Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 24, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 24, 2024

Jekyll Island

On January 24, 1915, the first transcontinental telephone call was placed from Jekyll Island, Georgia.

January 24, 1933 saw the first sales tax in Georgia proposed to fund schools and aid for farmers.

On January 24, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, sharing the pulpit with his father.

On January 24, 1987, some 12,000 to 20,000 civil rights protesters marched in Forsyth County, a week after a smaller protest. From the New York Times reporting:

CUMMING, Ga., Jan. 24— This small town in Forsyth County was overwhelmed today by civil rights marchers, members of the Ku Klux Klan and their sympathizers and an army of National Guardsmen and law-enforcement officers who kept the opposing groups separated.

Guarded by what a spokesman for the Governor’s office called ”the greatest show of force the state has ever marshalled,” a crowd of marchers estimated at 12,000 to 20,000 funneled slowly into Cumming, where a week earlier counterdemonstrators, throwing stones and bottles, disrupted an interracial ”walk for brotherhood” prompted by the all-white county’s racist legacy.

As the marchers headed into Cumming, which has a little more than 2,000 people, they found waiting for them, behind a stern-faced force of 2,300 guardsmen and police officers, a group of hundreds if not thousands of white, mainly young, rural men and women, repeatedly shouting, “N[*****], go home!”

Whatever the final figure, the march was one of the largest civil rights demonstrations since a 1965 rally that followed a march from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery. The rally, led by Dr. King, drew 25,000 people.

Seriously, read the Times report.

On January 24, 2001, the Georgia House of Representatives approved legislation changing the state flag to the Barnes design with the state seal on a blue background and a banner depicting five previous flags that flew over Georgia.

2001GeorgiaFlag

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Former Governor Nathan Deal was awarded the Order of the Rising Son for his support of Japanese businesses operating in Georgia, according to the Rome News Tribune.

From a December story in GlobalAtlanta.com:

The conferment of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, was announced Nov. 3, just after the mid-October conclusion of the most recent Southeast U.S.-Japan Alliance conference in Tokyo.

“Gov. Deal appealed for investment in Georgia at the conference as well as at the companies he visited. This was the first visit to Japan by a Georgia governor in five years,” the release reads, referencing then-Gov. Sonny Perdue’s prior visit to the 31st SEUS conference in 2007.

Mr. Deal, now 81, stayed consistent in his focus on Japan throughout his two terms spanning 2011-19, the release continued.

“He also led economic missions to Japan in August 2013 and September 2017, meeting with Japanese companies and government agencies, to foster trade and investment opportunities within the state,” it reads.

From the release:

“Governor Deal strengthened relations with Japan by attending Japan related events, including the Emperor’s birthday reception. In addition, in March 2011, in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, he sent a letter of condolence to the Consul General in Atlanta, expressing his readiness to provide support. Furthermore, on March 22nd of the same year, he visited the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta and signed the Book of Condolence and Encouragement for those affected by the earthquake, demonstrating his solidarity with the Japanese people.”

“On March 1, 2012, Governor and Mrs. Deal hosted Consul General and Mrs. Hanatani at the Governor’s Mansion for the official cherry tree planting ceremony as a symbol of a strong Japan-U.S. friendship. As a result, many visitors to the mansion are able to enjoy Japanese cherry blossoms for years to come.”

According to delegation leader and Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson, the state has more than 400 Japanese facilities that have created more than 40,000 jobs. `

Under the Gold Dome Today

TBD Senate Rules: Upon Adj – 450 CAP
7:00 AM Senate Pub Sfty: Fulton Jail Sub – 450 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE Ways and Means Sub Sales Tax – 403 CAP
8:00 AM HOUSE SMALL BUSINESS DEV – 506 CLOB
8:00 AM JOINT AG & CONSUMER AFF – 606 CLOB
8:00 AM Cancelled- Senate Natl Res & Env’t – 450 CAP
10:00 AM HOUSE FLOOR SESSION (LD 8) – House Chamber
10:00 AM Senate Floor Session (LD 8) – Senate Chamber
1:00 PM HOUSE PUB SAFETY & HS – 506 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE HIGHER ED – 606 CLOB
1:00 PM HOUSE Approp Sub Genl Govt – 515 CLOB
1:00 PM CANCELED – HOUSE JUV JUST – 403 CAP
1:00 PM Senate Public Safety – 450 CAP
2:00 PM HOUSE Approp Sub Health – 415 CLOB
2:00 PM HOUSE JUDY & TECH & INFRA INNOV – 406 CLOB
2:00 PM Senate Higher Education– 307 CLOB
2:00 PM Senate Insurance & Labor– Mezz 1 CAP
3:00 PM HOUSE INDUSTRY & LABOR – 506 CLOB
3:00 PM HOUSE GOVERNMENTAL AFF – 606 CLOB
3:00 PM Senate Health & HS – 450 CAP
4:00 PM Senate Finance – Mezz 1 CAP

Senate Bill 355 by State Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), to ban ranked choice voting, passed out of the Senate Ethics Committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation, according to the Georgia Recorder.

The Senate Bill 355 measure passed the Senate panel by an 8-1 vote following hour-long testimony and debate on whether the state should take a preemptive strike banning a ranked choice voting method that’s becoming more common in municipal elections across the nation and is the way candidates are elected in states like Alaska.

Cataula Republican Sen. Randy Robertson sponsored the bill that limits ranked choice voting in Georgia to military members who have federal protections protecting their absentee voting rights. Robertson said he wants to prevent local or state election officials from adopting a new election process that he said can become confusing for voters and election administrators alike.

“If you’ve ever seen a ranked choice ballot, it looks like in some races like the lottery card that you pick at the Circle K with all the bubbles on it,” Robertson said.

Across the country, conservative leaders and organizations are trying to stave off a ranked choice election system they argue is being promoted by more left-leaning lobbyists and elected officials who say it saves taxpayers the burden of a separate runoff that attracts fewer voters to the polls. Since 2022, Florida and Tennessee are among a handful of states that have adopted statewide preemptive bans on ranked choice voting.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock advocated for instant runoff elections in late 2022 as he campaigned for his upcoming Senate runoff against Republican Herschel Walker.

“Runoffs result in voter fatigue, on average over 30% less people turn out for a runoff, and millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on something that could have been easily avoided,” [Former State Rep. Wes Cantrell] said during Tuesday’s Senate Ethics Committee meeting.

Cantrell said that if Georgia had allowed voters to select their candidate in order of preference in 2020, then Donald Trump likely wins Georgia by being the second preferred candidate among a large number of 62,000 votes cast for the Libertarian Party candidate. Trump lost in Georgia by nearly 12,000 votes to Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“But let’s be clear, rank choice voting does not eliminate runoffs, it simply makes the runoff, if necessary, occur on the same night as the regular election,” Cantrell said.

Senate Bill 358 by State Senator Max Burns (R-Sylvania) would allow the State Elections Board to investigate the Secretary of State and passed out of the Senate Ethics Committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation, according to the AJC.

Senate Bill 358 also would remove Raffensperger as a nonvoting member of the election board. The move follows lawmakers’ 2021 decision to remove Raffensperger as chairman of the board that oversees elections in Georgia.

Raffensperger has blasted the latest proposal as a “complete and total lapse of judgment.” And on Tuesday his general counsel wrote a letter saying the bill would violate the Georgia Constitution by allowing “unelected bureaucrats unchecked power over the state’s executive branch” and could lead to illegal election interference.

“This authority could easily be weaponized by political activists seeking to use the State Election Board to punish political opponents or prevent the lawful certification of election results, harming the integrity of Georgia’s elections,” General Counsel Charlene McGowan wrote in a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania.

Burns disputed the contention that his bill is unconstitutional or intended to interfere in elections.

“We’re not out there on a witch hunt looking for problems,” Burns said during a hearing of the Senate Ethics Committee, which he chairs. “We’re trying to provide reasonable oversight of a process that affects every citizen of Georgia.”

The bills now go to the Senate Rules Committee, which will determine whether they get floor votes.

Twin Pines Minerals, LLC was fined $20,000 related to exploratory drilling near the Okefenokee Swamp, according to The Current GA.

In a consent order signed Tuesday, the state Environmental Protection Division states the reasons for the penalty: “Drilling boreholes on 107 days without providing a performance bond or letter of credit to the Director for the conduct of drilling operations; drilling boreholes on 24 days while not under the direction of a professional engineer or a professional geologist registered in the state of Georgia.”

The company denies any wrongdoing. But a critic of the project says the penalty calls into question the validity of the data derived from the boreholes and ultimately if the project should go forward.

“We respectfully disagree that any violation occurred. The alleged infractions are based on EPD’s interpretation of ambiguous technical regulations,” Lewis Jones of Jones Fortuna LP, representing Twin Pines, wrote in a prepared statement. “While we disagree with EPD’s interpretation, we appreciate that no harm to the environment is alleged.”

“The purpose of the statute requiring professional supervision of drilling is to ensure the integrity of the geologic samples being obtained, so that the regulators can accurately analyze impacts of mining on groundwater quantity and quality and ultimately on the Okefenokee,” he wrote in an email. “But 263 out of 385 boreholes on TPM’s own boring logs, or over two-thirds of the samples, appear to have been supervised by individuals that were not licensed geologists in Georgia, which calls into question the validity of two-thirds of TPM’s soil data and the integrity of the entire mining permit application.

“The proper remedy in any situation like this, but especially when Georgia’s greatest natural treasure is at stake, would be to force the company to go back and repeat all of the sampling with the requisite supervision and resubmit the application from scratch,” he wrote. “Instead, EPD totally missed or ignored those violations, and instead issued a $20,000 fine and asked the company to ensure all of the boreholes are properly filled in after the fact.”

Twin Pines plans to recover titanium dioxide and zircon from a 582-acre demonstration mine in Charlton County. At its closest point the mine will be less than three miles from the boundary of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

House Bill 71 by State Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) would create a buffer zone to protect the Okefenokee, according to The Brunswick News.

HB-71, the proposed Okefenokee Protection Act, would establish a buffer around the world-famous swamp that would block efforts by Twin Pines Minerals.

The Alabama-based company plans an 898-acre heavy mineral “demonstration” mine on the 12,000 acres of property the company owns that comes within 400 feet of the Okefenokee.

Rena Ann Peck, executive director of Georgia River Network, said more than 64,000 acres surrounding the wildlife refuge would be protected if the legislation is approved by the General Assembly.

The Okefenokee is considered to be one of the last self-contained, naturally functioning wetlands left on Earth. Among the most visited national wildlife refuges in the country, the Okefenokee hosts some 650,000 visitors annually who help create more than 825 local jobs and a total annual economic output of $64.7 million in the four counties surrounding the swamp.

“To my knowledge, Twin Pines has not made any good faith attempts to protect the swamp since they have not conducted any monitoring within the swamp in the four years they have been in the area or proposed any monitoring in the swamp to detect any changes,” Peck said. “Even with monitoring equipment in place, most likely the consequences will be delayed, meaning it will be impossible to identify and correct a problem before it does more harm. The consequence most likely would be irreversible.”

I note that HB71 would not stop the currently-proposed mine, according to the Georgia River Network.

While HB 71 would have no impact on the mining permit currently being weighed by the EPD, it would prohibit future mining along Trail Ridge.

House Bill 30 by State Rep. John Carson (R-Cobb County), to define “antisemitism” in Georgia law, passed out of the Senate yesterday, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

A state Senate committee unanimously approved a new version of legislation Monday defining antisemitism and incorporating it into Georgia’s hate crimes law following a hearing that featured emotional arguments for and against the measure.

House Bill 30 passed the Georgia House of Representatives last year but died in the Senate. It would establish as part of state law the definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization founded by Sweden’s prime minister in 1998.

The bill provides for additional penalties when crimes are committed because the victim is Jewish.

Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, the House bill’s chief sponsor, cited a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents in Georgia as reason to pass legislation defining antisemitism.

“Without a standard definition, it’s easy for antisemites to hide behind that ambiguity,” he said.

House Bill 30 now heads to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule a vote of the full Senate.

The Development Authority of Fulton County voted to grant a $10 million dollar tax abatement to X, fka Twitter, according to the AJC.

A month after deadlocking on the request, the Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) board voted 6-2 to approve the tax savings for the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The company, which is owned by the world’s richest man, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, will have its tax bill reduced for the next decade as it houses computer servers for artificial intelligence work at the Qualified Technology Services data center off Jefferson Street. The project will not create any new jobs, but it will retain 24 existing employees — at a cost of more than $420,000 per job.

X’s investment is estimated at $700 million, but most of that equipment is already in Fulton. Dhruv Batura, the X project lead, said all but $200 million of equipment has already been shipped to the data center, but he said the company would move the remaining equipment to Portland if the incentives fell through.

DAFC estimates the X project will generate more than $16 million in new taxes for Fulton over the next decade despite the incentive. DAFC Treasurer Mike Bodker said the AI investment has the potential to generate tax revenues beyond the 10-year abatement period.

“I feel like AI is not going anywhere. I feel like if that equipment gets clustered here in Atlanta … what tends to happen is it gets refreshed,” he said, referencing the routine replacement of outdated equipment, which would then be taxed in perpetuity.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson touted the upside of Bidenomics, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp delivered his “State of the State” address, in which he lauded the 171,000 new jobs and $74.5 billion in investment Georgia has seen in the past five years. This week, he doubled down, claiming the Inflation Reduction Act — the most significant climate legislation in our nation’s history — has “hurt” Georgia more than it’s helped our state.

The evidence clearly suggests otherwise as this money did not come out of thin air. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will bring an estimated $180 million of investment in clean power generation and storage to Georgia between now and 2030. As of last fall, the IRA had created over 19,000 good-paying jobs and led to $21 billion in investment in Georgia in just over a year, according to the organization, Climate Power.

Our governor should know better than anyone the role federal investments have played to bolster our state’s manufacturing sector.

As the mayor of Savannah, I’ve seen firsthand the remarkable impacts of collaboration at the local, state, and federal levels. Nowhere is this more evident than the clean energy transition. I’ve said before that Savannah is the epicenter of climate resilience. We’re aiming to have 100% renewable energy in our city by 2035. Federal investments stemming from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act are helping us reach that goal while also creating new, good-paying jobs.

Investing in clean energy isn’t just a smart economic move, it’s good for our planet too.

Savannah will install more surveillance cameras targeting crime, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Citing an increase in firearm-related violent crimes, the City of Savannah, the Savannah Police Department (SPD) and the Housing Authority of Savannah (HAS) have agreed to install cameras within public housing locations and throughout other parts of the city.

Using nearly a half-million-dollar grant funded by state COVID-19 response money, SPD will install 15 cameras in four HAS locations, including Frazier Homes, Kayton Homes, Yamacraw Village and River Pointe, and 38 cameras within “specific violent crime hot spots” throughout the city.

“It will be months before these cameras will be installed,” an SPD spokesperson wrote in an email on behalf of Assistant Chief Robert Gavin to the Savannah Morning News.

According to the email, SPD requested 66 cameras to go in housing and neighborhoods “where connectivity and camera coverage has not been accessible.” The timeline is reliant on equipment and contractor availability.

Lowndes County Board of Elections seeks poll workers, according to WALB.

Decatur County Commissioners held a meeting to hear concerns about a proposed monkey breeding facility, according to WALB.

A Bainbridge monkey breeding facility that was in the beginning stages of construction has hit a legal snag, but apparently is still moving forward.  This comes after the Decatur County commissioners hosted a huge crowd of neighbors, concerned about the issue.

Decatur County commissioners admit they violated the Open Meetings Act. In short, they approved a financial incentive for the project in a meeting that wasn’t made public.

“We were asked to be at a meeting, and we assumed that the people who had asked us to be at the meeting had posted it in accordance. That did not happen,” Decatur County Chairman Pete Stephens said.

That meeting happened on December 11 when the county commissioners, the Bainbridge City Council, the Development Authority, the Decatur County School Board and the Board of Tax Accessors met.

Residents still called on county leaders to put a stop to the monkey business.

”The citizens that live near this project and the community as a whole loses if something goes wrong. Anybody who did not do the background on this project should be fired,” on[e] concerned Bainbridge resident said.

A company called Safer Human Medicine is building a 200-acre facility that will eventually house 30,000 monkeys. Those monkeys will be raised and shipped out for research.

Residents say they are concerned over the ratio of monkeys to Bainbridge’s current population, and also the possible environmental impacts.

Dougherty County Commissioners want to develop a code enforcement policy to fight blight, according to WALB.

The county is trying to come up with a code enforcement policy that will hold homeowners accountable and eliminate blighted properties.

“Some of these properties we have had problems for more than 10 years in certain neighborhoods, and it hasn’t been addressed. And I have a problem with that. So whatever we need to do as far accountability and more enforcement officers, we need to do that.” Dougherty County Commissioner for District 2 Victor Edwards said.

One of the issues is that many properties are abandoned, and the property owners may not live in town anymore, so tracking them down is costly and time-consuming.

Georgia’s shrimp season has closed, according to The Brunswick News.

Georgia’s commercial and recreational food shrimp harvest in state waters closed at 6:20 p.m. on Thursday, a closure that only affects waters three nautical miles out to see from shore. Federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore remain open.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ commissioner, Walter Rabon, extended the shrimp season beyond the statutorily set closure date of Dec. 31 to Jan. 18 when data collected by the Coastal Resources Division showed robust average shrimp populations.

“The offshore data CRD gathered in December 2023 showed an average of 2.04 pounds of shrimp collected per 15-minute trawl, compared to the 20-year average (2003-2023) of 1.93 pounds,” a release from the CRD said.

“Additionally in December sampling it took an average of 20.62 shrimp with heads on to weigh one pound; the 20-year average is 29.45 shrimp. This means the December’s sample took 30 percent fewer shrimp to equal one pound, meaning the individual shrimp were larger than the 20-year average.”

As of Thursday, Georgia’s commercial shrimpers reported harvesting 2,428,098 pounds of shrimp tails, a dockside value of $8,809,426, the DNR said.

Commercial shrimpers have until Feb. 10 to report their final landings. Final seasonal tallies will be available in late March or early April.

Georgia state regulations on oyster farming may inhibit growth of the fledgling industry, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Perry and Laura Solomon, owners of Tybee Oyster Company, began harvesting from the initial on-the-water operation on Chatham County’s Bull River last month. They were among a half-dozen applicants granted intertidal shellfish leases in late 2021 by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

But more than two years later, Tybee Oyster and another company in Brunswick are the only lessees with operations up and running.

Under existing Georgia regulations, oyster harvests must cease when water temperatures reach 81 degrees. The primary reason for the rule is a collection of potentially harmful bacteria called vibrio, which live naturally in coastal Georgia waters and thrive in warm conditions.

For the Solomons, that likely will mean suspending sales from June through September – when demand from restaurants that serve Tybee Oyster’s “Salt Bombs” is highest.

“Restaurants in Georgia don’t stop selling oysters in June, they just stop buying them from Georgia farmers,” Perry Solomon wrote in an email to Georgia DNR earlier this month. “Restaurants are constantly concerned about supply chain disruptions.”

“Our work indicates that oysters can be safely harvested during the summer months when following proper protocols,” explained Thomas Bliss, director of the Shellfish Research Laboratory. “The results from that study have been provided to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as they work to determine how to regulate harvest during the summer from leases located in mariculture zones.”

DNR Shellfish and Water Quality Program Manager Dominic Guadagnoli on Tuesday acknowledged the findings, but also confirmed what the Solomons feared: New rules for summer harvests from floating oyster farms won’t be in place until 2025 at the earliest.

Before warm-water harvests are permitted, the DNR and its Law Enforcement Division, along with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, must draft rules that meet National Shellfish Sanitation Program Model Ordinance requirements, Guadagnoli said in an email to the Savannah Morning News.

[These agencies must enact regulations and develop procedures to properly sanction summer harvest, thus ensuring the state will meet its annual (Food and Drug Administration) program audits,{ he wrote. “This is necessary, regardless of the number of growers ready to implement summer harvest.”

Hall County Tax Commissioner Darla Eden announced she will run for reelection, according to AccessWDUN.

According to a press release, Eden said she aims to continue with her focus on implementing best-practice efficiencies with a private-sector mindset.

“With service, efficiency and accountability as our foundation, our team has worked hard to cut out red tape and bureaucratic practices while modernizing a traditional government agency,” Eden said. “I want to secure this legacy for the benefit of all Hall County taxpayers.”

The general primary will take place on May 21, while the general election will be held on Nov. 5.

Retiring Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton endorsed Matt Moulton as his successor, according to 13WMAZ.

When America’s longest-serving sheriff took the podium Tuesday morning, Cullen Talton said, “I’ma introduce a young man who’s gonna try to take my job.”

He doesn’t make many public appearances, but Talton showed up Tuesday morning at the newly renovated Houston County annex to endorse one of his officers to succeed him.

For over half a century, Sheriff Talton’s been elected 13 times; today, he says he wants Lt. Matt Moulton to succeed him as sheriff.

“He is going to be our next sheriff,” Talton said.

“As the race stands, I am the only active law enforcement officer in this race for sheriff,” Moulton said.

His opponents, so far, are Will Kendall and Slate Simons.

Kendall is the district attorney of Houston County.

Simons is a former Houston County sergeant.

Matthew Pepper’s job was upgraded from Assistant City Manager to City Manager for Snellville, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Pepper served the past two years as Assistant City Manager.

“I am humbled that Mayor and Council have shown their faith in me by naming me City Manager of the City of Snellville,” Pepper said in a news release. “During the last two years, I have learned the position from my predecessor Butch Sanders and am confident I can help Snellville prosper for years to come. I am eager to continue serving our community and helping make Snellville the best it can be.”

Mayor Barbara Bender said she and members of City Council are excited for Pepper in his new role.

“We are very pleased Matthew agreed to step into this role as City Manager,” Bender said, noting Pepper’s previous experience and recent on-the-job-training. “We are confident he will excel in his new position.”

The City Manager is responsible for the daily operations of the city, working with the various city departments and department directors, Snellville officials said. The policies adopted by and the vision for the city set forth by the mayor and council provide the parameters for both basic service provision and special projects all intended to best serve Snellville’s citizens.

“One of the City Manager’s most important duties, professionally and personally, is to build a city staff that is dedicated to serving the public good at all times and providing for that staff the best possible working environment, all needed supplies and strong moral support to enable our team to meet the goal of excellence in local government,” city officials said.

 

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