Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 7, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for April 7, 2020

On April 7, 1776, the United States warship Lexington captured a British warship, HMS Edward, for the first time.

The_Lexington_-_NARA_-_513013_628

On April 7, 1798, President John Adams signed legislation authorizing negotiations between three representatives of Georgia and three Presidential appointees over Georgia’s claim to land west of what is now the Georgia-Alabama state lines. Georgia would continue to claim most of what is currently Alabama and Mississippi until 1802.

Map by Carl Vinson Institute of Government at UGA

Map by Carl Vinson Institute of Government at UGA.

Georgia Map 1795

Above: a 1795 map showing Georgia extending west to Louisiana. “These Parts are little known.”

On April 7, 1995, Governor Zell Miller signed legislation recognizing the peach as the official state fruit of Georgia.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia Senator Jack Hill (R-Reidsville), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, died yesterday. From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill died Monday at age 75, according to a statement from Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

The Republican was first elected to the Georgia Senate from the 4th District in 1990 and was reelected in 2018 to his 15th term. Hill was a 37-year veteran, serving 33 years in the Georgia Air National Guard.

Duncan called Hill a “true statesman, a man of overwhelming integrity, and a servant leader.”

“For three decades Georgians have benefited from his leadership and his calm and steady hand at the helm,” Duncan said in a statement. “He exhibited all the characteristics we hope for in a leader and was a true friend to all. Jack always ensured we were good stewards of taxpayer dollars, but it was more than that, he led with kindness and clarity.”

“There is not a member of the legislature whose life was not touched in some way by Jack,” Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller said in a statement. “Whether it was providing insight into a budgetary need for their district, or by just being a friend to lean on, you could always count on Jack to be there. I can personally attest to the many times I sought his wisdom and how much I benefitted from his counsel.”

Gov. Brian Kemp called Hill a “gentle giant.”

“Jack Hill was one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I ever served with,” he said on Twitter. “His loss is devastating to our state, but he leaves behind an unmatched legacy of hard work and public service.”

Hill was sworn into the Senate as a Democrat, but in 2002 switched parties and after winning the election was named chairman of the Senate budget committee.

From GPB News:

Born July 15, 1944, Hill was first elected to the Senate in 1990 and switched parties in 2002 after Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue was elected. He served 33 years in the Georgia Air National Guard as a unit commander and as State Inspector General.

His death was not believed to be related to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, and Hill was an institution at the state Capitol, widely respected by both parties for his deep fiscal knowledge and his friendly demeanor.

From the Statesboro Herald:

Hill served as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the Senate. Hill also served as the vice chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, as a member on the Natural Resources and the Environment and Regulated Industries and Utilities, as well as an ex-officio member of the Finance Committee.

In addition to Bulloch County, Hill’s Senate District 4 included Evans, Candler Effingham and parts of Tattnall and Emanuel counties.

Born in Reidsville, where he lived all his life, Hill operated a grocery store in the Tattnall County town for decades. He was a graduate of Reidsville High School and what was then Georgia Southern College, now Georgia Southern University. Hill is survived by his wife Ruth, three children and seven grandchildren.

From the AJC:

“I’m heartbroken,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said. “Whatever he was for the state, and what he did for the budget — he was a mentor to me. At the end of the day these are people that we know, people what we like (and) people that we work with. And it hurts.”

Former Gov. Nathan Deal said Hill was an example of public leadership.

“His dedication for many decades made him one of the most notable people who ever served in the Georgia State Senate,” Deal said. “He was a personal friend whose knowledge and leadership were valuable to me as Governor.”

As Senator Hill was unopposed in the election, there is currently no candidate for his seat. I believe the relevant code section is §21-2-155, which reads:

In the event of the death of a candidate or the withdrawal of an incumbent who qualified as a candidate to succeed himself or herself in office, either of which occurs after the close of qualifying for candidates for such office but prior to the date of a political party primary, the state executive committee or other committee of the party authorized by party rule or, in the case of a municipal election, the municipal executive committee may reopen qualification for the office sought by the deceased or withdrawn candidate for a period of not less than one nor more than three days.

The Masters Tournament has been rescheduled for November 9-15, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Speculation over a new tournament date has swirled since the club made its March 13 announcement amid the growing cornoavirus pandemic. Many speculated on a tournament date in October that would coincide with local schools’ fall breaks, as a large number of the tournament’s temporary workforce – more than 6,000 people – are area high school students doing everything from picking up trash to working registers at gift shops.

Area schools also annually plan their spring breaks to coincide with the tournament so families can take vacations and rent their homes to golf fans and tournament-support staff.

The 2020-2021 school calendars for Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties have already been set, and none have built in November vacation time outside the Thanksgiving holiday. Those calendars are likely to change based on Monday’s announcement.

Abbigail Remkus, director of communications for the Columbia County School District, said the school system “will be reviewing our school calendar and talking with our stakeholders to determine what the best approach will be.”

Twelve County Commission Chairs are asking Governor Brian Kemp to close state parks, according to AccessWDUN.

“As county commissioners in North Georgia, we are writing to request that you issue an executive order closing down all of the state parks located in our area for the duration of the statewide shelter in place order,’ the letter reads. “While we are blessed to live in such a beautiful and abundant area of Georgia that hosts so many wonderful state parks, our constituents are highly concerned about the increased traffic to our area during the statewide shelter in place order. A significant portion of this increased traffic is coming from COVID-19 hot spots such as Atlanta or from other areas outside our state.”

The letter, sent to Kemp Monday afternoon, is signed by Chairman Stacy Hall of Habersham County, as well as Banks County Commission Chairman Jimmy Hooper, Dade County Commission Chairman Ted Rumley, Fannin County Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Franklin County Commission Chairman Thomas Bridges, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Lumpkin County Commission Chairman Chris Dockery, Rabun County Commission Chairman Greg James, Stephens County Commission Chairman Dennis Bell, Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Union County Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris and White County Commission Chairman Travis Turner.

“Our communities simply do not have enough hospital beds or medical personnel to care for the inflated population,” Hall said. “Similarly, there is not enough food, dry goods, fuel and other supplies to adequately provide for the numbers we are experiencing.”

Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning has written to Gov. Kemp to oppose the re-opening of beaches under the statewide shelter-in-place order, according to The Brunswick News.

“We have been hung out to dry,” Browning said.

County commissioners voted last month to close the beaches on St. Simons and Sea islands and to ban new lodging rentals on the islands. The Jekyll Island Authority took similar measures, closing its beaches and banning lodging rentals longer than two nights.

“While we applaud your ‘shelter in place’ directive as the correct move, additional immediate actions are necessary,” Browning’s letter reads. “Many of the suspended local ordinances and orders are more restrictive than your executive order and go further in their efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

The letter also stated that the action of repealing local measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 would impede local governments’ ability to respond to the outbreak moving forward, and called on the governor to allow counties and cities to once again enforce emergency ordinances.

In an interview, Browning said he sees the executive order as just another attempt by the state government to undermine local authorities, also mentioning an attempt by state legislators Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, and Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, to put the future of the Glynn County Police Department on the ballot for popular vote.

He considers Kemp’s executive order evidence that the governor is bowing to pressure from short term rental advocates, who are pushing for a bill in the state legislature to put regulator control of rentals in the hands of the state and out of local governments.

From a separate article in The Brunswick News:

[Glynn County Commissioner David O’Quinn] said he was very disappointed in the state’s decision to reopen the beach.

“We’re a unique community in the sense that we have a lot of people coming from different areas, and so closing the beaches was a way to limit the attraction of those coming down here. Closing the short term rentals and the hotels that were still open was another step in trying to insulate our community,” O’Quinn said.

“I’m just concerned the combination of national exposure, that our beaches are open and short-term rentals are now available that we might see more folks from other areas, hotspots, coming down here to get away from where they were for a couple of weeks to try to ride it out,” O’Quinn said. “We all live in such a small area with only two grocery stores, a few drug stores. You have a greater chance of seeing the virus spread.”

While lodging rentals aren’t banned, Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau President Scott McQuade said nearly all resorts and large hotels have ceased operations for the entire month of April, if not longer.

“This is the case for both island properties and (I-95) properties as many cannot function properly with such a drastic reduction in occupancy (due to mandatory social distancing),” McQuade said. “Additionally, the vast majority of vacation rental management companies are continuing to restrict short-term reservations.”

A federal lawsuit challenging the Athens-Clarke County emergency order was dismissed, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Clyde Armory owner Andrew Clyde, a Republican 9th District U.S. congressional candidate, sued Athens-Clarke County last month, calling its emergency shelter-in-place ordinance “an abuse of police power” and asking that it be declared unconstitutional.

But U.S. District Court Judge Ashley Royal of Georgia’s Middle District dismissed the lawsuit after a hearing conducted by telephone Monday.

All three businesses associated with the lawsuit are classified as “essential” under the local ordinance and allowed to remain open.

The Athens-Clarke ordinance is now superseded by a state shelter-in-place order, which also allows the businesses to stay open.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton extended the judicial emergency order, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Melton first declared the emergency on March 14 and set it to expire on April 13.

While the emergency declaration orders courts to remain open to deal with cases considered critical to protecting the “health, safety and liberty of individuals,” criminal trials and jury duty have been suspended.

Courts are urged to use teleconferencing and videoconferencing when feasible to avoid spreading COVID-19.

The order states that Melton will give notice when he is ready to lift the emergency “at least one week in advance to allow courts to plan the transition to fuller operations.”

As Clarke County appeared to stabilize in its Covid infection rates, surrounding counties have surged, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

“The shelter in place (ordinance) seems to be having some sort of effect,” said Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center CEO Michael Burnett. “We are seeing a little bit of surge now in communities around us.”

As of Monday noon, Clarke County had 69 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, and eight deaths from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.

In the five counties contiguous to Clarke – Barrow, Jackson, Madison, Oconee and Oglethorpe – there were 76 confirmed cases and four deaths as of noon Monday, according to the state Department of Public Health website. The numbers on the website lag well behind actual figures because of delays in getting test results, however.

“We say this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” St. Mary’s Health Care CEO Montez Carter said, comparing COVID-19 surge modeling to hurricane forecasting — the further away the storm is, the less accurate the forecast.

“There’s not a consensus of where it lies right now,” Carter said.

The CEOs believe they have access to enough ventilators for the expected increase in cases predicted for this week and beyond. The addition of in-house testing at the hospitals is decreasing the need for masks and personal protective equipment — but keep those homemade masks coming, they urged with thanks to those providing them.

Piedmont’s ability to test in house is “a game-changer for us” because it’s greatly reduced the burn rate for personal protective equipment, Burnett said.

Congregants of a Bulloch County church was cited under the statewide emergency order, according to the Statesboro Herald.

With eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bulloch County, local law enforcement agencies have begun enforcing Gov. Brian Kemp’s order to observe social distancing. On Sunday, Georgia State Patrol Post 45 troopers issued five citations to people gathered at a local church.

According to GSP Post 45 secretary Ginger Robbins, the five people were charged with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor that could lead to a fine of $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail. The people cited were ignoring the social distancing mandates to only gather in groups of 10 or fewer and to stay 6 feet apart.

Robbins said troopers were called to an unnamed church twice Sunday before issuing citations. The first time they responded, they issued warnings.

Churches can legally hold services if they “find a way to do so observing (the) 6 six feet apart and less than 10 [people]” mandate, [Bulloch County sSheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens] said.

Rebekah Ditto, an Alapaha Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney, was sworn in as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, according to the Albany Herald.

The swearing-in was conducted remotely by phone due to social distancing restrictions in place since the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). Ditto is a graduate of the University of Georgia and Vermont Law School. Since 2013, she has served as an assistant district attorney in the Alapaha Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Atkinson, Berrien, Clinch, Cook and Lanier counties. Ditto currently serves as the chief assistant district attorney for the Alapaha Judicial Circuit.

That’s the first remote swearing-in I’ve read of, but I suspect it won’t be the last.

In Whitfield and Murray Counties, fewer arrests are being made, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Some jurisdictions have explicitly told officers not to make arrests for some crimes in order to keep people out of jails and reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Local law enforcement agencies say they haven’t done that but they have asked officers to use discretion.

“I have spoken with our officers and asked them to use discretion on nonviolent offenses and non-felonies,” said Murray County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jimmy Davenport.

Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood said his department has also advised deputies to use discretion and issue citations rather than make arrests for minor crimes.

“They are still making arrests for felonies and violent crimes,” Chitwood said.

Still, those policies don’t explain why arrests for felonies seem to be down, too.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler will participate in an online Town Hall hosted by the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The Gwinnett Chamber will host an online town hall with Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler from 11 a.m. until noon Thursday. The activity, described on the chamber’s website as a “conference call,” is designed to let participants hear Butler talk about resources that are part of the Department of Labor’s COVID-19 response, as well as expanded rules that are currently in place because of the pandemic.

Anyone who has questions for Butler will have to submit them before 5 p.m. Wednesday by emailing them to aperry@gwinnettchamber.org. Chamber officials said questions will not be accepted during the town hall.

Anyone who would like to participate in the town hall can register at bit.ly/3bYF1a2. The town hall is free for chamber members and $10 for non-members.

The City of Dalton will receive more than $255,000 dollars under the federal CARES Act, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The City of Dalton will receive $255,543 in Community Development Block Grant money under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law by President Donald Trump last month.

City officials say it isn’t yet clear precisely how they can use the money.

Community Development Block Grant grants go to cities and can be used to provide affordable housing, build infrastructure and fund anti-poverty efforts.

A candidate for Habersham County Commission was charged with sexual assault, according to AccessWDUN.

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