Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 9, 2024

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for July 9, 2024

On July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read aloud to General George Washington’s troops at the parade grounds in Manhattan.

President Zachary Taylor died of cholera on July 9, 1850. Millard Fillmore was sworn in as the 13th President of the United States on July 10, 1850.

On July 9, 1864, Confederate troops retreated across the Chattahoochee River from Cobb County into Fulton County. Upriver, Sherman’s troops had already crossed and moved toward Atlanta.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

First Lady Jill Biden visited Columbus yesterday, according to WTVM.

Jill Biden landed at Columbus Metropolitan Airport around 5:15 p.m. July 8.

She is launched President Joe Biden’s outreach to veterans and military families program during the campaign swing through these three battleground states.

According to the Biden Campaign, the program is to help inform and mobilize communities to re-elect the President to continue to quote, “delivering for our troops and their families.”

However, some say the idea is also to shift the conversation away from growing concerns for the 81-year-old Democratic president.

After the first lady’s arrival in the Fountain City, she made a stop at the Bibb Mill Event Center to speak.

Many Columbus residents and state representatives coming to see her launch President Joe Biden’s outreach to veterans and military families.

First Lady Biden spoke about what President Biden has accomplished so far.

“For our veterans, he expanded reproductive healthcare including access to IVF, and as Gloria said, he signed the pact act to get veterans the benefits that they deserve, and he expanded counseling and launched 988 to help end veteran suicide,” she said.

During the campaign swing through battleground states, drawing contrasts with her husband’s Republican rival, as the Biden team works to shift the conversation away from growing calls for the Democratic incumbent to drop his reelection bid.

State representatives and democrats who came out today standing behind President Biden.

“And I’d rather have a smart person leading this country than someone who has shown this country that he doesn’t care about us like January the 6th let’s not forget that if there’s no other reason to go out and vote for President Biden is the fact that the other guy he’s not about America he’s about himself,” said Georgia state representative Teddy Reese.

“He deserves to stay there And I’m supportive of that I’ve known him for over 20 years I know he’s a very kind man,” said the Democratic Party chair, Vivian Creighton Bishop.

“Ohh, I think it’s, I think it’s great that he’s made clear he’s in it to the end, but there’s no doubt what he wants to do, and he’s definitely going to do it, so I’m fully supporting him,” said Georgia state representative Doug Stoner.

From the Ledger-Enquirer:

First Lady Jill Biden criticized former President Donald Trump and emphasized her husband’s support for veterans in a 10-minute speech in Columbus Monday.

The first lady visited Georgia and, along with veterans and military families, gave a speech at the Bibb Mill Event Center to a crowd of supporters. She took the stage just after 6 p.m. and reiterated that President Joe Biden will stay in the race despite recent scrutiny and calls to drop out, some coming from within the Democratic party.

“For all the talk about this race, Joe has made it clear that he’s all in,” she said. “That’s the decision he has made. And just as he’s supported my career, I’m all in too.”

Fans of the former president stood outside the venue as Jill Biden arrived, chanting and holding signs in support of electing Trump.

Supporters chanted “Let’s go Trump, let’s go.” About 65 people were in the crowd.

From Georgia Recorder:

State Sen. Ed Harbison, who is a Columbus Democrat who joined the first lady on stage Monday night, said Democrats who are questioning whether Biden should be the nominee are losing sight of the goal.

“To those people who have concerns about it, I would just like to reassure them to get over it, get focused and get going,” Harbison said before Monday’s rally. “It’s too late to do anything that would be a drastic change like that. That’s just impractical.”

“Let’s go ahead, get it done and get moving. Get over it. One debate does not a campaign make,” he said.

Former Georgia Congresswoman Carolyn Bourdeaux is an example of the rare Georgia Democrat who has said Biden should step aside. But others have voiced unease with the trajectory of the 2024 presidential election with Biden at the top of the ticket.

Biden narrowly won Georgia in 2020 by about 12,000 votes, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win here in three decades and cementing the state’s battleground status. Polling has so far given Trump a slight edge in Georgia.

“For me, I feel like it’s so important to have someone in that office who is honest, and I think he’s honest,” state Rep. Debbie Buckner, a Junction City Democrat, said of Biden.

From the AJC:

His comeback strategy in Georgia, where he trails Trump by single-digits in most polls, hinges on Black voters, the same constituency that helped rescue his candidacy in 2020 after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire during primary season.

Not so long ago, media reports were full of critical coverage about whether Black support in Georgia was waning. While those concerns haven’t dissipated, Black elected officials remain the most important bulwark of Biden’s support.

“If they have to wheel him in or carry him in, I will still vote for him,” said state Rep. Billy Mitchell, a prominent Black legislator. “He’s been a great president. There’s no reason to abandon him.”

From the AJC’s Politically Georgia:

Biden turned to a bastion of support as he fought for his political life, holding a Zoom call with members of the Congressional Black Caucus late Monday that was to include three Georgia Democrats: Reps. Sanford Bishop of Albany and Hank Johnson of Lithonia, along with Sen. Raphael Warnock of Atlanta.

Every Democrat in Georgia’s congressional delegation has publicly said he or she supports Biden as the party’s nominee, and all except U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff are members of the CBC.

Johnson said before the call that Biden’s poor debate performance in Atlanta was not reason to turn away from him.

“Presidents are not hired because they are great debaters,” he said. “Presidents are hired because we expect them to govern our country, and they have the knowledge and the wisdom and experience to do so. And President Biden has done just that.”

Dr. Cornell West submitted petitions to be placed on Georgia’s presidential ballot as an independent candidate for President, according to the AJC.

Independent candidate Cornel West’s campaign said Monday that it submitted more than four times the signatures needed to secure a spot on Georgia’s November ballot and join other little-known candidates who could play an outsized role in the battleground state.

West’s campaign said it far surpassed the 7,500 signatures from registered Georgia voters needed to qualify for the ballot ahead of a Tuesday deadline to submit the documents. He won’t be formally granted a spot on the November slate until state officials verify the signatures.

Libertarian Chase Oliver is already on the November ballot, and independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is also expected to gain a spot. And Claudia De la Cruz, running on the Party for Socialism and Liberation, has also submitted signatures to state officials.
Barring a seismic political upheaval, none will capture Georgia. But all could serve as potential disruptors in a tight race between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in Georgia, which was decided by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020.

West’s shoestring campaign has hardly garnered attention in Georgia and other competitive states. But Democrats fear West will drain votes that would otherwise go to Biden and strengthen Trump’s bid to flip Georgia back to the GOP column.

Georgia State House Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington) appointed members to the “Special Subcommittee of Appropriations on State Prisons,” according to 13WMAZ.

The subcommittee will be led by Dublin’s member of the state house, Rep. Matt Hatchett.

The group came together shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp’s announced an in-depth, system-wide assessment of the state corrections system.

“The General Assembly has placed significant emphasis on improving the safety, security and conditions of our state-operated corrections facilities,” Burns said in a press release. “With Governor Kemp’s ongoing assessment of Georgia’s prisons, we want to ensure we are prepared to take immediate action when subsequent recommendations and appropriations requests are delivered in January or during the interim. I look forward to the work of the committee and its support of efforts to restore law and order to Georgia’s prison system.”

Several higher members of government, including Sen. Jon Ossoff recognized that Georgia’s state prisons are not where they should be.

“It is apparent that Georgia state prisons are and have been dangerously mismanaged, jeopardizing the lives and safety of inmates and prison staff,” Ossoff said. “This is an urgent public safety and civil rights crisis.”

The chair, Hatchett from Dublin, didn’t volunteer for the role — Burns placed him in the chairman position — but he’s eager and ready for the task of improving the state’s prisons.

“I think we have a duty to do that,” Hatchett said. “I’m looking forward to seeing improvements that we might need to make that we can make sure happen.”

Hatchett wasn’t fully sure why he was chosen, but believes that Burns chose him because he’s in “the right position.”

He also recognized that, while there are issues in the prison, he said that Kemp, senators like Ossoff and the government as a whole are making the right strides to make prisons and the community safer.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle:

More than 3,500 assaults between inmates occurred in state prisons between 2021 and last year, according to state prison data, while 98 inmates were killed during that time.

“The General Assembly has placed significant emphasis on improving the safety, security and conditions of our state-operated corrections facilities,” Burns, R-Newington, said Monday.

“With Governor Kemp’s ongoing assessment of Georgia’s prisons, we want to ensure we are prepared to take immediate action when subsequent recommendations and appropriations requests are delivered in January or during the interim.”

The new subcommittee will be headed by Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, who chairs the full House Appropriations Committee. The panel will include five Republicans and two Democrats.

From the State House website:

Members:
• Rep. Matt Hatchett – Chair
• Rep. Leesa Hagan
• Rep. Bill Hitchens
• Rep. Scott Holcomb
• Rep. Alan Powell
• Rep. Bill Werkheiser
• Rep. Al Williams

State legislation to address home squatters went into effect in April, according to the Macon Telegraph.

House Bill 1017, also known as the Georgia Squatter Reform Act, was signed by Governor Brian Kemp and immediately took effect April 24, 2024. The new act, which differs from previous laws, is designed to protect property owners from unauthorized occupants and strengthens penalties for violators.

Squatting is “entering and residing on someone else’s property without the owner’s knowledge or consent.” There are distinctions to be made between squatting and trespassing, and even further differences for holdover tenants, which are tenants who once held a lawful lease but have stopped paying rent.

While squatters are technically trespassing, to be charged under the new laws, an individual must occupy a property for an extended period of time.

• Law enforcement can now issue a citation to suspected squatters, giving them three days to provide proof of legal occupancies or vacate the property.

• If documents are provided, a non-jury trial must be held within seven days in Magistrate court to determine the legitimacy of the documents.

• Failure to provide documentation could result in arrest for criminal trespass.

• The removal process is now faster which makes it more efficient for property owners to regain possession.

An audit of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office found better compliance, according to the AJC.

The latest audit found that the secretary of state’s office no longer conducts business with its own employees, as it did when Chief Operating Officer Gabriel Sterling temporarily quit his government job to become an independent contractor responsible for the rollout of Georgia’s new voting equipment in 2020.

Sterling’s pay increased from his $114,000 government salary with benefits to $200,000 pay as a contractor without benefits.

The report by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts last week also concluded that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office improved documentation requirements for federal grants, and it began participating in the state government’s purchasing card program. Employees are no longer allowed to use personal credit cards for business expenses, which auditors have said raises the risk of fraud and abuse.

“The secretary of state’s office applauds the integrity of its staff who work hard every day to navigate outdated bureaucratic policies and redundancies in order to get the government out of the way so that hardworking Georgians can thrive,” said Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

“Since our 2022 report, the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) has taken steps to address findings related to compliance with state purchasing requirements and federal grant requirements,” the audit said. “Further action is needed to ensure federal reporting and inventory requirements are met.”

The Georgia State Election Board is considering rule changes, according to the AJC.

The board will review nine proposed rules Tuesday — most of them sought by Republican voters and party officials — such as standards for verification of vote counts, absentee ballot mail tracking and election certification.

With a 4-1 Republican majority, including new board member and conservative media pundit Janelle King, the State Election Board could vote to move forward with the rule proposals or scuttle them four months before Election Day. Rules couldn’t be finalized until next month.

The board in May called for a team of monitors to ensure that Fulton County, which includes the heavily Democratic core of Atlanta, follows all state election laws and regulations.

The monitor team must be approved by the State Election Board, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the Fulton election board, and Fulton would be responsible for its roughly $100,000 cost.

Athens-Clarke County Superior Court Senior Judge J. David Roper will hear a motion in the litigation over a recall petition seeking to oust Mayor Kelly Girtz, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

One of the issues set for review at the hearing is a request from James DePaola, the Winterville conservative firebrand spearheading the recall, to close a July 26 proceeding to the press and public so as to allow an unnamed witness to testify anonymously.

In a notice regarding the two hearings, filed with the court on Sunday, Judge J. David Roper sets a high bar for DePaola’s request to be honored. Roper, the retired senior judge from outside the local judicial circuit assigned to hear Girtz’s petition challenging the recall, instructs that DePaola “… must demonstrate on the record by clear and convincing proof that closing the (July 26) hearing to the press and the public is the only means by which his right to a free and fair trial or other asserted right can be avoided.”

In the filing, DePaola describes the witness only as “… a willing witness who is a retired Public Servant.” Information from another filing in the case appears to identify the witness as an Athens-Clarke County resident but lists a fictitious address and telephone number.

Girtz’s original petition challenging the recall named only the Athens-Clarke County government as a respondent, based largely on the mayor’s assertions that the local government’s elections office failed to notify him that certain milestones in DePaola’s recall effort had been reached.

Among Girtz’s contentions is that he did not get a timely notification of the issuance of a recall application to DePaola, that he was never notified the recall application had been filed with the elections office for verification of signatures, and that he did not receive notification of an elections board meeting where the recall application was discussed.

Savannah City Council will host meetings to discuss their proposed property tax millage rate, according to the Savannah Morning News.

In the City of Savannah that kicks off this week, with public hearings on its proposed millage rate at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on July 11 at City Hall. A third public hearing is scheduled at 2 p.m. on July 25. The city is proposing to maintain its current millage rate of 12.2 mills.

“We make sure that we are engaging properly but also funding the things that we need to fund,” said Mayor Van Johnson at a recent press conference.

Due to a 10.9% increase in property assessment values in Savannah, maintaining the current rate will result in about a 9% increase in property taxes over the rollback rate. The rollback is required by Georgia law to calculate the millage rate which would produce equal tax revenues to the previous year.

This year’s rollback rate is 11.196 mills.

The Columbia County Board of Education will announce their proposed property tax millage rate, according to WRDW.

District officials are still working and waiting to hear from the public before they set the rate for the upcoming year.

On Tuesday, there will be two public hearings on a tentative millage rate for the school district.

Officials say the rate will be lower than last year.

Murray County Sole Commissioner Greg Hogan renewed an agreement with a transit agency, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Murray County Sole Commissioner Greg Hogan recently renewed an agreement with the North Georgia Community Action Agency to provide public transportation from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025. The local 50% operating match is estimated at $301,014, plus a 10% local match of $11,846 for bus replacements.

Murray County Transit is the county’s public transportation service. It provides non-emergency transportation services to the senior center, grocery stores, medical appointments and other destinations.

Democrat Patti Hewitt, running against U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) supports the proposed speed limit for large ships designed to protect Right Whales, according to The Brunswick News.

“Let’s stop playing word games and address our problems before it’s too late,” said Patti Hewitt, the Democrat challenging the re-election of U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, the Pooler Republican running for a fifth term in the Peach State’s 1st District seat.

Hewitt described Carter’s legislative maneuver to freeze a rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect right whales from vessel strikes as mere delay tactics.

NOAA wants to expand its 11.5 mph speed limit cap to include vessels 35 to 65 feet in length when North Atlantic right whales are present. The whales migrate annually from the cold waters off New England to the warmer southern waters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida, calving grounds for the mammal.

The expanded speed limit restriction, which already applies to larger vessels, would remain in effect for close to six months off Georgia’s coast.

The Georgia Ports Authority and the commercial fishing industry in general oppose the expanded rule. Environmental groups, including the Georgia Conservancy, support it.

Carter and Hewitt will square off in the Nov. 5 general election and during the weeks of early voting leading up to it.

Columbus City Council member Tyson Begly is leaving his seat, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

The council appointed him in April 2023 to replace John House, who resigned from the citywide District 10 seat to spend more time with his ailing wife. Begly agreed to follow the custom for appointed councilors to not run for the seat when it came up for election. The custom is in order to avoid having an unfair advantage as an unelected incumbent against other candidates. Travis Chambers defeated John Anker in last month’s runoff to fill the position.

Begly considered himself as a trustee while on the council.

“To me, the idea of just tallying (the opinions he received from constituents), like, ‘Well, here’s what a lot of people told me, so I need to vote (a certain way),’ that doesn’t work,” he said. “A lot of times we didn’t’ hear from anyone on a topic. So to be consistent, I felt like I’ve got to view myself as a trustee, the person who is empowered to make the best decision based off all the information I have, all the research and listening to the concerns of the constituents.”

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care
Begly referred to that quote, credited to Theodore Roosevelt, when explaining a key component to being an effective councilor.

“You’ve really got to get out there and meet people,” he said. “… There were people who had never met me before, and they were instantly hesitant. But I got coffee with them, gave them a few phone calls, and after replying to their emails, they’re like, ‘All right, this guy’s responsive.’ Then we can have a real dialogue. … So building that one-on-one relationship with everyone is very tough.”

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