Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 11, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 11, 2023

On January 11, 1765, Francis Salvador of South Carolina became the first Jewish elected official in America when he took a seat in the South Carolina Provincial Congress. Salvador’s grandfather was one of 42 Jews who emigrated to Georgia in 1733. Salvador later became the first Jewish soldier to die in the American Revolution.

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument.

“Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is,” he declared. “You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Marvin Griffin of Bainbridge was inaugurated as Governor of Georgia on January 11, 1955.

Marvin Griffin Monument

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Tomorrow, Thursday, January 12, 2023 will be Inauguration Day for the Governor and state Constitutional Officers.

At 9:30 AM tomorrow, Governor Brian Kemp will be sworn in to his second term at the Georgia State Convocation Center, located at 455 Capitol Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30312.

At 11:30 AM, outside the Convocation Center, Gov. Kemp will review state troops.

At 7 PM tomorrow night, the Inaugural Gala will be held at State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Dr, Atlanta, GA 30303

Governor Brian Kemp has added to his communications staff, according to a press release.

Governor Brian P. Kemp today announced the following changes and addition to his communications office staff. Formerly serving as Deputy Director of Communications, Andrew Isenhour is continuing his service to the state as the Governor’s Director of Communications.

Joining the communications department is Garrison Douglas who recently began serving as the Governor’s Press Secretary.

Additionally, Carter Chapman is now serving as Deputy Press Secretary.

Andrew Isenhour is Director of Communications in the Office of Governor Brian P. Kemp. Prior to joining the governor’s staff, he served as Director of Communications for Stand Together in Washington, D.C. and worked in communications at the Board of Regents. Andrew also worked in the administration of former Governor Nathan Deal for seven years, including as chief speechwriter throughout Deal’s last term in office. He then assisted Deal as he chaired the Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Federal Priorities and briefly during Deal’s tenure as a Regents Professor at the University of North Georgia. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a graduate certificate in Public Administration from the University of Virginia, and an MBA from North Carolina State University. He attends Mount Paran Church.

Garrison Douglas is Press Secretary in the Office of Governor Brian P. Kemp. Prior to joining the governor’s staff, he was the Georgia Press Secretary for the Republican National Committee during the 2022 midterm election cycle. Garrison also served as a legislative aide to now House Majority Leader Chuck Efstration during the 2021-2022 legislative session. He attended Georgia Gwinnett College where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Garrison resides in Fulton County and attends Cross Pointe Church.

Carter Chapman is Deputy Press Secretary in the Office of Governor Brian P. Kemp. He has served as a member of the communications department since May 2021, covering a wide range of responsibilities and projects. A lifelong Georgian, Carter holds master’s degree in Mass Communications and bachelor’s degrees in Public Relations and Political Science from the University of Georgia. He and his wife reside in Cobb County.

Gas prices will be higher today in Georgia as the state begins collecting the motor fuel tax again. From the Valdosta Daily Times:

Drivers should expect to see gas prices increase approximately 30 cents Jan. 11 as the suspension of gas taxes in Georgia comes to an end.

State legislators authorized the suspension of the tax in March through May, and Gov. Brian Kemp has extended the suspension monthly since to help offset inflation and rising gas costs.

The suspended gas tax has saved Georgia consumers at least 29 cents per gallon on gasoline and 32 cents on diesel. The governor’s office estimates that consumers have saved roughly $1.7 billion at the pump since the state first suspended the gas tax in March 2022.

The Georgia Department of Revenue announced an increase in the tax for 2023 to 31 cents for gasoline and 35 cents for diesel, scheduled to take effect Jan. 11.

According to the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, the DOR is determine the excise tax based on a calculation of the average miles per gallon of all new vehicles registered in the state and the annual percentage of increase or decrease in highway construction costs as measured by the Construction Price Index.

From the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald:

Under state law, Kemp had the power to keep suspending taxes as long as state lawmakers ratify the action during their session that began Monday. Republican legislative leaders have supported the suspension, and plan to replenish state roadbuilding funds from Georgia’s $6.6 billion surplus.

Kemp kept the suspension in place through his successful reelection campaign against Democrat Stacey Abrams, finally announcing in December that he would stop extending it. The gas tax break was part of Kemp’s campaign to hand money to voters, saying he was helping them fight inflation.

On Tuesday, Georgia drivers were paying the lowest gas prices in the nation, according to motorist group AAA, at an average of $2.81 a gallon. The national average was $3.27 a gallon. The average diesel price in Georgia was $4.49 a gallon. Gasoline prices in Georgia are lower than a month or a year ago after peaking at $4.50 a gallon in June 2022.

Georgia is one of five states that had a broad gas tax holiday because of high pump prices. New York and Connecticut resumed fuel tax collections on Jan. 1. New York resumed its entire levy of 16 cents per gallon. Connecticut is phasing in its tax of 25 cents per gallon in 5-cent steps through May 1. Florida had a one-month gas tax holiday in October, while Maryland’s ended in April. California has a partial holiday on diesel taxes.

Pump prices also include a federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel.

From WTVM in Columbus, GA:

Dr. Michael Toma, an economics professor from Georgia Southern, says he doesn’t anticipate any impacts to the state’s economy due to the lost revenue from the gas tax suspension lasting so long.

“It has a fairly robust rainy day or reserve fund and I don’t anticipate that the state government would experience a budgetary problem throughout 2023 so I think the state is on very sound fiscal ground, I don’t anticipate any headwinds from the economy on that,” Dr. Toma said.

I was in Ohio over the weekend for my mother’s birthday and regular gas cost $3.75 per gallon.

Speaker of the House Jon Burns now presides over the lower chamber. From the Savannah Morning News:

He credits the principles his mother and father instilled in him for his rise to popularity in the Georgia General Assembly.

When Burns graduated from high school, his father D. Guerry Burns was the one to hand him his diploma. Seeing his father’s passion for education, Burns wanted to emulate his commitment to the community.

“You have to wait on the opportunity,” said Burns. “My dad was active in local politics and that’s probably one of the things that peaked my interest from an early age.”

“Number one, you have to be respectful of leadership and other members and then I think the opportunities for leadership takes care of it itself,” said Burns. “Come in, do your job and prove yourself worthy. That’s what I’ve always tried to do – to be conscientious about the work assigned and the responsibilities I have representing the constituents that I have. It’s a great pleasure and honor to serve in the Georgia House.”

“Growing up in South Georgia, it’s been a hallmark to love folks, help each other and rely on one another,” said Burns. “That’s always been the case.”

“[Speaker David Ralston] certainly was not concerned about which team was he was working with,” said Burns. “He would always work for the betterment of his fellow man and he used great judgment. His judgment was not to be questioned because I can tell you on any number of occasions, the decisions he made proved to be correct.”

House District 164 State Representative Ron Stephens has been a fixture in the house for 25 years and watched Burns grow into a solid leader.

“There is nobody else qualified to work with both sides,” said Stephens. “I can’t think of a better candidate.”

Former Savannah Mayor and State Representative for House District 165 Edna Jackson called Burns an “outstanding leader” who is easy to work with.

“I am so happy to see him in that post,” said Jackson. “We (Chatham lawmakers) consider him part of our delegation. With him as speaker, we should get more done below the Macon district line. He’ll help us. He won’t necessarily give us preferential treatment, but by virtue of being from here, he has strong relationships with all the leaders in our area. When it comes to being speaker, you have to realize you can’t be an idealogue. You have to work with every member, regardless of party or views. Jon has shown he can listen to all voices.”

The Georgia State Senate Study Committee on Development Authorities and Downtown Development Authorities issued recommendations pursuant to its charter under Senate Resolution 809 (2022), according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

In a 24-page report, the study committee recommended the General Assembly consider legislation imposing additional training requirements for development authority board members and directors and limiting hold-over board members to serving no more than six months beyond their expired terms.

The panel also suggested the Georgia Economic Development Association establish “best practices” to guide development authorities.

“The vast majority of concerns that have been addressed by this committee could be addressed by best practices,” Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, the study committee’s chairman, said last month.

About 1,300 local government authorities have sprung up across Georgia since 1995, when the legislature passed a law authorizing cities and counties to form authorities. Of those, 575 are development authorities or downtown development authorities.

Development authorities typically play an important role in attracting job-creating economic development by offering tax breaks that lure business prospects and floating bonds to help finance projects.

But generous tax incentives packages that take tax revenue away from local governments and school districts have prompted calls for the General Assembly to tighten controls over local development authorities.

During a half dozen meetings last summer and fall, Republicans on the Senate study committee showed little appetite for letting local governments and school districts in on bond validation hearings or other significant reforms to development authorities that have been scoring major successes in creating jobs.

“I just don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water,” then-Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, who left office at the end of December, said during the panel’s final meeting last month. “Georgia is the No.-1 place to do business. I don’t want anything we do to keep us from being No. 1.”

From the AJC:

Development authorities are appointed by elected leaders but act as shadow government agencies with broad powers to reduce companies’ local government and school property taxes in exchange for jobs and investment. But they receive limited oversight and have faced withering criticism in recent years.

Proponents tout the agencies as crucial for Georgia to compete for blockbuster deals like the future Rivian and Hyundai Motor Group electric vehicle plants.

Recent ethical abuses, including a scandal over per diems or stipends at the Development Authority of Fulton County, critics say, showcase that legislation is needed to clamp down on authorities’ power.

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, feared tougher action could hamstring deals and upend the state’s competitiveness.

“For the most part, I think they’re working well,” Gooch said. “I haven’t heard any compelling reasons to change the laws that we currently have on the books..”

Georgia’s development authority system is a convoluted way to effectively get around the state Constitution’s gratuities clause, which prohibits government officials from giving public funds away without an equal return.

As government agencies, development authorities pay no taxes. With title in hand, they can lease the properties back to companies and as part of that arrangement reduce or eliminate local taxes during the term of the deal.

“We have to work hard to incentivize companies to come to Georgia versus other states who can literally just write checks,” Gooch said.

Outgoing Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis issued an Executive Order on his way out, and city officials are ignoring it, according to WJBF.

The document dated December 27 orders that Mayor’s office, space, supplies, and equipment be designated to Davis at no cost and orders that the mayor’s e-mail and related services remain active until March 1.

“It was definitely an overreach of his authority, especially on the last day of his tenure as an elected official, I expected better,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Brandon Garrett.

Davis says the order was designed to make it easier for one mayor to replace another and wasn’t an overreach.

“That gave me the opportunity to transition out of the office, at no point was there any overreach, strong words but a bit out of place,” said Davis.

Interim Administrator Takiyah Douse says under city policy, the executive order carries no weight with Davis out of office.

“It’s standard practice that when an individual is no longer employed by the city their access to our computer system and facilities are revoked,” said Douse.

Stacey Abrams’s group Fair Fight Action will be required to reimburse the state for some expenses of litigation FFA lost, according to Atlanta News First via WRDW.

According to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Jones has ruled against all the claims brought in Fair Fight Action Inc. v. Raffensperger. The lawsuit challenged Georgia’s absentee ballot provisions, oversight of voter rolls and the state’s voter verification rules on Sept. 30, 2022.

“Although Georgia’s election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the constitution nor the Voting Rights Act,” Jones wrote, finding the “burden on voters is relatively low,” and that Fair Fight Action had not provided any “…evidence of a voter who was unable to vote, experienced longer wait times, was confused about voter registration status.”

“This is a win for taxpayers and voters who knew all along that Abrams’ voter suppression claims were false,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “This is a start, but I think Abrams should pay back the millions of taxpayer dollars the state was forced to spend to disprove her false claims.”

The costs include nearly $193,000 for trial and deposition transcripts and over $38,000 for copies of thousands of exhibits the state used in the case.

A former aide on the Herschel Walker campaign alleged that a conservative speaker groped him, according to the AJC.

The aide said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, fondled him as he drove Schlapp from a late-night stop at Manuel’s Tavern to his hotel near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

“He reached over and fondled my crotch for about 5 seconds,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It’s to my shame that I didn’t say anything. I wish I had said, ‘What the hell — stop!’ ”

Schlapp, who is married to GOP consultant Mercedes Schlapp, has denied “any improper behavior” through his attorney Charlie Spies.

The DeKalb County Board of Education voted to pay $41 million dollars in bonuses to school system employees, according to the AJC.

Board members approved three types of bonuses at their meeting Monday, for a total cost of $41.5 million. The incentives range from $250 to $4,000 per employee, depending on whether an employee is full- or part-time and, in some cases, where a teacher works. Employees could receive multiple bonuses over the next 18 months.

Interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley said DeKalb is in a “competitive frenzy” with nearby school districts to hire and then retain staff. DeKalb, the state’s third-largest school district, had roughly 1,200 job openings in the new year, including 242 teacher openings.

“We are hopeful that (the retention bonuses) will help us to stop the bleed,” Tinsley said. “It is important that the employees understand and know that they are valued.”

The largest of the three bonuses will come in the next academic year. Full-time employees will receive between $2,000 and $4,000. Teachers who transfer to parts of the district that have persistent vacancies, as well as to schools with lower academic performance; or who teach subjects that are difficult to staff are eligible for the higher bonuses.

The Glynn County Board of Elections and Registration will begin moving into new offices in February, according to The Brunswick News.

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