Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 2, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 2, 2020

On June 2, 1774, Britain’s Parliament passed the Quartering Act, the last of the Coercive Acts, meant to punish the American colonies and reassert British control. Eventually, the Third Amendment to the United States Constitution would prohibit the forcible quartering of soldiers in private homes.

Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered on June 2, 1865, and this date is generally considered the end of the Civil War.

Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953.

On June 2, 1962, Georgia-born Ray Charles hit #1 on the charts with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Journalists Haisten Willis and Alyssa Pointer were detained yesterday, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Former Society of Professional Journalist Georgia President and freelance reporter Haisten Willis and Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer Alyssa Pointer were detained by law enforcement despite showing press credentials.

Willis — on a freelance assignment for The Washington Post — was detained and handcuffed by Atlanta police who refused to accept Willis’ digital press credential, according to a press release from the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Police then confiscated his phone and reporting supplies.

Pointer — who has been a regular member of the AJC’s team covering the protests — was detained by officers from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Despite showing her press badge that was displayed, officers did not release her until two other members of the press intervened.

A coalition of media organizations condemned the detainments in a press release Monday. The Georgia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Atlanta Chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists, signed on the statement.

Next week’s elections continue to be plagued by reports of problems with absentee ballots, according to the AJC.

Tens of thousands of Georgia voters hadn’t yet received their absentee ballots Monday as precincts continued to close, narrowing options for voters to safely cast ballots in the state’s June 9 primary.

The obstacles facing both absentee and in-person voters just eight days before the primary create the potential for long lines on election day and absentee ballots arriving too late to be counted.

Absentee ballots will be counted only if they’re received by county election offices by 7 p.m. June 9.

But in-person voters might face problems as well. Over 10% of the state’s precincts have closed, forcing voters into fewer locations where they’ll have to maintain social distance from each other, likely creating long lines.

About 95% of nearly 1.6 million absentee ballots had been delivered as of Monday, according to postal tracking data, leaving roughly 84,000 still in the mail. Those ballots should reach voters soon because they’re now being mailed from local election offices rather than flown across the country from an Arizona-based ballot processing company, [a state government bureaucrat] said.

Last week, [Fulton] county election officials discovered they hadn’t processed an unknown number of emailed absentee ballot requests. Election officials had sent all ballots to voters who mailed request forms, but forms that voters attached to emails to the county weren’t always recorded.

A spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, a critic of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s effort to expand absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic, said the problems validate his concerns. Rafffensperger sent absentee ballot requests in April to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters, encouraging them to avoid in-person voting.

“Sadly, this demonstrates that the concerns Speaker Ralston voices to the secretary of state about an impromptu, widespread mail-in voting effort have been proven true,” spokesman Kaleb McMichen said. “Whether to prevent unintentional errors or willful fraud, widespread vote-by-mail efforts require careful planning and stringent oversight.”

Voters can check their ballot status on the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. Voters in Fulton whose ballots haven’t been issued can contact the county elections office at 404-612-7060.

Protestors in Dalton met in support of criminal justice reform, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

They filled the south lawn of the Whitfield County Courthouse Monday afternoon — black and white and brown, male and female. Some 300 of them kneeling in support of criminal justice reform.

“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” said Rashun Mack, a Dalton High School graduate and a board member of the Atlanta-based Southern Advocacy Group, which organized the protest.

“I’m completely satisfied,” he said. “I was in Atlanta this weekend, and on the first night of protests, the police rolled out, hundreds of police officers, before there was even a riot. That set people on edge and escalated the situation. I didn’t want that to happen here. But the officers here, they understand this is going to be very peaceful, and they have been cooperative.”

Since the protest took place in the city of Dalton, the Dalton Police Department had jurisdiction.

“We will do what we can,” Police Chief Cliff Cason told Mack. “We are here to help you.”

“He’s a very nice man,” Cason said to a reporter about Mack. “We are here to support the community. We have officers along the march route to make sure there are no pedestrian-vehicle accidents. It’s easier to do that if we know in advance what the plans are.”

In fact, Cason and police Capt. Jamie Johnson took part in the march, as did Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Gary Stephens.

“We are here to show that we support the First Amendment, and we support their right to express themselves,” said Johnson. “We just want to show them we are there for them and want everything to go well. It was difficult because we did not know who the organizer was. Usually, they go through the permitting process, and we sit down with them and get a better idea of what their plans are and we can determine what we need to do and what manpower we will need.”

If you’re looking for a little positive news, it’s an article worth reading in its entirety.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway went out to meet protesters in Lawrenceville, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“The tension was palpable when Sheriff Butch Conway got out of his patrol vehicle, walked directly into the angry crowd and began speaking with them,” sheriff’s office said in a statement on Facebook. “He listened to them, chatted a while and eventually walked with them to their vehicles parked several blocks away. It was the best possible outcome.”

The Sheriff’s Office highlighted the importance of law enforcement listening to the protesters and hearing their concerns, calling listening “vital to communication.” A major part of the protests is anger at the way minorities feel they are mistreated by law enforcement.

“Sheriff Conway and this group of protesters clearly demonstrated the value of setting aside emotion and listening to one another,” the Sheriff’s Office said. “We hope to see more of this interaction as our nation moves forward. Together.”

Columbia County protests remained peaceful, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) says he is more resolved to see passage of hate crime legislation, according to the AJC.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who was already pressing the state Senate to approve legislation that cleared his chamber last year, said Saturday that he is “more committed to a hate-crimes law than ever” following Floyd’s death.

“Georgia is better than this, and we aren’t going to be an outlier on this issue,” Ralston said. “It would send such a strong message around the state and around the nation about where our values are.”

Ralston has called on the state Senate to pass House Bill 426 as is — any amendments to the measure could spell doom for the legislation, sending it back to the House where it won approval by a narrow margin.

But Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, the head of the state Senate, said Friday that while he supports passage of a hate-crimes bill, he thinks HB 426 needs work.

“This is an important piece of legislation to get right,” Duncan said. “It is time to make it clear that Georgians will not stand for hate and violence.”

The Georgia Department of Education and Department of Public Health have published guidance for school systems looking toward re-opening in-person instruction, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The 10-page guideline document released Monday leaves it to school districts whether to close school buildings in the event the virus spreads. It also calls for districts to participate in contact tracing with state health officials, place educational signs on good hygiene in school buildings and decide how to handle students and teachers who show symptoms of the virus.

Additionally, the guidelines note ways for school districts to shift to online learning in the event of an outbreak, as well as to take a “hybrid” approach allowing districts to blend in-person and online learning. If the virus spreads at a “moderate” level, the guidelines advise schools to screen students and staff before they enter buildings and to require students to keep space between each other in cafeterias, classrooms and hallways.

“In partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, we created these guidelines to give school districts a blueprint for safe reopening that is realistic in the K-12 setting,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods wrote in the document. “We have a responsibility to keep out students, teachers, school staff and families safe and to provide the best possible education for our children.”

Click here to learn more about the guidance for school systems.

The Gainesville Times considers the impact of upcoming state budget cuts.

“We will try to minimize the impact on quality of life and day-to-day services for Georgia citizens, as much as possible,” state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville said. “There will be some changes required, clearly.”

He said he is concerned about impacts on tourism, which is especially key in Hall County, with Lake Lanier in its backyard.

“We need to be marketing for drive-time tourism. People don’t want to get on planes right now,” Miller said.

He said he is “adamantly opposed to reducing teacher pay … as well as first responders, state workers or staff. If we got to take these cuts, in which we do, we want them to be in the form of a furlough day, because that does not impact the retirement system as much and it provides for a structure that teachers and others can plan around.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened some campgrounds, including at Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, and Carters Lake, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Please note that only campgrounds utilizing the Recreation.gov website and smartphone app, and campgrounds with auto-fee machines, will be reopening at the present time. Because there may be specific campgrounds at projects not yet reopening, the public is asked to monitor local Facebook pages to track the status of their desired campgrounds, or call the project resource office to inquire for further information.

All campsites will be 100% reservable with zero-day window. Please be aware that gate attendants are prohibited from completing onsite transactions, so campers are strongly encouraged to complete their reservations prior to arrival to expedite the check-in process.

Please stay healthy, keep practicing safe social distancing as a courtesy to other guests and do consider stocking hand sanitizer for additional safety. Visitors are also asked to please obey posted signage at facilities which limit the number of people that may occupy at one time, in addition to signage posting facility closures.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Development Disabilities released its 5-year strategic plan for suicide prevention, according to The Brunswick News.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Georgia, affecting every racial and age group in urban and rural areas across the state.

Nationwide, suicide rates have risen 30 percent over the past decade, while Georgia’s have risen 16 percent during the same time span.

To put the number of suicides in perspective, in 2018 nearly 1,600 lives were lost to suicide in Georgia — more than the number of homicides, fatal car accidents or opioid deaths.

The data shows older adults, particularly men over 50, are most at risk.

A concern with the ongoing pandemic is the mental health of individuals experiencing social isolation, economic stress, barriers to mental health, illness and medical problems. If they have access to lethal means, they “may be at increased risk,” she said.

Augusta University researchers say rural black-majority counties were hit harder by COVID-19, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Counties in rural southwest Georgia were hit hardest in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they still have some of the highest death rates in the state. Those counties, and now Hancock County, are rural, mostly black, impoverished and lack intensive care resources, researchers at Augusta University found.

Poor, majority black counties with little access to intensive or primary care have suffered the highest death rates from COVID-19, research at Augusta University found. Many of those same counties are in the Stroke Belt of higher death rates and also are more likely to die from other causes such as sepsis, the authors said.

These same places had higher rates of elderly people, people in poverty, few primary care providers and a lack of access to intensive care, Moore said. The lack of intensive care likely means a delay in that critical care when those patients have be transported elsewhere for treatment, the study found.

“Historically speaking, these counties or these areas or places that have similar demographic features have persistently had poorer outcomes,” he said, ” across a spectrum of different diseases, different health outcomes.”

“It’s a cumulative effect of what has been happening to these communities over many, many years,” said Dr. Varghese George, chair of the Department of Population Health sciences at AU and a co-author on the study.

The Savannah Morning News looks at two Democratic primaries for the Georgia Public Service Commission.

In the June 9 primary, Democrats have to choose between two candidates, John Noel and Daniel Blackman for District 4. There’s only one Democrat, Robert G. Bryant, running for District 1. The Republican incumbents Lauren “Bubba” McDonald in District 4 and Jason Shaw for District 1 have no challengers in the primary. Two Libertarians are also running, Elizabeth Melton for District 1 and Nathan Wilson for District 4.

The Macon Telegraph profiles candidate fundraising for Mayor of Macon-Bibb County.

The Brunswick News considers how social distancing has changed campaigning for office.

While the state gradually lifts restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19, political campaigns continue to shift toward virtual gatherings and social media.

Some businesses are allowed to reopen under strict conditions, but an executive order issued by Gov. Brian Kemp requires people who are unrelated or not from the same household to keep six feet apart and bans gatherings of more than 10 people unless they are distanced.

“Before the virus, I had things set up to where I was going to do that,” [Republican candidate for Glynn County Commission Mike] Haugen said. “But social distancing was such that you could only (talk to the media), or go to social media.”

There’s little evidence that campaigns will return to their pre-COVID roots anytime soon, Haugen said. At least not before next month’s primary election, in which he will face fellow district 2 Republican candidate and former at-large county commissioner Cap Fendig.

“I don’t think anybody who’s ever been a candidate has faced the issues we face now,” Haugen said.

The Floyd County Judicial Center remains closed until Thursday for cleaning after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Dougherty County Courts are considering how to reopen to the public, according to the Albany Herald.

Chief Superior Court Judge Willie E. Lockette told Dougherty County Commission members on Monday that he has submitted a set of guidelines to the various judges in the county and Albany Municipal Court. The guidelines will cover procedures to be put in place, from checking temperatures of people coming into the Judicial Building to social distancing in courtrooms.

“As you know, our courthouse has been closed to the general public for the past couple of months,” Lockette said. “Courts have been open, mostly (through) video and teleconferencing.”

Under his plan, Lockette said he anticipates that courts could re-open for hearings, with the exception of trials, in late June or early July.

“(We) intend to open the courthouse in the safest manner possible on a limited basis,” Lockette said.

Georgia courts may face a backlog of filings as they reopen, according to the AJC.

Indictments have been delayed, defendants have spent months in jail awaiting trial and court cases have been postponed during the pandemic.

“We are at an all-hands-on-deck moment,” said Brian Amero, the chief judge of the Flint Judicial Circuit in Henry County and president of the Council of Superior Court Judges. “The extent to which this avalanche of work is about to hit superior court judges cannot be overstated.”

Sara Doyle, the presiding judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, set the tone by telling lawmakers that to meet the proposed cuts, the court would have to let go of 17 or 18 staff members and furlough others 22 days in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“The end result is an appellate court that can’t fully function or won’t fully function,” she said.

“Now more than ever, this country and this state need fully functioning courts at all levels and not one working with half the necessary staff on a shortened work year,” she said. “While the cuts being requested are a terrible burden on my court’s ability to function and to those who will lose their livelihood, the impact on the state and the people who live and do business here is much more profound if its court system is crippled.”

The Dougherty County Commission passed legislation requiring masks for people entering county buildings, according to the Albany Herald.

Commissioners unanimously passed the ordinance, planned to be a joint measure with the Albany City Commission, during a meeting in which they also approved equipment to clean the air in the county’s courtrooms.

City commissioners are scheduled to take up the measure during their Tuesday meeting.

County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said the requirement is meant to protect county employees, as well as first responders who are frequently inside public buildings, from exposure to the coronavirus. The Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office provides security for the Judicial Building and will be exposed to members of the public entering to conduct court business once it re-opens.

The mask requirement would not be in violation of Gov. Brian Kemp’s coronavirus orders, Cohilas said, as local governments are allowed to issue protective orders that apply to their facilities.

Augusta City Commissioners will also consider a mask requirement, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Two Augusta measures taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic — a small business relief program and a mask requirement — go for another commission vote Tuesday.

The [small business relief] program would provide forgivable, no-interest loans of up to $15,000 to small businesses located in Augusta with 10 or fewer employees and $500,000 or less in annual gross income. The businesses must employ low and moderate income people and not be in bankruptcy or owe local, state or federal taxes or fees.

The program is budgeted at $1.06 million and is not yet approved by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development to be reimbursed with federal grant funds.

Augusta’s mask ordinance — which requires they be worn in all city facilities — goes for a second reading Tuesday.

Brookhaven reopened its city hall, with a mask requirement for entrants, according to the AJC.

If a resident coming to City Hall does not have a mask, one will be provided for them, the city said in a statement.

“Wearing a face covering in public places is more than a good preventive measure for personal safety, it is also a best business practice to foster public confidence and restore the local economy,” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said in a statement.

The Atlanta Regional Commission will use $1.9 million in federal funds to expand meal delivery for seniors, according to the AJC.

Dredging continues in the Savannah Harbor, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The deepening of the Savannah harbor has set a new precedent with four dredges working simultaneously, the Army Corps of Engineers announced on Monday, June 1.

The entire Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) is approximately 62% complete and includes two dredges keeping the channel at its current authorized depth of 42 feet followed by two dredges taking the channel to its new depth of 47 feet.

GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch added that the progress surging ahead on SHEP is good news for port users.

“With the challenges our economy is facing, the savings a deeper harbor will mean for our customers can’t come soon enough,” Lynch said.

“We’re excited to see so much work getting done as the Corps of Engineers coordinates these efforts.”

The Museum of Arts & Sciences in Macon is holding a drive-through mini-zoo. From the Museum’s website:

Join us on Wednesday from 10:30 – noon, for a unique animal encounter. Just drive through the Museum parking lot, roll down your windows, and enjoy meeting the animals that call the MAS home.

This event is free; however, if you are able, the Museum is taking donations. Just follow the link to our website to make a monetary donation, or you can pick an item for the Mini-Zoo from our Amazon Wish list link. We truly appreciate any support you can give, even if it is just your presence and encouraging words.

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