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

14
Sep

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

Francis Scott Key composed the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” on September 14, 1814.

On September 14, 1885, Georgia Governor Henry McDaniel signed legislation granting up to 200 acres in Fulton and DeKalb Counties to the federal government to be used in the constuction of Fort McPherson, which was named after Union Maj. Gen. James McPherson, who was killed in the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.

On September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died of an infection from gunshot wounds suffered eight days earlier.

On September 14, 1974, Eric Clapton’s cover of the Bob Marley song, “I Shot the Sheriff” reached #1 on the music charts. After 46 years, we still don’t know who shot the deputy.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

I’m sure this was well-intentioned, but if you walked up to a fountain, and all the water was “gold,” would your first thought be someone peed in the water let’s fight childhood cancer? From WTVM:

Have you noticed the gold fountains in Uptown? They’re gold in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is recognized every September by childhood cancer organizations around the world.

With a goal to increase awareness and raise funds for those affected by childhood cancer, the American Childhood Cancer Organization encourages everyone to Go Gold® during September in honor and in memory of kids with cancer!

From the American Childhood Cancer Organization:

Why We Go Gold

In 1997, a group of parents of children impacted by cancer chose gold to represent childhood cancer. Thus, the gold ribbon! Ever since then, supporters around the world Go Gold to represent childhood cancer warriors and heroes.

Governor Brian Kemp delivered the keynote last night at Heritage Action’s “Save Our Paychecks Tour,” according to 11Alive.

Other speakers at the event included Reps Rick Allen (GA-12), Andrew Clyde (GA-09), Jody Hice (GA-10), Barry Loudermilk (GA-11), former San Francisco salon owner Erica Kious, and Heritage Action’s Executive Director Jessica Anderson.

From the AJC:

Kemp assailed other state leaders who tried to “control everything” during the first waves of coronavirus infections and warned of creeping government overreach that threatened to push Georgians to a breaking point.

“People are going to revolt. Government is only as good as what people can withstand,” he said. “And if you try to do more than that, you have an uprising, or a mutiny.”

A quartet of Republican U.S. House members assailed what they framed as Biden’s reckless agenda. And Kerry Luedke, a prominent Cherokee County GOP activist, said the administration’s “tyranny” with vaccine requirements will hamper small businesses.

It was Kemp, however, who outlined the opposition to vaccine requirements in the starkest terms, casting the feud as a struggle for personal freedom.

“People have to make that decision for themselves. The government pushing that on them is only going to make people turn away and fight that even more,” Kemp said. “If they decide to do that, it’s their right to as an American. Even if somebody disagrees.”

Kemp said there’s a growing “silent majority,” too, that opposes the federal mandates and will show up at the ballot box in 2022 to back the GOP ticket.

“It has never been more important for us to be happy warriors, to fight the good fight,” he said. “But we have to be happy and we have to be excited about our ideas, because they’re better than the other side.”

Governor Kemp yesterday appointed his former Chief Operating Officer, Candice Broce, as the new Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services, according to the AJC.

“I’m truly honored that the board would support me in this initiative,” Broce said after the vote. “All of you have been incredibly helpful and I’ll be leaning on you as I get familiar with all of the DHS operations.”

Broce is replacing the outgoing Gerlda Hines, whom Kemp appointed to lead the State Accounting Office, after Hines served about two months as the agency’s commissioner.

She is a former communications director and deputy executive counsel for Kemp, and served as the governor’s chief operating officer. She was previously Kemp’s chief spokeswoman when he was secretary of state.

A DHS spokeswoman said Broce will serve both as DHS commissioner and DFCS director. DHS Board Vice Chairman Randall Smith said Broce’s appointment was a strategic move to “cut out some of the duplication of process.”

As commissioner, Broce will manage nearly 10,000 DHS employees in positions that oversee programs such as child safety, child support, food stamps, welfare and elder abuse. She said her dual roles will help streamline operational issues such as hiring new employees and keeping the agency’s technology up to date.

DHS Board Chairwoman Tiena Fletcher said she was impressed with the work Candice Broce has done in her time working for the state.

“I know the governor has a lot of faith in you that you can do this job and we’re going to expect great things from you,” Fletcher said.

Republican U.S. Representative Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) also made the case against the Biden mandates, according to The Brunswick News.

“We are in a stage in this country’s history where we are experiencing government overreach in its most tyrannical form,” Carter said. “Joe Biden is now mandating vaccines for federal workers and all employers with over 100 employees to require COVID vaccinations.”

They’re not the only ones required to be fully vaccinated in Biden’s Sept. 9 order. All contractors who do work for the federal government, as well as all health care workers in facilities receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid, also must be vaccinated.

“Mask mandates only serve to further erode confidence in the vaccine among the hesitant,” Carter said. “This will affect over 100 million Americans who may now face fines and punishments should they still choose to remain unvaccinated.”

Carter said he does not understand why Biden is willing to force Americans to accept vaccinations while allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to pour through the nation’s southern border.

“(The immigrants are) untested and unvaccinated, yet now he won’t let American citizens go to work or have a job if they’ve chosen not to get vaccinated,” Carter said. “This is incredibly wrong.”

“(Neither) President Biden nor any elected officials should force vaccines on American citizens. Americans are smart enough to make decisions about what is best for themselves and their families.”

“We don’t need a president in office who thinks he is a king,” Carter said.

“We can’t allow Biden and the Democrats to take our freedoms in the name of the pandemic,” Carter said. “They shut down our schools and our churches, and now they’re trying to overrun our rights.”

“Rather than invading the privacy of Americans or inserting bureaucrats between patients and doctors, Joe Biden should work in a bipartisan fashion to instill confidence in the vaccine and address the concerns of those still uncomfortable with its safety and effectiveness.”

Democrats on the Georgia State House Higher Education Committee said Gov. Kemp should stop opposing mask mandates, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald.

“We need our leaders to fight against the virus, not against our students and faculty,” said Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn.

“A leader makes decisions,” added Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale. “Georgia needs a leader, not a follower.”

Kemp has held firm against imposing statewide mask mandates on either college campuses or K-12 classrooms in Georgia, criticizing such requirements as divisive.

But Clark, who holds a doctorate in microbiology from Emory University, said nothing works to prevent the spread of COVID-19 better than making mask wearing and vaccinations mandatory.

“We have data [showing] that mask mandates work. We also know vaccines work,” she said. “The more people we have vaccinated on our campuses, the better we’re able to stop the virus.”

Protests in favor of mask mandates are planned across Georgia, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Protests are scheduled to take place on 17 campuses across the state, including the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern University, over the next four days with protest scheduled to start an hour later each day. The protest is being organized by the Georgia Chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

[A Sociology Professor] said that since AU is the state’s only public medical school, it’s more frustrating and embarrassing for faculty since the university is not listening to the science and trying to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We have an institute for public and preventative health, yet we are not following the basic scientific guidelines outlined by the CDC,” he said. “I think, many of the medical faculty, are frankly embarrassed to be at a medical university where we are not following public health measures.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald:

Protests have been scheduled on university system campuses in Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Athens, Savannah, Columbus and other locations. Demonstrators will gather at different times each day.

Yesterday we noted that the Valdosta Daily Times was incorrectly reporting that Georgia has vaccinated nearly its entire population. Today that same incorrect headline and article are featured on the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

That error also found its way to the Union-Recorder, Yahoo News, and Georgia Trend Daily, as they copy and paste.

Savannah-area governments and agencies are paying $500 to incentivize employee vaccination, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The City of Savannah, Chatham County, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and Chatham Area Transit have joined together to offer a $500 vaccine incentive to all full and part-time employees. The new incentive program was announced on Monday.

The four entities employ upwards of 10,000 individuals and [are] offering the incentive to all, including those already vaccinated. Each organization will be releasing guidelines and timelines to employees this week.

“I agree with the mayor’s goal of (vaccination goal of) 80%. I hope we can get to 100%, but we know that the vaccine is safe, we know that it’s effective, we know that it’s the best way to protect people against the worst impacts of this virus, including hospitalization and death,” [new City Manager Jay Melder] said.

“It’s the best way that an organization can protect itself against any type of production loss or inefficiency as a consequence of needing to quarantine or losing people to sick leave as they deal with the virus.”

The Clarke County Board of Education adopted an incentive plan for employee vaccination, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The BOE passed a measure Thursday to pay $500 to any of the school system’s nearly 2,400 employees who show proof of full vaccination by Dec. 1, 2021 through a one-time pay supplement, paid out at the end of the month.

The vote passed 7-2 with board members Linda Davis and Kirrena Gallagher voting against the program.

This incentive program comes after Athens-Clarke County passed its own program, giving $100 per dose for Athens residents, workers, and students.

Coweta County has a two-tiered incentive programs for residents and public employees, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Cowetans receiving a COVID-19 vaccine after this week will be eligible for a $200 incentive.

The incentives will be paid with $100 Visa gift cards. Cowetans receiving a two-dose vaccine will get one gift card per dose. Those choosing the single-shot vaccine will get two $100 gift cards with their dose.

The incentive program was approved by the Coweta County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

The commissioners also confirmed an incentive program for county employees and elected officials who are vaccinated. That program will be retroactive for any employee or official who has received a vaccine or receives the first shot by Sept. 15. The second dose must be administered by Nov. 1.

Those who have already been vaccinated have until Sept. 15 to provide proof of vaccination to their department director or elected official. The incentive is $400, or $200 per dose. In accordance with IRS regulations, taxes will be taken out of a future paycheck based on the value of the incentive.

Coweta County Administrator Michael Fouts said that the U.S. Treasury Department and President Joe Biden are encouraging state and local governments to create incentive programs for vaccination.

Under the program, any pharmacy with a location in Coweta County would be eligible to participate, as would Georgia Department of Health vaccinating sites.

Pharmacies would distribute the gift cards and provide a regular accounting to the county. Those receiving vaccines would need to sign a certificate of eligibility, which basically verifies they are county residents, and sign a hold harmless agreement in regards to the county and the pharmacy, according to Fouts.

Democratic candidate Sabrina Kent-Greene, running for State House District 165 in a Special Election, says the minimum wage should be $48.15, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Three others entered the race during last week’s qualifying period. They are Clinton Young, a retired Army specialist and vending machine businessman who mounted unsuccessful runs for Savannah City Council in 2007, 2011 and 2015, Chatham County Elections Board Member Antwan Lang and former Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson.

At the top of Greene-Kent’s list of issues is the minimum wage. Georgia law sets the minimum wage rate at $5.15 per hour, but for most jobs, the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act applies, meaning most employees must earn a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Greene-Kent says that’s not enough. She’s thinking $48.15 an hour instead.

“I think that living wages should have been going up by $1 every year since 1976. And if that be the case, then our minimum wage right now should be sitting at $48.15 an hour,” Greene-Kent said.

“Let’s think about all the companies that are making zillions of dollars a year and billions a quarter off our backs off the backs of the poor off the backs of the middle class,” Greene-Kent said. “They make all this money every year, but they pay us nothing.”

More likely to win the HD 165 Special Election are the two candidates who have previously served in office. From the Savannah Morning News:

The Georgia House District 165 special election is a race between two political prodigies in Edna Jackson and Antwan Lang.

Both launched their public profiles in their teenage years: Jackson as a youth leader in Savannah’s civil rights movement; Lang as a legislative intern for local state lawmakers and the youngest-ever appointee to a city affairs commission.

That Jackson and Lang came to political relevance a half-century apart — Jackson is 77; Lang is 27 — makes the Nov. 2 vote to choose a successor to the late Mickey Stephens one for the ages.

Jackson and Lang are the unquestioned frontrunners in the four-way race for the vacant post. The other two candidates, Sabrina Greene-Kent and Clinton Young, may peel away enough votes in what is expected to be a low-turnout election to force a Jackson-Lang runoff.

Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Mark Jones (D) is in a unique place for a sitting DA – the defendant’s table. From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Jones and Whittington face charges of interfering with government property and first-degree criminal damage to property in the May 17, 2020, incident in which Jones shot a video encouraging people to vote, and engaged custom car enthusiasts to appear with him.

As the filming ended, Whittington was among the drivers who circled Jones and others while spinning his tires and “drifting,” leaving rings of burned rubber in the lot.

Patterson told jurors this endangered those Whittington circled, and ruined the paint on parking spaces in the lot, restriping work the city finished just months earlier. Jones never sought permission for this, the prosecutor said.

The city estimated the cost of repaving the entire lot at $309,000, a price authorities used initially to set the defendants’ bonds. The repair now is estimated at $2,500, Patterson said.

But the first engineer who examined the lot had a much less expensive estimate: $478, just to restripe the parking spaces, noted attorney Chris Breault, who represents Jones. He claimed city administrators kept pushing for a higher cost, to make the offense a felony.

City emails he obtained prove this, Breault said: “They did not care what the actual damage was. … They made up a felony case.”

He called it “a calculated political hit job” born of fears that Jones’ viral video was shifting the momentum of the district attorney’s race, giving Jones an edge over incumbent Julia Slater. She lost to Jones in the Democratic Primary.

“Within four days, it had 100,000 views,” Breault said of the video posted to Facebook. That’s what prompted authorities to press the criminal case, he said.

“All of a sudden, they want to make Erik Whittington a felon. They want to make Mark Jones a felon,” he said.

Georgia will run ads promoting the availability of free state-issued ID cards that can be used to prove identity for voting, according to the AJC.

The marketing campaign is funded by $250,000 budgeted by the Georgia General Assembly last spring along with the state’s new voting law, which requires state ID cards or other documents to cast an absentee ballot.

The public information effort will start in October and focus on letting Georgians know they can obtain free voter identification cards through the Department of Driver Services.

House Speaker David Ralston said he sought the funding to address concerns that not all voters have a state ID. About 272,000 of Georgia’s 7.7 million registered voters lack an ID number linked to their voter information, according to state election records.

“It’s not only increasing security levels, but also making voting more accessible,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “And this is one more way we can do that.”

The Department of Driver Services also plans to provide information about voter IDs at community centers, food banks, senior centers and libraries.

Free voter ID cards are available at any Department of Driver Services office with proof of identification documents. Offices are closed every Monday and open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

Georgia State House members want the Department of Agriculture involved in the cannabis industry, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

“This is an agricultural product; we’re an agricultural state,” Georgia Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, said during the inaugural meeting of the Medical Cannabis Commission Oversight Committee. “Having them involved going forward is a good thing.”

Gravley was chief sponsor of legislation the General Assembly passed two years ago creating a state commission to award licenses to companies to grow marijuana and convert the leaf crop into low-THC cannabis oil.

The oil is intended to treat patients with a variety of diseases including cancer, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease and sickle-cell anemia.

Rep. Sam Watson, R-Moultrie, said Utah’s agriculture department is playing an active role in that state’s cannabis oil program, which Georgia is looking to as a model. Both states permit only low-THC in cannabis oil, far below a level that would make a user “high,” and neither permit recreational use of marijuana.

Watson said getting the agriculture department involved in Georgia’s program is “definitely a conversation to be had.”

Gravley said the oversight committee should move as quickly as possible to identify labs that can test the licensees’ cannabis oil for quality and compliance with the low-THC requirement.

“Having a variety of labs available to cultivators would be a good thing,” he said. “There are those who are in need of this oil.”

The Georgia State House Study Committee on Childhood Lead Exposure heard testimony that the state should adopt stricter lead standards, according to the Rome News Tribune.

A top state public health official told a House of Representatives study committee on Monday that Georgia should require a full clearance inspection after a lead abatement inspection.

Currently, according to Christy Kuriatnyk, director of the Georgia Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, all that’s required is a visual inspection.

“You can’t see lead dust,” Kuriatnyk told the House study committee on childhood lead exposure.

Kuriatnyk also recommended the state should increase the length of time a landlord must submit a lead abatement plan from 14 to 30 days; and require landlords to submit a letter the property will no longer be used as a dwelling, if that is the intent.

Another recommendation: if a landlord does not disclose a home has the potential for lead hazards and such hazards are found, then tenants can void their lease.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, chairs the committee which was designed to study early intervention and prevention of childhood lead exposure. According to the legislature, lead paint is present in one-third of the nation’s homes, particularly older residences.

Buckhead cityhood proponents tout a study of the financial feasability of the proposed municipality, according to the AJC.

Based strictly on the financials and barring any “social, political and governance issues,” the study commissioned by the Buckhead City Committee found that a new city could sport a $100 million surplus on its annual budget, thanks to its large tax base.

But the report doesn’t address the big question: How would the new city’s formation affect Atlanta’s budget and how would Atlanta handle the financial losses if Buckhead City were created?

Bill White, CEO and chair of the Buckhead City Committee, said that’s beside the point.

“The study is about Buckhead City, not Atlanta, but with a few publicly available numbers, the financial impact on the City of Atlanta is clear, and turns out to be very slight,” White said.

Valdosta State University’s Center for South Georgia Regional Impact conducted the study after several other large research centers that typically conduct cityhood feasibility studies declined, citing conflicts of interest with Atlanta.

The feasibility study estimated that Buckhead City would have just over 100,000 residents, and could take in annual revenues of about $203.5 million. More than half that — about $119 million — would come from property taxes, the study found. Buckhead accounts for about 20% of the city’s population, but about 40% of its assessed property values.

That $203 million accounts for about 10% of Atlanta’s overall budget.

But state legislators who represent Buckhead oppose the proposal, according to the AJC.

“The study does nothing to address my concerns that if Buckhead secedes from Atlanta it will effectively defund critical city services, including law enforcement,” [State Rep. Betsy Holland (D)] said. “That kind of instability for Atlanta will have a devastating domino effect throughout the state.”

State Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat who is running for state Attorney General, has spoken out against cityhood before. On Monday, she had specific concerns about the legality of the effort and the potential consequences for the state’s finances.

“Deannexing from the City of Atlanta would immediately be challenged on constitutional grounds- impairment of contracts- and would have a significant impact on the state’s bond rating and financial health.”

State Rep. Donna McLeod (D-Lawrenceville) is asking about Lawrenceville’s use of car tag cameras, according to the AJC.

State Rep. Donna McLeod, D-Lawrenceville, and her legislative team are filing an open records request for more information about the city’s 12 cameras. The legislator has pressed city officials for months about how the camera locations were chosen and whether they are targeting Black residents, but says she’s still dissatisfied with the answers.

McLeod has argued that the cameras are located in predominantly Black neighborhoods and that the current crime levels in these areas do not justify the placement of the cameras. A resident of Lawrenceville, she worries that the cameras unfairly target Black individuals.

“I’m not an outsider; I don’t see that crime,” said McLeod during a recorded virtual meeting with city officials. “I will not accept biased or racially motivated Flock cameras in our neighborhoods of color.”

Georgia Gwinnett College was recognized as the most ethnically-diverse in the South for the eighth year, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

[US News & World Report] gave GGC the top spot in its ranking of ethnically diverse southern regional colleges in its annual college and university rankings, which were released on Monday. Smaller schools, like GGC, are considered regional colleges as opposed to larger public and private schools such as the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, which are counted in the magazine’s rankings as “national universities.”

GGC had 11,627 students last fall, with 33% of the being Black, 27% white, 25% Hispanic, 11% Asian, 4% multi-ethnic and less than 1% listed as either Native American, Pacific Islander or unknown. This is the eighth year that GGC has ranked No. 1 for ethnic diversity among southern regional colleges.

The school said 75% of its students last fall were from Gwinnett County, with the remainder coming from 32 U.S. states and 120 countries.

The school was ranked No. 3 in the Top 20 Public Schools category, as well as No. 3 among southern regional colleges in the area of innovative approaches to curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology and facilities. Last year, GGC ranked No. 4 in innovation. GGC officials also said the school was named a “top performer” for social mobility and it ranked No. 58 among the best public and private regional colleges across a 12-state region in the south. It was the highest ranking school from the University System of Georgia in that category for regional colleges.

There was one new ranking for GGC this year. U.S. News and World Report began ranking nursing bachelor degree programs for the first time this year and GGC was ranked No. 12 among 23 programs in Georgia.

The City of Augusta continues hosting meetings for public input on budget priorities, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Gwinnett County public schools retained their accreditation after a special review, according to AccessWDUN.

Superintendent Calvin J. Watts announced Monday he had received word last week from Cognia, the district’s accrediting agency, that there was no change in the district’s accreditation status.

“I am pleased to report to our community that our school district remains in good standing with Cognia and our district has retained its status as a fully accredited school district,” Watts said in a public statement. “This review is not something that we have taken lightly. Our district governance and leadership team will learn from Cognia’s findings as we move forward together. As a school district, we understand the importance of accreditation as a measure of quality and success and as a tool for improvement. As a teaching and learning organization, we will use the findings from the report to guide and strengthen our continuous improvement efforts.”

Cognia found two areas where the school district – specifically the school board – needed to work on improvements.

The so-called Improvement Priorities were identified as follows:

1- Establishment of and adherence to policies that are designed to support system effectiveness.
2- Adherence to a code of ethics and functions within defined roles and responsibilities.

In the two areas, Cognia issued directives for the district and its governance team to complete prior to a monitoring review to be scheduled before May 2022.

The Hall County Tax Commissioner is mailing property tax statements, according to AccessWDUN.

With the arrival of property tax season this month, the Hall County Tax Commissioner’s Office will mail approximately 92,500 tax statements for real and personal property on Monday, Sept. 13. Taxes for 2021 will be due Nov. 15.

If you own property within the city limits of Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Buford, or Oakwood, you will receive a separate city tax bill from that municipality in addition to the Hall County property tax statement.

Floyd County Commissioners will discuss an ordinance intended to expand broadband internet availability, according to the Rome News Tribune.

In the ordinance the county is seeking to partner with broadband providers in order to install the infrastructure to expand broadband access to underserved areas.

County engineers would be listed as the single point of contact for all projects, meaning they wouldn’t need approval from the county commission before moving forward with construction.

According to a map provided by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, about 9% of Floyd County doesn’t have broadband internet.

Over the past year and a half, the pandemic has proved that internet is not a luxury but a necessity, County Manager Jamie McCord previously stated, especially for households with school aged children.

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