannot argue that use of their power of attorney authority absolves them from prosecution for a crime.

“The passage of House Bill 221, Uniform Power of Attorney Act, will give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools necessary to address individuals who are using the power of attorney to exploit elderly and disabled persons,” Keenan said in a statement. “A power of attorney should not be used as a license to steal.”

Campaigns for higher office next year may have impacted this year’s legislative session.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, has been there longer than anyone, and just finished his 43rd legislative session.

The dominant issue during the session was the governor and lieutenant governor races,” Smyre said. “And when politics enters the fray in that way, it is hard to get good public policy. There was a lot of gridlock.”

Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, said it was a frustrating session and a frustrating final day.

“People who have been there much longer than I have said it was the strangest 40th day,” he said. “There was this lack of real action, but we were still in there. There was no frenzy. Then at the end there was very little cooperation between the two chambers.”

Rep. Debbie Buckner. D-Columbus, agreed.

“I would describe that session as tense because of the tension between the House and Senate,” Buckner said. “No matter what we sent to the other side, they would change it and tweak it.”

Though the session might be over, the political games are just starting, and McKoon finds himself in the middle of it. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp are planning runs for governor in the May 2018 primary. Several others, including McKoon, are considering it.

McKoon, who announced in the early days of the session he would not seek re-election for the District 29 Senate seat, said he plans take the next couple of weeks to weigh his options, which also could include a run for attorney general, another office or not seeking any office.

“I am going to be doing a lot of meetings the next few weeks,” McKoon said.

Twelve Chatham County public schools could be eligible for inclusion in the turnaround plan if Gov. Deal signs House Bill 338.

House Bill 338, was approved by both the Georgia House and Senate, and has been waiting for Deal to sign it into law since Wednesday. But the final version of the bill limits Deal’s control and will likely shorten the list of potential takeover schools by half.

Deal’s list of failing schools included 12 in Savannah-Chatham — Brock, Savannah Classical, East Broad, West Chatham Middle, DeRenne, Southwest Middle, Myers, Low, Haven, Hodge, Mercer and Shuman. All of them had College and Career Ready Performance Index, or CCRPI, scores below 60 for three consecutive years.

HB 388 doesn’t place public schools under the governor’s direct control and it involves local school districts in reform efforts before a takeover is considered.

Once HB 388 becomes law, a “chief turnaround officer” will be hired to lead reform efforts in the state’s bottom five percent schools. This turnaround chief will report to the state board of education, which is appointed by the governor. If local turnaround efforts are unsatisfactory after three years, the state could take over, replacing staff and requiring charter school conversions.

Gwinnett County Commissioners are talking about transit a lot more than they have previously.

Gwinnett County commissioners identified about seven key priorities on the final day of their strategic planning session in Athens on Friday, but there was one issue that dominated the conversation more than the others: transit.

“Most of these important issues that we grapple with — there’s a time for each one of those to be a major focus, and we’re at that right now with transit,” commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said. “We’re coming off of our transportation plan and have that as the backdrop for us to do the work that needs to be done on the transit development plan.”

“We can put the emphasis on the transit aspect of it that I think it takes to try to help the community as a whole be educated about what the potential options are.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is working with truckers to reduce cargo theft.

Cargo theft is a growing problem that’s costing businesses billions of dollars every year, especially in Georgia, which has the dubious distinction of ranking sixth in the nation for such losses.

There are a number of reasons Georgia has been a favorite of cargo thieves, Cornell said, including its arterial highway system, vibrant economy, large airport in Atlanta and world-class port in Savannah. Within the state, Chatham County ranks fourth for cargo theft, after three Atlanta-area counties.

While electronics remain the top targets for cargo theft in many states, in Georgia they rank third, after food and beverages and home and garden.

“Energy drinks, beer, frozen meats and seafood are popular items to steal, primarily because they are easy to unload and difficult to track — the evidence is virtually gone in a matter of days,” Cornell said.

Houston County Commission Chair Tommy Stalnaker says last month’s passage of a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) will be a boon to the county.

Q: Back to the county SPLOST — a penny on the dollar in sales tax for county and municipal projects, what do you see as its benefit?

A: I see it as the fairest tax. It’s a consumption tax everybody pays and the money doesn’t just come from Houston County residents but visitors who come to shop, come for sports events and tournaments, visit local attractions, come in as contractors visiting Robins Air Force Base — all these and others spend money that helps us improve our community in a number of ways.

Q: Including further economic development?

A: Absolutely. These improvements are attractive, necessary really, to continue bringing people, business and industry to Houston County. And keeping them here.

Eton, Georgia City Council Member Steve Shaw was arrested on felony drug charges.

“We received information he was attempting to purchase prescription medication which obviously wasn’t his,” [Murray County Detective Shannon] Ramsey said. “During the course of the investigation, we recorded conversations arriving at a price and setting up a meeting location. Once all of that was agreed upon with the undercover officer, we went to that location and arrested him.”

Shaw, 56, was charged with criminal attempt to violate Georgia’s Controlled Substances Act and use of a communication facility in commission of a felony involving controlled substances, both felonies. He was released from the Murray County jail on Sunday on a $2,000 bond.

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