Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 12, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 12, 2024

Today is Georgia Day, celebrating the founding of the Thirteenth Colony on February 12, 1733.

After years of planning and two months crossing the Atlantic, James Oglethorpe and 114 colonists climbed 40 feet up the bluff from the Savannah River on this day in 1733 and founded the colony of Georgia.

George II granted the Georgia trustees a charter for the colony a year earlier. The trustees’ motto was Non Sibi Sed Allis—not for self but for others. Georgia would be a philanthropic and military enterprise that would provide the “worthy” poor a new start and serve as a buffer between Spanish Florida and the English colonies.

The trustees prohibited slavery and large landholdings….

Congress enacted the first fugitive slave law, on February 12, 1793 requiring states to return runaway slaves to their owners, even if the state in which the slave was captured did not permit slavery.

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

On February 12, 1867, the editor of the Milledgeville Federal Union expressed dismay at the rapidity with which Atlanta was growing and basically everything about Atlanta.

“Atlanta is certainly a fast place in every sense of the word, and our friends in Atlanta are a fast people. They live fast and they die fast. They make money fast and they spend it fast. They build houses fast, and they burn them down fast… . They have the largest public buildings, and the most of them, and they pass the most resolutions of any people, ancient or modern. To a stranger the whole city seems to be running on wheels, and all of the inhabitants continually blowing off steam.”

On February 12, 1999, the United States Senate voted 55-45 against convicting impeached President Bill Clinton on a charge of perjury. Senator Paul Coverdell voted guilty and Senator Max Cleland voted not guilty. On the second charge of obstructing justice, Coverdell and 49 other Republicans voted guilty and Cleland joined 49 other senators in voting not guilty. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required to convict a President, so Clinton was acquitted on both counts.

On February 12, 2014, most of Georgia state government was closed by Executive Order because of an ice storm.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Today is the last day to register to vote in order to be eligible for the March 12, 2024 Presidential Preference Primary, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Monday is the deadline to register to vote for the March 12 presidential primary election. At this point, former President Donald Trump is still facing former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the Republican Primary while President Joe Biden is still facing Dean Phillips in the Democratic Primary.

A person must be a U.S. citizen and a legal citizen of Georgia and their county to register to vote. Residents can register as early as when they are 17-and-a-half, but they must turn 18 by the time they vote.

People who have been ruled mentally incompetent by a court or who are currently serving a sentence for a felony cannot register to vote.

Gwinnettians who have not yet registered to vote can do so online by visiting tinyurl.com/2p5cus4t or by downloading a voter registration form from sos.ga.gov.

They must have a valid driver’s license or another form of identification issued by Georgia Department of Driver Services.

Forms that are downloaded and filled out must be returned to the Gwinnett Voter Registration and Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building, which is located at 455 Grayson Highway Suite 200, by the end of business on Monday.

Early voting for the presidential primary will run from Feb. 19 until March 8.

From the AJC:

All registered voters can participate in either party’s primary on March 12, when a total of 14 candidates will be on ballots, including front-runners Joe Biden in the Democratic race and Donald Trump in the Republican contest. Early voting begins Feb. 19.

Voters can check their registration status and view sample ballots through the state’s My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov.

Eligible Georgians can register online, and registration forms are available at libraries, post offices and county election offices.

To be eligible to register to vote in Georgia, you must be a citizen, legal resident and over 17 1/2 years old. In addition, you can’t be serving a sentence for the conviction of a felony or found mentally incompetent by a judge. You must be at least 18 years old to vote.

Former State Senator and United States Attorney Ed Tarver died, according to WSAV.

Ed Tarver, who represented the Augusta area in the Georgia State Senate and served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, died Friday at the age of 64 according to family members.

From 2005-2009 Tarver represented Georgia’s 22nd District in the Georgia State Senate. Later in 2009, he was sworn in as the first Black United States Attorney from the Southern District of Georgia.

In 2020, he ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for one of Georgia’s seats in the U.S. Senate that was eventually won by Sen. Raphael Warnock.

I am craving sausage-stuffed pork chops and sausage hot dogs from the rotisserie after reading a profile of Stripling’s in The Brunswick News.

Stripling’s has been in business for the past 60 years, and almost everyone who travels the Interstate 75 corridor between Tifton and Cordele is acquainted with it as a spot to fill up gas tanks and pick up some of the family’s specialty – sausage. The business got its start in the 1960s in downtown Warwick at the family grocery store, when James Stripling, the son of the store’s founder Monroe Stripling, began making sausage before subsequently opening a butcher shop on the family farm.

Over the course of the past five decades, Stripling’s General Store has grown to include the original store in Cordele, plus five additional stores – in Bogart, Brunswick, Cordele, Perry and Tifton.

At the Brunswick store, the meat market is the star of the show, with an array of freshly cut meats and ready-to-serve items on display. The store carries Certified Black Angus beef and an assortment of fresh pork, including bacon and the family’s famous sausage. Stripling’s beef jerkies are also available, as is a variety of fresh-caught seafood.

The bigger problem is that this makes trips to the coast more difficult as I now have to figure out how to bring back both Southern Soul barbecue and some Stripling’s.

WJBF in Augusta profiles three candidates in the Special Election to fill the House District 125 seat vacated by the appointment of then-State Rep. Barry Fleming to a Superior Court judgeship.

Gary Richadson (R)

Kay Turner (D)

John Turpish (L)

Last week, the AJC profiled Republican candidate C.J. Pearson.

Now a 21-year-old college dropout and conservative social media star, Pearson is competing for an open Georgia House seat in a Tuesday special election that would make him the state’s youngest legislator — and put him on a collision course with mainstream Republicans.

That’s because the constant partisan sniping and viral hot takes that made him popular among Donald Trump’s loyalists also put him at odds with Gov. Brian Kemp and his allies, who won’t soon forget that Pearson served as campaign manager to Kemp’s doomed challenger, MAGA cheerleader Vernon Jones.

The second-term governor and his allies aren’t letting Pearson take the vacant seat without a fight. They’re concerned that a victory would give Pearson a powerful platform in the state Legislature to espouse far-right views and, perhaps, serve as a launchpad for higher office.

They’re treating Pearson much as they would a Democratic rival ahead of next week’s vote, with flyers financed by Kemp’s political machine branding him “Pacific Coast Pearson” — a jet-setting Hollywood wannabe who once endorsed liberal U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Many GOP activists in the conservative-leaning district are rallying behind former Columbia County Commissioner Gary Richardson, a soft-spoken owner of car wash franchises across east Georgia who focuses on his personal connection to residents.

But it’s Pearson who could be the favorite in the five-candidate race that also features another Republican, a Democrat and a Libertarian. If none score an outright victory, the race heads to a March 12 runoff between the top two vote-getters.

Pearson has picked up endorsements from ultraconservative figures, including Kari Lake, the former failed Arizona candidate for governor, and U.S. Rep. Byron Daniels of Florida. And he’s tapped his social media network to outraise his opponents, collecting about $70,000.

The seat came open last month when Kemp picked longtime GOP state Rep. Barry Fleming for a superior court judgeship. Special elections like this one are hard to predict, and so far early voting turnout is so abysmal that even Richardson lamented the lack of interest.

His foray in California sparked a residency challenge filed by Kemp allies who questioned whether he complied with state law that requires legislators to live in their districts for a year before they’re elected. A judge rejected the complaint on Friday, ruling that Pearson could remain on the ballot.

Under the Gold Dome Today

TBD     Senate Rules Committee – 450 CAP

8:00 AM          HOUSE Approp Sub Transportation – 506 CLOB

8:00 AM          Cancelled- Senate Reappt & Redist – 310 CLOB

9:00 AM          HOUSE RULES – 341 CAP

9:00 AM          HOUSE CREATIVE ARTS & ENT – 403 CAP

10:00 AM        HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD19) – House Chamber

10:00 AM        Senate Floor Session (LD 19) – Senate Chamber

1:00 PM          HOUSE Approp Sub Education – 415 CLOB

1:00 PM          Approp Sub Economic Development – 341 CAP

1:00 PM          HOUSE Education Sub Policy – 506 CLOB

1:00 PM          Cancelled – Senate Agriculture & Cons Aff  – 450 CAP

1:00 PM          Senate Transportation – Mezz 1 CAP

1:30 PM          HOUSE Leverett Sub Judiciary Non-Civil – 132 CAP

2:00 PM          HOUSE HUMAN RELATIONS & AGING – 406 CLOB

2:00 PM          HOUSE REGULATED INDUSTRIES – 606 CLOB

2:00 PM          HOUSE HEALTH – 403 CAP

2:00 PM          HOUSE Education Sub Curriculum – 506 CLOB

2:00 PM          HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Ad Valorem – 515 CLOB

2:00 PM          Senate Government Oversight – 307 CLOB

2:00 PM          Senate Health & Human Services – 450 CAP

2:15 PM          HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Income Tax – 515 CLOB

3:00 PM          CANCELED – Approp Sub Higher Ed – 415 CLOB

3:00 PM          HOUSE Approp Sub Human Res – 506 CLOB

3:00 PM          HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Tax Revision – 515 CLOB

3:00 PM          Senate Finance  – Mezz 1 CAP

4:00 PM          Senate Judiciary – 307 CLOB

Governor Brian Kemp issued Executive Order #02.09.24.01, a Writ of Election, setting a Special Election on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 to fill the House District 139 seat vacated by the death of Rules Committee Chair Richard Smith.

Governor Kemp spoke at the Washington & Lee University Mock Convention, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp sharpened his criticism of his party’s direction at a nationally watched conference, warning Republicans on Saturday that voters will end up the loser if the November race devolves into “a debate about who can outlast the other 80-year-old politician.”

Without mentioning former President Donald Trump, the second-term governor repeated his call for Republicans to focus on “results and not personalities” – and avoid obsessing over lies about widespread election fraud fueled by the far-right.

But in a speech that laid out Kemp’s political philosophy to a broader audience, he also called for voters to look beyond partisan gridlock in Washington and toward conservative governors as a template for how Republicans can burnish their appeal.

“That must be our party’s blueprint this fall,” he told students at Washington and Lee University’s Mock Convention in Lexington. “Our message to voters must be about what we will do for the country if they give us the keys back to the White House.”

“In Georgia, Republicans and Democrats disagree on a lot. But we don’t let that get in the way of getting things done for the people who elected us,” said Kemp.

“That may seem like a foreign concept to many of our representatives in Congress. But at the end of the day, it’s what the American people expect from their leaders.”

Kemp spoke at the event with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a political ally who also passed on a longshot bid for the White House in 2024 but could mount a presidential campaign in four years. Another potential aspirant, Donald Trump Jr., also spoke at the conference.

“If Congress and this administration were its own company, it would be bankrupt and the leadership would be fired. If they were running a state like Georgia, I can tell you they would have been run out of office a long time ago,” said Kemp.

“They can’t even pass a budget, much less balance one. Many of them refuse to secure the border. Deficits and the debt keep growing. Our military is underfunded to meet growing threats abroad. And inflation continues to eat away at family bank accounts.”

Kemp said Republicans must “give voters a reason to vote for us” or risk another four years of Democratic control of the White House.

Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones (R-Jackson) has “released the hounds,” allowing a number of measures aimed at Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D-Atlanta), according to the AJC.

A full court press is underway in the Georgia Senate to punish Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. And it has the blessing of Lt. Gov Burt Jones, a Donald Trump ally and Republican legislative leader who could face charges for his conduct following the 2020 election.

Jones is using his considerable political influence as president of the state Senate to allow separate legislative probes that scrutinize how Willis is handling a backlog of criminal cases and spending taxpayer dollars to oversee what he derides as a “circus” prosecution.

But he said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Willis’ personal relationship with Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor she tapped to handle the case, has made her “fair game” for intense legislative scrutiny.

“It has all the implications that she is prosecuting for profit,” Jones said. “I know she’s out there wanting to be a self-promoter, but now it looks like she’s profiting off taxpayer dollars.”

Jones, meanwhile, isn’t hiding his role in questioning the DA’s decisions.

He helped launch a Senate investigation last year into the overcrowding of the Fulton County Jail that has delved into Willis’ handling of a backlog of criminal cases and is expected to attempt to tie her to recent deaths at the long-troubled facility.

And he recently endorsed a new Senate committee with subpoena power to investigate whether Willis misspent any state money as a result of her relationship with Wade. The panel, created by legislation sponsored by one of Jones’ closest allies, held its first meeting Friday.

Jones also supports an effort by Gov. Brian Kemp to grant a new state commission powers to punish or oust “rogue” prosecutors. Several of his top supporters in the Senate filed the first complaint under the law that claims Willis “improperly cherry-picked cases” to further her own political career.

The applications by Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, to mine titanium near the Okefenokee Swamp moved a step closer to realization, according to the Associated Press via WALB.

A company’s plan to mine minerals near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and its federally protected wildlife refuge neared final approval Friday as Georgia regulators released draft permits for the project, which opponents say could irreparably harm a natural treasure.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division said it will take public comments on the draft permits for 30 days before working up final versions to send to the agency’s director for approval.

Federal scientists have warned that mining near the Okefenokee’s bowl-like rim could damage the swamp’s ability to hold water. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in 2022 declared the proposed mine poses an “unacceptable risk” to the fragile ecosystem at the Georgia-Florida line.

“This is a dark day in Georgia’s history,” said Josh Marks, an Atlanta environmental attorney and leader of the group Georgians for the Okefenokee. “EPD may have signed a death warrant for the Okefenokee Swamp, our state’s greatest natural treasure.”

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 630 square miles (1,630 square kilometers) in southeast Georgia and is home to alligators, bald eagles and other protected species. The swamp’s wildlife, cypress forests and flooded prairies draw roughly 600,000 visitors each year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge.

In February 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the proposed mine could pose “substantial risks” to the swamp, including its ability to hold water. Some impacts, it said, “may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for.”

The Army Corps of Engineers was reviewing a federal permit for Twin Pines when the agency declared in 2020 that it no longer had jurisdiction authority because of regulatory rollbacks under then-President Donald Trump. Despite efforts by President Joe Biden to restore federal oversight, the Army Corps entered a legal agreement with Twin Pines to maintain its hands-off position.

The mining project is moving forward as the National Park Service seeks designation of the Okefenokee wildlife refuge as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Conservation groups say the rare distinction would boost the Okefenokee’s profile as one of the world’s last intact blackwater swamps and home to more than 400 animal species.

Floyd County Commissioners vote Tuesday on whether to approve their split of SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) proceeds, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Floyd County Commission is poised to approve on Tuesday over $5 million in spending on projects funded through the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package.

Commissioners also are scheduled to approve a SPLOST bond validation resolution at their meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. in the County Administration Building, 12 E. Fourth Ave. While the 2017 SPLOST collections end March 31, voters approved a new $110 million SPLOST package last year that will run from April 1 through March 31, 2030.

A group of Fulton County mayors asked the Fulton County Board of Assessors to maintain the status quoe on some appraisals, according to the AJC.

A group of mayors, development authority leaders and attorneys crammed into the Fulton County Board of Assessors meeting last week and urged the group to maintain the status quo for how lucrative property tax breaks are granted to businesses and developers.

At the end of last year, the board of assessors — under the threat of legal action — pumped the brakes on how it handles appraisals on properties that have been given incentives by local development authorities. But on Thursday, mayors and other officials said they’d be out of the corporate recruiting business if the BOA doesn’t start greenlighting their deals again.

“There are countless examples of important economic development projects, including the retention and creation of a significant number of jobs and affordable workforce housing, in our cities that would not have happened but for this economic development tool,” said Union City Mayor Vince Williams, who read a letter to the board signed by eight other Fulton mayors, including Atlanta’s Andre Dickens.

John Woodham, a Buckhead attorney whose client threatened legal action against the BOA in December, accused the agency of acting as a “rubber-stamp” for these deals, also known as tax abatements. In short, Woodham argues the BOA is compelled by law to value properties at what the free market will bear, but these deals force the board to value incentivized projects for less.

But after the show of force from top leaders across the county, a majority of board of assessors members indicated they’ll begin reconsidering development authority requests once again.

Vice Chair Lee Morris said he’s unconvinced the five-member board has approached these projects properly in the past.

Savannah’s prioritizing of workforce housing development paid off with legislation that passed the Senate, according to the Savannah Morning News.

A bill submitted to the Georgia General Assembly in 2023 would have allowed local governments to waive impact fees on workforce housing developments. It passed the Georgia Senate with a 49-4 vote before dying in the state House of Representatives late in the session.

The item passed with support from both of Chatham County’s senators, and such a legislative measure is one of the top priorities on the City of Savannah’s 2024 legislative priorities list. After near passage last year, there is hope the item will pass this legislative session.

The item to waive impact fees for workforce and affordable housing projects was one of a handful of priorities on Savannah’s list aimed at increasing the housing supply. Some of those priorities came straight from Housing Savannah’s action plan from 2021.

Sen. Derek Mallow (D-2) is sponsoring two pieces of legislation this session aimed at housing. One would expand enterprise zones, which allow for tax breaks or regulatory exemptions, to include workforce housing construction. That’s an item on Savannah’s legislative agenda and the Housing Savannah action plan.

The legislation in question is Senate Bill 136.

Dalton area leaders also say workforce housing is important to them, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Allyson Coker, executive director of Believe Greater Dalton, presented findings of an update to an initial community-wide housing study from 2018 to the Dalton City Council at a work session on Monday, Feb. 5.

“At that time, the data showed that we needed to get Greater Dalton back to a healthy housing market, we needed 90-100 multifamily new construction units every year for the next six years,” Coker said. “On the single-family side, it recommended 100-110 new construction single-family homes every year for the next six years, beginning in 2019 to 2024.”

Two overarching themes emerge from a 2023 housing needs analysis, Coker said.

“Providing adequate, attainable housing to all income levels is key to the stability of Greater Dalton’s workforce, economy and quality of life,” she said. “And then, essentially, housing is economic development — the future success of economic development of Greater Dalton is contingent on planning for, maintaining and building new housing.”

Home rental and sale prices alike have increased substantially since 2020 in Greater Dalton, Coker noted.

“Making it difficult for many households to make rent or get on a path towards home ownership,” she said. “Two out of every five Greater Dalton renters are cost-burdened … there has been a $240 average increase in rent in Greater Dalton since 2020 and then a $67,000 increase in for-sale home prices.”

The 2023 housing analysis indicates that the only age group in Greater Dalton to experience a net increase in home ownership since 2011 were individuals between the ages of 55-65 and 65 and older.

Coker said new tax allocation districts (TADs) could also be a part of the discussion.

Bulloch County Board of Educations members elected District 2 member Elizabeth Williams to Chair the Board this year, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Bulloch residents in eight separate voting districts elect members to four-year terms on the board, which sets policies and the annual budget – now topping $140 million in the general fund alone – and employs the superintendent and otherwise governs the 11,000-student, 15-campus Bulloch County Schools. But the board members elect a chair and vice chair from among themselves each year.

Williams, who stood for election unopposed in District 2 in 2022, was unanimously chosen vice chair by the board members in January 2023. One year later, she was named the 2024 chair by unanimous vote of the board during the Jan. 11 annual organizational meeting.

Democrat Marcus Flowers announced he will challenge U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta), according to the AJC.

Democrat Marcus Flowers, who raised more than $16 million in a failed U.S. House bid in 2022, filed paperwork on Friday to challenge long-serving U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta in the party’s May primary.

Flowers confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he would run against Scott, a 78-year-old Democrat who made history after the 2020 election when he became the first Black lawmaker to lead the powerful House Agriculture Committee.

A military veteran, Flowers mounted a 2022 campaign against U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Republican who at the time had just been stripped of her committee assignments for her embrace of hateful and dangerous conspiracy theories.

Flowers raised heaps of cash from out-of-state Democrats eager to unseat Greene thanks to aggressive fundraising tactics. But he was always a long shot in the deeply conservative northwest Georgia district. Greene carried the seat by two-thirds of the vote in one of the nation’s most expensive U.S. House races.

Flowers reported roughly $620,000 in campaign cash in the bank at the end of his campaign. Since his defeat, he helped launch a super PAC called Mission Democracy that aims to help Democrats compete in difficult congressional races.

I suspect Mr. Flowers will find it more difficult to raise money against a Democratic incumbent than against anyone named “Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed announced he will not seek reelection and will take senior status when his term ends, according to The Brunswick News.

Peed has been a Superior Court judge in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit – which includes the courts in Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins and Screven counties – for 23 years, since first being elected in 2000. He became chief judge of the circuit Aug. 1, 2018, upon the retirement of former Chief Judge William E. Woodrum Jr.

“My present term will expire December 31, 2024, when I will retire from active service. At that time, I hope to continue in periodic service as a Senior Superior Court Judge when and if called upon. Until that time, I will continue in my present capacity.”

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, qualifying for candidates interested in Peed’s seat is se for March 4-8. The general primary, non-partisan election is May 21. If needed, a runoff election would be June 18.

Amy Abbott announced she is running for Glynn County Commission District 2, according to The Brunswick News.

District 2 covers St. Simons Island and Sea Island. Incumbent District 2 Commissioner Cap Fendig told The News he’d committed to serving one term when elected in 2020. He’s planning on keeping his word and is not seeking reelection. Bob Duncan also announced his candidacy this month.

Qualification for the 2024 general election is March 4-8. The deadline to register for the party primaries is April 21 and early voting runs from April 29 to May 17. Primary Election Day is May 21. The deadline to register for the general election is Oct. 7 and early voting runs from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.

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