Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 4, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 4, 2023

Utah was admitted as the 45th state on January 4, 1896.

On January 4, 1965, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson delivered the State of the Union and outlined his plan for a “Great Society.”

“He requested ‘doubling the war against poverty this year’ and called for new emphasis on area redevelopment, further efforts at retraining unskilled workers, an improvement in the unemployment compensation system and an extension of the minimum wage floor to two million workers now unprotected by it. … He called for new, improved or bigger programs in attacking physical and mental disease, urban blight, water and air pollution, and crime and delinquency.”

The Great Society legislation included “War on Poverty” programs, many created under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established jobs and youth volunteer programs as well as Head Start, which provided pre-school education for poor children. Johnson’s social welfare legislation also consisted of the formation of Medicare and Medicaid, which offered health care services for citizens over 65 and low-income citizens, respectively. In addition, the Great Society included the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968.

On January 4, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon refused to turn over tapes recorded in the Oval Office to the Senate Watergate Committee.

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House on January 4, 1995, the third Georgian to wield the gavel. This marked the first time in more than forty years that Republicans controlled the House of Representatives.

On January 4, 1999, in DeKalb County, State Court Judge Al Wong became the first Asian-American judge in Georgia and the Southeast.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters in the Seventh State House District yesterday sent two Republicans, Sheree Ralston (45.02%) and Johnny Chastain (39.28%) to a Special Election Runoff on January 31, 2023. From 11Alive:

A runoff election will determine who will be the successor to the late House Speaker David Ralston. He died in November at 68 years old.

He served in the role since 2010, leaving a legacy as a political giant who was respected by both sides of the aisle. His wife, Sheree Ralston, is seeking to fill his seat.

She was one of five candidates listed on the ballot for the Jan. 3 special election in the reliably red district and garnered 45% of the votes – short of the 50% plus 1 threshold to secure the election. All candidates are Republicans.

The candidate pool has now been narrowed down to Ralston’s widow and Johnny Chastain, who earned just about 39% of votes. Only 457 votes separated the two.

I don’t guess that candidate Brian K. Pritchard’s 490 voters will go to Mrs. Ralston in the runoff, given this from the AJC:

The compressed timeline for the race has meant that candidates have had just weeks to stand up their campaigns and get in front of voters, including over the holidays.

But that was still enough time for the contest to take a nasty turn when Lisa Pritchard, Brian Pritchard’s wife, posted a lengthy attack against Sheree Ralston to Facebook, calling her a “shameless hussy” and accusing her of spreading lies. Ralston did not respond to the personal attack, which was shared to Brian Pritchard’s official campaign page.

If no candidate wins 50% of the vote-plus-one today, the race will go to a runoff between the top two finishers. The winner will serve Ralston’s full term representing the north Georgia district in the 2023 and 2024 session of the General Assembly.

Gwinnett County Commissioners approved a $2.27 billion dollar budget, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to approve Gwinnett government’s $2.27 billion 2023 budget on Tuesday. New Commissioner Matthew Holtkamp cast the lone vote against the budget.

The 2023 budget is designed, among other things, to increase funding for county libraries, add more public safety-related and court-related positions, expand Gwinnett County Transit and create positions focused on equity and environmental sustainability.

“I am extremely proud of this budget that we’ve created this year — working very closely in collaboration with our finance staff, our budget division, our department directors, our citizens budget review committee and our commissioners — reaffirming our commitment to build a stronger, more resilient, more equitable Gwinnett County,” Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said.

In all, 131 new positions were created by the budget.

But, Holtkamp raised concerns about how the size of the budget will impact property taxes in Gwinnett County. He said it would put property owners on track to have to pay more in taxes in the fall.

Even if the commission keeps the millage rate the same as it was last year, property owners could end up paying more in taxes if the value of their property increases this year.

“I have grave concern that this is going to be essentially probably setting us up for the fifth year, straight year, of another tax hike,” Holtkamp said. “That really gets me concerned because my constituents, if there was anything I heard over and over, people wanted property tax relief.”

From the AJC:

This year’s general fund, which pays for personnel, is more than $466 million — an increase of about 10% from last year. The budget authorizes 131 new positions, including an equity officer, an environmental sustainability officer, an expanded emergency management team and staff for a new state court judge.

Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said she does not anticipate the budget will increase the property tax rate, which the commission will set in the summer. But District 4 Commissioner Matthew Holtkamp, who began his term Monday, said many people would still pay more in taxes.

Gwinnett County’s value offset exemption, which freezes tax assessments for homeowners who live in their homes, does not apply to about 40% of county properties and does not help renters or business owners, Holtkamp said.

“That really gets me concerned, because my constituents, if there was anything that I heard over and over, people wanted property tax relief,” he said.

Holtkamp, a Republican, was elected in November to a board that had previously been all Democratic, after the Legislature redrew Gwinnett’s county commission districts to create a conservative-leaning District 4.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson announced he will run for reelection, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Johnson confirmed his intent to run for mayor when asked by a reporter at his first weekly press conference of 2023 in City Hall on Tuesday. He said his record “speaks for itself.” While Johnson didn’t consider it a formal announcement, just the answer to a question, it was the first time he’s said so publicly.

“We have a record to stand on, and I think that I have served during the most challenging times in city history, yet now we’re experiencing the best times, at least economically, that our city has ever experienced. I think that I’ve been able to do many of the things I’ve set out to do,” Johnson said.

“I don’t think anybody has gone harder in the paint for Savannah than me,” Johnson said. “I’m not overconfident, I just know that we have a record that speaks for itself.”

Johnson says a more formal campaign announcement will be coming in the next month or so, noting that right now, he’s focused on governing.

But it won’t just be Johnson vs. Gibson-Carter. All of the seats on Savannah City Council will be up for re-election in November, and the mayor’s race is typically well populated with candidates, especially early on in an election year.

Thus far, Gibson-Carter’s announcement a year ago has been the only firm indication of an open seat on council; since she’s running for mayor, she won’t be able to keep her at-large post.

Chatham County trials are being postponed due to staffing shortages in the District Attorney’s office, according to WTOC.

The state asked the court to push back the trial again because they didn’t have a prosecutor familiar with the case. Judge John Morse Jr. agreed to delay the hearing but said that if the state isn’t ready for trial in February, he might have to dismiss the case altogether.

Katie Kelly, who was the public defender for John Bailey – one of the people facing kidnapping and murder charges – filed a motion to dismiss Tuesday, telling Judge Morse that understaffing in the Chatham County District Attorney’s office was “not her client’s problem.”

The prosecutor that had originally been assigned to the case left the DA’s office just a few days before Christmas.

New documents were filed at 8:40 a.m. Tuesday, less than two hours before court started for Claire Farley and Lyle Bunham, both assistant district attorneys, to take over the case for the state.

This case has been going on for years. Melanie Steele’s body was found in March of 2020, six months after police say she was kidnapped.

At least one other case scheduled for jury selection on Tuesday was also delayed because there was not a prosecutor assigned to the case.

Judge Morse called the circumstances leading to these continuances unprecedented. Again, he said that if the state isn’t ready for court next month, he might toss them out entirely.

WTOC Investigates received a copy of the current list of staff members at the DA’s Office on Tuesday afternoon and compared the current list to a phone directory list from two years ago around the time Jones took office.

Back then, there were around 112 employees on staff. Today – that number is around 73 – an almost 35 percent decrease.

Columbus City Council members were sworn in, according to WTVM.

One council member took her oath for the first time. District 7′s new council member Joanna Cogle placed her hand on the bible held by her daughter while taking her oath.

Additionally, council member Bruce Huff, Judith Thomas, Charmine Crabb and Clairmont ‘Pop’ Barnes were all sworn in during the meeting.

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