Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 8, 2019

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 8, 2019

On July 8, 1776, the bell now known as the Liberty Bell rang in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, now called Independence Hall, to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Rung to call the Pennsylvania Assembly together and to summon people for special announcements and events, it was also rung on important occasions, such as King George III’s 1761 ascension to the British throne and, in 1765, to call the people together to discuss Parliament’s controversial Stamp Act. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in April 1775, the bell was rung to announce the battles of Lexington and Concord. Its most famous tolling, however, was on July 8, 1776, when it summoned Philadelphia citizens for the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.

The Liberty Bell inscription includes a reference to Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

The first of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops, under Major General Schofield, crossed the Chattahoochee River between Powers Ferry and Johnson Ferry on July 8, 1864.

Former United States Senator from Texas Phil Gramm (R) was born on July 8, 1942 in Columbus, Georgia, where his father was stationed at Fort Benning.

On July 8, 1975, President Gerald Ford announced his candidacy for President in the 1976 elections.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The Gainesville Times spoke to UGA Political Science Professor Charles Bullock about Georgia’s political future.

“For the past 20 years, we’ve been perceived as being a solidly Republican state, so while candidates would come and campaign in our presidential primary in the spring, after that we never really saw them on the campaign trail,” Bullock said. “They might fly in to Atlanta, take a motorcade down to a hotel, have a fundraiser and then leave. I think come 2020, we might actually see them going to places like Gainesville.”

Bullock noted the narrowness of President Donald Trump’s and Gov. Brian Kemp’s victories in Georgia — Trump got 51.3% of the vote in Georgia in 2016, while Kemp got 50.2% of the vote in 2018.

“There’s the potential on the Democratic side to get a few more Democratic voters to turn out and they might win the state for their nominee,” Bullock said. “On the other hand, Republicans, I think now are aware that the comfortable margin they enjoyed in the state for many years has largely evaporated. They’re going to have to work harder to keep the state in their column.”

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of change in Hall County. It remains a jurisdiction in which Republicans get about three-fourths of the vote. The Ninth District, of which Gainesville is the biggest city, is one of the most Republican congressional districts,” he said. “The change that’s occurring is occurring in suburban areas. While that’s reaching out toward Hall County and up into Forsyth County, it hasn’t gotten to Hall County yet. In time, it may very well.”

U.S. Senator David Perdue disclosed havig raised $2 million, with a total of $5 million in the bank for his 2020 reelection, according to the AJC.

The first-term Georgia Republican is set to report that he raised about $1.9 million during the latest reporting period, which spans from April to June. He has roughly $4.9 million in cash on hand.

Perdue’s top strategist, Derrick Dickey, said the haul shows that Perdue “is an outsider with a proven record of results that will be hard to beat.”

“Still,” he added, “Georgia is a top target for Democrats, and they have shown they will do whatever it takes to defeat Senator Perdue and President Trump in 2020.”

So far, only one major Democratic contender is in the race: Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who reported over the weekend that she’s raised about $520,000 since she entered the race in April. She also loaned her campaign another $30,000.

Governor Brian Kemp announced that state tax receipts for June were up 7.4% over the previous June.

Georgia’s June net tax collections totaled roughly $2.12 billion for an increase of $146 million, or 7.4%, compared to June 2018 when net tax collections totaled nearly $1.98 billion. Net tax collections for the fiscal year (FY) ended on June 30, 2019 and totaled $23.79 billion, which was an increase of nearly $1.09 billion, or 4.8%, compared to FY 2018 when net tax revenues totaled almost $22.71 billion.

GBI Director Vic Reynolds spoke about his new job, according to the AJC.

“My sole focus and purpose is not to lock people up,” he said.

“The truth is, some people need to be there. Some people don’t need to exist in the society that you and I do every day, but not everyone. As I tell young agents when we hire them, your function is to seek justice. It’s not a belt-notching contest. It’s to seek justice and to protect the rights of every individual involved. Our victims, and yes, the defendants as well.”

Reynolds cited Scripture and the words of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.

“It’s impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible,” the nation’s first president said. Reynolds said he has relied on his faith in his current role and his past one, as Cobb County’s district attorney.

“I discovered very quickly that I could not do the job that I was elected or appointed to do without a faith-based existence,” he said. “I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m certainly not wise enough to make the decisions I have to make without asking for help. Prayer is extremely important in this business.”

A three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that the General Assembly is exempt from the Open Records Act, according to the AJC.

At the Court of Appeals, two of the three judges on the panel concurred with the Fulton judge’s decision to dismiss the case.

“If the General Assembly had wanted to include itself in the set of (state) departments, agencies, or offices subject to the Act, it could have done so expressly,” Appeals Court Judge Stephen S. Goss wrote.

But Chief Judge Christopher J. McFadden dissented, saying the act applied to “every state office,” which should include offices of the General Assembly.

“The General Assembly has the authority to decide whether to subject itself or its offices to the Open Records Act,” he wrote. “The clear and unmistakable language of the statutes before us does subject legislative offices to the Act.”

On the open records exemption, lawmakers have said they don’t want correspondence made public that contains sensitive information from constituents. But that also allows lawmakers to shield the frequent contact they have with lobbyists or other special interests seeking legislation or state funding.

Georgia State House Bill 448 could result in taxes levied on some Augusta area rentals for the Masters golf tournament, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Two bills pending in the Georgia House threaten to do what the federal government gave up in the 1970s: tax Masters Tournament rental income.

House Bill 448, sponsored by Rep. Matt Dollar, R-Marietta, expands the definition of “innkeeper” to include anyone who facilitates a lodging rental and adds a $5 nightly excise tax to the stay.

The bill’s sponsors include Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, who said the House study committee on short-term rentals headed by Dollar last year opposed taxing rentals of fewer than 15 days, mirroring federal law, but somehow the language didn’t make it to the bill.

“In the original version there was a plan to exclude short-term rentals of your own personal residence,” Newton said. “That’s why I opposed the current substitute version from the Ways and Means Committee, and we also made sure it didn’t come to the House floor.”

The bill is intended to capitalize on the growth in large cities of online housing brokers such as Airbnb, but its authors neglected to exclude Augusta and Athens, where homeowners rent during University of Georgia football games, Newton said.

House Bill 276, sponsored by Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, goes a step further and charges a 4% sales tax to all “marketplace sellers and marketplace facilitators,” which includes rental brokers, ride-sharing services such as Uber, and online auction companies such as eBay.

Both bills stalled this spring and will be taken up in the next session. HB 276 was withdrawn when the House opposed the Senate’s version of the bill, which passed with support from the area’s Republican lawmakers.

Newton said he will not accept any version of the bills that doesn’t adopt the 15-day exemption.

Brooke Griffiths announced she will run as a Democrat for State Senate District 21 against incumbent Republican Greg Dolezal, according to the Forsyth County News.

District 27 makes up the majority of Forsyth County except a northeast corner of the county across Hwy. 53.

“As a wife, mother of three, and the survivor of a devastating brain tumor, I’m running to focus on issues important to Forsyth’s women and children – and the people who love them. Issues including public schools, affordable healthcare, and reproductive rights,” she said in a news release.

For healthcare, she favors Medicaid expansion in the state.

“Georgia’s healthcare crisis also includes a horrifying maternal mortality rate, particularly for women of color,” Griffiths said on her campaign site. “Expanding Medicaid would mean we can better support our state’s women and children. We could save lives that needn’t be lost through lack of medical access.

She is also in favor of drug reform through decriminalizing the possession of recreation amounts of marijuana, expansion of access to medical marijuana and elimination of mandatory minimums and cash bail. Griffiths also wants to implement required safety training and licensing, background checks and prohibitions for domestic abusers for gun ownership.

“I vow to support Georgia’s women. I will make sure my votes are based on facts and not on a political gamble,” Griffiths said. “And as more women in Georgia are elected, we will see the terrible, irresponsible HB481 overturned.”

The Forsyth County Commission will hold the first of three required public meetings on the proposed property tax millage rate, according to AccessWDUN.

Included is a proposed increase in the county’s Maintenance & Operating and Fire tax rates. The Bond Rate is advertised to be reduced.

According to a news release from the county, due to the growth in the tax digest, Maintenance & Operating property taxes levied by the county this year will increase by a net 7.42% over the rollback millage rate. The proposed county net Maintenance & Operations rate increased to 4.791 mills. The proposed Fire rate increased to 2.175 mills. The proposed Bond rate will be reduced to 0.970 mills.

The public hearings will be held as follows:

Thursday, July 11 at 11 a.m.
Thursday, July 11 at 5 p.m.
Thursday, July 18 at 6 p.m.

All will be held at the Forsyth County Administration Building. Adoption of the millage rate is slated for July 18 at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting.

The Floyd County Commission will hear proposed changes to zoning to regulate some special event venues and hobby farms, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The city of Rome has already adopted language governing venues for weddings, reunions and other special events. The county has typically allowed them on a case-by-case basis.

Commissioner Larry Maxey, the board’s representative to the planning commission, said basic considerations should be codified — including the type of events, hours of operation, proximity to neighboring homes and emergency vehicle access.

Newell said he’s looking at what other rural counties do regarding both wedding venues and hobby farms. A hobby farm is a broad term for residential tracts where the homeowners keep a few horses, goats, chickens or other nontraditional pets.

“We’ve had a lot of requests … Some people have two acres, some have 35 acres. We need some rules,” Maxey said during the planning commission’s June 24 special called meeting.

The Bulloch County Board of Education is expected to release the calendar for the next school year soon, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Clarke County Sheriff Ira Edwards, Jr. was elected Secretary of the National Sheriffs’ Association, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The Glynn County Board of Elections is planning on how to educate voters on use of new voting machines once they are chosen, according to The Brunswick News.

“We don’t know which voting machines (the state legislature will select), but when we do the board’s intention is to have a roll-out of the new machines to introduce them to the public and how to use them,” said Chris Channell, elections and registration supervisor.

To give them some options and help set them on a course to reach as many members of the public as possible, the board plans to call in the county’s public information officer, Matthew Kent.

Video is likely the best way to go, Kent said on Friday.

“I think that’s the best way,” Kent said. “It shouldn’t be too difficult (to use the machines), but if you don’t see it you can’t always tell how it works. If someone tries to explain it in text, people don’t always know how it works.”

Video packages promoted through social media, local media outlets and community groups will probably have the longest reach, he said.

The board will also consider opening early voting polls on one or more Sundays in future elections.

A Town Hall for Veterans will be held in Brunswick, according to The Brunswick News.

The meeting, scheduled at 6 p.m. on July 19 at the American Legion Post 9, will be the first town hall for area veterans in about three years, said Bennie Williams, post commander and senior vice commander of the 8th American Legion district.

Health care will be among the subjects discussed at the town hall, including a new federal law called the Mission Act that enables veterans to go to an outside network for some of their health care needs if they can’t get a timely appointment to a VA hospital.

“We will be addressing the Mission Act that was recently signed into law by President Trump,” Williams said. “This act is an improvement over the Choice program for access to private health care.”

Glynn County appointed a Courthouse Space Needs Assessment Committee to address complaints of courthouse overcrowding, according to The Brunswick News.

“Do we need another building, can we add to the side of the courthouse, that sort of thing,” [Glynn County Commission Chair Mike] Browning said.

Five people from business, security, law enforcement, architecture and construction backgrounds will round out of the committee, said Browning, who appointed the committee members.

“I think these gentlemen are so well experienced with what they’ve done all their lives that they can look at what the judges need and the space requirements and give us good recommendations for going forward,” Browning said.

Browning said[,] “We’re going to explain to them that we’re into planning ahead for SPLOST 2020, and one of the requests that have come up is from the Superior Court judges to look at space needs in the courthouse.”

Actor Sonny Shroyer, who played Enos on The Dukes of Hazzard, was given the key to the City of Valdosta, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

“This key, from the City of Valdosta, is hereby presented to Sonny Shroyer for his accomplishments and time as an actor and for his dedication and support of the film industry in the state of Georgia,” said Valdosta City Councilman Andrew Gibbs, who presented Shroyer with the key.

The key presentation, along with a plaque from Gov. Brian Kemp commending Shroyer and all that he has done for Georgia and Valdosta, was planned in advance and to Shroyer’s knowledge.

He was, however, surprised on the old Valdosta High School — his high school alma mater — Performing Arts Center stage with an acrylic art plaque from CBS in honor of “The Dukes of Hazzard’s” 40th anniversary.

Plant Vogtle hit several milestones in the construction of two new nuclear reactors, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The site now has about 8,000 workers, which represents a record high for the project to install two new nuclear reactors. More than 400 craft workers were added in June, the company states.

The middle containment vessel ring was placed for Unit 4, one of the two new reactors. The 2.4 million-pound, 51-foot containment ring is part of the structure that houses the reactor vessel.

The middle ring is the second of three containment vessel rings to be set for Unit 4. The construction team installed over 400 electrical and piping supports inside of the middle ring before it was placed, according to the company.

Additionally, a placement of more than 930 cubic yards of concrete was completed inside the shield building for Unit 3, the other new reactor. That shield building is now more than 80 percent complete as the construction team moves closer to completion of the protective barrier that surrounds the Unit 3 containment vessel.

Scheduled completion for the project is November 2021 for Unit 3 and November 2022 for Unit 4. Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the project, and the other co-owners are Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities.

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