Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 7, 2021

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Sep

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 7, 2021

The United States government was nicknamed “Uncle Sam” on September 7, 1813.

On September 7, 1864, General William T. Sherman sent a letter to his Confederate counterpart, General John Bell Hood, offering to transport civilians out of Atlanta for their safety.

The Professional Football Hall of Fame opened on September 7, 1963 in Canton, Ohio.

Future Atlanta resident Curtis Mayfield saw his song, “Superfly” turn gold on September 7, 1972.

Here’s my favorite song by Curtis Mayfield, “People Get Ready.”

On September 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty, which promised to turn over control of the canal to Panama by 2000.

Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin on September 7, 1998.

The equine statue of Robert E. Lee on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue is being removed, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

While many other Confederate symbols across the South have been removed without public announcements beforehand to avoid unruly crowds, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office is expecting a multitude and plans to livestream the event on social media.

“Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week,” Northam said in news release on Monday. “This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth.”

Once the statue is hoisted off the pedestal, it’s expected to be cut into two pieces for transport, although the final plan is subject to change, said Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of General Services.

The Lee statue was created by the internationally renowned French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie and is considered a “masterpiece,” according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been listed since 2007.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

The federal Veterans Administration is launching an outreach effort aimed at preventing suicide by veterans, according to The Brunswick News.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. One of the hardest hit groups when it comes to suicide is the men and women who help protect our country.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 14 percent of the total suicides in America in 2018 were veterans. That report also showed that veterans who received some kind of VA care were less likely to commit suicide than veterans who didn’t.

“Veterans are driven and resilient, but everyone needs help sometimes, and especially with the ongoing pandemic and the recent end of the war in Afghanistan,” said Carl Vinson VA Medical Center Interim Director Ronnie Smith in a news release. “Whether veterans are looking for peer-to-peer support, clinical care, counseling, or something else, VA is here to help. VA and community resources can help veterans through life’s challenges.”

The Reach Out campaign encourages veterans or veteran supporters to reach out to those in need in multiple ways such as calling or texting a friend or fellow veteran to talk about what they’re going through. There are also tools available at the VA to help veterans who need support.

Veterans who need help can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, which is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless can get free, confidential support by calling the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838.

Governor Brian Kemp issued Executive Order #09.03.21.01, a Writ of Election calling for a Special Election to fill the vacancy created by the death of State Rep. Mickey Stephens (D-Savannah) in the 165th District. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger set qualifying dates and times.

The special election will be held on November 2, 2021 for the district, which includes parts of Chatham County. A run-off, if needed, shall be held on November 30, 2021.

Qualifying for the special election shall be held at the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office at 2 MLK Jr. Drive, Suite 802, Floyd West Tower, Atlanta, Georgia 30334. The dates and hours of qualifying will be Wednesday, September 8, 2021 beginning at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m., Thursday, September 9, 2021 beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m., and Friday, September 10, 2021 beginning at 8:00 a.m. and ending at 1:00 p.m. The qualifying fee shall be $400.00.

Monday, October 4, 2021 is the last day to register to vote for the special election. Advance in-person absentee voting will begin on Tuesday October 12, 2021.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will apparently continue investigating former President Donald Trump’s post election calls to Georgia officials, according to the AJC.

Over the holiday weekend, the Daily Beast quoted Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger confirming that Fulton County investigators have “asked us for documents, they’ve talked to some of our folks, and we’ll cooperate fully.”

The outlet reported that investigators have interviewed at least four people, including office attorney Ryan Germany, communications specialist Ari Schaffer, chief operating officer Gabriel Sterling and outreach director Sam Teasley.

The DA’s office is focusing on the Jan. 2 phone call Trump placed to Raffensperger, in which he urged his fellow Republican to “find” the votes to reverse Joe Biden’s win in Georgia.

But the investigation also could extend to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who promoted lies about election fraud in a state legislative hearing; and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was accused by Raffensperger of urging him to toss mail-in ballots in certain counties. Graham and Giuliani have denied any wrongdoing.

A federal judge is rewriting Georgia election law. From the AJC:

[T]hird-party candidates for most races have been required to present a petition with thousands of signatures, at least 5% of the total registered voters, in their districts just to get on the ballot.

A federal judge has ruled that, until the Georgia General Assembly enacts a permanent measure, third-party candidates will need signatures from 1%, not 5%, of their district’s voters to get on the ballot. Look for the AJC’s Mark Niesse to file a full report on what the ruling means later today.

Conveniently, the follow-up story was published just before we sent this email. From the AJC’s Mark Niesse:

U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May on Friday ordered Georgia to lower its signature requirement to 1% of registered voters for third-party candidates running for non-statewide offices, the same percentage of signatures needed for statewide candidates.

Candidates nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties automatically appear on the ballot.

“The court determined that this remedy would alleviate the unconstitutional burden imposed upon plaintiffs, while safeguarding the state’s interest in preventing ballot crowding and frivolous candidacies,” May wrote.

Under May’s order, third-party candidates will need to submit over 4,600 valid signatures in each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts, a decrease from more than 23,000 signatures previously required.

Her order on Friday permanently enjoined Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from enforcing the state’s 5% signature requirement until the General Assembly enacts a permanent measure.

Attorneys for the state have said in court documents they might appeal in advance of the 2022 election cycle.

The Stacey Abrams political machine bought advertising time on the UGA game this weekend, according to the AJC.

The Fair Fight Action voting rights group launched by Stacey Abrams will air a 30-second ad Saturday that calls on Kemp to add Medicaid expansion to the agenda of a special legislative agenda he‘s calling later this year to help hospitals cope with the worsening pandemic.

Kemp already plans to call the General Assembly back to the Capitol around November to redraw legislative maps following the 2020 Census and consider new anti-crime crackdowns. As governor, Kemp can add other items to the agenda.

The first-term Republican will surely reject the idea. He’s long opposed expanding Medicaid as too expensive in the long run, and he’s pursued a more narrowly tailored program to add more Georgians to the Medicaid rolls that’s been put on hold by the Biden administration.

Abrams, who is expected to mount a rematch against Kemp in 2022, made Medicaid expansion a central issue in her 2018 campaign against Kemp, calling it her top priority if elected. The governor has touted his counterproposal as the more fiscally responsible alternative.

Local election officials held a state convention, according to GPB News.

Beyond the usual sessions on fulfilling records requests, cleaning up voter rolls and other election duties, two major issues loomed over the day-to-day business of the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials conference. Athens-Clarke County supervisor Charlotte Sosebee said one of them was the 2020 election cycle.

“Not only did we have the new implementation of our voting equipment, we had high numbers of absentee ballots,” she said. “We dealt with the pandemic that we’ve never dealt with in our years of elections — so we overcame a lot.”

Georgia had the largest-ever single rollout of new voting equipment to 159 counties, delayed a spring primary because of the coronavirus and counted more than five million votes three times in the weeks after the November general election. Sosebee said this conference – the first in-person gathering since the 2020 cycle – was a chance for her colleagues to support each other after a difficult year.

Douglas County supervisor Milton Kidd said state officials aren’t doing enough to keep longtime workers from leaving.

“The state of Georgia is at a point of crisis,” he said. “The level of institutional knowledge we’re losing because of the state, either directly or indirectly, not defending election workers is creating an atmosphere of mistrust – not just around the elections process but around elections workers themselves.”

Ann Russell, elections director of rural Bacon County, said being at the conference was reassuring that she was not alone in trying to navigate all the chaos, and said voters should be reassured as well.

“I just want to want voters to know that they need to be patient with all of us, because right now we’re learning about Senate Bill 202, and it’s just going to be quite a process,” she said. Russell also wants voters to know that she and her peers are leaving this conference energized and determined to help them understand the new law and regain trust in a system that’s underappreciated and under attack.

Gwinnett County Commission Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson (D) ruled out a 2022 transit referendum, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

After two referendums on transit expansion were put before voters in 2019 and 2020 — with both of them being rejected — it would be understandable if residents have been wondering if Gwinnett’s leaders plan to put another transit referendum on the 2022 ballot.

But, Gwinnett Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson was clear on whether the commission plans to call for another vote next year.

“We are not,” she said after a recent press conference at Gwinnett Place Mall. “We are back at the drawing board. We went back to the drawing board because there is so much unknown right now with where things stand with the pandemic and in a post-pandemic world, what does transportation (and traffic congestion) look like.”

“We really want to study where we are today and not base (a vote on) an old plan, you know force the citizens to vote on an old plan. We want to start from scratch.”

But, while the county is starting over from scratch on a transportation plan, Hendrickson is not ruling out the possibility of a referendum coming up at a later date, whether that be in 2024 or sometime thereafter.

“If rail or mass transit comes out of the planning process, and we need to figure out a way to fund it, then we’ll have that conversation about a referendum,” the chairwoman said. “But, in the meantime, my goal is to try to get immediate short term projects implemented now.”

Bibb County Superior Court Chief Judge Howard Simms plans to sign an emergency order halting jury trials for thirty days due to COVID, according to 13WMAZ.

Judge Simms says he plan to sign the emergency Tuesday or Wednesday.

“That gets us through this month’s trials and the first week of October. Hopefully, things will have improved by then,” said Simms.

The judge previously halted jury trials for the month of August but a formal order was never signed.

“The idea was wait and see if the numbers changed before we actually entered an official order but it’s only gotten worse. At this point, there are statutory considerations… demands for trial, statutes of limitations… that can only be tolled if an order is entered,” Simms told 13WMAZ.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Forsyth County) has published his parting gift book “GOP 2.0,” according to the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald.

Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor is declaring independence from Donald Trump in a new book and urging other members of the GOP to follow.

The book, which comes out next week and was obtained exclusively in advance by The Associated Press, mixes Duncan’s take on what went wrong with Trump and the aftermath of the 2020 election with his ideas for how the GOP might welcome back the moderate, college-educated suburban voters who have drifted away from the party. He says he wants to be not anti-Trump, but post-Trump.

Duncan never writes Trump’s name in the book, a move he said he made on purpose.

“I will not worship him,” Duncan writes. “I will not excuse his excesses. I won’t believe his lies. I won’t mimic his tone. I won’t disingenuously pander to voters he’s misinformed. And I certainly won’t mislead my constituents because he wants me to.”

Duncan boils his prescription for what Republicans should do next down to a three-word catchphrase — policy, empathy, tone. He argues that Republicans need to pursue better policy to broaden its appeal, show empathy to effectively reach voters, and discard a divisive tone mainly aimed at riling up their base voters.

Duncan argues repeatedly that rank-and-file Republicans are being misled by a partisan media and their own leaders. People should seek out news coverage outside their ideological silos, he says, and Republicans need to shun some of the “entertaining and enticing battles that play out on social media.”

From the AJC:

“I know I’m not the only conservative in America who wakes up bone-weary and wishing the past months were just a bad dream,” he wrote. “I’m not the only Republican who feels in my gut that our party is following the wrong path.”

With no reelection bid — Duncan nixed a run for a second term in March — he’s been freer to work on his book and build a political organization to promote its ideas. A copy of “GOP 2.0” was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before its release.

The book contains a retelling of the Trump-driven drama last year in Georgia’s election from Duncan’s vantage. He describes a chilling but distinct change in the party’s tone during his short time in office he characterized as: “You’re either with us or against us.”

Duncan calls on his supporters to be the “adults in the room” to move the party beyond its obsession with Trumpism. And he wants last year’s stinging Republican losses in Georgia — Democrats carried the state in November’s presidential vote and January’s U.S. Senate runoffs — to serve as a warning.

“Republicans cannot afford to alienate people who agree with us on nine of 12 issues. Today it seems we alienate people who agree with us on 11 of 12,” he wrote.

“We saw firsthand in Georgia where this mentality gets us. We learned what happens when the GOP places a person above party and policy: Democrats turn red states blue.”

“At best, fellow Republicans thought I’d lost my mind. At worst, they thought I’d become a traitor deserving of the traditional punishment,” he wrote. “I found myself on an island — one that was getting pounded by bombs and artillery. Still, I never — not even for a moment — regretted my decision.”

United States Representative Austin Scott (R-Tifton) announced mobile office hours, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Mark Jones (D) continues to face charges related to the filming of a campaign ad, while three co-defendants pled guilty, according to WRBL.

Jonathan Justo, Chris Garner, and Chris Black all entered guilty pleas to misdemeanor charges rather than the felony counts they were facing. Erik Whittington did not enter a plea and plans to go to trial with Jones, the court was told.

Jones is scheduled for trial Sept. 13 on felony damage to public property charges that could cause him to lose his job if convicted. The five are accused of damaging the Civic Center parking lot in the filming of a campaign rap video.

His attorney, Chris Breault tried to get the charges dismissed using two legal maneuvers. First, he made a motion to quash the indictment. Then he asked Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Monroe to dismiss the charges, claiming it was a politically motivated prosecution.

“I think at this point, no,” Breault said. “If they want to proceed on folks being charged with felonies and this allegation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to the parking lot, that is the case the government chose and that’s the case we are going to court on.”

Each co-defendant was sentenced to 12 months probation, 20 hours of community service, ordered to pay a $500 fine, and pay $504.30 in restitution. The restitution is one-fifth of the cost to re-stripe the portion of the Civic Center parking lot damaged in the incident.

Jones is facing felony charges related to the May 2020 incident. As a district attorney candidate in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, Jones had a campaign video that featured drivers cutting doughnuts in a Civic Center parking lot.

At the time, Columbus Police said the two drivers caused $306,000 in damage to the parking lot. They were charged with felony interference with government property, first-degree criminal damage to property, reckless conduct, reckless driving and laying drag.

Frankly, I’m not sure I find the $306k dollar figure for damages to the parking lot credible. I’d have to see something more than some rubber marks on the pavement.

From the Associated Press:

“Any damage to public property is a felony in the state of Georgia,” [Former Columbus Police Chief Ricky] Boren said.

Garner and Justo-Botello testified that Jones did not direct them to cut doughnuts in the Civic Center parking lot for the campaign video, but added during cross-examination that Jones did not attempt to stop them from burning rubber.

The Floyd County Democratic Party held a Zoom meeting, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis, who has declared her candidacy for the 14th District seat of the U.S. House of Representatives, began the meeting by talking about the importance of local elections.

The floor was then given to one of the participants in the upcoming Rome City School Board election, Pascha Burge, who spoke about her campaign and what she would like to accomplish if elected to the school board.

After Burge, came the final speaker of the evening, Ruth Demeter about her position as director of newly established nonprofit organization, the North Georgia Democrats. In that role, Demeter will help assist other local Democratic Party chapters in their efforts to organize.

Chatham County jail is encouraging e-mail and implementing stricter security on physical mail after finding drug-laced letters to inmates, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Staff at the local detention center have intercepted letters and envelopes addressed to inmates that are laced with fentanyl, a synthetic and inexpensive opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, along with other synthetic drugs.

“They soak the paper in fentanyl and they take it out and dry it and then they write a letter on it and send it into the jail and then [the inmates] would take and tear it off and sell it like chewing gum and people would get it and get high on it,” Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher said.

The trend has forced the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office to adapt its processes: They encourage electronic mail and photos and photo scan all physical mail sent to prisoners, delivering those communications via kiosks.

Another issue Wilcher and his team were notified about is the practice of soaking paperback books. According to a notice distributed through the National Sheriff’s Association, books were being stolen from a store, soaked in drugs and then returned to the store and shipped to inmates.

Roswell City Council rolled-back the property tax millage rate, according to the AJC.

During a Monday meeting, City Council approved a property tax rate of $4.71 per $1,000 of a home’s appraised value, a 4.8% decrease from the 2020 rate of $4.95.

The six council members were evenly divided on how much the rate should decrease, requiring the mayor to break the tie at an Aug. 30 meeting.

Even with the approved lower rate, residents could have a higher tax bill because of the increase in the value of their property, Councilwoman Christine Hall told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday.

Hall said that an even lower rate could have ensured residents’ tax bills would not increase.

Mayor Lori Henry cast the deciding vote in favor of the new tax rate and voted along with councilmembers Matthew Tyser, Marie Willsey and Matt Judy.

Hall and councilmembers Mike Palermo and Marcelo Zapata voted against the rate after calling for a greater decrease. In meetings leading up to the Aug. 30 vote, they said lowering the rate all the way down to the “rollback rate,” or $4.58 per $1,000 of appraised value, would ensure bills do not rise.

The Floyd County Board of Education will vote on a proposed $500 incentive for employees to get vaccinated, according to the Rome News Tribune.

According to Superintendent Glenn White, employees would receive a $500 incentive if they get vaccinated before the end of November. After running some numbers, White estimated that if all of their employees choose to get vaccinated, it would cost the school system $685,000.

In response to a survey sent out, about 250 unvaccinated employees said they would take the vaccine if they could get the $500 incentive, White said.

Whitfield County Commissioners named a sole finalist for County Administrator, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

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