Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 17, 2017

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for August 17, 2017

Georgia Governor Joseph Terrell signed legislation creating the State Board of Health on August 17, 1903.

Georgia Tech was designated the State School of Technology on August 17, 1908 by joint resolution of the State Senate and State House.

In a quaint bit of Georgia history, on August 17, 1908, Governor Hoke Smith signed legislation prohibiting corporate donations to political campaigns. Cute!

On August 17, 1998, President Bill Clinton testified as the subject of a grand jury investigation.

The testimony came after a four-year investigation into Clinton and his wife Hillary’s alleged involvement in several scandals, including accusations of sexual harassment, potentially illegal real-estate deals and suspected “cronyism” involved in the firing of White House travel-agency personnel. The independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, then uncovered an affair between Clinton and a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. When questioned about the affair, Clinton denied it, which led Starr to charge the president with perjury and obstruction of justice, which in turn prompted his testimony on August 17.

Neither History Nor Politics

Researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Mayo Clinic announced they have identified the basic pathology behind Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.

The disease-causing mutation identified is the first of its kind, [Dr. J. Paul] Taylor said. Unlike in other genetic diseases, the mutation does not cripple an enzyme in a biological regulatory pathway. Rather, the mutation produces an abnormal version of a protein involved in a process called phase separation in cells.

There is currently no effective treatment for ALS/FTD. However, the researchers believe their finding offers a promising pathway for developing treatments to restore neurons’ ability to  disassemble the organelles when their cellular purpose has ended.

The TIA1 mutation was discovered when the scientists analyzed the genomes of a family affected with ALS/FTD. Tracing the effect of the mutation on TIA1 structure, the researchers found that it altered the properties of a highly mobile “tail” of the protein. This tail region governs the protein’s ability to aggregate with other TIA1 proteins. Taylor and his colleagues previously identified such unstructured protein regions, called prion-like domains, as the building blocks of cellular assemblies and as hotspots for disease-causing mutations.

In further studies, the researchers found that TIA1 mutations occurred frequently in ALS patients. The scientists also found that people carrying the mutation had the disease.

“This paper provides the first ‘smoking gun,’ showing that the disease-causing mutation changes the phase transition behavior of proteins,”  Taylor said. “And the change in the phase transition behavior changes the biology of the cell.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former Atlanta Mayor and Ambassador Andrew Young said it’s too expensive to fight the civil war again.

Said Young:

“I think it’s too costly to refight the Civil War. We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together…

“I personally feel that we made a mistake in fighting over the Confederate flag here in Georgia. Or that that was an answer to the problem of the death of nine people – to take down the Confederate flag in South Carolina.”

Specifically, Young was speaking of Gov. Roy Barnes’ decision to pull down the 1956 state flag that prominently featured the Confederate battle emblem. The move was a primary reason he lost his bid for re-election, split the state Democratic party, and ushered in the current season of Republican rule. Said Young:

“It cost us $14.9 billion and 70,000 jobs that would have gone with the Affordable Care Act – which we probably would have had if we hadn’t been fighting over a flag…

“It cost of us the health of our city because we were prepared to build a Northern Arc, 65 miles away from the center of the city of Atlanta – an outer perimeter that would have been up and running now, if we had not been fighting over the flag.

“I am always interested in substance over symbols. If the truth be known, we’ve had as much agony – but also glory, under the United States flag. That flew over segregated America. It flew over slavery….”

The Georgia Conference of the NAACP is calling for the removal of all Confederate memorials on public property.

On Wednesday, state conference President Phyllis Blake issued a statement calling for elected officials to remove all confederate symbols from public property owned by the state and local governments.

“The traitors of the Confederate States of America were soundly defeated over 150 years ago and today we as diverse Georgians must send a message once and for all, that Georgia is the state too busy to hate,” Blake said in a statement. “We call on all mayors within this great state, including (Atlanta) Mayor Kasim Reed, to remove all symbols of the confederacy from city government property.”

Valdosta residents will rally in response to Charlottesville at 11 AM on Saturday at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park.

Bill Torpy at the AJC writes about fighting among Georgia Democrats.

When I first saw the video of activists shouting down Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Evans at the Netroots Nation convention last weekend, I had one thought: Hello, Governor Cagle.

The event was just the latest example of why the Democratic Party seems ready to relegate itself to permanent bridesmaid status, not only here in Georgia but from sea to shining sea. And the Republican front-runner in the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, was no doubt grinning big time.

Lisa Coston, who told me she’s a progressive Dem from Lawrenceville, responded to Abrams’ post, saying: “What the protesters did was to disrupt Rep. Evans’ speech, for no apparent reason but to try and shut her up. There is no need for that, nor an excuse for that behavior.

“This is the explicit problem with the Democratic Party in general, both at the state and national level. Infighting based on race, religion, whatever else. It prevents progressives from being united, and thus we lose and lose and lose.”

However, [Stacey] Abrams’ deputy campaign manager, Marcus Ferrell, used to be CEO of an activist org called MPACT. And his deputy director at MPACT was a woman named Anoa Changa.

Not long after the shout-down, The Washington Post talked with “protester” Anoa Changa. “An interruption is not necessarily promoting one person over another,” Changa told the newspaper.

Allen Fort, Superintendent/Principal of Taliferro County Schools, wrote about the challenges of rural Georgia in a letter that Maureen Downey ran in her AJC blog.

Taliaferro is the smallest county in Georgia with the smallest school system. There are 175 students, Pre-k-12, who attend this tiny school located about half way between Atlanta and Augusta on I-20. It is hard to imagine a county of just 1,700 citizens exists only miles from two cities that have more than six million people, but it does.

Many people will wonder why this school system even exists. Why it doesn’t consolidate? Why it doesn’t just close?

One of the greatest challenges of educating 21st century youth is that, while technology has increased access to information and experiences, students are increasingly disconnected from education. This dilemma is exacerbated in rural communities where jobs are few and opportunities appear limited. Therefore, our teachers and students must have everyday meaningful opportunities to use technology not to surf the internet, but to teach and learn, creating teachable moments and unique instruction.

We understand we may be our own worst enemy as these students graduate and move on to college (all of our last year’s graduates were accepted and are attending four-year, two-year or technical college at this time). Unfortunately, we may never see them back in Taliaferro again.

What is here to bring them back? We have no adequate housing, no viable businesses and no real industry to entice a young college graduate or recently discharged veteran to return to our community as a working citizen. When the local name for the Dollar General is the “Crawfordville Mall,” you understand your limitations.

Federal grants for the two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle are caught up in larger budget matters in the U.S. Senate.

Boosters of the estimated $25 billion project, the only one of its kind left in the U.S., think the federal bill could throw an economic lifeline to the companies behind the venture as they decide whether to move ahead with construction or abandon work amid major cost overruns and deep delays.

Under current law, newly constructed nuclear reactors can receive federal tax credits for producing electricity only if they are put in service before 2021. The bill before Congress would lift the deadline.

The extension would help preserve the roughly $800 million in tax credits that Georgia Power, which has a nearly 46 percent share of the project, has been counting on as it builds a pair of new reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.

A bill extending the tax credits sailed through the U.S. House nearly unanimously back in June, but it needs the Senate’s approval before it can be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk. And that’s where the bill appears to be stuck, not because of outright opposition but the greater gravitational pull of a broader tax overhaul.

Meanwhile, a 1.4 million-pound steam generator was installed at Vogtle Unit 3.

Georgia Power announced … that a 1.4 million pound steam generator was lowered into the nuclear island of Unit 3 on Tuesday. The nearly 80-foot generator was built in South Korea and shipped to the Port of Savannah and delivered to the site by rail, the company said in a news release. The generators use heat from the nuclear core to convert water into steam for power generation. Each of the two new-generation AP1000 reactors will require two steam generators, all of which are currently on site, the company said.

Southern Nuclear, a division of Georgia Power parent company Southern Co., now has oversight over the expansion after contractor Westinghouse declared bankruptcy in March. Southern Nuclear operates the other two reactors at Vogtle.

Thousands of voting machines may be out of commission due to a lawsuit filed over the 6th Congressional District elections earlier this year.

The suit, filed over the July 4 holiday, demands that Republican Karen Handel’s win in a June 20 runoff be thrown out and the contest redone over concerns some election integrity advocates have about the security and accuracy of Georgia’s election infrastructure.

The machines and related hardware are central to that system, and the three metro counties with areas in the 6th District — Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton — have stored the machines used in the special election after plaintiffs sought to preserve electronic records that could have bearing on the suit.

That includes keeping intact memory cards — which might otherwise be wiped clean in preparation for a new election — as well as residual memory on the machines. Voting on the machines is anonymous — the records can’t be used to identify personal information about a specific voter — but they do track and tally how many votes are cast on individual machines or in the election overall.

Advocates who filed the suit said they aren’t trying to derail the state’s elections schedule or any of those counties’ preparations ahead of November. But their request has also resulted in a litigation hold on 1,324 voting machines in Fulton, nearly 1,000 machines in DeKalb and 307 machines in Cobb.

Gwinnett County Magistrate Judge James Hinkle resigned his office after being suspended for comments on Facebook.

Chief Magistrate Judge Kristina Hammer Blum said in a statement at about 6:30 p.m. that Judge James A. Hinkle “offered his immediate resignation from his position as a part-time Magistrate.”

“For 14 years, Judge Hinkle has dutifully served this Court. He is a lifelong public servant and former Marine,” Blum said. “However, he has acknowledged that his statements on social media have disrupted the mission of this court, which is to provide justice for all.”

Governor Nathan Deal will return to Gainesville to recognize a new state law allowing direct sales of beer to consumers.

Deal will join local elected officials at the brewery on Atlanta Highway to ring in Georgia’s new law allowing direct sales of beer, from pints to cases, at breweries.

The law was approved in the most recent session of the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Deal. It’s being celebrated as a major step forward for Georgia breweries.

The event runs from noon to 10 p.m. Deal will make an appearance later in the afternoon, according to Datta.

The business owner is calling it a new era for Georgia breweries, heretofore restricted to selling tours of their facilities and offering “samples” of their beer. Almost all of Georgia-made packaged beer is distributed to wholesalers, but that will change come September.

“Just as with the state’s wine industry, craft breweries are becoming travel destinations, and tourists from within and outside (Georgia) are seeking out breweries to enjoy the local flavors and offerings unique to each brewery,” Datta said in his Wednesday announcement.

Thirty Georgia businesses joined the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.

Not quite a year old, the South Carolina-based organization boasts the support of more than 41,000 business and 500,000 commercial fishing families for its efforts to protect the Atlantic Coast from offshore oil/gas exploration and drilling.

Michael Neal, owner of Bull River Cruises, is among the local participants.

“Both the beauty of Coastal Georgia and the nature of Coastal Georgia have more importance that the potential of offshore drilling,” said Neal, whose 19-year-old business employs five people for its educational and historical cruises to places such as Ossabaw Island. “Plus, there are potential impacts if anything goes wrong.”

In April, President Donald Trump revived the prospects for offshore drilling and exploration with an executive order. It calls for a review of the current five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf and directs the administration to fast-track the permitting process for seismic airgun blasting for an area stretching from Delaware to Florida.

Along with businesses, local governments along the coast have expressed opposition to both offshore drilling and seismic testing. Among those passing resolutions are Savannah, Tybee, Hinesville and Brunswick. The governors of both North and South Carolina have voiced opposition to drilling off the Atlantic coast.

But state and federal elected officials in Georgia still back drilling.

State Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville) appeared at the Gainesville City Council meeting to present a state resolution.

“Whereas the State of Georgia lost one its finest citizens and most dedicated law enforcement officers with the tragic passing of Officer Henry Tilman Davis,” Hawkins began reading.

Hawkins continued, “When his life was tragically cut short in September of 1972 after his patrol car was struck from behind and forced into oncoming traffic while traveling on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville…”

“Be it resolved…that the intersection of Beechwood Boulevard NW and State Route 53/Dawsonville Highway in Hall County is dedicated as the Officer Henry Tilman Davis Memorial Intersection.”

In Gainesville, qualifying for Mayor and two Council seats opens Monday, August 21st.

Cobb County Commissioner Bob Ott will hold a Town Hall tonight at 7 PM at the East Cobb Library, located at 4880 Lower Roswell Road in Marietta.

Voters in Athens-Clarke County will decide on November 7, 2017 whether to levy a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST).

With little discussion, Athens-Clarke County commissioners gave final approval to a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax during a special-called meeting Tuesday.

Officials expect to accrue $109.5 million in collections over the course of the sales tax window to fund road-paving projects, an extension of the Firefly Trail, fixes to the Oconee Rivers Greenway and much more.

The TSPLOST list will go to voters as part of a referendum that also would allow county officials to seek a $95 million bond to get started on some of the projects. Proceeds from the tax would be used to repay the bond.

If voters approve the referendum, collections on the sales tax will start April 1.

Healthcare

Northside Hospital and Gwinnett Health System have filed plans to merge, possibly beginning joint operations in 2018.

The hospital systems have filed their proposed merger agreement with the Georgia Attorney General’s office.

Northside has hospitals in Atlanta, Cherokee County and Forsyth County. The Gwinnett Health System has Gwinnett Medical Center campuses in Duluth and Lawrenceville. The hospitals expect to have nearly 21,000 employees and 3,500 physicians once the merger is complete.

The Dougherty County Commission voted 5-2 to oppose the opening of a hospital in neighboring Lee County.

Dougherty County Commission voted Wednesday at a special called meeting to send the state Department of Community Health a notice of opposition to a certificate of need sought by the group that plans to build the Lee hospital.

After Dougherty Attorney Spencer Lee told the board, “You need to act today if you want to be part of this process,” the board voted 5-2 to send a notice of opposition to the Lee CON to the state Department of Community Health.

Commissioners Lamar Hudgins, who said he “could not vote against a fellow county that is so entwined with us,” and John Hayes, who said he’d had a number of county citizens — including physicians — express their support for the proposed hospital, voted against the resolution to oppose the CON.

[Dougherty County Commission Chair Chris] Cohilas made it clear during discussion of the notice of opposition that Dougherty County’s primary reason for taking the action is to protect the interests of citizens and the health care provided by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, which cannot speak out against the CON application because of an agreement the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County reached with the Federal Trade Commission while in the process of purchasing Palmyra Medical Center in Albany. In fact, one of the stipulations included in a letter Lee sent to DCH Commissioner Frank Berry asked that body to allow Phoebe to offer its opposition to the application.

The Times-Georgian in Carrollton looks at the struggles of a local rural hospital and its patients.

Part of the nonprofit Tanner Health System, Higgins General Hospital doesn’t have shareholders — every bit of revenue is reinvested into the facility, financing new equipment, new facilities like the new surgical services center that’s now under construction, and to provide care for people in the community who cannot otherwise afford it.

Each year, Higgins General Hospital alone spends about $10 million on charity and indigent care, ensuring everyone in the community has care when they need it. But like many of their patients, the hospital, too, has to make ends meet.

“It’s unfortunate, but cost is a real barrier to care for a lot of people,” said Bonnie Boles, MD, MBA, administrator of Higgins General Hospital and Tanner Medical Center/Villa Rica. “I saw it first-hand when I was in practice, and I see it now in administration. Having regular access to care, especially for people with chronic diseases like COPD or diabetes, is essential for keeping those diseases under control. And when you can’t, you end up needing a much more acute level of care, like a hospitalization. But you’re not better off financially when you leave the hospital, so the cycle just continues.”

But the cost of providing uncompensated care is making things difficult for hospitals, too.

Since the beginning of 2013, six Georgia hospitals have closed, and others — especially those in rural areas — are struggling to keep their doors open. The most recent Georgia Department of Community Health Hospital Financial Survey found that 42 percent of all hospitals in Georgia had negative total margins in 2015, while 68 percent of rural hospitals in the state lost money in the same year.

Much of that strain is coming from uncompensated care — care hospitals provide but for which they receive little or no reimbursement. According to the Georgia Hospital Association, in 2015 the state’s hospitals absorbed more than $1.7 billion in costs for care that was delivered but not paid for.

Senate Bill 258 — the Georgia Rural Hospital Expense Tax Credit program — allows Georgia taxpayers to make contributions to select rural hospitals in Georgia, including Higgins General Hospital in Bremen. Originally providing a 70 percent credit, lawmakers in the General Assembly this year passed Senate Bill 180, extending the credit to 90 percent and making it retroactive to Jan. 1, 2017.

Under the enhanced rural hospital tax credit, by contributing to Higgins General Hospital in exchange for a 90 percent tax credit, Georgia taxpayers can pay substantially all of their Georgia income taxes — up to the maximum amounts allowed.

Higgins General Hospital is among the rural Georgia hospitals that qualify for the credit. Tanner’s leadership has been making the rounds, visiting civic groups and hosting meetings with local tax advisors and accountants to extol the benefits of the program. The health system has also launched a website, tanner.org/taxcredit, with information about how people can donate and benefit from the program.

“We are grateful that our state’s lawmakers have signaled that they understand the importance of our rural hospitals to the communities they serve by supporting this innovative program,” said Loy Howard, president and CEO of Tanner Health System — and also a certified public accountant. “This is a unique opportunity for residents to keep their tax money local and do something positive for their community.”

Elections

Leo Smith, former Director of Minority Engagement for the Georgia Republican Party, will run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Hunter Hill.

Leo Smith said Thursday he’s running as a “conservative bridge builder with a unique set of skills” to serve the district, which stretches across parts of north Atlanta and Smyrna. He would be the first black Republican in the Georgia Senate in modern times.

The seat is a juicy target for Democrats. Republican Hunter Hill, who is vacating the position to run for governor, only narrowly held it in November. And Hillary Clinton carried the affluent district in November.

Three Democrats are already in the contest. Pediatric dentist Jaha Howard is making a comeback bid after his slim defeat last year. Trial lawyer Jen Jordan has already announced her candidacy.  And political newcomer Nigel Sims has entered the race.

Newt Gingrich endorsed David Shafer for Lieutenant Governor in the 2018 election.

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich endorsed Shafer on Tuesday. The veteran Georgia politician and ex-presidential candidate, known for his Contract With America that helped lead to Republicans taking control of the House in 1994, praised Shafer for his conservative credentials.

Shafer led the Georgia Republican Party in the early 1990s and has championed issues such as zero-based budgeting and limiting tax increases.

“David Shafer is an effective, innovative legislator with a solidly conservative record to back up his campaign promises,” Gingrich said. “He has proven time and again that he will fight for us. David Shafer will make an outstanding Lieutenant Governor for Georgia and I am proud to endorse him.”

Gingrich’s endorsement of Shafer is the latest person who, one time or another, had a national profile in Republican politics. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former congressman and ex-presidential candidate Bob Barr have announced their support for the state senator, as has former Rep. John Linder.

State Rep. Geoff Duncan (R-Cumming) announced that former Coca-Cola Enterprises chief executive John Brock has endorsed his campaign for Lt. Governor.

John Brock … said he wanted to back a candidate for lieutenant governor who “knows what it’s like to sign the front of a check and not just the back of one.”

Brock, who retired as the bottling giant’s chief executive in 2016, said in the statement that he’s endorsing the state legislator because of his entrepreneurial experience. Duncan led several health startups before seeking to succeed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor.

John Bradberry will run for Johns Creek City Council Post Three in November 2017.

Johns Creek small business owner and former United States Marine, John Bradberry, has announced his intention to run for City Council Post 3 in this November’s election.
“Whether it is zoning or road improvement projects, every decision made by the City of Johns Creek should ask “How will this affect our residents’ quality of life?”  said Bradberry.

Bradberry’s campaign slogan is “Preserve Johns Creek…Protect Our Quality of Life!”  Bradberry said, “This is more than just a slogan to me.  Our community is at a critical juncture.  It is vital that we return to our original vision for Johns Creek.  We are a high-end residential community with great schools, low crime, and a high quality of life.  As long as we continue to be the best at that, then there will always be high-demand for our ‘product’.   It sets us apart and makes us unique.  We love it and call it home.”

The highlights of Bradberry’s platform are:
* Restore trust in local government
* Focus on traffic relief for OUR residents
* Stop high density development, billboards and widenings that create cut-through highways
* Term limits for locally elected officials

“These issues are critical to my family and the future of Johns Creek.  I’ll be an independent voice for the residents.”

Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms has launched his reelection campaign.

Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms officially began his re-election campaign Wednesday by saying he had kept his lone campaign promise, which was to bring more calm to city government.

Although he admitted before his announcement that the last City Council meeting wasn’t a good example, Toms said overall he has kept that promise.

“I believe the environment has calmed down and I believe this calmness has facilitated a resurgence in growth in the area,” he said.

Monday is also the day that qualifying for the Nov. 7 election begins. Joe Musselwhite, the city’s former public works director who lost to Toms in the 2013 election, has said he is making another try as mayor. Councilman Chuck Shaheen said during the debate on the city administrator that he plans to run for mayor, but he declined to confirm that afterward and has not officially announced.

Toms was a city firefighter for 27 years and won the mayor’s seat in a 6-way race.

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