Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 25, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 25, 2021

On August 25, 1864, Union troops stopped artillery bombardment of Atlanta and withdrew from fortifications around the city. On the same day, in Virginia, Confederate forces attacked Federals under Gen. Grant at Ream’s Station.

On August 25, 1877, delegates to the state Constitutional Convention approved a new post-Reconstruction state Constitution, the seventh in state history, to be submitted to the voters on December 5, 1877.

The all-time highest score in a professional baseball game was recorded on August 25, 1922, as the Chicago Cubs beat the Philadelphia Phillies by 26-23.

Paris was liberated from German army control on August 25, 1944.

On August 25, 1950, President Harry S. Truman ordered the seizure of the nation’s private railroads by executive order.

On August 25, 1973, the Allman Brothers of Macon, Georgia released “Ramblin’ Man” as the first single from the album “Brothers and Sisters.” From the Wall Street Journal,

Dickey Betts: In 1969, I was playing guitar in several rock bands that toured central Florida. Whenever I’d have trouble finding a place to stay, my friend Kenny Harwick would let me crash at his garage apartment for a few days in Sarasota. One day he asked me how I was doing with my music and said, “I bet you’re just tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best you can.”

Then one day in 1972, I was sitting in the kitchen of what we called the Big House in Macon, Ga.—where everyone in the band lived—and decided to finish the lyrics.

My inspiration was Hank Williams’s “Ramblin’ Man,” from 1951. His song and mine are completely different but I liked his mournful, minor-chord feel.

Except for Kenny’s line, the rest of the lyrics were autobiographical.

The WSJ article is worth reading in its entirety if you’re a fan of the Allmans.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp yesterday ordered the deployment of 105 National Guard member medical professionals to assist local hospitals. From the Press Release:

Governor Brian P. Kemp announced the Georgia National Guard, in coordination with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Community Health, will deploy 105 personnel to hospitals throughout the state. These trained medical personnel will assist staff at the following hospitals:

  • Southeast Georgia Health System, Brunswick
  • Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Gainesville
  • Wellstar Kennestone, Marietta
  • Piedmont Henry, Stockbridge
  • Phoebe Putney, Albany
  • Memorial Health University Medical Center, Savannah
  • Navicent Health, Macon
  • Grady Hospital, Atlanta
  • Piedmont Fayette, Fayetteville
  • Houston Medical Center, Warner Robins

“These guardsmen will assist our frontline healthcare workers as they provide quality medical care during the current increase in cases and hospitalizations, and I greatly appreciate General Carden and his team for their willingness to answer the call again in our fight against COVID-19,” said Governor Kemp. “This Georgia National Guard mission is in addition to the 2,800 state-supported staff and 450 new beds brought online I announced last week, at a total state investment of $625 million through December of this year. I continue to urge all Georgians to talk to a medical professional about getting vaccinated.”

From the AJC:

As of Tuesday, confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients made up 34% of all hospitalized patients in Georgia. Intensive care units and emergency rooms across the state have been flooded for days, forcing hospitals to divert some ambulance traffic and leaving patients waiting longer than normal for care.

The number of hospitalized COVD-19 patients — 5,349 statewide — is growing quickly and approaching the pandemic record set in January. Some hospitals in South Georgia are carrying COVID-19 patient loads that have already surpassed their previous peaks.

It won’t be the first time Kemp has called in help from the National Guard to fight the disease. The governor last year dispatched hundreds of Guard “strike teams” to long-term care facilities, nursing homes and other areas of the state struggling with the pandemic.

From Fox5Atlanta:

This action by the National Guard is the latest in the state’s attempt to bolster its healthcare system as it nears capacity amongst a rise in the Delta variant of COVID-19. Early in August, Brian Kemp announced the state will spend another $125 million to increase staffing at hospitals.

The money will fund another 1,500 health care workers through the beginning of December, Kemp said at a news conference. It comes on top of $500 million the state has previously allocated that is funding 1,300 staff members at 68 hospitals, the governor said.

“The unfortunate thing is we don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘We’re full, and we’re closed,’” said Robert Jansen, chief medical officer at Atlanta’s Grady Health System. “We’re not a hotel, so people will continue to come and our staff will continue to cope and we’ll continue to find places to take care of these patients, but it is going to be difficult and it’s not going to be easy and it won’t make people happy.”

Jansen said the hospital’s emergency room is facing a “tsunami” of infected patients, forcing staff to divert ambulances to other hospitals for quicker care. Hospitals are mostly seeing people who are unvaccinated.

As of Tuesday, 86% of the state’s inpatient beds and 88.6% of Georgia’s ICU beds were filled, both reaching close to the heights of capacity seen earlier this year, data from the Georgia Department of Public Health said.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods says that having been vaccinated helped him recover from COVID, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

“Though my symptoms were severe, and I did experience a breakthrough case, my doctors fully believe that the vaccine assisted in mitigating the effects of the virus and kept me alive during the ordeal,” he wrote. ”I encourage all who are eligible to consult with their doctor and prayerfully and thoughtfully consider getting vaccinated.”

The superintendent endorsed Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to let individual districts decide whether to require students and teachers to wear masks to discourage the spread of the virus. Local superintendents asked for that flexibility, Woods wrote.

Some school districts across the state have taken advantage of that flexibility by imposing mask requirements as cases of the virus rise inside their schools.

“Though there is a renewed challenge this school year due to the Delta variant, school leaders are in a much stronger position than last year,” Woods wrote.

“Vaccines are widely available; our schools have become more accustomed to, and experienced with, quarantining and mitigation practices; there are additional resources to deploy; we are better prepared and have better infrastructure for remote learning.”

“There’s a shared belief that in-person learning is the most effective learning environment for our kids,” he wrote. “However, the safety of all must be our priority.

“As school leaders do everything possible to keep their doors open and in-person learning going, we have a responsibility to do our part, too. This virus cannot be strangled by mandates or planned into non-existence, but we can work together to overcome this common threat.”

From the Macon Telegraph:

“Pretty soon there is going to be a clear choice. Either you get vaccinated or you are going to get the delta variant,” Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, an infectious disease specialist with Coliseum Health System, said. “I think it is accurate to say in a sense that it is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Dr. Patrice Walker, the Chief Medical Officer with Atrium Navicent Health, said the influx of COVID-19 patients is challenging because hospitals already have a lot of patients with everyday emergency needs and are dealing with staff shortages.

“Every healthcare system is having to evaluate similar to how we are right now,” Walker said. “We don’t want to discourage people from coming in to get care when they need it, but there may be long wait times but if people need care our doors are open. We want to encourage people to come and get it if they need it.”

Berrien County public schools have gone virtual, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

In a letter to parents and guardians, Superintendent Robin Marcrum said Berrien will switch to all virtual classes Aug. 26, which will last to Sept. 3. Following Labor Day holiday, students will return to in-person learning Sept. 7.

Marcrum said it was “due to the current circumstances with COVID.”

Students are being issued Chromebooks for learning at home. District and school offices will remain open if students have questions, she said.

Glynn County public schools are going online, according to The Brunswick News.

The rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Glynn County Schools will require the district to close for distance learning beginning Monday and continuing through Sept. 10.

The school district has entered the “red” level of operations, and attendance will be optional for students Wednesday through Friday.

“To be truthful, we were really left with no other option,” said Scott Spence, superintendent of Glynn County Schools. “Our numbers were increasing so rapidly that we would soon get to a point where we wouldn’t have enough teaching staff to carry on face to face instruction.”

Distance learning through Google Classroom will begin Monday and will take place during regular school hours.

The district will provide an update no later than Sept. 10 on when schools will return to in-person learning based on the data collected by each school.

Clayton County now has nine schools closed down for COVID, according to the AJC.

The entire Clayton County school system will go virtual Friday, according to the AJC.

Clayton County students will learn remotely on Friday as the district has its first “extended learning beyond the classroom” day.

“This is a learning day,” the school system said in a statement. “Students will access their assignments from their teachers and work independently at home.”

The district did not say when other “extended learning” days are planned.

Lee County public schools will close down, according to the Albany Herald.

After two weeks of in-person learning, the Lee County School System has announced that all schools in the system would transition to at-home learning beginning Thursday.

The Lee County School System is experiencing a severe shortage in teachers and substitute teachers due to the impact of COVID-19. Therefore, all schools will transition to an at-home learning environment beginning Thursday, August 26 through Tuesday, September 7. All students may return to school on Wednesday, September 8, 2021.

A number of local courts have been shutdown for jury trials, according to the AJC.

[J]udges in Cherokee, Bibb, Glynn and Wayne counties temporarily suspending jury trials in their courthouses because of a spike in new COVID-19 cases.

In March, the Georgia Supreme Court allowed jury trials to resume after they had been suspended for almost a year. Trials in a number of courthouses are continuing to be held in some courtrooms outfitted with plexiglass barriers to prevent transmission.

This week, Chief Superior Court Judge Craig Earnest of the seven-county Pataula Judicial Circuit shut down scheduled jury trials in Early, Randolph and Terrell counties.

“We just felt like we didn’t have a choice,” said Earnest, whose circuit is in the southwest corner of the state where the pandemic is raging. “We’re doing all we can to keep people safe. I don’t know when we’re going to reschedule them, hopefully soon.”

[J]udges in two coastal counties declared judicial emergencies last week and temporarily closed their courthouses after a number of office workers tested positive for COVID-19.

The courthouse in McIntosh County was closed all of last week to allow it to be cleaned and sanitized to prevent any further spread of the virus. It reopened Monday.

The Effingham County courthouse was closed Friday so it could be disinfected, and it will remain closed all this week because “numerous persons” in the judicial complex tested positive, said an order signed by Chief Judge Gates Peed.

Savannah is closing down some public events due to COVID, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Tuesday placed a moratorium on issuing permits for events in public spaces and revoked permits for events planned through Sept. 30, including the Savannah Jazz Festival.

Additionally, public events scheduled at the Savannah Civic Center will be cancelled or rescheduled; community centers and most city buildings, including City Hall, will be closed to the public until further notice. The Coastal Georgia Center on Fahm Street will remain open.

“In Chatham County our COVID rates continue to grow out of control as we recorded the highest community transmission index ever of 1,270 on Friday,” Mayor Johnson said.

Johnson said the city has urged the Savannah Jazz Festival to consider a virtual platform for its concerts scheduled for Sept. 23 through Sept. 26 in Forsyth Park. The city has made a similar plea to the Savannah Philharmonic regarding its Picnic in the Park event set for Oct.9.

“The city will offer whatever assistance we can to ensure that these events can be offered in a virtual or hybrid format.” Johnson said, adding that he has also asked Savannah State University to reconsider holding its annual homecoming parade, which typically takes place in October.

Statesboro will give away $10,000 worth of $50 gift cards in the first tranche of COVID vaccination incentives, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Two hundred $50 gift certificates – that’s $10,000 total – to be distributed during a two-hour public COVID-19 vaccination clinic Sept. 1 inside Statesboro City Hall will be just the start of about $50,000 worth of vaccination incentives city officials intend to fund.

Those preloaded  BB&T gift cards, as good  as cash at many businesses, will go to the first 200 people, 18 years old and up, vaccinated in the free clinic from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. next Tuesday in the ground-floor City Hall lobby at 50 East Main Street. No vaccine will administered that day to youth 17 and younger because the Pfizer vaccine, which is the only one approved for youth ages 12-17, will not be available, said city Public Information Officer Layne Phillips.

Beyond the $10,000 for gift cards for the in-house clinic, City Manager Charles Penny proposed putting $35,000 into prize drawings to reward citizens who have already gotten vaccinated or do so in the near future. His original recommendation was to open the eligibility for prizes to any Statesboro residents, employees of the city government and members of city employees’ families who have been vaccinated since the vaccines became available and present proof of vaccination.

For drawings for vaccinated people 18 years old or older, Penny suggested awarding monetary prizes, including twenty $500 prizes, five $1,000 prizes and one $5,000 prize, a total of $20,000 for that part of the program. He also suggested drawings for electronic gear for youth ages 12-17 who are vaccinated, including five laptop computers, five video game consoles, 10 Beats brand headphones, five Nintendo Switches and 10 Apple Air Pods, for an estimated total expense of $15,000 for that element.

The idea of incentives stems in part from President Joe Biden’s suggestion that local governments use federal emergency funding to give $100 to each person who gets vaccinated, Penny said. But if the city did that and everybody in Statesboro got vaccinated, it would cost about $3.2 million. The city would have more than that available from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, but Penny has suggested holding onto that money for longer-term projects such as a housing rehabilitation program.

I’d really like to know that someone out there in Government-landia is running the numbers and doing a cost-benefit analysis. It’s quite possible that the local government and hospitals would save more than $3.2 million if they got everyone in the county vaccinated, but we won’t know unless someone runs the numbers.

The University of Georgia is offering vaccination incentives, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Vaccine incentives offered to students, faculty and staff at the University of Georgia are working, and next week, the university will up the ante once again.

UGA is already offering a $20 gift card and specially designed T-shirt to all who get vaccinated through the University Health Center and recently added an incentive to sign up for a chance to win one of 10 $100 gift cards being awarded on four successive Fridays. To date, 20 individuals have won — most of them students.

“It’s a great initiative to motivate others who are not taking the vaccine to take the vaccine,” said Oranti Ahmed Omi, a graduate student majoring in neuroscience. “COVID is going to be here for a long time, so I think better to be safe than sorry. It’s better to get vaccinated and have some protection.”

The Muscogee County Jail will offer inmates $20 worth of commisary goods as a vaccine incentive, according to WTVM.

Sheriff Countryman says while he cannot force the vaccines on anyone inside the jail, he’s hoping his plan will motivate inmates to get vaccinated. He is offering inmates $20 “incentive bags” or commissary bags if they consent to rolling of their sleeve in the fight against COVID-19.

The virus is a major concern for Sheriff Countryman. Out of the 963 inmates in the Muscogee County Jail right now, 32 are COVID positive. Two deputy sheriff supervisors are also fighting the virus.

“We’re in deep prayer for them and we’ve had a number of Muscogee County deputies to test positive; it’s not just deputies but law enforcement. We don’t know what we’re coming in contact with,” the sheriff said.

Some Columbus area restaurants are closing temporarily because they are unable to fully staff shifts, according to WTVM.

The Georgia Supreme Court shot down an election challenge in a close local race, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Bobby Harrison Smith lost the election to Teresa Odum in June of last year by just nine votes – 1,372 to 1,363 – according to results certified by the Long County Board of Elections and Registration. A recount turned up a smattering of additional votes but the nine-vote margin remained.

Smith filed a court challenge claiming 30 votes were improperly or irregularly cast. But the trial court judge ruled the evidence was insufficient to cast doubt on the results of the election.

In the end, Odum – the winner of the election – and the election board conceded that one voter was not a resident of Long County and, thus, should not have voted.

The state Supreme Court went further, concluding that the evidence showed Smith had cast doubt on seven votes. However, that wasn’t enough to overturn Odum’s nine-vote margin of victory.

Herschel Walker (R-TX) yesterday announced he will run for the United States Senate seat currently held by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Atlanta), according to the AJC.

Herschel Walker offered a hint at how he’ll wage his campaign for U.S. Senate with a statement Wednesday that emphasizes his small-town Georgia roots and his personal story – and makes little mention of his political views.

Walker’s statement made no reference to the former president or any specific political policies. Instead, the Republican made broader non-contentious promises to “fight to protect the American Dream for everybody” and “stand up for conservative values and get our country moving in the right direction.”

The Republican also unveiled a website with his campaign slogan – “Run Fight Win” – that features a picture of Walker greeting Trump, whom he’s known since the 1980s when he played for a USFL team owned by the former president.

A short biography bills Walker as “a kid from a small town in Georgia who has lived the American Dream” and is running to “keep that dream alive for everyone.” He’s also set to release a video later Wednesday.

Here is Walker’s full statement:

“Our country is at a crossroads, and I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore. America is the greatest country in the world, but too many politicians in Washington are afraid to say that. Where else could a poor kid from a small town in Georgia become valedictorian of his high school, earn the Heisman Trophy, play professional football, represent the United States in the Olympics, and become CEO of multiple companies? I have lived the American Dream, but I am concerned it is slipping away for many people.”

“In the United States Senate, I will stand up for conservative values and get our country moving in the right direction. It is time to have leaders in Washington who will fight to protect the American Dream for everybody.”

From the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times:

Will the first-time candidate prove a good politician and fundraiser? What will voters make of his sometimes troubled personal history? Can Walker lure back once-Republican moderates who have fallen away from the party, and peel off some traditionally Democratic African Americans?

Those hurdles could be harder to leap than the defenders the 59-year-old Walker sprinted by on his way to a Heisman Trophy as a University of Georgia running back in 1982.

“Herschel found it easy to run over linemen and defensive backs in the NFL,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said. “He’s getting into a new game and may not have a lot of blockers out in front. I think he’s going to find this is going to be a lot harder.”

With Trump the “defining figure” in today’s GOP, Bullock said his backing might be all Walker needs.

“If he tells them they need to go out and vote for Herschel Walker, that’s the strongest endorsement he can possibly get,” Bullock said.

Warnock has already raised $10.5 million for the 2022 race but has downplayed Walker’s entry. He’s now traveling the state promoting a jobs agenda.

From 11Alive:

The big question many people are asking is if Walker can move beyond his huge name recognition and goodwill, and prove he has what it takes to be a U.S. Senator. As it is, he is a beloved giant in Georgia.

“He has the strength of his name recognition, and a lot of people would be willing to vote for the person who was their football hero 40 years ago,” said Emory University Political Science Professor Andra Gillespie Tuesday.

“But he still has a lot of ground to cover with younger voters, who might not be as well versed with his football glory days, and he also has to overcome the challenge of being an inexperienced candidate,” she added. “And so, while he has the support of President Trump, that may not be enough to overcome the weaknesses that he brings to the table as a novice candidate.”

“He comes in with a lot of personal goodwill, but you then have to translate that and channel that into a strong, political organization,” Gillespie said. “And so, goodwill isn’t enough to put together the apparatus that it’s going to take to turn out voters…. Has he done his homework, can he provide a really cogent, thoughtful, detailed answer to explain how he would vote and what he would do to address the problems that are facing our country, which are legion, today?”

“He’s going to have to become well-versed with the challenges that the state is facing, he’s going to have to get to know prominent Republicans here in the state, and secure their endorsements, in addition to having President Trump’s endorsement, and it’s going to take a lot of work,” Gillespie said. “So he can’t just rest on the laurels of having won the Heisman Trophy decades ago, and ride that wave and Donald Trump’s endorsement into the primary. There’s work to be done.”

I’ll say this: I don’t think endorsements from prominent local Republicans are important or helpful today.

Governor Kemp toured a manufacturing facility in Georgetown, according to WTVM.

“From an economic development perspective, our state continues to grow, continues to have great opportunities,” said Gov. Kemp.

“We just appreciate y’all being in the workforce and working hard every day to make our state better than it is tomorrow than it is today,” said Gov. Kemp.

That manufacturing company is D & J Plastics owned by Dennis Montgomery.

“I certainly appreciate what Dennis and what you all are doing to help our economy and to help your local communities,” said Gov. Kemp.

Although located in a small town, Gov. Kemp wanted to thank the fishing company reeling in customers from overseas.

“It’s an important part of our state and I know we got some big issues here we need to continue to work on but also we have great opportunity here,” said Gov. Kemp.

The Whitfield County Board of Education will likely retain the same property tax millage rate as the current year, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Whitfield County Board of Education plans to hold the property tax rate steady for another year, at 18.756 mills, the 10th consecutive year with the same operating rate.

However, state law requires this to be advertised as a tax increase since the state measures not against the actual prior-year rate but rather against the “rollback rate,” according to Whitfield County Schools.

The rollback rate is calculated by subtracting any increase in the tax digest due to reassessments, according to Whitfield County Schools. Without the increase, the property tax rate would be no more than 18.461 mills.

The budget adopted by the Board of Education earlier this year requires a rate higher than the rollback rate.

The Augusta Board of Education voted to raise the property tax millage rate, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The board approved raising the rate from last year’s 18.419 mills to 19.312 mills during a special called meeting on Tuesday. Millage is a tax rate that, when multiplied against the assessed value of a property, gives the amount of property tax that must be paid. The school district’s Chief Financial Officer Bobby Smith said, under the new rate, a resident with a home valued at $125,000 with homestead exemption would see a $40.19 increase on annual taxes. However, only residents whose homes were not reassessed will see higher taxes.

The new rate represents a $5.9 million increase in taxes. Smith gave three reasons for increasing the rate:

•  An increase in exemptions of $77.6 million would mean that, if they did not raise the rate, they would lose $823,000 in taxes.

•  The school district’s new budget has several new expenses meant to help the students and employees such as pay raises, more retirement contributions and more textbook funding.

•  The state requires the school district raise a certain amount locally through the tax digest in order to get state funding. That means when property assessments change, the school district is incapable of covering the difference, and if they don’t revise their rates, they risk losing state funding.

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