Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 13, 2017


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 13, 2017

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

Governor Nathan Deal announced that the Commission on Children’s Mental Health has released its report, which includes recommendations on improving access to behavioral health services.

“I am grateful for the tireless work and thorough research done on behalf of young Georgians by the Commission on Children’s Mental Health in preparing this report,” said Deal. “At its outset, I charged the Commission with assessing Georgia’s approach to evaluating children’s mental health and recommending appropriate steps we can take in the future. These recommendations will provide guidance for our efforts to improve the continuum of care for children’s behavioral health services. I look forward to reviewing these recommendations to see how we may achieve our objectives and provide all children in Georgia with the best opportunities to grow up as healthy, productive members of society.”

In creating the report, the Commission received recommendations and feedback from around the state. Georgia’s Interagency Directors Team, a multi-agency group of child and adolescent experts established by the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, will be charged with facilitating an implementation plan for the recommendations in the report.

The recommendations outlined in the report include:

•  Increasing access to behavioral health services for Georgia’s school-aged children by sustaining and expanding the Georgia Apex Program for school-based mental health.
•  Fund Supported Employment/Supported Education programs for youth and emerging adults with severe mental illness.
•  Providing support for the development and implementation of additional levels of support within the behavioral health continuum of care for youth with the highest levels of need.
•  Strategically increasing telemedicine infrastructure capacity for child-serving, community-based, behavioral health provider organizations in order to improve access to children’s behavioral health services.
•  Investing in coordinated training for priority areas of interest and concern for the child-serving workforce, including clinical training in evidence-based practices, trauma-informed care and administrative practices that support the delivery of high-quality behavioral health services across service settings.
•  Funding expanded provider training, fidelity monitoring, technical assistance and evaluation for evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound.
•  Supporting multi-pronged early intervention and prevention approaches to combat the opioid crisis among Georgia’s youth and emerging adults.
•  Supporting a multi-pronged suicide prevention approach, including the expansion of prevention programming and expansion of Georgia Crisis and Access Line hours, to reduce rising suicide rates among Georgia’s youth and emerging adults.Read the full report here.

From the AJC Political Insider:

The report’s recommendations do not include a dollar figure, but several of the initiatives involve significant expansions of existing programs. The governor said in a statement the findings will help guide his proposals to “improve the continuum of care for children’s behavioral health services.”

Deal, who is entering his final legislative session in office, often uses reports from commissions he forms to serve as the backbone for funding blueprints and legislative packages.

He cited another council’s report for his decision earlier this year to add $2.5 million in additional mental health funding for young children.

From Georgia Health News:

Sue Smith, executive director of the Georgia Parent Support Network, praised Deal and the commission for its work.

Commission members, she said, “spent countless hours reviewing Georgia literature and listening to community members from all walks of life. Much time and effort has gone into this careful study, which concentrates of how to best provide services for Georgia’s children with mental health needs. The eight recommendations address areas where program growth will immediately benefit Georgia’s youth while building a strong foundation for future growth.”

Members of the commission were Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities; Katie Childers, deputy chief of staff for policy in the Governor’s Office; Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Community Health; Stephanie Blank, board chair of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students; Bobby Cagle, former director of the Division of Family and Children Services; Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, medical director of the Stephanie V. Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children; Teresa MacCartney, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget; and Erica Fener Sitkoff, executive director, VOICES for Georgia’s Children.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue spoke about his relationship with President Trump:

Perdue said on Tuesday that he felt “challenged” by his job and that the president has set high expectations for him in the role.

“I don’t think he wants a sycophant as a secretary,” Perdue said during a speech at the National Press Club. “He wants me to give him my best counsel, my best advice, and he wants me to be right about that. He has high expectations, and frankly I’m challenged by those high expectations.”

Perdue said Trump has the “essence of a great leader” because he is willing to take different opinions into account and change his mind on policy and political matters, citing Trump’s thought process on NAFTA.

“As directed and as forward and as forceful as he is on many things, he has what I think defined as the essence of a great leader,” Perdue said. “He always leaves a little back door open for comments and he takes into consideration and is willing to change his mind on that.”

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle unveiled his education priorities for the 2018 legislative session.

The State House Rural Development Council meets this morning in Milledgeville to finalize their recommendations.

Slated for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Georgia Military College’s Old Capitol Building, the meeting will bring the council’s 15 appointed and 11 ex-officio representatives in contact with local leaders in hopes of giving Georgia’s rural residents greater access to basic needs.

“It goes back probably two or three years to when a group of [Representatives] started to realize the differences in the economic recovery between the Atlanta-metro area, and even the other urban areas in the state, and rural areas,” said Rep. Terry England, Chairman of the house Appropriations Committee and Co-Chairman of the Rural Development Council. “We’d been talking for several years about the establishment of a rural center of some sort, and of mimicking what states like Pennsylvania and others have done as it pertains to breathing life back into the rural areas of our state. A year ago, [Rep.] Jay Powell, who’s the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and myself spoke to [House Speaker David Ralston] about our concern for some of the things we were seeing and some needs we felt were not being addressed … he came back and said he wanted to create the council.”

“Broadband [internet], or the lack thereof, is certainly one of the biggest issues in rural Georgia, and it has its tentacles in just about everything else,” England said. “Broadband has [an effect] on healthcare, education, economic development, and so many other things, that it was one of the issues we knew we needed to address. We knew also that there are several issues impacting rural hospitals throughout the state; part of it is purely dollars and cents, but a big part of it is also their ability to attract and retain talent to be doctors, advanced practice nurses, and those kinds of things.”

“There are a lot of areas in the state that will likely never see a Caterpillar, or a Baxter, or a Kia Motors come to those areas,” he said, referring to companies that have opened manufacturing plants in rural Georgia in the past several years. “Part of it is because there’s just not enough population to draw a workforce from, access to and from rail, and so forth, but we need to help those communities in those areas … There are a lot of things that we do in this state very well, and there are a lot of things that we do very well on a very small scale. Given the opportunity, given some help with local leadership, and given the ability of outside resources, they can take those things that they’re doing very well and put jobs and money into their communities.”

The AJC sent reporters to Stewart County to learn about the rural community’s economic difficulties.

A rural community with just 5,700 residents, Stewart was singled out in a U.S. Census Bureau report this month for being one of the poorest counties in the nation. The county has one of the highest percentages of families living in poverty at 38.4 percent.

“I worry about the kids because sometimes I know the only meal they get is what they eat in school,” Mona Hubbard, the county school system’s nutrition manager, said as she supervised Monday’s lunch preparations. “If your stomach is growling, how can you pay attention?”

Georgia House members have been studying the problems facing Stewart and other rural parts of the state for months, and now they’re preparing to do something about it. Their Rural Development Council will release its first report Wednesday, and its recommendations could be made into law as soon as next year.

Among the options up for consideration are state grants for expanding high-speed internet access in rural communities. Young doctors could be offered college loan relief if they agree to work in rural areas. Hospital record-keeping could be streamlined. And a pilot program could teach job skills to rural residents.

“There’s not a silver bullet. You’ve got to improve a lot of issues to make rural Georgia attractive for job creation,” said state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, one of the council’s co-chairmen.

[Stewart County Manager Mac Moye] pointed to two bright spots in Stewart, Richland Distilling Co. and Omaha Brewing Co. Together, both businesses have made substantial investments in Stewart and are attracting thousands of people there each year.

Erik Vonk, a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to America for work, started growing sugar cane on his farm in South Georgia as a hobby in the late 1990s. His rum distillery now employs six people and occupies seven buildings in downtown Richland, all of which were once boarded up. His rum sells in 15 states and nine countries. Vonk is opening a branch in Brunswick.

Business tax relief, a trained workforce and affordable high-speed internet access would help Stewart’s economy grow, Vonk and Lee said.

“We need more businesses like Omaha Brewing and Richland Rum in the county,” Vonk said. “Business begets business, gradually allowing us to employ more people, draw more businesses, generate more sales taxes and establish a tiny little backbone for commerce.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp spoke about rural issues in Chatsworth and Dalton last week.

“I understand the issues that affect rural areas, and I also see the opportunity,” said Kemp. “Transportation and infrastructure improvements are perfect examples. You have people in the governor’s race who are talking about bridging over the Connector in downtown Atlanta, or even tunneling under it, but nobody is talking about how much it’s going to cost or who is going to pay for it.”

“The people of Murray County and the rest of rural Georgia don’t want to send their tax dollars intended for transportation to relieve Atlanta’s traffic congestion – they’d rather see projects like widening Highway 411 in critical spots around the new inland port, and fixing crumbling pavement, and putting in needed stoplights,” said Kemp.

“I know how important little things like that are to our communities, and that’s what I’ll be fighting for in the governor’s office,” he added.

“I want the people of Murray County to be my special interest group,” he added.

“In Atlanta and Savannah, it’s booming. But in the rural parts of the state, there still are not the same opportunities that some areas have.”

“It’s sad, when kids in rural areas have to move away from the areas where they grew up. Wanting to leave is OK, but when they have to leave to find opportunity, that’s sad.”

The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents voted for additional mergers of institutions.

The system’s Board of Regents voted Tuesday to consolidate Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University and merge Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College with Bainbridge State College. Both consolidations will take effect Jan. 1.

The two merged institutions will go forward under the names of Georgia Southern University and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Each will begin operating with expanded missions and degree offerings.

“The University System of Georgia is committed to serving the southeast and south Georgia regions of our state, and we view these consolidations as long-term investments,” system Chancellor Steve Wrigley said. “The new Georgia Southern University and the new Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College are well positioned to increase college attainment levels in these areas of the state.”

Right whales – the official state marine mammal of Georgia – are on path to extinction, according to a report by NOAA.

Clay George, who heads up the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ efforts with right whales, said he has read the report the conclusions come from — by Richard Pace of the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and his colleagues — and agrees the population has decreased over the last several years and appears to continue down that road.

“We’ve seen below-average calving numbers, basically, since that period, so I’m not surprised by the results at all,” George said. “The concerns about extinction are based on some analysis that one of the authors of that paper has done that I’ve seen in a webinar — it hasn’t been published in a paper yet. From what I’ve seen, his results are very concerning, because they indicate females are not living very long.”

As it stands, around 450 right whales are known to exist, and of those, there are about 100 breeding females. But considering the cyclical nature of reproduction and the amount of calves born, the number of deaths is outpacing the number of births. Researchers note 17 right whale deaths this year.

“That’s a real problem, because right whales only have a calf every four to five years,” George said. “They don’t typically start calving until they’re around 10 years of age, so if they’re dying that young, it’s pretty simple arithmetic. That means they can only produce a relatively small number of calves in their lifetime, and about half of those are going to be male, and only half will be female. More adult females are needed for the population to recover, so that’s very concerning.”

Glynn County Board of Education voted to participate in a Tax Allocation District (TAD) for the City of Brunswick.

The school board voted 6-1 to approve the TAD’s creation. School board member Hank Yeargan voted against it.

“We’ve got to do something to the city of Brunswick,” said Millard Allen, school board member, “.. And I think we need to move forward with it. I know the long-term scares a lot of people, but that’s kind of the way it works.”

The city is also seeking approval from the Glynn County Commission. Jim Drumm, city manager, said at the meeting that the county commissioners have not officially voted to approve the TAD, but they said by consensus during a work session that they will support the plan.

Once the TAD goes into effect, property taxes in the district will be frozen at the current baseline level. Any additional revenue generated by rising property values goes toward paying for improvement projects in the district. The city has proposed nine projects to redevelop areas in the district, and those projects would be financed through long-term loans, called bonds.

The goal of the TAD is to attract developers to the area by improving infrastructure. Property taxes should then increase.

The tax base can remain frozen between 10 to 25 years. The difference between the baseline tax and the increased tax goes into a special account, used to pay off the bonds.

Hall County Commissioners voted to freeze issuance of vacation rental business licenses.

Hall County commissioners were unanimous Tuesday evening: the practice of homeowners renting-out their residences on a short term basis needed better control; so until the topic of private home rental could be better analyzed and applicable ordinances put into law, a moratorium on the issuance of vacation rental business licenses was approved until March 31, 2018.

“The Hall County Transient Occupancy Ordinance that governs vacation home rentals under thirty days was approved in 2010,” Gibbs explained.  “Since that time there has been an increase in avenues for marketing listings of vacation home rentals and demand has increased nationally.”

Gibbs was referring to popular online rental sites such as “” and “”, among others, where property owners wishing to rent their homes, or rooms in their homes, are paired with individuals looking for short term accommodations in a private setting.

“In light of this I’d like to direct staff to review the current ordinance and prepare a recommendation to the board regarding updates and revisions.  Staff should have this recommendation completed by February 12, 2018, with the anticipation of a full review of the ordinance and future modifications,” Gibbs said.

“The law has always been that you have to have a business license; that way we can keep track of who is renting.” [Gibbs said].  And collect the appropriate Hotel/Motel Tax, “…because you’re competing with my hotels and motels that are paying the tax.  It’s an unfair advantage (for the private homeowner who does not collect tax).”

Oakwood City Council is considering zoning changes for massage parlors.

Savannah City Council’s price tag for a proposed fire fee has increased because they decided to retain 18 firefighting positions.

A recent decision by the Savannah City Council to restore 18 firefighting positions that staff had proposed cutting next year means a proposed fee for fire services will amount to $256 for single-family households.

That is up from $240, the flat rate for homeowners the council decided on during a recent 2018 budget retreat to cover 70 percent of fire department costs. The fee amount for non-residential properties is based on a building’s size, as well as a risk factor determined by the fire department.

City staffers informed the mayor and aldermen during a budget workshop on Tuesday that the increase was to cover the cost restoration of the positions.

The increased amount came as a surprise to some aldermen who said they have been having to explain the fee and its impact to concerned property owners since they decided to move forward with the proposal at the budget retreat.

Colquitt Regional Medical Center was recognized as one of 18 top rural hospitals in the nation.

Announced Monday, the Leapfrog Top Hospital award is widely acknowledged as one of the most competitive honors American hospitals can receive, according to a press release from Colquitt Regional. The Top Hospital designation is awarded by the Leapfrog Group, an independent hospital watchdog organization.

“Every department at Colquitt Regional played a valuable role in helping us earn this recognition. This is the second time in four years that we have been named a Top Hospital, and it’s because of our employees, doctors, and hospital trustees,” said Colquitt Regional CEO Jim Matney. “We have changed the culture at Colquitt Regional, and our patients expect that they will receive safe and exceptional care at our hospital. Our employees — from those at the bedside to the support departments for those at the bedside — have all adopted this culture. We are delivering safe and effective care with compassion. I just can’t emphasize enough how proud I am of our team.”

Also recognized as a top rural hospital was WellStar Sylvan Grove Hospital.

Former Congressman Phil Gingrey (R-11) write in The Hill about reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

As Congress sprints to the finish line to get home in time to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, the best holiday gift my former colleagues can give American children would be to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

CHIP provides comprehensive health-care coverage to approximately 9 million children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who cannot access or afford commercial health insurance. This wildly popular program was created in 1997 when Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) reached across the aisle and worked together; it continues to enjoy strong, bipartisan support in Washington as well as state houses across the country.

Like many fiscal conservatives, I am of a mind to regard no program as sacred, not even this one. At a time when this country has amassed debt equal to our national GDP — something we haven’t done since the end of World War II — it is reasonable to ask if we can afford to continue to pay for this level of care. Compassion for our children should include concern about the impact our national debt will have on our children and grandchildren.

However, some things are so important and provide such value that I support pulling out the credit card and spending the money. If I were still serving in Congress today, I would be urging my fellow conservatives to do the fiscally prudent thing and vote in favor of extending the CHIP program.

Mystery still surrounds the source of counterfeit percocet pills linked to a cluster of overdoses in middle Georgia.

[Jamarco] Gibson is among more than two dozen people who were treated after overdosing on counterfeit Percocet pills over several days last June in Middle Georgia — a deadly crisis that drew national headlines. The rash of overdoses came amid a nationwide opioid overdose epidemic, which President Donald Trump has declared a public health emergency.

Although it’s unclear how many people overdosed on phony Percocet pills in Georgia, at least five died during that period. After investigating the Georgia cases, public health authorities linked 27 of the overdoses and one death to the pills. They contained a mixture of highly potent synthetic drugs that police suspect came from overseas, possibly China: cyclopropyl fentanyl and the synthetic opioid U-47700.

Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal, Georgia’s commissioner of public health, and his colleagues are now developing statewide plans for how to respond to the opioid epidemic, fearing another overdose outbreak inevitable.

Someone at the hospital told Gibson the pill he had taken contained carfentanil. Gibson said he spent about a week recovering at the hospital, racking up more than $100,000 in medical bills. He has lost as many as 20 pounds. It’s now hard for him to concentrate. He struggles with a mixture of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. He said his ordeal cost him his job.

Macon-Bibb Commissioners are considering two sales tax referenda for 2018.

The County Commission received updates Tuesday on an “other local option sales tax,” or OLOST, as well as a regional transportation sales tax, measures that could be added to ballots as county officials contemplate additional sources of revenue.

If the tax referendums pass, then the sales tax in Macon-Bibb would go from 7 cents to 9 cents on the dollar.

Macon-Bibb leaders have cited two benefits of the OLOST: It’s a tax that doesn’t just affect property owners, such as the millage rate. A large share of the sales tax revenue comes from people who live outside of Macon-Bibb, they have said.

The OLOST referendum would also tie into a freeze on property values and a millage rate rollback.

“This doesn’t freeze taxes, but what it freezes is the value of your home,” Mayor Robert Reichert said.

The County Commission’s Committee of the Whole voted Tuesday in favor of a resolution to begin working with the local legislative delegation on crafting potential legislation. The resolution would need final approval at next week’s regular commission meeting.

Commissioners Elaine Lucas and Bert Bivins voted against the sales tax resolution.

Tom Crawford writes that 2017 was the year of women in Georgia politics.

In the Nov. 7 elections, a wave of women who had never run for office before won races across the country, in many cases ousting male incumbents.

These new candidates had the most impact in Virginia, where they were largely responsible for Democrats nearly wiping out a 32-seat advantage for Republicans in the state legislature.

Here in Georgia, we have seen women from both parties win political offices that previously belonged to men.

Earlier this year, Republican Karen Handel won the 6th Congressional District seat that once belonged to Tom Price. Kay Kirkpatrick won a state Senate seat that Judson Hill vacated. In last week’s runoff elections, Democratic women swept four legislative seats that were up for grabs in the Metro Atlanta area, with women candidates beating male candidates in three of those races.

The wave of women winners is a trend that has swept the nation since the election of Donald Trump as president. Trump’s presence in the Oval Office seems to have energized more women to run for office than they have in past years.

I see the emergence of women in politics, for whatever reason, as a positive development. For more than two centuries, American politics has largely been the domain of middle-aged white males. It’s time to get a wider variety of viewpoints.

I agree with most of what Crawford writes in that piece, but would add the caveat that of the races he points two, only one could plausibly be considered to be outside Metro Atlanta, and that was in Athens, which is a separate world unto itself. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue in 2018, and if it will also include more women running and winning in non-metro areas.

Comments ( 0 )