Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 21, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 21, 2020

Union General Irvin McDowell’s forces engaged Confederates under General Pierre G.T. Beauregard and General Joseph Johnston at the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run on July 21, 1861.

On July 21, 1868, the Georgia General Assembly ratified the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution as a condition for readmission.

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois.

On July 21, 1988, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis accepted the Democratic nomination for President at the National Convention in Atlanta.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former State Rep. Bruce Broadrick (R-Dalton) died last week, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News. My condolences to his family and friends.

“He was a good man, a good public servant and a good Daltonian,” Pennington said. “He represented all the best in this city.”

“The fact that he won that primary without a runoff over a couple of other very strong candidates shows just how much he was loved and respected in Dalton,” said City Council member Gary Crews.

Speaker of the House David Ralston sent his condolences to the Broadrick family.

“He served with great distinction and integrity until September 2017,” Ralston said in a statement. “During his service, Bruce served on a number of important committees. When he left the House, he was serving as vice-chair of the Game, Fish and Parks Committee. Rep. Broadrick was a quiet, thoughtful and hard-working member. He cared little about the limelight, preferring instead to be effective on behalf of his community. I hope you will join with me in lifting up his wife, Mary Ann, and his entire family in your thoughts and prayers.”

The Georgia High School Sports Association voted to delay the start of football season, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The GHSA on Monday voted to postpone the start of the 2020 high school football season to early September, or two weeks later than originally planned. The decision was made during a Board of Trustees meeting and passed unanimously.

A motion to stay with the current GHSA calendar was voted down 8-4.

The GHSA plans to have a full 10 game regular season, and a full five week playoff schedule. Only games are delayed — mandatory practices begin July 27, moving to workouts in full pads Aug. 1.

The decision affects only football: All other fall sports will remain on schedule.

The University of Georgia football program previously signed a contract to play UVA in a Chick-fil-A kickoff game in September, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Georgia and Stokan, the Peach Bowl Inc. CEO and president, signed a term sheet the next month [in 2016?] to match the Bulldogs with Virginia on Sept, 7, 2020, Labor Day night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The next couple of weeks should determine whether that game goes off as scheduled.

“We’re really waiting now to see what the commissioners of the Big 12, ACC and SEC decide,” Stokan said Monday afternoon.

If the SEC goes with a nine game schedule or plus-one — eight conference games and one nonconference game — then Georgia would be out of the Chick-fil-A game and would play its traditional nonconference rivalry game with Georgia Tech while Florida State would play Florida in another end of season game.

The Democratic Party of Georgia chose State Senator and DPG Chair Nikema Williams as the party’s nominee for the 5th Congressional District, vacated by Rep. John Lewis. From the official newspaper of record of Georgia Democratic politics, the New York Times:

The executive committee of the Democratic Party of Georgia voted overwhelmingly on Monday for Williams to take Lewis’ spot on the ballot for the Atlanta-area 5th Congressional District after the longtime congressman and civil rights leader’s death last week.

Williams, 41, was chosen from a list of five finalists as the group works to quickly fill the spot in accordance with state law. She is nearly assured of winning in November in the heavily Democratic district.

Williams beat out state Rep. Park Cannon, Georgia NAACP President James Woodall, Atlanta city councilman Andre Dickens and Robert Franklin, former president of Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Williams has served in the state Senate since 2017 and is the current chair of state Democratic Party. She will face Republican Angela Stanton-King in November. Stanton-King is a reality TV personality and was pardoned earlier this year by President Donald Trump for her role in a stolen car ring, after serving six months of home confinement in 2007.

From the AJC:

A veteran activist with deep ties to the party’s base, Williams cast herself as an acolyte of Lewis — right down to their shared Alabama upbringing. And she invoked her 2018 arrest at the state Capitol during a voting rights demonstration as a sign of her willingness to get into the congressman’s brand of “good trouble.”

“We need someone who is not afraid to put themselves on the line for their constituents in the same way Congressman Lewis taught us to do,” she told the committee in a virtual address.

Since Lewis had already won the June primary, Georgia law gave party officials until 4 p.m. Monday to determine whether to leave his name on the ballot or replace it. Party operatives said not doing so would have risked losing a seat that Lewis carried by at least 70% of the vote in nearly all of his re-election bids.

“In a near unanimous vote, the Georgia Democratic Party executive committee chose their own chairwoman for the slot. And no one is surprised except for the other 130 folks who applied for it thinking they had a fair fight,” said Paul Bennecke, an operative who was once executive director of the Republican Governors Association. “Let the spinning begin.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo came down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal to offer his help with COVID-19, according to the AJC.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to directly criticize Gov. Brian Kemp, but he warmly praised Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, a native New Yorker who has been a scorching critic of Kemp in recent days.

“This virus, it preys upon the weak and the vulnerable,” Cuomo said. “It’s the weak body that has trouble resolving the virus. The American body is in many ways weak right now. The body politic is weakened.”

Cuomo delivered masks, test kits, gowns, face shields and hand sanitizer. He said he would help Savannah set up two new public testing sites aimed at lower-income people and said he would share contact tracing expertise.

“Today’s discussion was about testing. Today’s discussion was about tracing, and it was about training,” Johnson said. “And, more importantly, it’s about encouragement to a weary city that has been going through this since the beginning of March.”

From the New York Post:

New York was the hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak in the early spring and more than 25,000 residents have died from the killer bug — more than any other state. And Cuomo has come under heavy criticism for his early edict that may have led to more than 6,000 nursing home deaths.

Upstate Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin called Cuomo’s trip “absurd and obscene.”

“Cuomo is acting like a conquering hero. New York leads the nation cases and deaths. He refused to act early and failed to contain the coronavirus. His policies contributed to more deaths in nursing homes,” McLaughlin, a Republican, said of the governor, a Democrat.

“This trip is unbelievable. He’s definitely trying to rehab his image.”

Georgia is among the 23 states on the state travel advisory list for rising cases of COVID-19, meaning visitors from there must quarantine for 14 days upon entering New York.

Cuomo said he was not quarantining upon return because he considers himself an “essential” employee — though he will be tested for COVID-19 when he comes home later Monday.

From WSAV:

Cuomo and Mayor Van Johnson held a press conference, where they gave more details on the partnership. Cuomo said there are three major components: PPE, testing, and contact tracing.

Cuomo said New York can help enhance contact tracing in Savannah. He said the state has developed a training program for local health workers to get a contact tracing program up and running as soon as possible.

Cuomo will also continue giving Johnson advice based on New York’s struggles as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Chatham County. He said he supports Johnson’s mandatory mask order that was shot down by Governor Brian Kemp last week.

When asked by WSAV if it is difficult to enforce a mask mandate, Cuomo said it is just like enforcing something like non-smoking areas or open container laws. He said it is not difficult because the greatest enforcement comes from the people.

Governor Brian Kemp yesterday announced a new partnership to further expand COVID-19 testing, according to a press release.

Delivering on the Governor’s commitment to expand testing and shorten the wait time for COVID-19 test results in Georgia, the state’s partnership with Mako will provide test results within 48 hours, on average.

“Georgia has dramatically expanded testing since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Kemp. “As demand for testing has soared across the country, many private labs have been unable to process tests quick enough to aid in contact tracing and mitigation efforts. With some Georgians waiting well over a week for their results, the status quo is unacceptable. This new partnership will not only expand the number of tests the state is able to administer, but also greatly reduce the turnaround time of those tests. This is vital to Georgia’s efforts in our fight against COVID-19.”

“As we continue our efforts to combat COVID-19, expanded and streamlined testing is absolutely crucial,” said Kathleen Toomey, M.D, M.P.H., Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Our contract with Mako Medical will boost test processing capabilities and enable our army of contact tracers to respond quicker to newly identified cases.”

“Mako Medical is honored to assist the state of Georgia in the fight against COVID-19 by deploying our testing capabilities. Mako Medical reserved capacity for the state of Georgia to maintain an average 48 hour turnaround time, which is key to COVID-19 response efforts,” said Josh Arant, Chief Operating Officer at Mako Medical Laboratories.

The next story went from “current news” to “historical interest” in the course of my compiling this morning’s news, as Judge Ellerbe has now recused herself and the case will be reassigned.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe will hear motions this morning in the lawsuit by the Kemp Administration against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, according to the Daily Report.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe signed an order Monday morning for a Tuesday hearing on Kemp’s motion for an emergency interlocutory injunction to stop Bottoms from mandating the wearing of masks—or doing anything else that overrides his authority.

“Due to the current public health crisis, the Court will hear this matter via videoconference,” Ellerbe said. “The hearing will be live streamed to provide public access.”

Members of the public can watch the hearing on the court’s website. The lawyers will use the Zoom teleconferencing service to make their arguments.

The mask lawsuit isn’t really about masks, according to the attorney general. “The State of Georgia continues to urge citizens to wear masks,” Carr said in a statement posted on Twitter. “This lawsuit is about the rule of law.”

Kemp said his issue with the mayor is bigger than masks. At a news conference at the Capitol Friday, he talked about his concern for small businesses affected by the mayor’s attempt to return to the stricter lockdown of earlier days of the pandemic. He said another total shutdown could push struggling restaurants into bankruptcy.

Kemp is asking the court to enjoin Bottoms from issuing orders that contradict him. He’s also asking the court to enjoin the Atlanta City Council from approving those orders.

From the Associated Press via the Athens Banner Herald:

In a lawsuit filed Thursday against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the members of the City Council, Kemp argues that local leaders don’t have the legal authority to change or ignore his executive orders.

“Governor Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage the public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public,” the lawsuit states.

Bottoms’ orders and statements to the press have created uncertainty and confusion, the lawsuit says, asserting that some restaurant owners believed they had to close their doors to avoid running afoul of city rules.

“Mayor Bottoms’ orders and actions present a high potential for irreparable harm to the citizenry, including but not limited to, lost wages and livelihood, business closures, and the opportunity for economic growth,” the suit says.

The Supreme Court of Georgia canceled the September in-person bar exam, according to the Albany Herald.

Due to public health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic, an online exam will be administered Oct. 5-6 in its place. At that time, applicants will have the opportunity to take the test for licensure to practice law in Georgia.

Gwinnett County Public Schools announced yesterday a shift to online-only for the beginning of school, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gwinnett County Public Schools joined its fellow metro Atlanta school systems in opting to begin the 2020-2021 school year in an online-only format because of the ongoing COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic on Monday.

The shift in the district’s strategy away from a blended model where some students would be taught in school and others would learn online is significant for multiple reasons. For starters, it forces families who had been preparing to send their children back to class to switch gears and ensure their kids are prepared for online learning.

“There is no replacement for face-to-face instruction, and that was our preferred model for starting the school year,” Wilbanks said as he announced the new plan Monday. “With that in mind, we offered parents an option between in-person and digital instruction in order to be responsive to their wishes for their children.”

“However, out of an abundance of concern for our students, families, and employees, we made a very difficult decision based on the increasing number of COVID-19 cases we are seeing in our county, as well as the concerns that have been expressed by our teachers, parents, and others in the community.”

Additionally, district officials said they have been working on ways to address issues such as student access to computers as well as internet connections that are reliable. As a result, Chromebooks and internet hotspots will be checked out to students based on their needs to address equity in terms of the quality of digital learning.

United States Senator David Perdue (R) introduced legislation designed to help schools with reopening plans, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Safely Creating Healthy Opening Options Locally (SCHOOL) Act would help schools prepare reopening plans amid the coronavirus pandemic based on input from health care professionals.

“With the school year quickly approaching, parents, teachers, and students are understandably anxious about eventually going back to the classroom in this current environment,” Perdue said Monday.

“I want to make sure schools can make the best decisions about reopening locally. I want to provide teachers with the tools they need to stay safe and keep our kids learning. I also want to make sure parents have some peace of mind knowing that their students will still have a positive learning experience, while protecting their families from COVID-19.”

Perdue’s bill would provide funding schools could use to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) and clean and disinfect school buildings. It also would make nurses and other health-care workers available to help with symptom checks and help school develop procedures for notifying parents of potential COVID-19 cases.

The Henry County Commission is considering changing the date of a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Transportation (T-SPLOST) referendum, according to the AJC.

Henry Commissioners last month put forward a plan to raise as much as $204 million over five years for transportation through a 1% hike in county’s sales tax. They hoped to get a TSPLOST referendum on the ballot this fall and were in the planning process of how to use the funds, including using the money to buy right-of-way, build bridges, construct roads and add bike paths.

But a recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the county forced leaders to cancel commission meetings at which the plan would have been discussed. The county’s cities, which were to provide wish lists of transportation projects, also faced challenges getting together to discuss plans.

Commissioners will vote Tuesday whether to move the referendum to March 2021.

Columbus City Council District 4 will elect a new council member in a fascinating runoff election, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Councilor Pugh retired in October 2019 because of poor health, and the special election’s to decide who serves the remaining 4½ months in the unexpired term.

Valerie Thompson was appointed to serve the district until the June 9 special election when she was on the ballot with Tucker and Gillespie. Tucker got 2,534 votes to Thompson’s 2,030 and Gillespie’s 1,046, falling short of the 50% plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.

But Thompson, pastor of the Revelation Missionary Baptist Church that Tucker attends, didn’t want to face Tucker in the runoff, so she withdrew, leaving Gillespie the next leading contender.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s Political Action Committee endorsed Republican Dr. John Cowan for Congress in the 14th District, according to the Cleveland Jewish News.

Brooks warned that, if elected, Greene “would take our party in the wrong direction. Greene came to national attention for all the wrong reasons: repeatedly using offensive language in long online video diatribes, promoting bizarre political conspiracy theories, and refusing to admit a mistake after posing for photos smiling side by side with a long-time KKK leader.”

“By contrast, Dr. Cowan, a respected neurosurgeon, has demonstrated the right principles: denouncing all types of bigotry and violent extremism, emphasizing strong roots in his district and speaking out strongly for mainstream conservative values, including support for President Trump and a strong pro-Israel stance,” said Brooks.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: I don’t think endorsements from politicians, political action committees, or anyone else is going to help Dr. Cowan. If he wins, it’ll be despite the endorsements, not because of them.

The Lowndes County Board of Education adopted a plan for reopening schools, accordin to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Board members approved the plan Monday night during the Lowndes County Board of Education’s regular meeting.

LaVerne Rome, county schools director of public relations, confirmed schools are scheduled to begin Aug. 7. Teachers are set to return Aug. 3.

The reopening plan gives students two options: traditional face-to-face learning and virtual learning. Pre-K children are excluded from the virtual learning option.

Virtual learning comes with a nine-week commitment for elementary students and a semester-long commitment for middle and high schoolers for grading purposes. A Lowndes teacher will lead the online class daily.

Nine weeks was given to elementary students opposed to a full semester to allow struggling virtual students to return to the classroom sooner rather than later if necessary, board members said.

The Muscogee County Board of Education kept the same property tax millage rate as the previous year, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

The fiscal year 2021 millage rate will be 23.321 mills, the same as the current year, said Cathy Williams, finance committee chairwoman, during the last two of three public hearings Monday morning and evening.

Last week, the board tentatively adopted a rate of 23.404, which is projected to generate the same amount of revenue, based on a lower property tax digest. But complaints from residents prompted the board to reconsider that vote and maintain the same millage rate.

“After drilling down on the many questions from the community, we determined that the script was premised on our keeping the tax revenue at the same level, not the millage rate,” said Williams, the board’s District 7 representative, during the Monday morning hearing.

“It is clear that the consensus of the board was to not raise the millage rate,” Williams said. “Therefore, because the will of the board is to hold the millage rate at 23.321 and not increase it to the 23.404 in the script I read last week, we don’t really need to hold any more public hearings.

Imagine taking a new job as a city manager, then COVID-19 hits. That’s what happened to Regina McDuffie, with the City of Brunswick, according to The Brunwick News.

Sandy Springs will hold public meetings on a proposed property tax increase, according to the AJC.

According to the city, new buildings and improvements on existing structures in the city have increased the value of local property. Based on those higher assessments, Sandy Springs property taxes will increase by less than one percent, a statement said.

The city has not changed its property tax rate since it was incorporated in 2005.

Sandy Springs estimates that property with a fair market value of $300,000 and a homestead exemption would see a tax increase of about $1.35 under the proposal. For property of the same value without a homestead exemption, the tax increase would be $5.40.

From the City of Sandy Springs website:

The City’s millage rate of 4.731 is set in the City’s Charter and has not changed since incorporation. In announcing the public hearing dates, the City Council announces its intention to increase the property taxes it will levy this year by less than one percent (0.64 percent) over the rollback millage rate, which under state law is termed a tax increase, even though the tax rate is unchanged. The City’s property tax revenue increase is based primarily on new or improved buildings within the city and a modest increase in property values.

So, this is not an increase of the property tax rate, which stays the same. But because valuations are up, the city will collect more money and is required by state law to advertise the “tax increase.”

Glynn County Commissioners are considering regulations for short-term rentals, according to The Brunswick News.

The ordinance, for which commissioner Peter Murphy has served as the primary advocate, would require rentals to meet health, fire and other building codes, set parking standards, limit renting parties and make rental owners get licenses before doing business, among other things.

To get a license, the owner would have to provide a name, phone number and address, proof of ownership of the rental unit and a local contact to deal with any issues that arise. The license number would have to be displayed in the rental unit, and any advertising would have to display it.

The draft ordinance did not give a specific license fee but made reference to one as a requirement of applying.

The Savannah State University Faculty Senate is asking the Board of Regents to reconsider reopening plans, according to the Savannah Morning News.

“Here at Savannah State University, our students, faculty, and staff face a particular danger from this disease. The Center for Disease Control has demonstrated significantly worse outcomes and severity for African Americans,” the letter continues.

According to the letter, 79% of SSU’s student body identifies as Black or African American, and as the system’s oldest Historically Black College and University, “requiring students to return to physical classrooms, even with the best of intentions, is nothing less than a violation of our institution’s historical mission.”

The Faculty Senate also expressed their agreement with the “Statement of Academic Faculty of Georgia Tech on the COVID-19 Crisis and Fall 2020 Semester,” which was sent to the USG earlier this month by more than 800 Georgia Tech professors.

“We further agree in their calls for independent decision-making by University Presidents, a transition to remote instruction as the default mode for Fall 2020, and availability of campus resources (such as residence halls or laboratories) to students in limited ways that still meet their needs,” the letter reads.

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