Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 20, 2022

20
Jun

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 20, 2022

On June 20, 1732, the signing of the Georgia Charter was completed by the British government.

On June 20, 1782, Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States. Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, was responsible for the final design presented to Congress. The design approved by Congress was a written description without any sketches.

On June 20, 1819, the SS Savannah entered the port at Liverpool, England, marking the first transatlantic crossing by a steam-powered ship, having sailed out of Savannah on May 20th.

General Robert E. Lee moved on Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant at Petersburg, Virginia on June 20, 1864.

Jaws was released on June 20, 1975.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Turnout in the South Carolina Primary elections was down this year, according to the Associated Press via WRDW:

About the same number of people voted in this year’s South Carolina Republican primary as voted in the last midterm primary in 2018.

But state Election Commission data shows Democrats had about 60,000 fewer voters in their primary this year.

The final turnout for Tuesday’s vote was about 17 percent of registered voters or 564,000 ballots cast out of 3.3 million registered voters in South Carolina.

The most votes cast in a mid-term June primary remains in 2010 when more than 623,000 votes were cast.

It also remains the heaviest Republican turnout. In comparison, 72 percent of South Carolinians — some 2.5 million voters — cast ballots in November 2020 when the president and other candidates were on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Georgia voters notched record turnout in early voting, and a modern record turnout for midterm primary elections. Who’s suppressing votes?

Tomorrow is the Primary Runoff Election, with polls open from 7 AM to 7 PM. Log into the Secretary of State’s MVP Page to check out sample ballots for your area, check that your registration is up-to-date, and check where to vote. If you voted in a party primary on May 24, you may only vote in that party’s runoff, or you may ask for a nonpartisan ballot.

From The Brunswick News:

Early voting for Tuesday’s runoff election ended Friday, with about 5% of Glynn County’s registered voters casting ballots.

“It’s good for a primary runoff,” she said. “I don’t know if it will surpass the primary.”

Banker Mike Hodges is vying against businessman and former state House member Jeff Jones for the Republican nomination for the Senate District 3 seat, which covers all of Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Glynn and McIntosh counties and part of Ware County. Sen. Sheila McNeill, R-Brunswick, is not seeking reelection.

Republicans Rick Townsend and Bob Duncan will face each other for the state House District 179 seat held by Republican Don Hogan, who is not seeking another term. Because no Democrat qualified to run, the winner will be unopposed in the November general election.

The countywide Democrat ballot includes Joyce Marie Griggs facing Wade Herring for the U.S. House District 1 nomination; Raphael Baker and Janice Laws Robinson for the commissioner of insurance nomination; William “Will” Boddie Jr. and Nichole Horn for the commissioner of labor nomination; Charlie Bailey and Kwanza Hall for the lieutenant governor nomination; and Dee Dawkin-Haigler and Bee Nguyen for secretary of state nomination.

From the Savannah Morning News:

Here in Chatham County, voters also need to settle the Savannah-Chatham School Board District 5 race between Paul Smith and Theresa Watson as well as the Chatham Recorder’s Court contest between Joe Huffman and Richard Sanders.
However, if a voter is registered to vote but didn’t cast a ballot in the primary, they may pick any ballot and vote in the runoff.

A few things are prohibited at the polls. Under Georgia law, it is illegal to carry firearms within 150 feet of a polling place, or, if a line extends out the door of the polling place, within 150 feet of the end of the line.

There’s no way to request an absentee ballot at this point, but for those who have yet to return their absentee ballot, there are a couple of options. Mail, at this point, is risky. Ballots won’t be accepted after polls close on election day.

Voters can also turn in the completed ballot to the Voter Registration Office, located at 1117 Eisenhower Dr, Suite E before 7 p.m. on election day.

If a voter decides they’d rather vote in person instead of casting their not-yet-returned absentee ballot, they must bring the absentee ballot to the polls and have an elections official spoil it before casting an in-person ballot.

Absentee ballot drop boxes can no longer be utilized on election day.

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Augusta voters return to the polls Tuesday for runoffs to select the city’s next mayor between former Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick and business owner Garnett Johnson, and choose commissioners in runoffs for Districts 2 and 10. As of Friday, 7,779 registered voters had cast ballots in the Augusta runoffs, according to the Richmond County Board of Elections.

The Gwinnett County Board of Elections will move three polling place for tomorrow’s primary runoff election, according to the AJC.

Republicans Chris West and Jeremy Hunt will be on the GOP pissing contest Primary Runoff ballot for the Second Congressional District tomorrow, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Republicans Jeremy Hunt and Chris West are pointing fingers at each other over a flurry of unsourced robocalls days before the pair face off in Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District runoff. According to call audio obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer and interviews with two Columbus residents who identified as Hunt voters, the calls are made to appear as if they come from someone affiliated with the Hunt campaign, but the underlying message is meant to drive support away from Hunt. One call attempted to make Hunt appear as if he were not supportive of former President Donald Trump. Another call makes it seem as if Hunt is attacking Chris West for using his Christian views to get votes. A voter told the Ledger-Enquirer that he’s received 30 robocalls ahead of the runoff.

Hunt alleges that West’s campaign is behind the calls, citing West’s close relationship with the 2nd Congressional District GOP chair Brandon Phillips, who is a partner at political consulting firm WiregrassGroup. The pair used to work together at the firm. Wiregrass is working with Republican Mike Collins, who is in a runoff against Vernon Jones in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. In that race, robocalls aggressively attack Collins in an attempt to make Jones look bad, a Hunt spokesperson said.

West spokesperson Stephen Lawson told the Ledger-Enquirer that West hasn’t worked for the firm in several years and that the campaign is not behind the calls.

“This absolutely didn’t come from our campaign. But it does sound like something the Hunt campaign or the numerous Washington D.C. Super PAC’s supporting him — which have flooded the district with over $1.2 million to attack Chris West —might have done,” he said.

Doing my best to not make a “that’s what she said” joke about the headline on a story about the runoff elections in the Rome News Tribune.

Floyd County voters will help decide Tuesday on the Democratic nominees for four statewide offices.

All precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Floyd County Elections Supervisor Pete McDonald said Friday he’s not expecting a big surge of voters on Tuesday. Just a few hundred early votes were cast last week and elections officials estimate election day will bring about the same number.

DeKalb County plans to keep the current property tax millage rate for the next fiscal year, which will effectively raise taxes for some property owners with higher assessments, according to the AJC.

The county’s proposed 2022 millage rate — the multiplier used to calculate property taxes — would remain the same as last year’s. But due to increased property values, it would produce higher tax bills for most residents.

Officials said the proposed millage rate does not factor in the equalized homestead option sales tax (or EHOST) credits that many residents qualify for.

Three public hearings on the proposed tax rate will be held in coming weeks.

Glynn County has dismissed 264 speeding tickets due to a lapse in certification, according to WSAV.

The Brunswick News reports Glynn County police officers handed out the tickets for more than two months after certification of their radar and LIDAR speed-detecting equipment had lapsed.

Officials said police immediately notified the county’s solicitor general who prosecutes traffic citations when the problem was discovered June 2, and officers performed an audit to identify all speeding tickets issued during that period.

Solicitor General Maria Lugue said not just speeding citations were affected. She’s also dismissing additional charges, such as driving on a suspended license, that resulted from speeding stops.

Bulloch County voters will decide on a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in November, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Officials of Bulloch County and its four municipalities – Statesboro, Brooklet, Portal and Register – are planning to place a countywide referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot for a five-year renewal of the 1% Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

As first approved by a majority of Bulloch voters in May 2018, the T-SPLOST penny could have continued to be collected until Sept. 30, 2023. However, the original Georgia law that authorized a tax of this kind for individual counties also capped the tax dollars collected at the amount stated in the local referendum.

In the 2018 referendum, Bulloch County’s five-year T-SPLOST cap was set at $60 million, and because of growth in the monthly revenue over the past four years, that limit appears certain to be met next spring, three to six months before the Sept. 30 deadline.

The T-SPLOST is not a tax on gasoline or diesel. In fact, purchases of fuel, both “for propulsion of motor vehicles on the public highways” and for off-road uses such as agriculture or construction, are specifically exempt from this tax, according to a Georgia Department of Revenue summary. Instead, the T-SPLOST is collected on retail sales of most other goods, such as food, clothing and household items, as well as newly purchased vehicles.

Much is at stake in the Runoff Election for the nonpartisan Gwinnett County Board of Education District 4 , according to the AJC.

The runoff election to represent District 4 on the Gwinnett County school board features an education professional endorsed by the current holder of the seat and a longtime involved parent and volunteer who believes the district is badly in need of a turnaround.

The winner of Tuesday’s runoff between Adrienne Simmons and Alexis Williams will tip the political balance of the board in Georgia’s largest school district.

The Georgia Legislature changed the rules in a fractious battle, led by Republican state Sen. Clint Dixon, to make Gwinnett school board races nonpartisan starting this year. Dixon said the school district was “falling off a cliff” under Democrats’ leadership. Simmons and Williams advanced from the five initial candidates in the May 24 election.

Neither Simmons nor Williams identifies a political party on their campaign websites. However, the local Democratic Party has posted on social media in support of Simmons, and the local Republican Party shared Williams’ campaign announcement.

And by “much is at stake,” I mean nearly $3 billion dollars per year in the county schools budget.

Macon-Bibb County wants to limit the hours of what sounds to me like convenience stores. From 13WMAZ:

Macon-Bibb Mayor Lester Miller plans to ask commissioners to limit food mart and vice mart hours, requiring them to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

It comes after three gun-related deaths in just over a month at a Houston Avenue food mart.

“There’s been a lot of crime surrounding the stores, both while they’re open and sometimes while they’re closed,” Mayor Miller said.

He says that’s why they need to act. The mayor says the county has studied peak places and times for crime countywide.

“We’ve been working with the sheriff’s office and other places to get all the data concerning the crime,” Mayor Miller said. “While the sheriff is the chief constitutional officer in charge of combatting crime in Macon-Bibb County, as legislators, we also have to do our part, and that’s funding as well as policy.”

The county defines food marts as stores less than 10,000 square feet, and selling about 85% of food and non-alcoholic products. They also need to sell several fresh food options.

At least seven commissioners, plus the mayor, have already signed on as sponsors for the ordinance. If it passes, it would go into effect next month.

United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says a holiday from the federal gas tax might be helpful, according to WSAV.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday that a federal gas tax holiday is “worth considering” as the national average for a regular gallon of gas surpassed $5 earlier this month.

A federal gas tax holiday would provide some relief at the pump for drivers by temporarily suspending the tax, which sits at 18.4 cents per gallon. Back in mid-March, some state governors called for a federal pause on the gas tax as the cost of gas hiked to record prices.

“That’s an idea that’s certainly worth considering,” Yellen said when asked if the administration is weighing it. She added that President Joe Biden wants “to do anything he possibly can to help consumers.” Yellen also said that Biden “stands ready to work with Congress” on a solution.

“I expect the economy to slow,” Yellen said. “It’s been growing at a very rapid rate and the economy has recovered and we have achieved full employment. We expect a transition to steady and stable growth, but I don’t think a recession is at all inevitable.”

The Gwinnett County Board of Education adopted a nearly-$3 billion dollar budget for the new fiscal year, according to the AJC.

The budget totals about $2.8 billion and will take effect July 1.

The adopted budget is less than the current budget because the district has spent federal pandemic funds. The general fund, which covers most of the district’s operating costs, will increase by $58.5 million to more than $1.9 billion.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Calvin Watts proposed reducing the millage rate because of higher-than-expected real estate assessments. He suggested lowering the millage rate to 20.65 mills, 0.7 mills less than the current rate. The initial draft of the budget recommended no change to the rate.

The board voted in favor of the change Thursday, but it still must hold public hearings and a second vote for full adoption.

The budget provides raises through a salary step increase for nearly all teachers and 43% of other employees. Teachers also get a $2,000 cost-of-living raise. Other employees would receive a cost-of-living raise of at least 4%.

The Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education was informed of a $75 million dollar error in its proposed budget, according to WTOC.

Jasmine Polley, a parent who had an unsuccessful run for school board, said she noticed the error and notified the school district.

The $75 million appropriation error was discovered in the Data & Accountability budget line item on Page 57 of the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023, according to an email exchange between her and the school district’s attorney Brian Dennison.

As Dennison explained in the email, he said he met with staff and they explained the large increase was driven by an “accounting system issue.”

Dennisson further explains the $75 million actually is reflective of ESPLOST 3 funds line “that should not be fully (or even primarily) allocated to Data and Accountability.”

As of this morning, the school system has uploaded a new proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 on its website.

The Dalton Board of Education increased pay scales for the next year, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Dalton Public Schools’ fiscal year 2023 budget includes general fund expenditures of nearly $90 million with revenues of nearly $86 million.

The fiscal year 2023 budget includes improvements to the salary scale of $2 million, Perry said. The average salary scale improvement for teachers will be 3.5%, with a minimum increase of 2.4% — “the lower your pay, the better increase percentage” — and the school system is “replicating a similar percentage increase to the pay scales for support staff and employees.”

Perry assumes a 2% growth in the digest and no change in the millage rate, she said. School board members approved an operating property tax rate last year of 8.095 mills, which was the first reduction in 13 years, as the rate had been 8.2 mills for the prior seven years.

Perry expects the school system will need to absorb $3.5 million into the fiscal year 2024 budget that’s currently being paid for with federal dollars. Dalton Public Schools received approximately $2 million from the initial Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, $7 million from the second CARES Act and $17 million from the American Rescue Plan.

All funds must be exhausted by fiscal year 2024, and “we’re going to spend all the money,” Perry said. “(We’ll leave) zero dollars on the table.”

Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-Albany) announced two new federal programs to supplement wireless access and public safety in rural areas, according to WALB.

According to a press release, one of the projects will support the city of Donalsonville, Georgia in expanding their wireless, high-speed internet service to unserved and underserved residents.

The other project will support areas served by the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission by updating and upgrading public communications safety equipment. This is intended to help fire and rescue quickly coordinate emergency responses.

“These funds will help our emergency services get crucial equipment that helps them coordinate during times of crisis. It will also improve internet access for Seminole County residents — which can affect everything from our children’s education and family access to telehealth services, to our local businesses looking to connect with customers near and far,” said Congressman Bishop.

The Appropriations Committee draft bill, in which the funding for these projects is included, is only the first step in securing funding, according to the press release. The next steps to approve funding will include approval from the full Appropriations Committee, consideration on the House Floor, and negotiations with the Senate.

Hall County Chief Assistant Solicitor General Amber Sowers was appointed Juvenile Court Judge, according to the Gainesville Times.

Sowers will start Jan. 1 in the spot held by Chief Juvenile Court Judge Lindsay Burton, who ran unopposed for retiring Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller’s seat in Superior Court.

Sowers has served as the Chief Assistant Solicitor General since 2009. She has been a member of the Georgia bar since 2005 and graduated from the University of Missouri’s law school.

Sowers was appointed by the Northeastern Judicial Circuit’s Superior Court judges, who cover Hall and Dawson counties, after an application process.

“We’re very pleased to have Ms. Sowers continue her public service in this new capacity,” Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin said in a statement. “She’s been an effective leader in the Solicitor General’s office, was a longtime member of the Family Treatment Court team and has demonstrated a strong commitment in the community to making a positive impact in the lives of children.”

Former Muscogee County Deputy Clerk of Court Willie Demps was sentenced in federal court for his part leading an alleged multi-year theft ring, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“Willie Demps was the mastermind of an extraordinary, years-long theft of the Muscogee County taxpayers, stealing millions of dollars from its citizens under the guise of a trusted county employee,” U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary said. “Demps has been brought to justice for his crimes thanks to the unwavering persistence of FBI and IRS investigators, who teamed up with federal prosecutors to map out the complex fraud and bring those involved in this scheme accountable.”

According to court documents, Demps worked for the Muscogee County Clerk for approximately 30 years and supervised money deposits received by the Clerk’s Office. The Clerk’s Office received money from fines and condemnations, and payments were frequently made in cash. From at least 2010 to 2019, Demps maintained a safe in his office to store sums of cash that were collected by the Clerk’s Office. During the business day, this safe was rarely locked, even when Demps was away from his office.

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