Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 16, 2024


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 16, 2024

George Washington, recently elected President, left his Mount Vernon home on April 16, 1789 for his inauguration in New York.

“I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express.”

On April 16, 1865, Columbus, Georgia fell to Union forces. The Battle of Columbus is widely considered to be the last battle of the Civil War. Though it is not unanimously held to be, a 1935 Act of the Georgia General Assembly declared it the war’s last battle.

Hall of Famer Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians threw his first no-hitter on April 16, 1940 against the Chicago White Sox in Comiskey Park.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1965. On April 16, 2006, a new, larger portrait of Dr. King was unveiled in the Georgia State Capitol.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson visited Augusta, Georgia on a campaign stop this week in 1964.

He came with Gov. Carl Sanders, an Augusta native, as well as U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge, an influential state leader.

Johnson’s national election over Republican Barry Goldwater appeared certain, and a week later he would easily trounce the Arizona Republican.

Lyndon Johnson, however, would not carry Richmond County on Election Day 1964, and he probably got a hint of things to come during his speech before a crowd gathered in front of the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building.

He was heckled.

At least four times during a routine stump speech, calls from the crowd interrupted the former vice president who had taken office less than a year before with John Kennedy’s assassination.

“We want Barry!” people would shout.

Johnson didn’t carry The Peach State because he had become unpopular among whites in the Deep South for his civil rights initiatives, according to Merle Black, an Emory University professor who has spoken and written on Southern politics over the years.

Black recalled the Augusta incident in his 1992 book The Vital South: How Presidents Are Elected, which he wrote with Earl Black. He also described Johnson gaining the crowd’s support with the anecdote about his earlier abuse by hostile crowds.

“Earl Black and I wrote in The Vital South that, ‘There was no more booing from the young Goldwaterites after he finished his story,’” Merle Black wrote in an e-mail from Atlanta. “President Johnson’s leadership in passage of the civil rights bill was the main reason he lost Georgia that year.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

United States District Court Judge JP Boulee (ND-GA) opened the trial over Georgia’s ban on third-party mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, according to the AJC.

The courts will decide the legality of the contentious voting law, passed in the wake of Republican Donald Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden amid conservatives’ complaints about the election’s rules.

The weeklong trial focuses on a part of the law that curtails nonprofit organizations from repeatedly sending absentee ballot application forms to voters as they did ahead of the 2020 election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A broader case contesting the voting law is still pending and won’t go to trial anytime soon. That case includes the law’s limits on drop boxes, regulations on absentee voting and a ban on handing out food and water to waiting voters.

The plaintiffs in this week’s trial, two organizations that mailed a total of 9.6 million absentee ballot applications to Georgia voters in 2020, said the law limits free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. About 550,000 voters responded to the mailings and received absentee ballots, according to the plaintiffs.

But the state contends that the law was needed to address confusion among voters who repeatedly received applications after they had already returned their ballots, along with voters who told legislators that they thought the applications were actual ballots.

Under the law, Senate Bill 202, groups are only allowed to send absentee ballot applications to Georgians who haven’t already requested a ballot or voted. They face a $100 fine for each duplicate absentee ballot application that’s processed by county election offices.

The mass mailings promoted absentee voting in 2020 with forms that were partially filled out to include voters’ names and addresses. About 25% of Georgia’s 5 million voters in the 2020 presidential election returned absentee ballots.

“Voters worried about fraud after receiving absentee applications in the mail from the plaintiffs,” Gene Schaerr, an attorney for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said in his opening statement. “Voters were confused when they received multiple absentee applications that they thought were themselves absentee ballots.”

The case over absentee ballot mailings is the third trial over Georgia election laws heard in federal court this year.

U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross upheld Georgia’s citizenship verification requirements for new Americans last week, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to prove that naturalized citizens’ rights are violated when they have to show papers before voting.

In another case focusing on the security of Georgia’s voting system, U.S. District Amy Totenberg hasn’t yet issued a ruling after a 17-day trial in January.

Can you audit an audit? DeKalb County school district has spent more than $1 million dollars on an incomplete audit of E-SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education) spending, according to the AJC.

Auditors have been working for more than a year to evaluate how the DeKalb County School District has spent its sales tax funds. The cost of the project now tops $1 million, an increase tied to the district’s problems with record-keeping.

Voters in DeKalb have approved an additional penny sales tax every five years since 1997. The education special purpose local option sales tax, or E-SPLOST, funds capital improvements like new construction and technology upgrades.

Board member Anna Hill defended the E-SPLOST audit project, explaining the documentation issues were not discovered until the work began.

“I am grateful that this work is being done. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers,” she said. “If we go back to the public if we decide to ask for another SPLOST, we need to have all of this taken care of.”

Board members Joyce Morley and Vickie B. Turner questioned the unexpected cost associated with the audit. They suggested that either the company, Plante Moran PLLC, didn’t fully understand the scope of the project before submitting a bid, or the district didn’t fully disclose the scope — both of which would be a problem.

The school board approved in December 2022 the hiring of an outside auditor to comb through spending from E-SPLOST IV and V — the 10-year period between 2012 and 2022. The tax brought the district more than $1 billion during that period of time.

The cost of the audit was $761,000. It was expected to be completed in summer 2023, but is ongoing. The board approved at a meeting Monday an additional $320,000 to finish the work.

Columbus City Council member Jerry “Pop” Barnes has died, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Barnes, who represented District 1, had been battling an illness, [City Manager Isaiah] Hugley said, and the city manager texted him Sunday to “let him know I was continuing to pray for him,” but he didn’t receive a reply.

Hugley described Barnes as a servant leader who made a major impact on Columbus, especially for disadvantaged citizens.

“He was in touch with every organization that had something to do with low-income people and organizations related to health,” Hugley said. “He walked his district when he was able. I mean, even after he got elected, he literally went door-to-door to check on his constituents, and he set up on Saturdays at place like Walmart for hours so his constituents could stop by and discuss any issues with him.

Barnes served 23 months of his current four-year term. The city charter says the council appoints someone to fill the remainder of a councilor’s term if at least a year-and-a-half of that term has been served.

Muscogee County elections director Nancy Boren told the L-E it is too late – at least 90 days are needed – for a District 1 special election to be on the May 21 ballot, when the even-numbered seats on the 10-member council will be up for election. So the person the council appoints to represent District 1 will serve until the May 2026 election.

Candidates for Senate District 32, currently held by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Cobb County) met in a forum, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger News.

State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, and Republican challenger Ben Fremer met voters April 9 at a forum at the historic Cherokee County Courthouse in Canton.

The event was hosted by the Cherokee County Republican Women, the Cherokee County Republican Party and the Cherokee County Republican Coalition.

Georgia Senate District 32, which Kirkpatrick represents, includes parts of southwest Cherokee and north Cobb County.

No Democrats signed up to run for the seat, so the race will be decided in the May 21 primary election.
Kirkpatrick, a retired orthopedic surgeon who has been in office since 2017, said she is running for re-election to continue her efforts of helping make Georgia safer by continuing to support first responders and “back the blue,” and continue working to “make a complex health system more transparent and prepare for disasters.”

“I’ve also worked to help make Georgia a military and veteran-friendly state,” she said. “As chair of the Senate Committee on Children and Families, I’ve been working on behalf of our system for foster care and adoption. My conservative record, work ethic, and reputation for integrity have made me effective as a senator for Cherokee County, and I look forward to continuing to work hard for my constituents.”

The candidates also discussed the proposed 1% Homestead Option Sales Tax in Cherokee County. Cherokee County leaders asked local lawmakers to put the proposal on the ballot this year, but members of the Cherokee County Legislative Delegation did not put forth a bill for the referendum during this year’s legislative session.

Fremer said he does not support a potential HOST.

“I do not support increasing taxes on the people of Cherokee County,” he said. “There are many other ways to save money in the county, particularly cracking down on illegal immigration.”

Kirkpatrick said she would like to further study the HOST, before voting on it.

“The bill came very late in the session — there was no real opportunity to review the bill,” she said. “A little bit more time needs to be spent making sure that, if anything is done regarding a tax increase, it needs to go on the ballot for voters to decide.”

Candidates for State House Districts 145 and 149 appeared in a public forum, according to 13WMAZ.

A forum for newly created state house districts District 145 and District 149 took place on Monday giving voters the opportunity to meet the candidates who will be on the ballot.

The new districts are a result of a special session in 2023 that came after a federal judge found the previous voting maps were discriminatory.

There were five democratic candidates and one republican candidate in the hot seat introducing themselves to potential constituents and answering questions from voters.

In attendance were Juwan Jackson, Tangie Herring, Noah Harbuck, Donald Druitt, Phyllis Hightower and Floyd Griffin.

The primary election is May 21 and early voting starts April 29. The democratic winner will face the winner of the Republican primary in November.

That race is between Harbuck, De’ron Rogers, and Nancy Hicks. You must be registered to vote by April 22 for the May elections.

The Dougherty County Democratic Party hosted a candidate forum, according to the Albany Herald.

This forum saw candidates from three different races and gave uncontested candidates a chance to introduce themselves. Superior Court Judge candidates Victoria Johnson, Michael Tabarrok and Valerie Brown-Williams for were present. Incumbent James Bush and challenger Wanda Mallard faced off for a Dougherty Board of Education seat. Georgia Rep. David Sampson, D-Albany, and candidate Joshua Anthony appeared for the second time to answer questions about the state House District 153 race. Tracy Taylor declined to attend.

Dougherty County District 5 Commissioner Gloria Gaines answered questions on her own. Her opponent, Thomia Thomas, declined to attend.

DeKalb County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw (D) is running for CEO of the County, according to the AJC.

Bradshaw is one of three candidates jockeying to replace a term-limited Michael Thurmond as DeKalb County’s next chief executive officer. If elected — Bradshaw says when — he plans to have the principles embroidered so he can hang it prominently in his new office.

“At the end of the day it’s what I am at my core,” he said. “I was trained to be a soldier and that’s just a big part of how I operate and who I am.”

Bradshaw, 61, was the first candidate to declare his intent to run for CEO, and faces a challenge from fellow commissioners Lorraine Cochran-Johnson and Larry Johnson. No Republicans filed to run, so the May primary will effectively decide Thurmond’s replacement.

Anger motivated Bradshaw’s first run for office in 2012, the same year a special purpose grand jury recommended indictments against former county CEO Burrell Ellis. The headlines about DeKalb were “constant and horrible” and Bradshaw thought he could do better.

Bradshaw lost his first race to the incumbent, but bested her in a runoff landslide four years later. At the time, he said his election marked the start of a new chapter in DeKalb.

A lawsuit against Macon-Bibb County over use of the county’s nuisance ordinance was argued in the Georgia Court of Appeals, according to 13WMAZ.

Back in August, Macon-Bibb County announced it was trying to place the Green Meadows Townhomes in a receivership, where a court-appointed manager takes over an entity. A Bibb County Superior Court judge signed off, saying the apartment complex met the definition of a “nuisance” under Georgia law.

But the attorney for the townhome says the county and the trial court had erred. They primarily argue that the court needed to prove the owner’s actions caused an increase in violent crime.

“If you are unable to effectively resolve third-party criminal activity on your property – despite your best effort – the government can come in and commandeer that property,” attorney Harold Melton told the court of appeals. “That is Macon-Bibb County’s position; that is flat wrong.”

On Wednesday, Melton and Macon-Bibb County attorney Michael McNeill faced off before a panel of three judges in Georgia’s Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

It is the highest-profile challenge to Macon-Bibb County’s use of Georgia’s nuisance law in recent memory. In previous cases, the Georgia nuisance statute has been used to shut down gas stations, liquor stores or bars with histories of violence.

Melton and the judges criticized the county for not giving Green Meadows the chance to fix these problems on their own. Melton said the county or the sheriff’s office had never given the company any instructions to fix anything before issuing the receivership and seizing the property.

But the county said the previous judges were right to issue the order because violence at the Green Meadows had long been a problem.

“The difference is, over the two years that they did own the property, the conditions got worse and worse,” McNeill argued.

The county received a tense welcome from Chief Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard, who lives in Macon.

“I’m just going to tell you, counsel, I am stunned at Macon-Bibb County’s behavior in this case,” Dillard said. “I am absolutely stunned that you thought that you could take someone’s business away, remove control. You don’t contact them, you don’t give them any chance to remediate the problem… You just rush to a judge, you install a receiver, who takes over someone’s business without due process.”

“This is a very dangerous tool Macon-Bibb wants to use,” Melton said. “We need this court to make sure that it is not allowed, and vacate the lower court’s decision.”

Note that “attorney Harold Melton” can also be referred to as “Former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Harold Melton.”

Macon-Bibb County Commissioners will consider spending $2 million dollars on jail upgrades, according to the Macon Telegraph.

The Macon-Bibb County Commission will consider adding magnetic locks and other upgrades to the Bibb County Jail at its Tuesday meeting.

The proposal would cost $2 million and comes about six months after four inmates, one of whom was charged with murder, escaped from the jail. The agenda item said the money will go towards installing more magnetic locks, but does not specify what else the money may be used for beyond general “improvements to the jail.” The ordinance would take effect immediately upon passage or the mayor’s approval. The county sheriff previously confirmed significant security measures had already been taken after the escape.

The four inmates — Joey Fournier, Marc Kerry Anderson, Johnifer Dernard Barnwell and Chavis Demaryo Stokes — escaped in the early hours of Oct. 16, 2023. According to reports from the time of the incident, the inmates got out through a damaged window in an interview room and then exited through a cut fence.

The Bibb County Jail has already undergone changes in wake of the escape. Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said more than $1 million has been put towards adding magnetic locks to cell doors, installing new security camera systems, repairing the fence around the jail and training staff.

“We have taken several measures to ensure this does not happen again,” Davis said at the time. “Magnetic locks have been updated and added to cell doors, new security camera systems have been added, and the fencing around the jail has been repaired and new security wires have been added for an extra measure of security, among other things.”

The ordinance said that while the county commission approved the sheriff’s total FY24 budget in June 2023, the supplemental appropriation would come from the Sheriff’s Commissary Fund and specifically focus on upgrades to security and infrastructure.

Savannah City Council is considering legislation to limit amplified sound from trolleys, according to the Savannah Morning News.

In late March, City Manager Jay Melder pledged to members of the Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association to propose an ordinance aimed at reducing amplified sound from trolleys. On Thursday, Savannah City Council discussed a few potential elements of a future ordinance, namely the use of directional speakers or in-ear technology to reduce sound.

The elements discussed Thursday were generally received well by members of city council and are the result of collaboration between the city, industry stakeholders and members of the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

The likely solution will be the directional speakers, which are designed to keep amplification directed inside the trolley. The method has long been preferred by some trolley companies, and Old Town Trolley retrofitted one of its vehicles to pilot the technology.

“We had about 20 people join board members to see if the speakers would be viable. The consensus seemed to be that the installation of these speakers significantly reduced the volume of noise coming from inside the trolley,” McDonald said in the quote included in the presentation.

Also workshopped by council was a potential implementation timeline for whichever technology members approve. The idea Melder put before council was to require compliance from 50% of a company’s registered fleet within 12 months, and 100% of the registered fleet within 18 months.

Augusta City Commissioners are expected to consider a measure to allow some “tiny homes,” according to WJBF.

Tuesday, Augusta commissioners could vote to approve rezoning for a tiny homes community. ‘Bridge Builder Communities’ is a non-profit that provides homes for young adults 18 to 25, who are aging out of the foster care system.

This non-profit provides a safe haven for these young adults. It’s estimated about 65 percent of them end up in sex trafficking rings and up to 50 percent are homeless immediately when they come out of foster care.

Plans include a community center and 25 tiny homes. Each home would be 320-square-feet with a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.

The non profit will partner with community organizations to provide needed resources like mental health, financial planning and help entering school or the work force.

“It feels amazing. A little anxiety, because we want to make sure that the commission understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it for our city. Like I said, we’ve amassed tons of support from churches, businesses, civic organizations, social service organizations to wrap our arms around this population. So, it’s very exciting to be at this point.” [said “Bridge Builder founder Jackson Drumgoole]

Superior Courts for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, serving Dawson and Hall Counties, disposed of a record number of cases in 2023, according to AccessWDUN.

According to a press release from the courts, the circuit reported 5,761 dispositions at the end of 2023. That number was a 3% increase over the previous year and a 7% increase over pre-pandemic numbers.

“Like all Georgia courts, the circuit has been working to dispose of a pandemic-imposed backlog of cases, particularly criminal cases,” the release said.

2023’s dispositions yielded a clearance rate of 103% across the two counties. The circuit said this is a key performance measure, which indicates whether a court is keeping up with its incoming caseload.

“We’re enormously proud of what we the circuit has been able to achieve over these last three years,” Chief Superior Court Judge Jason Deal said. “Thanks to the strong cooperation and dedication of a lot of stakeholders – the local bar, Public Defender, District Attorney, the Sheriff’s Office, Clerk of Court, County Administration, Court Administration; this validates a lot of hard work.”

The circuit is served by five Superior Court judges. The judges are also assisted each week by Juvenile Court and Magistrate Court judges who sit by designation.

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