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

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

The first modern circus was held in London on January 9, 1768. The next one kicks off on Monday in the big building downtown with a gold dome.

Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled, “Common Sense” on January 9, 1776. The pamphlet is considered to have united colonists to the cause of American independence.

Lyman Hall, one of three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence, was elected Governor on January 8, 1783.

Georgia voted for George Washington for President on January 7, 1789. Technically, they elected Presidential Electors who would later meet in Augusta and cast their ballots for Washington.

On January 7, 1795, Georgia Governor George Matthews signed the Yazoo Act, passed after four land companies bribed members of the General Assembly to vote for legislation selling more than 35 million acres of land for less than 2 cents per acre.

Herman Talmadge was sworn-in to his second term as Governor of Georgia on January 9, 1951.

Segregated seating on Atlanta buses was held unconstitutional by a federal court on January 9, 1959.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter arrived in Athens to register at the University of Georgia on January 9, 1961.

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich (R) was re-elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 7, 1997. In the election for a second term, nine Republicans voted against the incumbent Speaker.

On January 8, 2007, R.E.M. was announced as an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here’s REM at their induction into the Rock Hall.

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, debuted the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

On January 8, 2014, Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were announced as incoming members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Columbus, Georgia native Frank Thomas, a long-time Chicago White Sox outfielder.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Senator Johnny Isakson was remembered at his funeral, according to WSAV.

Isakson’s children shared more personal remembrances. Son Kevin Isakson talked about his father’s interest and attention to his family, remembering that as Isakson’s Parkinson’s Disease progressed, he would exercise by walking to Kevin Isakson’s house and visiting.

“He would walk up to my house; it was about a mile, uphill,” Isakson said. “He would come in and he would take a break. He’d have a cup of water and check in on whoever was there.”

Daughter Julie Mitchell remembered all the things her father had done for her — teaching her how to drive, walking her down the aisle to be married, and buying the keg for her University of Georgia graduation party. “Go Dawgs,” she said to laughter.

Son John Isakson remembered instruction from his father on how to give a speech in middle school, calling it “the best advice anyone ever’s gotten about how to talk to people.”

“He was that great,” John Isakson said. “I loved him very much. I will miss him every day.”

From 13WMAZ:

“Over the past few years, in particular, I’d make certain to note stories my dad would share with me. He was a bit nostalgic, he would remember a lot. He wanted to make certain that I did too, and I’d jot it down,” [Kevin Isakson] said.

[H]e remembered a trick that his father had taught him when he was giving his acceptance speech when he was first elected to Congress. On the podium, Kevin said his dad would have a notecard and write a word in four corners of the card. He did the same today with the first two words being thanks – to be sure to offer thanks to everyone on behalf of their family, and time. When he looked at all of their shared experiences whether they were laughing or crying, he was grateful for time.

“Every moment he had, he gave me his time,” Kevin said. “I could not have asked for anything more.”

The last two words on the notecard were proud and love.

“I never ended a phone call with my father, we never parted company where he didn’t say ‘son, I love you.’”

“There’s not enough hours in a week,” John [Isakson] said talking about preparing for his speech about his father. “To top it off, I’m wasn’t real sure that the words had been invented that would do him justice.”

John said he remembered the advice he had received from his dad about public speaking and relating to people while he was in middle school.
“I think in that moment, that was dad at his best,” he said. “Teaching a lesson with kindness and compassion. Let’s just hope, it stuck.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald:

“I saw the real Johnny up close and personal,” former Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who served with Isakson in the Senate for a decade, said during a memorial service at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. “The conversation always came down to, ‘We’ve got to do what’s right.’ ”

“We all know this is a polarized time. Unity is in short supply,” [U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch] McConnell said. “[But] the gigantic, diverse Johnny Isakson Fan Club has never failed to pack a room.”

Former United States Senator David Perdue filed a lawsuit over state law that allows the incumbent Governor to raise money through a leadership committee, according to Fox5Atlanta.

Perdue on Thursday filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Georgia Senate Bill 221, which allows Kemp – as well as a handful of state legislative leaders – to set up leadership funds or committees that can haul in and spend unlimited amounts of campaign cash. Word of Perdue’s filing was shared first nationally with Fox News.

Kemp’s committee doesn’t have to adhere to the current fundraising caps for statewide candidates in Georgia, but challengers are not exempt from the campaign cash limits. The current cap is $14,000 per election cycle from individuals – although more can be raised by candidates if there’s a primary election as well.

Kemp’s leadership committee is allowed to fundraise when the Georgia legislature is in session, unlike the governor’s reelection campaign, which under state law is prevented from raising money during the legislative session.

“This unconstitutional law was spearheaded by Brian Kemp to protect himself and silence those who seek to challenge him. It reeks of cronyism and corruption,” Perdue charged in statement to Fox News.

“Making sure all candidates play by the same rules is just common sense, but Brian Kemp has abandoned that to advance his own self-interests,” the former senator argued.

Emphasizing that he’s an “outsider to this political process,” Perdue claimed that “this is the most self-serving thing I’ve discovered so far. Only a 20-year career politician like Kemp would create an unfair advantage to line his campaign coffers for his own self-preservation. He’d never get away with this in the real world.”

Georgians First Leadership Committee fired back.

“David Perdue’s record of shady stock deals makes clear that he really doesn’t like playing by the rules, so this laughable lawsuit shouldn’t surprise anyone,” Cody Hall, a senior advisor for the committee, charged in a statement.

From the AJC:

The law — approved during the 2020 General Assembly session along partisan lines — allows Kemp and a few other top lawmakers and party nominees to create special committees that can raise unlimited contributions from donors, including during legislative sessions.

Kemp signed Senate Bill 221 — the leadership committee bill — into law without any public notice in May. Facing what will almost certainly be the most expensive gubernatorial reelection fight in Georgia history, his campaign quickly created the Georgians First Leadership Committee in July and has been raising big money from Capitol donors ever since. Challengers, such as Perdue, are not allowed to form such leadership committees under the Georgia law.

The lawsuit – which targets only Kemp’s leadership committee – states the U.S. Supreme Court has “never upheld the constitutionality of a law that imposes different contribution limits for candidates who are competing against each other.”

Statewide candidates, such as those running for governor, are currently allowed to raise $7,600 from individual donors for both the primary and general election, and $4,500 for a primary runoff. Lawmakers can raise $3,000 per election cycle from individual donors for the primary and general election and $1,600 for runoffs.

Those limits don’t apply to leadership committees that only Kemp, the eventual Democratic nominee for governor and a few legislative leaders can create. So, for instance, a company or business association seeking a tax break from the General Assembly could give $100,000 or more to such funds and do it while lawmakers are considering the tax break or while the governor is deciding whether to sign it into law.

Kemp reported in July that his reelection campaign had raised about $12 million, the highest amount ever by an incumbent seeking reelection with a year and a half to go before the next election. Many of those who donated — businesses and individuals with interest in legislation and funding — are also giving to his leadership committee, which has yet to report fundraising numbers for 2021.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune:

The law’s supporters say it puts incumbents on an even playing field with their challengers by allowing them to raise campaign funds during General Assembly sessions, a practice that had been prohibited under Georgia law.

The ability to conduct fundraising while the legislature is in session has become more important since the primaries were moved forward to May instead of July.

Perdue’s lawsuit only focuses on the governor’s leadership committee. The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to block the legislation to give Perdue an opportunity to make his case.

Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Forsyth County) discussed his agenda for the legislative session that convenes Monday, according to the Georgia Recorder via the Albany Herald.

“I think from a political perspective, I think we should be done talking about the 2020 election cycle and we should move forward politically in a way that makes the most sense and builds more consensus,” Duncan said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference inside the state Capitol. “I think it’s a mistake to try to relitigate the 2020 elections. It was a fair election. We were able to make some improvements in the last session.”

Additionally, Duncan elaborated on his crime-fighting plan, the “Less Crime” Act, which would set up a $250 million tax credit for individuals and businesses that donate to local police departments and sheriff’s offices through certified law enforcement foundations.

“The Less Crime Act reaches far beyond political allegiances and allows citizens and corporations to be a partner in driving down crime rates,” Duncan said.

Professor Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said Duncan’s plan to use tax credits to support law enforcement could win enough supporters to pass as lawmakers compete to show they’re tough on crime.

“With Duncan, that being a lame duck and ready to leave the stage, at least temporarily, he’s going to be presiding over a chamber in which there are competing candidates to succeed him,” Bullock said. “One of whom (Sen. Burt Jones) is Trump’s favorite, and the other (Sen. Butch Miller) who is not but who nonetheless seems to be moving toward the right to make it difficult for Burt Jones to be able to pass him.”

During this year, Duncan says he also hopes to create a foster care program that provides wrap-around services as teens age out of foster care.

“Whether it be just basic welfare needs, education, health, counseling, transportation and other areas to wrap around those individuals so that they can have a head start on life out of the foster care system,” Duncan said.

Georgia State House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said he favors a referendum on legalized gambling, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“We’ve tripped over the details of this thing for years,” Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said Thursday during his annual pre-General Assembly session news conference. “Maybe we should just ask Georgians whether they want to allow gaming and, if so, move forward with the details.”

The state Senate passed a constitutional amendment last year calling for a statewide referendum to legalize sports betting, marking a high-water mark for progress on legalized gambling in the General Assembly. But it failed to gain a vote on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives.

State Reps. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who introduced the sports betting legislation last year, and House Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, have endorsed a single constitutional amendment covering all forms of legalized gambling over passing sports betting in isolation.

Passing a constitutional amendment first would give Georgia voters a chance to weigh in on the concept of legalizing gambling. Then, if the amendment passes this November, lawmakers could come back next year and iron out the details governing how the program would work in separate “enabling” legislation.

“There is an appetite I haven’t seen before to do something,” he said.

Ralston also announced Thursday that the House will begin the first day of the session on Monday earlier than usual – at 8:30 a.m. – to give lawmakers time to travel to Indianapolis for Monday’s night’s college football championship game between Georgia and Alabama. The House will take off Tuesday and return on Wednesday.

Some Republican state legislators aim to prevent offensive materials and thoughts from being aired in public schools, according to the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald.

Republicans are taking cues from Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in Virginia, believing school policy can sway swing voters who voted for Democrats in recent Georgia elections.

The top two issues are likely to be efforts to ban or block obscene materials from school websites and libraries and to regulate what schools can teach about race. But conservatives also want to give parents a greater ability to examine school curricula, restrict sex education, ban transgender girls from playing high school sports and guarantee religious freedom for students.

Republicans are rallying against critical race theory, a term stretched from its original meaning as examining how societal structures perpetuate racial disparities to a broader indictment of diversity initiatives and teaching about race.

Last year, Senate Bill 226 came close to passing. It originally proposed to make school librarians subject to criminal prosecution for obscenity, but was rewritten to let people who object to material to appeal to a school’s principal, who would have seven days to decide whether to keep a book or other material.

Proponents of the bill actually said one main concern is student access to proprietary databases. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, said she seeks to prevent online access to inappropriate materials, saying she wants the state Department of Education to ensure all schools use adequate filtering programs. She said online learning during the pandemic has exposed weak controls.

“The concern is the ease with which students can be exposed to age inappropriate materials from school-issued devices or school-authorized search engines,” Jones said.

Georgia is loosening school rules on COVID exposure, according to WRDW.

Georgia is easing COVID-19 quarantine and contact tracing requirements in schools.

Kemp and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said Thursday that school employees no longer must quarantine after they are exposed to the virus as long as they wear a mask and don’t develop symptoms.

The letter also says contact tracing in schools is now optional.

That means schools may no longer have to notify other students or employees exposed to people who are sick with COVID-19.

Kemp’s announcement came under pressure from other Republicans to force all schools to resume in-person classes.

Tifton will require masks for city building, according to WALB.

Thomasville will temporarily close City Hall due to COVID, according to WALB.

The city’s administration building will be closed to the general public starting Thursday, Jan. 6. Other city buildings will remain open.

Alan Carson, city manager, said despite the closing, business operations for both local government and public utilities will continue.

“While we are taking precautions to protect the health and safety of our customers and our staff, we realize that we must move forward and business must continue as well,” Carson said. “We will have staff reporting to work ready to serve our customers and we hope to re-open the Administration Building soon. City of Thomasville staff members will be ready to serve the citizens of Thomasville.”

The Colquitt County jail is experiencing rising COVID numbers, according to WALB.

“Safety of the public. The safety of the inmates is our priority. We are going to do what is necessary to protect people on the outside as well as those on the inside. Family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, start screaming, ‘I want my son, daughter, relative out of jail.’ And they see this as a means to get them out.”

A partnership between the Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office and Colquitt County Regional Medical Center began in 2015. The hospital says they provide ongoing medical care, COVID or not.

Now, around six months ago, the jail started offering both COVID boosters or just first-time vaccinations to all inmates.

“We’re not forcing it on anyone but it’s available, but here it is if you want it”

Richmond County is taking six schools virtual due to COVID, according to WRDW.

All the transitions are being blamed on increased staff absences due to the COVID surge that’s being driven by the ultra-contagious omicron variant of coronavirus.

While the campuses are closed, meals are available for pickup on school days from the side entrance of the school cafeterias between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“The Richmond County School System will continue to follow the guidance of public health officials to ensure the proper recommendations are followed to clean and disinfect our school facilities and act in the best interest of our students, teachers and staff,” the district said in a statement.

Jones County public schools will start weapons screening on campus, according to 13WMAZ.

Jones County High School has begun taking new measures to keep students safe at school after a shot was fired in December at the Jones County High basketball game.

In an email to families and a Facebook post, Principal Lance Rackley said administrators will begin random screenings of classrooms with handheld metal detectors.

According to Rackley, it’s an effort to keep weapons and other prohibited items like electronic vaping devices, pepper spray, and drugs out of the school.

A Baldwin County teen is charged with firing the shot at last month’s basketball game. However, investigators found at least two other guns on school grounds during that game.

Some Augusta area state legislators oppose parts of redistricting maps submitted by Augusta, according to WJBF.

Augusta commissioners approved the new city political map in November despite the opposition of residents of Summerville who didn’t want to see parts their neighborhood carved out of District 3.

The commission and school board have approved the map, but so must the local legislative delegation. But commissioners hearing today from state senator Max Burns who said he can’t support the map because more work is needed to keep neighborhoods together.

“We can improve, and we must improve, if we’re only going to take that initial starting point, I’m not in a position to support that, I’m not comfortable,” said Senator Burns.

Burns support will be needed if the map is to be approved by the local delegation, if not Augusta’s map could be end up being decided by the entire General Assembly, Delegation Chairman Wayne Howard says Augusta’s map is in political limbo.

“That could kill the bill, it could end up going to court, or who knows where it could go after that,” said Representative Howard.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

“There are multiple alternatives” to the chosen plan, [Sen. Burns] said. The map was drafted by the state Reapportionment office as a “starting point,” not a final plan, he said. “Regrettably, I cannot support that position at this time.”

Sensing problems, Burns, Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, and Rep. Wayne Howard, D-Augusta, in the fall had the Reapportionment office tweak the chosen map and create a new one, also a “starting point.” But the committee voted unanimously not to consider the alternative.

Under delegation rules, the plan that goes for a vote by the full House and Senate first needs approval by all three Augusta delegation senators (Burns, Jones and Lee Anderson, R-Grovetown) and three of its five state Representatives, he said.

Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, said he and others are indeed taking steps to craft another plan, and hope to involve some commissioners in the process.

Former Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan pled guilty to a charge of unprofessional conduct, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Gov. Brian Kemp suspended Donovan last February after he was indicted on four felonies including bribery, violation of oath by a public officer and two counts of false swearing.

The charges stemmed from an accusation of sexual harassment filed against Donovan by a staff member at the Paulding district attorney’s office. When he denied the allegation, the woman produced audio tapes and written notes backing up her accusations.

“As independently-elected public servants, Georgia’s district attorneys must fulfill their solemn obligation to uphold the rule of law no matter the circumstance,” [Georgia Attorney General Chris] Carr said Thursday.

Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez (D) apologized for an email in which she criticized Oconee County, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez sent out a scathing email in December about the dangers she felt she faced in Oconee County, where she said she is the “most hated woman” and where “white supremacists are out to get me.”

The e-mail was widely circulated and caused enough concern among some in Oconee that County Commission Chairman John Daniell and Commissioner Chuck Horton met recently with Gonzalez in an effort “to reduce tensions.”

While Gonzalez said in the email she could safely walk in “the Block” on Vine Street — a place she said some consider the most dangerous area in Athens — she said “I can’t walk alone in Watkinsville, Oconee, because white supremacist are out to get me.”

According to the joint statement, Gonzalez only intended to single out the actions of a few, but “she understands why Oconee County was offended by these comments. It was not her intent to cause such offense and DA Gonzalez apologizes.”

Barry Sanders announced he will run as a Republican for the State House District 30 seat currently held by State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, according to the Gainesville Times.

Barry Sanders, a small business owner in Buford, announced Tuesday, Jan. 4, he will run for State House District 30, attempting to fill the seat that longtime Rep. Emory Dunahoo was drawn out of, after the latest round of redistricting.

Sanders, who is running as a Republican, has lived in Buford since 2015 and resided in Gainesville for two years before then. In 2014, he founded Hospice Equipment Corporation, a Gwinnett County-based medical equipment company, which supplies Northeast Georgia Health System hospitals in Braselton and Gainesville, according to a press release from his campaign.

Dunahoo said he lost about 92% of his constituents when his district was redrawn. He will run for a seat in District 31, which covers much of Jackson County and some of East Hall.

The new District 30, approved by the legislature in November and signed into law in late 2021 by Gov. Brian Kemp, covers much of South Hall County, including Flowery Branch and Oakwood, and part of Northeast Gwinnett.

A majority of Muscogee County Board of Education members will be elected this year, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Five of the nine seats on the Muscogee County School District board will be up for election in 2022. All registered voters in Columbus can vote for candidates running for the school board’s lone at-large seat. Voters in Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8 also will choose their school board representatives on the May 24 ballot.

Hall County Elections officials voted for Sunday early voting in the 2024 elections, according to the Gainesville Times.

After lengthy discussion, members of the Board of Elections and Registrations voted, 4-1, on Tuesday, Jan. 4, to approve the following early voting hours from May 2-20.

• 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at seven polling locations
• 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays May 7 and May 14 at all seven locations
• 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays May 8 and May 15 at Brenau Downtown Center

Board members also asked Elections Manager Paige Thompson to search for an additional Sunday location in South Hall. Most polling locations do not have availability on Sunday, Thompson said, and it would be difficult to find space in South Hall. Brenau was one of the only locations with availability, she told the board.

Election day is on May 24. The early voting portion of the election is expected to cost $217,826.

The board has continued to expand early voting access in the past two years. In 2020, Hall County held weekday early voting at multiple locations for the first time. Previously all early voting, except for some Saturdays, was available only at the county’s administrative building at 2875 Browns Bridge Road.

White County Commissioners say the U.S. Census undercounted residents, according to AccessWDUN.

White County commissioners are claiming the 2020 Census failed to count nearly 3,000 residents and they plan to challenge those results.

During this week’s commission meeting, Chairman Travis Turner says the county has used known residential addresses and the county’s GIS technology to find people who weren’t counted.

The 2020 Census said White County has a population of 28,003. That’s less than the Census Bureau estimated in 2019, causing concern for county officials. Population numbers are used, among other things, to determine how much state and federal funding a county gets.

Commissioners have sent a letter to the census bureau appealing the population results for the county. Officials hope to get a response in 90 days.

Additional legal challenges to a proposal to mine near the Okefenokee Swamp could come after a decision by the United States Supreme Court, according to The Brunswick News.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect a proposal by Twin Pines Minerals to mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The ruling opens the door to legal challenges to resolve future disputes over the use of interstate groundwater.

Another state sharing the Floridan Aquifer’s water supply could now challenge Twin Pines’ request to withdraw 1.44 million gallons a day from the aquifer to support mining operations.

Alabama-based Twin Pines is proposing to mine on a 577-acre tract in Charlton County near the southeast border of the swamp. The permit is under review by state environmental officials and a final decision will be up to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

In a phone interview Thursday, Gil Rogers, director of the Georgia office for the Southeast Environmental Law Center, said the ruling puts groundwater in the same category as surface water when it comes to the ability for states to file legal challenges to the amount of water withdrawn.

United States Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Atlanta) is calling on the federal bureaucracy to step in against the mining proposal, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, has called on the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt a proposed titanium mine from operating near the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge in Southeast Georgia.

“The Twin Pines proposed mine threatens the environmental, cultural, and economic integrity of the Okefenokee,” Ossoff’s Dec. 20 letter to the Corps reads. “Independent experts have expressed concerns that the mining process and accompanying groundwater withdrawals could substantially alter the swamp’s hydrology and release toxic contaminants into the swamp and nearby rivers.”

Ossoff asked the Corps to reconsider a 2020 jurisdictional ruling that removed certain protections on about 400 acres of land next to the swamp, clearing the way for Twin Pines, LLC, to pursue a titanium mine operation. Titanium strips the land of its resources and would remove the naturally occurring peat in the land, which helps absorb carbon in the air, naturally counteracting pollution and global warming.

Twin Pines CEO Steve Ingle told the Savannah Morning News his company would pursue the permits, and continue to operate and plan under what regulations and laws allow.

Glynn County Commissioners elected David O’Quinn to serve as Chair, according to The Brunswick News.

Cobb County Board of Education members elected David Chastain as Chair, according to the AJC.

The Valdosta Board of Education meets Thursday, January 11, 2022 at 7 PM, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

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