Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 14, 2022


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 14, 2022

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

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

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

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


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Flags on Georgia state buildings and properties fly at half-staff today in honor of the late Cobb County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Randall Koleski and tomorrow in honor of his colleague, the late Deputy Marshall Samuel Ervin, Jr. 11Alive has more.

From the AJC:

Up to 1,000 vehicles are expected to participate in a funeral procession today for Cobb County Deputy Jonathan Randall Koleski, killed last week in the line of duty.

Visitation for Koleski, 42, is scheduled until 11 a.m. today at NorthStar Church, located at 3413 Blue Springs Road in Kennesaw. A service will follow at noon. The church seats around 1,400.

A U.S. Army veteran who later served in the Georgia National Guard, Koleski will be buried at 2:30 p.m. at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton.

The service for Ervin is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday at West Ridge Church, located at 3522 Hiram Acworth Highway in Dallas. Visitation begins at noon.

The public is encouraged to watch the livestream of that service at The service will also be streamed on the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office YouTube page.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reports lower spread of monkeypox, according to the AJC.

The rate of new monkeypox cases in the state has been on a consistent decline over the last few weeks, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. State health officials are “cautiously optimistic” that with the drop in new cases, the outbreak can be contained within a year with continued outreach aimed at heavily impacted populations.

According to DPH, 1592 monkeypox cases have been documented in Georgia since May, with about 86% being in the metro Atlanta area. Additionally, nearly 60% of Georgia’s monkeypox patients are living with HIV and almost 50% have had an sexually transmitted infection within the last year, according to DPH. Efforts to prioritize these populations for vaccines are continuing.

United States Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Atlanta) and Republican Herschel Walker will debate in Savannah on October 14, 2022 at 7 PM, according to WSAV.

The debate, hosted by Nexstar Media Inc. will be held in Savannah. Nexstar’s three Georgia stations, WRBL of Columbus, WSAV of Savannah, and WJBF of Augusta along with partner stations across the state, including Fox 5 in Atlanta will air the debate live.

Warnock agreed to three debates earlier this summer. Walker did not agree to any of those but instead agreed to a Nexstar debate in Savannah.

The Warnock team negotiated with Nexstar organizers for several weeks before agreeing on Tuesday.

Republican Herschel Walker distinguished himself from the incumbent on the basis , according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“Sen. Warnock believes America is a bad country full of racist people,” Walker says in the ad, which was released Sept. 6. “I believe we’re a great country full of generous people.”

During his stop in Norcross, Walker said, “My opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock, I remember hearing him say, ‘America needs to apologize for its whiteness,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s not in a Bible I ever read,’ because if you really look at the situation, our Founding Fathers already apologized for its whiteness.”

“Because if you read the Constitution, it talks about every man being treated fairly but what we’ve done is we’ve put the wrong person at the table to do the negotiation for you.”

“Institutional racism still exists because you continue to talk about it and it kind of always exists,” Walker told reporters after his speech in Norcross when he was asked if he believed institutional racism exists.

“But, the thing is when you say we’re such a racist country, yet when you look around you, how things have changed from years ago, you can’t say it’s a terribly racist country, so I would totally disagree with that.”

“Georgians will have a clear choice this fall between Reverend Warnock’s record of working across the aisle and bringing people together to secure wins for Georgia and Herschel Walker’s pattern of lies, exaggerations, and bizarre claims, all of which show he is not ready to represent Georgians in the U.S. Senate,” [Warnock campaign spokesperson Sarafina] Chitika said.

Both Walker and GOP nominee for Agriculture Commissioner Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) spoke in North Georgia, according to AccessWDUN.

Food is essential to survival and on Tuesday, U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker hosted a food security roundtable with State Sen. Tyler Harper, Republican candidate for Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture.

During the discussion, Walker said he hopes to form a “kitchen cabinet” to advise him on food and agriculture-related matters, and is a strong advocate for raising awareness of where food comes from – saying it’s not the grocery store.

“Today was just an opportunity for us to hear from farmers and producers,” Harper said. “As a farmer/producer myself, it’s always good to hear from other farmers and producers and have a conversation. And it was great to have Herschel Walker with us to hear those concerns. Because at the end of the day, those of us that are looking to lead our industry and with Herschel being, looking, hopefully being our next United States Senator and me serving as our next Commissioner of Agriculture, those are the issues that he and I are going to have to work together on to address to ensure that agriculture continues to be prosperous, that our number one industry continues to be successful. And that’s the goal of this meeting today. And we look forward to these continued conversations to help address the issues that our industry need addressing and to allow agriculture to prosper in our state to continue to be the best state for business as well.”

District 9 State Rep. Will Wade, who currently represents Dawson, northern Forsyth, and Lumpkin counties (soon to be Dawson, Lumpkin, and White counties), said he is thankful leaders recognize the importance of listening to agricultural producers.

“One of the things I’m excited that Drew and Shelley allow for this conversation to happen is it really wasn’t a campaign stop,” Wade said. “It was a policy discussion that’s impacting folks right here in this state that have had family businesses – we heard two, three, four, seven generations – and they’re concerned that this industry is going to be wiped out in the next five to 10 years. That’s important for policymakers like myself, but also, you know, a future ag commission and a potential future U.S. Senator to understand what regulation has done, to limit their ability to operate and to feed our citizenry.”

Former Gov. Nathan Deal agreed with Tuesday’s roundtable participants that conversion of corn to ethanol is a concern, especially when that corn is needed to make chicken feed.

”Obviously depending on who you talk to in the farming industry as I pointed out, if you talk about Iowa corn farmers, they are all for the preference that they get for their corn being used for ethanol,” Deal said. “If you talk to the poultry operators who are right here within a mile of where we are standing in North Georgia, they’ll tell you that that corn that is being diverted into ethanol used to be used for chicken feed and because they’re having to make other alternatives or having to pay a higher price to get the corn. It translates into higher meat prices in the poultry that they sell. So, it depends on who you talk to in the farming industry. They’ve got different points of view.”

From the AJC:

Walker interjected several times with questions. He ended the event saying, “I’m going to Washington, not because I know everything, but because I don’t. I’m going to Washington to serve the people that got ideas, and I can learn from those ideas and help.”

Also on hand at the event were GOP state Sen. Steve Gooch, who called Walker “Senator-elect Herschel Walker,” state Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville; Hall County Commissioner and GOP state Senate nominee Shelly Echols; and Blaine Walker, the general manager of Walker’s own Renaissance Man Food Services business.

Although Walker usually has a line of voters waiting to shake his hand after events, the longest line Tuesday was for former Gov. Nathan Deal, who lives nearby and had been invited by Harper. Deal joked he was only there for the free coffee, but also added his advice from his days as two-term governor of the ag-heavy state.

Greg Bluestein of the AJC reports that Walker said he favors federal abortion legislation providing a 15-week abortion ban.

“I am a proud pro-life Christian, and I will always stand up for our unborn children,” Walker said Wednesday in a statement. “I believe the issue should be decided at the state level, but I WOULD support this policy.”

“Georgia voters will have a clear choice this fall between Rev. Warnock’s record of fighting to protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions and Herschel Walker, who wants to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at risk and who would support a national abortion ban in the Senate,” Warnock communications director Meredith Brasher said.

The proposal also could create headaches for Gov. Brian Kemp, who faces a tough rematch against Stacey Abrams and would prefer to focus on the nation’s wobbly economy and public safety issues rather than dive deeper into a fraught debate over abortion weeks before the midterm election.

Trailing in the polls, Abrams expects the abortion ruling to motivate swing voters who otherwise might gravitate to the GOP. Kemp, meanwhile, has said he would not pursue stricter state limits and is focused on implementing Georgia’s law.

The State Senate Study Committee on the Creation of a Georgia Cybersecurity Force heard testimony on the importance of cybersecurity for commerce and government, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune.

Industry and academic experts described how cyberthreats have evolved over the past decades to the committee chaired by Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas.

“It’s our belief we need to leverage every asset that we have,” Anavitarte said, stressing the need for a bipartisan effort. “This cannot be territorial. This cannot be Republican versus Democrat.”

“One single incident can lead to a major disruption in business,” added David Levine, chief information security officer for RICO International, a Stone Mountain-based manufacturer. Levine and other experts said schools, hospitals, transportation and energy supplies are all at risk.

Floyd County Schools lost, then recovered, nearly $200,000 earlier this year and a malware attack on the fledgling state eCourt system in 2019 disabled the county courts participating in the pilot program.

Hackers target governments and businesses through emails and phishing. They can hold data from governments or businesses ransom for large sums of money and even delete essential files, several experts said. Typically, the motivation is money, Levine said.

Another challenge is collecting and coordinating information about cybersecurity attacks. Companies understandably do not always want to disclose when they’ve been attacked, said Matt Guinn, a principal research scientist at Georgia Tech.

But a Georgia law that took effect last year requires government entities to report cyberattacks to the state’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

States like Ohio and Michigan have attempted to improve cybersecurity by creating civilian cybersecurity corps that can provide rapid responses to attacks, Allen said. The legislators appeared to be interested in the idea.

The committee plans to meet next in October.

The DeKalb County Board of Education pushed to a later date discussion of teaching “divisive concepts,” according to the AJC.

Several board members said they agree with what critics of the new divisive concepts law have maintained all along: That it’s unnecessary, and could hinder teachers’ ability to teach children about history.

The vote to postpone was unanimous on Monday, despite board members not knowing what the consequences could be for not complying with the new law.

Georgia lawmakers this year approved legislation that limits how teachers can talk about race and racism in the classroom. It bars teachers from asserting that the United States is fundamentally racist, that one race is superior to another or that individuals should feel guilty because of their race.

It also requires school districts to create a process to review complaints from parents and others who allege those concepts are being mishandled. Complaints start with principals and could make it all the way to the state school board.

But when presented with the policy Monday, DeKalb board member Joyce Morley said she refuses to be part of an effort to limit students’ understanding of history and discrimination.

“There’s no way in the world I can support something like this,” she said, speaking to her own experiences with racism as a Black woman. “To have such a policy put into effect and we all go along with it and no one says anything? This is why nothing changes.”

Board attorney Clem Doyle said Monday that the statute does not list any consequences for boards that don’t pass a policy and he wasn’t aware of the Legislature weighing in on the issue, but other districts have also objected. The Clarke County School District in Athens unanimously rejected the state-mandated complaint policy last month, Flagpole Magazine reported.

The Savannah Morning News profiles the candidates for State School Superintendent.

The Republican incumbent, Richard Woods, will face Democrat Alisha Thomas Searcy in the Nov. 8 midterms.

The post holder is administrative head of the Georgia of Department of Education with oversight of the state’s K-12 public education system. The superintendent institutes state Board of Education policies.

[In the primary elections] Woods easily defeated the man he ousted from the seat in 2014, John Barge. Woods won 73% of the vote. Searcy topped a four-candidate Democratic field, claiming 57%.

Woods is a former Georgia public school teacher and administrator, with 14 years classroom experience. He has held the state superintendent’s post since 2015. His campaign focus is on closing COVID-related learning gaps, promoting teacher retention and increasing graduation rates.

Searcy is an educator by trade who currently works as an education leadership consultant. Earlier in her professional career, she operated a small charter school network, known as Ivy Prep. She has political experience, having served six terms in the Georgia House. She was first elected to the House at age 23.

The Floyd County Board of Elections named Akyn Bailey the sole finalist for election supervisor, according to the Rome News Tribune.

A group of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority members are working to improve voter registration, according to WTVM.

“October 11 is the last day to register to vote for the November 22 election, October 17th – Nov. 4th 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. is the beginning of early voting. Locations for early voting city services center, Columbus tech and Shirley Winston recreation center on Steam Mill Road,” said Pat Hugley Green, a representative of Delta Sigma Theta.

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has become concerned with voting rights, according to the AJC.

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a Tuesday voting access event that strict new election laws enacted by Republican lawmakers around the country — including in Georgia — are discouraging people from voting.

And Bottoms, a Democrat who is now a senior aide for public engagement to President Joe Biden, raised concerns about a lack of enthusiasm ahead of midterm elections that will not only decide control of statewide offices, but the U.S. House and Senate.

Bottoms said Georgia’s voting law, passed in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss in 2020, includes provisions that especially harm minority voters.

“We’ve talked about the ID laws and all of these other things that make it more challenging for people to vote,” Bottoms said. “This takes us again back to 1964, 1965. It doesn’t appear on the surface as extreme, but the result is still the same.”

Bottoms urged people to support the Biden administration in convincing Congress to pass federal protections for voters. U.S. Senate Republicans would likely use a 60-vote filibuster to hinder those bills from advancing, so Bottoms said the senators should overturn the filibuster in this case for the sake of democracy.

Bottoms did voice support for Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ expected reelection bid in 2024.

Rome and Floyd County appear to have found a compromise on splitting revenue from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), according to the Rome News Tribune.

Announcing a tentative agreement, assuming the agreement is approved by all parties, has so far staved off the need for mediation. However, if the tentative deal is not approved, both parties have indicated that they are each preparing lists of acceptable arbiters to mediate the dispute.

On the longshot chance that all arbitration fails and no agreement can be reached by Dec. 31, all LOST revenue will revert back to the state.

Chatham Chatham Commissioner Patrick Farrell says residents in unincorporated parts of the county receive fewer benefits from the Local Option Sales Tax, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The inequities are at the crux of the disagreement between county government and municipal government leaders on how to share revenues collected from the 1% Local Option Sales Tax, also known as LOST. The current LOST agreement expires at 2022’s end, and the stakeholders are far apart on a revised sharing agreement. LOST Mediation sessions are scheduled to begin Friday.

LOST revenue distribution is just one funding area where unincorporated property taxpayers are denied a fair share, according to Farrell, the District 4 commissioner. District 4 comprises the east side of the county including a large swath of the unincorporated area known as “the islands” – Wilmington Island, Skidaway Island, Isle of Hope. Money from LOST, utility service franchise fees and even property taxes are collected and then distributed to local jurisdictions to pay for their public services.

Because the unincorporated area is not a city but rather what the Georgia code recognizes as a Special Service District (SSD), it is governed by a different set of rules that controls how much money they receive and, generally, that has been less than a city.

Ongoing negotiations on how to split the millions of dollars in LOST funds have brought this issue to the fore, with the county vying for a larger slice of the pie for the next 10-year funding cycle.

Dalton Board of Education members pushed a vote on the property tax millage rate, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

“My sense is we should not set a tentative (tax rate) until we get a certified tax digest,” said board Chairman Matt Evans.

Last week, the Whitfield County Board of Assessors unanimously voted to hold property values at their 2021 rates and to assess new construction at 2021 values.

Preliminary assessments released earlier this year showed the assessed value of residential properties rose an average of 22% in the county. Commercial and industrial assessments rose an average of 15%. The assessments are set by the county Board of Assessors. Members of that board are appointed by the county Board of Commissioners but the assessors are independent of the county and have to follow rules and regulations set by the state.

School board members had previously announced a tentative tax rate of 7.95 mills, down from 8.095 mills in 2021, for their operating budget.

“But that was based on a digest that had 14% growth,” Perry said. “We know we are not going to be at 14% growth. There should be some growth related to new property, new development. But we don’t really know what that is.”

The City of Statesboro is running into rising prices and supply chain lag in ordering new equipment, according to the Statesboro Herald.

“We had budgeted $375,000 [for a new garbage truck]. However, due to current conditions, we saw a $50,000 increase in the cost of this equipment,” [City Manager Charles] Penny said. “Now, one would say, should we just wait, and I would say we can’t wait, and the reason is that delivery time on this equipment is anywhere from 12 to 24 months, and this is really critical to us being able to provide service in our neighborhoods.”

The additional $50,000 will come out of the solid waste program’s fund balance, he said. Council approved on a 4-0 vote.

“With suppliers experiencing supply chain shortages, as well as price increases, it is imperative that this truck be ordered now, due to 1-2 year delivery,” he wrote. “This will give the City time to receive the insurance reimbursement to cover the unexpected cost of this replacement truck.”

Springfield, in Effingham County, will soon have liquor stores after a referendum passed, according to WTOC.

Effingham has always been a dry county but residents in cities within the county recently voted to allow package stores in the area.

The vote by residents to allow businesses to have a liquor license passed last year by 17 votes, according to Springfield City Manager Matt Morris.

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis revoked the liquor license of the Rodeo Bar and Grill after a shooting, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Davis revoked the liquor license for the Rodeo Bar and Grill Tuesday and ordered the business to stop operating after a shooting left one dead and six wounded at the Pio Nono Avenue bar. A confrontation inside the bar involving multiple people led to shots being fired outside, where security guard Jermaine Stewart was shot in the head just after 4 a.m. Saturday morning.

Stewart, 46, died the next day from his injuries. Six others were injured in the shooting.

According to a letter sent by Davis Tuesday, the cameras were reportedly “not capable of recording and storing retrievable data.” The letter also listed 13 other incidents in 2022 that occurred around the bar prior to Saturday’s shooting as justification for the revoked license.

This isn’t the first time Davis has suspended a liquor license for a Macon bar. A shooting at the Thirsty Turtle in downtown Macon that left two men dead and others wounded in July of 2021 led to the Turtle’s liquor license being suspended. The bar’s owners eventually surrendered the license.

Columbia County public schools now has its own police force, according to WRDW.

The district now has its own full police force with its own chief, which the superintendent says he hopes helps them connect with the student body.

“We’ve been very proactive this year about going out and talking quickly about the things that we’re seeing happening in our schools because we want to educate our families as well as our students about what will and won’t be tolerated in school and what actions are going to be taken. When that’s not followed,” said Columbia County Superintendent Dr. Steve Flynt.

Moving forward, Flynt hopes the current resource officers in the district can de-escalate any situation and help show students what behavior is acceptable and unsafe at school.

Port Wentworth City Council voted to remove Clifford Neesmith as Chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission after Neesmith was charged with possessing child pornography, according to WTOC.

The Garden City Police Department arrested and charged 69-year old Clifford Neesmith with computer or electronic pornography.

Port Wentworth City Manager Steve Davis shared a statement with WTOC that said in part, “Mr. Neesmith is not an employee of the city, he is an unpaid volunteer appointed to the Planning and Zoning Board.

One of the agenda items included reorganizing the Planning and Zoning Board, including dissolving the current board and restructuring it with different appointees.

This is part of the city’s plan to overhaul their operations and was scheduled before Neesmith was arrested.

The Port of Savannah set another monthly record, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) handled a record 575,513 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container cargo at Savannah last month, up 18.5% from August of last year.

Counting the July volume, the port posted its fastest time ever for moving 1 million TEUs in a fiscal year.

“Our expanding container trade drives economic development, delivering jobs and opportunities locally and across the state,” authority Executive Director Griff Lynch said Tuesday.

“The investments we have made in our operating infrastructure have been paying off in our ability to handle the sustained influx of business that began two years ago,” said Joel Wooten, the authority’s board chairman.

“Combined with a deeper harbor, our improved rail capabilities and expanded container yard space have allowed GPA to maintain fluid cargo management.”

Business has been so brisk that a backlog of incoming vessels is waiting to call at the port. However, the backlog waiting to enter the Port of Savannah fell from 265,000 containers in July to 223,460 last month.

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