Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 20, 2016


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 20, 2016

On December 20, 1860, a secession convention in Charleston, South Carolina passed a Secession Ordinance, removing the Palmetto State from the United States.


On December 20, 1864, Confederate forces in Savannah retreated ahead of Sherman’s army, crossing over into South Carolina, four years to the day after South Carolina’s secession.

Happy Birthday to former Governor Sonny Perdue, who was born on December 20, 1946.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Nathan Deal yesterday swore in three new judges to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

It’s unusual to have an opportunity to swear in this many people to important positions,” Deal told the crowd of lawyers, legislators, friends and family gathered to witness the oath for new Georgia Court of Appeals Judges Clyde Reese III, Tilman “Tripp” Self III and Charles Bethel.

Earlier this month, Deal swore in three new Georgia Supreme Court justices—two to expand the court from seven to nine and one to replace retiring Chief Justice Hugh Thompson. Last December, the governor swore in three new judges to expand the Court of Appeals from 12 to 15 members.

Reese replaces Judge Herbert Phipps, who retired this month. Self and Bethel replace Judges Michael Boggs and Nels Peterson, who start work as Supreme Court justices in January. Their ceremony was originally scheduled for Dec. 12 but was changed to Dec. 19.

Until his judicial appointment, Reese was commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Health. He also has served as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Previously he was general counsel to the State Health Planning Agency.

Self was chief judge of the Macon Judicial Circuit Superior Court and is a member of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, charged with oversight of all judges in the state. He also serves on the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council sentencing subcommittee.

Bethel, 40, is a former Republican state senator from Dalton who has served as the governor’s floor leader. Upon graduating from the University of Georgia law school in 1998, he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pannell Jr. of the Northern District of Georgia. He practiced law for two years with Minor, Bell & Neal in Dalton. Then he worked as an in-house lawyer for 11 years at J&J Industries Inc., a carpet manufacturing company co-founded by his maternal grandfather.

Gov. Deal also appointed two new judges for Clayton County.

Gov. Nathan Deal today announced the appointment of the Honorable Aaron Mason and Ms. Kathryn Powers to judgeships in Clayton County. Mason will fill the Superior Court vacancy created by the passage of House Bill 804 during the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Powers will fill the State Court vacancy being created by Judge Mason’s appointment to the Superior Court. The appointments will take effect upon swearing in.

Aaron B. Mason
Mason has served as a State Court Judge of Clayton County since 2010. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Kentucky and a law degree from the Emory University School of Law. Mason and his wife, Donna, have two children and reside in Jonesboro.

Kathryn L. Powers
Powers is the executive assistant district attorney for the Clayton Judicial Circuit. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Georgia State University and a law degree from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. Powers resides in Jonesboro.

Deal also addressed the Georgia members of the Electoral College, who met yesterday in the Senate chamber to cast their ballots for Donald Trump for President and Mike Pence for Vice President.

After a call to order by the Georgia Republican Party chair, the electors bowed their heads, and Rachel Little, an elector and grass-roots Republican organizer, delivered an invocation.

“Lord, we know we are a divided country right now,” she said. “We pray that you will unite us. … We pray that [those who oppose Trump] will see our conservatism lived out in a gracious way.”

In a short speech, Gov. Nathan Deal hit out at activists who had bombarded electors with emails, letters and phone calls in an effort to sway their votes.

“You have been the subject of harassment by those who perhaps are not as dedicated to the proposition of what this body is supposed to do as they are agitated by the fact that the people didn’t do what they wanted them to do.”

“I have every confidence you will not succumb to that,” Deal told the electors. “My words to you: Do your job.”

On Monday, [elector Baoky] Vu did not show up at the Capitol, and he was formally replaced by a solid Trump backer, John Padgett, the chairman of the Georgia Republican party.

“The system prevents the tyranny of the majority,” said Kirk Shook, an elector who is a high school teacher in rural Oconee County. He scoffed at those who, since the election, had sought to overhaul the electoral college system.

“There’s all this weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” Shook said of those who opposed Trump’s win. “And rightly so. There’s going to be a Republican president, a Republican Congress and a Republican Supreme Court. With the stroke of a pen, 90 percent of what Obama considered his legacy will be gone.”

The American Gaming Association is betting that President-elect Trump’s election will be a jackpot for the industry.

Donald Trump will be the first U.S. president to have ever owned a casino, and the gambling industry is wondering how he will handle three major issues: internet gambling, sports betting and daily fantasy sports.

The industry has sent its wish list to the president-elect. The American Gaming Association told The Associated Press it has asked Trump for fewer regulations, approval of sports betting, a crackdown on illegal gambling, tax reform and immigration policies that don’t dry up the flow of overseas gamblers — and workers — to U.S. casinos.

“President Trump, his administration and Congress will unquestionably implement policies that will directly impact our industry for years to come,” Whitaker Askew, the association’s vice president, told the AP.

In a November 2015 interview with Fox Sports 1, Trump indicated he would not oppose sports betting or daily fantasy sports.

“I’m OK with it because it’s happening anyway,” he said.

Georgia judges might be in for a pay raise, after a commission recommended pay increases for Superior Court and Supreme Court jurists.

The compensation commission, made up of judges, lawyers, state officials and others, recommended the base state pay for superior court judges jump by nearly a third and Supreme Court judges get 12.5 percent increases.

The commission also made it clear it would like to see the eventual end of “local supplements,” which friendly lawmakers and local officials tack onto the pay of superior court judges and district attorneys. Such supplements have made superior court judges in the Augusta area – at $207,000 a year – the highest paid trial court judges in the country, the commission report said. Metro Atlanta judges have also gotten big pay boosts from the supplements.

Under the commission’s proposal, which lawmakers would have to approve, pay for members of the Georgia Supreme Court would jump from roughly $175,000 to $200,000, with the chief justice receiving $205,000. Appeals Court judges salaries would go from $174,500 to $190,000, with the chief judge getting $195,000.

The base state pay for superior court judges would go from $126,265-$132,265, depending on whether they have an accountability court, to $165,000-$175,000. If they currently make more because of local supplements – which most judges receive – they would keep their current salaries. Newly-elected or appointed judges would only get the state pay. District Attorneys would get a similar deal – either keep the current setup or see their state pay go from roughly $120,000 to $150,000-$160,000.

Georgia Public Service Commissioners are set to vote today on a settlement of cost overruns at two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

The PSC staff and Georgia Power say the pact will save ratepayers about $185 million over the next four years and set stiff penalties if the utility doesn’t complete the two new reactors by a new deadline, the end of 2020.

But critics say the PSC’s five-member board appears poised, after a one-day hearing earlier this month, to accept a deal that gives scant up-front savings to customers compared to billions in cost overruns they will eventually have to absorb.

The settlement gives Georgia Power an additional 18 months to complete the first new unit and an extra six months to complete the second one.

The deal also delays Georgia Power’s collection of another $139 million until the project is completed, over the expected 60-year life of the reactors.

Customers’ rates won’t go down as a result of the proposed deal. They just won’t go up next year, because a surcharge on customers’ bills that finances the Vogtle project is expected to stay at this year’s level.

A new ICE detention facility  in Folkston, Georgia will create up to 200 new jobs.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter said…. the 780-bed facility adjacent to the D. Ray James facility will be called the Folkston ICE Processing Center and, starting early next year, will house immigration detainees under a five-year agreement between ICE and Charlton County.

Charlton County Administrator Shawn Boatright said the new mission at D. Ray James will create a lot of new hires while bringing back some former personnel laid off when the U.S. Justice Department signed a new two-year contract that reduced the number of federal inmates held at D. Ray James.

Carter said the agreement would create 231 jobs in all.

Carter estimated the facility will bring in $265,000 in property taxes and management fees annually and will have an estimated economic impact of $42 million.

“Not only does the new facility provide these great new benefits, the facility will also assist ICE in performing its important immigration duties,’’ Carter said in a release.

 State Senator Dean Burke and State Rep Darlene Taylor toured Bainbridge and Decatur County.

The two items of importance that the legislators wanted to focus on, however, were the hospital and the state trucking route being rerouted.

The financial state of the hospital is a big concern for the legislators who spoke about how they can assist it from the state level.

“A top priority this year is to look for ways to support the hospital,” said Representative Taylor.

While discussing the state of the hospital, the topic of using federal block grants to assist the hospital came up. A block grant would allow the city to use the federal grant in various ways that they chose, which Taylor thinks should be to assist rural hospitals.

“The top priority of any block grant needs to include helping rural hospitals that are in danger,” Taylor said. “They have to be at the top of the list for community grants for health care.”

Along with helping the hospital from a financial standpoint, both legislators agreed that a healthy community is a step toward helping the hospital as well.

“Can we get people eating healthier and walking and doing things as a community, and that would cut down on the folks that have diabetes and hypertension.” Said Taylor. “What can we do as a community to identify those that need that kind of help.”

As far as receiving the block grants, Taylor said she would do everything she can to get the assistance needed.

She serves as the vice-chairman for healthcare appropriations subcommittee and has already spoken to her chairman about the matter.

Richard Higgins will take over as Chairman of the Hall County Commission after twelve years on the Board of Education.

I’ve seen a lot of changes, and (the county is) still going to change,” said Higgins, a Hall native, during a recent interview at the Hall County Government Center. “And people don’t like change.”

But he said he’s ready for the challenge.

“I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do,” Higgins said. “You step up and do the right thing for the right reason. We’re not on this earth just to take up space. We should try to … make a difference.”

To become chairman, Higgins had to overcome one political obstacle — winning the Republican primary, which he did against former Hall commissioner Steve Gailey. He was unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election.

Augusta city officials are in no rush to rebuild the Haunted Pillar after it was hit by a car this weekend.

The tourist attraction at the corner of Broad and Fifth streets downtown remained a pile of rubble until mid-Monday, when city workers hauled the fragments to another site for temporary storage, according to Jim Beasley, spokesman for the city administrator’s office.

Beasley said the city-owned pillar’s “potential repair” would require a structural engineer to do a restoration plan, with approximate costs and a timeline.

The pillar’s lore is documented on a marker erected 20 years ago by a local chapter of the Colonial Dames XVII Century to recognize “an interesting piece of Augusta’s history,” according to The Augusta Chronicle’s archives. The pillar was all that remained after a tornado struck the “lower market,” a center for agricultural trade, in 1878, and an itinerant preacher warned that anyone who tore down the pillar would be struck dead by lightning, the marker states.

An earlier Augusta Chronicle article – from the 1930s – said a publicity firm, Lockhart International, deliberately distributed a fake news story about Augusta’s “old shaft” being haunted. The syndicated report attracted letters from contractors offering to remove it, the article said.

Laurie Anderson and James Gillespie were sworn in to new terms on the Grayson City Council.

Grantville, Georgia will likely have a vacant seat on City Council until at least January.

Lula, Georgia may hold elections for Mayor and two Council seats on November 7, 2017.

Whitesburg will consider a new city hall in 2017 after retiring debt.

The City of Pembroke is considering changing its alcohol sales ordinance after passage of a referendum to allow sale of alcohol by the drink.

Dawson County is considering hiring internal counsel for the first time.

Dr. Mitchell Nudelman brought allegations against the Cobb County school system to the Board of Education meeting last week.

During the school board’s public comment segment on Wednesday, Dr. Mitchell Nudelman, of the Nudelman and Associates law firm in Marietta, accused the school district of denying his open records requests, failing to competitively bid legal services and being terminated on an “unjust basis” as the district’s consultant medical director.

 The City of Tybee Island is considering a new ordinance governing alcohol in the summer months.

The committee charged with reviewing public safety issues on behalf of the Tybee Island City Council is recommending that the governing body consider a restriction on alcohol consumption for the beaches and parking lots during the months of March, April and May. The council will consider the proposal at its first meeting of 2017.

The idea, members of the city public safety committee said Monday, is to deter large crowds of young adults and college students from arriving en masse, drinking in large quantities and creating problems with traffic, litter and general debauchery.

“I think the main concern here, and the reason this came up is spring break has become an issue,” said City Councilwoman Julie Livingston, a member of the public safety committee. “I think the police department has managed to maintain control in the past, but it is growing.”

The ordinance the public safety committee is forwarding to city council is an adjustment to an earlier proposal, in that it would only restrict open consumption on beaches and in parking lots, instead of island-wide. The restrictions would begin in March and continue through the Friday before Memorial Day. Permitted events granted permission to have open containers would be exempt.

Warner Robins City Council adopted new personnel policies.

Georgia Ports Authority reported 6.5% higher container traffic for November 2016.

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