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

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

Happy Bastille Day, celebrating the 232d anniversary of Bastille Day, 14 July 1789, when citizens stormed the Bastille, a prison in Paris.

On July 14, 1798, the Alien and Sedition Act became federal law.

The first three acts took aim at the rights of immigrants. The period of residency required before immigrants could apply for citizenship was extended from five to 14 years, and the president gained the power to detain and deport those he deemed enemies. President Adams never took advantage of his newfound ability to deny rights to immigrants. However, the fourth act, the Sedition Act, was put into practice and became a black mark on the nation’s reputation. In direct violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech, the Sedition Act permitted the prosecution of individuals who voiced or printed what the government deemed to be malicious remarks about the president or government of the United States. Fourteen Republicans, mainly journalists, were prosecuted, and some imprisoned, under the act.

On July 14, 1864, General Sherman issued Special Field Order 35, outlining the plan for the Battle of Atlanta.

Atlanta Brave Hank Aaron hit his 500th Home Run on July 14, 1968.

On July 14, 1976, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination for President at the Democratic National Convention.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Republicans Devan Seabaugh (Cobb HD 34) and Leesa Hagan (South Georgia’s HD 156) won runoff elections yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

Toombs County Republican Party Chairman Leesa Hagan of Lyons beat auto dealer Wally Sapp of Baxley in House District 156, according to final, unofficial results. The district covers all of Montgomery and Toombs counties and parts of Appling and Jefferson Davis counties in southeast Georgia. Democrat Wright Gres of Baxley finished third and was eliminated in the earlier June 15 vote.

In House District 34, which covers parts of Kennesaw and Marietta in Cobb County, Republican ambulance company executive Devan Seabaugh of Marietta defeated Democratic artist and educator Priscilla Smith of Kennesaw. Three other candidates ran in the initial round of voting on June 15.

From the AJC:

The seats are open because state Reps. Bert Reeves and Greg Morris resigned from office earlier this year. Reeves, a Marietta Republican, stepped down to take a job at his alma mater, Georgia Tech. Morris, a Vidalia Republican, was elected to the State Transportation Board.

Seabaugh received 63% of the vote, decisively beating Smith by 26 percentage points in the House District 34 race. About 9,000 voters cast ballots Tuesday. Seabaugh was the top finisher in last month’s special election, receiving about 47% of the votes cast in the five-person Cobb County contest. Smith, an artist known for her parody of former President Donald Trump, received nearly 25% of the vote last month.

Hagan, an online consulting firm owner, pulled in about 52% of the vote, with Sapp, a car dealer, securing 48% of the about 6,000 ballots cast. Last month, the two Republicans came within 1 percentage point of each other in the three-way House District 156 race. Hagan narrowly edged Sapp by 37 votes.

While runoff elections historically have a lower turnout than the previous race, especially in a special election, both races had more voters turn out on Tuesday than they did four weeks ago. Nearly 2,000 more people voted in the Cobb-based House District 34 contest on Tuesday than last month. More than 1,000 additional voters cast ballots on Tuesday than last month in the House District 156 election in South Georgia.

Norma Gaines-Heath won the Dougherty County Board of Education District 2 runoff, according to the Albany Herald.

Only 648 voters — of 9,794 in the district — turned out for the runoff election for the District 2 seat on the Dougherty County School Board Tuesday, giving Norma Gaines-Heath an easy victory over Alma Noble.

Gaines-Heath garnered 416 votes to Noble’s 229, a surprisingly comfortable 64.2%-35.34% margin for the former educator. The two emerged as top vote-getters from a field of six in a special election a month ago to fill the vacant School Board seat.

Noble got more votes by mail — 45-37 — than the new School Board member-elect, but Gaines-Heath controlled the other voting categories: 68-33 in advance voting and 311-151 in Election Day balloting.

The 648-voter turnout in the runoff is 6.62% of the registered voters in District 2.

From a June article by Associated Press:

The election in Cobb [was]s for a new state representative for House District 34, replacing Rep. Bert Reeves, who resigned. It [was] one of six such special elections to take place Tuesday. These will be the first to implement 44 provisions of Georgia’s controversial new election law. Parts of the legislation are in effect while the law simultaneously faces seven different suits.

One section in the new law requires advanced notice with large signage in front of a polling place that has been changed and is no longer in use. This measure was one of few bipartisan provisions in the law taken from a bill introduced by freshman Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Grayson Democrat.

There are six sections within the law that do not take effect until July 1. The rest went into effect when Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation on March 25.

“The hardest thing about the House District 34 special election is implementing only those things that are in effect now and remembering not to implement those things that go into effect on July 1,” she said.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution begins the opposition research of Ames Barnett, a potential candidate for Governor. From the Political Insider:

Barnett’s steps toward running for higher office led to a fresh look at his record, which includes two stints as mayor of tiny Washington, Ga., a racially and politically-divided town of about 4,000 people in east Georgia.

A 2011 story in The Washington Post about the politics in Washington and Barnett’s narrow victory there includes a description of the Republican’s home, which he and his wife designed as a replica of “Beauvoir,” the Mississippi mansion where Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, lived the last decades of his life.

Now for the political decision that Kemp is sure to invoke should Barnett enter the race. While serving as mayor in 2014, Barnett cast the deciding vote to defund the local police department as a cost-saving measure.

The Augusta Chronicle reported the debate raged for weeks and residents rallied against the closure on the courthouse square:

Washington City Council voted 4-3 to defund the police department at Thursday night’s meeting, with Mayor Ames Barnett breaking the 3-3 council member tie.

President Joe Biden criticized state election law changes, including those made in Georgia, according to the Georgia Recorder.

In a fiery address Biden cited three major threats to Americans’ right to vote, saying the nation faced the most dire threat to its democracy since the Civil War.

The first is the wave of measures from Republican legislators in Georgia and other closely contested states that he says would undermine voters rights to have their ballot cast and counted. The second is the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, weakening the Voting Rights Act. The third is the effort by former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to question the results of the 2020 election, which sparked the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The Big Lie is just that — a big lie,” Biden said of the movement to deny the 2020 results.

“In America, if you lose, you accept the results. You follow the Constitution. You try again. You don’t call facts ‘fake’ just because you’re unhappy,” he said.

To counter these three major threats, Biden called for the enactment of two, sweeping pieces of legislation: the “For the People Act” as well as the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” named for the late, long-serving civil rights icon and Georgia congressman.

The former would “help end voter suppression in the states, get dark money out of politics, give voice to the people at the grassroots level, create fair district maps and end partisan gerrymandering,” he said. “We must pass the For the People Act. It’s a national imperative. We must also fight for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand voting protections to protect (against) voter suppression.”

“Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the United States Department of Justice is going to be using its authorities to challenge the onslaught of state laws undermining voting rights in old and new ways,” Biden said. “The focus will be on dismantling racially discriminatory laws like the recent challenge to Georgia’s vicious anti-voting law.”

The federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Georgia joins seven other federal suits brought by civil and voting rights organizations that claim Georgia’s new absentee ID requirements, limitations on absentee drop boxes and other changes violate federal voting laws.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr responded to the federal lawsuit and the withdrawal of the MLB All-Star game, according to WTVM.

The US Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit last month against the state which Carr says they will fight.

“It isn’t a lawsuit it’s a political campaign flier. The justice department is playing poltics. Anybody who looks at our law sees that it increases, it strengthens security, increases access and improves transparency in Georgia’s elections law to suggest otherwise is just wrong and that’s why we will prevail in court.”

AG Carr also met with gang prosecutors in Savannah, according to WTOC.

“It’s an issue that is impacting everybody and we have, Georgians deserve to be protected. They need leaders to step up and say we are not going to accept it and why because it’s a safety issue, it’s a quality of life issue, and it’s also an economic issue,” said Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.

Because crime and violence know no bounds, attorneys, investigators and more from all over Georgia gathered. The Georgia Gang Investigators Association met in downtown Savannah at the Marriot. Attorney General Carr says they have seen violent crime increase all over the state, including right here in Savannah.

The most recent data from Savannah Police show violent crime is up 7 percent from 2020. Attorney General Carr says gangs are responsible for a majority of the violent, drug and human trafficking crimes in the state. To address this, he feels we need leadership and support.

“We have to support the men and women in law enforcement that are out there doing that every day. As it relates to gang activity Georgia has one of the toughest gang statues in the nation. It needs to be used, so training and understanding how to bring those gang cases is important.”

This will be a Rorschach test for partisans on both sides. Some 2020 Presidential election ballots were scanned twice, according to the AJC.

Digital ballot images made public under Georgia’s new voting law show nearly 200 ballots — including one for West — that election officials initially scanned two times last fall before a recount. There’s no indication any vote for president was counted more than once in official results.

The discovery of identical ballots provides evidence to back up allegations of problems in the presidential election, but on a relatively small scale that had no bearing on the final certified count. A group of voters seeking to prove the election was fraudulent say double-counting is just the beginning of what they hope to find.

Double-counted ballots were discovered by voters suing Fulton in an effort to persuade a judge to allow them to conduct an in-depth inspection of 147,000 absentee ballots. The judge ruled against the plaintiffs last month, but the case survived with new claims filed against the county’s five election board members.

Election observers and organizations say it’s unlikely that double-counting occurred often or in large numbers.

The ballots counted twice would have given Biden 27 extra votes. After a recount, official results reflected that Trump gained a total of 121 absentee votes in Fulton. Biden won the county with 73% of 524,000 votes cast.

The Hall County Board of Elections and Registration voted to refer three possible double-voting cases to the Secretary of State’s Office, according to the Gainesville Times.

At their June 3 meeting, Elections Director Lori Wurtz presented to the board three cases in which people may have voted in both Florida and Hall County. Wurtz was contacted by three different counties in Florida about unusual activity from three voters who had a residence in Hall County. She said at the June 3 meeting that the residents did vote in Hall County, but she could not confirm yet that all three voted in Florida as well.

All three voted via mail-in ballot in Hall County, she said.

County Attorney Van Stephens said that in this case the secretary of state’s office will conduct the preliminary investigation and depending on what happens during that process, the cases could then go to the state’s attorney general.

The Floyd County Board of Elections will relocate to the building that houses the county Board of Health, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Currently, the office sits in the bottom floor of the Floyd County Administration Building. The small area lacks storage space and many residents and voters have voiced frustration in locating the office, as well as finding convenient parking.

The health department also has an abundance of parking, which would come into play heavily during early voting periods when a precinct could be set up on site.

There’s also a much larger observation space for ballot counting during elections. Right now, the office has a modified storage closet on the second floor of the administration building for vote counting operations.

The Federal Railroad Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation are planning a passenger service connecting Atlanta to Charlotte, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

“The projected increases in population and economic growth for the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion create a need for a carefully planned approach to improving rail infrastructure that will benefit Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, the southeastern United States and the nation,” the FRA wrote in its final environmental impact report on the project released last week.

“Intercity passenger rail is available for business and non-business travelers that is competitive with other modes of travel in terms of travel time, convenience and safety.”

The co-called Greenfield Corridor Alternative chosen for the project connects Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with the planned multimodal Charlotte Gateway Station. The line would run mostly along a new dedicated alignment from northeast Atlanta to Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

President Joe Biden, who commuted daily between his Delaware home and Washington for decades while serving in the U.S. Senate, is a passenger rail enthusiast. Biden even mentioned the Atlanta-to-Charlotte high-speed rail project in a speech last spring marking Amtrak’s 50th anniversary.

The train will be pulled by a team of unicorns.

Georgia Gwinnett College is offering a Second Chance Summer program for students who failed or withdrew from classes during the pandemic, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The college has launched a Second Chance Summer credit recovery program to help students who failed or withdrew from certain core classes during the spring, summer and fall 2020 terms. The program is designed to help the students by letting them retake the classes in a smaller class format with tutoring, peer supplemental instruction, scholarships and faculty who are supporters by additional professional development.

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what we can do to remediate the obstacles presented to our students by the pandemic,” said program organizer Rachel Bowser, who is an associate provost for strategic initiatives and professor of English at GGC. “This program came out of a number of us brainstorming how we might give them a hand up.”

The program began May 24 and will continue through the later part of this month in math, English and information technology and 120 students chose to participate, GGC officials said. College officials said the number who students who got Ds, Fs or withdrew from classes saw a significant increase in 2020, with first-year core classes being where many of those grades and withdrawals occurred.

“To say that I’m grateful for the Second Chance program is an understatement,” [GGC Junior Michaela] John said. “After COVID-19 hit, and we suddenly had no choice but to be in online school, it was a nightmare. I’d already been struggling with motivation and stress issues in the face of difficult classes like organic chemistry. Now, I was completely removed from any in-person aid.”

Glynn County Tax Commissioner Jeff Chapman has withdrawn as the sole contender for County Manager, according to The Brunswick News.

The release states that in his letter, Chapman said a one-year employment contract would not allow him to pursue this position any further. Georgia state law limits county commissions from entering a contract of more than one year.

He also said the opportunity given to him by the public as the elected tax commissioner to improve the structure and service of the office also factored into the decision.

Chapman was chosen as the sole finalist at the July 1 commission meeting by a 4-3 vote. Chapman’s selection was controversial as he did not initially apply for the job, but was recruited to apply after the application process ended.

Kathryn Downs will continue to serve as interim county manager until her last day July 23. Downs recently accepted the assistant county manager position in Bryan County. The commission will appoint a new acting county manager to fill the role after Downs’ last day.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller discussed plans for spending $18 million in federal COVID relief funds, according to 13WMAZ.

The county is set to vote on how to distribute the first round of the funds– a little over $18 million. Macon-BIbb is slated to see a total of $75 million in rescue funds overall.

The largest chunk of the first distribution of the county’s Rescue Plan Money could go to one of the county’s biggest prioritizes right now–blight elimination.

“We don’t want to just tear houses down. We want to build the communities back up,” Miller said. “One way to do that is a revolving loan funds. We can loan so they can repair properties in their own neighborhoods, build more properties in their own neighborhoods, but build them up.”

The mayor also says the county needs more affordable housing options, so he proposes $600,000 goes towards Historic Macon, and $1 million to NewTown Macon.

“We’re hoping to get a match on that. $1 million that’s 10 to 12 homes. Doubles to about 24 homes in a short period of time. With the historic foundation, that’s $600,000. They’re going to do 30 to 40 homes over a five year period of time. We can double that with a match. So we can do 60 to 80 houses.”

Augusta is considering using its blight ordinance against a vacant mall, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The blight ordinance, enacted last month, increases an owner’s tax rate sevenfold if the property qualifies as blighted and the owner refuses to address the blight.

Regency, largely vacant for two decades, sits on Gordon Highway at the geographic center of Augusta. Trees have grown up to shield some sides of the mall but on-site, it’s a gutted, crumbling mall standing on a dug-up parking lot. Demolition started last year has not continued.

“We think that the Regency Mall location meets all the requirements of the blight ordinance, and that location has been sitting there dormant for all these years with nothing being done to it,” said Commissioner John Clarke.

Under the ordinance, a property qualifies as blighted if it meets two or more conditions that include being uninhabitable or unsafe, lacking utilities and other services or violating the property maintenance code for more than 60 days.

Triggering the ordinance takes only a request that a city official inspect the property and serve the owner with notice the violations must be addressed. If they aren’t, the property goes for a court hearing on its condition, then to the Richmond County Tax Commissioner to increase the next year’s property tax bill.

Bulloch County Commissioners approved a $1.44 million dollar contract to resurface nearly 11 miles of roads, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The City of Forsyth will upgrade its water and sewer system with $30 million in federal loans and grants, according to 13WMAZ.

The city received a $27 million loan and a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for the work.

According to Forsyth city manager Janice Hall, the water and sewer systems haven’t been upgraded in over 20 years. The loans and grants will give the city access to newer technology.

They will also allow Forsyth to increase its water plant’s capacity from 3 million gallons to 4 million gallons.

Flowery Branch City Council is considering raises for its members and the Mayor, according to the Gainesville Times.

The council is looking to raise the mayor’s pay from $500 monthly to $750 and council members’ pay from $400 monthly to $600, effective Jan. 1, 2022.

A vote on the pay hike is set for Thursday, July 15. The final vote is scheduled for Aug. 5.

The pay hike is being proposed in the wake of a study of council member/mayor pay in other cities in the area and of similar size in Georgia.

Mayor Mike Miller said he believes the raise is warranted as the city has seen tremendous growth since 1995, when council and mayor got its last raise.

Miller won’t be affected by the increase, as he has announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election this year. His last day in office is Dec. 31, 2021. The election is Nov. 2.

North High Shoals Mayor Toby Bradberry died, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

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