Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 13, 2022

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 13, 2022

On January 13, 1733, the ship Ann (sometimes spelled “Anne”) sailed into Charles Town harbor and was met by South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson and the Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly. Aboard the ship were James Oglethorpe and the first 114 colonists of what would become Georgia. Later that year they would land at a high bluff on the Savannah River and found the city of Savannah.

On January 13, 1959, Ernest Vandiver was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia.

On January 13, 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Robert C. Weaver head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), making Weaver the first African-American cabinet secretary in U.S. History.

On January 13, 1982, Hank Aaron was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

January 13, 1987 saw the inauguration of Governor Joe Frank Harris to his second term in office.

On January 13, 1998, Governor Zell Miller presented his $12.5 billion FY1999 budget to the Georgia General Assembly, including $105,000 to provide CDs of classical music for every baby born in the state. According to the New York Times,

“No one questions that listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math and engineering and even chess,” the Governor said[]. “Having that infant listen to soothing music helps those trillions of brain connections to develop.”

Mr. Miller said he became intrigued by the connection between music and child development at a series of recent seminars sponsored by the Education Commission of the States. As a great-grandfather and the author of “They Hear Georgia Singing” (Mercer University Press, 1983), an encyclopedia of the state’s musical history, Mr. Miller said his fascination came naturally.

He said that he had a stack of research on the subject, but also that his experiences growing up in the mountains of north Georgia had proved convincing.

“Musicians were folks that not only could play a fiddle but they also were good mechanics,” he said. “They could fix your car.”

Legislators, as is their wont, have ideas of their own.

“I asked about the possibility of some Charlie Daniels or something like that,” said Representative Homer M. (Buddy) DeLoach, a Republican from Hinesville, “but they said they thought the classical music has a greater positive impact.”

“Having never studied those impacts too much,” Mr. DeLoach added, “I guess I’ll just have to take their word for that at the moment.”

In 2003, on January 13 at the Georgia Dome, Sonny Perdue took the oath of office as Georgia’s second Republican Governor, the first since Reconstruction.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

COVID has become the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers, according to WTVM.

According to the National Law Enforcement Fund, COVID was the leading cause of death among law enforcement.

301 officers have died across the United States from COVID. Muscogee County Sheriff Greg Countryman says they have seen this first hand.

Countryman says since the inception of COVID-19, 97 of their deputies have tested positive for COVID and two have died. He was brought to tears as he remembered Sergeants Bobby Williams and Sherman Peebles.

“We have families that are suffering because they don’t have their husbands or their loved ones at home with them that when they die in the line of duty from these COVID related deaths that there is no other way that we can see justice. There’s no victim besides the family that there is no person that we can go and arrest for us to even seek and to have a little justice in this,” said Countryman.

Under the Gold Dome Today

8:00 AM – HOUSE GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE – 606 CLOB HYBRID

8:00 AM – Senate Ethics Committee – 307 CLOB

10:00 AM – HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 3) – House Chamber

10:00 AM – Senate Floor Session (LD 3) – Senate Chamber

Governor Brian Kemp spoke to the Georgia Chamber’s “Eggs and Issues” breakfast yesterday. From a press release:

On his administration’s plan to provide a $250 refund to single tax filers and $500 to those filing jointly:

“At the state-level, that success has meant record revenues, and as Governor, I believe we should continue to fund our priorities as a state – education, healthcare, and public safety… but also be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

“Last fiscal year, because we kept Georgia open and fought alongside you all in this room to keep businesses and communities afloat, the state collected a record budget surplus. I believe that when government takes in more money than it needs, surplus funds should be sent back to the hardworking men and women who keep our state moving forward.

“Because that is your money. Not the governments.

“That is why my Amended FY22 budget proposal authorizes the Department of Revenue to provide $1.6 billion in refunds to every taxpayer in Georgia. Under my plan, every citizen filing their income taxes this April will receive a refund credit ranging from $250 for single filers to $500 for joint filers. As Georgians seek to recover from the economic impact of a global pandemic, we as state leaders should do everything we can to empower families to keep more of their money in their own wallets.”

On fulfilling his commitment to exempting military retirement income from state income tax:

“These men and women deserve more than our words of appreciation, even though we have many to give. They deserve action that shows our gratitude. One of the key points of my platform has been to enact a retirement-income exclusion for retired military.

“And thanks to the hard work of leaders under the Gold Dome these last few years – work that put our state in a position to invest in our citizens – I’m proud to announce that my team will introduce legislation this session to make this tax exclusion a reality for Georgia’s retired military!”

On raising HOPE Scholarship award rates to at least 90% in all public post-secondary education institutions:

“Additionally, we know the HOPE scholarship and grant programs have helped millions of Georgians afford their post-secondary educations, and as tuition has increased at some institutions, the program must keep pace.

“My budget proposal allocates an additional $25 million to fund growth in scholarship and grant needs and ensure that HOPE programs cover at least 90% of tuition at all Georgia public higher education institutions. For eight straight years, Georgia’s economy has been unmatched across the country and it’s our responsibility to develop a workforce that furthers that success.

“By cutting costs for students and their families, we can achieve that goal.”

From 11Alive:

He’s been on a roll recently, penning a letter encouraging a $5,000 pay bump and other benefits for state employees and pushing for a new law that would loosen the state’s handgun requirements in just the last week.

From WSB-TV:

State Democrats didn’t think much of the governor’s proposal. They believe the money could be put to much better use helping secure health insurance for Georgians who need it.

“I think it’s another misguided initiative from the Governor,” said House Minority Leader State Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon. “It’s misguided because there are 500,000 Georgians right now who don’t have health insurance. We can cover the coverage cap right now with that money. When part of that money can be used to expand health care and to make sure that people who lost their job through no fault of their own are now put in the deal flow.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post:

Kemp said the record $3.7 billion budget surplus the state posted at the end of the last fiscal year in June resulted from Georgia’s ability to recover quickly from the recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. While some states shut down businesses during the pandemic’s early months, Kemp chose to keep Georgia’s economy open.

“We chose hope over fear, freedom over lockdowns,” he said. “As a result, our state led the nation in economic recovery.”

Kemp also announced plans to reverse the budget cuts to higher education the state imposed during the Great Recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s.
He said he will ask the General Assembly for $262 million to remove “institutional” fees the University System of Georgia slapped on students during that economic downturn and $25 million to increase the HOPE Scholarship program’s coverage to at least 90% of tuition costs at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The mandatory institutional fees, which were not earmarked for specific purposes such as athletics, have been a major source of complaints by students and their parents. The lottery-funded HOPE program, which used to provide full tuition coverage for eligible students, was reduced in 2011 because growing student enrollment was failing to keep pace with HOPE revenues.

Also during the Eggs and Issues breakfast, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan pitched his proposal for a $250 million state tax credit to raise money to support law enforcement.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said he will introduce a comprehensive bill aimed at improving mental health services in Georgia by, among other things, providing parity to mental health-care workers.

“For too long, our state has ranked among the worst in the nation for delivering mental-heath services,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “That is a distinction that’s going to change.”

Governor Kemp also appointed two new members of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, according to the AJC.

Kemp named longtime businessmen Richard “Tim” Evans and Jim Syfan to the powerful 19-member board, replacing Kessel D. Stelling, Jr. and Philip A. Wilheit, Sr., whose seven-year terms expired this month.

The governor last year backed former two-term Gov. Sonny Perdue for chancellor. Two people close to Kemp said the Republican’s chances for the coveted post are still alive.

The incoming regents are prominent business leaders. Evans founded Evans General Contractors in 2001, leading the company as president and chief executive officer until January 2021. He now serves as its board chairman.

Syfan and his sons founded Turbo Logistics, Inc. in 1984, which was sold in 2006. Syfan has been involved in several economic development organizations in Hall County. Kemp appointed Syfan in 2020 to serve as a member of the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority.

“For many years as strong business leaders, Tim Evans and Jim Syfan have worked hard to make their communities and our state better,” Kemp said in a statement.

“With decades of experience, they are eminently qualified for these posts, and I am honored to name them to the Board of Regents to serve our top-ranked university system.”

Governor Kemp ruled out changes to Georgia’s election laws this year, according to the AJC.

Asked about proposals to ban ballot drop boxes, Kemp said he doesn’t want to overhaul “the best elections integrity act in the country.”

“You need to speak individually to those legislators. I think the action we took on drop boxes to make them available is the right thing to do for Georgians, but it also needs to be a secure process,” he said. “And I think that’s what the General Assembly has done.”

We hear he’s planning to wear a red-and-black UGA tie. After all, there’s no flag for excessive celebration after the football season is over, especially when the state’s flagship university wins the national championship.

Speaking of the State of the State:

Gov. Brian Kemp will deliver a State of the State address on Thursday to outline his election-year agenda ahead of a challenging battle for a second term.

Democrat Stacey Abrams swears she didn’t snub President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. From the AJC:

Stacey Abrams’ campaign slammed the “false rumors” about her decision to skip President Joe Biden’s voting rights event in Atlanta and called on anonymous operatives to stop spreading inaccuracies about the Georgia Democrat.

“Stacey did not presume she would receive an invitation, nor did she or any member of our team ask for her to have a speaking spot at an event she could not attend,” Bringman said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Her decision triggered speculation in Washington – and attacks from Republicans in Georgia – that she was avoiding the president’s souring approval ratings.

But that narrative hasn’t reflected her strategy. She has closely aligned herself with Biden, campaigned to be his running-mate and launched her bid with a promise to back the president’s agenda.

“I’m running to be the governor of Georgia and anyone willing to invest in Georgia and improve our infrastructure and keep our voters safe is welcome to come work with us,” she said in a recent interview of her plans to ally herself with Biden throughout the campaign.

The AJC reviewed correspondence between the White House and the Abrams campaign that showed there was never a request or an inquiry about a speaking slot, nor were there any conditions on attending.

The emails, which redacted personal information, also show Abrams was given rough details of the event on Jan. 9 and never confirmed she would attend.

A scheduling conflict also apparently affected the Committee hearing on Buckhead Cityhood, according to the AJC.

The delegation heard from stakeholders who outlined their arguments against the secession movement, including questions they still have about the specifics of the cityhood proponents’ plans.

There was no one from the Buckhead City Committee at the virtual meeting to answer those questions. Rep. Betsy Holland, who represents a Buckhead district and chairs the Atlanta House delegation, said committee CEO Bill White was invited to speak during the meeting, but said he had a scheduling conflict. The delegation asked for a time that would fit his schedule, but didn’t hear back, Holland said.

“We all regret that Bill White deemed it not necessary for him to participate in this process,” state Sen. Nan Orrock said. “It would’ve been a very valuable opportunity for an exchange.”

Sam Lenaeus, the president of the pro-cityhood group, attended the virtual meeting but did not speak. He said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that “the joint delegation is free to meet whenever it wants to talk about whatever it wants. We offered to send a representative to answer questions from members, but they said no.”

UGA Terry School of Business Dean Ben Ayers spoke about Georgia’s economy, according to The Brunswick News.

He said the business climate in the state remains positive, with a 95% employment rate for the business school’s graduates.

Georgia’s economic outlook for 2022 is positive, with steady growth forecast throughout the year. Ayers predicted growth of 4.3%.

The private sector, which he said has “an abundance of unfilled jobs,” is expected to be the main strength of the economy.

State and local governments will also grow and the housing boom will continue, he said.

As for risks that could slow down the recovery, supply side problems, a shortage of workers, transportation bottlenecks, inflation and a possible stock market correction or debt crisis are all concerns.

The state has a 3.2% unemployment rate, below the 4.1% national rate. Consumer spending is expected to increase by 4.5% and personal income growth is expected to rise 1.9%, he said.

Will the Georgia State Capitol see thawing relations with the local beverage company? From an AJC article several days ago:

When House Speaker David Ralston wielded a Pepsi in Coca-Cola country during the closing hours of the last legislative session, he seemed to signal an impending war with corporate powers in Georgia over the state’s new voting law.

Ralston and other top GOP leaders were infuriated in April that Coke and Delta had joined the chorus of critics who blasted the state’s election rewrite. Back then, he suggested there would be payback: “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand.”

Now, though, it seems that the rift has been healed.

“Redemption is always possible,” Ralston said Thursday. “There has been discussion over the last year and I think some people may now see the error in their ways.”

He added: “They just did what I asked them to do. I said, ‘Go read the damn bill. I’m not even going to argue with you. Read the bill.’”

This could go further in improving the relationship.

And is it correct to call them the National Champions for 2021 or 2022?

Two candidates for Augusta Mayor lead the pack in fundraising, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

In their first required report, Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick has raised $75,581 and business owner Garnett Johnson reported $127,600 – $125,000 of it his own funds – to drum up support over the next few months.

The other 10 mayoral candidates reported little or no campaign cash. Only one, former Commissioner Marion Williams, has enough on hand to cover the $1,950 qualifying fee, while retired educator Lori Myles and race newcomer Christopher Leggett haven’t filed the required reports.

Johnson, who founded a successful office supply and equipment business, listed a $125,000 loan to himself on the report. His largest individual contribution was from company official Michael Dunbar.

The Valdosta Board of Education cast two tie votes on adopting a mask mandate, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Following the second 4-4 vote to reinstate masks, resulting in a dead motion, the mask mandate reinstatement was tabled until the next board meeting.

The Glynn County Board of Education voted to remove the option of mask mandates from COVID-19 procedures, according to The Brunswick News.

Murray County schools are going online temporarily due to COVID, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Last week, the school system had 57 student cases of COVID-19 and 21 staff cases, which is about 3% of the school system’s total staff and “less than 1% of students,” Loughridge said. However, “we’re higher this week, by quite a bit.”

As of Wednesday, there were 57 new student cases of COVID-19 since last Friday, and 21 new cases of COVID-19 among staff members, according to the school system.

Consequently, the school system is using distance learning for middle and high schools Thursday and for all schools Friday, according to Derichia Lynch, executive assistant to the superintendent.

Whitfield County public schools are seeing a dramatic increase in COVID numbers, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The number of COVID-19 cases among Whitfield County Schools students and staff is “like an avalanche right now,” said Deputy Superintendent Karey Williams.

It’s “been a big” surge since the school system returned from holiday break last week, and “we’re using support staff” to cover openings in buildings, as finding substitutes has been a challenge, but “we’re hanging in there,” Williams said. Central office personnel have also been going to buildings “to keep things up and running,” as it’s “all hands on deck.”

For the week that concluded Dec. 17, which was the final week before Christmas break, Whitfield County Schools reported five student cases of COVID-19 and the same number of staff cases. Those figures jumped to 41 for staff and 131 for students for the week that ended Friday.

The surge of cases among staff members fueled by the highly-transmissible omicron variant has stressed a school system that was already operating short of needed personnel in areas like School Nutrition and bus drivers, Williams said.

Johnson County schools, citing staff shortages, go online on Friday, according to 13WMAZ.

Sumter County schools are closed today and tomorrow due to COVID, according to WTVM.

Evans County schools canceled classes for the rest of this week, according to WSAV.

Lee County public schools will enforce a mask mandate, according to WALB.

Starting Wednesday, Jan. 12, all students are required to wear a mask in schools. The mandate will be in effect until Jan. 25.

The school system also said they are struggling to keep schools open facing a shortage of bus drivers and substitute teachers.

WALB has a list of school closures and procedural changes due to COVID.

Turner County Schools

On Jan. 12, the school system went to 100% virtual instruction.

“With the spread of this new variant, it’s very contagious. We’re a small school district. We’ve had an issue at our high school and elementary, really district-wide with both students and teachers. So we made the decision to go virtual for a week or two to help slow the spread and to keep everyone safe. Safety and security is our highest priority,” said Dr. LaShonda Flanders, assistant superintendent for Turner County Schools.

Savannah City Manager Jay Melder spoke to the Savannah Downtown Business Association about the city’s priorities, according to WTOC.

Melder spoke about the newly created and city funded Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, explaining what the program’s director will be focusing on.

“The person that will and the work engaged is really about being there and engaging with folks who are most at-risk of using a gun, and those most at-risk of being a victim of gun violence.”

Another Savannah budget priority some in the room were more curious about was the city’s involvement with the creation of affordable housing, which is an issue that directly affects the downtown workforce.

“I think you’re going to see, on the more subsidy end, some ground breakings here pretty soon on the west side, hopefully to extend opportunities for deeply affordable housing, and kind of a cross section of our homelessness work as well.”

Melder followed up by saying money set aside in the affordable housing fund will allow the City to work with developers to help make affordable housing part of the framework for private development projects.

Murray County Sole Commissioner Greg Hogan expects to return to work after being sidelined by a December stroke, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Congratulations and condolences to LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton and his three city council colleagues, who took the oath for another term, according to WTVM.

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