Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 16, 2021

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 16, 2021

The Georgia Trustees visited the first group of settlers on November 16, 1732, the day before they were scheduled to depart England for the New World.

On November 16, 1737, the Georgia Trustees learned that England’s King George II would send 300 soldiers, along with 150 wives and 130 children to the settlement in Georgia.

On November 16, 1864, Sherman left Atlanta in smoking ruins.

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the release of the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Dawson County Sheriff’s deputies apprehended a masked fugitive donkey, according to the Macon Telegraph.

A photo shared by the department shows the donkey was cooperative when taken into custody.

Department officials were alerted to the free-roaming animal when someone reported “there is a donkey walking in the roadway (and it) has some kind of mask on.” A street location was not provided, but it was near a water tower, the person said.

One TV station also suggested the “donkey’s social distancing efforts (were) thwarted” by deputies.

“It’s not the first jackass wearing a mask in Georgia,” one person wrote on Facebook.

“Shouldn’t he have a lawyer present,” another said.

Air Force exercises may disturb the peace in Lowndes County this week, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

The 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base is conducting a readiness exercise Nov. 15-19, a statement from the base said.

The exercise will take place across various locations including Moody and the Grand Bay Bombing and Gunnery Range, as well as MacDill Air Force Base and Avon Park, both in Florida.

During the exercise, noise disturbances and the movement of assets (people, munitions, vehicles, etc.) will increase, the statement said.

Dublin City Council Chair Bennie Jones was arrested for an altercation at his day job, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Bennie Jones was arrested on Friday, Nov. 12, two days after he’s accused of hitting a student during a dust up at the Moore Street School in Dublin, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Jones is facing a charge of simple battery, a misdemeanor. Dublin police asked the state’s top law enforcement agency for assistance in the case.

Officers arrived at the alternative school Wednesday, Nov. 10, after receiving reports of a fight, WMAZ reported, citing an incident report. School staff who were on scene told police that students on the bus were cursing and using other foul language.

Jones files a complaint against the teen, who was later charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor, before being released into his parent’s custody, WMAZ reported. The student, who wasn’t named, told officers he hit Jones after the bus driver hit him first, according to the incident report.

Redistricting maps for both legislative chambers await Governor Kemp’s signature or veto, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

State Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, said during the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee meeting Nov. 10 that the map reduces the county plots from 39 to 30. The map, he said, has 14 majority-minority and six minority-opportunity districts.

“As y’all know, we probably know we currently have 34 Republican senators. It’s a 34/22 split,” said Kennedy, chair of the Senate redistricting and reapportionment committee. “This map proposes basically to take us to 33 Republican Senate districts, and that’s a recognition of the trends and changes that we’re all seeing in politics but also making sure that we’re in compliance and acting in good faith with the numbers that we’ve seen.”

House committee chair Bonnie Rich said the House’s proposed map has four sets of incumbent pairings: one pair of Democrat incumbents, two pairs of Republican incumbents and one Democrat-Republican pairing.

Rich said the House map — which received a “B” grade from the two nonpartisan redistricting groups — has 49 majority Black voting age population districts, which was an increase of only one district over the current House districts.

The current makeup of the Georgia House is 103 Republicans and 77 Democrats. The House map proposal was approved in the Senate 32-21 on Nov. 12 along party lines. The Senate map approved in the House Nov. 15 in a 96-70 vote.

The Brunswick News looks at local changes to House and Senate districts.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald:

“We are a 50-50 state. We are a battleground state,” Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, told her House colleagues, referring to the close margins of recent statewide elections. “This map creates a 60-40 split with the advantage to the Republican Party.”

Nguyen, who is running for secretary of state, and other Democrats singled out several Senate districts as examples of what they called Republican gerrymandering. She said the Senate map changes Senate District 48 now served by Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek, the Senate’s only Asian woman, from a minority voting-age population of 60% to a district with a slight white majority.

But Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, chairman of the House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee, said the Senate map complies with the federal Voting Rights Act and splits fewer counties than the Senate map that has been in place since the last redistricting in 2011.

Also Monday, the House overwhelmingly passed a resolution ratifying an executive order Kemp issued last May temporarily suspending the collection of the state gasoline tax after the Colonial Pipeline was hit by a ransomware attack and forced to shut down. The suspension lasted from May 10 until June 2.

Next up for the special session is consideration of a proposed map for Georgia’s 14 congressional districts.

From the Gainesville Times:

District 30 Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, was drawn out of his current district and into District 31, which includes much of Jackson County and part of East Hall. Dunahoo said he will lose about 92% of his current constituents with the new map.

Dunahoo had also planned to run for Senate District 49, because Sen. Butch Miller is running for Lietuenant Governor and will vacate the seat next year. But the new map keeps Dunahoo in Senate District 50, and he said he does not plan to run against Sen. Bo Hatchett.

North Hall stayed largely unchanged. District 27 Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, now covers more than half the landmass of Hall County, he said, and his district bleeds into part of Lumpkin County. He kept most of his current constituents, Hawkins said.

Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Mark Jones (D) pled guilty to four of nine charges during his trial, according to WTVM.

He plead guilty to four counts: 1, 6, 7, 9

Count 1: influencing witness
Count 6: attempted violation of oath of office (Sheneeka Terry)
Count 7: attempted violation of oath of office (Kimberly Schwartz)
Count 9: Attempted violation of oath of office (Chris Bailey)

From WTVM on sentencing of Jones:

As part of the plea deal, Jones must resign from office immediately.

The State recommends Jones to be sentenced to jail for five years, however he must serve only one year. He will spend the remaining four years on probation. He must also pay a $1,000 fine.

From the Ledger-Enquirer:

Mark Jones will no longer serve as District Attorney for the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit as part of the plea deal he reached Monday morning to end his felony trial on misconduct charges. The six-county district, which includes Columbus, will have a new chief prosecutor.

But who will finish out Jones’ term? That power rests with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Under the Georgia Constitution, Kemp has the authority to appoint Jones’ replacement.

He could select a new prosecutor or stick with acting District Attorney Sheneka Jones Terry who was sworn in last month. Until Kemp makes a decision, Terry will oversee the office. It’s unclear when Kemp will name his appointee.

Officials at the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and the Georgia Secretary of State told the Ledger-Enquirer that Kemp’s appointee would serve the remainder of Jones’ term, which ends in three years, December 2024.

From the AJC:

Jones took office in January, overseeing the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which serves Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Talbot and Taylor counties in west Georgia.

“By abusing his power and abdicating his responsibility as district attorney, Mark Jones did a disservice to those he was elected to protect and put our very justice system at risk,” [Attorney General Chris] Carr said in the release. “This outcome is a victory for integrity in prosecutions and the rule of law.”

Warner Robins City Administrator David Corbin has recommended changes after a federal tax lien was filed against the city, according to 13WMAZ.

Warner Robins’ city administrator says the city’s IRS troubles are “not acceptable” — but that the staffing problems caused by the pandemic likely made things worse.

David Corbin wrote that he plans to recommend that the city hire an outside firm to handle its payroll records.

He repeated Toms’ statement that the lien is not due to unpaid taxes, but he said the city is working to improve its finance department by reorganizing, adding staff, and hiring outside help.

Corbin wrote that the problems largely result from the city’s failure to follow reporting guidelines of the Affordable Care Act. The law says the city must notify employees of their health-insurance coverage and confirm that to the federal government.

He says “it was not clear” that the city followed the law in either 2016 or 2018, so he asked city staff to re-submit that information to the IRS.

Corbin was named city administrator in March and interim chief financial officer in August. His letter says he and others are working on plans to improve the city’s financial reporting and prevent future problems with the IRS.

He wrote to Toms and the council, “Overall, I believe the multiple reporting errors and the final IRS remittances are not acceptable, however I am of the opinion that the pandemic environment had adversely impacted the staffing levels of the payroll division during this time period. Given our long-term goal to operate more efficiency and consistent with the strategic financial plans we have discussed, I will be recommending, before year-end, an outsourced payroll solution for your consideration and approval.”

Some Augusta business owners are voicing concerns about a nondiscrimination ordinance, according to WRDW.

On Tuesday, Augusta city leaders are expected to pass an ordinance to protect you from discrimination. The idea is to fine businesses that treat customers unfairly based on things like race, religion, gender identity, military status, and more. Commissioners are expected to pass the ordinance but not everyone is on board.

Some commissioners did not support the ordinance’s first draft in March because some businesses were concerned about unfair complaints. It’s on the table for Tuesday and still, some owners downtown are still worried a customer or employee might make a false allegation.

Augusta’s non-discrimination ordinance will expand federal protections to protect people from discrimination at small businesses. It’ll charge a businesses an initial $500 fee for violation and $1,000 fees for future violations. Slagle’s concern is that people will take advantage of it.

But will they? At least 12 other cities in Georgia have similar ordinances. We reached out to Savannah and Brookhaven who both adopted theirs in 2020 since then they’ve had exactly zero complaints filed.

“If we’re not planning on using it and if you don’t think it’s going to be a problem then we don’t really need it do we?” said Slagle.

In a meeting, the Augusta Compliance Department which will handle all ordinance complaints says they do get discrimination complaint calls now but most can’t go forward.

Vidalia Regional Airport will receive $2.2 million dollars in federal aid for a new runway, according to WTOC.

Now, the airport is receiving federal dollars for their runway rehab project. The $2.2 million will allow them to tear out all the current concrete slabs on the runway and replace them. The city won’t have to put any money toward it.

United States Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Atlanta) discussed the federal infrastructure bill, according to WSAV.

“This bipartisan infrastructure bill is going to make once in a generation investments that will strengthen our economy, help working families and push us in the direction of creating a green energy future that’s worthy of all of our children,” said Warnock.

“I’m grateful for this once-in-a-century investment in the future of broadband, in public transportation,” Warnock said. “We’ve got some $1.4 billion for public transportation in Georgia in this bill, $30 million just for Savannah alone.”

“Broadband is now to the 21st century what electricity and electric lights were to the 20th century,” Warnock said. “You can’t even farm without broadband. When you’re talking about telehealth, when you’re talking about the digital divide that separates poor children from children with some means.”

From WTVM on the local impact for Columbus:

“We don’t really know the firm number that we’re going to get. We know that there’s opportunities for us to put in for projects,” Mayor [Skip] Henderson said. “We rank all of our roads and all of or bridges just about on an annual basis so that we know which ones are in the greatest need for any kind of attention.”

In Georgia, $8.9 billion is set aside for federal-aid highway apportioned programs, and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs. Mayor Henderson said the city engineering department would be the deciding factor in which roads would be repaired first, all based on research and reports.

“We’ve also got some coastal water work money in play that we can apply for that would allow us to do some things along the Chattahoochee,” Mayor Henderson explained. “I know there’s some people who would like to see those locks repaired and may even down the road, start dredging the Chattahoochee and make it more navigable for large traffic.”

From WJBF:

Mayor Hardie Davis says mayors in cities across the country helped play a role in getting the bill passed.

“We’ve worked hand in hand with Congress. We’ve worked hand in hand with the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s and the League of Cities who played an instrumental role,” Mayor Hardie Davis said.

Nearly 1.5 billion dollars of the funding will go to public transportation in Georgia.

“With the passage and signage of this infrastructure deal Augusta will be eligible for those dollars. They will be eligible for our community. They will flow through our community. We have already made a commitment to public transit,” Davis said.

“We were able to pilot three electric buses here in the city of Augusta. We look forward to making investments to purchase those and transform our fleet here in the city. More energy efficient buses. They’re climate friendly buses,” Davis said.

“What I would like to see happen and I think we have started this, is for us to become a resilient and sustainable city with investments around electric charging stations and going to green vehicles. It just puts us in a much better situation.”

225 million will also go towards improving bridges in Georgia.

That’s enough funding to address 80 percent of Georgia’s bridges that are in poor condition.

Legislation to reconstitute the Floyd Count Board of Elections passed the State House, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The votes on House Bills 9EX and 8EX passed out of the House, 150-7, on the local legislation calendar early Monday and were immediately transmitted to the Senate, said Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome.

Under the proposed legislation, the three-member Floyd County Elections Board would be dissolved and replaced with a five-member board. Dempsey; Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee; and Rep. Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville, all sponsored the bill.

The five members would be appointed by the Floyd County Commission.

Commissioners would choose four of the members from lists submitted by county executive committees of the two local political parties whose candidates for Georgia governor received the most votes in the previous election. At this point, that means two members from the Floyd County Republican Party and two from the Floyd County Democratic Party.

The fifth member would be selected by the Floyd County commissioners and would serve as chairperson of the board.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) pre-filed legislation for the 2022 session to repeal Georgia’s income tax, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune.

Miller, R-Gainesville, who is running for lieutenant governor, cited the large budget surplus the state posted at the end of the last fiscal year in June, which is likely to continue through the current year.

“We must figure out a way to only tax what is needed and no more,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “Georgians know how to use their hard-earned money more than we do, and in order for Georgia to continue building on its reputation and attract top businesses and talent, we must do more to limit the financial burden placed on our citizens.”

Georgia’s income tax rate stood at 6% for decades until 2018, when the Republican-controlled General Assembly lowered it to 5.75%. Last year, legislative leaders held off on a proposal to further reduce the tax rate, arguing the fiscal uncertainty raised by the coronavirus pandemic made it the wrong time to reduce state tax revenues.

With the pandemic now on the wane, GOP leaders are expected to push legislation during the 2022 session starting in January to further reduce the tax rate to 5.5% or even lower, but Miller’s repeal proposal promises to lend a new element to that debate.

Monday marked the first day members of the General Assembly could pre-file bills for consideration during the 2022 legislative session.

Former State Representative Josh Clark (R-Flowery Branch) will run for United States Senate, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“Back in 2002, when Democrats last held Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats, I went door to door to build our state’s Republican party,” said Clark. “Now, I refuse to stand by and see our conservative principles and values go unrepresented in the U.S. Senate once again. I refuse to allow failed left-wing policies and radical politicians to continue destroying our freedoms and dimming our children’s future.”

“I genuinely respect my opponents for the GOP nomination; however, I believe I’m the only one with the experience and ability to defeat out-of-touch liberal Raphael Warnock in November (2022).”

Clark said his previous experience as a legislator make him the best candidate in the Republican field.

“No other candidate brings my legislative background and proven conservative record to this race,” he said. “As a Georgia state representative, I delivered balanced budgets, cut taxes for Georgia families, reduced state debt, and helped pass pro-life legislation. Georgia Right to Life and the National Rifle Association gave me their highest ratings; I earned the Defender of Liberty Award for consistently voting in support of conservative principles.”

Clark served in the Georgia House of Representatives for four years, from 2011 until 2014, and was succeeded in his seat by his brother, current state Rep. David Clark.

“I believe in citizen-legislators, and I voluntarily left public service after serving two terms even though I was unopposed,” Clark said.

“Now, I’ve been called back to serve again by dire threats to conservative bedrocks like education, personal liberty, heritage, security, prosperity and civility. I have a faith-centered vision to help conservatives overcome the challenges we face from runaway government and liberal politicians.”

An ethics hearing involving former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton has been delayed, according to the AJC.

Two longstanding cases against Barnes Sutton — a 2014 complaint accusing her of misusing a county purchasing card and a 2016 complaint accusing her of improperly accepting “in-kind memberships” to a local YMCA — had been scheduled for a Wednesday night hearing in front of DeKalb’s ethics board, which has the authority to issue censures, reprimands and fines against county employees and elected officials.

Stacey Kalberman, the county’s ethics officer, confirmed Monday that the Barnes Sutton hearing had been postponed “for several reasons” and would be rescheduled, but declined to provide more details.

The timing, though, coincides with a motion that attorney Dwight Thomas filed last week on behalf of the former commissioner.

In a request for DeKalb County Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson to issue a temporary restraining order against the ethics board, Thomas argued that, if Barnes Sutton testified or provided evidence to defend herself from ethics charges, it could compromise her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in federal court.

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