Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 5, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 5, 2023

On December 5, 1887, Georgia voters approved a new State Constitution and voted to keep the state capital in Atlanta instead of moving it back to Milledgeville.

On December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing the 18th Amendment and ending prohibition. Earlier that day, Pennsylvania and Ohio had ratified the Amendment.

On December 5, 2000, the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou was released.

On December 5, 2006, Republican Chuck Eaton won the General Election Runoff for Public Service Commission District 3, beating incumbent Democrat David Burgess. Total votes cast: 215,092.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters across Georgia are going to the polls today in municipal runoff elections, including Mayor of Willacoochee and two City Council seats in Enigma according to WALB. If you’re in the WALB viewing area, they do a great job of listing elections being held today.

A particularly juicy runoff election is being held for Mayor of Brookhaven. From the AJC:

In Brookhaven, term limits have opened the door for either Lauren Kiefer or John Park to succeed Mayor John Ernst. Park, a longtime council member, was the highest vote-getter in November’s general election, winning 43% of the vote. Kiefer, a political newcomer, earned 30%.

Other runoff races include the Atlanta School Board At-Large District 7 seat.

Current board member Tamara Jones faces a challenge from Alfred “Shivy” Brooks.

Governor Brian Kemp announced he is asking the General Assembly in January to accelerate the lowering of state income tax rates that was passed in 2022, according to a Press Release.

Governor Brian P. Kemp, joined by First Lady Marty Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, Speaker Jon Burns, and members of the General Assembly announced today their shared priority of introducing and passing legislation in the upcoming regular session of the General Assembly that will accelerate a decrease in the state individual income tax rate. This legislation will amend HB 1437, which provides for a step down of 10 basis points in the income tax rate, starting in 2025 and for each taxable year thereafter until the rate reaches 4.99 percent. By accelerating the reduction, the rate for Tax Year 2024 will be 5.39 percent, rather than the 5.49 percent set by HB 1437. This will mark a cut of 36 basis points from the Tax Year 2023 rate of 5.75 percent.

“When I signed the largest income tax cut in state history in 2022, I did so with the understanding we would deliver on this promise in a responsible way,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “Now, thanks to our conservative budgeting and strong state economy built on business-friendly policies, we are well-positioned to move the timeline up and put more money where it belongs — back into Georgians’ pockets. I look forward to working with our partners in the legislature to bring this further relief to families still burdened by Bidenomics.”

The Office of Planning and Budget estimates savings for Georgia taxpayers of approximately $1.1 billion in calendar year 2024 as a result of the tax cut acceleration and the 26 basis-points reduction provided in HB 1437.

“Today’s announcement is a great step toward ultimately eliminating Georgia’s income tax, a top priority of mine,” said Lt. Governor Burt Jones. “I commend Governor Kemp and members of the legislature for strategically putting our state in the position to give more money back to every Georgian. Along with the announcement today and the work of the Joint Tax Review Panel, I am confident we will identify additional ways to improve our tax structure and keep Georgia the best place to live and work.”

“As conservatives, we’re guided by the principle that tax dollars belong to those who earned them in the first place and that low taxes encourage economic growth,” said Speaker of the House Jon Burns. “This approach has resulted in Georgians enjoying not only the No. 1 business climate but also one of the lowest per-capita tax burdens in the country. Today, conservative leadership is once again lowering taxes on working Georgians so they can support their families at a time when inflation has eroded the buying power of their paychecks.”

Bulloch County Board of Elections is preparing for up to five elections in 2024, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Bulloch County commissioners set qualifying fees this week for nine countywide offices and seats on two local boards up for election in 2024. Election Supervisor Shontay Jones recently identified concerns she has for a year that will also include a presidential race and up to five different elections.

Nov. 21, Jones noted that more Bulloch County residents voted early in-person than on traditional elections days in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential general elections, as well as in the November 2022 non-presidential general election.

“As you can see through all of the numbers, basically we do more advanced in-person voting than voters that appear on Election Day at the precincts,” Jones said.

Georgia’s Dec. 6, 2022, runoff between U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and challenger Herschel Walker was a recent exception in that more voters, a total of 11,765, cast ballots at Bulloch County’s widely dispersed 16 traditional precincts on Election Day than voted early. But being a runoff, that election also included a shortened early voting period, in which the 8,489 in-person voters filed through a single compact location — the Board of Elections and Registration office suite of the County Annex on North Main Street — in just five days.

“In those five days here, with the parking being a concern, we voted almost 8,500 people,” Jones said.

The receipt and processing of mailed-out absentee ballots also overlaps with the in-person early voting, which Jones said presents a challenge for staffing.

“We have a large amount of absentee ballots that we mail out, and those will increase,” she said. “You know 2020 was different; it was COVID.”

During the November 2020 general election that included the Biden-Trump presidential race, pandemic voting rules were in place, before changes in state election law the next year that shortened the time for mailing out absentee ballots and banned outdoor ballot drop boxes. In that election, 14,408 Bulloch County residents voted early in-person, while 8,910 returned paper absentee ballots out of 10,000 mailed out, and 9,298 voted on the final Election Day.

“So no, I’ve been here in the election office now 24 years, and we’ve never mailed out 10,000 paper ballots like we did that year, but we have been in different stages where we’ve mailed out up to 3,000 (or) 2,000 ballots, and that puts a big strain on my office,” Jones said.

The year’s first election will be the presidential preference primary, March 12, with in-person early voting Feb. 19–March 8. The deadline for voter registration is Feb. 12.

The general primary, including party nominating primaries for county, state legislative and U.S. House races and the general election for nonpartisan offices, will be held May 24. Its runoff election is scheduled for June 18.

Nov. 5 is the general election, and if it requires a runoff, it will be held Dec. 3.

That’s the most comprehensive article I’ve seen about upcoming election preparations, I think. It’s well worth reading in its entirety.

The Georgia Senate Redistricting Committee voted to recommend adoption of a Congressional plan, according to the Associated Press via the Augusta Chronicle.

The question was a key part of debate Monday as a Senate committee voted 7-4 along party lines to advance the proposed congressional map. It could be debated Tuesday before the full state Senate.

Republicans pushing redistricting plans in Georgia say such districts aren’t protected by the federal Voting Rights Act. Thus, they say it’s legal for them to target a district now represented by Democratic U.S. Rep Lucy McBath for a drastic transformation, even as they draw a new Black-majority district elsewhere in metro Atlanta. Such a 1-for-1 switch in districts likely to elect a Democrat would mean Republicans are likely to maintain their 9-5 edge in Georgia’s congressional delegation. That’s despite nearly half of voters casting ballots for Democrats in recent statewide elections.

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 maps violate 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. Jones instructed lawmakers to create the new congressional district on metro Atlanta’s western side.

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, ruled in a 1990 case from Hardee County, Florida, that minority coalitions are protected from having their votes diluted. That precedent is likely to be front and center in arguments over whether U.S. District Judge Steve Jones should accept new maps drawn by Georgia lawmakers.

Changes would also be made to six other congressional districts in parts of metro Atlanta. Five districts south and east of Atlanta would remain untouched.

Democrats say the changes seek to evade Jones’ goal of enhancing Black representation.

“This really does diminish the Black voice and the Black vote,” said Sen. Tonya Anderson, a Lithonia Democrat. “And it’s all over this map from District 10 to congressional District 7. This is not a good representation of who we are and where we are going.”

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

The proposed map, approved by the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee along party lines, would create an additional Black-majority district as U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered in an October ruling.

But in doing so, Republicans would transform an adjacent district currently dominated by minority voters – including Blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans – that could be expected to elect a minority candidate into a heavily white district.

“We have eliminated a minority-opportunity district, which goes completely against the judge’s order,” Senate Minority Whip Harold Jones, D-Augusta, told committee members shortly before Monday’s vote.

Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville, the committee’s chair, said the Republican map complies with the court order by creating an additional Black-majority congressional district in western portions of metro Atlanta. Echols referred to a series of pages in Jones’ 516-page order that refer to Black-minority districts – not coalition or minority-opportunity districts – as his goal.

“The Voting Rights Act protects distinct minority groups, not coalitions,” Echols said.

The congressional map is expected to reach the Senate floor for a vote on Tuesday.

Interest rate increases are affecting local governments, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

“All of our money has to be collateralized at 110%,” said City of Dalton Chief Financial Officer Cindy Jackson. “So a lot of banks don’t really want to deal with governments, we’ve been fortunate to have a good relationship with Bank OZK — we signed an agreement with them in 2022, of course, interest rates were really low then, but we got a deal with them … it’s tied to the fed fund rate and they max out on our checking account at 2.2% and on our money market, 2.5%.”

Jackson said the city government also invests in Georgia Fund 1, a state-level offering for municipalities and other government entities.

“It’s highly liquid, I can get my money out of there in 24 hours,” Jackson said. “They are currently paying 5.38%.”

Additionally, she said the city has investments via multiple security banks.

“I have a lot of certificates of deposit (CDs) there,” Jackson said. “How they get away from collateralizing your money … they don’t go over $250,000, so they’re Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) insured.”

“So when we started out the year we looked at, we were estimating our interest income to be $400,000,” Jackson said. “We’re going to hit $1 million in interest income this year alone for the general fund.”

She noted the local government is also generating interest from its various SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and bond coffers.

“Luckily, the city, we have a lot of cash, we’re not like a lot of local governments that have to issue tax anticipation notes,” Jackson said. “We have a healthy fund balance so we cash flow … I’ve been with the city 19 years and we’ve never had to issue a tax anticipation note, we’ve always had the money to cover what we budget.”

“When interest rates are high, you have to go to the market to borrow money,” Jackson said. “But the city, we don’t have any plans to borrow money … the last time we borrowed money was in 2021 and our true interest cost was 1.682%, which is very low.”

Jackson said Dalton Public Schools was considering borrowing $13 million in a private placement.

“And the rate that they got was 4.28%, which was considered a really good rate,” she continued. “So if you’re having to go to the market to borrow money, it’s going to have an impact on your financial position.”

Dougherty County Commissioners approved $684k in cash for employees, according to the Albany Herald.

The commission awarded employees during the COVID-19 pandemic with what it calls lump-sum distributions, using federal pandemic relief funds. Law enforcement officers and other first responders also received “premium pay” bonuses during that pandemic.

The estimated fiscal cost of the one-time distribution is $684,116. The approved distributions are for $1,000 for full-time and $500 for part-time employees and will be made on Dec. 15.

“This is something that probably should have come through the Finance Committee to begin with,” [Commissioner Russell Gray] said. “We really didn’t have a chance for our Finance Committee to drill down into it to say, ‘Yes, it’s affordable and this is the best use of this money.’”

“I want to caution the board to reconsider. I don’t want to be a Grinch about this, but I also don’t want to be here next year talking about furloughs or hiring freezes.”

Dublic City School Superintendent Dr. Fred Williams was recognized as 2024 Superintendent of the Year, according to 13WMAZ.

Dr. Fred Williams started his time at the Dublin City School District working as a P.E. teacher. Now, after 30 years of commitment to the kids and the district, he’s been named the 2024 Georgia Superintendent of the Year.

“This is a calling, it’s not a job,” Williams said. “We know in education that you have to Maslow before you bloom. If you’re not meeting the needs of the whole child, there’s no way that you’ll be able to teach them the ABCs and 123s.”

“You don’t get this honor by yourself,” Williams said. “It’s all of the students, it’s the staff, it’s the community, it’s all of the different entities that partner with the school system that help a school system be all it can be for the young people in the community that the school system serves.”

Dublin City Schools’ Director of Communications Ashley-Michelle Thublin said Williams is determined to be an example for his students.

“He really and truly wants his students to know that they have a trusting, loving adult in their corner and he wants to be part of their growth and development,” Thublin said. “He wants to make sure he’s providing them with the best education they can possibly get.”

Tybee Island utility customers will see higher costs, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Starting Jan. 1, utility rates on Tybee Island are set to increase by 7% due to rising costs to address infrastructure needs.

“As the City continues to balance infrastructure needs and rising costs, annual rate adjustments will be necessary,” noted a post on the city’s website. “Current infrastructure projects include replacements of sewer and water mains, water tower improvements, and upgrades to odor control and wastewater treatment plant.”

The new rate structure includes a peak usage season from June 1 to Aug. 31, as well as a 25% premium for usage over 10,000 gallons during peak season. According to the website, the average individual that uses 3,000 gallons of water can expect a monthly bill increase of roughly $13.

State Rep. Rick Townsend (R-St. Simons Island) was appointed to the High School Athletics Overview Committee, according to The Brunswick News.

State Rep. Rick Townsend, R-St. Simons Island, was named to the High School Athletics Overview Committee by House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington.

The overview committee is a joint committee made up of members from the Georgia House of Representatives and Georgia Senate. Members are tasked with the responsibility of evaluating the performance of high school athletic associations for fairness and equity in establishing and implementing certain standards and promoting academic achievement and good sportsmanship.

Townsend is a member of the House Education Committee and is the former president and CEO of the Golden Isles College and Career Academy.

“I would like to thank Speaker Burns for appointing me to the High School Athletics Overview Committee,” Townsend said. “Having more than 30 years of experience in education, as well as coaching, I am honored to be named to this committee, and I look forward to serving in this capacity to support our state’s education system and its students.”

“Rep. Townsend has shown unwavering commitment to the betterment of public education in Georgia and will surely be an asset on this committee,” Burns said.

Effingham County Commissioners met with local public libraries to discuss LGBT materials availability, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Effingham County Commissioners and Live Oak Public Libraries officials met Monday night to discuss the content of certain books available in the libraries that, said one commissioner, could be “damaging to our children.”

The workshop, which County Chairman Wesley Corbitt called a “fact finding mission,” was held in response to growing fears from commissioners who said they are concerned about reading material and the impact it could have on young children.

“There’s a real concern from this board that there are things that can be damaging to our children,” said Corbitt. “We are not talking about free speech or banning books. We want to talk about things that could damage them for a long time.”

In a previous meeting, County Commissioner Roger Burdette pointed to the America Library Association as the culprit.

“The biggest issue is ALA,” said Burdette. “That is the common denominator with everything. That is the organization that drives us down this path of trangenderism and exposing our children to that kind of thing. Our library system subscribes to ALA. They have been linked to child pornography. It’s a liberal agenda which is opposed to our values here. Our schools fight this thing every week, not through ALA but in other ways.”

“A fundamental premise of democracy is that citizens can exercise their own critical judgment,” said [Live Oak Public Libraries Executive Director Lola] Shelton-Council. “Live Oak Public Libraries trust our fellow Americans to make their own decisions about what they read and believe. Only the person using the material or his or her guardian can determine what is suitable for that person.”

“Parents have a choice,” she said. “They can control what material their children see. I have a child that is on the autism spectrum, and I can tell you parents have a choice in the matter and they have freedom to choose what material their children accesses. The app gives parents control to add library cards so parents can see what their children have checked out. In addition, the parent has to consent to the library card. Those are two very big protocols in place.”

From WTOC:

Commissioner Roger Burdette brought forth the initial concern saying he felt that certain books that were accessible to children could be detrimental to children. A topic that the commission said was too large for the allotted time which brings us to Monday night.

“I believe in freedom of speech. It should never be used to bully or mock anyone nor should it be used to steer a eight-year-old into an identity crisis,” said Commissioner Burdette.

“If we take and we demonize all these books and put them in the small corner and hide them away, what is that say about the people that these books represent,” said Commissioner Kieffer.

Another concern brought by Commissioner Burdette was that books of what he referred to as sexually explicit content were too accessible to children which the library says is simply not true.

“In 17 years of having access to the library, my children have never gotten any material off of the shelve that I have found questionable.”

“I have learned or recently learned that there are multiple controls in place with library cards. There is an app where the parent can always see what their child has checked out,” said Commissioner DeLoach.

Pooler City Manager Robert Byrd is leaving the city’s top job at the end of the year, according to the Savannah Morning News.

He tendered a separation agreement during Pooler City Council’s executive session Monday night. The end of his term as city manager takes effect Dec. 31. A phone call Monday evening to Bryd’s office was not immediately returned.

“I hate it, because he was just the best person for this,” said Pooler Mayor Rebecca Benton. “And he’s a civil engineer and you need an engineer to figure out these developers who try to pull the wool over your head, and Robbie could always.”

Benton said they currently have a recommendation for an interim city manager, but a more permanent replacement is something Mayor-Elect Karen Williams and the new council will need to grapple with as they also prepare for the influx of people and money the Hyundai plant in Bryan County will bring.

There’s no legal obligation to find a replacement in a certain number of days, [Pooler City Council member Aaron] Higgins said, adding that he anticipates taking as much time as necessary to find the right person.

Power Evans was sworn in as Winder City Council District 3 member, according to AccessWDUN.

Evans’ mother, Caroline Power Evans, currently serves as the Chief Magistrate Judge for Barrow County, and she did the honors of the ceremonial swearing-in, according to city officials. There were also reportedly dozens of Evans’ family members, friends and colleagues in attendance.

The new Ward 3 councilmember graduated from Winder-Barrow High School and obtained his undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Georgia in 2022.

After that, he began working as a Government Affairs Specialist at SK Battery.

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