Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 20, 2020


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 20, 2020

Blue jeans with copper rivets were patented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis on May 20, 1873.

On May 20, 1916, more than 20,000 visited Stone Mountain for the dedication ceremony to mark the beginning of a Confederate memorial on the north face.

On May 20, 1995, the section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to automotive traffic.

The 400th episode of The Simpsons aired on May 20, 2007.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp spoke to WSB-TV:

“We’ve got two wars we’re fighting now. We’re still fighting the COVID-19 virus, but we’re also fighting a war to get our people back to work and reopen our economy,” Kemp said.

A month ago, we had everybody following all these models, but now the best data we’re getting is real-life experiences our hospital CEOs are reporting each day,” Kemp said.

“What is the most important data point that you look at to help guide your decisions?” Farmer asked Kemp.

“The main thing for me, really, is the rate of new cases, what our fatalities are looking like and then the percent of positives are in addition to how much we’re testing. That is key for us to know where the trends are,” Kemp said.

“When we look at the state’s budget, that’s a problem that’s going to linger,” Farmer said.

“My priorities have not changed. I continue to fight for education for our state. I think that’s going to be very important,” Kemp said. “Even in tough times, we can find a way to do that, and that’s certainly something that I will be urging the legislature to do.”

In-Person Advance Voting is open statewide ahead of the June 9th election. From the Statesboro Herald:

Wait in your car until your group is called. Stand on the painted circle so you don’t get too close to other voters in line. (Please) wear a mask. Everything you touch will be sanitized.

Those are some of the new procedures Georgians were greeted with Monday as they participated in the first day of in-person early voting for the state’s June 9 primaries with the coronavirus pandemic still raging.

In Bulloch County, Elections Supervisor Pat Lanier Jones said about 100 people had voted as of 4 p.m. Monday.

In metro Atlanta’s Cobb County, Election Director Janine Eveler said new procedures and guidelines have “slowed things down considerably, and people are having to wait.” She said that voters faced wait times of over an hour Monday morning.

Eveler said safety procedures implemented in Cobb include having people wait in their car until called up to the line in groups, maintaining 6-foot spacing in line and only allowing a small number of people into the voting room. In addition, an ongoing shortage of poll workers means the county is down to a single early voting location, when normally two are in operation for early voting’s first week.

“We’re still encouraging people to apply for an absentee ballot,” Eveler said. “Voting at the polls is going to mean social distancing and sanitizing, so the process is just going to take a lot longer.”

In Bulloch County, Jones said her office had received 9,350 requests as of Monday from registered Bulloch voters for mail-in ballots to participate in the June 9 primary. She said that 2,975 filled-in ballots have been returned and entered as received. Jones said June 5 is the last day a requested absentee ballot can be mailed to a voter

“This current election, the June 9 election, is shaping up to look very different than elections in Georgia usually look,” Germany said, noting that the number of absentee ballots cast are already “orders of magnitude” greater than had been cast in previous primaries.

Absentee Voting by mail led in-person voting on the first day, according to the AJC.

Turnout was relatively high on the first day of in-person early voting in Georgia’s primary, but even more people voted absentee Monday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 15,000 voters, many of them wearing masks, cast their ballots at early voting locations, according to state election data.

That’s a larger turnout than on the first days of in-person voting for primaries in 2016 and 2018, but slightly lower than the start of early voting for this year’s presidential primary on March 2.

Still, most Georgians preferred to vote remotely, with over 26,000 absentee ballots received by county election offices Monday.

A record 1.46 million voters have requested absentee ballots, and many more will cast their ballots during three weeks of early voting and on election day June 9.

Overall, nearly 415,000 people have voted so far, including 400,000 who submitted absentee-by-mail ballots.

Democratic polling shows Democratic candidates leading in some Georgia races, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

The survey, [released by Daily Kos and] conducted by the online polling firm Civiqs, found Democrat Joe Biden holding a narrow lead over incumbent Republican President Donald Trump, 48% to 47%.

Likewise, Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff was slightly ahead of incumbent GOP U.S. Sen. David Perdue, 47% to 45%.

On the other hand, Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins was running well ahead in Georgia’s other Senate election on this year’s ballot. Incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler was fourth in the crowded field.

The online survey of 1,339 registered voters took place from May 16-18, with results weighted by age, race, gender, education and party identification to accurately reflect the population of Georgia registered voters. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 3.1%.

From the AJC Political Insider:

The survey, conducted by Civiqs for the left-leaning DailyKos outlet, showed Ossoff with a 47-45 edge over Perdue, within the poll’s margin of error. Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson is statistically tied with Perdue, 45-44, and Sarah Riggs Amico is within 3 percentage points (45-42).

It staked Collins to an early lead in Georgia’s other U.S. Senate race, a free-for-all with no party primaries that pits Loeffler against 20 other challengers in a November special election. That contest is almost certain to end in a January runoff.

Collins leads the field with 34%, followed by Democrat Raphael Warnock (18%), Democrat Matt Lieberman (14%) and Loeffler (12%). Other contenders, including former federal prosecutor Ed Tarver, were in single-digits and about 12% of respondents were uncertain.

And it pegged Gov. Brian Kemp’s favorability rating at 41% — and his unfavorable rating at 48% – as he navigates a pandemic crisis that’s upended the lives of Georgians.

The Fourteenth Congressional District in Extreme Northwest Georgia is home to a Republican primary contest to see who can beat their opponents to the far right. From the AJC:

“I think people know by now, whoever they vote for out of our nine candidates, you’re going to get someone who supports the president, who supports the Second Amendment and doesn’t want to vote for these red-flag laws and they’re all going to say they’re pro-life,” Floyd County GOP Chairman Luke Martin said.

The 14th District is about 86% white and is considered a Republican stronghold. It encompasses much of northwest Georgia, including the city of Rome and Gordon, Paulding and Polk counties.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler spoke to a meeting in Glynn County yesterday, according to The Brunswick News.

Butler said his offices were staffed to handle 20,000 claims a month before the outbreak. In the last two months, as many claims have been filed as during the past four or five years with the same number of staff, he said.

Social distancing and other health precautions make it impossible to safely hire and train new workers.

One of the “massive changes” is the new eligibility of self-employed business owners to qualify for federal aid through state labor departments. So far, 133,000 self-employed claims have been filed with the Georgia office.

“The majority of (self-employed) people don’t normally qualify for unemployment,” he said.

The state had to create a new computer program for the self employed since the labor department doesn’t keep track of their earnings. The new program, which includes an anti-fraud system, delayed unemployment payouts by more than two weeks.

Federal dollars come with federal strings. From the Valdosta Daily Times:

In their third joint appropriations meeting Monday, policy experts from the National Conference of State Legislatures gave Georgia legislators a breakdown of the billions of dollars already distributed and on the way to help states recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown.

In total, Georgia is receiving about $8.2 billion in federal aid with almost half coming from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, Molly Ramsdell, director of the Washington, D.C., office for the NCSL, said.

“One of the questions we are asked most often is what flexibility do states have in the use of these funds,” she said. “Unfortunately, I’m going to have to say not much.”

Besides some leeway with some transportation funds and the Governor’s Education Relief Fund, states will need to abide by stipulations for spending, she said.

“As time has gone on, we realized that the flexibility wasn’t actually to the degree that we needed it to be for states to really be able to use money as effectively as possible,” Erlinda Doherty, director of the budgets and revenue committee, said. “Mostly for the revenue shortfalls that most states we knew were going to be experiencing.”

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, told CNHI lawmakers don’t have a lot of options and are leaning toward using funds to shore up public health and emergency management expenses.

“It’s certainly going to be very limited because at this point,” he said, “none of the funds can be used to replace lost revenue. So it has to be things above and beyond what you had already budgeted.”

State agencies anticipate furloughs as budget cuts are considered by the state, according to the AJC.

The economic shutdown brought on by the pandemic has led to mass unemployment, and some businesses remain closed. Many of those that have opened are doing limited business.

Because of that, state tax collections have plummeted.

Agencies this week will be turning in plans detailing how they will meet the mandated 14% spending cuts for the upcoming fiscal year — which beings July 1 — and many are expected to require workers to forgo days of pay.

The goal is to cut more than $3.5 billion in spending. State lawmakers will return in June to pass a budget for the new fiscal year. They will have to decide which proposals to accept and which to reject. Agency plans that are being turned in this week are only the starting point.

Much of state government is personnel-heavy. So there is no way to cut $3.5 billion or so without affecting employees. That means furloughs or layoffs.

But the expected drop in state income and sales tax collections is expected to be more severe in fiscal 2021 — which runs through June 30 of next year — than in any single year of the Great Recession.

Tom Rawlings, the director of DFCS, said his plan calls for using unobligated funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — commonly known as welfare — to plug holes. The division would also eliminate 28 vacant state office positions and rely on furloughs.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating payments from the City of Atlanta to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, according to the AJC.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into $250,000 in payments from the city of Atlanta to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard during Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.

GBI agents questioned city officials, including Police Chief Erika Shields and former police chief George Turner, this week after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported that Reed’s administration overrode financial controls and bypassed the City Council in cutting Howard two checks of $125,000 each in 2014 and 2016.

The Atlanta Police Department’s former business manager, Tracy Woodard, said her signature was forged on a document authorizing one of the payments. She acknowledge signing another, but said she did so because she feared being fired.

Howard has previously called the GBI’s probe an administrative matter and said that he expects to be fully exonerated. Neither he nor Reed responded Tuesday to questions.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson introduced the plan for reopening municipal offices, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The plan will move gradually through five phases as science indicates it is safe to proceed.

Phase one will cover what the city calls “high-priority” services. That includes the return of regular recycling and yard waste collection. Preparation for return to offices by city workers will start. Phase one will begin when COVID-19 data on positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths are stable or declining for 14 days.

Johnson said each new phase will occur at a minimum of every 14 days with increased steps to keep all safe, including social distancing, face covering and temperature checks.

‒ Phase two will include a return to offices by city workers who have been working remotely.

‒ Phase three will include the partial opening of city facilities to the public. All who enter city facilities will have to wear a face covering and have a temperature check.

‒ Phase four will include the reopening of city facilities with regular hours and social distancing requirements.

‒ Phase five will see the reopening city facilities to the public without restrictions.

The Augusta Commission voted to require masks for city properties, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Anyone who refuses to wear a mask or face covering in city government facilities faces jail time or an up to $1,000 fine, according to an ordinance the Augusta commission approved Tuesday.

Through June 13, anyone over age 2 and able to medically tolerate a mask must wear one to enter city buildings.

Commissioner John Clarke, who voted against the ordinance, said it is “stomping on four constitutional amendments” and will likely get the city sued.

A first reading of the ordinance passed 7-2 with Commissioner Marion Williams also opposed. Due to Williams’ objection, the commission did not waive the second reading so it will appear on an upcoming consent agenda for a final vote.

Glynn County estimates government revenues could fall short nearly $2 million dollars, according to The Brunswick News.

Glynn County government’s fiscal year 2020-2021 budget is anticipated to be short by nearly $2 million, partly as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In total, the county budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is estimated to be $132.3 million, about $400,000 lower than the current year’s budget.

No tax increase is planned.

A $1.08 million increase in expenses combined with an $875,000 decrease in revenue means the county is looking at a shortfall of roughly $1.95 million over the next year, according to interim Glynn County Chief Financial Officer Tamara Munson.

Whitfield County‘s citizen advisory committee on the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) created the project list for the June 9 referendum, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

“We started in August and ran through the first couple of weeks of December,” said Chris Shiflett, who chaired the citizens advisory committee. Committee members were appointed by members of the county Board of Commissioners as well as the city councils of Dalton, Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell.

Their efforts shaped the four-year, $66 million SPLOST proposal that is on the June 9 ballot. Advance voting on the SPLOST as well as races on the general primaries ballot is underway at the elections office at the courthouse and continues through June 5.

“I believe that the SPLOST is virtually unchanged from our proposal,” said Shiflett.

A SPLOST is a 1% tax on most goods sold in a county. The money it generates can be used for capital projects and some other items but not operating expenses.

The Albany City Commission began the budget process for the next fiscal year, according to the Albany Herald.

The Savannah Morning News profiles the Republican candidates for Chatham County Commission Chair.

The Augusta Chronicle profiles the candidates for the Georgia Senate District 23 seat being vacated by the retirement of Sen. Jesse Stone.

Delta is no longer asking for a federal exemption to stop air service to Brunswick, according to The Brunswick News.

“The (DOT) issued a new policy statement, and in that docket, it gave all the airlines eligibility to unilaterally reduce all their service by five percent,” said Robert Burr, executive director of the Glynn County Airport Commission. “But also, contained in that, they can’t cease service to an area (where) they are the only carrier.”

Delta is the only commercial airline serving the Brunswick airport so the airline’s request for service suspension is no longer valid, he said.

Effingham County has canceled its Memorial Day observance, according to the Savannah Morning News.

A Statesboro Memorial Day ceremony will continue without a live audience, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The City of Sugar Hill will proceed with its Memorial Day observation, according to AccessWDUN.

The ceremony, which will also feature the dedication of the city’s recently-completed Veteran’s Memorial, will be held in the downtown area on May 25th at 11 a.m.

The event can be watched online by visiting the “City of Sugar Hill, Georgia” Facebook page, and will include community members and leaders who participated in the conception and realization of the new memorial.

Officials said in a release sent to local media Tuesday evening that those attending the event in person will be required to adhere to the following guidelines:

•  All attendees must wear a mask.

•  Attendees will maintain a minimum of 6 ft. distance from all other guests and speakers, apart from members of the same household.

•  Attendees will select their own chair from those made available and are required to seat themselves a minimum of 6 ft. from all other guests and speakers, apart from members of the same household.

•  Any individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, had symptoms of COVID-19 (such as fever, difficulty breathing, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle pain, or new loss of taste or smell) or have been in contact with a person that has or is suspected to have COVID-19 are asked to attend virtually.

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