Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 4, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 4, 2023

On December 4, 1783, General George Washington told his officers he would resign his commission and return to his life at Mount Vernon.

The Battle of Waynesboro, Georgia was fought between Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry and Kilpatrick’s federal troops on December 4, 1864.

Governor William Northen signed legislation placing on the statewide ballot a constitutional amendment to increase the number of Georgia Supreme Court Justices from 3 to 5 on December 4, 1893.

On December 4, 1932, a 12-foot tall statue of Tom Watson, former state legislator, Congressman, and United States Senator from Georgia, was placed on the State Capitol Grounds.

On December 4, 1945, the United States Senate voted to approve full U.S. participation in the United Nations. Georgia’s Senators voted in favor.

On December 4, 2018, Brad Raffensperger won the General Election Runoff for Georgia Secretary of State and Chuck Eaton was reelected to the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters in Snellville and Sugar Hill head back to the polls tomorrow for Runoff Elections, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

In Sugar Hill, former Councilwoman Meg Avery is running to unseat current Councilwoman Jenn Thatcher. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Sugar Hill City Hall, which is located at 5039 West Broad St.

Meanwhile, the Snellville runoff pits Norman Carter against Catherine Hardrick for an open City Council seat. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Snellville City Hall, which is located at 2342 Oak Road.

Governor Brian Kemp issued Executive Order #12.01.23.01, lowering flags on state buildings and properties to half-staff in honor of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor until her body is interred.

Democratic and Republican state legislators disagree over whether proposed district plans comply with federal court orders, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

Georgia’s Republican lawmakers have approved new voting districts for themselves, but Democrats say the proposals are still racially discriminatory against Black voters.

Friday, the state House voted 101-77 to approve a new House map and the Senate voted 32-23 to approve a new Senate map.

The House map now goes to the Senate for more work, while the Senate map goes to the House. Typically, each chamber has taken a hands-off approach to the map that the other chamber has drawn for itself.

Lawmakers were called into special session after U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled in October that Georgia’s congressional, state Senate and state House violated federal law by diluting Black voting power. Jones mandated Black majorities in one additional congressional district, two additional state Senate districts and five additional state House districts.

Republicans haven’t yet unveiled their congressional plan. They said in debate Friday that their legislative plans will meet the terms of Jones’ order.

“We’re going to comply with Judge Jones’ order,” said House Speaker Jon Burns, a Newington Republican. “We’re going to create new Black-majority districts. That’s what we were told to do, that’s what this map does. I feel confident with this map and we’ll move forward.”

“You can’t obscure the truth,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat. “The Republican proposal dilutes Black voting power just like the 2021 Republican proposal does.”

Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Chairwoman Shelly Echols, a Gainesville Republican, rejected that claim.

“The judge required that we draw two additional majority-Black districts in south metro Atlanta and that is exactly what we have done,” Echols told senators.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

“My primary goal is simply to comply with the judge’s order,” said Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.

“It does not tell Judge Jones we know better than he does,” added Rep. Rob Leverette, R-Elberton, Echols’ House counterpart, referring to the House map. “It follows his order.”

But Democrats said Republicans failed to create the seven additional Black-majority districts the judge ordered.

House Minority Whip Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, said the House map actually creates a net of three Black-majority districts rather than five because it took away two of those districts in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. In both cases, the changes were made for partisan gain, he said.

“This map is an undemocratic exercise of gerrymandering that harms the people’s ability to elect candidates of their choice,” Park said.

Democrats also objected to the House map pairing four sets of incumbents in the same districts, including three sets of Democrats and only one Republican pair.

Leverette said the court order left Republicans no choice but to pair incumbents in order to create five additional Black-majority House districts.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this,” Leverette told his House colleagues. “I would not propose something I thought would harm any of you unless I had to to comply with the court order.”

On the Senate side, Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, said Republicans strayed beyond the areas in the southern end of metro Atlanta that Jones ruled violate the Voting Rights Act in order to protect GOP incumbents.

“This map works harder at protecting Republicans than fixing the problem,” she said.

Democrats also warned the new legislative maps will end up in court because – like the 2021 maps – they still violate the Voting Rights Act.

“Passing the (Senate) Republican map will only lead to more litigation and waste taxpayer money,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain.

State Senate Republicans unveiled a proposed Congressional map, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The proposed map, which the General Assembly will begin considering next week, would radically alter the 6th Congressional District the GOP-controlled legislature drew two years ago, part of a map U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled in October violates the Voting Rights Act.

The current 6th District, represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, is a white-majority district stretching from East Cobb County and North Fulton County north through all of Forsyth and Dawson counties and part of Cherokee County.

The redrawn 6th District would have a Black-majority voting-age population. It would include portions of Cobb and Fulton counties that are predominantly Black as well as eastern Douglas and northern Fayette counties, areas with fast-growing Black populations.

The proposed map also makes huge changes to Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, which currently includes most of Gwinnett County and northeastern Fulton County, areas with large concentrations of people of color, including Hispanics and Asian Americans. The district currently is represented by Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath.

Under the new map, the 7th District would be taken completely out of Gwinnett County. Instead, it would include North Fulton County; all of Forsyth, Dawson, and Lumpkin counties; and western Hall County, all heavily white areas.

McBath campaign manager Jake Orvis released a statement shortly after the map was released criticizing the proposal.

“Georgia Republicans have yet again attempted to subvert voters by changing the rules,” Orvis said. “We will look to the ruling from Judge Jones in the coming weeks before announcing further plans.”

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, embraced the Senate’s congressional map on Friday.

“This map meets the promise we made when this process began: it fully complies with the judge’s order, while also following Georgia’s traditional redistricting principles,” Burns said. “We look forward to passing this fair redistricting plan.”

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly are planning to split Gwinnett County between four congressional districts in order to comply with a federal court ruling concerning congressional districts without sacrificing any GOP-held seats in the state’s congressional delegation.

The state Senate redistricting committee unveiled the GOP’s plan for congressional redistricting on Friday afternoon. One of the most notable part about the plan is how it splits Gwinnett up so there is no single district that includes a majority of the county and draws 7th Congressional District Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., out our her Gwinnett-based district.

[T]he court ordered the legislature to redraw the district boundaries to create a new majority Black congressional district on the west side of metro Atlanta.

To accommodate that without sacrificing any Republican members of Congress, there will be no district that contains a majority of Gwinnett County under the proposed map that was unveiled on Friday.

The 9th Congressional District, which is represented by Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., will get a large chunk of northern Gwinnett while the 13th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., will get a large chunk of southern Gwinnett.

The 4th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., would once again include a portion on the county — after a two-year absence — by picking up western Gwinnett. This would at least include Peachtree Corners, Norcross, Berkeley Lake and Duluth.

Meanwhile, the 10th Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Mike Collins, R-Ga., would regain eastern Gwinnett. The district previously including a portion of eastern Gwinnett until the county was drawn out of the district in the 2021 redistricting cycle.

Governor Brian Kemp will ask state legislators in the next budget to further cut state income tax rates, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday he will ask Georgia lawmakers to provide additional tax relief during the upcoming legislative session by accelerating a state income tax cut lawmakers adopted last year.

House Bill 1437 set in place a reduction in the state’s income tax rate from 5.75% to 4.99%, to be phased in over several years.

Kemp said he will propose amending the 2022 legislation by moving up the timetable for the reductions, which would set the tax rate in tax year 2024 at 5.39% rather the 5.49% set by the current version of the bill. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget estimates accelerating the tax cuts would save taxpayers $1.1 billion during the tax year starting Jan. 1.

“While big government and big spenders in Washington and states like California and New York further their tax-and-spending policies … we’re choosing a different path in the Peach State,” Kemp said.

“We believe in the principle that tax dollars belong to those who earned them in the first place,” added Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones welcomed the new proposal as moving Georgia toward his eventual goal of eliminating the state income tax altogether. Jones, who presides over the state Senate, praised the gradual approach the governor is taking.

“We need to do it in a fiscally responsible manner,” he said.

From the AJC:

The rate is set to drop to 5.49% on Jan. 1, but, surrounded by key lawmakers, Kemp announced he will back legislation to knock it down to 5.39% next year. If approved, the change next year would save Georgians about $300 million annually in taxes, officials said.

“This is what happens when you budget conservatively,” the governor said. “This is what happens when you think long-term, rather than make knee-jerk fiscal decisions without considering the impact it will have on the state.

“All of us here today believe that is your money, not the government’s. One of our most solemn responsibilities as leaders of this state is to be good stewards of what the people of Georgia entrust us with.”

Kemp contrasted Georgia’s fiscal management to that of the federal government, which runs massive deficits every year. By law, Georgia cannot run a deficit.

“We’re keeping government streamlined and giving taxpayers more of their hard-earned money back,” he said.

Once fully implemented, House Ways and Means Chairman Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, said that the changes would save a family of four with an income of $75,000 about $650 a year.

Lawmakers voted in 2018 to reduce the top state income tax rate from 6% to 5.75% in response to federal tax changes that, officials thought, would force many Georgians to pay higher state taxes.

The first cut, in 2018, saved Georgians more than $500 million a year.

The 2018 legislation set up a second vote, in 2020, to lower the rate again to 5.5%, but then COVID-19 hit, the General Assembly session was suspended and the state faced a brief recession.

House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, said Georgians have among the lowest rates of state and local taxation in the nation.

“I’m all for cutting taxes,” Kemp said. “We have been putting money back into our citizens’ pockets. If there is a plan to get down to zero, we just need to see the plan and we can get to work on that.”

McDuffie County is helping residents with criminal record expungement, according to WJBF.

“We’ve been trying to do this since probably 2019; we got very close to launching it then COVID shut us down and then we had to regroup and then coordinate it I would love to do it at earlier events,” said District Attorney Bill Doupe.

District Attorney Bill Doupe says, although he believes someone’s record shouldn’t hinder them, it takes time to break barriers.

“But in doing this we found out there’s a set of barriers that are keeping people from helping themselves and developing themselves of the laws that are on the books first of all it’s a legal process so it’s complicated you need a lawyer to do a lot of this stuff,” said Doupe.

“As we understand some people weren’t able to register or even so they may have criminal history that is anywhere in Georgia, what I can tell you about the Georgia Justice Project is that we provide record clearing resources and can sometime provide direct assistance so long as it’s a Georgia state arrest; so I would encourage folks to go to our website which is www.gjp.org” said Paige Jann, with the Georgia Justice Project.

Muscogee County District Attorney Stacey Jackson is on a medical leave of absence, according to WTVM.

No specific details were released concerning Jackson’s health.

He was sworn into the position which oversees six counties in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit in May 2022 after being appointed by Governor Brian Kemp.

Jackson’s appointment expires at the end of 2024.

Gwinnett County will host a public hearing tonight on the proposed 2024 budget, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The county commission will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, which is located at 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville. It will be the only public hearing the commission will hold on the spending plan before it is adopted in early January.

The county’s total budget includes the $1.96 billion operating budget as well as the $542 million capital improvement budget.

Gwinnett officials plan to add 104 new positions in the 2024 budget as well as offer pay for performance raises to county employees, expand microtransit into northwest Gwinnett and address affordable housing issues among other things.

Statesboro City Council will consider changes to garbage pickup rules, according to the Statesboro Herald.

A proposal to beef up Statesboro’s penalty for leaving your garbage cart at the street after the collection day has evolved some during City Council discussions but appears set for two final votes during the 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, council meeting.

The matter has followed a recent trend in which City Attorney Cain Smith and other staff members recommend keeping fee and fine amounts out of the wording of actual ordinances, which are city laws. Instead, the proposed amendment to the ordinance section on residential garbage collection, sent forward by a 5-0 vote of the council from the Nov. 21 meeting, strikes through the old provision for a $10 fine and states that the fine will be set in the city’s schedule of fees, rates and fines.

Tuesday’s agenda contains both the second reading of the ordinance amendment for possible final approval and a proposed amendment to the fees and fines schedule. If approved, the amendment to the schedule of charges will be the fourth this fiscal year, as written, would prescribe a $25 fine for leaving your garbage cart at the curb after collection day on the second or later violations. It would also, in an unrelated matter, establish a permit fee for operating an ice cream truck or similar business.

Statesboro and the Coastal Regional Commission will host three stakeholder meetings to discuss updating their Comprehensive Plan, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The tentative agenda includes a public comment session, data review and update, and discussion of the city’s vision and goals.

The state requires that cities and counties have up-to-date comprehensive plans to maintain Qualified Local Government Status as specified by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, or DCA. This status, in turn, is required to participate in grant funding opportunities such as Community Development Block Grants and Community Home Improvement Grants, as well as financing through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

Plans generally attempt to look 20 years into the future but must be updated every five years. The Statesboro Comprehensive Plan is intended to guide the city’s growth, development, investments, policies and programs, according to a description of the previous plan on the city’s website.

Member organizations that have been invited to participate in the planning process include Bulloch County Schools, Bulloch County Board of Commissioners, Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Department of Transportation, Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, Development Authority of Bulloch County, Whitesville Full Gospel Baptist Church, Georgia Southern University Business Innovation Group, and Action Pact.

The Southern Georgia Regional Commission released a tentative project list for a multi-county Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Transportation (T-SPLOST), according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Southern Georgia Regional Commission is a regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency that serves 45 municipalities and 18 counties. The commission’s Valdosta office displayed the draft investment list for public review and comment Thursday, Nov. 30, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The list covers the following counties Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Tift, Turner, and Ware.

The TSPLOST or Transportation Investment Act (TIA) process is a mechanism for Georgia voters to enact a regional sales tax for transportation purposes, the regional commission said in a press release.

The current TSPLOST revenue collection began in the Southern Georgia region in October 2018 after a majority of voters in the 18-county Southern Georgia region passed the referendum to initiate the collection of a one-cent transportation sales tax.

[Transportation Director Amy] explained, “The Regional Transportation Roundtable will also have the ability to amend the list during this meeting before approving the list to move forward as the Final Investment List that will be voted on via a TSPLOST/TIA referendum.”

Martin said the vote for the newest draft project list will occur in the May 21, 2024, general primary election. Its approval would not add an additional tax. Rather the 1% sales tax would replace the current TSPLOST. If voters pass the tax, funds would begin collecting starting in 2027 and would be used to fund projects on the list that will be approved Dec. 7.

“During the time between the approval of the list and the referendum, the Regional Transportation Roundtable can amend the list if absolutely necessary, typically nothing substantial, an example would be something like if there is an error that was not noticed, such as a street name change,” she said.

Southern Georgia Regional Commission Planner Torrence Weaver explained that TIA funding is divided in two ways: regional and local. About 75% of a region’s TIA proceeds are used to fund all projects on the region’s final project list as approved by that region’s roundtable. The remaining 25% of a region’s TIA proceeds is divided among local governments and is based on population.

Franklin County Sheriff Steve Thomas will not run for reelection, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Franklin County Sheriff Steve Thomas put on a police badge for the first time in 1980.

In recent days, the sheriff made a difficult personal decision that he would not seek re-election to the office in 2024. The badge he now wears will become a piece of memorabilia.

After 44 years in law enforcement and 20 of those years as sheriff, Thomas decided it will soon be time to step aside from the job where he was the top law enforcement officer in a county of about 24,000.

“I’ve enjoyed what a sheriff can do. It’s a powerful thing, but with power comes responsibility,” he said last week, after he publicly announced his decision.

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