Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 31, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 31, 2017

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg.

The United States Congress admitted Nevada as the 36th state on October 31, 1864. Kind of fitting, in a way.

The carving on Mount Rushmore was completed on October 31, 1941.

President Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail to help his wife, Hillary Clinton, in her race for United States Senate from New York on October 31, 2000. On October 31, 2014, Bill Clinton came to Atlanta to campaign for Michelle Nunn for United States Senate.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Early voting is open through Friday for municipal elections and some county issues.

Rome voters will choose three city commissioners and all seven school board members. Cave Spring has three city council seats on its ballot.

All Floyd County voters are deciding two proposed local option sales tax extensions: An $80 million ELOST for school construction and a $63.8 million SPLOST for special projects overseen by the governments.

Clarke and Oconee Counties are seeing low turnout in early voting.

Unless there’s an unprecedented surge in early voting this week or on election day Nov. 7, only a small fraction of voters are expected to determine the outcome of three special elections in Oconee and Clarke counties.

As of Monday afternoon, only about 2,700 people in Clarke and Oconee counties had cast ballots, out of about 49,000 “active” voters — people who’ve cast a vote in one of the past two federal elections, or who have responded to postcards from election officials asking for address verification.

Two vacant seats in the Georgia House of Representatives are at stake, and in Clarke County, a special 1 percent transportation sales tax that would fund a slate of transportation-related projects.

Governor Nathan Deal announced yesterday that Site Selection magazine named Georgia the #1 state for business for the fifth consecutive year.

“For the fifth year in a row, Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business, highlighting the value of our business-friendly environment and the success of our economic development initiatives,” said Deal. “I’d like to thank Site Selection for this recognition. I’m also deeply grateful for the hard work of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), and for the strong foundation laid by our community partners. We are so proud to be ranked No. 1 for business, because behind this ranking is a new job opportunity for a parent, a new business for a community and more economic opportunity for all Georgians.

“By emphasizing strong partnerships on both the state and local levels, we have cultivated an economic environment that produces greater opportunities for hardworking people, generates investment in local communities and improves the overall quality of life for Georgia families. Our low tax burden and economic assets, including a robust workforce and unparalleled connectivity, lead the nation in attracting industry leaders from across the country and around the world. As we continue building upon our strategic resources by investing in workforce development initiatives such as the HOPE Career Grant, we are ensuring that industry leaders remain connected to a skilled labor pool capable of meeting the challenges of today, tomorrow and beyond.

“I am confident that the efforts of state industry leaders, community partners and the people of Georgia will help us maintain this momentum for many years to come.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of this ranking,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “It’s not only a testament to Governor Deal’s leadership, but to each and every economic development partner across the state. For five years in a row, our top-notch business environment and astounding global infrastructure has earned us this honor. The future of economic development in Georgia is incredibly bright and we are looking forward to more big wins. We are proud of this achievement, and all of the work our local partners do across the state to help Georgia thrive and remain competitive in this dynamic economy.”

Deal also announced the addition of five new strategic industry programs to the HOPE Career Grant, effective January, underscoring the critical importance of training our current and future workforce to meet the needs of employers. The new fields include Construction, Aviation, Electrical Line Work, Logistics and Automotive Technology through the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), bringing the total number to 17 HOPE Career Grant areas of study. This effort is aimed at better aligning Georgia’s workforce with the needs of growing industries and providing students with new opportunities to learn skills that lead to high-wage professional employment.

Gov. Deal is proposing an expansion of the HOPE Career Grant.

The governor’s proposal would expand the HOPE Career Grant to include tech college students taking courses in five more fields: automotive technology, aviation, construction, electrical line work and logistics.

If lawmakers adopt the proposal next year, the tech school program will cover students in 17 fields including computer programming, diesel mechanics and film set design. The governor did not have an immediate cost estimate on the expansion but said it’s “money well spent.”

“I do hope the next governor will at least carry it forward,” said Deal, who is preparing for his final legislative session as governor. “We are training Georgians to do the kind of things we need to do, that industries are demanding.”

Savannah was named the #1 city in the nation for rats.

Pest control service Terminix recently released its 2017 list of the top 15 roof rat-infested cities in America, based on service data from more than 300 branches across the country. The rankings represent metropolitan areas with the highest number of actual services for roof rats so far this year. Savannah was number 1, followed by Memphis and then Miami.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson visited Georgia yesterday.

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was in Atlanta Monday, and will remain in the city Tuesday.

Carson met with local leaders and tour a transformed permanent supportive housing development. On Tuesday, Carson will visit two holistically-designed communities supported by public-private partnerships.

Carson also headlined the 2017 Georgia Republican Party’s Chairman’s Dinner.

Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Atlanta) thinks the special election for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District was stolen from Democrat Jon Ossoff.

Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson says he thinks Republicans may have stolen an election from his fellow Democrat, Jon Ossoff. Ossoff lost a special congressional election to Republican Karen Handel in June in the most expensive congressional election in US history.

“A difference of about 3200 votes,” recalled US Rep. Hank Johnson. The Democrat had employed Ossoff as a congressional aide. Ossoff stayed consistently ahead in most polls leading up to the runoff – then lost on election night.

“I think it’s quite possible that Jon Ossoff won that election and the election was stolen from him. That’s my suspicion,” Johnson said Monday.

Johnson points to some delayed election results that came from Fulton County that night. He points to other races in 2014 where Democrats like Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn polled ahead before the election, but lost on election night.

Republicans say there’s zero evidence to back Johnson’s claim of a stolen election. “That is absurd,” said state Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), an early backer of Handel. The claim “is that of a sore loser unable to accept the results of the people.”

Georgia’s members of Congress are lobbying colleagues to include language in tax reform legislation that would benefit the Plant Vogtle construction project.

All but two of the state’s U.S. House members wrote to the chairman of the chamber’s tax-writing committee on Friday urging him to fold language into the upcoming tax overhaul that ensures the operators of the $25 billion project receive roughly $800 million in federal tax credits.

The tweak, which would eliminate a 2020 sunset date on the previously-promised credits, would only benefit Vogtle since it’s the sole remaining new nuclear project under construction in the U.S. But Georgia’s lawmakers said the change would benefit the entire country since it would be underwriting a first-of-its-kind project.

“Beyond simply benefiting Georgia, this credit is integral to protecting our nation’s energy security and independence, ushering in an American nuclear energy renaissance,” the group of 12 wrote to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.

The House easily passed standalone legislation back in June that would make the same changes, but the bill has stalled in the Senate as lawmakers have zeroed in on a broader rewrite of the tax code.

The Trump administration doubled down on its commitment to Vogtle last month when it gave initial approval to $3.7 billion in additional loan guarantees to help cover the project’s recent cost overruns. That’s in addition to the $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees Vogtle previously received.

All 10 of the state’s House Republicans signed onto the letter, including Rick Allen, whose Augusta-area district is home to the nuclear plant. Democrats Sanford Bishop of Albany and David Scott of Atlanta were also signatories.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is applying for “secret” security clearance to discuss Department of Homeland Security efforts to secure voting systems.

According to a spokesperson in his office, Secretary of State Brian Kemp is applying for the “secret” level security clearance as part of a DHS effort to coordinate with states. Last month, the agency reported it had evidence Russian hackers targeted elections systems in 21 states leading up to the 2016 election. Georgia was not one of those targeted, according to Kemp’s office.

About two dozen chief elections officials around the country are applying, said Scott McConnell, a spokesperson with DHS.

“We are working with secretaries of state and other chief election officials to refine processes for sharing information about risks to election infrastructure,” McConnell said. “Part of this includes making security clearances available to officials who would potentially need access to classified information in their oversight of state election infrastructure.”

Kemp’s office is investigating a candidate for Blakely City Council.

A Blakely City Council candidate could possibly face criminal charges after it appeared he offered a reward on social media to people who voted.

As of right now, Travis Wimbush’s name is still on the ballots in Blakely, but the secretary of state has an open investigation.

Wimbush posted on Facebook saying anyone who voted on that day would be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift card. The post continued on by saying “Vote Travis Wimbush City Council District 2 Post 1.

The Secretary of State’s office said it has an open investigation into the matter.

The office said when it learns about a potential election law violation, the Investigations Division has the authority to conduct some preliminary fact-finding and, if warranted, open a formal investigation.

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens suggests you change the batteries on all smoke detectors this weekend when you move your clocks forward.

“If you have a smoke alarm, make sure it’s in working order,” Hudgens said in a statement. “Changing the battery at least once every year and cleaning dust from the device is a simple way to ensure continued protection of your family and your property. Having a working smoke alarm doubles the chances you will survive a fire in your home.”

Daylight Saving Time ends at 2 a.m. Sunday, when the United States officially reverts to what is known as Standard Time. Fire officials traditionally use the beginning and ending of Daylight Saving Time as an opportunity to remind residents of the need to regularly change the batteries in their smoke detectors.

Cobb County Commissioners are facing a $30-million dollar shortage in the 2019 budget.

When Cobb commissioners last month approved the county’s fiscal 2018 budget, they passed a plan that used one-time funds to fill a $20.8 million gap.

They learned Monday that a similar shortfall in the fiscal 2019 budget could grow to as much as $30 million if the county’s revenues and expenditures remain unchanged.

“That’s a realistic number. That’s not enhanced services — that’s what we’re doing today,” Bill Volckmann, the county’s finance director, told commissioners during the first day of their two-day retreat at the Threadmill Complex in Austell. He said his predecessor, the late Jim Pehrson, had predicted in 2014 an eventual overtaking of expenses to revenues, which the county has now reached.

Among the biggest cuts offered as possibilities by county staff include shuttering all county libraries, which would save about $9 million; and closing of animal control and the Cobb Safety Village, which would total nearly $4.4 million in savings.

Georgia’s Healthcare Reform Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, met in Rome yesterday to discuss primary and preventative care.

“The path to a more affordable system starts with preventative care,” said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who chairs the committee of seven state senators that includes Chuck Hufstetler of Rome.

The nine speakers, representing a variety of state and national medical-industry organizations, accepted the premise but differed somewhat on the main obstacles and how to overcome them.

High deductibles in privately funded plans also keep people from following through on treatment that can keep chronic conditions from escalating, said Dr. Scott Bohlke, president of the Medical Association of Georgia.

“Just because you have insurance doesn’t mean you have healthcare,” he said.

Monty Veazey, president of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, spoke of the many difficulties facing rural counties. He said 63 have no pediatrician and 78 have no OB-GYN — and telemedicine is not an immediate fix because broadband speeds aren’t up to par.

That makes the state’s certificate of need law “absolutely vital” to preserve residents’ current level of healthcare access, he said. CON regulations require state approval before most expansions or the addition of new services in an area.

“It’s the only tool the state has to ensure geographic distribution of healthcare resources…of financially stable facilities with an appropriate payer mix,” he said.

[Disclaimer: I do some work for the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.]

Cobb County Commission Chair Mike Boyce has proposed cost-cutting measures.

A freeze on the hire of new county staff members is one of the proposals Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce aims to discuss with commissioners as part of their efforts to balance the county’s budget during today’s second day of the board’s two-day retreat.

Two of Boyce’s top priorities among his 13 recommendations focused on county employees. The hiring freeze he is proposing would last until the county had identified areas that could be better served by the private sector. In addition to the freeze, he is seeking a halt of all county travel not associated with training to maintain certifications.

Boyce’s recommendations also list his aim to implement at the first of the year new criteria for the funding of nonprofits. The chairman did not include $1.1 million in nonprofit grants in the fiscal 2018 budget approved in September, opting instead to push the issue until after the county’s Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.

The Cobb County Republican Women’s Club honored veterans and raised money for the Cobb County Veterans Memorial Foundation.

Hall County Director of Emergency Management David Kimbrell was terminated for violating county policy.

Valdosta City Council candidates met voters in a forum Sunday night.

Augusta Commissioner Bill Fennoy has proposed reducing penalties for marijuana possession.

Augusta Commission member Bill Fennoy wants to reduce the penalty for possession of “small amounts” of marijuana to a fine with no jail time.

The term-limited District 1 commissioner did not return calls seeking comment. He attached to his agenda item for the Augusta Commission Public Safety Committee’s Tuesday meeting a copy of Atlanta’s new ordinance, which reduces the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a $75 fine.

Senate Minority Whip Harold Jones, D-Augusta, has pushed to decriminalize possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana statewide. His Senate Bill 105 made it to the Rules committee last spring.

“I’m not sure we’re capable of doing it,” Jones said. “Cities, without a doubt, yes. Consolidated counties, I cannot say we actually have that power.”

Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, credited Jones with “opening the conversation” about reduced penalties statewide.

“Law enforcement is going to be a lot more watchful in the quantity they collect,” Howard said.

State Rep. Henry “Wayne” Howard, (D-Augusta) had both legs amputated, but plans to return to the Capitol in the next session.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Howard, who went public with his condition Sunday. “This is a way for me to let the public know that I’m ready to go back to work.”

Howard, 62, is in the second year of his sixth term representing the 124th District and his sixth year as chairman of the seven-member Augusta legislative delegation. He has held the House seat since winning it in 2006 from his stepmother, Rep. Earnestine Howard, who replaced her husband, Rep. Henry Howard, after he died in 2005.

Wayne Howard’s colleagues on the delegation said they afforded his family privacy during his illness but now welcome him back into service.

“He’s a very good friend of mine and a good colleague and I’m glad he’s coming back to work,” said Senate Minority Whip Harold Jones, D-Augusta.

“I’m excited to hear he was doing so well and that he’s looking forward to coming back,” said state Rep. Brian Prince, D-Augusta. “Having something to look forward to will help his recovery, as well.”

The capitol is fully accessible to wheelchairs, but his new life in a chair has been a learning experience, Howard said.

“It makes you aware of some of the things that disabled folk go through once you go through it yourself,” he said. “Walk a mile in my shoes, you understand that.”

Howard said the experience has inspired him to improve services for people with disabilities, and senior citizens.

State Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon) spoke to local residents about the rumored closure of L.H. Williams Elementary School.

Columbus State University dedicated the TSYS Center for Cybersecurity to train students in the field.

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