Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 15, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 15, 2023

On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty, led by Patriot Sam Adams, boarded three British ships in Boston harbor and threw tea worth $700,000 to $1 million in today’s money into the water in what came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party

France formally recognized the United States as an independent nation on December 17, 1777.

On December 15, 1791, Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights, giving the first ten Amendments a three-quarter majority required to become law.

Governor George Towns signed legislation on December 16, 1847 to build a State School for the Deaf and Dumb. The institution now known as the Georgia School for the Deaf was begun with a log cabin, $5000 from the legislature and four students and is still in operation in Cave Spring, Georgia.

On December 15, 1859, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown signed legislation outlawing public execution of criminals. The previous day he signed legislation prohibiting slave owners from freeing their slaves on the owner’s death.

General Ulysses S. Grant expelled all Jews from his military district, which covered parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky on December 17, 1862. President Lincoln ordered Grant to rescind the order.

On December 16, 1897, Gov. William Atkinson signed legislation recognizing June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, as a state holiday.

President William McKinley visited Savannah, Georgia on December 17, 1898. While there, McKinley attended church at Wesley Monumental Methodist Church and visited Georgia Agricultural and Medical College (now Savannah State University) and the Seventh Army.

On December 17, 1902, legislation changed Georgia’s state flag changed to include the coat of arms on the blue band.

Flag_of_the_State_of_Georgia_(1902-1906).svg copy

On December 15, 1939, Gone With the Wind held its world premiere at Loew’s Grand Theater in Atlanta.

On December 17, 1944, Major General Henry C. Pratt ordered the end of the imprisonment of American citizens of Japanese descent in prison camps.

On December 16, 1944, a German counterattack in the Ardennes region of Belgium created a “bulge” in Allied lines with particularly difficult fighting near the town of Bastogne. During the Battle of the Bulge, 89,000 Americans were wounded and 19,000 killed in the bloodiest battle fought by the U.S. in World War II.

President Jimmy Carter announced on December 16, 1976, that he would name Andrew Young, then serving as Congressman from Georgia’s Fifth District, as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

WTBS began broadcasting under new call letters on December 17, 1976 and uplinked its programming to satellite to become “America’s Super Station.”

President Jimmy Carter announced on December 15, 1978 that U.S. diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China would begin on January 1, 1979.

The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee released a report on December 15, 1998 that recommended impeachment against President Bill Clinton and introduced H.Res. 611.

On December 15, 2016, Republican Tim Echols was sworn in by Gov. Nathan Deal to a second term on the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Lawrenceville celebrates her 202d Birthday today, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

[2021 marked] 200 years since Lawrenceville was incorporated as a city, coming just three years after the Georgia legislature established Gwinnett County. The county seat is believed to be the oldest city in metro Atlanta — edging out Decatur by two years.

Lawrenceville is now Gwinnett’s second largest city, with 30,629 people calling it home. The city has also continued to evolve, going from a rural town to a center for the arts and a college town.

The actual bicentennial date will be marked with an event at the recently opened Lawrenceville Arts Center. The event will include a reception as well as 30-minute bicentennial presentation and a special performance of the Aurora Theatre’s Christmas Canteen show.

The city’s name and even the names of three street on the Lawrenceville Square — Perry, Pike and Crogan streets — illustrate the fact that the city was incorporated just a few years after the War of 1812. The city was named for U.S. Navy Capt. James Lawrenceville, who reputedly uttered the phrase “Don’t give up the ship,” now a motto of the Navy, as he was dying during a battle.

Perry, Pike and Crogan streets were named for War of 1812 heroes as well.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Alto Post 1 voters will go to the polls in a Special Election on March 12, 2024, according to AccessWDUN.

The qualifying period for the March 12, 2024 Town of Alto Special Election for Post 1 will open on Monday, December 18, and will continue from day to day through Friday, Dec. 22.

The qualifying fee for the Post 1 Council seat is $35. Prospective candidates may qualify at the Office of the Election Superintendent being Habersham County Office of Elections and Voter Registration, in the basement of Habersham County’s Administrative Building at 130 Jacob’s Way in Clarkesville.

The hours of qualifying Monday through Thursday will be from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (except for a one-hour lunch break each day), and from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon Friday, December 22.

A release from the Habersham County Elections Superintendent’s Office says the seat may be filled by any resident of the town of Alto.

The election is to fill the remainder of Carolyn Cabe’s Post 1 council term. Cabe passed away in October of 2023.

Governor Brian Kemp announced five appointments to Superior Courts, according to a Press Release.

Governor Brian P. Kemp today announced five appointments to Superior Courts across the state, including Jephson Bendinger to the Coweta County Judicial Circuit vacancy created by HB 243, Joseph Dent to the Dougherty Judicial Circuit vacancy created by HB 77, Alice Benton to the Atlanta Judicial Circuit created by the retirement of the Honorable Judge Henry Newkirk, Kenneth Smith to the Macon Judicial Circuit vacancy created by the retirement of the Honorable Judge Howard Simms, and Samir Patel to the Cherokee Judicial Circuit vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Jeffrey Watkins to the Court of Appeals.

Jephson “Jep” Bendinger currently serves as Chief Assistant District Attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit, a position he has held since 2021. He previously worked as Senior Assistant District Attorney. Prior to these roles, he served as Senior Assistant District Attorney for the Major Case Unit/Trial Line in the Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office, Senior Assistant District Attorney for the Trial Division/Public Integrity Unit in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, assistant district attorney of the Coweta Judicial Circuit – Troup County, and special assistant district attorney/apprentice for the Dekalb County District Attorney’s Office. Bendinger earned a bachelor’s in History from Auburn University and a J.D. from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law.

Joseph Dent currently works as Solo Practitioner and Mediator at Joseph W. Dent, P.C. Previously, he worked as both an associate and partner for Watson Spence LLP. Dent has practiced civil litigation his entire career, with concentrations in insurance defense, personal injury, collections/creditor’s rights/bankruptcy, zoning and land use, and real estate and commercial litigation. He has also worked in employment law, fiduciary litigation, criminal law, and mediation services. Dent earned his bachelor’s in Political Science and Public Administration from Georgia College and a J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law.

Alice Benton is the owner of Benton Law, LLC, a practice focused on family law and divorce. Previously, she worked for Bodke, Ramsey, Andrews, Winograd & Wildstein, P.C.; Emily S. Bair & Associates; Johnson & Montgomery; and Swift, Currie, McGhee & Heirs. She also worked in the Office of the Fulton County District Attorney; the Office of the Cobb County Solicitor General; and the Office of the Forsyth County Solicitor General. Active in her community, Benton is a member of the Family Law Section of the State Bar, a member of the Cathedral of St. Philip, a member of the Atlanta Junior League, and a member of the National Charity League. She earned a bachelor’s in History from Vanderbilt University and a J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law.

Kenneth “Ken” Smith is the founder and trial attorney for the Law Offices of Ken Smith, LLC, a position he has held since 2015. Previously, he worked as managing partner and trial attorney for Fox & Smith, LLC; associate trial attorney for Dozier Law Firm, LLC; and law clerk and associate attorney for Adams, Hemingway & Wilson, LLP. He is active in his community, serving on the Board of Directors for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Georgia, Chairman of the Board of his Home Owner’s Association, and as a member of Ingleside Baptist Church. He earned both a B.B.A. and an M.B.A. from Mercer University’s Stetson School of Business and Economics and his J.D. from Mercer’s Walter F. George School of Law.

Samir Patel has served as District Attorney for Bartow and Gordon Counties in the Cherokee Judicial Circuit since his appointment by Governor Kemp in 2021. Previously, he served as associate attorney of White & Choate, as Municipal Court Judge of Euharlee, Georgia, and as an assistant public defender for the Georgia Public Defender’s Standards Council for the Cherokee Judicial Circuit. He previously served as a Part Time Instructor at ITT Technical Institute in Kennesaw, teaching criminal law, constitutional law, and ethics. Patel earned his bachelor’s in Information Sciences and a B.B.A. from East Tennessee State University and his J.D. from Georgia State University College of Law.

United States Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-West Point) announced he will not run for reelection, according to Atlanta News First via WTVM.

“Upon the conclusion of the 118th Congress, I will be retiring from the House of Representatives,” Ferguson said. “Serving the wonderful constituents of Georgia’s Third District has been the honor of a lifetime. I have been blessed to have worked with such a talented and dedicated staff in my District and D.C. offices.”

Ferguson’s district stretches from metro Atlanta’s southern suburbs to north of Columbus, and includes a small part of the Fountain City itself. It is considered to be safely Republican, having been represented by Lynn Westmoreland until he chose not to seek reelection in 2016.

“Serving on the Ways and Means committee has allowed me to focus on tax, trade, and healthcare, issues important to American competitiveness on the global stage,” Ferguson said. “I’ve also been proud to advance policies addressing antimicrobial resistance and the battle we are facing with a mental health crisis. I was also honored to serve in House leadership as the chief deputy whip.”

Republican Jared Craig launched a hugely unsuccessful primary challenge against Ferguson in 2022. The Republican incumbent then cruised to an easy reelection over Democrat Val Almonard, who also unsuccessfully ran against Ferguson in 2020.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

“Georgia is a special place, and it’s calling us home,” Ferguson said in a prepared statement. “Julie and I look forward to spending more time with our children and grandchildren while continuing to work to keep Georgia the best state in America to live and do business.”

Ferguson served as chief deputy whip for House Republicans from 2018 through last year. He is a member of the House Ways and Means and Budget committees.

From the AJC:

Ferguson’s decision set off speculation that he could seek statewide office in 2026, when the U.S. Senate, governor and every constitutional post are on the ballot. Ferguson was tightlipped about his next step, describing it as the “right thing at the right time for me and my family” in a text message.

“All of the calls and texts have been extremely encouraging. I have been honored to serve and do amazing things,” said former state Rep. Philip Singleton, who is now the top aide to U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick. “We are very open to a run.”

Singleton, who unsuccessfully challenged Ferguson in 2018, is one of numerous potential contenders.

Others include state Sens. Matt Brass, Mike Dugan and Randy Robertson; state Rep. David Jenkins; former state Rep. Tim Bearden; former state Sen. Mike Crane, who ran for Congress in 2010; and Chris West, the GOP nominee last year for a neighboring Democratic-held district.

“I’ve been getting calls, and I haven’t even spoken with my wife about the potential yet,” said West, who recently moved to Coweta County in Ferguson’s district. “Voters are going to want a fighter, and you’ll see a lot of folks get into what will definitely be a hard-fought contest.”

One of the most surprising names that surfaced was Brian Jack, a longtime Donald Trump aide who is now a senior adviser to the former president’s campaign. A native of Atlanta’s suburbs, Jack was White House director of political affairs during Trump’s administration and also served as a McCarthy deputy.

“It’s going to be a huge field,” said former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a six-term Republican who retired in 2016 and was succeeded by Ferguson. “I won’t be in it unless God asks me himself to join the race — and even then it’s a questionable conversation.”

Westmoreland added: “I was there for 12 years and it was nothing like it is now. It has to be complete misery.”

U.S. District Court Judge Judge Eleanor Ross (ND-GA) ordered state legislators to redraw district lines for the Cobb County Board of Education, according to the AJC.

A federal judge ordered Thursday that the upcoming Cobb school board election take place under a new map, as part of an ongoing lawsuit over the redrawn boundaries in the state’s second-largest school system.

It’s a win for the voting rights groups, led by the Southern Poverty Law Center, that sued the Cobb County Board of Elections in 2022 over new maps for the seven Cobb school board voting districts. They alleged that the maps were discriminatory and “packed” people of color into small areas to dilute their voting power.

The judge agreed in the preliminary injunction that the plaintiffs will likely be able to prove that racial gerrymandering took place. The court found evidence supporting that “race was the predominant motivating factor” behind the map, according to the order.

The Georgia General Assembly has until Jan. 10, 2024, to adopt a new map, according to the order, and the plaintiffs and defendants have until Jan. 12 to file any objections to the new map. The judge will then oversee any remediation that needs to take place to settle on a map.

The Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Eggs & Issues Legislative Breakfast, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Chamber of Commerce also provided a list of its legislative priorities to those in attendance which featured tort reform, increased tourism marketing funding and a few transportation items, to name a few.

Rep. Anne Allen Westbrook (D-District 163) and Sen. Derek Mallow (D-2) were on the panel with [Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce President Bert] Brantley moderating.

Mallow emphasized the need for mixed-income housing. One policy item to help tackle Savannah’s housing supply shortage could be multi-layered financing, Mallow said. He also said it’s important to talk about housing across income levels, including both affordable and workforce housing, which have different average median income requirements.

“In order to have the workforce, you also have to make sure that they can have housing,” Mallow said.

Both legislators also talked about the need for quality childcare to support workers with children. Mallow said that childcare is the second biggest family expense after rent.

A bill passed last year which treats mental health the same as medical health for insurance purposes, Westbrook said. But there was another piece of legislation that died in the Senate, which focused on building physical infrastructure for that type of care. In order to fill those types of facilities, you need workers, Westbrook said.

“I think that workforce development has to deal with buoying business and all the ways business lifts us up,” Westbrook said. “But it also gets to some of the challenges that Georgians are facing that will help day one.”

The economic development panel was moderated by SEDA President and CEO Trip Tollison, with a couple Chatham Republicans touting the benefits of business tax credits in Georgia. One was Chatham Statehouse Delegation Chairman Rep. Ron Stephens (R-District 164), who was influential in passing business tax credits in the legislature, Tollison said.

Stephens pointed to a film tax credit passed by the legislature which has helped fuel Georgia’s burgeoning film industry. He also said tax credits have laid the groundwork for economic development in the state and helped it and some of its biggest companies. One of them is Hyundai in Bryan County.

Reps. Bill Hitchens (R-District 161), Edna Jackson (D-District 165) and Sen. Billy Hickman (R-District 4) made up the education panel, which was moderated by Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools Board President Roger Moss. Hickman took the topic of literacy, and Jackson focused on higher education and Savannah State University. Hitchens rounded up the panel with a reflection on military education.

It’s an excellent article worth reading in its entirety.

Hall County legislators discussed their priorities for the 2024 Session, according to AccessWDUN.

Eight of Hall County’s nine representatives spoke at the event, including District 49 Senator Shelly Echols, District 50 Senator Bo Hatchett, House District 27 Representative Lee Hawkins, House District 28 Representative Brent Cox, House District 29 Representative Matt Dubnik, House District 30 Representative Derrick McCollum, House District 31 Representative Emory Dunahoo, Jr. and House District 103 Representative Soo Hong. David Clark, Georgia House District 100 Representative, was absent from the event.

The legislators touched on a series of topics, including the recent redistricting special session, Georgia’s Certificate of Need system, TSPLOST, school choice, tax credits and more.

“I think, probably, [this is] the first time that a freshman of a committee has ever had to handle something as large as that, and it was brutal, to be honest with you,” Senator Echols said. “But we survived. I learned a lot. We all learned a lot.”

“If the judge does not approve [the new maps], then there’s going to be a special master that is assigned that will draw the maps, instead of using our maps,” Representative Hong said. “If any of our maps get approved, then that is the map that we will use for 2024.  If … we win on the appeal, then we can always go back to the map that we have now, before the special session.”

Rochester next asked Senator Hatchett and Representative Hawkins about the possibility of changes in Georgia’s Certificate of Need program. The healthcare-related program requires those looking to create a new hospital or other medical service to show that the addition is needed in the community.

“I do not believe that the CON system should be repealed completely,” Senator Hatchett said. “There are obviously some tweaks that can be brought about … I know the Georgia Hospital Association has some recommendations and I think we’re going to be able to find a good middle ground.”

Hall County’s legislators also touched on mental health-related initiatives they would like to focus on in the new year.

“Last year, there was a big piece of legislation [HB 520] that came through, and there was some language in it that a lot of people were alerted by,” Echols said. “I think that piece of legislation is going to be split up and we’ll pull out the good parts of it and put it in other standalone bills.”

“When I coached high school football my greatest concern was the teenage suicide issue, and one of the reasons I actually started coaching,” Cox said. “Being there for the young adults and the teenagers and their families is incredibly important. The question becomes, should this be driven solely by state, or should this be done by third parties?”

“I have two pieces of legislation that concern taxes this year,” Hawkins said. “One’s a local legislation, which our delegation will actually vote on to determine if it goes to the floor, and that’s a 4% cap on homestead exemption … your property assessment would be capped at 4% annually.”

Hawkins said the legislation would be a referendum between Hall County, the City of Gainesville, the Hall County School District and the Gainesville City School District.

Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, according to the AJC.

Harris’ office has not released further details about her itinerary for Saturday’s de facto HBCU national championship game. The contest is scheduled for a noon kickoff and will air nationally on ABC.

During the game, Harris will sit down for an interview with announcers Tiffany Greene, a FAMU alum, and Jay “Sky” Walker, who went to Howard.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Morehouse alum who also plans to attend, encouraged Harris to make the trip. The Bison, 6-5, will need all the help they can get from their 12th man in the stands. They are considered the underdogs against the Rattlers, who have lost only one game this season.

The Columbia County Board of Elections will use EagleAI for voter list maintenance, according to the AJC.

An election board in a conservative Georgia county voted this month to buy software called EagleAI to identify potentially outdated voter registrations, despite warnings from voting rights groups that it could erroneously flag legitimate voters.

Columbia County will become the first government to use EagleAI, a private venture supported by Republican activists who have filed challenges against voters’ eligibility and Cleta Mitchell, an attorney who backed efforts to overturn then-President Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020.

Election officials in the suburban area near Augusta said they will “beta test” EagleAI, which uses public records to find voters who might have moved away, appeasing conservatives’ concerns about the possibility that a voter who lives in another state could cast a ballot in Georgia.

Elections Supervisor Nancy Gay said she will use EagleAI to send letters to voters who might have moved, and their registrations would only be removed if they return a cancellation form.

“It will just be a tool to research voter status and residency to help have an accurate list. I would love to see how many people EagleAI claims no longer live in Columbia County,” Gay said. “We still have to follow the parameters of the law: We can’t do anything without voter consent and voter signature.”

But EagleAI lacks access to private voter information that Georgia uses to verify invalid registrations, such as birthdates, driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers. Instead, EagleAI depends on voter lists, property records, tax data, obituaries and change-of-address information.

“The EagleAI software increases the risk of removing lawful voters at an unacceptably high rate,” said Kristin Nabers, state director for the voting rights organization All Voting Is Local. “Georgia’s counties must resist pressure from conspiracy theorists and refuse to partner with EagleAI. This software will bring more problems than solutions.”

The bipartisan election board in Columbia County, where 62% of voters supported Trump in 2020, voted 2-0 to begin using EagleAI next year for an annual payment of $2,000, Gay said. The county can terminate its agreement with EagleAI at any time, she said.

Glynn County Board of Elections is using an app to push election information to voters, according to The Brunswick News.

Golden Isles voters will have an opportunity to check their status for next year’s busy election cycle once an updated Text My Gov website is posted on the Glynn County Board of Elections and Registration website in early January.

Christina Redden, deputy elections supervisor, said an estimated 21,000 county voters are not already signed up for updates on the state website will receive text messages with invitations to sign up. People will be asked to opt in, or if the choose, opt out with no further elections updates sent.

The automated system will ask voters a series of questions and provide the answers. Any questions that cannot be answered by the AI program will be forwarded to a live person for help.

From a November 15, 2023 story:

The Glynn County Board of Elections approved the purchase of a new software program designed to send text messages to the majority of people with cellphones with regular updates about polling place locations, election dates and more.

The program, Text My Gov, is provided by the state for $4,500 a year. For an additional $500, more than 70,000 local phone numbers will also be provided by the state.

The Georgia State Ethics Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission levied fines against some McIntosh County elected officials, according to The Brunswick News.

Statesboro City Council will consider revisions to their animal ordinance to bring it in line with their Intergovermental Agreement with Bulloch County, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Under the long-term Service Delivery Strategy agreement that Bulloch County maintains with the cities of Brooklet, Portal, Register and Statesboro, the county takes primary responsibility for animal control services. Specific to animal control, Statesboro and the county have been operating under an intergovernmental agreement that dates from 2007, and Statesboro’s ordinance was even 20 years older, City Attorney Cain Smith told the mayor and council.

“Ours hadn’t been amended since 1987, and a lot has changed in how we think of animals since then,” Smith said Dec. 5. “This will just update it, and it will make it much easier for the county’s animal control officers to enforce our ordinance as well as the county’s ordinance and so that all those violations would be heard in the Magistrate Court of Bulloch County.”

But the update, pending final council approval, would also retain several city-specific parts of Statesboro’s old ordinance, such as Section 10-2: “It shall be unlawful for any person to keep hogs within the corporate limits of the city.”

And under 10-4, it will still be illegal to have “livestock and fowl running at large” in town.

Incidentally, it isn’t illegal to ride a horse in the city, but according to Section 10-5, “Any person who shall drive or ride a horse at a fast and reckless pace on the streets of the city shall be guilty of disorderly conduct.”


Amie Veator was announced as the new White County Elections Supervisor, according to AccessWDUN.

“Amie came into the department during a time in which there was a vacancy in the supervisor’s role, it became apparent in a short period of time that she had the knowledge, skills and abilities to lead this department,” Pittard said. “We are grateful to the entire staff who have worked diligently during this interim period to keep the department functioning at an optimum level. I would like to express a special thanks to Mr. Derek LaPerrier who has served as the Interim supervisor.”

In the role, Veater will be responsible for administering and supervising the conduct of elections, primaries and the registration of electors for the county. Veator leads White County’s Office of Elections and Voter Registration and reports to the County Manager.

“I am honored to serve White County in the role of Elections Supervisor,” Veator said. “Myself and the elections staff are dedicated to ensuring the continued integrity of the democratic process in White County. Our commitment is unwavering and I look forward to fostering excellence and a community-oriented approach to elections.”

Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions presided over the last City Council meeting of her term, according to WSAV.

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