Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 1, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 1, 2019

Georgia’s first colonists landed at Yamacraw Bluff on February 1, 1733.

The United States Supreme Court held its first session in New York City, Chief Justice John Jay presiding, on February 1, 1790.

The first recorded reference to Groundhog Day was in 1841; the first Punxsutawney observance was in 1870.

The first recorded reference to Groundhog Day was in 1841; the first Punxsutawney observance was in 1870.

Atlanta City Council met for the first time on February 2, 1848.

On February 1, 1861, Texas seceded from the Union.

On February 2, 1870, the Georgia General Assembly ratified the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” On February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

On February 1, 1871, Jefferson Franklin Long of Macon, Georgia became the first black Member of Congress to speak on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Long was born into slavery and taught himself to read and write. Long was a prominent member of the Republican Party, speaking on its behalf in Georgia and other Southern states. He helped elect 37 African-American members to the 1867 Georgia Constitutional Convention and 32 members of the state legislature; Long continued after his term in Congress as a delegate to Republican National Conventions through 1880. In 1880, Long’s support of Governor Alfred Colquitt showed that African-Americans could be an electoral force in Georgia politics.

On February 3, 1887, Congress adopted the Electoral Count Act to clarify how Congress was to count electoral votes.

Electoral vote counting is the oldest activity of the national government and among the oldest questions of constitutional law. It was Congress’s first task when a quorum appeared in the nation’s new legislature on April 6, 1789. It has happened every four years since then. Yet, electoral vote counting remains one of the least understood aspects of our constitutional order.

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 (ECA) lies at the heart of this confusion. In enacting the ECA, Congress drew on lessons learned from its twenty-five previous electoral counts; it sorted through innumerable proposals floated before and after the disastrous presidential election of 1876; and it thrashed out the ECA’s specific provisions over fourteen years of sustained debate. Still, the law invites misinterpretation. The ECA is turgid and repetitious. Its central provisions seem contradictory. Many of its substantive rules are set out in a single sentence that is 275 words long. Proponents of the law admitted it was “not perfect.” Contemporary commentators were less charitable. John Burgess, a leading political scientist in the late nineteenth century, pronounced the law unwise, incomplete, premised on contradictory principles, and expressed in language that was “very confused, almost unintelligible.” At least he thought the law was constitutional; others did not.

Over the nearly 120 years since the ECA’s adoption, the criticisms faded, only to be renewed whenever there was a close presidential election. Our ability to misunderstand the ECA has grown over time. During the 2000 presidential election dispute, politicians, lawyers, commentators, and Supreme Court justices seemed prone to misstate or misinterpret the provisions of the law, even those provisions which were clear to the generation that wrote them. The Supreme Court, for example, mistakenly believed that the Supreme Court of Florida’s erroneous construction of its election code would deny Florida’s electors the ECA’s “safe harbor” protection; Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s hasty submission of his state’s Certificate of Ascertainment was untimely under the Act; and Democratic members of Congress framed their objections to accepting Florida’s electoral vote on the wrong grounds. Even Al Gore, the presidential candidate contesting the election’s outcome, misread the federal deadline for seating Florida’s electors.

Only the United States Congress could so obfuscate a matter as seemingly simple as counting that its Act remained undecipherable for more than one hundred years.

The Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Delaware on February 3, 1913, giving the Amendment the requisite Constitutional supermajority of three-fourths of the states. The text of the Amendment reads, in its entirety,

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

President Woodrow Wilson died on February 3, 1924 in Washington, DC. Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia (pronounced Stan-ton) and spent most of his youth to age 14 in Augusta, Georgia. Wilson started practicing law in Atlanta, Georgia in 1882, leaving the next year to pursue a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. His wife, Ellen Louise Axson, was from Savannah, and they married in Rome, Ga in 1885.

On February 2, 1932, Al Capone was sent to federal prison in Atlanta.

On February 3, 1959, a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed near Mason City, Iowa, killing all aboard.

On February 1, 1965, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Selma, Alabama, where he was arrested.

Jimi Hendrix recorded Purple Haze on February 3, 1967.

Richard M. Nixon announced his candidacy for President of the United States on Feburary 1, 1968.

On February 2, 1988, the Georgia Senate ratified the 22d Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that pay raises for Members of Congress shall not go into effect until the next term.

On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian P. Kemp appointed a committee to investigate allegations against McIntosh County Superior Court Clerk Rebecca McFerrin.

Election officials who oversaw the Republican primary and resulting special election in House District 28 were questioned in a lawsuit by former State Rep. Dan Gasaway, according to AccessWDUN.

On Thursday, Erwin attorney Brian Tyson called to the stand Banks County Elections Supervisor and Registrar Andra Phagan, who has served as the county’s registrar for nearly 13 years, asking Senior Judge David Sweat to allow her to testify as an expert witness as to how local elections and voter registration are conducted.

Much of the discussion again centered around several voters who live at or near a county line.

Phagan explained a particular challenge she faces on Dan Waters Road at the Banks and Jackson County line, where three of the households named in Gasaway’s lawsuit reside.

She said Banks County Commissioners previously made a deal to bring property on one side of the road into Banks County but stipulated it would be voluntary upon request of the property owners rather than a mandatory transfer.

“The agreement was made that the road would be the county line, but it was not an automatic taking in of property,” Phagan said.

Residents could choose to remain in Jackson County.

Tyson asked Phagan about each of the households of the 21 voters Gasaway’s attorney is questioning in the lawsuit.

Former candidate for Walker County Commission Ales Earle Campbell is accused of misappropriating funds, according to the Times Free Press.

Detective Billy Mullis took out an arrest warrant against Ales Earle Campbell this week, filing a charge of theft by taking against her. Police Chief Bengie Clift said Campbell has been accused of misappropriating funds from the LaFayette Woman’s Club. Clift did not know exactly how much money Campbell supposedly took, but he said it’s between $1,000 and $10,000.

He said the department has given her until 5 p.m. Friday to turn herself in. Attempts to reach Campbell by phone Thursday were not successful and she did not return a message on Facebook.

Campbell challenged former commissioner Bebe Heiskell in 2012. Before the Republican primary that July, she served as social media coordinator for Heiskell’s opponent, Dr. Paul Shaw. When Shaw lost by 211 votes, Campbell ran in the November election as a write-in candidate.

Heiskell beat her, gaining 13,380 votes against 5,851 write-in votes. At the time of the election, according to Times Free Press archives, county officials were not immediately clear how many of those write-in ballots were specifically for Campbell.

Republican Habersham County Commissioner Natalie Crawford will appear in a Super Bowl ad with Democratic former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, according to the Associated Press.

Abrams’ political group, Fair Fight, has bought airtime on Georgia affiliates during Sunday’s NFL broadcast so the Atlanta Democrat can push for election law changes.

In the Super Bowl ad, Abrams appears alongside Natalie Crawford, a white Republican Habersham County Commissioner. Crawford, who was first elected in 2012, represents District 4 on the Board of Commissioners.  In the ad, both women call for hand-marked paper ballots to replace Georgia’s touch-screen voting system.

“We don’t agree on everything,” says Crawford in the ad.

“But we love Georgia,” Abrams says, later adding, “Every vote should be counted, from every corner of our state.”

From the AJC:

Crawford’s role was also meant to send a message. She lives in a portion of a deeply conservative northeast Georgia House district that’s at the center of one of the most bizarre – and closest – legislative contests in recent state history.

Republican Dan Gasaway is in court this week seeking a second new election after losing the first redo by just two votes, and he claims that dozens of people illegally voted in the makeup contest.

Abrams often cited the Gasaway case on the campaign trail as an example of how problems with the state’s elections procedures can cut across party lines. Kemp’s office earlier blamed Habersham officials for putting voters in wrong districts.

From the Macon Telegraph:

Abrams has been tasked to deliver the Democrats’ response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union message Tuesday.

Abrams will go before a camera Tuesday night as she mulls when and what office she’ll seek after losing her bid to become the nation’s first African American female governor in a bitterly-fought contest against Republican Brian Kemp that captured national attention.

“This is a huge opportunity for her to really,really insert herself into the national narrative,” said Dan Sena, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s executive director during the 2018 elections. “This just puts her in a really prime position to capitalize, not only Georgia, but also sort of a larger national opportunity.

”But those opportunities could get quashed by a poor or quirky performance. The history of presidential speech responders is filled with clunkers.

“Absolutely, there is a downside,” Sena said. “Anytime you do a national anything there is a downside to it.”

State Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) filed a religious liberty protection bill, according to the Times Free Press.

As Republican leadership in the Georgia legislature hopes for a tame session when it comes to cultural issues this year, state Rep. Kasey Carpenter believes his religious protection bill can squeeze by without drawing the ire of the business community.

Carpenter was not so successful last year, when he failed to get a committee hearing for the same bill, which is supposed to give students more protection to share religious beliefs and lets teachers participate in student-led prayers. But Carpenter said he’s in communication with the party’s leaders and is lobbying for their support. He believes he will have a better feel for the bill’s prospects after a caucus meeting Tuesday.

Carpenter, R-Dalton, argued his bill is relatively innocuous. He thinks some attacks lump it in with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill the legislature passed in 2016, which business leaders attacked as opening the door to discriminate against homosexuals. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed that bill.

“Everyone’s looking at RFRA and trying to tie this to that,” Carpenter said. “That is not what this is. If anything, to me, it’s an inclusive bill, not an exclusive bill. When you get down to it, I hope this is not what [Speaker of the House David Ralston] is concerned with. But I understand what the speaker’s concerned with. He’s got a balancing act for sure, especially heading toward 2020.”

Georgia State House members are expected to introduce a digital services tax to fund rural broadband, according to the AJC.

Legislation to tax internet services such as Netflix, e-books and music downloads will soon be introduced in the Georgia House, despite opposition from Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

The proposed tax is a priority for rural lawmakers in the Republican-led House, who say it could raise money to help subsidize construction of internet lines in areas where businesses need high-speed access.

But Kemp and some other Republicans say they’re skeptical of taxes on digital services unless they’re accompanied by tax cuts on other products.

House Rules Chairman Jay Powell, a Republican from Camilla, said he or a colleague will introduce a bill to tax digital goods and services. The 4 percent communications service tax would replace the state’s existing taxes and fees on phone lines and cable TV, which range from 5 percent to over 7 percent.

“This is not a new tax,” Powell said Wednesday. “Technology is changing. The bottom line is, I’m getting movies, sports, news and all the things I’ve always gotten, but I’m getting them via a different medium, which is streaming services as opposed to cable TV.”

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan is at war with former Governor Nathan Deal, according to the AJC.

In a letter this week, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan asserted the 64 board appointments that Deal made between the end of the special legislative session on Nov. 17 and his last day in office on Jan. 14 were not properly submitted to the state Senate.

It could affect a spate of appointments that Deal made during his final weeks in office, including the renewal of three members of the Board of Regents – one of the most coveted posts in state government – and several other prominent boards.

When appointments are made in between legislative sessions, the law mandates that the governor must “submit” to the Senate a list of the names. Deal’s office sent that list to Duncan on Jan. 14, the day the lieutenant governor was sworn into office.

In a memo accompanying the letter, Duncan attorney Regina Quick argued that the list wasn’t properly submitted because it was sent to the lieutenant governor before he took the oath of office.

Instead, she wrote, the list should have gone to the secretary of the senate, who is the de facto leader of the chamber before a presiding officer is sworn in.

A Medicaid waiver is gaining momentum under the Gold Dome, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed the state spend $1 million to investigate how the state could get a “waiver” to give the state more flexibility to use federal dollars and may let Georgia add more people to the Medicaid rolls.

He’s guided by former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who has urged Georgia to “lead in a big way” on such programs. And now the Georgia Senate’s new health and human services chairman is out front on the effort, advocating for a conservative way to cover hundreds of thousands of additional Georgians.

“I feel it,” said Monty Veazey, who lobbies for rural hospitals. “I gotta see it.”

State GOP leaders say they can make a conservative case to do it. That would entail obtaining a Medicaid “waiver” to allow Georgia to tailor the expansion in a more conservative way.

State Sen. Ben Watson, the new chairman of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee, joined a small but growing group of elected Republican officials seeking a conservative way to give more Georgians coverage.

“At the end of the day, any expansion is good for rural hospitals,” Veazey said. Not having coverage for the poorest has been devastating for hospitals, he said, helping lead to several closures. “I talked to one last week, they had five days’ operating cash,” he said. “That’s how dire it is.”

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams spoke to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, according to The Brunswick News.

 With the state’s voters overwhelmingly supporting the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment on the ballot in November 2018, the Outdoor Stewardship Act provisions are going forward, but it’s not an immediate process, as state Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams told the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee on Tuesday.

“While you’ve got the mic up there, would you mind just commenting on the status of GOSA, just so everybody knows where we are on that, and how that’s moving along,” subcommittee Chairman Sam Watson, R-Moultrie, said.

“We met with a lot of outside stakeholders and (non-governmental organizations), putting together sort of a steering group to come up with a criteria, and buckets and the point system for ranking the projects,” Williams said. “The speaker (of the House) has named his two members, and the lieutenant governor has named their two members, so the trustee board is in place, and we feel like we’re right where we need to be.

“As you remember in the bill, there’s a lot of transparency and a lot of steps that everything we do goes through — projects, and even our rules and criteria. So, after session, we’ll be taking the criteria portion to our DNR board, and then move it through the trustee board and of course come back in January.”

The Smart Sea Level Sensor Project in Savannah is setting up water monitoring in Chatham County, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Smart Sea Level Sensor Project is a partnership between Chatham Emergency Management Agency officials, city of Savannah officials, and Georgia Tech scientists and engineers. They are working to install a network of internet-enabled sea level sensors across the county to provide real-time data on coastal flooding that will be used for emergency planning and response. That’s just the basics. The collaborators envision collecting more data in the future, including rainfall and water quality parameters. And they’re talking about using it to guide development and in education.

The Smart Sea level Sensor project was born in part out of the frustration local residents felt when recent hurricanes produced localized flooding that wasn’t well-predicted because of the limitations of generalizing from the county’s only tide gauge, located at Fort Pulaski.

Such “surprise flooding” happened again the day after Thanksgiving on Kilkenny Creek in Richmond Hill, said Georgia Tech Senior Research Scientist Russ Clark, a project collaborator who lives there.

More sensors spread around the county means more data to show not only what’s happening in real time, but also to feed into computer models and predict flooding.

Georgia Power‘s new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) includes closing Plant Hammond, near Rome, according to the Rome News-Tribune.

Georgia Power submitted a new Integrated Resource Plan to the Georgia Public Service Commission Thursday which calls for the decertification of Plant Hammond west of Rome. The utility has seen the end of Hammond coming for several years and the staff at the plant has dwindled down to just 40.

All four units of Plant Hammond are included in the decertification, as is one unit at Plant McIntosh in Rincon, near the coast. Those are the only coal plant decertification’s in the new IRP. A couple of smaller hydro units in Southwest Georgia are also slated for decertification.

Georgia Power said the decision to decertify Hammnd considered future fuel costs, load and energy forecasts and an analysis of available generation technologies.

“We acknowledge the continuing economic pressure felt on coal-fired units,” a press release from the company reads.

“Coal fueled-steam units show lower projected value for customers due to continuing low gas price forecasts, lower load forecasts across the system and the need for high levels of investment in the existing plants,” Kraft said. “So the decision to decertify is based on that need to make a balanced economic decision that ensures reliable and affordable power going into the future.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will lower the pool on the Savannah River to simulate what it will be like after removal of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Corps said it will start lowering the pool Feb. 9, weather permitting, and over the course of five days adjust it slightly until it reaches the correct level around Feb.14, where it will stay for a week. The pool lowering had been scheduled for January but heavy rainfall and runoff had swollen the pool for about three months and made it difficult to do then, the corps said.

Along with the simulation, the Corps will send out its draft report on its preference for a fish passage in the Savannah that would allow for endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon to reach historic spawning grounds near Augusta, a migration currently blocked by the Lock and Dam. That preferred option is a rock weir upstream of the current Lock and Dam that would allow the fish to pass through it and then the removal of the lock and dam. The corps has estimated it will lower the pool around 1-2 feet at the Fifth Street Bridge during average flow in the river.

Strip clubs are harming redevelopment in Augusta, according to a broker quoted by the Augusta Chronicle.

[Joe] Edge, president of Sherman and Hemstreet Real Estate Co., is calling the public to contact Augusta commissioners, sign a petition and appear at a Tuesday commission meeting to dissuade the commission from approving an ordinance change that would allow the clubs to remain open indefinitely.

“We are actively involved in recruiting business to downtown,” Edge said. “Any time we take somebody down near Sixth Street they absolutely all say the same thing: They will not be near strip clubs.”

Downtown developer Bryan Haltermann, who owns nearby real estate and signed the petition, said the move will “condemn lower Broad to second-class status; very bad for our city when downtown is prepared to become more vibrant and more of a showplace.”

Edge said the commission is “willing to sacrifice an entire block of Broad Street, future growth and new businesses for the sole benefit of one person, and in doing so is going against the rules on the books today.”

Glynn County District 2 Commissioner Peter Murphy spoke to someone protesting a proposal to toll the Torras Causeway to St Simons Island, according to The Brunswick News.

Frank Booker was standing on a public sidewalk at the entrance to Longview Plaza, picket sign in hand, when towards the end of his “shift,” Glynn County District 2 Commissioner Peter Murphy, who represents St. Simons, Sea and Jekyll islands, arrived and engaged Booker in a lively conversation. In the meantime, the occupants of several vehicles honked and gave Booker the thumbs-up sign in agreement with his message.

Booker, a St. Simons Island resident since 1998 and property owner since 1984, is vehemently opposed to the reinstatement of a toll on the F.J. Torras Causeway, which connects St. Simons Island to Brunswick and the mainland at large. The toll has been mentioned in recent commission meetings, most notably by Murphy, as a possible way of generating revenue to improve the county’s infrastructure.

“I just wanted him to know, in my humble opinion that the tax (toll) is dumb and unfair,” Booker, who has been a full-time resident of St. Simons Island since 1998, said. “Cap Fendig, Mark Bedner and others worked very hard to get this thing to go away.”

Booker said he fears that if the Georgia Department of Transportation authorizes the toll, it will last forever. He recently sent a letter to all the county commissioners urging them to not give in to a request by Murphy to fund a study about the toll. He minces no words when asked for his impression of Murphy.

Savannah City Council heard staff proposals for spending under a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that will be on November ballots, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Opponents of a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) in Whitfield County are discussing what they consider the proposal’s downside, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.

“The (Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce) has come out in favor of the SPLOST,” said Jevin Jensen, owner of Jevin’s Ace Hardware in Varnell. “I’m a member of the chamber. I support a lot of their initiatives. But there didn’t seem to be anyone showing the other side.”

Voters will decide the SPLOST’s fate on March 19, with early voting to begin Feb. 25.

The 1 percent sales tax is applied to most goods bought in the county. If approved, the SPLOST would begin on July 1 of this year. There is currently a four-year SPLOST that expires on June 30 that was projected to collect $64 million.

“They (supporters of the SPLOST) say ‘It’s just a penny,’” said Jensen. “But it’s only a penny if you buy something for a dollar. There’s not many things you buy today for a dollar. It’s 1 percent. For seniors and people on fixed incomes, that 1 percent adds up pretty quickly.”

Two candidates qualified for an open seat on Snellville City Council, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Antonio Molina, 36, and Tod Warner, 56, qualified last week to run for the seat previously held by Barbara Bender, who will serve as the city’s mayor for the remainder of 2019. Bender had to step down from her seat on the council when her colleagues appointed her finish out Witt’s term.

A special election to fill Bender’s seat will be held March 19 in conjunction with the city’s Sunday brunch alcohol sales referendum. The winner of the election will serve the remainder of Bender’s council term, which means until 2021.

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