Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 5, 2021

5
Apr

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 5, 2021

President George Washington exercised the veto power for the first time on April 5, 1792.

The bill introduced a new plan for dividing seats in the House of Representatives that would have increased the amount of seats for northern states. After consulting with his politically divided and contentious cabinet, Washington, who came from the southern state of Virginia, ultimately decided that the plan was unconstitutional because, in providing for additional representatives for some states, it would have introduced a number of representatives higher than that proscribed by the Constitution.

The Brown Thrasher was first recognized as the official state bird of Georgia on April 5, 1935 through an Executive Order signed by Governor Eugene Talmadge. Later the designation of official state symbols through executive fiat was challenged and the General Assembly would recognize the Brown Thrasher again as official state bird in 1970.

On April 5, 1962, Governor Ernest Vandiver called a Special Session of the Georgia General Assembly to revise the state’s election code following a decision by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Baker v. Carr.

On April 5, 1968, amid racial tension following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., musician James Brown helped keep the peace in Boston.

On April 5, 1977, Wyche Fowler won a runoff election over John Lewis for the Fifth Congressional District, following the appointment of Andrew Young as Ambassador to the United Nations. Fowler would win election to the United States Senate in 1986, and ironically, lose his seat in a 1992 runoff election to the late Paul Coverdell.

On April 5, 1980, the band that would come to be known as R.E.M. played their first show as Twisted Kites in Athens, Georgia.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Major League Baseball announced they the All Start Game and Draft will not take place in Georgia due to Senate Bill 202’s passage, according to the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald.

The Republican governor [Brian Kemp] said at a news conference that MLB “caved to fear and lies from liberal activists” when it yanked the July 13 game from Atlanta’s Truist Park. He added the decision will hurt working people in the state and have long-term consequences on the economy.

“I want to be clear: I will not be backing down from this fight. We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” Kemp said.

“Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta may be scared of Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden and the left, but I am not,” he said, referring to companies that have also criticized the new law.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred previously said he made the call to move the All-Star events and the amateur draft from Atlanta after discussions with individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year. A new ballpark for the events wasn’t immediately revealed.

Kemp also criticized the league for not trying to improve voter access in its home state of New York, where he said voters need an excuse to vote by mail and have fewer days of early voting than in Georgia. He said its decision means “cancel culture” is coming for American businesses and jobs.

From the Athens Banner Herald:

Shortly after Major League Baseball announced that they would be moving their 2021 All-Star Game from Truist Park in Atlanta, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp responded saying the league “caved” to “fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies.”

“Georgians – and all Americans – should fully understand what the MLB’s knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”

“This attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies from Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections.”

“I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied. We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections.”

Kemp added that he had spoken with officials with the Atlanta Braves, saying they “do not support” the move made by the MLB.

In their own statement on Twitter, the Braves said they were “disappointed” by Major League Baseball’s decision and they had hoped they could have used the city of Atlanta “as a platform to enhance the discussion (on equal voting opportunities).”

From a Press Release by Gov. Brian Kemp and Speaker David Ralston:

“Today, Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies,” said Governor Kemp. “Georgians – and all Americans – should fully understand what the MLB’s knee-jerk decision means: cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”

“This attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies from Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections. I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied. We will continue to stand up for secure, accessible, fair elections. Earlier today, I spoke with the leadership of the Atlanta Braves who informed me they do not support the MLB’s decision.”

“Stacey Abrams’ leftist lies have stolen the All-Star Game from Georgia,” said Speaker David Ralston. “This decision is not only economically harmful, it also robs Georgians of a special celebration of our national pastime free of politics. But Georgia will not be bullied by socialists and their sympathizers. We will continue to stand for accessible, secure elections that are free and fair. And we will continue to speak truth despite extortion and intimidation.”

Augusta area Democrats rallied against the voting legislation, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

“Most of the protests have been happening at the Capitol so it seemed like it was something that just the Atlanta people were upset about. We wanted to send a message to the lawmakers that the CSRA is not happy either,” Gayla Keese, field organizer for the People’s Agenda Augusta Office, said. “We are mad that they are trying to take our voice away.”

Augusta District 1 Commissioner Jordan Johnson said he was “sick to my stomach” and disgusted after he learned about the bill being passed. He said every year they are having to fight the legislature and the Secretary of State’s Office for voting rights.

“Here we are, 2021, fighting bills that reminisce what Dr. King fought for, what Dr. King fought against,” he said. “We should be making it easier for folks to vote, not harder.”

“The bill does nothing to address issues around voting, it does everything to limit our right and access to voting,” he said. “When our right to vote is in jeopardy, we have to stand up as a collective to make our voices heard that we are not just going to stand by and allow our voter rights to be snatched away from us.”

From AccessWDUN:

North Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde and State Senator Butch Miller both responded to the news that the MLB is moving this season’s All-Star game, which was scheduled for Truist Park in July, out of Georgia.

“Obviously, Major League Baseball is against election integrity,” Clyde said in the statement. “Commissioner Robert Manfred made this clear with his recent decision to relocate the 2021 All-Star Game and draft out of Georgia because of our state’s new election integrity law.”

Miller also released a statement saying the decision will hurt Georgia workers, businesses and fans. He said U.S. Senators and President Biden continue to spread misinformation about the voting law.

“The truth, however, is simple,” Miller said. “Georgia offers far more opportunities to vote than most states in our country, including the President’s own home state, Delaware, and those opportunities were expanded by SB 202.”

From the New York Daily News via the Rome News Tribune:

“Secure, accessible elections are worth the threats,” Kemp said at a press conference that doubled as a rally for supporters. “They are worth the boycotts as well as the lawsuits.”

He mocked MLB for moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta and suggested Republicans would not back down from the law, which makes it tougher to vote by absentee ballot and bizarrely outlaws giving water to voters waiting on line at polling places.

“What are they gonna do if the Braves get in the playoffs?” he asked, posing a question that Mets fans hope is purely rhetorical. “Are they gonna move the damn playoff games?”

Former President Donald Trump, on the other hand, trashed baseball as a dying sport and called on his #MAGA supporters to switch their channels in protest.

“Boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections,” Trump said in an emailed statement. “Are you listening Coke, Delta, and all!”

Georgia state legislators left intact a lucrative tax break for Delta Air Lines, according to the Center Square via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The General Assembly sent to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk a bill that would provide new or expanded tax credits to medical equipment and pharmaceutical manufacturers, performing arts venues, companies that repair expensive yachts and short-line railroads.

Other beneficiaries of the package would include developers of “mega-site” corporate projects and the aerospace industry, a tax credit aimed primarily at Marietta’s Lockheed plant.

However, a joint House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the final version of the bill scrapped a controversial grant program aimed at rural Georgia. The state approved an initial round of funding for the program known as CAPCO early in the last decade, but critics argued its impact on creating jobs has never been evaluated in Georgia or proven effective elsewhere.

Meanwhile, leaders in the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives took aim at Atlanta-based Delta in separate tax legislation after CEO Ed Bastian released a statement on Wednesday arguing a GOP-backed elections reform bill lawmakers passed last week will it make it harder for Georgians to vote, particularly in minority neighborhoods.

“Since the bill’s inception, Delta joined other major Atlanta corporations to work closely with elected officials from both parties,” Bastian wrote in an open letter to Delta employees. “We had some success in eliminating the most suppressive tactics that some had proposed. However … the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values.”

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, took offense at Bastian’s statement.

“Some of the language reflected a complete lack of understanding of the bill,” Ralston said shortly after midnight Thursday after the House had approved legislation to take away a state sales tax exemption on jet fuel that primarily benefits Delta. “I was disappointed in that.”

The Ledger-Enquirer looks at how elections will change after the passage of Senate Bill 202.

In Columbus, the county’s top election official told the Ledger-Enquirer that the new law will result in fewer absentee ballot drop boxes and a likely decrease in the number of early voting sites.

Some of the biggest changes center around early in-person and absentee voting. Residents requesting and submitting absentee ballots will have to provide their driver’s license or state ID number to prove their identity. This moves Georgia away from signature matching — something Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has pushed for.

“I think another big win for Georgians is that we’re moving away from signature match,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer. “When I ran in 2018, I said that is a very subjective measure. We need to have objective measures, and one of the best objective measures is to use your driver’s license number.”

Deadlines for absentee ballot applications are earlier. Under the new law, applications are due two Fridays (11 days) before Election Day instead of just one. Voters also have to wait longer to request ballots. The earliest voters can request a mail-in ballot will be 11 weeks (77 days) before an election instead of 180 days.

Counties will begin mailing out ballots four weeks before the election — three weeks later than before. Georgia’s runoffs will now be four weeks long instead of nine.

The law expands early voting access to 17 days by adding an additional Saturday and giving officials the option to open polls on Sunday. Weekday early voting hours could increase as counties can have polls open as long as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a minimum.

Absentee ballot drop boxes — which were not used in the state before 2020 — are now part of state law. Each county must have at least one box, capping the number at one per 100,000 active voters or one for every early voting site (whichever is smaller).

In Muscogee County, fewer absentee ballot drop boxes and a likely drop in the number of early voting sites will be among the most notable changes, said county elections director Nancy Boren.

Under the new law, Columbus will be allowed only one ballot drop box compared to the five that were used during the last elections. The solitary box will be located at the City Services Center on Macon Road.

“Voters here had become accustomed to driving up and putting their ballots in,” she said. “That’s a big change.”

The Gainesville Times also looks at changes ahead for local elections.

The bulk of SB 202’s substance is focused on identification thresholds for voters requesting to vote absentee. Replaced is the signature match system, formerly the method for voter verification. Now photo ID is required for casting absentee ballots. This has been a controversial change to state election laws, as opponents argue it will limit voter access, while proponents believe it ensures safe elections and prevents voter fraud.

•  In order to request and return an absentee ballot for Georgia elections, voters will be required to submit either a driver’s license number, a state ID number or a photocopy of an acceptable form of voter ID.

•  The new law will allow absentee applications to be returned to voters online through the secretary of state’s web portal that was created in August. Users will need to provide their driver’s license number or state ID number.

•  The verification process for a valid absentee ballot also changes under the new law. Poll workers will verify a ballot’s status using voter identification methods, such as driver’s license number and state ID and will require voters to sign an oath that states the information on the ballot is correct. Previously, voters would only need to check their applications with a signature.

In a March 31 interview with The Times, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the bill does “good things” — such as revamp photo identification requirements for absentee balloting, changes in precinct hours for some counties and expanded early voting hours —  to address what he called a lack of confidence in the state’s election on both sides of the political aisle.

Carl Cavalli, a political scientist at the University of North Georgia, said that Georgia’s new elections laws — while providing some changes to voting access — are still some of the most restrictive in the country.

“While the bill provides for some expanded voting time, and some of the more controversial proposals were dropped (like ending no-excuse absentee voting),” said Cavalli, “it would still be one of the most restrictive set of measures in the country,”

In addition to legal challenges, Cavalli said the new law might have a detrimental effect on Georgia businesses and tourism-related events.

“One might say that the bill has awakened a sleeping giant … the business community,” Cavalli said. “With the MLB Players Association mulling over moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta this year, and with the recent statement from Delta’s CEO condemning most of the provisions in the law, Gov. Kemp and the legislature will be on the defensive for the time being.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Statesboro Herald:

“After witnessing the GOP gutting of voting rights and inaction on issues like expanding access to health care, Georgia voters are engaged, empowered and know exactly who’s fighting against them,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, who chairs the state Democratic Party. “Georgia Republicans are in for a rude awakening in 2022.”

“This is not ‘Jim Crow,’” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton. “Nobody is getting lynched for going to vote. Matter of fact, we don’t want 60% to vote – we want 100%. … Stop with the rhetoric.”

The Athens Banner Herald looks at state legislation against defunding police services at the local level.

[Republican State Rep. Houston] Gaines’s bill passed the Georgia legislature and is on its way to the governor’s desk awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature. This legislation would ban local governments from reducing a police department’s budget by more than 5% in a one-year period.

Exceptions to this include police departments with less than 25 officers or if revenue falls more than 5%.

Gaines’s district includes Athens, a city that he specifically cited as causing a need for this legislation. In 2020, Commissioners Mariah Parker and Tim Denson advocated for a plan to reduce the Athens-Clarke County Police Department by 50% over 10 years, known as the 50/10 Plan to Reimagine Public Safety.

Gaines’s bill received bipartisan support in the Georgia Legislature but as of Friday evening, had yet to be signed into law by Kemp.

The bill was written in response to the 50/10 plan from Parker and Denson, who both said that they were not contacted by Gaines during his drafting process. Gaines said that he reviewed the plan online and spoke with some individuals in the local government.

“I reviewed what they put out and stayed in touch with different folks in our local government, but you know, it’s something that I read through all of their proposals and checked out, you know what they were proposing it was frankly something to concern me,” said Gaines.

Senate Bill 59 by state Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta) increases the allocation of education dollars for charter schools, and passed both chambers, according to the Center Square via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Senate Bill 59 increases charter school allocations by about $100 per student. It also secures an equal portion of federal funding for local charter schools and gives teachers and staff more access to the State Health Plan.

The General Assembly approved the bill with limited debate in both chambers this week before its legislative session ended. The House gave SB 59 its final approval, 113-51, on Wednesday after it cleared the Senate, 40-11, on Tuesday.

Kemp has 39 days remaining to sign or veto SB 59. If Kemp takes no action, the bill will become law.

The General Assembly set aside an additional $1 million for charter school facilities in the state’s 2022 fiscal year budget, which also is awaiting the governor’s approval.

U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Atlanta) traveled to Macon to take credit for $100 million dollars of magic federal money COVID relief funding, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The Bibb County School District will receive more than $100 million in federal stimulus funding to address learning loss and other impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Jon Ossoff announced during a trip to Macon.

Ossoff visited Heritage Elementary Wednesday afternoon to announce the funding, which was passed by Congress as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, with more than $3.8 billion earmarked for Georgia public schools.

Bibb County School Superintendent Dr. Curtis Jones called the money “transformational” and said part of it would fund programs designed to help students make up for pandemic-induced gaps in education and social development.

A significant percentage of that $106 million will go directly to individual schools, Jones said, whose leaders will write proposals for the district on how to best use the money. Jones said the district will review those proposals and ensure the district addresses students reading, writing, math and social/emotional learning.

At least 20% of the funding — about $21 million — has to be spent to “address learning loss” through efforts like summer learning programs, extended school days, after school programs and extended school years.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, stimulus funds are allocated based “on a district’s proportionate share of Title I funding.”

“For example, if a school district received 2% of Georgia’s overall share of Title I funding in Fiscal Year 2021, they will receive 2% of the ARP allocation. This funding formula is required by federal law and GaDOE does not have the authority to use a different method,” read an education department release.

Sen. Ossoff also visited Columbus, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

The Muscogee County School District will receive an estimated $96.3 million dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds, Sen. Jon Ossoff announced Thursday.

Georgia received more than $4.2 billion, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Public Education.

“The district has significant discretion to use those resources as it sees fit,” Ossoff said following a tour of Fort Benning. “We really do want to give local officials, local authorities, parents, teachers and school administrators flexibility. They know best what this community (needs.)

“This is a huge investment in education for the community here in the Chattahoochee River Valley,” he added.

Chatham County is ending its recycling of styrofoam, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The county had operated a pilot project to recycle Styrofoam for more than a year, with residents dropping off at Chatham County Resource Conservation & Recycling Education Center on Eisenhower Drive. Locally owned and operated Waysmart partnered with the county to condense the material to ready it for bulk sale. But the bottom dropped out of the market, said Waysmart’s Robert Gadd.

“Unfortunately, in the last year and a half the the price has gone down by 75% that we can get further reclaimed material,” he said.

With the cost of the foam recycling machine at $40,000, it was hard to feed it enough polystyrene packing material to make it worthwhile, even though Gadd found the mindless work kind of therapeutic after weekdays at his more stressful day job in software development.

“We currently have just under 20,000 pounds, which is about 75 semis full. So a significant amount,” he said. “But, you know, unfortunately, that’s not worth $20,000 it’s worth $4,000.”

Glynn County Board of Education members reviewed budget issues and federal COVID relief funding, according to The Brunswick News.

The school system is set to begin the fiscal year with a $23.4 million fund balance.

Pandemic relief funding has allocated a significant amount of money to the local district.

The first round of CARES Act money the school system received in 2020 was $3.4 million. A second round of CARES Act funding brought $14.4 million to Glynn County Schools.

About $6 million of the second round of CARES Act funding will go toward salaries and benefits, providing savings for the district, like the first round did.

“We’re also going to use that money for the Chromebook initiative that we did, instead of using ESPLOST money, so that will save money on the ESPLOST money for renovations,” Preston said. “And we’re going to look at rolling out the Promethean boards.”

“So it remains to be seen whether or not the state of Georgia when they apply for the remaining money will get it,” Preston said. “But even if they don’t get it, our allocation will be $20.9 million, and of that $20.9 million we have to spend 20 percent on loss of learning, minimum.”

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