Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 14, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 14, 2021

On June 14, 1736, James Oglethorpe ordered plans to be drawn for a new city to be called Augusta.

Happy birthday to the United States Army, established on June 14, 1775.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution, “the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white” and that “the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” One hundred years later, on June 14, 1877, was the first observance of Flag Day.

The Georgia Historical Society placed a new historic marker at the location of the oldest African-American owned business in Savannah, according to the Albany Herald.

“The Bynes-Royall Funeral Home has provided funeral services for over 140 years in Savannah,” GHS Marker Manager Elyse Butler said. “This new historical marker, along with the Louis B. Toomer: Founder of Carver State Bank and The McKelvey-Powell Building markers, highlights the importance of the West Broad Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) role as the historical business and cultural epicenter for Savannah’s black community.”

Maj. William Royall opened the Royall Undertaking Company following the 1876 yellow fever epidemic. His work transformed the funeral business in Georgia by training black morticians to work in the industry. In 1955, Frank and Frenchye Bynes purchased the business that would later play a role in the civil rights movement as the site of meetings with civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and W.W. Law, among others. Today it is the oldest continuously black-owned business in Savannah and remains under the ownership of Bynes descendants.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Muscogee County Board of Education District Two voters go to the polls in a Special Election tomorrow, according to WTVM.

Former school board member Michael Edmondson held this seat until his death in February.

Thursday, [WTVM] interviewed the candidates, Nickie Tillery and John ‘Bart’ Steed, who are hoping to fill the District 2 seat.

The special election for the Muscogee County School District 2 seat is Tuesday, June 15. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in District 2 precincts only.

State House District 34, vacated by former State Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta) will elect a new Representative tomorrow (or send two contenders to a runoff), according to the AJC.

Voting groups founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Kelly Loeffler are going head-to-head as each pours money and resources into the race to mobilize supporters. And both political parties are testing messages about new election restrictions and the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as other suburban districts around his fell to Democrats, Reeves held his seat with narrowing margins. In 2020, he fended off Democrat Priscilla Smith with 56% of the vote, and Republicans are favored again to win this special election.

Five candidates have lined up to compete for the seat, including Smith, who is known to many under the Gold Dome for her parody of Trump. Other contenders are Republican David Blinkhorn, a former Kennesaw councilman; Democrat Sam Hensley Jr., a Marietta attorney; Libertarian Chris Neill, an education consultant; and Republican Devan Seabaugh, an executive with an ambulance company.

The special election pits all five on the same ballot, raising the possibility of a July13 runoff between the two top finishers if none captures a majority of the vote.

On Friday, Particia Murphy wrote in the AJC that despite President Trump’s opposition, no strong candidate has emerged against Governor Brian Kemp.

Despite Trump’s threats to oust Kemp from office, Trump has failed so far to recruit any Georgia Republican other than recent Democrat Vernon Jones to run against his nemesis in the 2022 GOP primary.

Like his failure so far to also get his picks to run against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, it’s not for Trump’s lack of trying.

But six months later, the crowds are gone, Trump is out of office, and while the former president is still embraced by conservative voters in Georgia, Brian Kemp is looking at the distinct possibility that Jones may be the best Trump can do against him.

Republicans in the state point to a combination of factors that make running against Kemp an unattractive option for any Republican serious about their own future — regardless of who tries to persuade them to do it.

A roadblock for anyone looking to get into the race against the governor is Kemp’s surprisingly durable poll numbers. According to a recent internal poll, 73% of GOP primary voters view him favorably, compared to 19% who don’t.

That’s less beloved than Trump, but higher than anyone else in the state and the same data any Republican hopeful would see as they decide whether to challenge Kemp.

CNN repeated part of the story later that day and added some information.

In early May at Mar-a-Lago, Trump met with Georgia state Sen. Burt Jones and Jones’ father, a wealthy pro-Trump donor, and said he wanted the younger Jones to run for governor against Brian Kemp in the Republican primary. With the former President’s backing, Jones could knock off the first-term governor, one of Trump’s top political targets.

But by the end of the meeting, Jones made it known to Trump he was unsure about taking on Kemp and that he preferred to run for lieutenant governor, according to four people familiar with the meeting.

Trump’s failure to recruit Jones would be a blow to the former President’s vendetta against Kemp, the otherwise pro-Trump stalwart who nonetheless refused the Trump’s calls to intervene and overturn his defeat in Georgia. It also highlights the limits to Trump’s power to pick and choose his candidates to ensure the Republican Party remains in his grip through the 2022 midterms and beyond.

Jones said he would announce his plans to run for higher office “soon” in a statement provided to CNN. The statement criticized other state Republican leaders, including the secretary of state and the retiring lieutenant governor, but mentioned neither Kemp nor the governor’s race.

“Statewide, [Kemp’s] numbers are better than one would think,” said one Georgia Republican consultant who requested anonymity to speak freely about the internal party dynamics. ”If I were advising anybody, I’m not so certain that I would advise them that it’s wise to run against Brian Kemp.”

“The problem for the Trump-only wing of the GOP is that Kemp has actually been really good on all their issues,” said Erick Erickson, the Atlanta-based conservative talk-radio host. “And by being attacked by Trump while not responding, Kemp looks like a statesman, and the suburban voters who were scared of him in 2018 like him now.”

Even so, Jones is not viewed credibly by many Trump allies. Georgia Republicans who spoke to CNN say the lack of endorsement from Trump at this point suggests it may never come.

On Saturday, Ed Kilgore picked up that thread in New York magazine’s article titled “Brian Kemp may be Outfoxing Donald Trump.”

Trump is struggling to get someone formidable to run against Kemp in the 2022 Republican primary. Yes, the suddenly Trump-y former Democrat Vernon Jones is in the race, with the former president’s blessing (if not his endorsement, so far). But putting aside the issues with Trump, Kemp is a whole lot closer to the Georgia GOP’s idea of a governor than a Black ex-Democrat who was pro-choice not long ago and has quite a bit of baggage (including a rape allegation he refuted by claiming a consensus three-way sexual encounter). The incumbent made a lot of MAGA hay signing and then defending the recent voter suppression law, and generally returning to the “owning the libs” demeanor he displayed when running as a “politically incorrect conservative” in 2018. At the same state GOP convention that censured Raffensperger, Kemp was met by some boos, but some cheers, too, and no one even proposed any sanction of him for letting down Trump in the election.

With time running down before the 2022 cycle gets fully underway, Trump has to be frustrated with the potentially strong challengers to Kemp who have failed to take up his offer of support He was promoting former congressman Doug Collins as a Kemp-beater back in December. But Collins, reportedly exhausted from his unsuccessful 2020 Senate race (he finished third in the special election field to finish Johnny Isakson’s term, behind Loeffler and the eventual winner Raphael Warnock), chose to announce he wouldn’t be running for any office in 2022.

A State House Committee meets today to hear about the crime wave, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

[T]he increase in crime is raising alarms at the Georgia Capitol to the point that a committee in the state House of Representatives has begun holding hearings to try to identify the causes of what’s happening and how the state might help fix it.

“Atlanta has been the engine that runs Georgia,” Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, said late last month during the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee’s initial hearing. “We cannot let this deteriorate.”

“We have a crime wave in Atlanta, a battle that we’re losing,” added House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who tasked the committee to look into the issue. “The only way we’re going to win it is to work together.”

The statistics are grim. Homicides in metro Atlanta are up by 60% so far this year over 2020.

Statewide, there were 125,873 “crimes against persons” – including death investigations, assaults and robberies – during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. That’s slightly higher than the 125,680 such crimes reported during all of Fiscal 2020.

The increase in the broad category of assaults, robberies, kidnapping and human trafficking was particularly dramatic: 19,746 through the first 10 months of Fiscal 2021 compared to 15,809 for all of the last fiscal year.

“There’s been a tidal wave that’s touched down on law enforcement,” committee Chairman J. Collins, R-Villa Rica, said. “Law enforcement [officers] are scared to do their jobs.”

Instead of legislation, the state is dedicating money and personnel to fighting the crime wave. Gov. Brian Kemp has committed up to $5 million of the Governor’s Emergency Fund to support state efforts to bring crime in Atlanta under control.

But the brunt of combating Atlanta’s crime wave falls on the city. Rodney Bryant, Atlanta’s new police chief, announced a plan June 7 to restructure the Atlanta Police Department by creating a new domestic violence team, centralizing its investigative unit and expanding its gun assault unit.

“The state can only do so much,” Kemp said. “I’m glad the APD is stepping up. We’ve needed that kind of leadership in the city.”

United States Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Atlanta) spoke highly of bipartisanship, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act passed in the U.S. Senate last week and with it will come a multibillion dollar investment in federal and state economies.

It will have a huge impact, he said, as the bill will further support other legislation such as the Clean Commute for Kids Act, a bill reauthorizing the Clean School Bus Program through 2025.

Blue Bird Bus Company, which resides in Fort Valley, Ga., is a leader in creating electric school buses. It just officially supported the Clean Commute for Kids Act in April.

“We need to see more of that,” Warnock said. “We also need to build out our electric car battery network so that cars can recharge. We need to modernize the grid.”

There is also the $750 million grant program for historically black colleges & universities and minority serving institutions to build their institutional research capacities.

The other important aspect of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act is its bipartisanship, passing 68-32.

“All of us on our way to the Capitol every week, we come across roads that need to be repaired, bridges that are dangerously in disrepair,” Warnock said. “Many of us go back to our states and as we visit parts of (them), like Georgia, where huge swaths of people have no access to broadband or very little access.”

“That’s what this is about and I think it transcends the petty games of predictable partisan politics,” Warnock said.

“I’m excited we were able to get a provision in the American Rescue Plan (Act) which will help Georgia expand Medicaid,” he said. “The refusal of our state to expand Medicaid is a drag on the Georgia economy, but I’m doing everything I can at the federal level to help us be as productive and as efficient as possible so that prosperity can be shared with ordinary people, especially the workers in our state.”

The First District Georgia Republican Party held a rescheduled convention, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The original convention, set for May 15 at a country club in Jesup, was canceled the night before the event when the venue pulled out over concerns of “protests.”

But that left the district party without leadership. Election of officers and appointment of a state committee are, beyond the socializing, networking and campaigning, the primary reason for these conventions.

This time, the 138 delegates present — none of whom were from Chatham County since the Chatham meeting was adjourned before they could be named — voted for candidates nominated from the floor.

BJ Van Gundy, of Gwinnett County, was elected as state party 1st vice chairman at the state convention last week on Jekyll Island. He ran Saturday’s meeting as chairman. His parliamentarian was John White.

Congratulations and condolences to Andrew Abbott, who was elected Chair of the Georgia Young Republicans.

“This is an incredible organization that will be mobilized to help stop the spread of socialism in our state,” Abbott said. “The Young Republicans have two goals: defeat Warnock and defeat Abrams. Everything we do, whether bringing more people into the party through social events, fundraising or hosting get-out-the-vote efforts, will be singularly focused on defending the values our state holds dear.”

Atlanta Board of Education members will start collecting a 50% raise next year, according to the AJC.

Atlanta school board members’ salaries will grow by about 50% starting Jan. 1.

The Atlanta Board of Education at its June meeting voted 8-1 to approve the pay boost. Nancy Meister, who represents North Atlanta, cast the lone no vote.

Board member pay will jump from $15,170 a year to $22,500. The board’s vice chair will make $23,500 and the chair will make $24,500.

All nine Atlanta school board seats are up for election in November. The winning candidates will take office in January and be the first members to receive the bigger paychecks.

Officials said the raise is equivalent to a 2% annual increase since the last time board salaries went up about two decades ago.

Columbus will host three meetings to discuss a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) being considered for the November ballot.

The Columbus Consolidated Government will host public meetings to discuss proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) projects for the November 2, 2021 ballot. Please join us at the City Services Center, Council Chambers or watch live on CCG-TV.

6/14/ 21 5:30 – 7:00PM CSC Building Council Chambers, 3111 Citizen’s Way

6/ 17/21 5:30 – 7:00PM CSC Building Council Chambers, 3111 Citizen’s Way

6/ 21/21 5:30 – 7:00PM CSC Building Council Chambers, 3111 Citizen’s Way

Click here to see the presentation documents.

The Glynn County Elections and Registration office is working to move polling places out of schools, according to The Brunswick News.

“We are considering other locations that meet the room size, parking availability and ADA Accessibility required for polling locations,” [Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris] Channell said. “There is also the option of combining polling locations.”

The elections board agreed to look for non-school sites at the urging of the Glynn County Board of Education. School officials made the request out of concern for student safety.

Other school systems feel the same way in Georgia, a state which requires public schools to allow voting when requested by elections officials.

Members of the Cherokee County School Board sought to change the law. In deference to student safety, it asked its legislative delegation to submit a bill eliminating the requirement in the General Assembly in 2019.

“The Board of Elections and Registration has been very active in the last three-plus years in trying to find better options for our polling locations,” Channell said. “We share the same concerns of the school board regarding safety of students and disruption of their ability to educate the students in those locations.”

Hall County courts will begin jury trials again after the local pandemic emergency order lapsed, according to AccessWDUN.

Court Administrator Jason Stephenson announced the changes in a Friday press statement, noting that Chief Judge Kathlene F. Gosselin allowed the circuit-wide emergency to expire on Monday June 7. She did so in anticipation of the termination of the statewide judicial emergency at the end of the month. The local emergency declaration was enacted on March 13, 2020 at the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Even though the health emergency has now expired, Stephenson said in his prepared statement that the court continues to recognize the public health threat posed by COVID-19. With that threat in mind, the following health guidelines will remain in place:

•   Those who have court business but who are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 should remain at home and alert the court before appearing in person
•   All classes of court are encouraged to use virtual hearings when appropriate.
•   Masking, while not mandated, is strongly encouraged.
•   Social distancing requirements have been relaxed, but the court calendar will be restricted to minimize crowds. The courts will also use staggered report times.

Savannah District Six Alderman Kurtis Purtee spoke about gun violence, according to the Savannah Morning News.

“You have to look at the core of the problem. What is really going on in the City of Savannah? And I’m telling you right now, it’s drugs and gangs,” Purtee said.

“Violent crime needs to be treated like a trauma patient. Our city is bleeding out. We have an arterial bleed. When you’re talking about the root causes of crime and that kind of stuff, you’re talking about the cholesterol level and that. We need to surgically go in and stop the bleeding. The only way to do that is proactive policing,” said [former homicide detective] Kevin Grogan.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, your political background, all members are going to be there, we’re going to have this conversation and we’re going to try to move forward in the City of Savannah. We’re going to try to make our community a lot safer,” said Purtee.

Flowery Branch City Council heard an FY2022 proposed budget that adopts the full rollback property tax millage rate, according to the Gainesville Times.

Hall County presented its fiscal year 2021-2022 budget Thursday, June 10, featuring a reduced millage rate and more money than last year, helped in part by federal stimulus.

Next year’s proposed budget is 20.1% greater than last year’s at $344.46 million, and $10.5 million of the nearly $60 million increase is from federal funding as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Other increased revenue comes from a new state sales tax, said Dena Bosten, Hall County’s financial director who presented the budget to the Hall County commissioners Thursday.

“In April 2020, a new state law became effective that required sales tax collection on online sales,” Bosten said. “As a result of that tax base increase, we have also experienced an increase in sales tax revenue.”

“This is a full rollback rate as computed by the state formula,” Bosten said. “Therefore the proposed millage rate does not result in a property tax increase by state law.”

The commission is expected to adopt the budget at their next meeting on June 24.

Rome City Commission meets tonight and will consider revising the downtown parking ordinance and animal control ordinance, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Animal control amendments are up for a first reading with final action not slated until the June 28 meeting.
The proposed changes include specific definitions for the terms “adequate shelter,” “unsanitary conditions” and “vicious animal.”

Another change would let Animal Control authorities petition the court system to require that people whose animals were impounded for violations bear the cost of their care until the case is resolved.

A section is also being added that prohibits animals from being tethered or chained outside, except under certain circumstances while being attended to by their owners.

That change is designed to keep animals from be left out unsheltered on a nearly 24-7 basis, a practice often done when they’re being used as guard dogs.

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