Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 17, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 17, 2024

On April 17, 1944, a fifteen-year old Martin Luther King, Jr., a junior at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, traveled to Dublin, Georgia to give a speech in a contest sponsored by the local black Elks club. During the bus ride to Dublin, King and his teacher had to give up their seats to white riders and stand for much of the ride. King won the contest, delivering his oration, “The Negro and the Constitution.”

On April 17, 1950, the United States Supreme Court dismissed South v. Peters, a complaint against Georgia’s County Unit System of elections.

Each county is allotted a number of unit votes, ranging from six for the eight most populous counties, to two for most of the counties. The candidate who receives the highest popular vote in the county is awarded the appropriate number of unit votes. Appellants, residents of the most populous county in the State, contend that their votes and those of all other voters in that county have on the average but one-tenth the weight of those in the other counties. Urging that this amounts to an unconstitutional discrimination against them, appellants brought this suit to restrain adherence to the statute in the forthcoming Democratic Party primary for United States Senator, Governor and other state offices. The court below dismissed appellants’ petition. We affirm.

On April 17, 1964, the Ford Mustang debuted at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. The world has been a better, if somewhat louder, place ever since.

Also present at the 1964 World’s Fair was the Coca-Cola Pavilion, which included a 610-bell electric carillon that would later be installed at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia, where it can be heard most days.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Kemp spoke in Cobb County about the 2024 Legislative Session, according to Atlanta News First via WRDW.

Touting another round of income tax refunds and pay raises for the state’s teachers, police officers and child welfare workers, Kemp, the event’s keynote speaker, once again called Georgia the best place to do business, mainly because of a thriving workforce.

“It’s probably our biggest recruitment tool but also our biggest challenge,” he said. “Every state in the country, coming out of COVID, was dealing with workforce issues and thankfully we have done better than most.”

He also noted another drop in the state’s income tax this year, from 5.75% to 5.39%. The legislation to eventually bring the income tax in Georgia below 5% was signed two years ago.

Kemp also discussed additions to the budget, including an added $1.5 billion to the state’s Department of Transportation for upcoming and ongoing road projects, and $100 million for school safety improvements, an issue Kemp ran on in his second campaign for governor.

Governor Kemp’s office website tracks 2024 legislation that he has signed and legislation that he has vetoed, though he hasn’t yet broken out his veto pen this year.

Elsewhere, Gov. Kemp discussed how he instructed the Georgia State Patrol to deal with protesters, according to the AJC.

After pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted traffic and blocked bridges in Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and other big cities, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday he won’t allow demonstrations to shut down Atlanta traffic, too.

The Republican said he called Col. Billy Hitchens, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, late Monday to reinforce his position.

“I know I don’t need to make this call,” he said, recounting his conversation, “but you know how I feel about people blocking bridges, airports, and other things like we’re seeing around the country. I said if they do that, lock their ass up.”

The governor’s remarks drew wild applause from the roughly 300 attendees of the annual gala for Greater Georgia, the conservative political organization started by former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

In coordinated demonstrations, protesters blocked rush-hour traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge in California, squatted on roads leading to airports in Chicago and Seattle, and held protests in Miami, New York and Philadelphia.

United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was questioned in Congress about service delays, according to 11Alive via 13WMAZ.

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was castigated by Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff on Tuesday in a hearing on oversight of the United States Postal Service amid ongoing mail delays in metro Atlanta and elsewhere.

In a tense exchange between Sen. Ossoff and Postmaster General DeJoy, the Democrat said just 36% of mail in the north Georgia region is being delivered on time. Ossoff asked DeJoy when service reliability would normalize, and the postmaster general said “I think we’ll get where we need to be in about 60 days.”

“You don’t have months to fix 36% of mail being delivered on time,” Ossoff countered. “I’ve got constituents with prescriptions that aren’t being delivered. I’ve got constituents who can’t pay their rent and their mortgage. I’ve got businesses who aren’t able to ship products or receive supplies.”

In his concluding remarks, Ossoff again put DeJoy on the hot seat.

“You’ve got weeks, not months, to fix this,” he said. “And if you don’t fix it, 36% on time delivery, I don’t think you’re fit for this job.”

DeJoy responded to Ossoff’s questions about what USPS is doing to fix the issues in metro Atlanta by saying the agency had “engaged over 50 different management executives on site,” was “looking at truck schedules, revamping our truck schedules” and was “stabilizing the operation in terms of our machinery that we have deployed there” among other efforts to restore normal service.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

The Atlanta-area consolidation involved moving nearly 10,000 employees from 10 locations to the new Palmetto distribution center, he said.

“The issues that we had here were in fact management issues on the ground, were in fact employee attendance issues,” DeJoy said. “Now that the organization is engaged … I see the whole team getting better, understanding the transition we have to make.”

DeJoy said he expects to have the problems at both Atlanta and Richmond corrected by this summer.

“Richmond and Atlanta and the whole Georgia area will be the finest run part of the organization very shortly,” he said. “We have to allow time to transition.”

United States District Court Judge William Ray (ND-GA) heard arguments about whether the Catoosa County Republican Party could turn away prospective candidates from qualifying, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The county’s Republican Party decided in early March to block four candidates — three incumbents on the current Board of Commissioners, plus a former commission chair — from qualifying as Republicans on the grounds they don’t adhere to the Georgia Republican Party’s platform.

The candidates are Catoosa County Commission Chair Larry Black, District One Commissioner Jeff Long, District Two Commissioner Vanita Hullander and Steven Henry, a former commission chairman. All four candidates had previously won their seats running as Republicans.

During the qualifying period earlier this year, county level party officials refused to allow the candidates to qualify as Republicans. They argue that the candidates could have gone through the process to qualify as independent candidates.

“The party did not and does not believe the independent candidates are Republicans, or that they share the values, principles and policy goals of the party and does not want to be associated with those candidates,” the lawsuit states.

In early March, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Don Thompson ordered the candidates be allowed to qualify to run on the Republican primary ballot. To emphasize his point, Thompson imposed a fine of $1,000 per hour per candidate on the Catoosa GOP until it complied with his ruling.

Catoosa County Republican Party Chair Joanna Hildreth, and secretary of the Georgia Republican Assembly, stated the party would not comply and Thompson instructed the candidates to qualify with the Catoosa County Elections office instead.

On April 2, the Catoosa County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, following a hearing, voted 4-1 to keep the candidates on the GOP ballot.

Some Georgia prosecutors have picked up their lawsuit over the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Qualifications Commission legislation, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

Three district attorneys in Georgia have renewed their challenge of a commission created to discipline and remove state prosecutors, arguing it violates the U.S. and Georgia constitutions.

Their lawsuits filed Tuesday in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta challenge Georgia’s Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, a body Republican lawmakers revived this year after originally creating it in 2023.

Democrats fear the commission has one primary goal: derailing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis ‘ prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation last year creating the commission, but it couldn’t begin operating, because the state Supreme Court refused to approve rules governing its conduct. The justices said they had “grave doubts” about ability of the top court to regulate the decisions district attorneys make.

Lawmakers then removed the requirement for court approval, a change Kemp signed into law. The commission began operating April 1.

The challenge is being led by Sherry Boston, the district attorney in the Atlanta suburb of DeKalb County; Jared Williams of Augusta and neighboring Burke County; and Jonathan Adams of Butts, Lamar and Monroe counties south of Atlanta. Adams is a Republican, the others are Democrats. Boston said their “commitment to fight this unconstitutional law is as strong as ever.”

The prosecutors say the law violates Georgia’s constitutional separation of powers by requiring district attorneys to review every single case on its individual merits. Instead, district attorneys argue they should be able to reject prosecution of whole categories of crimes as a matter of policy.

They law also violates the federal and state constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech by restricting what matters of public concern district attorneys can talk about when running for office, they say.

“There is no valid governmental purpose for restricting prosecutors’ speech regarding their prosecutorial approach, and that restriction undermines core values of self governance by weakening voters’ ability to evaluate and choose among candidates,” the suit states, arguing the law illegally discriminates in favor of viewpoints favoring harsher prosecution.

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted for higher tuition in the 2024-25 school year, according to the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times.

Regents voted Tuesday to increase tuition and fees at the system’s 26 schools. The typical Georgia school will charge in-state undergraduates $6,466 in tuition and mandatory fees for two semesters next year, up 2.4% from $6,317 this year.

Tuition and fees will range from $3,506 at Swainsboro-based East Georgia State College to $12,058 at Georgia Tech.

The typical student will still be paying less than in 2022, though. After that year, regents eliminated a fee that was charged on top of tuition, lowering costs at almost all institutions.

University System Chief Fiscal Officer Tracey Cook told regents that universities are paying higher costs for items including technology, software, food, utilities and insurance, while they are also having to spend more on employee salaries. While state appropriations fund pay raises for most academic employees, universities must fund pay raises for most support employees out of their own funds.

“We must at times increase tuition to maintain a consistent standard of quality, to improving how we graduate and retain our students, and as discussed, keep pace with rising costs, while we look for ways to be more efficient,” Cook told regents during a Tuesday meeting at Gordon State College in Barnesville.

Costs to rent dormitory rooms and buy meal plans will also rise systemwide.

Regents had generally held tuition flat for four straight years and six years of the previous eight. Georgia’s typical tuition and fees are lower than all but two states in the 16-state region covered by the Southern Regional Education Board.

For students receiving lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships, the scholarship will pay for higher tuition. However, students and their families must themselves pay for mandatory fees. Although many Georgia students receive other types of financial aid, more than 35% now borrow to pay for college with some students borrowing more than $5,500 on average.

The university system also approved a further increase in tuition for students coming from outside the country. They will now pay 2% more than students from outside Georgia, who already pay tuition rates that are three times or more what in-state students pay. Institutions sometimes waive out-of-state charges.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

System Chancellor Sonny Perdue attributed the increase to inflation.

“Our institutions face increasing costs to operate, and we must sustain their momentum as some of the best in the nation at helping students succeed on campus and in the workforce,” he said.

Even with the tuition hike, Georgia offers the third-lowest average tuition and required fees among the 16 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states, according to national data.

The regents also adopted a new mandatory fee structure for the growing number of students taking classes fully online. Those students at 20 of the 26 institutions will be charged an online learning fee equivalent to their institution’s technology fee, as well as 50% of their institution’s mandatory fees.

In other business Tuesday, the board voted to extend the system’s temporary waiver of test score requirements. With state colleges already test optional, no test scores will be required for admission to 23 of the 26 institutions during the 2025-26 academic year.

The temporary waiver does not apply to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia College & State University.

Test scores will continue to be required to apply for Zell Miller scholarships, which go to students who earned at least a 3.7 grade-point average in high school.

The university system began waiving the test requirements in 2020 with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The waiver has been in effect for all but 10 months since then.

Gwinnett County launched a new microtransit service pilot program, according to AccessWDUN.

The Gateway 85 Community Improvement District and the city of Norcross will combine resources to improve mobility in a zone around Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Interstate 85 starting later this year according to officials.

Approximately 36,000 residents in Norcross will have access to the new Southwest Gwinnett Microtransit Pilot. The area to be served has been identified as having socioeconomic disparities, with more than half of household incomes falling below 60% of the area median income, officials said Tuesday.

“By leveraging our resources and expertise to expand microtransit, we’re charting a new course that will serve our diverse community’s transportation needs,” said Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson. “Strong partnerships like this one are instrumental in helping us achieve mobility for all.”

The pilot will operate 14 hours a day Monday through Saturday, excluding holidays, for one year. Gwinnett County will provide four vehicles and manage operations.

The estimated $1.3 million cost of the program will be funded 44% each by Gwinnett County and the Gateway85 CID, with the city of Norcross contributing the remainder, according to officials with the program.

The agreement between the three entities will be in effect from Aug. 1, through July 31, 2025.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners are considering measures to address complaints over short term rentals, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

At its Monday meeting, the Government Operations Committee instructed county staff to look at a number of options, including an outright ban on new short-term rental properties, at least in residential areas.

Short-term rental properties (STRs), many of which routinely host large crowds during University of Georgia football games, graduations and popular community events like the AthFest music and arts festival, have become a pressing issue for residents of many single-family neighborhoods.

STRs, made available to the public through third-party online platforms like Vrbo and Airbnb, have spurred complaints of crowds, noise, parking and other persistent nuisances, particularly from residents of Five Points and other neighborhoods close to the UGA campus.

Primarily at issue is an ordinance provision establishing a two-year “sunset” for non-conforming STRs, properties that were legal when established, but have since fallen out of compliance with local regulation.

The Glynn County Board of Education is moving forward with plans for a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Education (E-SPLOST), according to The Brunswick News.

The Glynn County School Board gave school district staff the green light Tuesday to present voters with a proposed new 1 percent countywide sales tax, known as ESPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).

The board voted unanimously to approve the proposed ESPLOST V, which would seek to raise $114.6 million within four years.

The board’s approval means school district staff can now begin preparing to submit ESPLOST V to the public for a vote in November.

Like the county government SPLOST tax, ESPLOST is a 1-cent tax on all retail sales countywide with the intention of raising money for specific public projects. Many perceive it as a more equitable way to pay for needed tax dependent projects.

The proposed ESPLOST tax would end sooner than the 48-month timeframe if the goal of raising $114.6 million is achieved earlier. Michael Blackerby, the school district’s assistant superintendent of operations, said that is a good possibility.

If passed by voters, ESPLOST V would address school district staff’s priority list of multiple school renovation projects, equipment purchases and new construction.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson announced public meetings to hear feedback on plans for the Civic Center, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson announced the city’s public input process during his weekly press conference Tuesday. Public input will include a stakeholder meeting with arts groups, business groups and neighborhood associations, and a series of open houses.

More details on the public engagement opportunities will be released by the city in the future….

According to a press release from the City, “these sessions will include a review of the project background; provide updates on technical analysis, cultural landscape analysis, survey, and archaeology assessment; an opportunity for community feedback on questions focusing on the facility, community, and the future of the site with consideration to arts, land uses, community and public space.”

“Our goal is to make sure we left no one out of the conversation,” Johnson said.

Tybee Island is putting out barricades and other crowd control measures to address an expected “Orange Crush” crowd, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The founder of Orange Crush reacted to the city’s measures, according to the Savannah Morning News.

“I think it’s horrendous they’re doing all this because this is a public beach,” [Kenneth] Flowe said. “I think that it’s important for African Americans to be able to access public space without being harassed by policy makers. When you take that tactic, then you get folks who are saying, ‘I’m coming on that beach, come hell or high water.’”

Two decades before Flowe decided that a huge beach bash was the best way to put SSU on the map for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 11 Black students were arrested at Georgia’s first wade-in, a demonstration similar to a sit-in, on Tybee.

Prior to the wade-in demonstrations, Black people were forced to travel outside of the city for public beach access. After three years of wade-ins, Tybee’s beaches were integrated by October 1963.

“They were jeered at by beachgoers and arrested for disrobing in public,” Flowe said. “As a result of this, those young folks who were simply trying to use public water had criminal records. I just anticipated that the authorities would try to figure out a way to prevent the beach party if I didn’t conduct myself properly.”

The festival continued to be held and sponsored by SSU, drawing in students from HBCUs in Georgia and along the East Coast, until 1991. SSU severed ties with the event after a dozen arrests, a stabbing and drowning at a singular festival, but by that time Tybee Island had been solidified as a place for HBCU spring break celebrations. It continued, unpermitted, drawing crowds year after year.

In attempts to combat the large crowds and the potential for violence, the City of Tybee has implemented aggressive regulations in the past. In 2018, it prohibited open alcoholic beverages and implemented traffic stops and property searches, limited housing rentals, noise and some restaurants and businesses closed.

This resulted in a mediation between the group Concerned Citizens of Tybee and the city by the U.S. Department of Justice. The agreement states that officials should not treat Orange Crush differently than any other special event, permitted or not.

The now unpermitted event known as Orange Crush by locals is shaping up this year to look similar to the event of years past: with lots of law enforcement and barricades to prevent the strain on Tybee Island’s resources that it brought last year.

In 2023, the third weekend in April brought more than 111,000 people over the course of three days, and the high volume of people caused clogged roads, traffic accidents, a road rage incident resulting in a shooting, crowding and complaints around drug and alcohol abuse, noise, illegal parking and litter, according to the city.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell visits Savannah April 23, 2024, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and other national, state and local officials will visit Savannah April 23 to celebrate $30 million in federal funding to address drainage issues around the Springfield Canal that have long impacted the historic Carver Village and Cloverdale neighborhoods.

The grant represents one of the largest Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) awards through the Justice40 Initiative, a program introduced in 2022 by President Joe Biden to advance environmental justice and spur economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution.

Enmarket Arena will host a gathering of leaders expected to include FEMA’s Criswell, Mayor Van Johnson, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Director and Senior Adviser to President Biden Tom Perez, Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director James Stallings, City Manager Jay Melder and District 1 Alderwoman Bernetta Lanier.

Macon-Bibb Commissioners voted to spend $2 million dollars on jail upgrades, according to 13WMAZ.

The City of Perry will install new surveillance cameras in municipal parks, according to 13WMAZ.

More technology is on its way to Perry after a city council vote Tuesday. The goal is simple: make the community safer.

Several of the city’s larger parks already have security cameras, like in Rotary Centennial Park. Micah West can be found out enjoying the park occasionally.

Police Chief Alan Everidge says they want anyone walking or parking their car to have a safe experience.

“Every park in every community deserves to have the same service and that’s our goal,” he shared.

He says having the camera has already proven to be successful. They even used it as evidence in a 2022 homicide.

“The video from that park was basically the final evidence needed for a conviction,” Everidge shared.

Depending on the park, Everidge says they could get anywhere from one to three of the 360-degree multi-sensor surveillance cameras.

Everidge says video is kept for only 30 days, and no one sits and monitors it. He says the department has to track when they’re using it and the case they’re using it for.

The city will partially use a state grant to pay for the project. Last year, they received $1.5 million to bring technology that will help reduce crime. The grant would cover $390,000 and the city would pay $5,000.

Lorraine Cochran-Johnson is running for DeKalb County CEO, according to the AJC.

She is one of three vying to replace a term-limited Michael Thurmond. She is competing against fellow commissioners Steve Bradshaw and Larry Johnson, and because no Republicans filed to run, the position will go to whichever Democrat wins the May 21 primary.

Cochran-Johnson was first elected to the District 7 seat representing the eastern half of the county in 2018, winning a runoff election against an incumbent who was accused of sexual harassment by an aide and who had controversially voted to give himself and other commissioners a 60% pay raise.

Cochran-Johnson sees the DeKalb CEO position as a calling.

“DeKalb County has become my ministry,” she said, adding that her message for DeKalb is a prosperity gospel.

Both of Cochran-Johnson’s opponents have outraised her, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. She reported raising $118,556 through the end of January and had $53,157 on hand. Bradshaw raised $292,487 and Larry Johnson raised $216,206.

Former commissioners Kathie Gannon and Jeff Radar, who were political mentors, are backing Cochran-Johnson, as are the mayors of several DeKalb cities.

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