Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 31, 2019


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 31, 2019

On December 31, 1695, a British law taxing windows went into effect, causing many property owners to brick-up some windows to avoid paying the tax. This may be the first recorded instance of the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in response to a tax increase. See also: Revolution, American.

The Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park closed on December 31, 1895.

On December 31, 1999, the Panama Canal was turned over to Panama pursuant to the Torrijos-Carter Treaties signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds penned an Op-Ed for

Once again demonstrating his steadfast leadership in fighting the nation’s greatest public safety threat, Governor Brian Kemp issued forceful warnings to criminal street gangs recently.  During speeches in Savannah and Albany, Governor Kemp served noticed that gang members were not welcome in Georgia.  He put the criminal street gangs on notice that Georgia’s tough anti-gang statutes would be enforced in all corners of our state.

As his appointed Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Governor Kemp’s words are certainly inspiring.   Early in his administration, GBI was tasked with the responsibility of being at the proverbial “tip of the spear” when it came to combating the growing incursion of gangs and gang crime facing our state. A centerpiece of Governor Kemp’s visionary plan was the establishment of the GBI Gang Task Force and an enhanced focus for GBI—both through GBI’s direct efforts and as a “force multiplier” in its conjunction with law enforcement and prosecution partners—on combating gangs.

While Governor Kemp’s blueprint has only been in place for a few months, its dividends are already evident.

The results of GBI adhering to Governor Kemp’s plan have already been significant. A brief list includes the following:

  • In partnership with the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, GBI has trained over 3,000 state, local, and federal law enforcement officers on gang investigation techniques and the application of Georgia’s anti-gang laws.
  • GBI has trained scores of state and federal prosecutors on gang prosecution laws and techniques in numerous venues.
  • GBI has consulted with law enforcement and prosecutor agencies across Georgia at all stages of gang cases, from investigation, to trial, and appeal.
  • GBI has taught judges from across Georgia on the applications of Georgia’s anti-gang laws.
  • GBI is in the process of establishing a gang-database to assist law enforcement which should be operational in early 2020.

This partnering by GBI under Governor Kemp’s leadership has led to significant encroachment on criminal gang activity in Georgia with cases being made and indictments being returned in several counties across our state.

Governor Kemp distinguished himself among his national colleagues by stepping forward with his plan to “stop and dismantle” gangs in Georgia. As long as gang members are active here, they will continue to victimize and recruit, running over lives and communities along the way.

GBI is committed to Governor Kemp’s anti-gang vision. We are prepared to continue this fight— and win it— for the safety of law-abiding Georgians everywhere.

Vic Reynolds serves as the Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, after his appointment to that position by Governor Brian Kemp in February 2019. Director Reynolds wishes to thank GBI Chief Legal Counsel Mike Carlson for his assistance in creating this column.

From the AJC:

The GBI Gang Task Force counted its latest victory this Tuesday, raiding two alleged drug and gun stash houses in Gwinnett County.

Because the task force is just getting started, it’s hard to say what the long-term result of its existence will be, but the GBI sees the Gwinnett County raids as a good example of what the group can do and will continue to do.

“This case doesn’t get made without the directive from the governor’s office and (GBI Director Vic) Reynolds,” said Ken Howard, the task force’s GBI special agent in charge. “This is one of multiple cases that we’ve been successful in. We’ve got more than I can count in the pipeline. We’ve got more than we can work, to be honest with you,” Howard told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Former Congressman Buddy Darden spoke about Senator Johnny Isakson’s role in Georgia and Washington politics, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

They were on different sides of a fraternity divide in student government at the University of Georgia in the 1960s. Later, they were on opposite sides of the aisle as a Republican and Democrat in both the Georgia legislature and the U.S. Congress.

But despite those differences, Darden says they have always been friends — a sentiment repeated by other Democrats and Republicans who have worked with the retiring senior senator from Georgia.

“We’ve been on opposite sides most of the time, but we have always been congenial and very friendly,” Darden said in an interview earlier this month, describing Isakson as someone with “impeccable character” that he could always talk to and trust. “Frankly, though, Johnny has always had a bipartisan bent.”

The bipartisan bent of Isakson is a common theme when his colleagues speak of him, and an increasingly rare quality in a polarized Washington. As Georgia’s senior senator prepared to exit, Democrats called him a bridge-builder that they could respect and work with across the aisle.

“Johnny is the last of the Georgia bipartisan senators. He is the last of a dying breed in Georgia that can be objective about things,” Darden said.

The entire piece is well-written and comprehensive and worth reading in it’s entirety if you’re so inclined.

Many local jurisdictions are lifting drought restrictions, according to WABE.

After a late summer heatwave, more than 100 Georgia counties — including all of metro Atlanta — had been under a state-mandated drought response. In late October, 96% of the state was experiencing some level of dry or drought conditions.

Now, the state is nearly drought-free. According to the most recent update of the U.S. Drought Monitor, 96% of Georgia is not in any category of drought.

“We’ve had some beneficial rainfall over the past two to three weeks that have really helped,” said Bill Murphey, state climatologist with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The state has ended those requirements.

From the Gainesville Times:

Only a few counties in extreme southwest Georgia, or near the Florida line, are considered abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which releases an updated report every Thursday.

“Rain continues to ease the flash drought conditions in Georgia that had peaked during the first half of October,” said state climatologist Bill Murphey in a news release on Friday, Dec. 27. “The heaviest rain amounts have fallen over extreme North Georgia, central Georgia and southeastern parts of the state. As a result, soil moisture and stream flows are improving in those areas.”

“The lake is still not full,” [Gainesville water resources director Linda] MacGregor said. “So far, so good (in December), and if the (winter months) are wet, then we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

Lake Lanier’s winter full pool is 1,070 feet above sea level. Its summer full pool is 1,071 feet. The lake stood at 1,068.54 feet Friday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USMCA – a revised version of NAFTA – could benefit some Georgia businesses, according to the AJC.

The USMCA was finalized by President Donald Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi in mid-December. It recently sailed through the U.S. House – with all 14 Georgia lawmakers lending their support – and is poised to be considered by the Senate in early 2020.

The USMCA “removes a great deal of uncertainty in terms of trade with two of our largest trading partners, and that’s a very positive development,” said Roy Bowen, president of the Georgia Association of Manufacturers.

Local proponents also think the revised pact will bring modest gains to some of Georgia’s top industries — including agriculture, textiles and manufacturing — by bolstering access to some of Canada’s tightly controlled markets, cracking down on labor standards in Mexico and limiting how many component parts of a product can be imported from outside North America.

Local farmers are expecting a small increase of dairy, egg and peanut exports with the raising of previous Canadian quotas. Ditto for poultry, by far Georgia’s largest agricultural export, valued at more than $850 million in 2018.

The USMCA hasn’t been as well-received among Georgia produce farmers who were seeking extra protections from cheap Mexican imports. Groups such as the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association had lobbied for easier ways to fight back against the dumping of cheap produce like berries and squash, but their proposal was dropped during negotiations.

After the agreement was announced, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said he remained “concerned about unbridled access to our markets for Mexican fruits and vegetables.”

At the same time, Black and others suggested additional help might be on the way. “I am optimistic that enhanced federal monitoring of trade practices and food safety will mitigate some of these concerns,” said Black.

New voting machines continue shipping to local governments continues ahead of the 2020 Presidential elections, according to GPB News.

While the holiday season has made coordinating deliveries to local officials tricky, Raffensperger said that more than 25,000 of the 33,100 [ballot marking devices] are tested and in the state’s control and 32 of Georgia’s 159 counties have received nearly all of their new voting machines and accessories.

Cobb County (2,039 machines) is waiting on final pieces of equipment, DeKalb County (2,839) is currently being delivered and in the next few weeks Fulton (3,058) and Gwinnett counties (2,257) will receive most of their equipment.

“So, that represents 34% of all the voting equipment for the entire state of Georgia,” Raffensperger said.

He added that because 70% of the machines are in a state warehouse ready to go, the state could be doing more deliveries this week. But many local elections officials are on vacation for the holidays, so shipments will be scheduled later this week when people return.

DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson will host a meeting to include demonstrations of the new voting machines, according to the AJC.

A town hall hosted by DeKalb Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson will include interactive demonstrations of the new machines and information on voter registration, the commissioner’s office said Tuesday.

All of Georgia’s electronic voting machines are being replaced with a new voting system before the March 24 presidential primary. The new voting equipment prints out paper ballots, providing a way to check electronic results after years of complaints of alleged voting irregularities and security issues.

The panel is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Porter Sandford Performing Arts Center, located at 3181 Rainbow Dr. in Decatur. Residents can arrive from 4 to 6 p.m. to try out the new machines.

Former President Jimmy Carter is getting out-and-about after his latest hospital stay, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Former President Jimmy Carter returned to his hometown church and visited a Columbus-area art site Sunday in one of his first documented public appearances since undergoing brain surgery in November.

Carter and about 40 members of his family toured Pasaquan, a 7-acre art site in Buena Vista, Georgia, Sunday afternoon. The compound is about 45 minutes from downtown Columbus and is maintained by Columbus State University. It honors the work of artist Eddie Owens Martin, known as St. EOM.

“He seemed in good spirits. He was generous. He was kind. He made a few jokes,” McFalls said of Carter. “He had memories of the time he was out there before … about 50 years ago when (St. EOM) was alive.”

State Fiscal Economist Jeffery Dorfman will headline most sessions of the 2020 Georgia Ag Forecast, according to the Albany Herald.

Dorfman will speak in Macon, Lyons, Bainbridge and Tifton. Todd Southerland, a senior vice president and food and agribusiness industry manager at SunTrust Bank, will be the keynote speaker and provide a more in-depth poultry outlook in Gainesville.

The meetings allow UGA agricultural economists to speak with Georgia farmers, lenders and agribusiness leaders, and provide an assessment of the economic outlook for Georgia’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.

“Right now, economic data are mixed with good and bad news for the future of Georgia’s economy,” Dorfman said. “There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding regulations and how they will impact farmers, agribusinesses, rural communities and Georgia’s overall economy. It’s important to cut through the noise and focus on the fundamentals.”

Economists from the CAES Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics will forecast the 2020 growing season for Georgia producers with an emphasis on Georgia’s major commodities, such as cotton, peanuts and corn.

State Senator Freddie Powell Sims will work to address the shortage of nurses in Southwest Georgia, according to the Albany Herald.

For small-town Georgia, the shortage is even worse, and although colleges in Albany and Atlanta have been working to address the issue, there remains a severe nursing shortage, said state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson.

Georgia is ranked sixth among the states with the biggest difference between the number of nurses that will be needed and the expected number of nurses available in 2030, according to At that time, the state is expected to have 2,200 less nurses than the number needed.

“We were talking to a hospital administrator the other day,” Sims said. “He had heard from the state there’s a shortage of nurses of about 600 in the state. He said he had a shortage of 300 to 400 locally, the real number must be huge.”

Even with the shortage, Sims said there are some signs of progress. Educational institutions from Andrew College in Cuthbert to Albany State University, Albany Technical College and Americus’ Georgia Southwestern State University to Macon-based Mercer University and Atlanta’s Morehouse College are working to increase the number of nurses in rural Georgia. Sims said she is sure that other southwest Georgia colleges and universities also are working on the issue, but those are the ones with which she is familiar.

Two local judicial seats in the Augusta area have announced candidates for 2020, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Laverne Lewis Gaskins announced Monday she is running for [Richmond County] chief civil and magistrate court judge. Chief Judge William D. Jennings III has held the position since 1987.

Lewis Gaskins joins Le’Joi Williamson, who announced last month she is running for Augusta’s other civil and magistrate judgeship, the presiding judge position held by Scott Allen.

Confederate monument protections may now affect flags flown at historic sites, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

After the city this past October pulled up two flag poles on which the Sons of Confederate Veterans flew battle flags, the SCV sued in Muscogee Superior Court, citing a state “monuments act” protecting Confederate memorials.

The SCV suit also claimed the city violated the group’s free speech rights under the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The city still maintains the SCV’s flags and poles were privately owned memorials erected on public property that council controls, and not publicly owned monuments protected by state law.

A Gainesville forum discussed school bullying, according to the Gainesville Times.

The panel included Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, leaders in the faith community, “Parents Rebuilding the Village” members and Georgia Legal Services Program staff attorney Alina Venick.

Williams said there is a three-strikes policy relating to bullying before a student is moved to an alternative school, though an offense considered especially severe may lead to this punishment before a third strike.

“When you start to look at what a classroom looks like now compared to what a classroom looked like when most of us went to school, it’s very different. The demands on the teacher today are much more, I would argue, than it has ever been in public school history,” Williams said.

The City of South Fulton is hosting its own version of the current Washington impeachment circus. From the AJC:

A Monday hearing that could lead to the removal of a mayor and council member in the city of South Fulton was often raucous and unwieldy, but it ended with the fate of the two elected officials still unclear.

The hearing, to remove Mayor Bill Edwards and Councilwoman Helen Zenobia Willis, lasted more than nine hours as council members heard testimony from six people, including the city attorney, the city’s economic development director and a representative of Halperns’ Steak and Seafood Co. — the company at the heart of a development deal that led to the hearing.

Council members adjourned at 6:30 p.m. without taking a vote, and they could not say whether they would reconvene the hearing. The adjournment happened with no discussion after one council member left and Edwards cast the deciding vote.

Edwards called the adjournment a victory and said the hearing was “unnecessary.”

“It’s too costly to this community,” he said.

The investigation and hearing have cost city taxpayers more than $50,000.

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