Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 12, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 12, 2023

The first Georgia-Florida war game weekend began on June 12, 1740, as Georgia founder James Oglethorpe led 400 soldiers landing opposite the Spanish fort at St. Augustine.

The Virginia Convention adopted George Mason’s “Declaration of Rights” on June 12, 1776. From Wikipedia:

The Declaration was adopted unanimously by the Fifth Virginia Convention at Williamsburg, Virginia on June 12, 1776 as a separate document from the Constitution of Virginia which was later adopted on June 29, 1776. In 1830, the Declaration of Rights was incorporated within the Virginia State Constitution as Article I, but even before that Virginia’s Declaration of Rights stated that it was ‘”the basis and foundation of government” in Virginia. A slightly updated version may still be seen in Virginia’s Constitution, making it legally in effect to this day.

It was initially drafted by George Mason circa May 20, 1776; James Madison assisted him with the section on religious freedom.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights heavily influenced later documents. Thomas Jefferson is thought to have drawn on it when he drafted the United States Declaration of Independence in the same month (June 1776). James Madison was also influenced by the Declaration while drafting the Bill of Rights (introduced September 1789, ratified 1791), as was the Marquis de Lafayette in voting the French Revolution‘s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

The importance of the Virginia Declaration of Rights is that it was the first constitutional protection of individual rights, rather than protecting only members of Parliament or consisting of simple laws that can be changed as easily as passed.

On June 12, 1924, George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts.

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke in then-divided Berlin and challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 12, 2023

Former President Donald Trump spoke at the Georgia Republican Convention in Columbus on Saturday, according to the Associated Press via the Ledger-Enquirer.

Former President Donald Trump on Saturday blasted his historic federal indictment as “ridiculous” and “baseless,” saying in his first public appearance since the charges were unsealed that the 37 felony counts were an attack on his supporters as he tried to turn legal peril into political advantage.

Speaking at the Georgia Republican Convention, Trump cast his indictment by the Department of Justice as an attempt to hurt his chances of returning to the White House as he campaigns for a second term in office.

“They’ve launched one witch hunt after another to try and stop our movement, to thwart the will of the American people,” Trump said, later adding, “In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you.”

“Trump is a fighter, and the kinds of people that attend these conventions love a fighter,” said Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who supported Trump’s White House campaigns in 2016 and 2020.

“The ridiculous and baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration’s weaponized Department of Injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country,” Trump told Georgia Republicans.

Kari Lake, a Trump loyalist who lost the governor’s race in Arizona last year, used her speech to Georgia Republicans on Friday night to repeat Trump’s false claims of a rigged 2020 election and she suggested that the indictment was another way to deny him the presidency.

“He’s doing so well in the polls that they decided they can’t stop him. So what do they do? They indict him on completely bogus charges,” Lake said. “The illegitimate Biden administration wants to lock our beloved President Trump for more than 200 years. Wow.”

From the Ledger-Enquirer:

At 10 a.m., three blocks from the convention, approximately 10 NAACP officials and supporters gathered at the Ninth Street steps of the Columbus Government Center for a news conference announcing their condemnation of city and GOP officials for allowing Trump to speak.

“By allowing Trump, an individual under indictment with questionable character, to speak at a community event sends a message that the community tolerates and even condones unhealthy behaviors and unethical actions,” said NAACP Columbus Branch president Wane Hailes.

Allowing Trump to speak, Hailes said, “sends a message that the community prioritizes winning or gaining short-term benefits over morality and ethics” Hailes concluded, “It is our hope that speaking up can also raise awareness about the consequences of tolerating unhealthy and unethical behaviors and inspire positive changes and accountability within our community.”

“We just want to show people here for the convention that this state is not a solid bloc for Donald Trump,” said Ilene Kent, who got the protest permit from the Columbus Police Department and invited others on Facebook to join her.

“We want them to know that they don’t own this town, and we’re still a blue dot in the state, and we’re going to get bluer and bluer in another couple of years,” Kent said of Columbus, which usually votes Democratic in a typically red state.

At 1:36 p.m., a group of approximately 100 Trump supporters greeted the former president as his private plane landed at the Flightways Columbus airport.

Muscogee GOP chair Carmen Rice told the Ledger-Enquirer in a text message that Trump’s speech “sparked hope and resolve, as always. He does that quite well. The weaponization of our judicial system seems to have strengthened his campaign.”

Rice was thrilled to be at the packed convention while the former president spoke. “The room had people farther than the eye could see,” she said. “There was energy and excitement beyond words.”

Trump visits Columbus Waffle House

As the motorcade entered the parking lot, a crowd of about 50 people greeted Trump. Also emerging from an SUV was U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who joined Trump inside the Waffle House.

Supporters stood shoulder-to-shoulder as Trump and Greene schmoozed with them. Trump shook hands, made a reference to “fake news” being there, and a woman told him, “Keep fighting the good fight.”

Trump told the crowd, “We’re having waffles for everyone — a lot of people, a lot of waffles.”

Delegates elected former state Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus native now residing in Atlanta, as chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.

From another story in the Ledger-Enquirer:

“We’re not living in normal times,” U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told the delegates. “We’re not living in a just country run by a just government. We’re living in very dangerous times.”

Greene was referring to the federal indictment of former President Donald Trump, who leads polls among GOP candidates for the 2024 election, compared to the FBI investigation of alleged bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden.

“I don’t care how you feel about President Trump,” Greene said. “You need to understand that what they’re doing to President Trump is exactly what they will do to any one of us when they deem us a threat.”

From the Current:

“He doesn’t back down,” said Kandiss Taylor, chair of the 1st District GOP and former gubernatorial candidate. “He isn’t a coward.”

Trump said, its out-of-control prosecutors bent on denying him election to another four-year term in the Oval Office.

“I think [President] Joe Biden is trying to jail his leading political opponents and opponents,” he said, “just like they do in Stalinist Russia, or communist China. No different.”

Wesley Cox of St. Simons said the roughly 5,000 people who crammed into the hall, most of whom were white and north of age 50, believe the former president, who is scheduled to appear in a federal court in Miami on Tuesday, a day before he turns 77.

“I think that the entire hall was 100% behind President Trump,” Cox said. “They’re aware of the fact that this is a politically motivated attempt by a sitting president, the first in U.S. history, to eliminate his chief rival.”

“Our country’s going to hell,” he said, citing Atlanta, without evidence, as “about the most dangerous city in the country.”

From the AJC:

In an interview on his plane after the campaign stop, Trump told Politico he would continue his campaign for president even if he was convicted on the federal charges lodged against him this week.

“I’ll never leave,” Trump told the outlet. “Look, if I would have left, I would have left prior to the original race in 2016. That was a rough one. In theory that was not doable.”

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote about the indictment of Trump:

Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, his indictment by President Biden’s Justice Department is a fraught moment for American democracy. For the first time in U.S. history, the prosecutorial power of the federal government has been used against a former President who is also running against the sitting President. This is far graver than the previous indictment by a rogue New York prosecutor, and it will roil the 2024 election and U.S. politics for years to come.

But it’s striking, and legally notable, that the indictment never mentions the Presidential Records Act (PRA) that allows a President access to documents, both classified and unclassified, once he leaves office. It allows for good-faith negotiation with the National Archives. Yet the indictment assumes that Mr. Trump had no right to take any classified documents.

This doesn’t fit the spirit or letter of the PRA, which was written by Congress to recognize that such documents had previously been the property of former Presidents. If the Espionage Act means Presidents can’t retain any classified documents, then the PRA is all but meaningless. This will be part of Mr. Trump’s defense.

In the court of public opinion, the first question will be about two standards of justice. Mr. Biden had old classified files stored in his Delaware garage next to his sports car. When that news came out, he didn’t sound too apologetic. “My Corvette’s in a locked garage, OK? So it’s not like they’re sitting out on the street,” Mr. Biden said. AG Garland appointed another special counsel, Robert Hur, to investigate, but Justice isn’t going to indict Mr. Biden.

As for willful, how about the basement email server that Hillary Clinton used as Secretary of State? FBI director James Comey said in 2016 that she and her colleagues “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” According to him, 113 emails included information that was classified when it was sent or received. Eight were Top Secret. About 2,000 others were later “upclassified” to Confidential. This was the statement Mr. Comey ended by declaring Mrs. Clinton free and clear, since “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

This is the inescapable political context of this week’s indictment. The special counsel could have finished his investigation with a report detailing the extent of Mr. Trump’s recklessness and explained what secrets it could have exposed. Instead the Justice Department has taken a perilous path.

The charges are a destructive intervention into the 2024 election, and the potential trial will hang over the race. They also make it more likely that the election will be a referendum on Mr. Trump, rather than on Mr. Biden’s economy and agenda or a GOP alternative. This may be exactly what Democrats intend with their charges.

And what about the precedent? If Republicans win next year’s election, and especially if Mr. Trump does, his supporters will demand that the Biden family be next. Even if Mr. Biden is re-elected, political memories are long.

It was once unthinkable in America that the government’s awesome power of prosecution would be turned on a political opponent. That seal has now been broken. It didn’t need to be. However cavalier he was with classified files, Mr. Trump did not accept a bribe or betray secrets to Russia. The FBI recovered the missing documents when it raided Mar-a-Lago, so presumably there are no more secret attack plans for Mr. Trump to show off.

The greatest irony of the age of Trump is that for all his violating of democratic norms, his frenzied opponents have done and are doing their own considerable damage to democracy.

Georgia state revenues were down for the third consecutive month in May, according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

The state brought in $2.49 billion in tax revenue in May, a decrease of $205.7 million, or 7.6 %, compared to May of last year. However, year-to-date net tax receipts remained up slightly, by 0.2%, over the first 11 months of fiscal 2023.

The drop-off in tax collections last month was largely due to a 23.4% decrease in individual income taxes, driven primarily by a huge 119.3% increase in refunds issued combined with a 63.8% reduction in payments.

Net sales tax receipts actually rose 2.2% in May compared to May of last year.

Corporate income taxes also increased by 38.6% last month, with refunds down and payments up.

The state’s chief economist, Jeffery Dorfman, predicted in January that state tax revenues were likely to drop sharply this year because last year’s huge increase in capital gains tax payments was unlikely to be repeated. However, the state still is expected to finish the fiscal year at the end of this month with a healthy budget surplus built up during the last several years.

Georgia removed more than 1500 residents from Medicaid as the Department of Community Health undertakes to “unwind” some Covid-era changes, according to the AJC.

Georgia has cut off Medicaid health insurance for more than 1,500 people after reviewing its first small batch of 12,526 enrollees to make sure they’re still eligible.

The state also appears to be running behind schedule on the work of reevaluating all of the 2.8 million Medicaid beneficiaries, and has been short of the workforce it needs to complete the case reviews by next year.

The state’s Medicaid rolls soared as the annual requalifying requirements were suspended during three years of the pandemic emergency. Georgia, like other states, is now asking all beneficiaries to re-apply, and reviewing cases to weed out those who no longer qualify.

If the initial numbers released Friday are any guide to what lies ahead, the number disenrolled marks the first drop in a much larger well of people who are about to lose their Medicaid health insurance.

The state appears to be running behind on the review work, which was due to be finished by June 1 for the first batch. More than a third of the first 12,000 cases have not been completed.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services said 100 of the 550 new caseworker positions it’s trying to fill to do the Medicaid work remain open. She added that they welcome applicants.

The first batch of reviews was a baby step. From here on out, each monthly batch that will need to be re-qualified is expected to number more than 200,000 cases. Georgia is giving itself about a year to re-qualify all 2.8 million Medicaid recipients in the state.

Macon-Bibb County Sheriff David Davis announced he will run for election to a fourth term, according to 13WMAZ.

“We’ve done some extraordinary things working together, and we’re going to make this community stronger and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said.

He says now, the Sheriff’s Office has a better grip on the deputy shortage recruiting and hiring more since raising the starting salary.

He’s also seen growth in technology and innovation.

He says the Sheriff’s Office is a leader in criminal intelligence with now four intel analysts and new tech like ShotSpotter, security camera systems and flock cameras.

He says if elected for another term, he wants to see Bibb County move closer to building a new jail during this next SPLOST.

Sheriff Davis is the first candidate to announce they’re running for Bibb County Sheriff.

The primary is next May. The general election is scheduled for November.

Sheriff Davis also announced the county will install an additional 150 surveillance cameras, according to the Macon Telegraph.

A new computer and camera system being installed by the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office will scan the license plate of every car on busy roads — and alert deputies if the car was involved in a crime locally or in other Georgia counties.

The sheriff’s office will install about 150 cameras with a $1.6 million grant, Sheriff David Davis said Thursday. The money will cover the program for three years.

The cameras from technology company Flock Safety read license plates and take photos of cars, then scan databases to check if a vehicle has been involved with crimes. Deputies are alerted only if the plate matches with a crime report in the database, a Flock spokesperson told the Telegraph earlier this year.

The cameras raised privacy concerns in other communities when they were installed. Davis, much like other agencies using Flock, said the cameras are used only for pre-existing crimes.

“Hardly anybody now, no matter where they are, is not on some type of camera or surveillance system,” Davis said of privacy concerns. “This will only be used in cases where we have a drive-by shooting, an armed robbery, where you have an Alzheimer’s patient who is missing.”

The $1.6 milllion grant for the cameras, part of $83 million distributed Thursday by Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, comes in addition to the Bibb sheriff’s office receiving over $55 million of the Macon-Bibb consolidated budget this year. It is projected to receive more than $56 million next year in Mayor Lester Miller’s proposed 2024 budget.

The Liberty County Sheriff’s Office will use a federal grant to buy new equipment, according to WTOC.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced $83.5 million in community public safety grants this week. It’s made possible through American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Chief Deputy Al Hagan says the funding will go toward things the department has needed for quite some time, like communication radios in their patrol cars.

He said it’ll be used to purchase 72 radios for patrol vehicles, as well as six flock cameras throughout the county – these help spot license plates on suspect cars or missing persons.

Deputies have previously relied on hand-held radios and their cellphones as a backup to communicate with each other. Now, the new car radios will expand their ability to reach a fellow deputy while on the job.

“We want to see our officers go home to their families safely. Not having that could be the difference. So, we fight every day to make sure that we get their needs taken care of, and the wants, we’ll work for that at some point. This is a true need and we’re elated about it,” Chief Deputy Hagan said.

Athens-Clarke County will also receive a law enforcement grant, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is among numerous law enforcement agencies across the state to receive a grant from the $83 million awarded by Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.

The state awarded Athens-Clarke police more than $1.6 million for recruitment incentives for current employees and the hiring of new employees, according to the governor’s office.

The grant money will be directed at initiatives to enhance recruiting and the retention of employees in the department, according to police.

“Public safety has always been a top priority of my administration and will continue to be,” Kemp said in a statement released with the announcement.

Georgia State Senator Bo Hatchett (R-Cornelia) lauded the law enforcement grants going to local governments in his district, according to AccessWDUN.

Senator Bo Hatchett praised the actions of Governor Kemp Friday following multiple public safety grant awards that were given to Stephens County and the Commerce Police Department.

Earlier this week, Kemp announced preliminary grant awards totaling more than $83.5 million. That money will go towards 118 qualified projects that help to improve community-level public safety measures while also addressing law enforcement staffing issues that reportedly came about due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I appreciate Governor Kemp and his staff for awarding Commerce’s first responders with this grant funding,” Hatchett said. “The Commerce Police Department is extremely deserving of this grant and I look forward to seeing these key initiatives implemented in the coming months.”

The Commerce Police Department is slated to receive $79,310 that will be used to implement modern intelligence-led policing strategies for crime reduction, while enhancing the overall quality of life in Commerce, according to authorities.

Another major recipient of funds is Stephens County, which is set to receive $1,185,156. That funding is planned to be used to provide more deputies on the streets and additional jailers, in hopes of reducing the strain that is currently being placed on staff.

“I’d like to thank the Governor for directing this funding to the first responders of Stephens County,” Hatchett said. “State leadership will continue to support our Law Enforcement, and I look forward to seeing these funds utilized for the safety of families in the 50th State Senate District. These direct resources to our officers help ensure they have the tools and personnel to continue to serve and protect.”

Former State Rep. Terry Barnard will serve his ninth term as Chair of the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Barnard was first appointed to the Parole Board in May of 2010 to fill a vacancy. He received a full, seven-year appointment in December of 2010 and another full appointment in 2017. Barnard was first appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue; the second appointment was made by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Prior to his service on the Parole Board, Barnard served nearly 16 years in the Georgia House of Representatives. It was his knowledge of Georgia’s prison system that led to his first board appointment.

Under Barnard’s leadership, the Parole Board is viewed as a national leader in parole best practices and has maintained a parole success rate of more than 70%, averaging 10-15% above the national average annually.

Georgia Parole Board Members are full-time state employees. The Georgia Constitution provides that the members are to be appointed by the governor to seven-year staggered terms, subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The Board has sole authority over executive clemency in the state to include the granting of paroles, pardons, and commutations including hearing death penalty cases and determining if the death sentence will be commuted to a life sentence.

Bulloch County Commissioners adopted revisions to their Comprehensive Plan to create suburban neighborhoods, according to the Statesboro Herald.

County staff members are planning to have water and sewer systems – the first to be operated by the county government – built to serve these areas and to focus residential and commercial development there. The water system would draw from some of the four wells that Bulloch County officials have informally promised to drill to serve Hyundai Motor Group’s massive Meta Plant America electric vehicle and battery manufacturing complex now under construction in northern Bryan County.

The commissioners’ vote was 6-0, but followed criticism of the map amendment from some residents, most recently one with a degree in watershed science who observed that the suburban neighborhood development area includes a large amount of wetlands. The map was the last item completed in a package of regulatory changes crafted by county staff members and a citizen committee during a 236-day partial moratorium, which expired April 7, on rezoning for subdivisions in the southeastern part of the county.

“With the anticipation, once Hyundai announced, of future growth, we knew that really had to take a look at how we want to grow,” said county Planning and Development Director James Pope. “So the Board of Commissioners authorized a committee that met several times to look at the Future Development Map, as well as the zoning and subdivision regulations.”

“We think that this will balance growth with anticipation of what the demand will be,” Pope said. “We can either rezone in a very low-density way and have a lot of land taken up in larger lots, or what this character area will allow us to do is to focus the growth in maybe a little higher-density, concentrated areas.”

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections is hosting meetings to discuss proposed changes to voting locations, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections is holding two public hearings in regards to the proposed changes to voting locations at six sites in the county.

The changes will not alter the voting districts for residents, according to a news release from Athens-Clarke County.

Any voters affected by a polling location or precinct line will receive a new precinct card at least 90 days before the Presidential Primary on March 12, 2024.

The changes were spurred by a need to relocate the polling sites at Georgia Square Mall and the Transit Multimodal Transportation Center due to issues that include redevelopment and parking issues, according to the news release.

Hall County Commissioners are considering a proposed $411 million dollar budget for FY 2023, according to the Gainesville Times.

Finance Director Wes Geddings presented a current draft of the proposed budget to commissioners at a public hearing Thursday. Top expenditures are public safety in the amount of $61 million (45% of the general fund budget) and general government operations, which amounted to $37 million (27%).

While public safety saw a 7% increase from last year, general government expenditures dipped by about 3%.

The current draft of the budget also includes an anticipated $13.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding, according to county officials.

Geddings told commissioners the “proposed millage rate does not result in a property tax increase as defined by state law.”

The proposed millage rate for general operations and maintenance is expected to be 3.440 mills, a full rollback rate from 4.14.

One mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 in property value, and Hall County taxes property at 40% of its value.

Rome Board of Education members will consider a $77.3 million dollar FY 2023 budget, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The increase was retroactive to January for certified personnel. Starting next January, it’s going to be for everyone. The FY24 budget anticipates an increase of $2,920,491 in health insurance costs overall, which is an increase of 54.9%.

Without that increase, the Rome City school system’s expenditures would actually be down from last year.

Rome, Floyd County, and Cave Spring are working on a project list for their upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord has previously stated that their projections call for between $85 and $90 million in revenue from the one cent tax over five years.

In most cases, a SPLOST can last for a maximum of five years. The current collection started April 1, 2019, and ends March 31, 2024. The new one — if approved by voters — would start the next day.

Traditionally the SPLOST budget is split based on the local option sales tax agreement. This means that Floyd County should receive approximately 53% of the revenue, the City of Rome will receive 45.2% and Cave Spring will receive 1.8%.

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, whatever package is approved must be palatable to voters who are given a simple yes or no vote.

“We have to get people out to vote,” Berry said. “And we need to be aware of what we can get votes for, we can’t ignore what voters themselves want.”

Lula Mayor Joe Thomas is being criticized for his role in delivering mail, according to the Gainesville Times.

Several residents – who are also his political foes – and the city clerk allege Thomas has improperly handled, distributed, or in some cases, withheld mail.

Thomas has denied some of the accusations. He has admitted to others, even calling his method of delivery “excellent service.”

And while the local postmaster says Thomas improperly handled mail, the U.S. Postal Service says he didn’t do anything wrong – while also refusing to acknowledge whether the matter has ever been investigated at all.

A total of four residents ultimately filed complaints with the city against Thomas over missing mail. They now believe he was withholding it as retaliation for trying to remove him from office – an accusation Thomas has vehemently denied.

Also during that time, City Clerk Tangee Puckett filed a complaint against Thomas alleging improprieties involving distribution of city mail.

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