Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 19, 2021


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for March 19, 2021

Lyman Hall was elected to the Continental Congress on March 21, 1775 from St. John’s Parish; the next year he would sign the Declaration of Independence as a representative from Georgia.

On February 19, 1807, Aaron Burr was arrested in the Mississippi Territory, in what is now Alabama. Burr had served as Vice President during the first term of President Thomas Jefferson, leaving the administration after the 1804 election; later Jefferson issued a warrant accusing Burr of treason. Burr spent part of his time on the lam in Georgia.

March 20, 1854 saw a meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin that is generally considered the founding of the Republican Party.

[F]ormer members of the Whig Party meet to establish a new party to oppose the spread of slavery into the western territories. The Whig Party, which was formed in 1834 to oppose the “tyranny” of President Andrew Jackson, had shown itself incapable of coping with the national crisis over slavery.

The Civil War firmly identified the Republican Party as the party of the victorious North, and after the war the Republican-dominated Congress forced a “Radical Reconstruction” policy on the South, which saw the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution and the granting of equal rights to all Southern citizens. By 1876, the Republican Party had lost control of the South, but it continued to dominate the presidency until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

The Georgia State Capitol was completed on March 20, 1889. Ron Daniels, the Poet Laureate of GaPundit, has written an ode to the Gold Dome:

Well I guess it was back in eighteen eighty nine,
When a couple of boys in Dahlonega went down in a mine,
And found it was slap full of gold.
Then these folks in Atlanta wanted to keep growing,
So they told the legislature the Capitol had to be going,
And so those politicos said “Good Bye Milledgeville! Our attorneys will be in touch.”
Now the Capitol had been moved before,
Savannah, Louisville, and more,
They’d even moved it down to Macon on an overloaded poultry wagon.
Atlanta sure wanted to lend the State a hand,
Giving the legislature plenty of land,
Hammers started swingin’ and, boy howdy, they sure were buildin’.
The architect of this here building was feeling bold,
Covering the building’s dome all in beautiful gold,
Leaving the gold mine empty, and leaving someone with the shaft.
Well, Governor Gordon was slap full of delight,
When his eyes did recognize that impressive sight,
On March 20, 1889, a completed Capitol building.
He grabbed the keys and a few words he spoke,
The words he uttered were no joke,
“Boys when you’re hot, you’re hot! Now thanks a lot.”

On March 19, 1916, the first American military air combat mission began in support of an incursion into Mexico under President Woodrow Wilson.

On March 21, 1941, Governor Eugene Talmadge signed legislation establishing the Eastern Standard Time Zone as the only Time Zone in Georgia. Prior to that, Georgia observed two different time zones.

On March 20, 1943, Governor Ellis Arnall signed legislation authorizing a referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution and make the Public Service Commission a Constitutional agency.

On March 19, 1947, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in Thompson v. Talmadge on the “Three Governors Affair.” The Court held that the Georgia General Assembly lacked authority to elect Herman Talmadge as Governor, and that because of the death of Eugene Talmadge before he took office, no successor to Gov. Ellis Arnall was in place until the newly-elected Lt. Governor Melvin Johnson was sworn in and became Governor, succeeding Arnall.

On March 20, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson notified Alabama Governor George Wallace that Alabama National Guard troops would be called up to maintain order during a third march from Selma to Montgomery. Within five months, the Voting Rights Act would be passed by Congress.

On March 21, 1965, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led more than 3000 protesters in a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery.

On March 20, 1970, Governor Lester Maddox signed legislation designating the Brown Thrasher the official state bird, and the Bobwhite Quail the official state game bird.

On March 21, 1980, President Jimmy Carter announced the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

On March 20, 1982, this song was #1 on the Billboard charts:

Pixies released Surfer Rosa on March 21, 1988.

Former Georgia Governor and United States Senator Herman Talmadge died on March 21, 2002.

On March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush announced the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in order to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and eliminate the country’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.

March 19, 2014 was “Bo Callaway Day” in Georgia and flags flew at half-staff in honor of the late Georgia Congressman and former Secretary of the Army.

“Few individuals throughout our history can match the legacy that Bo Callaway left on Georgia politics,” Deal said. “Bo blazed a trail that led to the dramatic growth of the Georgia GOP, which went from virtually nonexistent when he ran for governor to holding every statewide elected office today. Bo stood up for what he believed in even when the odds and the political system were stacked against him. Georgians are all the better for it. Sandra and I send our deepest sympathies to the Callaway family.”

March 19, 2014 was also the first time I wrote about the lack of an “Official State Dog of Georgia.”

Happy birthday to Georgia-born actress Holly Hunter (March 20, 1958, Conyers) and film director/actor Spike Lee (March 20, 1957, Atlanta).

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will be in Georgia today, according to the AJC.

Rather than headlining a political rally highlighting the sweeping aid measure, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will speak with Asian American advocates to condemn racist violence in the wake of the shooting deaths of eight people, six who were women of Asian descent, at spas in the metro area.

The two will also visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at around 2 p.m. to receive an update from health and medical experts, and discuss state and federal legislation on elections with Stacey Abrams, the founder of the voting rights group Fair Fight.

Biden is set to visit the CDC around 2 p.m., followed by a 3:30 p.m. meeting with community leaders at Emory University and 4:40 p.m. remarks at the school. An evening drive-in rally, initially set to be held at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, has been scrapped.

They will arrive and depart via Dobbins Air Reserve Base and PDK airport. I imagine the trip from Dobbins to PDK will be by helicopter. Sounds like a great time to eat a burger at Downwind today, if it were still open.

House Resolution 264 sets the schedule for the rest of the Session.

Monday, March 22 . . . . . . . . .convene for legislative day 36
Tuesday, March 23 . . . . . . . . .convene for legislative day 37
Wednesday, March 24 . . . . . .committee work day
Thursday, March 25 . . . . . . . .convene for legislative day 38
Friday, March 26 . . . . . . . . . . committee work day

Monday, March 29 . . . . . . . . .convene for legislative day 39
Tuesday, March 30 . . . . . . . . .committee work day
Wednesday, March 31 . . . . . . convene for legislative day 40 (SINE DIE)

Governor Brian Kemp ordered flags on state buildings and properties to fly at half-staff in honor of those who died in the spa shootings.

Governor Kemp yesterday toured Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, according to the Henry Herald.

Gov. Brian Kemp and a select group of race fans got a sneak peek Thursday afternoon as to how Atlanta Motor Speedway will host its spring race while protecting attendees against the coronavirus.

This year everything will be contactless, from tickets to paying for food and souvenirs. Lines have been reconfigured and floor stickers will help keep fans 6 feet apart. Handwashing and sanitizer stations have been placed throughout the concourse. Fans will be required to wear a face mask when entering, exiting and in high-traffic areas. They can be removed once ticket holders are seated.

“We’ve built a race plan we know will help keep fans and their families safe,” said AMS General Manager Brandon Hutchison. “We’re glad to have our race back with fans.”

Kemp, who said he’s a longtime NASCAR fan, said he was appreciative that AMS has been able to make the race safe for fans.

“This is what we have to do to protect lives and livelihoods,” Kemp said. He added fans deserve the vacation and relaxation time.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education voted 3-2 along party lines to fire Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The county’s school board members began the process of replacing Wilbanks on Thursday by exercising a clause in his contract that allows it to terminate his employment with at least 90 days notice. Wilbanks’ contract was set to expire in June 2022, and he had already announced that he will not seek an extension on that contract.

Wilbanks’ last day will be July 31.

“In light of the addition of new members to the Board and my decision not to seek another contract, this vote is not surprising,” Wilbanks said in a statement. “While I was prepared to fulfill my contract through June of 2022, recent discussions with the school board made it clear that would not be the case.”

The vote to fire Wilbanks was a 3-2 vote with the three Democrats on the board supporting Wilbanks’ firing while the two Republicans on the board voted against it. Board Chairman Everton Blair, Vice Chairwoman Karen Watkins and board member Tarece Johnson voted to fire Wilbanks, while board members Steve Knudsen and Mary Kay Murphy voted against it.

“I have been a board member for every year of Mr. Wilbanks’ leadership,” Murphy said as she offered her dissent. “During that time, I have known Mr. Wilbanks to be … honest, honorable, humble, hard-working and a visionary leader respected by senators, governors, representatives, business leaders, educators, grateful families and community members.”

“This is a detrimental change without a thorough and transparent search for Mr. Wilbanks’ replacement and a detailed transition plan. It is counter to the world class way the Gwinnett County Public Schools system has operated over the last 25 years under his leadership.”

From the AJC:

“This decision to make this motion was not taken lightly by any of us,” said Watkins, the board’s vice chair, who made the motion. “We are committed to serving the needs of all our students. … I hope our community can embrace different leadership, new leadership that can build upon our past success created by our current superintendent, Mr. Wilbanks.”

Wilbanks, 78, took the reins of Georgia’s largest and most diverse school system 25 years ago. He is the longest-serving superintendent in the country of a large school district.

Blair, who became board chair two months ago, did not publicly explain his position before voting for the buyout. After the meeting, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it was a good time to build on the school district’s successes while investing more in areas that need improvement.

“We’re going to attract some really powerful candidates, so stay tuned,” he said.

This is disgraceful and sacrifices the children of Gwinnett – particularly the ones whose parents can’t afford to move or send them to private schools – for political correctness. This will have an impact for generations of Georgians.

In other “sky is falling” news, the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission warns they may have to raise fees after voters rejected the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on Tuesday, according to The Brunswick News.

Turnout was small, but the opposition to Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2021 got its point across Tuesday by voting down the proposal 53.54 percent to 46.46 percent.

That leaves the four local government agencies that stood to benefit from the one percent sales tax — which was expected to generate $68.5 million over three years — holding the bag. One of those is the JWSC, which was slated to receive $15 million from the penny tax.

Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch is optimistic that county government will not have to raise taxes in coming years, according to the Statesboro Herald.

“Definitely not this year,” he reiterated in an email Thursday. “I don’t foresee it in 2022 or 2023, but you never know what comes up. We could have an unfunded state or federal mandate. There could be demands by county constitutional officers…, demands for service by citizens…, other unexpected events.”

The City of Augusta is moving forward with plans to demolish an old jail, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

House Bill 593, the Tax Relief Act of 2021 by State Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) passed the Senate and heads to Governor Kemp for his signature or veto, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

The tax-cut bill, sponsored by Georgia Rep. Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire, would let Georgians pay less income tax starting July 1 amid a rebound of the state economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, following up on a previous reduction passed in 2019 that lowered the state’s income-tax rate from 6% to 5.75%.

Republican lawmakers had planned to reduce the income-tax rate further last year to 5.5% but paused that move last March as the pandemic took hold, shuttering Georgia businesses and hammering state revenues for months through the summer.

Blackmon, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, framed his tax-cut proposal as a more “modest and measured” cut than what was pitched last year, allowing Georgians “to keep their hard-earned money.”

Blackmon’s bill passed by a 35-15 vote in the Senate nearly along party lines, with Democratic Sen. Jen Jordan of Atlanta voting in favor. It passed unanimously in the House and now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.

Critics said passing a tax break now could cause the state to lose out on millions of federal dollars set to arrive in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package Congress passed last week, owing to a provision barring states from lowering taxes while using the emergency aid money.

Amid Democratic opposition, top state Republicans including Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, have slammed the federal aid package over the penalties for states that seek to cut taxes, as well as the funding formula for Georgia’s share of the relief.

I want to note that Rep. Blackmon won his seat in a 2015 runoff election against Larry Walker, III. Walker would later win a Senate special election, and was the Senate co-sponsor of the Tax Relief Act. Former election rivals working together to cut taxes for all Georgians represents the best of what we see in politics, and I’m thankful for both these gentlemen, and for all who put aside rivalries or disagreements to do good things.

House Bill 114 by State Rep. Bert Reeves is also headed to Gov. Kemp for signature, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune.

The tax-credit bill, sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, would boost the annual tax credit for new foster parents from $2,000 to $6,000 annually for the first five years after adoption, then drop back to $2,000 per year. The credit would end when the foster child turns 18.

Sen. Bo Hatchett, who carried Reeves’ bill in the Senate and is one of the governor’s floor leaders, said the credit increase aims to encourage more adoptions in Georgia.

“This bill saves the state money, and at the same time this bill offers much-needed support to those families who open their hearts and their homes to children,” Hatchett, R-Cornelia, said from the Senate floor on Thursday.

The number of Georgia children in foster care has declined over the past three years but remains high, according to state Division of Family and Children Services data. The state currently has about 11,200 children in foster care, down from 15,000 in March 2018.

Kemp has made foster care a legislative priority for his administration, along with cracking down on human trafficking and gang activities.

Senate Bill 34 by Senator Clint Dixon (R-Buford) aims to reduce human trafficking and passed the House, headed to the Governor’s office, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune.

The Georgia House of Representatives unanimously passed Senate Bill 34, which would allow victims of human trafficking to petition to change their name without public disclosure.

The bill, introduced by freshman Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, one of Kemp’s Senate floor leaders, passed unanimously in that chamber last month.

The legislation builds on the work of the GRACE Commission, a task force focusing on human trafficking chaired by Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp, state Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, who carried the bill in the House, told his colleagues Thursday.

Senate Bill 221 is a cynical money grab heroic strike for freedom by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Extreme Northwest Georgia) and passed the House, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune.

The state House of Representatives passed the bill 96-69, with lawmakers voting along party lines. Since the Senate approved the measure late last month, it now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

The legislation would create eight so-called “leadership committees” headed by the governor, lieutenant governor and their general election opponents – plus the majority and minority caucus leaders in the Georgia House and Senate. The committees would collect campaign donations ahead of statewide and legislative elections.

“It gives our caucuses the ability to function like the parties do now,” said House Majority Whip Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, who carried Senate Bill 221 in the House.

House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, said the bill would treat Democrats and Republicans the same.

“This bill impacts both parties equally,” he said. “It’s an equal opportunity bill.”

But Democrats said the bill would open the door to political fundraising during General Assembly sessions, a practice that is currently prohibited by state law to discourage lobbyists from seeking to influence votes on pending legislation.

I’d argue the sematics of that article on one little point: the legislation does not create anything, but it allows leadership committees to be created and to raise and spend money.

Former Watkinsville Mayor Bob Smith has spoken out now about why he resigned abruptly, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Smith left City Hall soon after his unexpected announcement. He presented a letter to the council declaring he has “essentially been shut out of all decisions regarding the day-to-day management of Watkinsville.”

“Government of the people, by the people and for the people does not exist in Watkinsville,” Smith wrote in ​​​​​a statement on Facebook.

[Mayor Pro Tem Brian] Brodrick posted on Facebook that he expects a special election in June or July to chose a mayor to serve until the general election in November.

Smith said in his resignation letter that there is no need for a mayor. He noted that prior to him taking office and after his election in 2019, the city council created a city manager position to take over the responsibilities that once belonged to the mayor.

“The mayor has virtually no authority to meet with people desiring property changes, negotiate transactions or give any input whatsoever on the business of Watkinsville government,” Smith wrote in his letter.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Wirtz writes about lessons from the pandemic in the Athens Banner Herald.

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