Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2024


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 23, 2024

On January 23, 1775, the Georgia Commons House elected three delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

On January 23, 1861, Georgia’s members of the United States House of Representatives resigned following passage of the Secession Ordinance; her Senators had resigned earlier. The next day, the secession convention in Milledgeville elected ten delegates to a conference of Southern states in Montgomery, Alabama.

On January 23, 1923, Georgia ratified the Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution, which ended Presidential terms on January 20th following an election and those of Congress to January 3d.

On January 23, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon announced that terms had been reached to settle the Vietnam War, a document known as the “Paris Peace Accords.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Early voting is open in the Special Election for State House District 125, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Early voting is underway in Columbia and McDuffie counties to fill the empty District 125 seat on the Georgia House of Representatives.

In both counties, polls are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday through Feb. 9 and Saturday voting is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 27 and Feb. 3. Columbia County’s poll is at Euchee Creek Library in Grovetown. McDuffie County’s are at Precinct on Main in Thompson and the Dearing Community Center on Augusta Highway.

The District 125 seat was opened up earlier this month after state Barry Fleming resigned to accept a state superior court judgeship with the Columbia Judicial Circuit. Running for Fleming’s seat are political activist and online personality CJ Pearson, recent Columbia County Commissioner Gary Richardson, Steed’s Dairy Owner Jim Steed, software engineer John Turpish, and owner of Intome Management as well as IntoME Health & Beauty Kay Turner.

Early voting is also underway in the State Senate District 30 Special Election, but with a twist, according to WABE.

The state Senate’s 30th District, which includes all or parts of Carroll, Douglas, Haralson and Paulding Counties, was redrawn during last year’s redistricting session.

Redistricting was necessary after a federal court ruling said the lines drawn in 2021 violated the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters.

Those lines take effect with the May primaries and November elections, but they also take effect for any special election this year, according to Gabe Sterling with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

“We consulted with our attorneys and the Attorney General’s office. And the way the new registry map was passed, there’s a specific section that says if there’s a subsequent race after this is adopted, the new lines will hold. So, this new election in State Senate 30 in the West Georgia area will be under the new map that as just passed and approved by Judge Jones.”

It means some who voted in the 30th District in 2022 will not be able to vote in this special election, while others who will pick the replacement for a state senator could not have voted in 2022.

For example, there are voters in southwestern Douglas County represented by state Sen. Matt Brass, who will also select Mike Dugan’s replacement, while there are voters in southern Carroll County who were represented by Dugan, who will not get to select his replacement.

So does that mean there will be some voters with two senators and some with none for the rest of the year?

“Depends on how you view that. Actually, I think they will still be represented and I think that anybody hoping to run for election, they will go to them and say, can you help me with this? And they will probably be represented pretty well. But yes, it is, it is this weird period of time,” commented Sterling.

Under the Gold Dome Today

TBD Senate Rules: Upon Adj – 450 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Income Tax – 403 CAP
8:00 AM Cancelled – Senate Econ Dev & Trsm – 450 CAP
8:15 AM HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Ad Val – 403 CAP
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 7) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 7) – Senate Chamber
1:00 PM HOUSE Approp Sub Gen’l Gov’t – 515 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE Approp Sub Econ Dev – 341 CAP
1:00 PM HOUSE Govtal Affairs Sub State & Local – 415 CLOB
1:15 PM Senate Children & Families – 307 CLOB
1:30 PM HOUSE Govtal Affairs Sub Elections – 415 CLOB
1:30 PM HOUSE Judy Reeves Sub – 132 CAP
2:30 PM Senate Education & Youth – 450 CAP
4:00 PM Senate Regulated Ind & Utilities – 450 CAP
5:00 PM Senate Ethics Committee – 307 CLOB

The Savannah Morning News has a legislative tracker for bills sponsored by members of the local delegation.

Whether you are well-versed in state politics or a total beginner, the Savannah Morning News has compiled a tool you can use to learn about local and statewide legislation, and keep an eye on important political issues in your community.

The calendar for Georgia’s legislative sessions changes slightly each year, but follows the same basic set of rules: Lawmakers convene for a total of 40 days, during which they are required to pass the state budget, as well as state legislation.

Bills start in either the House or the Senate chambers, and must cross over to the other legislative body before Crossover Day, which falls on Feb. 29. Bills must be passed by the final day of session, known as Sine Die, to be sent on to the governor’s desk. The governor has 40 days to sign a bill into law or veto it. If he takes no action, the bill will automatically become law at the end of the 40 days. The 2024 legislative session is also the second in a two-year series, meaning that bills that stalled during last year’s session have another chance to pass.

It’s a great piece that locals are likely to visit more than once.

Whitfield County legislators are split on Medicaid expansion, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

During a Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce Breakfast with the Legislators on Friday, chamber President Jason Mock asked state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton; state Rep. Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga; and state Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, about reports there may be more support for expansion of Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that provides healthcare for low-income people, this year in the legislature.

“I’m up in the air on that,” said Tarvin. “At first, I said no. But now, I think we really need to look at this.”

Tarvin said he believes the costs of providing healthcare to people without health insurance who cannot pay is being passed on to those with health insurance through higher prices.

“It could be cheaper for us to expand Medicaid,” he said.

Payne said he agrees.

“To do this wisely demands we study this before we start assuming political positions,” he said. “Serving on (the state Senate Appropriations Committee), I know this is something we need to start looking at. This is a discussion that is just starting, but I hope to be part of that discussion.”

Carpenter said, “I’m a no.”

Carpenter said the healthcare system isn’t perfect but he worries about the long-term impact of such a move on the state budget.

Jeff Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton Health Care System, was in attendance at the breakfast. He said afterward it isn’t clear what impact expanding Medicaid would have on Hamilton.

“I do know that, in terms of the volume of uninsured that we take care of, Whitfield County has one of the highest uninsured rates in the state,” Myers said. “The last I heard, it was in excess of 20%.”

“I also know that, in terms of the care we provide, we write off about 12% of our total revenue providing care to folks who don’t have the ability to pay,” he said.

“And I do know that lawmakers will have to consider the long-term impact on the state budget of any reforms they make,” he said.

Rising property tax valuations may drive legislation to curb increases, according to the Associated Press via the Macon Telegraph.

With a run up in home values sparking higher property taxes for many Georgia homeowners, there is a groundswell among state lawmakers in this election year to provide relief.

Georgia’s Senate Finance Committee plans a hearing Monday on a bill limiting increases in a home’s value, as assessed for property tax purposes, to 3% per year. The limit would last as long as the owner maintained a homestead exemption. Voters would have to approve the plan in a November referendum.

Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker Jon Burns of Newington proposes doubling the state’s homestead tax exemption, a measure likely to cut tax bills by nearly $100 million statewide.

In Georgia, supporters say a cap on homes’ taxable value would keep school districts, cities and counties from increasing tax revenues by relying on rising values. Republicans have long pushed local governments to roll back tax rates to keep bills level, even requiring advertisements labeling a failure to do so as a tax increase.

Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, the Rome Republican sponsoring Senate Bill 349, says many school districts and governments are instead pocketing higher revenues based on value.

“I’ve seen some increases where, just in a couple of years, their collections have gone up 40%,” Hufstetler told The Associated Press on Friday. “And they haven’t dropped the millage rate and they are using it for a backdoor tax increase. And I think there needs to be some moderation on that.”

Statistics show overall property tax collections rose 41% from 2018 to 2022 in Georgia. During that same period, total assessed value of property statewide rose by nearly 39%. Those Georgia Department of Revenue figures represent not only existing property but also new buildings. So they don’t clearly state how much valuations rose on existing property.

Many governments and school districts have spent the windfall from rising values to increase employee pay and cover inflation-swollen expenses. A 3% cap could mean that governments would have to raise tax rates instead. In states including California and Colorado, property tax limits have been blamed for hamstringing local governments.

Already, at least 39 Georgia counties, 35 cities and 27 school systems have adopted local laws limiting how much assessed values can rise, according to the Association of County Commissions of Georgia. Some of those limits only benefit homeowners 65 or older.

Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is backing Hufstetler’s bill, saying it will prevent “large surprise increases in home values.” It’s also supported by at least one Democrat, Atlanta Sen. Jason Esteves.

“A key piece of this bill is trying to ensure that people are able to stay in their home,” Esteves said, saying higher taxes are forcing owners to sell and move.

But state House leaders are cool toward imposing valuation caps statewide, saying that choice should be left to local communities. They instead back Burns’ increased tax exemption.

From the Rome News Tribune:

“We’ve probably all heard more about property taxes than any other issue in the last year,” said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, in presenting his Senate Bill 349 to the committee he chairs. Many members, including Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, are co-sponsors.

“This is a great bill. There’s definitely a need. People around the state have felt a lot of pain lately,” said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, the committee vice chair who held the gavel while Hufstetler explained his intentions and answered questions.

“We are forcing people out of their homes,” agreed Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta.

Justin Pauly, director of communications for the Georgia School Boards Association, said a limit on valuations would affect revenue for school systems, which have a cap on the millage rate they are allowed to levy. And Suzanne Widenhouse, chief appraiser of Columbus-Muscogee County, urged caution. The county has had a freeze in place since 1983.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs will deliver the State of the Judiciary on February 7, 2024, according to the Albany Herald.

Boggs will update legislators on a variety of topics, including efforts to address the need for improved judicial security, work force development challenges facing the judicial system, the progress state trial courts are making on clearing their case backlogs, and, most importantly, the commitment of judges and court staff throughout Georgia to upholding the rule of law and improving the administration of justice.



Cobb County Superior Court Judge Henry Thompson delivered split results, unsealing the divorce case involving the Trump prosecutor but enjoining subpoenas requiring testimony from the District Attorney, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

The judge ordered the unsealing of the divorce case involving special prosecutor Nathan Wade after a request brought by a defense attorney who alleges an inappropriate relationship between Willis and Wade. The judge also put off a final decision on whether Willis will have to sit for questioning in the divorce case, but delayed her deposition that had been scheduled for Tuesday.

The affair allegations threaten to taint the prosecution, with the Republican primary front-runner and others seizing on the claims to attack the case and Wade’s qualifications as a prosecutor. Trump has pleaded not guilty, denied any wrongdoing and called the charges politically motivated.

Willis was served with the subpoena to sit for a deposition in the divorce case the day that defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who represents former Trump campaign staffer and onetime White House aide Michael Roman, filed a motion earlier this month alleging the romantic relationship between Willis and Wade.

During a brief hearing in the Cobb County Superior Court, Judge Henry Thompson said he can’t rule on whether Willis should have to sit for a deposition in the divorce case until after Wade himself is questioned later this month. In ruling that court documents in the divorce case must be made public, he said a previous judge improperly ordered the case to be sealed without holding a hearing.

From The Hill via WSAV:

Willis was subpoenaed earlier this month in the ongoing divorce case between Wade and his wife, Joycelyn, which began in 2021.

“She’s trying to hide under the shield of her position,” [attorney Andrea] Hastings said of Willis.

Willis’s lawyer, Cinque Axam, said Monday that any knowledge Willis obtains could also be provided by Wade.

“You’ve got two partners in the case, one who is alleged to have some extramarital affair with Ms. Willis,” Axam argued. “If that is the case — if that is true, [Wade] has that information.”

Last week, Wade’s wife in court filings accused Wade of purchasing multiple flights for himself and Willis in the months before they charged Trump and 18 others with attempting to subvert the state’s 2020 election results.

Judge Henry Thompson declined to absolve Willis from being deposed in the future but temporarily paused the requirement until after Wade has been deposed.

From the Associated Press via the Valdosta Daily Times:


Merchant’s motion asks Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to remove Willis and Wade and their offices from any further prosecution of the case. McAfee has the power to do that.

In fact, another judge, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, took that step in July 2022 when he was presiding over the special grand jury investigation that preceded the indictment in the election case.

Then-Sen. Burt Jones, one of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate falsely stating that Trump had won the election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors, had been told he was a target in the election case. He argued that Willis had a conflict of interest because she had hosted a fundraiser for his Democratic opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race.

McBurney ruled in Jones’ favor, writing that the situation had gone beyond bad optics and had created “a plain — and actual and untenable — conflict.” He prohibited Willis and her office from prosecuting Jones in the case.

If McAfee decides to take similar action and to remove Willis and her office from the election case, it would be up to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia to find another prosecutor to take the case. That person could continue on the track that Willis has taken, could choose to pursue only some charges or could dismiss the case altogether.

Finding a prosecutor willing and able to take on the sprawling case could be difficult, former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said. Only a few district attorneys in the state — all around Atlanta — have the resources to handle such a case, he said.

State legislators are considering how to restructure the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission to oversee elected prosecutors, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

Some Georgia Republicans want the new commission to discipline Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for winning indictments of former President Donald Trump and 18 others.

Though Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation last year creating the new commission, it was unable to begin operating after the state Supreme Court in November refused to approve rules governing its conduct. Justices said they had “grave doubts” about their ability to regulate the duties of district attorneys beyond the practice of law. Because lawmakers hadn’t expressly ordered justices to act, they were refusing to rule one way or the other, they said.

A bill in the state House of Representatives removes the requirement that the state Supreme Court approve the rules. It also raises the standard for overturning a decision by the commission.

A House committee passed it on Monday over the objections of Democrats. It now goes to the full House for a vote.

“This is just making the commission workable,” state Rep. Joseph Gullett, a Republican from Dallas, told members of a House judiciary committee.

Democrats on the committee proposed an amendment giving their party the power to appoint some of the commission members, but it was rejected. The legislation Kemp signed gave Republicans control over all eight appointments to the commission.

Also on Monday, Georgia Republican state Sen. Greg Dolezal announced that he wanted to create a special Senate committee to investigate Willis, separate from the commission.

Dolezal said in a statement that a “thorough and impartial examination” would “ensure transparency, accountability and the preservation of the integrity of our justice system.”

Dolezal’s proposed resolution suggests that legal or budgetary changes could follow any inquiry. The resolution would have to win approval in the Republican-majority state Senate before any panel could be appointed.

From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Senate Bill 92, which the legislature’s Republican majorities passed mostly along party lines, tasked the Georgia Supreme Court with reviewing the new commission’s standards of conduct. But the justices ruled last fall that the high court lacks the authority to conduct such a review, effectively blocking the bill from taking effect.

During last year’s debate, legislative Democrats said an unelected commission could usurp the will of local voters in elections of district attorneys. Similar arguments came up on Monday.

Rep. Shea Roberts, D-Atlanta, said having a commission look over the shoulders of local prosecutors could act as a disincentive.

“I worry about who’s going to be willing to run for these seats when we want quality people,” she said.

Forsyth County Solicitor-General Bill Finch, a Republican, raised similar concerns. The new commission also would have jurisdiction over complaints against local solicitors as well as district attorneys.

“This bill will substitute the will of the voters of Forsyth County who put me in office,” Finch said. “That’s a dangerous thing.”

Republicans on the committee defeated an amendment proposed by Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, D-Lithonia, that would have guaranteed Democratic legislative leaders the ability to appoint two of the commission’s members.

House Bill 881 now moves to the House Rules Committee to schedule a vote of the full House.

From the AJC:

The legislation, filed by Sen. Greg Dolezal of Cumming, cites accusations that Willis is in an “improper” relationship with Nathan Wade, who she hired to help lead the investigation into efforts by Trump and his now co-defendants to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The accusations against the district attorney stem from divorce filings by Wade’s estranged wife.

Dolezal’s legislation would create a Senate Special Committee on Investigations that would have the ability to subpoena people and evidence, and require that testimony be given under oath. No other legislative committees require that witnesses testify under oath. Under the measure, if the committee finds there has been misconduct, it can recommend changes to the state law or budget.

Last year, lawmakers created a Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission that was empowered to sanction prosecutors. The law was challenged in court, and the state Supreme Court said it had “grave doubts” about whether it had the constitutional authority to approve rules for the commission, a step required by the law.

On Monday the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee passed legislation that removed the directive that the Supreme Court review the commission’s rules in hopes of getting the panel moving.

From the Senate Press Releasing announcing Sen. Dolezal’s legislation:

Sen. Dolezal spoke on the proposed legislation, stating, “Today, in response to a wave of concerning reports and court filings regarding District Attorney Fani Willis of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, I am calling for the establishment of the Senate Special Committee on Investigations. The multitude of accusations surrounding Ms. Willis, spanning from allegations of prosecutorial misconduct to questions about the use of public funds and accusations of an unprofessional relationship, underscores the urgency for a thorough and impartial examination. We owe it to the public to ensure transparency, accountability and the preservation of the integrity of our justice system.”

The proposed legislation seeks to establish the Senate Special Committee on Investigations, comprising nine members, with three representatives from the Minority Party. The Committee will be assigned to conduct a legislative investigation and will have the power to administer oaths, to call any party to testify under oath at such investigations, among other responsibilities.

From the AJC Political Insider:

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones indicated he supports state Sen. Greg Dolezal’s measure to create a Senate Special Committee on Investigations that would have the ability to subpoena witnesses and require testimony be given under oath. Dolezal, R-Cumming, introduced the legislation Monday.

“The Georgia Legislature has a responsibility to hold public officials accountable,” Jones said. “Recent reports have been deeply troubling and I appreciate Sen. Dolezal’s leadership on this issue.”

Here’s a secret decoder ring on the various pieces of legislation mentioned in the above story:

Senate Bill 92 – passed last session, creating the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, but the Georgia Supreme Court determined it could not fulfill its duties under the legislation due to Constitutional restrictions.

House Bill 881 by State Rep. Joseph Gullett would revise the PAQC after the Georgia Supreme Court bowed out. This passed out of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

Senate Resolution 465 by Sen. Greg Dolezal would create a Senate Special Committee on Investigations and need only pass the Senate.

Chatham County Commissioners voted to update the contract for construction of a new courthouse, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The courthouse, currently under construction on Oglethorpe Avenue, received a 41-day contract extension, according to the meeting’s agenda. That comes with an added $1.9 million to cover additions to the scope of the project.

Some of those include audio-visual revisions to live streaming technology, a path of egress on the roof and a storm drain at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. There were nearly 40 items total added to this contract update ranging in cost from about $1,500 to $240,000.

The Board of Commissioners approved the initial $71.5 million construction contract in March 2021. The contract has grown nearly $7 million dollars, according to the agenda item. The change order passed Friday was the seventh contract update since the initial was awarded in 2021.

Pineview Mayor Brandon Holt has been charged with 75 counts that include stealing from the city, according to 13WMAZ.

The mayor of Pineview in Wilcox County was arrested after allegedly stealing funds from the town of under 500, according to a media release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

Brandon Holt, 34, was charged with 75 counts of theft by taking, the release said. They say Wilcox County Sheriff Steve Mauldin and District Attorney Brad Rigby asked the GBI to investigate on Oct. 20.

Holt was arrested last Monday and he was booked into the Wilcox County jail, the release said. He was later released on bond.

The case will be handed over to the Cordele Judicial Circuit District Attorney Rigby for prosecution.

Commerce City Council member Roshuanda Merritt was arrested and charged with a drug related felony, according to AccessWDUN.

A Commerce City Councilwoman was arrested recently on allegations that she attempted to sell marijuana.

According to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Roshuanda Merritt, 43, of Commerce, was charged with criminal attempt to commit sale of marijuana and use of a telecommunication facility to facilitate a felony.

“Prior to the drug investigation, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office conducted an unrelated investigation in which investigators discovered Merritt distributed marijuana from her home in Jackson County,” the press release said.

Guyton Police Chief James Breletic has left, according to WTOC.

Hamby told WTOC about the announcement of Chief Breletic’s resignation was sent to city staff on January 13th. Hamby also provided WTOC with a statement saying:

“The city made has this decision based on the fact the former Chief had over 3 years to gain the public’s trust and build a respectful police department. Unfortunately, that wasn’t achieved. We are committed to moving in a new direction to ensure that we have a police department that earns and maintains public trust.”

Breletic’s last day was this past Friday, January 20th.

The city announced just within the last hour that Lieutenant Joey Coppola would be filling in as interim chief.

With that announcement came Breletic’s official resignation letter. He says he had concerns about working for the new city council after elections in November — claiming some of the newly elected members would call for his termination.

He also said he and other officers faced online abuse, verbal harassment in city council meetings, a hostile work environment, and more over his three years with the department.

Hinceville Police Chief Lloyd Slater announced his retirement effective March 29, 2024, according to WTOC.

Augusta Judicial Circuit Senior Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig announced he is not running for reelection, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

In a statement, Craig said he plans on completing his term, which ends on Dec. 31, but will not be running for re-election.

Craig served as district attorney and a Superior Court judge for Burke, Richmond and Columbia counties for more than 30 years.

It will be up to voters in Richmond and Burke counties to select a new Superior Court judge to replace Craig.

The Augusta Judicial Circuit serves Richmond and Burke Counties.

Republican Trisha Hoyes announced she will run for Forsyth County Board of Education District 2, according to AccessWDUN.

Tung “Tim” Le announced he will run for the Gwinnett County Commission District 1 seat currently held by Kirkland Carden, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

If he is elected, Le would be the first Vietnamese-American to serve on the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.

“If elected, Tung Le pledges to prioritize public safety, reduce property taxes and champion support for small businesses,” Le’s campaign said in an announcement. “He emphasizes the need to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities, foster budgetary balance, and make homeownership affordable for all Gwinnett residents. Tung Le advocates for business-friendly policies to navigate the challenges posed by the economic downturn.”

Gwinnett County Board of Education District Three member Mary Kay Murphy endorsed Yanin Cortes to succeed her, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

“I made this decision because I believe that Yanin Cortes stands out as the best choice for the office,” Murphy told the Daily Post on Monday. “She has the character, qualities, and temperament needed to make substantial contributions to the Gwinnett Board of Education and its schools and communities.”

“This is particularly true at this crucial juncture in the development of Gwinnett County School District 3.”

There are three school board seats that will be on the ballot in the May 21 nonpartisan school board elections. School Board Vice Chairwoman Karen Watkins’ District 1 seat and Board Member Tarece Johnson-Morgan’s District 5 seat are also up for election this year. Watkins and Johnson-Morgan are running for re-election.

In addition to Cortes, Domonique Cooper, Kirk Buis, Demetrius Nelson, Shana White and Steven Gasper have also announced bids for Murphy’s District 3 seat.

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