Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 9, 2022


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 9, 2022

The first modern circus was held in London on January 9, 1768. The next one kicks off today in the big building downtown with a gold dome.

Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled, “Common Sense” on January 9, 1776. The pamphlet is considered to have united colonists to the cause of American independence.

Lyman Hall, one of three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence, was elected Governor on January 8, 1783.

Georgia voted for George Washington for President on January 7, 1789. Technically, they elected Presidential Electors who would later meet in Augusta and cast their ballots for Washington.

On January 7, 1795, Georgia Governor George Matthews signed the Yazoo Act, passed after four land companies bribed members of the General Assembly to vote for legislation selling more than 35 million acres of land for less than 2 cents per acre.

Herman Talmadge was sworn-in to his second term as Governor of Georgia on January 9, 1951.

Segregated seating on Atlanta buses was held unconstitutional by a federal court on January 9, 1959.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter arrived in Athens to register at the University of Georgia on January 9, 1961.

Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich (R) was re-elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 7, 1997. In the election for a second term, nine Republicans voted against the incumbent Speaker.

On January 8, 2007, R.E.M. was announced as an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here’s REM at their induction into the Rock Hall.

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, debuted the iPhone on January 9, 2007.

On January 8, 2014, Atlanta Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were announced as incoming members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Columbus, Georgia native Frank Thomas, a long-time Chicago White Sox outfielder.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Today, the Georgia Circus Maximus General Assembly begins their 2023 Session, with the House gavelling to order at 9:30 and the Senate at a more leisurely 10 AM.

Governor Brian Kemp proclaimed today “Hunker Down Day,” according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Athens native and University of Georgia graduate announced in a Sunday proclamation that Monday would be declared ‘Hunker Down Day’ in Georgia.

The name comes from a line by legendary play-by-play announcer Larry Munson, referencing the Georgia defense in a pivotal situation. Kemp issued a similar proclamation ahead of last year’s title game between Georgia and Alabama, urging football fans across the state to wear red and black in support of the Bulldogs.

“In 2022, Georgians were invited to wear red and black on the day of the national championship and were rewarded with their first title in over 40 years,” Kemp said in the proclamation. “Now, with a new breed of Bulldog ready to take the field of battle, let us all once again rally behind the men who now wear the red and black and, as the great Larry Munson once said, ‘Hunker it down one more time.’”

The Savannah Morning News asks, “How does the Georgia General Assembly do its work?” Hold a moment for my answer.

Georgia lawmakers open their annual legislative session Monday, Jan. 9, at the Georgia Capitol. The first day will be a short one, with many members of the House and Senate planning to attend the College Football Playoff national championship game, pitting the Georgia Bulldogs against Texas Christian. The kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Once the athletic competition ends, the legislative one begins. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to submit his draft of the 2023-2024 budget before the end of the first week. The governor, who won a second term in November, will also deliver his State of the State address on Thursday, laying out his top legislative priorities.

The House is led by a speaker, elected each session by the majority party. Republicans hold the majority in the House, with 101 members. Effingham County’s Jon Burns is expected to be elected speaker, succeeding David Ralston, who resigned from the House late last year due to health reasons and died in November. Burns previously held the House’s majority leader post.

The Senate is controlled by the GOP as well, with 33 members. Unlike the House, the Senate’s leader – the lieutenant governor – is elected by voters in a statewide election. Republican Burt Jones won a four-year term as the lieutenant governor in the 2022 election. The top-ranking senator is the Senate president pro tempore, who like House speaker is elected by the majority party. Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon) will assume that post.

Legislative measures are filed by members and assigned to committees for review. The House has 38 standing committees; the Senate has 28. Legislation must be passed by committee before it can go before the full chamber. Even committee-approved measures must be reviewed and passed by another committee, Rules, before going to the floor for debate.

It’s a pretty good explainer by the Savannah Morning News, but it neglects to mention the role of the all powerful Rules Committees and their Chairs.

My answer is that the General Assembly does its work slowly and deliberately until it does the rest with rapidity and the appearance of reckless abandon.

WTOC interviews the new Speaker of the House, State Rep. Jon Burns (R-Effingham County).

As House Majority Leader, Burns won the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Speaker David Ralson. Two days after Burn’s nomination, Ralston passed away.

“He was my Speaker for many years now, a dear friend and trusted leader,” said State Representative Burns.

When asked, “What are the main issues you feel the House and the General Assembly need to be looking at in 2023 and beyond?”

Burns said, “continue to make Georgia the number one place in the nation to live, work, and raise a family.”

While he will continue to represent parts of Effingham and Bulloch Counties and serve in Southeast Georgia’s delegation, he must also take a broader approach.

From the Associated Press via AccessWDUN:

“You get a lot more done in life, and certainly in government, if you’re amenable to other people’s positions, their viewpoints,” Burns told The Associated Press on Thursday. “And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a laugh while you’re working.”

Republicans in November nominated Burns, their majority leader since 2015, as the long-term successor to the late Speaker David Ralston. Ralston had become a towering figure in state government by the time he died in November.

He said he wants to provide continuity with Ralston’s term, projecting a conservatism that shies away from ideological excesses while maintaining a Republican majority against increasing Democratic strength.

Burns said he “won’t have any problem making a decision,” but said he may move more slowly than Ralston did because his “style is to bring in the different viewpoints.”

“It’ll be much more inclusive, but much of it will be the same,” Burns said, crediting Ralston’s mentorship.

Burns has cruised to reelection without a Democratic challenger since 2010. In part that’s because of his district’s strong Republican tilt. But Tony Chiariello, Democratic Party chairman for Effingham County, said Burns has also won over some Democratic constituents as a strong supporter of public schools.

“Jon Burns is a very good politician, and he has made some very good friends among the Democrats in Effingham County, including in the African American community,” Chiariello said. “I don’t vote for Jon Burns, but I think he’s a decent fellow.”

In the House, he developed a reputation for a willingness to help anyone, regardless of party or seniority. Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Dacula Republican and incoming House majority leader, said he stopped into Burns’ office to seek help on an issue when Efstration was a new member who “didn’t even know where the bathroom is” and Burns was chairman of the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee.

“He was just so welcoming and gave me a warm offer of assistance,” Efstration said. “He really helped me talk through the issue that was on my mind and pointed me in the right direction.”

Minority Democrats say that while they don’t get everything they want from Burns, they have found him to be upfront and fair.

“He’s always been accessible and friendly,” said Rep. Al Williams, a Democrat from Midway. “When he could help, he would. When he couldn’t, he was honest and would tell you so.”

From the AJC:

In a political climate often dominated by showboating and incendiary rhetoric, Burns, 70, is unassuming and down to earth, they said. A consensus builder and a listener, he stresses his roots as a farmer and small business owner at home among the cornfields and pine trees of Effingham County.

“I’m just an old country boy,” he said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

When a seat opened up on the board of the state Department of Transportation representing the 12th Congressional District, local legislators tapped him.

The post brought him to Atlanta for meetings, and sometimes afterward he would cross the street to the Capitol to watch state legislators in action. He liked the fast pace and the chance to make a difference, so when state House districts were redrawn he ran for a new district along the South Carolina border encompassing Screven County as well as portions of Bulloch and Effingham counties

Burns arrived at the Capitol in 2005 as part of the wave that flipped the Georgia House, giving Republicans full control for the first time since Reconstruction. It was an exciting time to be in the GOP. After decades in the minority, Republicans flexed their political muscle, approving a waiting period for abortions (Burns voted in favor) and pledging to usher in an era of fiscal conservatism.

One of the big questions at the Capitol now becomes, how will Burns lead the chamber at a time when the state is growing more diverse?

Dan Snipes, a Statesboro lawyer who has worked for Burns, said he believed the style of the new speaker would resemble that of the old speaker.

“He doesn’t have an extreme bone in his body,” Snipes said. “He is a principled, classic conservative.”

Five days before the start of the 2023 legislative session Burns still hadn’t moved into the speaker’s office. There were no photos or keepsakes on the walls; a few chairs and tables were scattered about haphazardly. A nameplate with Ralston’s picture still welcomed visitors to the office.

“It’s bittersweet,” Burns said of the circumstances that have brought him here, taking over for an old friend.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

With the Georgia Bulldogs vying for their second straight college football championship on Monday night and Thursday’s inauguration of Gov. Brian Kemp for a second term, there won’t be a rush to get down to legislative business on the session’s front end.

But once the ceremonies have been dispensed with, new legislative leaders have been elected, and committee assignments are in place, the General Assembly will take up an agenda likely to include mental health, public safety, tax policy, education funding, electric vehicles, and the perennial debate over legalizing gambling.

A highlight of last year’s legislative session was a lengthy overhaul of the state’s mental health-care delivery system championed by the late House Speaker David Ralston. The goal this year is to build on the success of that measure.

Legislators are more likely to introduce smaller, individual bills this year to address problems with mental health services in the state, said Roland Behm, chairman of the board of the Georgia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Kemp, too, is looking to build on his first-term success in the public safety arena. At the height of campaign season last October, the governor unveiled a second-term platform that calls for increasing penalties for gang members who recruit minors.

Taking aim at criminal justice system reforms that include the granting of no-cash bail, Kemp also wants to require judges to consider a defendant’s criminal history when issuing “own-recognizance” bonds.

Along with public safety, Kemp also built his successful reelection campaign around cutting taxes. He backed two bills last year that provided a $1.1 billion tax refund, which quickly appeared in checks to Georgia taxpayers, and a longer-term measure that will reduce state income tax rates starting next year.

This year, the governor is calling for another $2 billion in tax relief, a $1 billion income tax rebate and a $1 billion property tax rebate.

A bumper crop of first-year legislators will join the General Assembly today, according to the AJC.

This year’s annual legislative session will begin by swearing in 53 new representatives and senators — more than one-fifth of the total of 236 lawmakers.

It will also include an election for Georgia’s incoming speaker of the House after the Republican majority nominated state Rep. Jon Burns, who will succeed Speaker David Ralston, the nation’s longest-serving state House leader before he died in November.

The new faces at the Capitol will help form the most diverse General Assembly in state history, with at least 83 nonwhite members, including Black, Hispanic, Asian American, Afro Latino and Arab American legislators.

The General Assembly changed so much because several veteran legislators ran for higher office, Democrats gained three seats, and a redrawn political map shuffled officials into new districts following the 2021 reapportionment.

Republicans still hold significant majorities, having won 101 of 180 state House seats and 33 of 56 state Senate seats in November’s elections.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov.-elect Burt Jones will be inaugurated Thursday, starting their four-year terms. Kemp won reelection over Democrat Stacey Abrams, and Jones, a former state senator, defeated Democrat Charlie Bailey after Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan declined to run again.

Much of the first week’s work will involve deciding on chairman and chairwomen of Senate and House committees that oversee the $33 billion state budget, taxes, education, agriculture, elections, public safety and transportation.

One powerful committee chairman has already been named by House leadership: state Rep. Matt Hatchett will take over the Appropriations Committee, replacing longtime Chairman Terry England, who didn’t seek reelection.

State Rep. Anne Allen Westbrook (D-Chatham County) begins her first Session today, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Anne Allen Westbrook had no idea she would be running for Georgia House District 163 again so soon after a narrow loss in the 2020 Democratic primary. Only 19 votes, confirmed through a hand recount, sent Derek Mallow to the Georgia General Assembly.

“I really felt like once I lost in 2020, he’ll be in that seat for 10 years and probably, by that time, I won’t be interested in doing this again,” Westbrook said over matcha tea one week before the 2023 legislative session was set to begin.

During the Democratic primary in May,  Westbrook won 20 of the 27 precincts in the newly redrawn House district by building upon the networks she forged during the 2020 contest. She ran unopposed in November.

When she heads to Atlanta this week, she’ll be among 66 women serving in the Georgia House of Representatives; 48 of those women are Democrats. And for the first time in history, the Chatham County delegation will include two women – Westbrook and Edna Jackson (D-165), for whom Westbrook worked as a community liaison last year.  Westbrook will also be one of the rare women with school-age children to serve in the Legislature, long a bastion of wealthy and retired men.

Of the six Deep South states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina), only two rank in the top half of states with women serving in their legislatures: Florida (11) and Georgia (22). The other four states rank in the bottom 10.

State Senator Shelly Echols (R-Gainesville) will also serve her first day in the General Assembly, according to the Gainesville Times.

“I taught government and U.S. history, so I’ve always loved (politics), but I’m an introvert and so having to be on in public all the time is just not something that I ever thought of,” she said. “I really always assumed my husband would be into politics, and I’d be the first lady supporting him, so it’s funny to see that we got that one wrong.”

Echols, R-Alto, just wrapped up a four-year term on the Hall County Board of Commissioners, where she represented District 3 in East Hall. She is now transitioning into the second phase of her political career under the Golden Dome.

She is succeeding Butch Miller for the state senate’s District 49 seat after winning her election in November. In her campaign announcement, she pledged to “champion pro-life policies, protect our Second Amendment rights, fight for less government, and never cave to the radical left and their cancel culture.”

As a state senator, she wants to reign in state spending and return money to taxpayers.

“Right now, there’s a lot of money being collected in the state,” she said. “Tax revenue is up significantly and so when there’s more money, more hands are out asking for the handouts. And I just think that we have to be mindful in not making the budget larger because we have more money right now. Because if we have a depression or another economic downturn like we did in 2010, 11, 12, then the money’s not going to be there to fund all this that we’re funding right now, and it hurts to make those cuts. So I think that that money should be returned to taxpayers instead of the state spending it for taxpayers.”

“In meeting people now in the Senate and in the legislature, they’ll say, ‘Which seat are you taking?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, I’m replacing Butch Miller,’ and they’ll say, ‘Oh, my gosh, what a personality.’ And he’s so well known for that. So there’s a lot of pressure there to remain true to who I am but also know that that’s what people loved about Butch, and I certainly want to honor him and all the people who have held the seat before him.”

Legislation on gender and sexuality may be discussed in the circus general assembly, according to the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald.

Republican leaders haven’t signaled a strong appetite for such measures in what has become a politically competitive state. Gov. Brian Kemp endorsed some causes last year, like banning transgender boys and girls from playing on the school sports teams matching their gender identity, during the heat of a GOP primary fight where Kemp was trying to avoid being outflanked.

There’s also a narrowed Republican majority in the state House, where the party will hold 101 of 180 seats after two special elections are complete. Any bill needs 91 votes to pass the chamber. And even some Senate Republicans, usually the cockpit of social conservative legislation in Georgia, are signaling a low interest in such fights.

But action on abortion could still be coming, focused on abortion pills. A bill that failed in the closing moments of the session last year would have required a woman to get an in-person exam from a Georgia physician before the doctor could prescribe her abortion pills. It’s part of a nationwide push by anti-abortion groups to keep physicians from sending out abortion pills by mail after telemedicine consultations.

Getting that bill passed is the top goal of anti-abortion forces in Georgia this year. Urgency has only gone up after Tuesday, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized a rule that makes it easier for pharmacies to dispense the pills in-person and online.

“The abortion industry is shifting a complex, emotional medical decision into a mail-delivery service and removing the doctor from the equation,” the Georgia Life Alliance said in a statement.

Supporters of abortion rights want lawmakers to keep their hands off. “The abortion pill is a safe and effective way to expand abortion access,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia said this week.

From WSAV in Savannah:

“Having gone through several years of very expensive runoff elections, it would not surprise me if the assembly how we process and do we go to instant runoff voting,” said State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna.

“With the uptick in violent crime, public safety will get the lion’s share of this session,” said State Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Columbus. “Of course education and even though our revenues are up and be as successful as we are.”

State lawmakers say casino gambling, mental health funding, and how to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic will also dominate budget talks.

From the Albany Herald:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, violent crimes spiked, particularly in larger cities across the state and the country. But small towns are not immune to both violence and property crimes.

“It has become pervasive through the state, especially in those neighborhoods that are very poor and in our urban communities and our rural communities,” state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims said. “We have seen crime spike in surprising areas.”

Locally, Dougherty County and the rural counties in Sims’ District 12 need help to bolster the number of prosecutors and public defenders needed to efficiently move cases through the court systems so that criminals can be convicted and imprisoned so they don’t linger on the street to continue preying on residents, she said.

Dougherty County also is in line for a fourth Superior Court judge, and approving and funding that position could help in adjudicating cases more quickly.

“We also have the white collar crimes,” Sims said. “It’s not just the low-level gang-banger we’re dealing with. We’re also having to prosecute people who are very sophisticated in what they do.”

The state also needs to invest in hiring additional personnel for the “swamped” Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime laboratories that examine and process evidence for use in criminal prosecutions, said state Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert.

“We find that there will be a great emphasis on crime,” he said of the upcoming legislative session. “We’ve had more shootings of police officers this year than ever before. The violent crimes are up in rural and urban areas.”

Georgia’s motor fuel tax suspension expires Tuesday just before midnight, according to 13WMAZ.

Georgia’s gas tax suspension comes to an end Tuesday, January 10.

You’ve been saving about 20 to 30 cents a gallon since the governor enacted the suspension last march.

So, if you need to fill up this week, you may want to visit a gas station before Tuesday.

To be precise, the suspension ends at 11:59 PM on Tuesday, January 10th, one minute before midnight. So you don’t need to fill up before Tuesday, but before Wednesday.

Western Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez (D) announced the hiring for former Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke (D) as a Special Assistant DA, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

David Cooke was the former district attorney for the Macon Judicial Circuit, where he served for two terms until he was defeated in the 2020 election by Anita P. Howard.

Cooke, who served as a Democrat, has more than 20 years of legal experience and specialized in the prosecution of sex crimes and homicides, according to the DA’s Office.

The special assistant’s job is not a full-time position, according to the office, but the position will be held by Cooke through 2023.

Hall County State Court Judge B.E. Roberts, III announced he will retire, according to the Gainesville Times.

Hall County State Court Judge B.E. Roberts III will retire Feb. 1, leaving an open spot on the bench to be decided by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Roberts also presided over the Veterans Treatment Court program, an accountability court program seeking to address veterans’ substance abuse issues and trauma to reduce recidivism.

The Judicial Nominating Commission opened the application process Jan. 5 for Roberts’ seat.

Members of the state bar can nominate themselves or others until Jan. 14.

Information on submissions can be found at

Georgia Democrats reelected U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams (Atlanta) as their state party Chair, according to AccessWDUN.

The State Committee delegation of the Forsyth County Georgia Democratic Committee participated in the Democratic Party of Georgia’s State Committee Meeting and Officer Elections at the IBEW Auditorium in Atlanta.

In addition to Williams’ reelection, incumbent Congressional District 6 chair Melissa Clink was also reelected by the Congressional District 6 State Committee to another four-year term.

Other incumbents that were reelected include: Secretary Justin Holsomback, Treasurer Jason Esteves and Vice Chair of Congressional District Chairs Sarah Todd.

Lorenzo Heard will be sworn in today as the first African-American Chair of the Dougherty County Commission, according to WALB.

While he has no previous local government experience, he said that won’t stop him from serving the Albany community.

“I think God has well-equipped me to lead,” he said. “I just thank everybody for an opportunity to serve and my goal is to make sure that when my time and tenure is up, that somebody will say that a major difference has been made.”

The official swearing-in ceremony will happen Monday at 10 a.m. in the commission chamber.

The Tybee Alliance is again suing the City of Tybee Island over Short Term Vacation Rental (STVR) regulation, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Tybee Alliance, which formed at the height of the STVR debate last year, filed its second complaint against the city on Nov. 28, about two months after their first lawsuit, according to Chatham County Superior Court records.

The second suit claims that the city did not follow local and states rules when adopting the latest amendments to their STVR ordinance during an Oct. 13 council meeting. In the complaint, the Alliance states the city did not provide the ordinance in its final form during its second reading and that council made oral revisions.

Meanwhile, the first suit declares that aspects of the STVR ordinance are unenforceable because the law violates state codes limiting municipal powers on enforcement.

The Lowndes County Board of Elections will meet Tuesday, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

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