Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 3, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 3, 2023

On January 3, 1766, after passage of the “stamp act,” the Royal Stamp Master arrived at Tybee Island and was taken to the Governor’s Mansion. On that day, Georgia became the first and only colony in which the stamp tax was actually collected.

Delaware, technically at the time a slave state, rejected a proposal to secede from the United States on January 3, 1861.

On January 3, 1973, Andrew Young was sworn in as the first African-American Congressman from Georgia since 1871.

The sarcophagus containing the mummy of King Tatankhamen was discovered on January 3, 1925.

On January 3, 1990, Panamanian General Manuel Antonio Noriega surrendered to American forces in Panama.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Note that the current suspension of the motor fuel tax is set to expire at 11:59 PM on Tuesday, January 10, 2023. When Governor Kemp most recently renewed the suspension, according to WABE:

[Governor Kemp] said his focus will turn to seeking legislative approval of another round of income tax rebates and a property tax break — a pair of campaign promises expected to cost another $1 billion apiece.

After 10 months of tax relief at the gas pump, Kemp said, “we’re going to transition away from that temporary program.” He added: “We can’t continue to pay what we’re doing on the gas tax suspension.”

At his news conference in Atlanta, the governor was flanked by three fellow Republican leaders: incoming Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, House Speaker Jan Jones of Milton and House Majority Leader Jon Burns of Newington, whom GOP lawmakers have nominated to become the new speaker when the legislature convenes in January.

Each of them pledged support for Kemp’s tax relief priorities, which would be funded out of a roughly $6.6 billion budget surplus.

“We stand in strong support and shoulder to shoulder with Gov. Kemp,” said Jones, who temporarily inherited the speaker’s gavel following the death of David Ralston last month.

During the next legislative session, Kemp will seek a second round of income tax rebates like the $1.1 billion in payments issued this year. The rebates gave dual-earner households $500, single adults with dependents $375 and single adults $250.

The governor also hopes to revive a property tax break that was allowed to lapse in 2009 amid a state budget crisis caused by the Great Recession. Kemp has proposed spending another $1 billion to save what he says will be about $500 a year for taxpayers with homestead exemptions.

Next week, the Georgia General Assembly will convene with new hands on the gavel in both chambers for the first time in my career. From Atlanta News First via WALB:

For the first time this century, Georgia will have a new lieutenant governor and a new Speaker of the House when lawmakers convene the 157th General Assembly in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023.

This is also the first time in more than 60 years both the state House and Senate will have new leaders.

Former state Sen. Burt Jones was elected lieutenant governor last November, and state Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newnington) will take over as Speaker from state Rep. Jan Jones, who was Speaker Pro Tempore when David Ralston died on Nov. 16, 2022.

Four years later, in 1959, state Rep. George T. Smith was the new House speaker, with newly elected Garland T. Byrd was lieutenant governor. This was the last time a new House speaker and a new lieutenant governor took charge under the Gold Dome.

Murray County Sole Commissioner Greg Hogan scheduled a meeting for this morning, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Georgia will be the only state with work requirements for some Medicaid recipients, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Valdosta Daily Times.

After years of legal wrangling, the countdown to the July 1, 2023, launch date of Georgia’s Medicaid work requirements program is underway.

The new plan – officially called Pathways to Coverage – will require enrollees to complete 80 hours of work, education, job training, or community service per month to get Medicaid health insurance. Many will also have to pay a monthly premium.

Once the program begins, Georgia will be the sole state with work requirements for Medicaid. Adults between ages 18 and 64 who earn less than 100% of the federal poverty level – and who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid – are the targeted group. For 2022, the federal poverty level was $13,590 for a single person and $27,750 for a family of four.

Though exact numbers are difficult to calculate, it’s expected that the Pathways program will provide insurance to only a small percentage of the 1.3 million Georgians without health insurance.

State officials estimate around 345,000 Georgians would be eligible for the new program. Back in 2020, they said they expected only about 64,000 people to actually enroll in the program.

State legislators may take up crime in the 2023 Session, according to the AJC.

Kemp highlighted an Athens Banner Herald story documenting how a county judge recently dismissed a sexual assault indictment after local prosecutors failed to meet his speedy trial demand. The prosecutor’s office said a “time mistake” was partly to blame for the delays.

“Far-left local prosecutors are failing their constituents and making our communities less safe,” Kemp tweeted, adding that he plans to “address it this session” with the help of state legislators and Attorney General Chris Carr.

And Jones mourned the shooting death of an off-duty Fulton County sheriff’s deputy with a social media post also promising swift action during the 40-day legislative session.

“Enough is enough,” he said in the tweet. “As Lieutenant Governor, we’re going to tackle this issue head on and work to restore law and order to our streets starting very soon.”

Democrats have called for immediate changes of their own, namely a reversal of permissive gun laws they say have contributed to violent crime. That prospect seems a non-starter after Kemp’s sweeping victory over Stacey Abrams, who advocated for new firearms limits.

Sports gambling is on the dance card for many lobbyists in the coming Session, according to the AJC.

[S]ports betting supporters say they feel good about their chances this year with an ally in the lieutenant governor’s office and support from the governor’s office. Starting his second term, Gov. Brian Kemp has said he would work with legislative leaders on a measure to allow sports betting in 2023 — something he previously opposed — and Lt. Gov.-elect Burt Jones has previously sponsored legislation to make sports betting legal.

“I’ve been consistent about the positive return and revenues that safe, secure and legal sports betting could generate for our state — and look forward to working with the General Assembly to hopefully make it a reality this upcoming legislative session,” Jones said.

Opponents say any form of gambling is immoral, addictive and leads to crime, and they promised a fight.

If a referendum asking Georgians whether they want to allow expanded gambling is passed during the two-year session, it would go before voters in 2024.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch said gambling likely won’t be one of the Senate Republican caucus’ priorities. But he said sports betting has a chance of passing this time around. The Dahlonega Republican voted against the sports betting bill that passed his chamber last session. He voted for legislation that would have allowed horse racing, but that bill failed to get two-thirds of the vote in the Senate.

“The first question you have to ask is, ‘Will you let the voters of Georgia decide to amend the constitution to allow (expanded gambling)?’ ” he said. “If the answer is yes, then the question is what is the best policy to have in place.”

Gooch said legislation to legalize sports betting is the most likely form of gambling to emerge from the General Assembly during the next two-year session.

“You almost have to hit the reset button,” Gooch said. “There are a lot of freshmen coming in, and they need to understand the importance of what’s best for Georgia and what do their constituents want them to do. That’s the hard part.”

The Libertarian Party of Georgia announced their support for John Monds in tilting at windmills the Special Election for State Senate District 11, according to the Albany Herald.

“John Monds is a fantastic community leader,” Zach Varnell, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, said in a news release. “He has a proven track record of putting the needs of his community first, and I have no doubt that he will serve the people of his district with distinction in the state senate.”

Monds is a vocal supporter of homeschooling and civil liberties, basing his candidacy on the concept that all people should have the freedom to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they do not harm others.

“I am running because the voters always deserve more choices on the ballot,” Monds said. “We need elected officials who will reign in big-government intrusion into the lives of Georgians.”

Republican Lehman Franklin III will represent House District 160 in the coming session, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Lehman Franklin III, a Statesboro auto dealership general manager and company vice president who resides in the Stilson community, is set to be sworn in as the new state representative from House District 160 when the Georgia General Assembly session convenes Monday, Jan. 9.

District 160 encompasses northern Bryan County around Pembroke and Ellabell, where Hyundai Motor Group is building its electric vehicle and battery plant expected to employ 8,100 people, and all of southern Bulloch County.

“Our area is about to – as everybody knows – about to explode with economic development, so that’s been a big focus of my time, since running, really. …, Franklin said on the phone Friday. “I’ve been trying to do at least two or three events a week where I just go and educate myself on economic development or infrastructure or education-related issues. There’s a lot to learn.”

Franklin, a Republican, succeeds Rep. Jan Tankersley of Brooklet, also a Republican. Tankersley announced last February that she would retire at the end of 2022 after 12 years in the state House, capping a 27-year career in elected office that also included 10 years as a Bulloch County commissioner and five years on Brooklet City Council.

Franklin, now 47, was the only candidate to qualify for the seat in March. So in his first bid for public office, he ran unopposed in the Republican primary and the general election. If anyone was left wondering, after the news media’s lack of attention to an unopposed candidacy, the general manager of Franklin Toyota and vice president of Franklin Automotive Group supports economic development in principle and thinks the growth associated with new industries will be positive if sustainable and met with good planning.

Planning, education and infrastructure – such as water and sewer systems and roads – are things that the state and local governments are going to have to work on to meet the challenges, Franklin said.

I love that line about the news media’s inattention to an unopposed candidate.

State Rep. Jan Tankersley (R-Brooklet) is retiring, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Jan Tankersley will be staying home in Brooklet with her husband Hughie and their one cat and 12 chickens instead of heading to the Georgia General Assembly next week, thus concluding a 27-year, groundbreaking career of elected public service at state, county and municipal levels.

One issue on which she has recently taken direct action is Georgia’s shortage of nurses. Tankersley has directed $80,000 of her unspent campaign funds to endowing nursing scholarships at Ogeechee Technical College and Georgia Southern University.

The $30,000 contribution to Ogeechee Tech created the college’s first fully endowed nursing scholarship. Georgia Southern received a $50,000 endowment.

Her daughter Donna is a registered nurse, her granddaughter Megan is a pre-nursing major at the University of West Georgia, and her grandson’s wife Olivia is a registered nurse with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, she noted.

Two new Chatham County judges will be sworn-in, according to WTOC.

Tuesday morning they will honor the current Judge of Chatham County Superior Court, Judge Louisa Abbot. She has served the Eastern Judicial Circuit since 2000 but is retiring.

Taking over for her will be Judge Tammy Stokes after she ran unopposed and was elected back in May. That ceremony is happening at the Chatham County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m.

Judge Stokes was previously the Recorder’s Court Judge in Chatham County. The new Chief Judge will also be sworn in for that position as well.

Judge Joe Huffman will be sworn in at 11:30 a.m. at the Chatham County Courthouse. Judge Huffman won the seat after winning the runoff election in June.

A new Columbus Recorder’s Court judge will also be sworn in, according to WTVM.

The Honorable David B. Ranieri is the new Chief Judge of the Recorder’s Court in Columbus.

He will take over in January.

The position opened after the retirement of Judge Julius Hunter.

He is expected to serve a four-year term.

Republican Gary Black will leave the office of Commissioner of Agriculture, according to WTOC.

As Black prepares to leave the Department of Agriculture, he says he’s leaving from a different department than the one he joined 12 years ago.

He says he and his team have been working since the summer to give as much information and background as possible to Commissioner-elect Tyler Harper.

“It’s not a transition of power like a governor or president. But it’s a huge transition of responsibility,” Black said.

He says the department’s 500 plus employees are more trained, more experienced than they were in previous administrations. One of his proudest accomplishments is the Georgia Grown program that promotes crops, foods, and food products that come from the Peach State.

“We set some strong, stretch goals toward building the best brand in America. And I believe Georgia Grown is just that,” Black said.

From here, he and his dog will develop a consulting company to help farmers, food companies, and others.

He says his main advice to Commissioner-elect Harper is to take good care of your people, so they can take good care of the people of Georgia.

Republican Soo Hong will represent State House District 103 (parts of Gwinnett and Hall Counties) in the coming Session, according to the Gainesville Times.

The Republican won election in November to succeed Timothy Barr, who ran unsuccessfully for the 10th District congressional seat.

“I want to make sure that I’m listening to the people and what their issues are,” said Hong in an interview at the Gwinnett County Courthouse in Lawrenceville. “My door is open.”

She interned at the Georgia State Capitol after college and law school — experiences that further stirred an interest in public service. She said she turned to law because wanted to be an “advocate for people.”

“I wanted to work with and for people in my community. I wanted to have meaning in my work,” Hong said. “I saw politics as a way of doing that on a bigger scale than what I’m doing in my law practice, representing people in my community and their different interests, not just their legal interests.”

She said she also saw a need to spread a conservative message and values to a diverse population.

Looking ahead to her two-year term, she said that as a freshman lawmaker, “I really want to learn the whole process. I want to make sure I understand the appropriation process of budgeting. When you understand the budget, that’s going to allow me to understand where we’re spending money, where we’re not spending money and … where we should be spending money.”

Hong added: “The No. 1 interest for me is we’re not wasting taxpayers’ money in our state.”

Derrick McCollum joins the State House representing parts of Hall County, according to the Gainesville Times.

The next step in that progression takes place Jan. 1, as McCollum becomes the new Georgia House District 30 seat representative, having defeated Democrat Kim Floria in the Nov. 8 election. He is replacing fellow Republican Emory Dunahoo, who was drawn into District 31 as part of redistricting and then promptly won that seat.

He later went to work for Habersham County Emergency Services so he could run for elected office in Hall. He ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the House District 103 seat held by Timothy Barr.

McCollum announced running for the seat again in 2021 — after Barr said he would seek a congressional seat — but redistricting moved him and his candidacy in 2022 to District 30.

Since winning the seat in November, he has been busy preparing for his upcoming two-year term, including legislative training through the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

He also would like to see mental health issues addressed, including help for police when going on such calls.

And economically, “if it would work financially, I’d love to see us not have (a state) income tax,” McCollum said.

Otherwise, “to me, constituent services for your community is one of the top priorities,” he said. “I’ve already had people call me, and I’ve helped Flowery Branch already with an issue.”

Brent Cox will represent State House District 28, according to the Gainesville Times.

After a long year of campaigns and meeting voters, newly elected State Rep. Brent Cox, R-Forsyth County, a business owner and former football coach, has been preparing for his new role by attending meetings, going to training sessions and talking with constituents ahead of the legislative session, which begins on Monday, Jan. 9.

“I’m here to serve the people of the district, so whatever that entails,” Cox recently told the Forsyth County News. “If people have a question or concern, I’ll be more than glad to field those calls. I’m grateful that I get to do it and hope to serve you well.”

District 28, representing portions of north Forsyth County and a part of western Hall County, is new to north Georgia following redistricting and reapportionment in 2021.

Floyd County’s state legislative delegation will have two “new” members this Session, according to the Rome News Tribune.

For the first time, state Rep. Matt Barton, R-Calhoun, will be representing the Shannon area, in addition to a majority of Gordon County. And Sen.-elect Colton Moore, R-Trenton, will be sworn in to represent Armuchee and northwest Floyd, along with all of Chattooga, Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties.

They’ll join longtime incumbents Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and Reps. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, and Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee. The district of Rep. Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville, has shifted wholly into Bartow County.

The first week of the session is typically a settling-in period, when lawmakers adopt procedural rules and get their committee and office assignments. There will be a new Speaker of the House this year, as well as a new lieutenant governor presiding over the Senate, so expect more changes than usual.

Rep. Barton is new to the Floyd County delegation, but not new to the State House.

Brunswick City Commissioners will consider setting qualifying fees for municipal elections, according to The Brunswick News.

Qualifying for the municipal elections for Johnny Cason’s North Ward seat and Julie Martin’s South Ward seat will begin Aug. 21.

Martin said on Monday that she is still undecided as to whether she’ll seek another term, noting August is still a long way off. Cason said much the same.

Both will have served three terms at the end of the year.

“I really and truly haven’t given it a lot of thought,” Cason told The News.

Statesboro City Council named nine members to a new Business Commission, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The council’s 4-0 vote on the appointments, after a closed-door “executive session” near the end of the Dec. 20 regular public meeting, was itself followed by a vote directing City Attorney Cain Smith to revise the Business Commission Ordinance, increasing the authorized membership from seven members to nine and to removing a sentence asking the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce to recommend one member.

Authorized by a 4-0 final vote of City Council Nov. 15 after unanimous passage of a first reading Nov. 1, the Business Commission was proposed by District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack. It takes its place beside several other advisory commissions created in the past five years, including the One Boro Commission, the Statesboro Youth Commission and the more recent Greener Boro Commission.

“Most local business owners only interact with City Hall one to two times a year when renewing their business license or paying property taxes,” Mack was quoted as saying in a Dec. 5 city media release. “The goal of this commission is to bring local business owners together and learn from their first-hand experiences what it’s like to do business in Statesboro.”

Albany and Dougherty County agreed to a Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) split, according to WALB.

The traditional 60/40 split was approved — the City of Albany gets 60% and Dougherty County gets 40%.

“What we are here today is considering the resolution to accept the continued allocation without revision. We all understand that if we don’t have this certificate for the Department of Revenue in by the end of tomorrow’s business day, collections will be terminated,” said Albany Mayor Bo before the Albany City Commission approved its side of the split.

Revenue projections assume an annual increase of 3.8 per year and exclude the 1% administrative fee paid to the state. The funding is expected to improve things like the county jail, sewage systems, and other services benefiting the city and county.

The extra penny that people are paying at the register to buy groceries actually helps taxpayers.

Former Albany City Commissioner Henry Mathis announced he will run for Mayor, according to the Albany Herald.

Undeterred by a pair of losses in past mayoral campaigns, Mathis announced before a crowd of well-wishers on New Year’s Day that he is again running for the seat held for the past three-plus years by Mayor Bo Dorough.

“Timing is everything in politics,” Mathis said before officially announcing his candidacy. “What we see now in our community is leadership without vision. I’ve looked, with my inner circle, at the years 2020, 2021 and 2022, and those years have been tough on the community. Their spirit is down.”

Apparently anticipating questions about the racial makeup of southwest Georgia’s largest city and what that means to the political landscape in the 2020s, Mathis says his administration would be an inclusive one.

“Yes, Albany/Dougherty County has a population that is more than 70% black,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that every department head, every important position must be held by someone who is black. We have to be diverse. I have contacts in China, and if a business there expresses interest in coming here, one of the questions they’re going to ask is how many of their people are part of our government. Same thing with businesses in India; they’re going to want to know if their country is represented.”

“We’ve got to be all-inclusive, to look for competent, qualified individuals at all positions. And we must always strive for diversity.”

“Our city is plagued with homicides, with shortages on our police and fire departments, with wasteful spending, with 40% poverty, and with a downtown that has been buried for the past 40 years. But Albany can, with the right plan, unequivocally become the Good Life City of our dreams. By working together, we can rehabilitate our city, make it safe, make it a college town like Athens with the University of Georgia, Statesboro with Georgia Southern, Columbus with Columbus State University, Auburn with Auburn University and Albany with Albany State University.”

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources will begin federally-mandated repatriation of some native artifacts, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources will soon begin returning artifacts to culturally affiliated tribes from Etowah Indian Mounds state historic site in Cartersville.

Repatriation is mandated by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law enacted in 1990.

Between 1954 and 1973, archaeologists working for the state excavated all of Mound C, the main burial mound, and other areas throughout this sacred site. Since the early 1960s, hundreds of ancestral Muscogee properties, including artifacts and funerary belongings, have been on display in the site’s museum. While human remains were removed from display decades ago, the ancestors have yet to be repatriated and reburied and are currently housed in an archaeological curation facility.

Today, the 54-acre historic site protects six earthen mounds, a grass plaza, village site, borrow pits and defensive ditch. The original inhabitants are culturally linked to the Muskogean-Speaking tribes, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is the lead culturally affiliated tribe that will take charge of transfer of control and reburial of Etowah ancestors.

Some preservationists oppose plans to double daily visitors at Cumberland Island, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Gwinnett Daily Post.

While the NPS is selling its Visitor Use Management Plan (VUMP) as a way to provide access to the island’s unique natural beauty to a wider range of visitors, preservationists say the plan would ruin what makes Cumberland special.

“The VUMP Plan is a disaster for the island,” Carol Ruckdeschel, a biologist and environmental activist who has lived on Cumberland Island for decades, wrote in an email to Capitol Beat.

Cumberland Island, Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, stretches for nearly 18 miles of pristine beaches and wilderness.

At its southern end are the ruins of Dungeness, a mansion built by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s brother Thomas in the 1880s.

The island is reachable only by private boat and ferry service that operates twice daily from downtown St. Marys, with a return trip three times a day.

Under the current visitation plan, which dates back to 1984, the ferries limit access to 300 visitors a day. The new plan calls for delivering up to 600 visitors each day to two docks on the western shore near the southern end of the island and potentially another 100 at a dock at Plum Orchard, an estate in the middle of Cumberland’s western shore.

To better disperse visitors, the NPS plan calls for adding two new campsites on the northern end of Cumberland and opening Hunt Camp near Plum Orchard to the public.

The plan also would add pavilions with open sides at two beaches, a bathhouse at Nightingale Beach, kayak and canoe rentals and retail sale of “health and safety” items including sunscreen and bug spray.

While a public comment period on the new visitation plan ends on Friday, Dec. 30, the NPS isn’t expected to issue a final decision until this summer.

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