Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 16, 2022

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 16, 2022

The British ship Mayflower landed at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts on December 18, 1620.

MayflowerHarbor

Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley who founded Methodism, and one of the great hymn-writers, was born on December 18, 1707. Wesley accompanied James Oglethorpe to Georgia in 1736.

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.

The first national day of thanksgiving was observed on December 18, 1777 commemorating the American victory over the British at Saratoga the previous month.

Congress wrote, “It is therefore recommended to the Legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for solemn THANKSGIVING and PRAISE; That at one Time and with one Voice the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor.”

On December 18, 1834, Governor William Lumpkin signed legislation chartering the Georgia Methodists Conference Manual Labor School at Oxford, Georgia, which would later become Emory College in 1836 and Emory University in 1915.

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.

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 18, 1865, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward issued a statement verifying the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery in the United States.

The office of Superintendent of Public Education and Georgia Schools was created on December 18, 1866 when Gov. Charles Jenkins signed legislation passed by the General Assembly; on December 18, 1894, Gov. William Atkinson approved a resolution for a Constitutional Amendment to make the State School Commissioner elected statewide.

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.

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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.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Some local election officials are joining the call to eliminate General Election Runoffs, according to The Brunswick News.

Glynn County’s Board of Elections discussed the issue on Tuesday with Elections and Registration Director Chris Channell.
Runoff elections can be costly, Channell told The News on Wednesday. The local elections office has yet to determine the exact cost of the runoff earlier this month, but he estimated it at around $52,000.

“The current system is hard on the poll workers, it’s costly, it’s hard on the voters because you have the shortened time to get in and vote,” Channell said. “If you extend it any further to give more weeks to vote, then you’ve got the issue of the federal laws reopening the registration roll (for federal elections).”

“You’re also getting further into the Christmas season, when people will be more tuned out of politics and less likely to turn out,” Channell said.

Channell provided the board with some alternatives on Tuesday. He sees the mostly likely options to be ranked-choice voting or plurality voting. Under a plurality system, the candidate with the most votes wins without having to meet the 50%-plus-one threshold.

Under a ranked-choice system, voters assign a rank to each candidate on the ballot, Channell told the board. The winner is the one with the most first-choice votes. If no one wins a simple majority, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated. Anyone who listed that candidate as their first choice now has their vote assigned to their second choice and the votes are recalculated. This continues until one candidate has a 50%-plus-one vote.

A third option — by far the least popular for local officials — is extending the time between a general election and a runoff.

Raffensperger called on the legislature to pick up the issue during the 2023 session, which begins in January.

Some legislators are not sold on the need for such drastic reform.

A ranked-choice system is likely the best alternative to Georgia’s runoff elections, but state Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-Townsend, says adopting it would have far greater consequences than simply eliminating one election.

“There’s a lot more to ranked-choice than you see on the surface. Once established parties realize that, they may not be in favor of it,” DeLoach said.

“You aren’t just changing the runoff, you’re changing the whole dynamics of the runoff system in the state,” DeLoach said. “If you’re a Libertarian, you would be delighted with ranked-choice because it lets people vote for your candidate, which means the Libertarians are going to get a lot more votes.”

It’s either that or nothing for DeLoach, senior member of Glynn County’s state delegation. He was intimately involved in writing the election reforms the legislature passed in 2021. He’s got a solid grasp on the issue and fails to see a better alternative.

“The suggestion that we add more time to the runoff is a nonstarter to me,” DeLoach said. “Four weeks is plenty of time. Every single person who really wants to vote has numerous opportunities. That shorter early voting cycle doesn’t keep anyone from voting.”

A plurality system gets an outright “no” from him. DeLoach said there’s too much incentive to play political games — like one party propping up candidates on the other side to split the vote.

Rep.-elect Rick Townsend and Sen.-elect Mike Hodges, both St. Simons Island Republicans who will take office in January, want more time to study the issue. Right now, Hodges has few complaints about the current runoff structure. Townsend, on the other hand, has given some thought to alternatives.

“I’m learning more about the ranked process,” Townsend said. “We talked about it at the bi-annual (training for legislators in Athens), the different options. They had a lengthy discussion there.”

That may be the election procedures article of the year.

From the Valdosta Daily Times:

“Georgia is one of the only states in the country with a general election runoff,” Raffensperger said. “We’re also one of the only states that always seems to have a runoff. I’m calling on the General Assembly to visit the topic of the general election runoff and consider reforms.”

Georgia lawmakers convene in January for the 2023 legislative session where they can address the proposal, which comes after highly a contentious Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.

“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” Raffensperger said. “It’s even tougher on the counties who had a difficult time completing all of their deadlines, an election audit and executing a runoff in a four-week time period.”

Governor Brian Kemp said he will ban TikTok from state-owned phones and other devices, according to 13WMAZ.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday he would ban the app on all state-owned phones and other devices. He’s one of about a dozen governors all banning the app on state-owned devices. Dallas State Senator Jason Anavitarte says he’d support banning it in Georgia entirely.

“They collect your time zone, your advertising ID, which can be reversed to track exactly who you are,” explained Mercer cybersecurity professor Johnathan Yerby.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Athens Banner Herald:

All executive agencies and branches should immediately ban the use of TikTok as well as two other social messaging platforms, WeChat and Telegram, on any government-owned devices, the memo says.

“In recent days, information has come to light exposing the depth of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) involvement with TikTok and the resulting threat that TikTok poses to government cybersecurity,” Kemp’s memo states.

The social media platform can track and store personal information that could be turned over to the Chinese government, presenting a threat to Georgia’s security, the memo adds.

The University of Georgia (@universityofga) and Georgia Tech’s admissions office (@GTAdmission) both have official TikTok channels that remained up on the platform as of Thursday afternoon.

“They would fall under this directive and any use of these platforms would be prohibited on any state-issued devices they have,” confirmed Andrew Isenhour, a Kemp spokesperson.

The new Georgia rule also prohibits the use of messaging platform WeChat, which is owned by Tencent Holdings, another Chinese company, and Telegram, which was founded in Russia but is now headquartered in Dubai.

Kemp’s move comes just over a week after state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, said he will introduce legislation to ban TikTok in Georgia, though the bill had not yet been prefiled with the Senate as of Thursday afternoon.

A growing number of Republican-led states have implemented measures similar to the new Georgia rule. These include Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, South Dakota, Maryland, Utah, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.

Many federal agencies, including the departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security have also banned the use of TikTok on government-owned devices.

State Representative-Elect Daniel E. Rampey was arrested on burlgary charges, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Daniel E. Rampey, 67, of Statham was arrested at Magnolia Estates of Winder Assisted Living Center, where his political website shows he has managed its operation for the past 38 years.

Rampey, a Republican, was scheduled to take office on Jan. 9, 2023. In the Republican Primary, he defeated Marcus Ray by receiving nearly 83% of the vote.

“We had a couple of instances of him on video taking the items and today we had one as well. We actually filmed him going into the residence and taking the items,” Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith said.

The stolen drugs involved prescription narcotics, Smith said.

Currently, Rampey is charged with the distribution or possession of a controlled substance, burglary, and exploitation of a disabled adult. He remains in the Barrow County Detention Center without bond, but Smith said a bond hearing is possible on Friday in front of a Magistrate’s Court judge.

Jessica Diane Higginbotham of Elbert County was indicted for allegedly threatening the local Democratic party office in Athens, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Macon reported Thursday that 35-year-old Jessica Diane Higginbotham, also known as Jessica Harriod, was indicted on one count of communicating a bomb threat and one count of making a false statement.

Athens-Clarke police arrested Higginbotham on Dec. 4 and she has remained in jail since that day without bond.

The warrants charge she made the threat on Dec. 3 and that she lied to federal agents the next day about her knowledge of an e-mail address and her use of the TextNow communication application on her personal cellphone.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will suspend lane closures during the holidays, according to WTVM in Columbus.

The suspensions will take effect during the Christmas weekend, beginning on Thursday, Dec. 22, at 5 a.m. until Monday, Dec. 26, at 5 a.m. Additionally, the suspension will continue for New Year’s weekend, taking effect on Saturday, Dec. 31, at 5 a.m. until Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, at 5 a.m.

Even though construction-related lane closures will be suspended, GDOT wants to remind travelers to exercise caution while driving. Crews may still be working near the highways, and safety concerns may require some long-term lane closures to remain in place.

Savannah City Council advanced another gambit in their LOST negotiations with municipalities, according to the Savannah Morning News.

In a move to expedite the renewal of Chatham County’s Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), the Savannah City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Thursday authorizing a revenue distribution breakdown of the billion-dollar sales tax.

In the proposal, municipalities are offering the county an initial share of 24% of LOST proceeds, then incrementally increasing to 31%, the county’s desired share, by 2027.

A previous ask that the county also provide a $300,000 stipend to fund Tybee Island’s beach renourishment projects was not included in the proposal.

The current LOST revenue sharing agreement expires at year’s end and must be renewed every 10 years. The proceeds from the 1% sales tax on goods and services sold in Chatham County is divided among the county government and those of Chatham’s eight municipalities, including Savannah.

If the local jurisdictions are not able to reach a consensus on the tax distribution by Dec. 30, the county will lose the ability to collect millions in annual LOST funds, very likely leading to significant hikes in property taxes for property owners throughout the county.

Projected LOST proceeds over the next 10 years total about $1.6 billion. If not collected, “it will be a $1.6 billion dollar debt to our taxpayers across all eight municipalities and across Chatham County,” said Savannah City Manager Jay Melder.

Renewing the Local Option Sales Tax after Jan. 1 would require a voter referendum.

From WSAV:

“Do the just thing. Do the fair thing,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said during the council meeting on Thursday. “Do the right thing for all of Chatham County citizens.”

“We understood the needs the County is facing with regard to countywide services and this offer exemplifies the willingness of the municipalities to be good partners while allowing time for municipalities to adjust to a significant change in LOST distribution,” Johnson said in a written statement.

“We began LOST negotiations six months ago 430 total percentage points away from one another and today we stand only 7 percentage points apart,” said City Manager Joseph A. Melder. “Time is running out and we must reach an agreement as soon as possible.”

Floyd County Commissioners elected a Chair and Vice Chair, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Floyd County Commission has elected Allison Watters as its chair for 2023, and elected Commissioner Larry Maxey to serve as vice chair.

“Our focus for 2023 will be maintaining our general fund balance and be prepared for a possible economic downturn with inflation on the rise,” Watters said. “It’s important to save for a rainy day.”

Watters was elected to her first four-year term to the county commission in 2016, and was reelected in 2019. She’ll take over the gavel from Commission Chair Wright Bagby on Jan. 1.

Maxey was first elected to the County Commission in 2012, to the seat vacated by state Rep. Eddie Lumsden when he first ran for the House District 11 seat.

The Bulloch County Courthouse clock may be repaired soon after spending most of the year under wraps, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Bulloch County Courthouse clock has been stopped for most of 2022, its western face replaced by sheets of plywood since storm damage that occurred April 5, the same evening a powerful tornado caused much more severe damage in Pembroke, where homes were destroyed, one person died and the Bryan County Courthouse lost a large portion of its roof.

Bulloch was not hit by the tornado, but wind from the storm system blew out the west-facing dial of the big clock, which has dials in all four cardinal directions. The county had an insurance adjuster or appraiser look at it in April, and arrangements have since been made for repairs, which may or may not happen before the end of the year.

Lula City Council member Gene Bramlett was accused of inappropriate comments, according to the Gainesville Times.

A Lula city employee said Councilman Gene Bramlett uttered an inappropriate comment about her rear end while he was at City Hall, according to an outside investigation.

Bramlett has also faced scrutiny over alleged unwanted physical contact with the female employee, whose name was omitted from the investigation based on the nature of the complaint.

In accordance with Lula’s policy on sexual harassment complaints, City Attorney Joey Homan again requested the services of independent investigator Michael Rundles, of Southern Professional Investigations, to investigate the complaint.

Bramlett has denied accusations that he made the remark, which he’s called a “misunderstanding.”

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