Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 5, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for February 5, 2024

John and Charles Wesley arrived at Tybee Roads, at the mouth of the Savannah River on February 5, 1736, along with James Oglethorpe and 254 other colonists.

On February 5, 1777, Georgia’s first Constitution was adopted in Savannah, creating the first eight counties. Happy birthday to Wilkes, Richmond, Burke, Effingham, Chatham, Liberty, Glynn, and Camden counties.

The 1777 Constitution was progressive for the time, outlawing primogeniture and entail, English common law doctrines that controlled inheritance of land.

Primogeniture ensured that the eldest son in a family inherited the largest portion of his father’s property upon the father’s death. The practice of entail, guaranteeing that a landed estate remain in the hands of only one male heir, was frequently practiced in conjunction with primogeniture. (Virginia abolished entail in 1776, but permitted primogeniture to persist until 1785.)

Georgians restructured inheritance laws in Article LI of the state’s constitution by abolishing entail in all forms and proclaiming that any person who died without a will would have his or her estate divided equally among their children; the widow shall have a child’s share, or her dower at her option.

The Southern Pacific Railroad completed its “Sunset Route” from New Orleans to California on February 5, 1883, giving the SP a dominant position in transcontinental railroading.

The Southern Pacific Railroad completed its “Sunset Route” from New Orleans to California on February 5, 1883, giving the SP a dominant position in transcontinental railroading.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his “court packing” plan on February 5, 1937. After the United States Supreme Court found some of his “New Deal” legislation unconstitutional, Roosevelt’s proposal would have encouraged the retirement of justices older than 70 and for those who did not retire, appoint an assistant Justice with full voting rights on decisions by the Court.

On February 5, 1945, Governor Ellis Arnall signed legislation abolishing the poll tax, making Georgia the first Southern state to do so.

Georgia’s 1877 constitution authorized the tax, which limited voter participation among both poor blacks and whites. But most whites got around the provision through exemptions for those whose ancestors fought in the Civil War or who could vote before the war.

In 1937, the U.S. Supreme court upheld Georgia’s poll tax as constitutional. But in 1942, Georgia voters chose Ellis Arnall for governor and the progressive Arnall ushered in a wave of reforms, including abolishing Georgia’s poll tax.

Nigel Tufnel, of the band Spinal Tap, was born on February 5, 1948.

On February 5, 1974, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe,” by Barry White reached #1 on the charts.

Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” began a 92-week run on the best-seller charts on February 5, 1983. Rock on.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

First Lady of the United States Jill Biden will visit Atlanta this week, according to the AJC.

She will deliver remarks at the Morehouse School of Medicine’s “2024 Women’s Heart Healthy Luncheon.”

She will then join a women’s health roundtable discussion with local leaders and key stakeholders from a range of sectors that are working to accelerate women’s health research. The location of this gathering will be announced later.

The Georgia General Assembly stands in recess today so many members can attend the Columbus funeral of the late Rules Chairman Richard Smith. For the rest of the Session schedule, check House Resolution 978, the revised Adjournment Resolution.

In Columbus, some street closures will result from the funeral, according to WTVM.

In honor of the late Georgia State Representative Richard Smith, a funeral procession will be held next week, leaving several streets in Columbus temporarily closed.

The funeral will take place on Monday, February 5. The roads affected by the funeral include 12th Street, Veterans Parkway, and 2nd Ave in Columbus. The roads will be affected from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The celebration of life service will be held on Monday, February 5 beginning at 11 a.m. from the First Baptist Church on 12th Street in Columbus.

Officials say the closure is necessary to facilitate the safe passage of the funeral procession which is expected to draw a significant number of attendees.

Officials also ask that residents and commuters make alternative travel arrangements.

Governor Brian Kemp went to the border in Texas to highlight immigration issues, according to the AJC.

Gov. Brian Kemp traveled to the U.S. border with Mexico on Sunday to back Texas amid a pitched confrontation with President Joe Biden over immigration and intensify calls for tighter measures to deter uncontrolled migration.

Kemp was among more than a dozen Republican governors who traveled to Eagle Pass, the border town of roughly 30,000 that has become a flashpoint in a growing power struggle between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Biden administration.

“Every state is a border state,” said Kemp, who stood beside Abbott at a municipal park near the Rio Grande River that has become the center of the unprecedented legal standoff. Behind him, a phalanx of Texas National Guard soldiers and several armored vehicles fanned out.

“This is ruining lives in our states. It’s ruining our communities, and it’s taken a toll on our families. And it’s time that something was done about this,” Kemp said, adding: “Every state in the country is depending on Joe Biden acting, and if he does not, then we will continue to do so.”

“This is not a campaign tactic,” said Kemp, who has visited the U.S. border five times. “This is something that this group and other Republican governors have been concerned with for many, many months and years.”

Georgia is suing the Biden Administration over changes to the Georgia Pathways Medicaid waiver, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

Georgia sued the Biden administration Friday to try to keep the state’s new health plan for low-income residents, which is the only Medicaid program in the country with a work requirement, running until 2028.

Georgia Pathways launched in July and is set to expire at the end of September 2025.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, says the Biden administration’s decision to revoke the work requirement and another aspect of Pathways delayed implementation of the program. That reduced the originally approved five-year term of the program to just over two years.

A judge later ruled the revocation was illegal.

“This case is about whether the federal government can benefit from its own unlawful conduct,” the suit says.

It seeks a court order forcing the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend the Pathways program until September 30, 2028. A spokesperson for CMS said in an email the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

CMS rejected the extension request in October and again in December. The agency was unable to consider it because the state had failed to meet requirements to seek an extension, including a public notice and comment period, CMS Deputy Administrator and Director Daniel Tsai said in a Dec. 22 letter.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a news release announcing the lawsuit that the Biden administration was again trying to “interfere with Georgia’s innovative plan.” He accused the administration of playing politics “by refusing to give us back the time they stole from delaying the Pathways rollout and implementation.”

The Kemp administration has estimated Pathways could add 100,000 poor and uninsured Georgia residents to the Medicaid rolls, but enrollment so far has been slow, with just under 2,350 people enrolled as of mid-December.

The work requirement was approved by then-President Donald Trump’s administration, but the Biden administration announced in December 2021 that it was revoking that approval and the premium requirement. That prompted Georgia officials to sue.

A federal judge reinstated both parts of the program in 2022, saying the revocation was arbitrary and capricious.

Some Republican state legislators are pushing for paper ballot voting, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

“It will bring more confidence,” state Rep. Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga, said on the House floor Jan. 31. “It’s something we need to restore.”

The 2024 crop of election bills includes:

• Senate Bill 89 and House Bill 975, requiring use of the text portion of paper ballots in tabulating votes rather than QR codes.

• House Bill 974, requiring Georgia’s secretary of state to develop and implement a statewide system allowing members of the voting public to scan paper ballots.

• House Bill 976, requiring a “visible security device” in the form of a watermark on paper ballots.

• House Bill 977, expanding the number of races subject to “risk-limiting” audits.

The QR codes bill already has cleared the Senate Ethics Committee but remains pending before the House Governmental Affairs Committee. Republican lawmakers have cited numerous complaints from constituents about the use of QR codes.

“There’s been a lot of doubt surrounding the QR code, voters questioning whether the QR code is interpreting their vote accurately,” said Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta, chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee. “Having the actual text they can see and interpret themselves … is the right correction for us to go in.”

Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, R-Sylvania, said the Dominion touch-screen voting system the state uses is capable of allowing the text portion of paper ballots to tabulate votes instead of the QR code.

“We’re going to leave the details and technical requirements up to the secretary of state,” he said.

The House hasn’t hesitated on the watermark bill, the only one of the four measures that has cleared a legislative chamber. The House passed House Bill 976 Jan. 31 with only one “no” vote.

The other two bills – House Bill 974 and House Bill 977 – have passed the Governmental Affairs Committee but not yet reached the House floor.

House Bill 974 would expand to a statewide program an existing pilot project giving voters the ability to scan paper ballots online.

House Bill 977 would expand the number of election contests subject to audits from just the race at the top of the ballot to a second race involving one of the statewide races. The second race to be audited would be chosen by a committee of five officials: the governor, lieutenant governor, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, and the House and Senate minority leaders.

Georgia Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones (R-Butts County) allegedly asked for access to election servers, according to the AJC.

Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones allegedly sought access to election computers in Butts County after the 2020 election, an effort that, if successful, would have been illegal, according to emails among state election officials that were shown in court Thursday.

Jones, a state senator representing Butts County at the time, was one of 16 Republicans who attempted to award Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden by about 12,000 votes.

Jones asked election officials in Butts County whether he could bring a “forensic analyst” to inspect the county’s elections management server in December 2020, according to an email from Michael Barnes, the director of the Georgia Center for Election Systems.

“This would be against the law,” responded Ryan Germany, general counsel for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at the time. “They are not allowed to give an unauthorized person access to their EMS server. That would be a huge security breach.”

Jones has always been concerned about protecting election security, spokesman Chris Hartline said.

“During the 2020 election, there were numerous complaints from his constituents in Butts County about irregularities in the voting process. His job as a state senator was to ask questions and try to resolve those issues, and that’s what he did,” Hartline said.

Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said Jones shouldn’t have supported efforts to gain access to election computers.

“It’s obviously inappropriate and not the sign of mature leadership,” Fuchs said. “We applaud the Butts County election officials who did the right thing working with our office to protect the voting equipment from unauthorized access.”

Senate Bill 366, the “Tax Expenditures Transparency Act of 2024,” by Senate Finance Chair Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) passed the Senate and would require periodic reviews of the effectiveness and cost of various tax breaks, according to the Rome News Tribune.

“This doesn’t actually affect any tax credits in and of itself, but it sets forward a process that we think will be better,” said panel co-chair Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, in presenting his SB 366 to the full Senate last week.

The Tax Expenditures Transparency Act of 2024 passed that chamber unanimously.

“This will put us on a posture where we can review these tax credits annually and continue to lower our income tax,” said Senate President Pro Tem John F. Kennedy, R-Macon. “Good job to you and your committee.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Ways & Means Committee headed by the panel’s other co-chair, Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire.

“We went 12 years without doing a review on these tax credits. Every state around us does a regular review,” Hufstetler said.

It’s an excellent article on an important but decidedly unglamorous topic. The Rome News-Tribune also checks in with the status of local legislation.

Senate Bill 203, the Trucking Opportunity Act of 2023, by State Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Paulding County) would allow some military veterans to qualify for free CDL classes, according to WTOC.

The bill allows only for veterans that have been honorably discharged from the military to qualify for tuition-free CDL classes under the bill.

According to Senator Watson, the bill would also be a big help for veterans who have truck-driving experience in the [military].

At current, they have to get re-certified outside of the military and this would remove an obstacle for that.

According to the Savannah Economic Development Authority, there are around 12,000 military retirees in the area and Watson believes that with activity at the Georgia Ports, a career as a truck driver would offer incentives for newly retired veterans to stay in the area.

The bill was first introduced in the 2023 legislative session, and is due for a third reading in the House this week.

After that, will be voted on. If passed, it’ll go to Governor Kemp’s desk for his signature.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) acknowledged a “personal relationship” with the outside prosecutor she hired to lead the Trump indictments, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis acknowledged in a court filing on Friday having a “personal relationship” with a special prosecutor she hired for the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump but argued there are no grounds to dismiss the case or to remove her from the prosecution.

Willis hired special prosecutor Nathan Wade in November 2021 to assist her investigation into whether the Republican ex-president and others broke any laws as they tried to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. Since Trump and 18 others were indicted in August, Wade has led the team of lawyers Willis assembled to prosecute the case.

The filing was the first time that Willis or Wade has directly addressed the allegations of a relationship in the nearly four weeks since they first surfaced in a filing by a defendant in the election case. In an affidavit accompanying the filing, Wade said that in 2022, he and the district attorney had developed a personal relationship in addition to their “professional association and friendship.”

“At times,” Wade said, “I have made and purchased travel for District Attorney Willis and myself from my personal funds. At other times District Attorney Willis has made and purchased travel for she and I from her personal funds.”

“I have no financial interest in the outcome of the 2020 election interference case or in the conviction of any defendant,” he wrote.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who’s presiding over the election case, has set a Feb. 15 hearing on Roman’s motion. Willis and Wade are among a dozen witnesses Merchant has subpoenaed to testify at that hearing, and Friday’s filing says the district attorney plans to ask McAfee to toss out those subpoenas.

Willis’ team’s filing argues that Willis has no financial or personal conflict of interest that justifies removing her or her office from the case. The filing calls the allegations “salacious” and says they “garnered the media attention they were designed to obtain.”

Willis, an elected Democrat, is up for reelection this year. The personal relationship with Wade does seem to contradict a statement she said while running to become district attorney in 2020. During an appearance on public access television, she said, “I certainly will not be choosing people to date that work under me, let me just say that.”

Hall County reminds residents that they can file for property tax homestead exemptions and some other related forms through April 1, 2024, according to AccessWDUN.

The Hall County Government is reminding residents now is the time for property owners to file for Homestead Exemptions, including the Total School Tax Exemption and 100% Disabled Veteran Homestead Exemption.

Hall County officials said property owners can file from Jan. 1 to April 1.

Now is also the time to return the Business Personal Property, Marine/Personal Watercraft or Aircraft form, sign up for or renew an Agriculture Covenant, and file a Taxpayer Return of Real Property with the Hall County Board of Assessors’ Office.

The Statesboro Herald has an explainer on how the city’s Flock surveillance system works.

So far there are 30 of the cameras in use, and ultimately there will be 36, leased from Flock Safety for three years and paid for entirely by a $565,942 Community Violence Reduction grant the city accepted from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget last June. The grant, ultimately federal money increased to the states under the American Rescue Plan Act, also covers a couple of other police technology items.

The Flock LPR cameras are programmed to read the license plate and snap a still picture of every vehicle that comes by, and that’s not their only capability, says Statesboro Chief of Police Mike Broadhead.

“We can enter a specific plate into the system, and if that car (say, a reported stolen vehicle) rolls past, the officers get notified in their patrol cars instantly,” he wrote in an email.  “We have recovered several stolen cars, located wanted subjects, and even helped solve a homicide with the Flocks.”

After a subsequent phone interview, he supplied this tally of felonies and serious misdemeanors whose investigations have been “directly aided” by the Flock system so far: two homicides, one robbery, one home invasion, one aggravated stalking, one hit-and-run and seven vehicle thefts.

“It’s a still photo, and it doesn’t show the driver. It just shows the back of the car and the plate,” Broadhead said. “So it’s not as good, I guess, as having a picture of who’s driving the car at the time, but it does give you the make and model of the car and license plate. … It’s really good information.”

Incidentally, the images can also show cardboard or paper license plates or the lack of a license plate, and just as if they called in the plates themselves, police receive information on whether the plate matches the car for which it was issued.

If the department wanted to work traffic violations using the system, an officer could log into one Flock camera, park the patrol car and have the system run license plates for information on all the vehicles that go by, Broadhead acknowledges.

“You could do that. We don’t really have the resources to do that, but that is a function the system would allow,” he said.

Instead, the SPD’s main purposes for the cameras, its chief said, are to obtain evidence of serious crimes and stop specific suspects in their vehicles. He said he knows some people have privacy concerns about camera systems but believes the license plate readers allow police to “just focus with some surgical precision on the people that are doing wrong.”

“This is something that we’re referring to as ‘precision policing’ in that rather than throwing out a dragnet and catching every fish in the sea, these kind tools allow us to just focus on criminals and leave everybody else alone to kind of come and go as they please,” Broadhead said.

Using the example of a hypothetical drive-by shooting, he said Flock cameras should allow police to go after the shooter’s car by make, model and tag number instead of stopping every white, four-door car in a two-mile radius.

Enigma City Council and Mayor Cecil Giddens fired at least five volunteer firefighters for insubordination, according to WALB.

“You have displayed insubordinate behavior to our Town council, and it has led us to evaluate your performance as a volunteer in our program.”

That’s what a letter of termination said for about five volunteer firefighters with the Town of Enigma

The decision was made by the Enigma City Council and Mayor Cecil Giddens.

In a heated city council meeting at the beginning of 2024, there were concerns that the city could potentially be without a fire department.

In that same meeting, accusations came up that those volunteers made threats against the mayor, a council member and an elderly woman.

WALB received a statement from on[e] of the councilmen:

“Unfortunately, the Council and Mayor agreed that it was in the best interest of the City that a select few firefighters’ services were no longer needed.”

“We are proud of the unity and direction that our fully staffed volunteer Fire Department is now going. Already two new firefighters have joined the Department and are currently training to become certified Firefighters.”

“Our small town has had disagreements in the past, but we are uniting together for the betterment of the City.”

[signed] Councilman Bud Hutchinson

Savannah City Council canceled a retreat previously scheduled for St Simons Island, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Augusta Commissioner Jordan Johnson launched his campaign for reelection in District 1, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Augusta Commissioner Jordan Johnson launched his re-election campaign with a barbecue at the Julian Smith Casino on Friday. Johnson represents District 1, which covers downtown Augusta, east Augusta, and much of the surrounding area.

“I believe that we’ve made tremendous progress in the district since I took office in 2021 and I would like the opportunity to continue the work that we began,” he said.

“I still can hear constituents crying about being put out of their homes because they just didn’t have enough money to cover the rent. I’ve had calls about 14-year-olds being shot in my community,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you the amount of calls I’ve gotten that just still ring in my head and it just always reminds me of the work that’s yet to be done.”

Qualifying starts on March 4. Some of the other local seats up for re-election include four other seats on the Augusta Commission, Civil Court Marshal and Judge of the State Court. Election Day is May 21.

There are more local positions up for grabs this year with different qualifying and election dates like Richmond County Sheriff and five seats on the Richmond County Board of Education.

Republican Glenn Cook announced he will run for the House District 180 seat currently held by State Rep. Steven Sainz (R-St. Marys), according to The Brunswick News.

Jekyll Island resident and Satilla River Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor Glenn Cook has announced plans to run for the House District 180 seat, currently held by incumbent Rep. Steven Sainz, R-St. Marys.

District 180 covers Jekyll Island, Waverly, Woodbine, Kingsland and St. Marys.

Cook, also a Republican, served in the Navy for 10 years, where he was a pilot that flew out of NAS Cecil Field and the USS Eisenhower. He participated in operations during the crises in Libya and Lebanon, according to a press release.

In 2022, Cook was elected Satilla River Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, beating out three other candidates in the nonpartisan race by earning 53.3% of the vote.

Cook’s campaign website can be found at www.Glenn4Georgia.com.

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