Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 1, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 1, 2021

In perhaps the most fitting historical tidbit ever, the United States House of Representatives first met on April 1, 1789 in New York City. Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected the first Speaker of the House. Georgia’s first Members of Congress were James Jackson, Abraham Baldwin, and George Mathews.

On April 1, 1870, Robert E. Lee, President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Lee’s career in the United States Army began with his first assignment at Cockspur Island near Savannah. While in Savannah for the 1870 trip, Lee was photographed with former General Joseph E. Johnston, who was in the insurance business there.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp issued Executive Order #03.31.21.01, renewing the Public Health State of Emergency through April 30, 2021, and Executive Order #03.31.21.03 providing guidance on public safety protocols during the pandemic. Executive Order #03.31.21.02 allows state employees to take up to 8 hours Emergency Office Closure Leave for the purpose of getting a COVID vaccination and up to 16 hours leave for recovery from negative side effects if the side effects would prevent them from working.

From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Georgia will roll back a number of its COVID-19 restrictions starting next week.

Large gatherings will no longer banned and shelter-in-place requirements will be removed. Some guidelines for restaurants and organizations have changed, like the distance between tables at restaurants, and police can no longer shut down businesses that fail to follow the state’s COVID-19 rules.

Governor Brian Kemp announced in a press release Wednesday that current restrictions will be renewed until April 7 and the new set of restrictions will go into effect April 8.

Reopening the state before herd immunity is reached could cause a resurgence in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, she said. The number of hospitalizations and deaths are already too high in Georgia, [Amber] Schmidtke says, and they’d need to fall low enough to be comparable to death and hospitalization rates for the common cold or the flu. Only about a dozen counties in Georgia are currently in the yellow zone that would indicate low transmission, deaths and hospitalizations.

“Cases are a lot lower than they were during the winter surge, just about back to pre-surge levels, but even that was a high baseline,” Schmidtke said. “So we still have a lot of disease in our communities.”

What’s changing

  • Gatherings are no longer banned.
  • Shelter-in-pace no longer required.
  • More general guidelines for infrastructure with fewer industry-specific requirements.
  • Law enforcement can no longer close an organization for failure to comply with the state’s COVID-19 rules.
  • Reduces any remaining distance requirements (i.e. distance between parties at restaurants, bars, and movie theaters, and between patrons of group fitness classes).
  • 42 inches of distance required between groups at restaurants.

Governor Kemp also appointed Scott McAfee as Inspector General.

McAfee is an attorney who has spent his legal career in public service, working the last eight years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Department of Justice in the Northern District of Georgia and as an Assistant District Attorney in Fulton County. As an AUSA, McAfee investigated and prosecuted major drug trafficking organizations, fraud, and illegal firearms possession. In the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, McAfee handled hundreds of felony cases ranging from armed robbery to murder.

The Office of Inspector General is charged with preventing, detecting, identifying, exposing and eliminating fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption. The Inspector General investigates complaints regarding management and operation of state agencies within the executive branch to determine if wrongful acts or omissions have been, or are being committed by state officers or employees.

“Scott McAfee is a strong addition to my administration,” said Governor Kemp. “His experience as a tough prosecutor equips him to search out fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption, and bring those to justice who break the law.”

McAfee obtained his undergraduate degree from Emory University, where he majored in music and received a scholarship to play the cello in the university symphony orchestra. He earned his law degree from the University of Georgia. While in law school, McAfee was inducted into the Order of the Barristers. He has also previously worked for Justice David Nahmias and Justice Keith Blackwell of the Georgia Supreme Court.

McAfee is active in the legal community, serving as the board member and past president of the Criminal Law Section of the Atlanta Bar. He is a volunteer scuba diver at the Georgia Aquarium and captains his ALTA tennis team.

A lifelong Georgian, McAfee grew up in Kennesaw, and currently resides in Atlanta with his wife and their two children.

As I approach my 50th birthday, I’m mildly disappointed to learn that someone who started at Emory 17 years behind me has achieved such a position and I have not.

Legislators passed the FY 2020 state budget on the last day of Session, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

The budget passed the Senate 52-0 and then passed the House 148-21 on Wednesday, the last day of the 2021 session, after the House and Senate worked out relatively minor differences. It was still awaiting a vote in the House in the final hours of the session.

The plan would spend $27.3 billion in state money and $22.5 billion in federal and other money in the year starting July 1, for total spending of nearly $50 billion. The measure now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto.

“The add-backs that the governor put back for K-12 were really the biggest parts of the budget,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Blake Tillery, a Vidalia Republican. “The second biggest add, you’re going to see in behavioral health.”

Tillery said K-12 school systems would still be $382 million short of full funding, but that school systems are getting $6.9 billion in federal money, saying the state cuts are “pennies on the dollar” compared to the federal money.

The House and Senate agreed to some key Kemp initiatives, including plans to spend $40 million on a rural innovation fund and $10 million to extend high-speed internet in rural areas.

The plan puts back $58.9 million in cuts that were made last year in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Georgia’s main mental health agency, restoring funding for addiction treatment and creating a new behavioral crisis unit for those with developmental disabilities. It also increases payments for some mental health providers.

Governor Stacey Abrams announced her plan to allow corporations to redeem themselves from cowardly acts of complicity in the racist corporate hegemony that is Georgia. From her op-ed in the Augusta Chronicle.

I recommend the following course of redemptive actions for those corporations that want to show they know what’s at stake:

First, publicly acknowledge the truth of what’s happening. Georgia corporations should leave behind tepid statements of self-congratulations for turning horrific intent into terrible reality. Yes, we stopped complete annihilation of long-protected rights. But the damage done by SB 202 and its companions in other states will hurt thousands upon thousands of voters. For corporations doing business in the other 42 states considering voter suppression legislation, speak out now when it might actually stop the bills from becoming law.

Second, corporations eager to prove their good faith can do so by putting their resources to good use. Rather than financing state legislators pushing these anti-democratic bills, refuse to fund their efforts. Instead, use those earmarked campaign dollars to support projects that help the poor, the elderly, students and the isolated get the identification they need to cast their ballots in 2022. In Georgia, for example, an estimated at least 200,000 Georgians do not have the required restrictive photo ID. The so-called “free” ID offered in Georgia and other states is not free when the hours to access it are limited, transportation is difficult and the documents necessary are hard to locate, too expensive or unavailable.

Third, companies must stand up for voters by endorsing the federal voting rights standards included in the For the People Act (H.R. 1 and S. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). The For the People Act would ensure that Americans’ access to democracy does not depend on the state in which they live. As proposed, automatic voter registration, in-person early voting and no-excuse absentee voting would be guaranteed for voters regardless of geography. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore enforcement of the historic Voting Rights Act, blocking state laws that would disenfranchise voters of color in the future.

In speeches I give to young activists and seasoned advocates, I urge them to speak up, show up and stand up. We can expect no less from the economic pillars of our communities. So I ask like-minded Americans to hold corporations to their professed values — by measuring their actions and demanding they stand with us.

Actual Governor Brian Kemp discussed criticism of Senate Bill 202, the election reform legislation, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

In an interview with CNHI, Kemp slammed opponents for what he called “lying to Georgians” about what provisions were actually included in the final bill, decried looming boycotts of Georgia companies and addressed the controversy stirred by the bill’s signing.

“People need to know that this law continues to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat in Georgia,” he said.

Kemp pushed back against the argument that the election changes were a reaction to false allegations of voter fraud spread by the former president and his Republican supporters. He pointed to the pandemic as a root cause of many of the issues seen in November.

“What the bill does is it provides more access and really addresses a lot of issues that we saw in the last election that was caused, in many ways, by the pandemic,” he said.

“When you have a 351% increase in absentee ballots by mail, it certainly created a lot of problems with the process,” he said.

Voting rights advocates and Democrats have called the bill an egregious attack on voting rights and labeled it “Jim Crow 2.0.” Written between the lines, they say, is a direct attack on voters of color who turned out in droves and helped back Democratic candidates for federal level positions.

“That crowd is essentially lying to Georgians,” Kemp said.

Kemp said he hopes the party can move forward and noted Republicans were successful in winning statehouse seats in November.

”I think it is a great opportunity for Republicans to come together to keep our majorities and stay focused on what’s ahead for us and, quite honestly, the challenges that we have,” he said. “This is a tough state to win in now — I saw that in 2018. We won some really big races in 2020, but we lost some really big ones, as well.”

Delta CEO Ed Bastian is not afraid to speak on topics of which he knows little to nothing. From CNN via the Gwinnett Daily Post:

Delta’s initial statement on the measure said that there was still “work ahead” to improve access to voting. But it included positive comments about some elements, saying that in part due to its own lobbying effort, the law had been “improved considerably during the legislative process.”

Critics of the law quickly attacked Delta’s statement and called for a boycott of the airline and some other Georgia-based companies such as Coca-Cola and Home Depot. Bastian responded with a new statement to employees early Wednesday that attacked the law, admitting that Delta had changed its initial view.

“I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” said the Bastian’s statement to Delta employees. “After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.”

The statement continued, “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Kemp quickly issuing his own statement accusing Bastian of spreading misinformation and not recognizing the positives for voting included in the bill.

”Today’s statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists,” said Kemp’s statement. He defended measures to require official IDs such as drivers’ licenses before people can vote, pointing out that before a passenger can fly on Delta – or any other airline – they must produce a photo ID.

“Mr. Bastian should compare voting laws in Georgia — which include no-excuse absentee balloting, online voter registration, 17 days of early voting with an additional two optional Sundays, and automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license — with other states Delta Airlines operates in,” said Kemp.

And Delta is going ahead and selling middle seats on their planes now, in case you haven’t heard.

Delta Air Lines, the last remaining US airline to keep middle seats unbooked, has lifted that prohibition as of May 1, the company announced Wednesday. It is another sign of a rebound in demand for air travel and greater willingness of people to resume pre-pandemic activities.

“As vaccinations become more widespread, consumer demand and behaviors show us that confidence in travel is on the rise and customers are ready to reclaim their lives,” said Delta’s statement Wednesday.

“Don’t confuse these actions with a return to ‘normal,’” said Bastian in a memo to employees Wednesday. “We’re still operating in a pandemic, and many of the changes we’ve made over the past year, such as strengthening our cleanliness protocols and eliminating change fees, will be permanent. Importantly, masks remain critical to our ability to safely welcome more people onboard our planes, and we remain committed to enforcing these requirements.”

The amount that Delta passengers paid on average for every mile traveled in the final three months of 2020 fell only 3% from the pre-pandemic period a year earlier. That’s significantly better than that of the other three major US airlines — American Airlines, United and Southwest — whose fares declined between 15% and 19%.

“People are prioritizing, as they should, their health and safety and comfort as they travel,” Bastian told CNN in February. “And we’re getting a meaningful premium for travel on Delta.”

From the Associated Press via the Rome News Tribune:

The chief executives of Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola pivoted from earlier, more equivocal statements and called the law “unacceptable,” opening an unusual rift with Republican leaders who championed the legislation and typically enjoy a cozy relationship with the state’s business community.

Speaking later on CNBC, Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey called the legislation a “step backward.”

“It does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity,” he said. “This legislation is wrong and needs to be remedied.”

Kemp insisted the law was being misrepresented. He accused businesses of ignoring their role in its development.

“Throughout the legislative process, we spoke directly with Delta representatives numerous times,” the governor said in a statement. “Today’s statement … stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”

Republicans in the Georgia House added their disapproval later Wednesday, voting to strip Delta of a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars annually. The vote was rendered symbolic when the state Senate failed to take up the measure before adjourning its yearly session.

Senate Bill 85 by Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta) and titled the “Max Gruver Act,” passed both chambers, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald.

A bill requiring Georgia colleges and universities to report hazing incidents that happen in school clubs like fraternities and sororities passed in the General Assembly Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, is a greatly stripped-down version of the original measure, which would have made it a felony with prison time and large fines for anyone who injures or contributes to killing someone through hazing, including by alcohol abuse or physical torture.

He pledged to bring back the felony proposals in next year’s legislative session.

“This bill is a down payment on the further work we’re going to do next year and the years in the future to make sure we honor Max’s legacy and keep kids safe,” Albers said from the Senate floor Wednesday.

House Bill 617 by State Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) passed and heads for the Governor’s desk for signature or veto, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald.

The bill, sponsored by House Higher Education Committee Chairman Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, would allow Georgia athletes to earn compensation for the use of their “name, image or likeness” by the public, private or technical colleges they attend.

It aims to prepare Georgia for the legal impacts of a future when – either by choice or a judge’s order – the NCAA starts permitting student athletes to gain financial benefits for their talents and Congress potentially approves laws on athlete compensation.

It’s only a matter of time before college athletes will be allowed to reap profits from their skills, said Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who carried the bill in the state Senate. Other states have already started preparing to gain a recruiting edge over Georgia schools by passing similar compensation laws, he said.

“This will be allowing players and amateur athletes to be compensated when somebody’s using their name for profit,” Cowsert said on the Senate floor.

House Bill 286 by State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) passed and aims to prevent “defund the police” actions by local governments, according to the Associated Press via the Athens Banner Herald.

Georgia lawmakers moved Wednesday to block “defund the police” efforts in the state’s counties and cities, saying local governments seeking to redirect or cut spending following racial injustice protests last year would endanger their residents.

“I think it’s absolutely critical to get this legislation done to continue to protect families in this state,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, an Athens Republican, minutes before House members gave final passage to House Bill 286 on a 100-73 vote.

The law would limit governments’ ability to cut police funding by more than 5% a year after Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County officials debated plans to cut or redirect spending following racial injustice protests last year. The death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis last year, launched demonstrations that were also fueled by the death of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission debated a 50% cut in police funding over the summer before rejecting it. Supporters wanted to shift money toward mental health, housing and medical funding, saying they wanted a more holistic public safety policy.

Cities and counties can cut more than 5% if local revenues decline by more than that, and cities and counties with fewer than 25 officers are exempt.

 

The Savannah Morning News analyzes the placement of voting machines in precincts by race.

Data from the Chatham County Board of Elections and the Georgia Secretary of State’s website reveals a few things.

In Chatham County, precincts with a higher-than-average number of voting machines are, on average, 8.6 percent more white than the county average, and have fewer voters of color than the county average.

On the other hand, precincts with a lower-than-average number of machines are 4.5 percent less white than the county average.

Across all precincts in Chatham County, the average number of voting machines per 1,000 registered voters is 2.34.

On an individual precinct level, there are 29 precincts in Chatham County where more than 50 percent of voters are Black. Of those, the average number of machines per 1,000 voters is 2.41, just above the county average.

Former United States Representative Paul Broun (R-Northeast Georgia) will run for the seat vacated by Rep. Jody Hice’s decision to run for Secretary of State, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Broun on Wednesday announced his congressional campaign for District 10, a seat he previously held for eight years, from 2007 to 2015 and was superseded by current representative Rep. Jody Hice.

“With one-party rule in Washington, we need a proven fighter for liberty and freedom to restore constitutional restraints on the federal government,” said a statement from Broun’s announcement. “I’m a Marine veteran and family physician who understands basic economics, that something cannot come from nothing. That’s Washington’s worst nightmare.”

Broun is a member of the Republican party and identifies as “a strong constitutional conservative” according to his campaign website, which outlines his stances on issues such as education, the economy, government spending, and more. One point Broun makes is that he claims to have, “introduced more targeted spending cuts than any other member of Congress.”

“When I left Washington in 2015, it was bad. It is much worse today,” said a statement from Broun’s announcement.

“Spending has been spiraling out of control, and Republicans are just as guilty as Democrats. There’s only a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties. Spending on such an unprecedented scale will cause hyperinflation and eventually the financial collapse of America.”

Ryan Anderson writes about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on our communities, in the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The number of Georgia residents ages 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s is expected to spike by more than 25% during the next few years, from 150,000 to 190,000 in 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, released earlier this month. Currently, more than 330,000 Georgians are acting as unpaid family caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s, providing more than 640 million hours of unpaid care at a total value of more than $9 billion.

“Georgia is considered one of the top 10 states in the country that is projected to see the highest increase of cases over the next five years,” according to Linda Davidson, executive director of the Georgia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Caregivers have a tendency to focus so much on those they are caring for they neglect their own care, according to Ramey, noting, “It’s overwhelming to care for somebody.”

Nearly half of all caregivers (48%) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report.

“In Georgia, we’re working on expanding the healthcare workforce, because Georgia is 47th of 50 (states) in direct-care workers, which is pretty low,” he said. “We’re also trying to increase Medicaid spending to care for these people, because (this disease) is extraordinarily expensive.”

More than 6 million Americans ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s-dementia this year, roughly 11% of that demographic, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. Deaths due to Alzheimer’s increased 145% from 2000 to 2019, and “one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.”

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson announced plans to reopen some municipal recreation facilities, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Mayor Van Johnson announced plans to reopen recreational facilities in April during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. He reminded residents that Savannah is taking a slow and steady approach and criticized the state-level rollbacks.

Public playgrounds, baseball fields and basketball courts will reopen on April 1, with social distancing in place. Other facilities such as pools, sports leagues and sports tournaments are not part of this phase of reopening and will be discussed later on.

The city will also begin permitting events with up to 50 people on a case-by-case basis on April 1. The current cap is at 25 people or less. The organizers of the events will have to meet specific criteria set by the city to receive a permit.

However, he also acknowledged that places around the country are seeing a fourth surge and that travelers from all across the map come to visit Savannah. The mayor says the city will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments where necessary.

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