Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 1, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 1, 2020

On April 2, 1513, Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered Florida, claiming it for the Spanish crown. Today he is best-known in Georgia for giving his name to be mispronounced daily on a sketchy street in Atlanta. It is not known if he was wearing jean shorts, or if those were developed later. Georgians began mispronouncing his name immediately.

In perhaps the most fitting historical tidbit ever, the United States House of Representatives first met on April 1, 1789 in New York City. Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania was elected the first Speaker of the House. Georgia’s first Members of Congress were James Jackson, Abraham Baldwin, and George Mathews.

On March 31, 1870, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African-American to vote after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The iconic vote was cast in a local election in Perth Amboy, New Jersey for the town’s charter.  Gary Sullivan of the News Tribune stated, “Exercising his right to vote in a local election on March 31, 1870.  Peterson became the first black man in the United States to cast a ballot.  The amendment had been ratified on February 3, 1870, and within just two months the Fifteenth Amendment was put to use.

An interview with Peterson showed who encouraged him to vote, “I was working for Mr. T. L. Kearny on the morning of the day of election, and did not think of voting until he came out to the stable where I was attending to the horses and advised me to go to the polls and exercise a citizen’s privilege.”  Peterson also revealed his vote in this election, “As I advanced to the polls one man offered me a ticket bearing the words “revised charter” and another one marked, “no charter.” I thought I would not vote to give up our charter after holding it so long: so I chose a revised charter ballot.”

On April 1, 1870, Robert E. Lee, President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Lee’s career in the United States Army began with his first assignment at Cockspur Island near Savannah. While in Savannah for the 1870 trip, Lee was photographed with former General Joseph E. Johnston, who was in the insurance business there.

On April 2, 1917, Jeanette Rankin took office as the first woman elected to Congress, representing Montana.

Born on a ranch near Missoula, Montana Territory, in 1880, Rankin was a social worker in the states of Montana and Washington before joining the women’s suffrage movement in 1910. Working with various suffrage groups, she campaigned for the women’s vote on a national level and in 1914 was instrumental in the passage of suffrage legislation in Montana. Two years later, she successfully ran for Congress in Montana on a progressive Republican platform calling for total women’s suffrage, legislation protecting children, and U.S. neutrality in the European war. Following her election as a representative, Rankin’s entrance into Congress was delayed for a month as congressmen discussed whether a woman should be admitted into the House of Representatives.

Finally, on April 2, 1917, she was introduced in Congress as its first female member. The same day, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress and urged a declaration of war against Germany.

On April 2, 1985, Governor Joe Frank Harris signed legislation recognizing the Right Whale as the official state marine mammal.

Happy Birthday to Phil Niekro, who turns 81 today. Niekro pitched for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves for twenty years, earning five trips to the All-Star Game, five gold gloves, led the league in wins twice, and came in second in balloting for the Cy Young award in 1969. In 1997, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp has just ordered public schools closed for the rest of the school year, according to the Rome News Tribune.

From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday said he is preparing a statewide shelter-in-place order across Georgia to try to curb the spread of a coronavirus pandemic that’s sickened thousands and is linked to the deaths of at least 139 residents.

He’s expected to issue further details about the order on Thursday, and the new rules will take effect Friday. He also said he would sign an order Wednesday that would cancel K-12 schools through the rest of the academic year.

He said his decision was triggered by “game-changing” new projections on the disease’s spread in Georgia and from President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force.

The New York Times looks at the Covid 19 outbreak in Albany, Georgia, and it’s heart-breaking.

During the weeks that followed [an area funeral], illnesses linked to the coronavirus have torn through her hometown, Albany, Ga., with about two dozen relatives falling ill, including six of her siblings. Ms. Johnson herself was released from an isolation ward to the news that her daughter, Tonya, was in grave condition, her heart rate dropping.

Like the Biogen conference in Boston and a 40th birthday party in Westport, Conn., the funeral of Andrew Jerome Mitchell on Feb. 29 will be recorded as what epidemiologists call a “super-spreading event,” in which a small number of people propagate a huge number of infections.

This rural county in southwest Georgia, 40 miles from the nearest interstate, now has one of the most intense clusters of the coronavirus in the country.

With a population of only 90,000, Dougherty County has registered 24 deaths, far more than any other county in the state, with six more possible coronavirus deaths under investigation, according to Michael L. Fowler, the local coroner. Ninety percent of the people who died were African-American, he said.

The 14 medical intensive care unit beds were filled within two days of the first wave of coronavirus patients; they converted 12 cardiac I.C.U. beds, but those, too, were filled two days later; 12 beds in the surgical I.C.U. were filled three days after that, Mr. Steiner said.

Governor Brian Kemp has deployed some members of the Georgia National Guard, according to a press release.

Over the next few weeks, Governor Brian P. Kemp and Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden will activate and deploy over 100 Guardsmen to any long-term care facility – assisted living facility or nursing home – with COVID-19 cases. The Governor and Adjutant General will send troops to specific locations to implement infection control protocols and enhanced sanitation methods to mitigate COVID-19 exposure among vulnerable residents.

“Georgia’s top priority is increasing healthcare capacity to protect vulnerable Georgians, especially those residing in long-term care facilities,” said Governor Kemp. “If we can keep these populations as healthy as possible, we will be able to conserve precious medical supplies and hospital bed space in the coming days and weeks.”

“The Georgia National Guard stands ready to assist any long-term care facility in this time of need through staff training and implementation of infectious disease control measures,” said Adjutant General Tom Carden. “Our training has prepared us to fight this virus, and we are eager to lend a hand in this battle.”

Twenty soldiers are headed to Pelham, Georgia today to Pelham Parkway Nursing Home to audit existing sanitation methods, train staff on utilizing more aggressive infectious disease control measures, and thoroughly clean the facility. This facility has reported five confirmed cases of COVID-19. For future missions, only four or five soldiers will deploy to a specific facility. However, for Pelham Parkway Nursing Home, twenty soldiers are going for training purposes.

This assignment is the first of several missions based on close cooperation with the Georgia National Guard, Department of Public Health, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, Georgia Health Care Association, and Georgia Center for Assisted Living.

From Georgia Health News:

Cases at long-term care facilities have surfaced in media reports as the disease has spread in Georgia.

“It’s the biggest nightmare for us out there in the aging network,’’ said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging. She cited the Kirkland, Wash., nursing home outbreak that led to the deaths of roughly three dozen people.

The 20 soldiers going to Pelham have been deployed for training, and “for future missions, only four or five soldiers will deploy to a specific facility,’’ the Governor’s Office said.

“Georgia’s top priority is increasing health care capacity to protect vulnerable Georgians, especially those residing in long-term care facilities,” said Kemp in a statement. “If we can keep these populations as healthy as possible, we will be able to conserve precious medical supplies and hospital bed space in the coming days and weeks.”

The Georgia Health Care Association, which represents long-term care facilities, said Tuesday that it has been working with the Kemp administration, the Georgia National Guard, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Public Health on plans to deploy Guardsmen where there are cases of COVID-19.

“This support is critical, as it will help to supplement staffing and infection prevention efforts,’’ said Devon Barill, a spokeswoman for GHCA. “Such assistance is especially needed as a large number of center staff across the state are being required to self-quarantine until testing for the virus can be completed.’’

Some National Guard members will assist Northeast Georgia Health System, according to the Gainesville Times.

Several members of the unit based out of Cumming went through an orientation session Wednesday, April 1. The session included information about NGHS locations, communication methods and key personnel, said Matthew Crumpton, the system’s emergency preparedness manager.

“We’re also working to identify the best ways they can assist at this point, while anticipating those assignments may change as the pandemic evolves,” he said.

Crumpton also said he’s “thankful to have (National Guard members) designated to assist it with our COVID-19 response.”

Desiree Bamba, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Defense, said 10 service members began their mission Friday, March 27, at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton.

The team is being split “covering both the Gainesville and Braselton campuses,” Bamba said.

The team is made up of a medical practitioner, nurse, three emergency medical technicians and five combat lifesaver certified personnel, she said.

All eleven Republican members of the Georgia Congressional Delegation wrote a letter asking for a further delay in this year’s elections, according to the Center Square.

“We encourage you to use all available flexibility and legal authority to delay the primary to the latest possible date in order to ensure the health and safety of Georgians,” the Republican delegation said in a letter sent Tuesday to Raffensperger.

Early voting for the May 19 primary begins April 27 – 44 days after Raffensperger postponed the presidential preference primary March 14.

“We have no legal authority to move this election,” Raffensperger said in a statement responding to the delegation’s letter. “If you would like to move this election, it will take legislative action or an executive order from the governor.”

“As we have said in detailed discussions with the House Delegation last week, there is a limit to the options available within current law.”

Among the Republican delegation’s concerns is the health of poll workers who would be expected to work during early voting, which falls inside President Donald Trump’s extension to April 30 for following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing and public gathering guidelines.

“Keeping the status quo unnecessarily exposes Georgia’s poll workers to dangerous health risks and creates the possibility of severely understaffed voting locations if those poll workers follow the guidance of federal, state and local authorities,” the letter said.

“Elections are part of America’s critical infrastructure. They must go on, as they have in our history during civil war, crushing recessions and deadly epidemics,” Raffensperger said. “That is why current law requires they be held on specific dates and with ample time for overseas voters to receive and return their ballots. The integrity of election timing is as important to public confidence as are the other safeguards of voter rights.”

The Republican Congressional delegation letter was signed by U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, Buddy Carter, Doug Collins, Drew Ferguson, Tom Graves, Jody Hice, Barry Loudermilk, Austin Scott and Rob Woodall.

From the AJC:

Raffensperger believes the law only allowed him to delay the election until early voting resumes April 27, a period of 44 days.

House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge who wants to postpone the election, has said he believes Raffensperger can delay the election again when “an emergency is ongoing.”

Ralston said Raffensperger already exercised power to exceed the 45-day limit because the gap between the original March 24 election and the new May 19 date is 56 days.

A change in state law is unlikely because the Georgia General Assembly is suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.

Elsewhere, a lawsuit has been filed over the Secretary of State’s alleged cancellation of an election for Georgia Supreme Court, according to the AJC.

Three voters, including the widow of a Georgia Supreme Court justice, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday seeking to force an election for Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat when he retires in November.

The suit was filed against Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger, who blocked an election for Blackwell’s seat after the justice announced in February he was going to retire in November, just six weeks before his term expires.

Former U.S. Congressman John Barrow and former state Rep. Beth Beskin, who both unsuccessfully tried to qualify for the election to succeed Blackwell, are also suing Raffensperger in state court. They are appealing a Fulton County judge’s ruling that Blackwell’s seat officially became vacant — and eligible to be filled by appointment — when Gov. Brian Kemp accepted the justice’s resignation on Feb. 26.

Raffensperger’s cancellation of the election for Justice Blackwell’s position “is an absolute restriction on the plaintiffs’ right to vote,” the lawsuit said. “The only purpose served by cancelling an election when there is no actual vacancy is to avoid an election — that is, to disenfranchise voters.”

Although Kemp has not appointed a successor to fill Blackwell’s seat, his Judicial Nominating Commission recently forwarded a list of four names for the appointment. They are: Court of Appeals Judge Sara Doyle, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, Fulton Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua, and Wade Padgett of the August Judicial Circuit.

From US News:

Blackwell continues to occupy his seat on the high court and his resignation isn’t effective until Nov. 18, meaning it hasn’t created a vacancy that the governor has the power to fill, the new federal lawsuit says.

“Georgia law does not give the Secretary the authority to deem an occupied seat on the Georgia Supreme Court vacant,” the lawsuit says. “To call an occupied seat vacant is to confound the meaning of both ‘occupied’ and ‘vacant.’”

That means the cancellation of the election violates state law, and a violation of state law that disenfranchises voters is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process guarantee, the suit says.

But even if state law allows Raffensperger not to hold an election for Blackwell’s seat, that state law and Raffensperger’s actions under that law violate the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit says.

“The United States Constitution does not require that state justices be elected,” the suit says. “Once the State decides that justices are to be elected, however, the State may not invidiously, arbitrarily, or unreasonably disenfranchise voters.”

The Legislative Session Interruptus will affect Uber and Lyft riders, according to the AJC.

Earlier this year the General Assembly passed legislation raising sales tax collections from customers of internet- and app-based businesses, including Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. A separate bill that would impose a 50-cent fee on ride-hailing, taxi and limousine rides is still pending in the General Assembly.

The fee would be lower than the sales tax for many trips — especially in Atlanta, where the sales tax is 8.9%. But with the legislative session on hold indefinitely amid the pandemic, Uber and Lyft customers will begin paying the sales tax Wednesday.

For years the ride-hailing companies have denied they are required to pay sales taxes under Georgia law. The state Department of Revenue disagrees, and Uber has disputed a $22.1 million tax bill in court.

From WABE:

It’s a result of the “marketplace facilitator” law, which passed in January and compels all online businesses and platforms to collect the sales tax beginning April 1.

Including state, county and city taxes, the rate in Georgia varies but rises to nearly 9% in Atlanta.

Ride-hailing companies had lobbied the state Legislature to pass a compromise: a 50-cent flat fee on most ride-shares and taxi rides instead of the full sales tax rate. It fell one step short of final approval in the late hours of the legislative session before the General Assembly was suspended indefinitely.

“It was a bipartisan effort to correct a situation that was basically an unintended consequence of the marketplace facilitator bill,” said state Sen. Steve Gooch, who helped shepherd the compromise bill.

He said he has asked the governor to consider temporarily suspending the collection of the rides’ sales taxes by executive order in the meantime.

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