Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 1, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 1, 2023

John Wesley left Savannah on December 2, 1737.

John Wesley’s strict discipline as rector of Christ Church in Savannah irritated his parishioners. More trouble followed when he fell in love with Sophia Hopkey, the niece of Georgia’s chief magistrate. When she married another man, Wesley banned her from Holy Communion, damaging her reputation in the community.

His successful romantic rival sued him; but Wesley refused to recognize the authority of the court, and the man who would eventually found a major Protestant denomination in America left Georgia in disgrace on December 2, 1737.

Touro Synagogue, the oldest existing synagogue in the United States, was dedicated on December 2, 1763 in Newport, Rhode Island.

628px-Grand_Union_Flag.svg

On December 3, 1775, the Grand Union Flag, comprising the Union Jack with thirteen red-and-white stripes was raised for the first time by Lieutenant John Paul Jones over the USS Alfred, a colonial warship. The flag would be used by Continental forces thorugh 1776 and early 1777.

USS Alfred

On December 3, 1776, General George Washington wrote Congress that he had moved most of his army across the Delaware River from Trenton, New Jersey to Pennsylvania.

General George Washington set up winter headquarters at Morristown, New Jersey on December 1, 1779.

On December 1, 1824, the election for President of the United States, in which no candidate received a majority of electoral votes, went to the United States House of Representatives.

Andrew Jackson of Tennessee won 99 electoral and 153,544 popular votes; John Quincy Adams–the son of John Adams, the second president of the United States–received 84 electoral and 108,740 popular votes; Secretary of State William H. Crawford, who had suffered a stroke before the election, received 41 electoral votes; and Representative Henry Clay of Virginia won 37 electoral votes.

As dictated by the Constitution, the election was then turned over to the House of Representatives. The 12th Amendment states that if no electoral majority is won, only the three candidates who receive the most popular votes will be considered in the House. Representative Henry Clay, who was disqualified from the House vote as a fourth-place candidate, agreed to use his influence to have John Quincy Adams elected.

The Skirmish at Rocky Creek Church took place near Waynesboro, Georgia on December 2, 1864.

On December 3, 1864, Union forces under the command of Gen. William T. Sherman skirmished against Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry at Thomas’ Station in Burke County, Georgia.

The City of Sandy Springs began operations at one second after midnight on December 1, 2005. Three years later, Dunwoody became a new city, on December 1, 2008.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has died, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the nation’s highest court and a crucial swing vote during her twenty-five year tenure, died on Friday. She was 93.

A key figure in landmark Supreme Court cases dealing with abortion, affirmative action and civil rights, O’Connor retired from the high court in 2006 and announced in 2018 that she had been diagnosed with dementia and would withdraw from public life.

O’Connor was President Ronald Reagan’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, joining the court in 1981 after an already notable career that included serving as the majority leader in Arizona’s state Senate – the first woman to hold that title in the nation.

She died of complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness, according to a statement from the Supreme Court.

“A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed an historic trail as our nation’s first female justice,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement. “She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor. We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education. And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.”

Born in Texas, O’Connor grew up on a cattle ranch in rural Arizona, where she developed a skepticism of the federal government’s land management policies – a perception some observers say influenced her commitment to federalism and state rights on the court. She graduated high school at 16 and enrolled at Stanford University, where she later continued on to study law.

“While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life,” she wrote in a letter released by the court at the time.

“How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country,” she added. “As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

O’Connor, whom commentators had once called the nation’s most powerful woman, remained the court’s only woman until 1993, when, much to O’Connor’s delight and relief, President Bill Clinton nominated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The current court includes a record four women.

The enormity of the reaction to O’Connor’s appointment had surprised her. She received more than 60,000 letters in her first year, more than any one member in the court’s history. “I had no idea when I was appointed how much it would mean to many people around the country,” she once said. “It affected them in a very personal way. People saw it as a signal that there are virtually unlimited opportunities for women. It’s important to parents for their daughters, and to daughters for themselves.”

Following her retirement, O’Connor expressed regret that a woman had not been chosen to replace her. O’Connor remained active in the government even after she retired from the court. She sat as a judge on several federal appeals courts, advocated for judicial independence and served on the Iraq Study Group. She also was appointed to the honorary post of chancellor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

On the bench, O’Connor generally favored states in disputes with the federal government. She often sided with police when they faced claims of violating people’s rights. In 1985, she wrote for the court as it ruled that the confession of a criminal suspect first warned about his rights may be used as trial evidence, even if police violated the suspect’s rights in obtaining an earlier confession.

Dalton voters will elect a new member of the Board of Education in next week’s Runoff Election, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The 2023 election cycle officially comes to an end on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with a lone Dalton Board of Education race on the local ballot.

In a field that also included candidate Dr. Pablo Perez, neither incumbent John Tulley Johnson nor challenger Laura Orr mustered enough votes to garner a clear majority in the Nov. 7 general election.

Johnson and Orr — the top two vote-getters last month — now await the results of Tuesday’s runoff election to determine who will hold the school board seat.

Valdosta voters will elect a new City Council member serving at-large, according to WALB.

“The city is doing some things already, they have an affordable housing project going on the south end of town right now. We need more. There are a lot of properties that can actually be used to make them affordable, while the city can’t do anything we can maybe incentivize the owners to go in and change things up so we can have more housing,” Nick “Big Nick” Harden, one of the city council candidates, said.

“We don’t have enough housing at is, so we have to do something. I don’t really know what the answer is but we need to make sure these people have affordable housing. When you have two adults working $10-$13 an hour jobs, we need to make sure they can afford to live too,” Bill Love, one of the city council candidates, said.

According to Lowndes County elections data, only 5,000 of the over 30,000 registered voters in the county turned out during the initial 2023 municipal election. With early voting in the runoff election for Valdosta City Council At Large wrapping up, candidates say only about 3% of voters have cast their ballots.

The last day for early voting in the runoff election is Friday, December 1st at 7 p.m. Runoff Election Day is Tuesday, December 5th, and WALB will be reporting election results.

Gas prices will rise again as Governor Brian Kemp’s suspension of the motor fuel sales tax expired, according to The Brunswick News.

Gov. Brian Kemp and the General Assembly allowed the latest temporary suspension to expire on Wednesday. That means the state Department of Revenue will resume collecting 29 cents per gallon from motorists.

Kemp reinstituted the temporary suspension in September. Since then, prices at the pump have fallen to an average of $2.79 in Georgia, third-lowest in the nation according to AAA.

With Georgia sitting on a huge budget surplus, the state has been to afford temporarily suspending the gas tax. But with prices dropping so significantly, the governor and legislature opted not to continue the suspension at this time.

From the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald:

Georgia drivers are likely to begin paying higher prices for gasoline and diesel as state motor fuel taxes return on Thursday.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s rollback of the state taxes of 31.2 cents per gallon of gasoline and 35 cents per gallon of diesel ends at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

The Republican Kemp began waiving the taxes in September when he issued a novel legal declaration finding that high prices were an emergency. Georgia’s governor can suspend tax collections during an emergency as long as state lawmakers approve the action the next time they meet. But because the General Assembly is beginning a special session Wednesday to discuss legislative and congressional redistricting, Kemp could not extend the waiver of the taxes past then.

Kemp has asked lawmakers to approve his action in the special session. He could also ask lawmakers to pass a law to extend the tax break. But Kemp spokesperson Garrison Douglas said Tuesday that the governor doesn’t plan to ask lawmakers to act. Douglas said it’s possible that Kemp could issue a fresh emergency declaration once the special session ends.

Douglas said Kemp was talking to legislative leaders “to decide next steps after this session and before the next session.” That next regular session begins on Jan. 8. He said one issue will be whether gas prices keep falling, as they have nationwide since Kemp revived the fuel tax break in September.

Legislative Committees voted to advance proposed Redistricting maps, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The Georgia House and Senate redistricting committees approved new district lines for their respective legislative chambers Thursday, in keeping with a court ruling that the current district maps violate the Voting Rights Act.

On the second day of a special session of the General Assembly to take up redistricting, the committees’ Republican majorities voted in favor of the proposed maps while minority Democrats opposed the changes.

The maps comply with a decision U.S. District Judge Steve Jones handed down in October calling for the legislature to create two additional Black-majority state Senate seats and five additional Black-majority seats in the Georgia House.

But Democrats and redistricting watchdog groups complained Thursday that the Republican-drawn maps alter more districts than would have been necessary to comply with Jones’ order.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said the Democratic alternative map would move roughly 100,000 Black voters who don’t currently live in Black-majority districts into districts where they would have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, compared to just 3,000 Black voters under the GOP map.

But Republican members of the Senate committee said the Democrats’ map was aimed at partisan gain. While the Republican-drawn map could be expected to return the current mix of 33 Republicans and 23 Democrats to the Senate, the Democrats’ map likely would result in the Democrats gaining two seats, said Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens.

“You ended up making a partisan map,” Cowsert told the Democrats.

Democrats made similar complaints about the GOP-drawn House map. House Democratic Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, presented a Democratic alternative that would change boundaries in only 23 House districts, compared to 56 districts under the Republican-drawn map.

Republicans on the committee pointed out that the Democratic alternative map would create only four Black-majority districts, not the five the court order requires.

The two Republican maps now move to the full House and Senate, which are likely to vote on them on Friday.

Georgia state legislators may consider legislation to further regulate the title pawn industry, according to WTOC.

Georgia lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are putting their differences aside and working together to tackle this issue that they say is now affecting nearly all communities across the state. They’ve have been meeting with representatives from the title pawn industry as well as consumer protection groups.

“In rural communities, in cities like Savannah, folks are getting these loans,” Rep. Westbrook said.

“Hard times find most of us at some point in our lives,” Rep. Westbrook said.

TitleMax and other title pawn companies have flourished in Georgia primarily because the industry remains largely unregulated in the Peach State.

“There are no rate caps at all on the title pawn companies so they can do 100%, 300% when other consumer lending companies are capped at around 60%,” Rep. Westbrook said.

“Why is this lending product out here operating on its own without really a lot of oversight when consumers have so many protections from other lenders,” Rep. Westbrook said.

Representative Westbrook is just one of many democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives joining Republican colleagues to back House Bill 342—first introduced in February by Representative Josh Bonner.

“We’re just leveling the playing field that for all of those folks who lend money in Georgia, we are going to make them subject to the same rules as everyone else,” Rep. Bonner said.

“I think what that’s going to do is add a layer of transparency, add a layer of oversight so that any citizen of Georgia that wants to take advantage of one of these products knows exactly what they’re entering into and that we can regulate any of the bad actors that exist out there,” Rep. Bonner said. HB342 died in committee during the last legislative session, but it’s already showing signs of promise this year.

“We’ve got over half of the house body that has signed onto this bill already and we expect to get more,” Rep. Bonner said.

The House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources issued recommendations for the next General Assembly Session, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources held several hearings around the state in October as a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly passed in March guaranteeing Georgians the right to fish in navigable portions of the state’s rivers and streams.

Senate Bill 115 was introduced after a property owner along a stretch of the Flint River known as Yellow Jacket Shoals banned fishing from the bank on its side of the river. While the measure drew enthusiastic support from sportsmen’s groups, its language left unclear what constitutes a navigable river or stream and what does not.

The study committee recommended Thursday that the state address that issue by determining the navigability of each river and stream in Georgia.

“That was a huge sticking point for many of our property owners,” said House Majority Whip James Burchett, R-Waycross, the committee’s chairman.

Riverfront property owners who testified during the committee’s hearings complained of people traipsing through their properties on the way to and from fishing holes, leaving trash and becoming a general nuisance.

To address that issue, the study committee recommended increasing penalties for trespassing while maintaining the core of Senate Bill 115 intact.

To make fishers less tempted to trespass, the panel recommended additional investment in the state’s public fishing areas. The committee’s report acknowledges the growth of fishing in Georgia, particularly in the trout streams of the North Georgia mountains.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) is co-hosting an opioid overdose training session, according t0 the Gwinnett Daily Post.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark (D-Lilburn) is joining with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Public Health Department to address the issue by hosting an opioid overdose intervention training session from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

The training will take place at the Mountain Park Activity Building at 1063 Rockbridge Road SW in Stone Mountain.

“The opioid crisis is real, and unfortunately, Gwinnett County is not immune,” said Clark in a news release. “Recently, Lilburn experienced a mass fentanyl overdose event at a local business, highlighting the fact that this public health epidemic is in our community. That is why I am partnering with our local health department to train people on how they can intervene and potentially save a life if they encounter someone having an overdose.”

Those participating in the training with learn how to know when someone is experiencing an overdose and what to do in those critical moments to save their life. The event is open to the public — including high school students — and local business owners. Along with learning when and how to use Narcan (naxalone), each participant will be provided with some Narcan to take home.

Registration is required and more information can be obtained by going to https://tinyurl.com/2s3fvwjz

Gwinnett County District 3 Commissioner Jasper Watkins III is hosting Town Halls to discuss the proposed budget, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The proposal, totaling $2.5 billion, includes a $1.96 billion operating budget and a $542 million capital improvements budget, incorporating funds from the County’s 2023 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax program, county officials said.

District 3 town hall meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 5 from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. at Berean Christian Church located at 1465 Highpoint Road in Snellville; and Monday, Dec. 11 from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center located at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville.

The proposed 2024 budget resolution is available online at GwinnettCounty.com and a hard copy is available in the Financial Services office at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville during business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

McIntosh County Commissioners moved to dismiss a lawsuit by Sapelo Island residents over a recent rezoning, according to WSAV.

Residents and landowners of the tiny Hogg Hummock community sued in October after McIntosh County commissioners voted to weaken zoning restrictions that for decades helped protect the enclave of modest homes along dirt roads on largely unspoiled Sapelo Island.

The zoning changes doubled the size of houses allowed in Hogg Hummock. Black residents say larger homes in the community will lead to property tax increases that they won’t be able to afford. Their lawsuit asks a judge to declare the new law discriminates “on the basis of race, and that it is therefore unconstitutional, null, and void.”

Attorneys for the county filed a legal motion Nov. 20 asking a Superior Court judge to dismiss the lawsuit, noting that Georgia’s constitution grants the state and local governments broad immunity from litigation.

However, the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that such protection from lawsuits, known as sovereign immunity, isn’t absolute. And state voters in 2020 approved a constitutional amendment carving out limited exceptions. It says governments can be sued when they break the law or violate the constitution.

The season’s first Right Whales were sighted off the coast of South Carolina, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Researchers from Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute discovered the pair about six miles east of Beaufort during a daily monitoring flight. They identified the mother as Juno, who is estimated to be 38 years old.

It is Juno’s eighth documented birth, according to CMARI.

Seven right whales also were observed last week in southeastern waters, including a pair of adults about seven nautical miles east of the Savannah buoy marker on Nov. 18, said CMARI North Atlantic Right Whale Conservation Project Manager Melanie White. Aerial spotters located a second adult pair about nine nautical miles off Sea Island.

Calf sightings in particular offer hope for experts working to restore the population, which still struggles to rebound after being nearly wiped out by commercial whalers in the late 19th century.

There are an estimated 360 North Atlantic right whales remaining, including fewer than 70 reproducing females.

“Every single female North Atlantic right whale and calf are vital to this species’ recovery,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division noted in its latest status report. “North Atlantic right whales are dying faster than they can reproduce, largely due to human causes.”

“We need approximately 50 or more calves per year for many years to stop the decline and allow for recovery,” NOAA Fisheries estimated. “The only solution is to significantly reduce human-caused mortality and injuries, as well as stressors on reproduction.”

The primary threats to right whales are entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes and climate change, as warming ocean waters lure the plankton they feed on into new areas with fewer regulatory protections.

Each fall, some right whales travel more than 1,000 miles from feeding grounds off New England and the Canadian coast to birth their young in the shallow waters off South Carolina, Georgia and northeastern Florida.

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