Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 28, 2020


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 28, 2020

Lt. Colonel George Washington fought French and Indian scouts on May 28, 1754, beginning the Seven Years War.

On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, requiring all Native Americans to relocate west of the Mississippi River.

The Battle of Dallas, Georgia began on May 28, 1864. Click here to watch Week 6 of the Georgia Public Broadcasting/Atlanta History Center series on the Civil War in Georgia.

Happy Birthday to Gladys Knight, born in Atlanta on May 28, 1944.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Metro Atlanta unemployment hit nearly 13 percent, according to the AJC.

As expected, the monthly jobs report for metro Atlanta was ghastly: The region lost a stunning 293,800 jobs in April as coronavirus-linked closures took their toll, officials said today.

The metro area’s official unemployment rate jumped to a record 12.7%, according to a report issued Thursday by the state Department of Labor.

“We are continuing to work with employers on effective strategies to get Georgians back to work in both a safe and economically efficient way,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner in a statement.

And with business openings still tentative and other layoffs – like cuts in public workers — still in process, May’s numbers are expected to be worse.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard pocketed nearly two hundred thousand dollars beyond his official salary, according to the AJC.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard received an additional $25,000 in salary supplements from the city of Atlanta that he funneled through a nonprofit he heads as CEO, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have learned.

That means Howard padded his pay with $195,000 of the $250,000 in grant money the city signed over to the DA’s Office in two checks in 2014 and 2016. The final $25,000 in payments were disclosed in a recent letter from the state ethics commission that notified Howard he will face two more allegations of violating state campaign finance laws.

In April, after the AJC and Channel 2 reported the unusual financial arrangement, the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission filed a dozen allegations against Howard, many for failing to disclose his secondary employment as the CEO for People Partnering for Progress. The nonprofit, set up about a decade ago, says its mission is to reduce youth violence.

The disclosures also led the GBI to conduct a criminal investigation of Howard at the request of Attorney General Chris Carr.

Meanwhile, in Columbus, a candidate for District Attorney was jailed for aiding and abetting donuts. From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Accompanied by his attorney, Christopher Breault, [Democratic candidate for District Attorney Mark] Jones surrendered at the Columbus Public Safety Center on 10th Street at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Like the two men arrested Saturday, he faces charges related to a May 17 video shoot in the Columbus Civic Center parking lot, where drivers were recorded cutting doughnuts, police said.

Cutting doughnuts means leaving rings of tire residue on the pavement while speeding in circles. The city claimed the parking lot damage was estimated at $300,000.

Jones was being held without bond Wednesday evening on charges of attempting to commit reckless conduct, conspiracy to commit reckless conduct, conspiracy to commit interference with government property, conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property, and two counts of attempting to commit interference with government property, according to jail records.

“There was not intentional damage, no defacement of property,” Jones said Wednesday as reporters followed him on his way to police headquarters. “I think the charges are frivolous…. I’m still qualified to run. I’m not going to give up. I’m going to keep running.”

“After closely examining the facts and evidence, it is clear that the charges involved in this case are FABRICATED,” [Jones’s attorney] Breault wrote. “A false narrative is being pushed by some in the mainstream media and their friends in the legal community.”

So an incumbent faces campaign finance violations for allegedly pocketing $195,000 in taxpayer money while a candidate is in jail because of rubber scuffs on a parking lot surface. Makes sense to me.

Governor Brian Kemp visited modular COVID-19 units at Navicent Health, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The temporary medical unit was installed to potentially serve patients displaced by a spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia. The unit has not been used yet. Kemp, who wore a mask before and after delivering a speech, said Georgia purchased the units based on “scary” coronavirus projections.

“The state owns them, so we’re going to have them for a long time,” Kemp said. “If we have… a major storm event, like we experienced during Hurricane Michael, we now have a resource we can quickly deploy. These assets are not only good for today, but for the future.”

“Depending on what model you look at, we’ve passed our peak,” he said. “Our numbers continue to look really good in Georgia, which is why we decided a little over a month ago to reopen our economy… The effects of our economy and the effects of people not coming to get health screenings, treatments and surgeries that they need were starting to outweigh the virus itself.”

“Just be smart. Go to places that are following the guidelines, that have sanitary measures in place, that are taking care of their patrons,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re going to be arresting people on the sidewalk if you walk within six feet of people.”

“We’re not a nanny state here in Georgia. We want people to be responsible and to be smart. I’m trying to lead by example. It’s a good idea to wear a mask, not to protect you but to protect others from you if you happen to have the virus and don’t know it. Not everybody wants to do that, and I get that. I don’t think we need to start pointing fingers at people.”

Governor Kemp‘s next stop was Columbus, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters in Columbus Wednesday that Georgians must learn to live with the novel coronavirus and a reclosing of the state’s economy would be unlikely.

“It was never to keep our economy shut down until the virus is gone,” he said. “And if the virus comes back, I don’t see us shutting down our economy anymore. We’ve got to figure out how to live with the virus. There are some very smart people doing that every day. …We’re going to figure that out, but we’re definitely not at the point where the virus is in the rearview mirror.”

“We asked people to help us buy some time to build hospital bed capacity, to get our supply network up,” he said. “And that’s what they did.”

Testing nursing home residents and staff members continue to be a top priority for state officials. As of Wednesday, 61% of nursing home residents and 32% staff members have been tested for the novel coronavirus. Increased testing of those populations will result in a higher number of confirmed cases, Kemp said.

“We know that when we do that, we’re going to have a higher rate of positives because that is just a community that has been very hard hit,” he said.

Moving forward, Kemp said the state faces two battles — the battle against the virus itself and the battle to reopen the economy as the pandemic negatively affects businesses and workers trying to make ends meet.

“We have to get people back to work. We can’t continue to survive as a state and a country sheltering-in-place. I think American people and the people of the state are ready for that. …We’re still going to have community spread. What we want is there not to be widespread, community spread.”

The goal is to instill confidence, he said.

“That’s why I’m on the road,” he said. “I believe that as time goes by, people are getting more comfortable with that.”

“Not everybody is ready to go back, and I didn’t order anybody to go back,“ he added.

From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that he’ll continue to roll back coronavirus restrictions as long as residents abide by safety guidelines, adding that his decision to allow more businesses to reopen is “reinvigorating” the state’s stalled economy.

Asked whether he would lift more regulations, he said he was confident Georgians would “follow the guidance” and let him do so.

“It’s one reason I opened up the state when I did. I felt like our people had learned a lot. They get it. They know what they need to do,” he said. “We can’t keep fighting the virus from our living room.”

“If we continue to drive the numbers down and continue to get further past our peak and take care of that vulnerable population that’s out there, we can continue to lift restrictions,” he said.

Kemp, who donned a face covering for Wednesday’s event, was asked about concerns that masks have become an ideological statement rather than a matter of public health.

“I’m by no means perfect. I almost shook someone’s hand just a second ago, and I keep trying to refrain from doing that,” said Kemp, who didn’t wear a mask during parts of Vice President Mike Pence’s visit last week.

“It’s a good idea to wear a mask: not to protect you, but to protect others from you if you happen to have the virus and don’t know it. Not everybody wants to do that. I get that,” he said. “I don’t think we need to start pointing fingers at people. We just need folks to be smart.”

Northeast Georgia Health System said their region of the state may have passed its COVID-19 peak, according to AccessWDUN.

“We are happy to report that our volumes of COVID-19 patients are declining and we know that is because our community acted quickly and acted fast and helped us to flatten that curve,” Melissa Tymchuk, the health system’s chief of staff, said. “And we are thankful. We’re not declaring victory yet. But it does look like we might be past our peak.”

The health system is treating 61 COVID-19 patients at its facilities across Northeast Georgia, and that number has stayed steady in recent days, said Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, director of the infectious disease unit at NGHS. She also said 687 patients who had been treated have been released from the hospital after recovering.

But Mannepalli cautioned that Hall County has 1,152 cases per 100,000 residents and the county has the fifth highest number of cases in Georgia.

“This is also time not to loosen our guard because if the numbers are declining, they are declining for reason,” she said. “They are declining because we as a community responded the way we should.”

“I don’t think that it’s going to go away,” Michael Covert, the system’s chief operating officer, said. “I think we’re going to see that during the summer with the potential that there may be a surge in the fall, and we want to be prepared in that regard.”

Savannah is issuing citations for establishments not enforcing social distancing, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Mayor Van Johnson said he went along with the Savannah Police Department’s alcohol beverage compliance team over the weekend to see how the state required social distancing guidelines were working.

Several businesses were given warnings and two were given citations, Johnson said.

Johnson said he was both disappointed and impressed at what he witnessed while with the ABC team.

“It was like St. Patrick’s Day,” Johnson said of the crowds. “Some streets were impassable because of the people in them, some sidewalks were impassable.”

Johnson said he was impressed with the professionalism of the ABC team. “Even when they (the team) were not treated with the same dignity and respect,” Johnson said. “It was a mess out there.”

The mayor said he would guess 95% of people — including some employees of businesses visited — weren’t wearing face coverings.

The Macon Telegraph looks at early voting for the June 9 elections.

More than 1,800 people have cast their ballot in Macon-Bibb County during advanced early voting, and two weeks remain for those who would like to vote early in the June 9 election.

Advanced early voting started May 18 with 331 ballots cast that day at the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections office at 2525 Pio Nono Ave., and early voting will continue through June 5, according to a Board of Elections news release.

The polls are open from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Every county in Georgia is required to hold one day of early voting on a Saturday, and Macon-Bibb County’s Saturday voting will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on May 30.

Alternative sentencing arrangements could be limited by state budget cuts, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

Roughly $4.3 million would be cut from the state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s budget for local grants to accountability courts, a popular program created by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2013 offering alternative sentences to curb recidivism for thousands of Georgia inmates with mental illness or substance-abuse issues.

If implemented, the cuts would likely cause around 1,900 current participants in accountability courts across the state to return to local jails or prisons to complete their sentences, said Hall County Superior Court Chief Judge Kathlene Gosselin, who chairs the state Council of Accountability Court Judges.

“Those people will likely end up either in local jails or prisons if they do not have an opportunity to do this,” Gosselin said at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee.

A hallmark of state criminal justice reforms, the alternative-sentence accountability courts saw roughly 12,400 participants enrolled in 163 courts statewide last year, of which 9,440 were still enrolled at the start of 2020, according to the council.

Surplus lottery proceeds could be tapped to lessen the need for budget cuts, according to the Statesboro Herald.

[Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Amy] Jacobs and Senate Majority Leader Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, both suggested lawmakers could tap more than $1 billion in lottery profits held in a special reserve.

There’s unlikely to be such a rescue for K-12 schools, technical colleges and public universities, though. They all face state cuts without being able to fall back on lottery money. Cuts to state aid to local schools alone would equal almost $1.5 billion.

The Metro Atlanta and Georgia Chambers of Commerce are urging the state Senate to pass hate crimes legislation, according to the AJC.

From the Albany Herald:

The two chambers of commerce have helped lead the opposition in recent years to legislative attempts to pass a religious liberty bill in Georgia, arguing it would hurt Georgia’s image as a business-friendly state by fostering same-sex discrimination. Business leaders praised then-Gov. Nathan Deal for vetoing religious liberty legislation that made it through the General Assembly in 2016.

House Bill 426 cleared the House of Representatives last year 96-64, primarily supported by Democrats but with some Republican support, including Efstration and GOP cosponsors Ron Stephens of Savannah and Deborah Silcox of Sandy Springs. The bill allows additional penalties for criminal defendants if it is determined the victim was selected based on his or her “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.”

Albany Commissioner Demetrius Young questioned whether alcohol sales permits should be granted in minority neighborhoods, according to the Albany Herald.

Several commissioners have this year questioned whether the city should grant alcohol sale licenses in minority and impoverished neighborhoods and pointed to potentially harmful impacts those sales can have on members of the communities in which they are located.

Commissioner Demetrius Young, who was joined in opposing approval of the license for the convenience store by Commissioners Matt Fuller, Jon Howard, Bob Langstaff and Chad Warbington, pointed to studies he said showed that locations such as the one in question are not a good fit for alcohol sales. The store is in a “high-crime” area, he said.

“(Minority communities are) more prone to juvenile violence, more prone to overall violence, when there are alcohol sales in the neighborhood,” Young said. “Those studies have shown it just leads to other problems in the area.”

Cherokee County Commissioners have approved a plan to return to in-person public meetings, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News.

Dalton City Council is considering changes to curbside garbage pickup, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Richmond County Marshal Ramone Lamkin leads his opponent in fundraising, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Glynn County is creating an impact fee advisory committee as a step toward levying the fees, according to The Brunswick News.

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