Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 15, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 15, 2020

On December 15, 1791, Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights, giving the first ten Amendments a three-quarter majority required to become law.

On December 15, 1859, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown signed legislation outlawing public execution of criminals. The previous day he signed legislation prohibiting slave owners from freeing their slaves on the owner’s death.

On December 15, 1939, Gone With the Wind held its world premiere at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta.

President Jimmy Carter announced on December 15, 1978 that U.S. diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China would begin on January 1, 1979.

The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee released a report on December 15, 1998 that recommended impeachment against President Bill Clinton and introduced H.Res. 611.

On December 15, 2016, Republican Tim Echols was sworn in by Gov. Nathan Deal to a second term on the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Santa Claus has become a COVID-19 Super Spreader, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

A Santa Claus who took photos with dozens of kids was diagnosed with COVID-19, officials say.

The man tested positive for the disease after playing the role of Santa at holiday-themed festivities last week, said Robert D. Parker, chairman of the Long County Board of Commissioners.

Mrs. Claus, who was available for visits with children at the same event, also later received positive COVID-19 test results, Parker wrote Monday in a Facebook post.

The chairman said families with children who may have been exposed to the disease should follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including staying at home and monitoring for fever and other coronavirus symptoms.

Former Vice President Joe Biden will come to Georgia tonight to boost the Democratic campaigns for Senate, according to the AJC.

The Democrat will headline a drive-in rally in northeast Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon, his first campaign stop since his November election victory over President Donald Trump, which was confirmed Monday by a suspense-less Electoral College vote in Georgia and other battleground states.

Biden’s visit coincides with the start of the three-week early-voting period in the Jan. 5 runoffs to decide control of the U.S. Senate. Ossoff and Warnock are racing to mobilize the same coalition that made Biden the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Georgia since 1992.

Governor Brian Kemp announced the appointment of a Judge and Solicitor General for the newly-formed Bartow County State Court. From the Press Release:

The State Court of Barrow County was created by the passage of House Bill 1157 (Act 347) during the 2020 Legislative Session of the Georgia General Assembly. The term for this new judgeship will begin January 1, 2021, and will end January 1, 2023.

Robert M. Gardner, Jr. was appointed by Governor Kemp to serve as Judge of the Barrow County State Court. Robert is the owner of Gardner Law Firm, where he has represented individuals and businesses in the Northeast Georgia and Metro Atlanta areas. Before starting Gardner Law Firm, Robert was partner at Hicks, Massey and Gardner, LLP, for 18 years. Robert attended Florida State University and Piedmont College, earning his Bachelors of Arts in Humanities in 1991 and Business Administration/Accounting in 1993. Robert received his Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1996. Robert lives in Winder with his wife Nina. They have five children.

Kyle William Sharry was appointed by Governor Kemp to serve as Solicitor General of the Barrow County State Court. Kyle is a partner at Massey & Sharry, LLP, where he serves as a litigator for clients in Barrow, Jackson, and Banks Counties. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from the University of Georgia in 2011, and graduated from Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law in 2014.

Governor Kemp also signed Executive Order #12.14.20.01, updating the order on unlawful assemblage.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has called for a sample audit of signature matching of absentee ballots in Cobb County’s general election, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The audit comes in response to a “specific allegation” the mail-in signature verification process was not followed properly in Cobb for the Nov. 3 general election, Raffensperger said at a news conference. He did not give details on the allegation.

Re-checking the envelope signatures in Cobb also aims to boost confidence in the integrity of the high-stakes Senate runoffs on Jan. 5 amid fraud claims from President Donald Trump and his allies that have injected doubt into Georgia’s election system, Raffensperger said.

“We stand ready to answer each and every question out there,” Raffensperger said. “Every Georgian should have faith in our elections.”

The audit should take about two weeks to complete, Raffensperger said. Officials then plan to start work on a longer-range statewide study of mail-in signatures Raffensperger said will be done by independent auditors.

Raffensperger and his deputies have faced intense criticism from Trump and many Republican leaders in Georgia for not re-verifying signatures on the record-breaking 1.3 million absentee ballots cast in the Nov. 3 presidential election, which President-elect Joe Biden won by 12,779 votes.

From the AJC:

The review of absentee ballot signatures won’t change the results of the presidential election. Machine and hand counts showed Democrat Joe Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes, and the Electoral College voted for Biden on Monday.

The unprecedented signature audit could show whether signatures on absentee ballot envelopes really did match the voter signatures kept on file. But there’s no way to match voter signatures to ballots after envelopes were opened. The right to cast a secret ballot is guaranteed by the state Constitution.

“Now that the signature matching has been attacked, again and again with no evidence, I feel we need to take steps to restore confidence in our elections,“ Raffensperger said during a press conference at the state Capitol. “Starting immediately, we are pulling all of our resources together with GBI to conduct a signature match audit in Cobb County.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the secretary of state’s office will review a statistically significant sample of absentee ballot envelopes from both the primary and general election in Cobb County. Signatures on envelopes will be compared to signatures from when voters registered, either at driver’s license offices or on paper forms.

Georgia’s Democratic Presidential Electors gathered at the State Capitol yesterday to cast their votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia’s Democratic electors cast the state’s 16 electoral votes for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, sealing a historic victory in the state Monday for the president- and vice-president elect Monday. In defiance of the vote, state GOP leaders met to cast alternative electoral votes for President Trump.

“This is not a moment of partisanship, this is a moment of patriotism,” said former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who chaired the electoral college meeting.

Abrams urged unity among Georgians who do not accept the result and think it may be overturned.

“We have to worry about those who find themselves just hanging on, hoping that salvation is near,” she said. “We don’t elect saviors in this country – we elect servants, whose purpose is to serve all of us.”

At the GOP gathering, held in another area of the state Capitol, Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer said the alternate votes kept Trump’s unending efforts to litigate a win alive.

“Had we not meet today and cast our votes, the President’s pending election contest would have been effectively mooted. Our action today preserves his rights under Georgia law,” state GOP Chairman David Shafer said in a tweet.

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

Both Democrats and Republicans ended up meeting at the state Capitol to cast votes as Republicans, who have been challenging the results of Georgia’s election, did not concede on Monday. They gathered their own slate of electors to cast Electoral College votes at the Capitol.

State law stipulates whoever won the election will get Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes. According to certified results, that was Biden, but the Trump campaign has been pursuing several legal challenges in the state, the latest of which is pending in Fulton County.

“Because the president’s lawsuit contesting the Georgia election has not been decided, or even heard,” Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said. “We held this meeting to preserve his rights. Had we not held the meeting, then his lawsuit would effectively be mooted.”

“So, we held this meeting today to assure that, if he prevails in the lawsuit, that there will be electoral votes that have been cast and available to him.”

Congressman Buddy Carter and Senator David Perdue campaigned in coastal Georgia, according to The Brunswick News.

Perdue, the Republican incumbent in one of two Senate races in the Jan. 5 runoff, stood in line with his wife Bonnie and a few dozen other Glynn County residents for half an hour Monday to cast his ballot at the early voting polling place at Glynn County Fire Station No. 2 on St. Simons Island.

“We’re residents of Glynn County and we wanted to make sure we were out here on the first day of early voting,” said Perdue, who lives on Sea Island. “Wherever you are, make sure you get out and vote. … It’s the future of the country.”

Carter was on St. Simons Island Monday for the same reason. He encouraged members of the Golden Isles Republican Women at a Sea Palms luncheon to get out to the polls as soon as possible.

“Early voting started today,” he said. “Three weeks from (Tuesday) will be Jan. 5. The results of that race will have national implications.”

Republicans flipped 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, potentially 14 depending on the outcome of one New York runoff, Carter said, narrowing the Democratic party’s lead to the point that he was confident the GOP would take a majority of the 435 House seats in the 2022 midterm election.

But more importantly, Georgia plays a key role in determining who makes the decisions in the upper chamber of Congress, Carter said. With both the state’s Senate seats up for grabs, Georgia will decide whether the 100-member body is split 50-50 or if Republicans maintain their majority.

Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue jointly issued a statement opposing renaming the Atlanta Braves, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Braves indicated in July the organization had no intention of changing the name, though there were discussions about potentially ending encouragement of tomahawk chants and motions by fans during games.

“We adamantly oppose any effort to rename the Atlanta Braves, one of our state’s most storied and successful sports franchises,” Perdue and Loeffler said in the statement. “Not only are the Braves a Georgia institution — with a history spanning 54 years in Atlanta — they’re an American institution. The Braves’ name honors our nation’s Native American heritage, which should not be erased — and under no circumstances should one of the most celebrated teams in sports cave to the demands of the cancel culture and the radical left.”

Senator Loeffler disavowed an alleged white supremacist who took a photo with her, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Loeffler was pictured smiling alongside Chester Doles after a campaign event Friday in Dawsonville, about 60 miles north of Atlanta, the Associated Press reported. Criticism was swift as the photo began circulating online.

The senator’s campaign has since condemned Doles, saying Loeffler didn’t know the man in the picture.

“Kelly had no idea who that was,” deputy campaign manager Stephen Lawson told McClatchy News in a statement. “And if she had she would have kicked him out immediately, because we condemn in the most vociferous terms everything that he stands for.”

I’ve never heard of the guy and wouldn’t recognize him or be able to pick him out of a lineup.

Veronica Cope took the oath as the newest Gwinnett County State Court Judge, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Cope, who is joining Gwinnett County’s State Court bench as one of a handful of African-Americans in the county’s judiciary, said she saw people being mistreated in the legal system. That was the real reason why the 45-year-old mother set her mind on becoming a lawyer while she was still in elementary school.

“I saw a lot of injustices growing up and my goal at that time, I said I wanted to be able to help people who couldn’t help themselves, or be a voice for the voiceless,” Cope said. “I was honestly a big fan of ‘Matlock,’ ‘Perry Mason’ (and) that kind of thing, but seeing those injustices at such a young age really put in me a desire to want to practice law and I’ve been pushing toward that goal ever since.”

She is only the second African-American, following Judge Ronda Colvin Leary, who was elected in 2018, to serve on Gwinnett’s State Court bench.

Gwinnett also has one sitting Juvenile Court judge, one sitting Superior Court judge and one incoming Superior Court judge who are African-Americans. Cope said it is important for defendants, particularly African-Americans who may feel the criminal justice system is slanted against them because of the color of their skin, to see people of color among the judiciary.

“Representation does matter,” she told well-wishers at her swearing in ceremony. “It shouldn’t matter, but it does.”

That is in addition to an appointed African-American Juvenile Court judge, the county’s first openly gay judge in Superior Court and its first Vietnamese-American judge in Juvenile Court.

Cobb County will close schools for the rest of the semester and move students online, according to the AJC.

All district students will take their classes virtually on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is already set aside by the district as a remote learning day for all students. Cobb schools’ winter break begins Dec. 21 and runs through Jan. 6, 2021, when students will return for the spring semester.

The school district said Tuesday that the number of positive cases in the community “continues to rise and we are taking every possible step, including using remote learning days, to keep community spread from becoming school spread.”

The district began the 2020-21 school year virtually in August, but started a phased transition plan in October that brought students back into the classroom. Parents of students were given the opportunity to choose if they wanted their children to go back to face-to-face learning or if they preferred to stick with the remote option.

Murray County public schools are moving students in middle and high school online, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Murray County Schools has shifted all middle and high school students to distance learning due to a high number of COVID-19 cases and quarantines among students and staff.

“We haven’t had that many positive tests, but we’ve just had to quarantine so many due to possible exposure,” said Steve Loughridge, Murray County Schools’ superintendent. “We’d get 10 or 15 back (out of quarantine), but then we’d lose another 20 or 25, so we’re just constantly losing ground.”

“We can’t get enough substitute teachers, either,” he said. “Subs are a problem during (this pandemic).”

“Our nurses do the contact tracing, and the vast majority of exposures come outside the school setting,” he said. “Much more often than not, it’s at another event, but there’s no way we can control that.”

For the week that ended Dec. 4, Murray County Schools had 17 students test positive and 395 quarantined for possible exposure, according to the school system. During that same week, six employees tested positive, and 23 were quarantined for possible exposure.

Clarke County schools have also gone back to online learning, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Interim School Superintendent Xernona Thomas made the announcement late Wednesday, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases and exposures as the reason to end in-person instruction for now.

Online learning will extend into next year through Jan. 18.

“We understand that this decision will pose challenges for our students and families and we did not make it lightly,” Thomas said in the message.

Gainesville City Schools are moving online for the rest of the semester, according to the Gainesville Times.

Wednesday, Dec. 16, will be the last day of face-to-face instruction, the district says.

District officials say an increase in COVID-19 cases and exposures in Gainesville and Hall County, as well as other locations where staff live, have meant the system has “reached a tipping point” and is unable to provide coverage in all of its major departments.

“Remote instruction expectations will be at the discretion of each school due to the short notice,” the district’s release states. “While our hope is to return on January 6, we will continue to monitor the situation and will release any updated plans as soon as possible.”

Hall County Schools are also shifting online, according to AccessWDUN.

Effective Wednesday, December 16, all Hall County School District middle and high school students will shift to blended learning exclusively. That change is effective for the remainder of the week.

There will be no change for elementary students according to Hall County School Superintendent Will Schofield.

Schofield said that dealing with COVID-19 in the school district is, “…a fluid situation”, but lately that fluid situation is more like running whitewater rapids than floating on a tranquil pond.

One of the primary reasons for the need to change the middle and high school format is the rise of COVID-19 cases among the adult staff members, not necessarily among the students.

Schofield said, “We see COVID numbers increasing to the point that we’re having difficulties with the quarantines, having enough adults at the middle and high schools to effectively carry out instruction.”

Savannah and Brunswick have received the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Savannah Morning News.

From the Macon Telegraph:

Additional doses, earmarked for front-line health care workers, will arrive in other parts of the state later this week, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Shipments were delivered to a pair of public health locations in east Georgia with ultra-cold freezers, used for storage and temperature control of the vaccine. The initial shipment of 5,850 doses will be given to front-line medical workers in two parts, with the second dose administered about three weeks after the first, according to North Central Health District Public Information Officer Michael Hokanson.

The Pfizer vaccine will likely arrive in Macon later this week, according to a statement from Navicent Health.

“Navicent Health is anticipating the arrival of a limited number of the FDA-approved Pfizer novel coronavirus vaccine,” the statement said. “We anticipate the first shipment will arrive later this week. We will follow federal and state guidance to determine vaccine roll-out priorities and administration.”

Navicent added in the statement that the primary focus will be on front-line workers and the vulnerable populations in long term care facilities.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Georgia and Augusta hospitals were still awaiting confirmation Monday on when and how much of the vaccine against COVID-19 they would receive as the first shipment arrived in the Savannah area.

“We are anxiously awaiting formal notification of when our vaccine will arrive and exactly how many doses we will receive in our initial shipment,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, Chief Medical Officer at AU Health System, which could happen at “literally any moment.” The earliest vaccine could arrive would be Tuesday, “but if not (then) it should be Wednesday,” but the health system had not received that assurance yet, he said.

University Hospital has been told by the Georgia Public Health, which is coordinating the effort in the state, that it will receive doses but “we don’t know how much or which vaccine we will get, the Pfizer or the Moderna,” said Reyne Gallup, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Acute Care Services. Pfizer received Emergency Use Authorization for its vaccine last week and the Food and Drug Administration will consider it for the Moderna vaccine this week.

Both AU and University are targeting direct care workers for those first doses. AU Health is starting with those with the most contact with COVID-19 patients or those who might be infected, which includes those in the COVID-19 wards and Intensive Care Units and the Emergency Department, Coule said. After that, it would be direct-care providers in non-COVID units and those providers who would be at higher risk for complications from an infection, such as those 50 and older or with underlying health problems, he said.

From the AJC:

The Pfizer vaccine, developed with extraordinary speed and spectacular clinical results, was administered Monday to five Savannah nurses just two days after its authorization for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We’ve been dealing with this since January or February and looking for a light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the state’s Coastal Health District, which received 5,850 doses Monday, said in a videotaped statement.

Emory Healthcare officials said they had placed an order over the weekend sufficient to vaccinate their entire workforce, and expected to see that amount arrive over time in pieces but were waiting on information. A Piedmont Healthcare spokesman said they expected delivery within the next several days.

The Georgia Department of Public Health, which announced the vaccine shipments, said the decision on where the first shipment went wasn’t up to the agency. Federal officials made the call, said spokeswoman Nancy Nydam, and the state only learned Sunday night the doses were headed for the Georgia coast on Monday.

The City of Baldwin will hold a Special Election on March 16, 2021 to replace former Council Member Jeff Parrish representing Seat 4, according to AccessWDUN.

Qualifying for the seat will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Jan. 11-14, and from 8:30 a.m. to noon Friday, Jan. 15, at the Habersham County Elections Office, Jacobs Way, Suite 101, Clarkesville.

Should a runoff be required, the top two vote-getters will face each other on Tuesday, April 13.

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