Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 18, 2022

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 18, 2022

The greatest political journalist to ever put pen to paper, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, was born on July 18, 1929. That makes today “Gonzo Day.” You have been warned.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for a third term at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago on July 18, 1940.

President Harry S. Truman signed the second Presidential Succession Act on July 18, 1947

The original succession act designated the Senate president pro tempore as the first in line to succeed the president should he and the vice president die unexpectedly while in office. If he for some reason could not take over the duties, the speaker of the house was placed next in the line of succession. In 1886, during Grover Cleveland‘s administration, Congress removed both the Senate president and the speaker of the house from the line of succession. From that time until 1947, two cabinet officials, (their order in line depended on the order in which the agencies were created) became the next in line to succeed a president should the vice president also become incapacitated or die. The decision was controversial. Many members of Congress felt that those in a position to succeed the president should be elected officials and not, as cabinet members were, political appointees, thereby giving both Republican and Democratic parties a chance at controlling the White House.

In 1945, then-Vice President Truman assumed the presidency after Franklin Roosevelt died of a stroke during his fourth term. As president, Truman advanced the view that the speaker of the house, as an elected official, should be next in line to be president after the vice president. On July 18, 1947, he signed an act that resurrected the original 1792 law, but placed the speaker ahead of the Senate president pro tempore in the hierarchy.

On July 18, 1988, the Democratic National Convention opened at the Omni in Atlanta. That night, actor Rob Lowe would shoot a videotape in a hotel with two hairdressers, one 22 and one 16. Several weeks later, the era of the celebrity sex tape began.

On July 18, 2000, United States Senator Paul Coverdell died of a cerebral hemorrhage. I remember where I was when I heard the news.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Some Sandersville residents say Jesus is the solution to increasing violence, according to WJBF.

The Washington County community came together Saturday morning with one purpose in mind: a solution to violence they say begins with Christ.

“I am heartbroken, but in me I also feel a hope and a desire for a better tomorrow. That the people in this world will remember that while we are in this world, we are not of it,” event speaker said.

“Today, I want to encourage all of you here today that together we can stop this violence,” Washington County minister said.

Washington County Sheriff Joel Cochran says his goal is to help strengthen the community.

“As a leader in our community I just feel it’s incumbent of me to help bring peace, bring harmony, and provide comfort for our community,” Washington County Sheriff Joel Cochran said.

“But if we open our hearts and open our arms to one another, and show one another grace, then we can begin the healing process,” event speaker said.

Sheriff Cochran says he hopes for one thing:  “You know, we can, turn this, turn this curve around as some of the speakers spoke today. You know, it’s it’s our goal to save lives and prevent others from being hurt and we’re going to do that– we’re gonna do it together,” Sheriff Cochran said.

Slow your roll this week, state law enforcement will be actively working traffic, according to AccessWDUN.

Law enforcement in five southeastern states will spend the next week cracking down on roadway violations as part of “Operation Southern Slowdown.”

Previously known as ‘Operation Southern Shield, ‘ officers in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee will coordinate their efforts from July 18-24.

“The majority of people driving in a safe and legal manner should not have to worry about their safety from selfish drivers who show no regard for their safety and the safety of others with their disregard for speed limits and other highway safety laws,” Allen Poole, Director of the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety said in a press release. “Georgia is once again ready to work with our friends in our neighboring states to protect all road users by putting these dangerous drivers on the shoulder of the road and issuing them a ticket.”

Federal data shows a 2% decrease in traffic deaths in the five states during the campaign compared to the week prior. There was also a 14% reduction in speed-related crash fatalities.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) is considering seeking national attention testimony from former President Donald Trump, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

The Georgia prosecutor investigating potential criminal interference in the 2020 presidential election is considering requesting that former President Donald Trump testify under oath to a grand jury, while several people already subpoenaed as part of the probe have received letters informing them that they’re at risk of being indicted.

The developments underscore the accelerating nature of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ investigation and the key decisions that may lie ahead for prosecutors who for more than a year have been scrutinizing efforts by Trump and his allies to undo his election loss in Georgia.

Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for Willis, told The Associated Press that Willis is considering subpoenaing Trump to testify before a special grand jury. Such a demand would almost certainly trigger an immediate court fight, including potentially over Trump’s constitutional protections against self-incrimination. Yahoo had reported earlier Friday that Willis is considering requesting Trump’s testimony.

Meanwhile, some people who had been subpoenaed have subsequently received so-called target letters, according to a person familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Prosecutors generally issue such letters to inform people they’ve been investigating that they have developed evidence against them and that they’re in jeopardy of being criminally charged.

Fulton DA Fani Willis is also asking a federal appellate court to return litigation challenging Georgia’s “Heartbeat bill” back to the federal trial court, according to CBS46 via WRDW.

In a letter filed on behalf of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Friday, Willis is asking the United States Court of Appeals For the Eleventh Circuit to send Georgia’s “heartbeat law” back down to the lower courts.

In the document submitted by Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, it says, “As such, while District Attorney Willis did not assert any affirmative claims in the underlying litigation, District Attorney Willis believes that this case should be returned to the lower court to allow the parties the opportunity to address the merits of the claims in a post-Dobbs context.”

The filing goes on to say, “District Attorney Willis does not believe that Dobbs has an impact on those aspects of the Judgment that addressed vagueness in the challenged law.”

“Right now, the consensus among constitutional law people is that this should be a quick turnaround,” said Darren Hutchinson, Emory University law professor.

From the AJC:

We’re watching the fallout from the bombshell development last week that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has informed state Sen. Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, he could face criminal charges for his role as a phony GOP elector in 2020.

Jones’ campaign filed a motion seeking to disqualify Willis from the case because she hosted a fundraiser for Bailey’s LG bid after Jones won the GOP nod in May.

Bailey and Willis worked together as assistant district attorneys in former Fulton DA Paul Howard’s office. Willis’s office said the endorsement has nothing to do with the focus on Jones, but Jones’ campaign vehemently disagreed.

“This is clearly a politically motivated attack from the same District Attorney who just weeks ago hosted a political fundraiser for Burt’s opponent,” said Jones spokesman Stephen Lawson. “Burt is more than happy to perform his civic duty and answer questions—but not from a prosecutor with such blatant conflicts of interest.”

The Associated Press found no widespread issues with ballot drop boxes during the 2020 elections, according to AccessWDUN.

The expanded use of drop boxes for mailed ballots during the 2020 election did not lead to any widespread problems, according to an Associated Press survey of state election officials across the U.S. that revealed no cases of fraud, vandalism or theft that could have affected the results.

Drop boxes are considered by many election officials to be safe and secure, and have been used to varying degrees by states across the political spectrum. Yet conspiracy theories and efforts by Republicans to eliminate or restrict them since the 2020 election persist. This month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled that drop boxes are not allowed under state law and can no longer be widely used.

In response to the legislation and conspiracy theories surrounding drop boxes, the AP sent a survey in May to the top elections office in each state seeking information about whether the boxes were tied to fraudulent votes or stolen ballots, or whether the boxes and the ballots they contained were damaged.

None of the election offices in states that allowed the use of drop boxes in 2020 reported any instances in which the boxes were connected to voter fraud or stolen ballots. Likewise, none reported incidents in which the boxes or ballots were damaged to the extent that election results would have been affected.

Of the states responding to the survey, 15 indicated that drop boxes were in use before 2020 and 22 have no limits on how many can be used in this fall’s election. At least five states take the extra step of setting a minimum number of drop boxes required.

Georgia Republicans say their changes have resulted in drop boxes being a permanent option for voters, requiring all counties to have at least one. But the legislation, which includes a formula of one box per 100,000 registered voters, means fewer will be available in the state’s most populous communities compared with 2020.

In other news, the Associated Press polled burglars who said burglary is not a problem in their states.

Governor Brian Kemp named Nora Polk to a vacant seat on DeKalb County Superior Court, according to the AJC.

Polk, a Decatur resident, has served DeKalb County’s Magistrate Court since 2010, including the past six years as supervising magistrate judge. Prior to that, she founded her own law practice and was an attorney at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, according to a press release.

Polk has also worked as a trainer and curriculum committee co-chair for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and as a member of the Georgia Association for Black Women Attorneys. She has served on the Atlanta Technical College Advisory Board and the Decatur Cooperative Ministry Board, as well as being a lay leader at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church.

Democrat Stacey Abrams spoke in Baconton on Saturday, according to WALB.

“She will bring jobs to the rural community. It’s a rural route of the Baconton area. So that’s really good for my business as far as bringing in new people,” [Vontessa] Brown said.

“Stacey is here instead of being in Atlanta. It makes me feel really good that she came here. We need to come out and vote and support Stacey Abrams,” Brown said.

“I spend so much time in South Georgia because I want everyone here to know that I am answerable to you. If I have a chance to be governor, I will be the governor for all of Georgia. Especially, for those who felt left out and left behind,” said Abrams.

“It’s a dream come true. She might be the next governor of Georgia. By her taking time out to come to a small rural Georgia, it means a lot,” [Baconton Mayor Annette] Morman said.

“We need caring people in the state houses. I do believe that she will carry our programs and support funding and Medicaid for those different programs,” Morman said.

She also believes that Abrams will make her community safer. She said Abrams will attract more businesses to Baconton through her healthcare initiative.

State Senator Jen Jordan (D-Greater Smyrna/Vinings/Atlanta area) campaigned for Attorney General in Albany, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, who is the Democratic nominee for attorney general, … recently was a witness for the Fulton County grand jury investigating efforts in the state to interfere with the 2020 presidential election.

“I thought at the time it was just a protest,” said Jordan, who was in Albany on Friday for several events, including a round table on mental health. “It just colors everything differently when you begin to realize what was going on behind the scenes in D.C. … to see how Georgia fits into the larger picture, or the bigger scheme. It’s really troubling.”

“The last five years, I think it’s just become more partisan (and) not in the usual ideological way,” Jordan said. “It’s either you’re with Trump or you’re not, is the dichotomy. It seemed like the state officials were more concerned with pushing the president’s agenda than doing their job.”

“Part of my running is to try to restore trust and make government work for people,” said Jordan, who has represented Senate District 6, which stretches from Dodge County to affluent Buckhead, since 2017. “Everybody’s kind of in their box. That’s got to change. The prime example is what happened on Jan. 6.

“What’s interesting about the office is it does a lot,” Jordan said. “One of the things is the department defends state officials when they’re sued. It’s also about issuing opinions — if a law is constitutional or not. Businesses will ask for opinions.

“It’s also about being accessible to people and being people-oriented. The focus should always be the people of the state. I think what many elected officials forget is they have the power because of the people who elected them.”

Representing a district that includes one of the poorer counties in the state as well as some of the state’s most affluent residents also has been a valuable experience, the candidate said.
“I’ve worked really hard for my district,” Jordan said. “I think my district is one of those districts where whoever you (candidate) are, you’ve got to run. For me, it’s about working as hard as I can for everybody, no matter what their political persuasion is.”

It’s not clear to me whether the Albany Herald reporter is referring to Fulton county or Cobb County as “one of the poorer counties in the state.”

Fulton County has the second-highest per capita income in Georgia and Cobb is number five. Dougherty County is #71, so still in the top half, but hardly a place that can call Fulton or Cobb “poorer.”

Gwinnett County will require masks for employees effective today, according to AccessWDUN.

Visitors will not be required to wear masks, but they will be highly encouraged to do so. But Mask requirements in courtrooms will be up to individual judges.

County administrator Glenn Stephens said in a press release that the requirement is meant to protect county workers.

“For two and a half years, our employees have adapted to provide running water, safe roads, emergency response and other critical services to residents,” Stephens said. “It is imperative that we keep our workforce safe to continue to deliver the superior quality services our residents expect and deserve.”

Cobb County Board of Education members approved a new gun policy, according to the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald.

Georgia’s second-largest school district on Thursday approved a policy allowing some employees who aren’t certified police officers carry guns in schools, but excluded teachers from those who can be armed.

The 4-2 vote by suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County school board split along partisan lines as opponents including gun control activists shouted “Delay the vote!” and “Shame!”

Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told board members before the vote that the district only has 67 officers currently for its 114 schools, and that competition to hire police officers is intense.

“If the board gave me a blank check and said go hire a school resource officer for every school in Cobb County, I could not do that,” Ragsdale said.

The policy would have originally allowed teachers to be approved to carry weapons if they had “unique qualifications,” but Ragsdale removed that part of the proposal. Teachers would not be allowed to carry guns.

“I am not in favor of arming teachers. However I am in favor of investigating all options so we could hire retired military, retired law enforcement,” Ragsdale said.

The policy says that people would have to be trained, and Ragsdale pledged that they would undergo much the same training as certified school resource officers. He said there would also by a psychological evaluation and that school district Police Chief Ron Storey would get final say on approvals. As per state law, no employee could be penalized for refusing to carry a gun. Their names and all other records would be kept secret.

“As a parent, the last thing I want to think about is more guns at my daughter’s school or any other type school,” [Democratic nominee for State School Superintendent Alisha Thomas Searcy] said during a public comment period. “I certainly agree that there’s a need for more caring adults in our school, but not ones who carry guns and aren’t police officers.”

Dalton City Council will vote tonight on a tax incentive for a new hotel, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Dalton City Council is set to vote Monday on an agreement that would provide almost $1 million in tax increment financing for a hotel in downtown Dalton.

The hotel, named The Carpentry, is being developed by businessman Kasey Carpneter and is planned for the site of a former bank building at the corner of the 200 block of West Cuyler Street opposite of both of Carpenter’s restaurants, The Oakwood Cafe and Cherokee Brewing + Pizza Company. Carpenter had originally planned to renovate the bank building, but he said as he got further into planning he found it made more sense to tear the building down and construct a new building. The bank that stood at that site was the Community and Southern Bank.

Because the project is in the downtown tax allocation district (TAD), it is eligible for tax increment financing. TADs freeze the value at which a property can be taxed for general revenue. Taxes collected on additional value created by improvements to the property are dedicated to pay for infrastructure, public artwork or other amenities to attract a developer or developers to that area.

In December 2018 Carpenter reached an agreement with the city and the city school system to finance the hotel. That agreement called for Carpenter to finish the hotel on or before Dec. 31, 2019. Since Carpenter did not finish the hotel by that date, the deal expired and Carpenter had to apply for a new deal.

Henry County public schools will likely collect more property taxes despite keeping the same property tax millage rate, according to the AJC.

The proposed millage is at 20 mills, the rate it has been since 2007, the county said. Revenue, however, has been growing because of higher property values.

From the Henry Herald:

The school system’s millage rate of 20 mills will not change; however, due to the increase in property values, 20.67% or $35.3 million more in taxes will be collected as compared to the previous year.

The Henry Herald also looks at the county government property taxes.

When the board approved the fiscal year 2023 budget in May, Financial Services Director David Smith said it was built based on the current 12.733 millage rate. Because the county’s tax digest increased an estimated 13.38%, property owners will pay more in taxes in 2023.

The millage rate, or property tax rate, means for every $1,000 of assessed value, homeowners will pay $12.733.

In order to maintain the same level of taxes paid in 2022, a reduction of the millage rate would be required, which the county is not expected to do.

The BOC is expected to adopt the fiscal year 2023 millage rate on July 26.

Lawrenceville appears poised to adopt the current year millage rate for the next fiscal year, according to the AJC.

Lawrenceville’s property tax rate is expected to stay the same, a Wednesday announcement said.

A millage rate of 2.228 is expected to be adopted again later this month.

“Lawrenceville remains in a strong financial position for continued growth, with new initiatives to create a more vibrant community for our citizens.”

Even if the tax rate remains flat, property owners whose property has increased in appraised value will pay more in taxes.

In early July, the city passed a $172 million annual budget, a 17% increase over the previous year.

United States Senator Jon Ossoff (D-Atlanta) spoke at a solar cell manufacturer in Dalton, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, on Friday lauded Hanwha Qcells’ $171 million expansion of its facility in the Carbondale Business Park in southern Whitfield County.

The expansion, he said, will provide “nearly 500 good-paying jobs in solar manufacturing for North Georgia. And this facility, which is the No.1 producer of solar modules in the Western hemisphere, is now nearly doubling its capacity with this historic investment.”

The expansion is expected to create 470 jobs.

The new facility will produce 1.4 gigawatts of solar modules each year. It will bring Qcells’ total capacity in the U.S. to 3.1 gigawatts, which the company said is equivalent to one-third of America’s solar module manufacturing capacity. The existing facility, which opened in 2019, produces 12,000 panels a day.

“This is about Georgia’s national and global economic leadership,” said Ossoff. “I’m grateful to Qcells, and I’m confident we can attract more investment to Georgia and establish Georgia as a leading site for manufacturing jobs, renewable energy and high-tech investment.”

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Extreme Northwest Georgia) has a nearly 3:1 fundraising advantage over her Democratic opponent, according to the Rome News Tribune.

U.S. Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, is still spending money faster than she’s taking it in, but she’s heading into the campaign season with more than $2.6 million in the bank.

Her Democratic opponent, Marcus Flowers, reported close to $900,000 cash on hand in his July quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission through June 30.

The district covers all of Floyd, Chattooga, Polk, Paulding, Gordon, Catoosa, Dade, Murray, Walker and Whitfield counties along with a southwest section of Cobb County. More than 74% of its voters in the primary pulled a Republican ballot.

Savannah City Council approved a $6.2 million dollar solar contract, according to WJCL.

The 25-year contract is expected to provide the city with net savings of $30,000 a year, but that’s not all.

Alderman Nick Palumbo said, “We get three new roofing systems out of it provided by the contractor and workforce training and development that’s offered by this contract as well. So it helps build stronger, more resilient communities and saves tax dollars at the same time. It’s a win-win.”

The agreement with Cherry Street Energy pays for the installation, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of the solar panels.

From GPB News:

“This is a remarkable and historic day for the City of Savannah,” Alderman Nick Palumbo said. “We stand poised to become the largest municipal solar provider in the entire state today.”

The agreement with Atlanta-based Cherry Street Energy provides for the installation, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of solar panels, which the city says will provide net savings each year for the next 25 years.

The first year of usage is expected to save more than $30,000 in energy costs — a reduction of about 3% from 2021’s costs — with those savings expected to increase each year.

The panels will be installed at no upfront cost, under a Solar Energy Procurement Agreement (SEPA). Authorized by the Georgia legislature in 2015, SEPAs allow some solar energy providers to provide financing. Under the law, SEPA entities are not considered to be electric service providers, and so do not violate utility monopoly protections.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said that the solar panels will help the city achieve its goal of meeting 100% of its electricity needs with renewable energy sources by 2035.

Savannah City Council approved an agreement to move forward with a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) with Chatham County and its other municipalities, according to WTOC.

The City of Savannah is looking to get more than $143 million from TSPLOST.

The TSPLOST or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax will fund 5 years of infrastructure projects.

The agreement between the county and local municipalities passed tonight six to three.

The agreement still has to be approved by the county.

Taxpayers will have the final say when it’s on the ballot in November.

From the Savannah Morning News:

Following council’s 6-3 approval of the vote, the city’s TSPLOST wish list goes to the county to be added to a package that includes projects from other municipalities as well as the county government. Voters will have the ultimate say on TSPLOST, with a referendum appearing on the midterm ballot in November.

Mayor Van Johnson and council members Bernetta Lanier, Detric Leggett, Nick Palumbo, Linda Wilder-Bryan and Kurtis Purtee voted to approve the project list, which is part of the intergovernmental agreement, or IGA, necessary for the TSPLOST process to move forward.

Thursday’s approval was for an intergovernmental agreement between Chatham County and the eight municipalities within the county lines, which outlined the projects Savannah’s piece of the pie would fund.

Earlier this year, all but one of the municipalities in Chatham County submitted project lists and signed agreements to participate in TSPLOST, should it pass. Savannah was the only holdout.

The City of Savannah backed away from supporting the tax due to the lack of a commitment to county-wide public transportation from several other municipalities.

But now, a provision for that is included in the IGA’s Programs and Purposes section, which Melder said would require other municipalities to at least consider a countywide expansion on a yearly basis.

The section reads, in part, “County and Municipal TSLPOST support will include the appropriate consideration of transit-supportive infrastructure such as sidewalks and shelters as well as partnership funding to leverage grants for system expansion, fleet and operations sustainability including EV, and a keen focus on connecting all of Chatham County.”

Some Savannah protesters called for Mayor Van Johnson to resign, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Community members, clergymen and out-of-town activists converged on Carver Village in west Savannah to call for widespread reform within the Savannah Police Department — and for the resignation of Mayor Van Johnson — in response to the June 24 killing of Saudi Arai Lee, who was shot by a Savannah police officer in broad daylight.

Protestors called out the mayor’s lack of response after five Black men were shot and killed by police officers in Savannah this year. Lee was the sixth man shot by police in Chatham County this year.

“The mayor don’t do anything about reforming his police department,” Elder James Johnson said at the pre-march press conference, in a parking lot at the intersection of Gwinnett Street and Stiles Avenue. “Then he needs to resign or he needs to be voted out. Just as simple as that.”

Chants proclaiming that “Van’s got to go” rang through the humid morning air on Saturday as a group of eight protestors walked more than two miles from Carver Village to City Hall, with a caravan of 20-plus protestors riding behind them.

Richmond Hill homeowners face rising property tax costs, according to WTOC.

A Richmond Hill council member said they’re not calling this move is not an increase in the city’s millage rate, but rather a necessary step to keep city services going amid rising prices.

City officials say the millage rate will remain the same as last year at 4.132 mills. But residents could see a small increase in their property taxes.

Officials say it isn’t because of anything the city is doing, but it’s a result of rising inflation and skyrocketing home values.

According to numbers provided by the city, the average Richmond Hill home valued at $250,000 with a homestead exemption would see a $15 increase. And a house without the homestead exemption would see a $35 increase.

“We’re trying to cope with inflation. We’re trying to cope with $4 a gallon gas and that eats into the budget. And that gas, for example, is used to provide services to the residents. It’d be a matter of us cutting back on some services or having the homeowner pay a little bit more in property tax based on inflation and the rate of increase in property value,” Richmond Hill council member Steve Scholar said.

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