Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 11, 2015


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 11, 2015

Savannah received news of the battle at Lexington on May 10, 1775, leading to a raid of British gunpowder for the colonial effort.

On May 9, 1862, a Union general, David Hunter, ordered the freedom of all slaves held in Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, but President Lincoln issued a counter-order.

In Georgia on May 9, 1864, Union troops under General Sherman took Snake Creek Gap. In Atlanta, a notice was published,

“ATTENTION MILITIA! All persons between the ages of 16 and 60, not in the service of the Confederate States, in the second ward, are hereby notified to be and appear at the City Hall today, at 2 o’clock P.M., for the purpose of being armed and equipped for local defense. Herein fail not under penalty.”

On May 10, 1863, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson died a week after being shot at by his own troops.

He died, as he had wished, on the Sabbath, May 10, 1863, with these last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart was mortally wounded on May 11, 1864 at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, near Richmond.

The first observance of Mother’s Day was May 10, 1908 at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first official “Mother’s Day.”

On May 9, 1974, the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary opened hearing on the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

On May 10, 2006, Georgia State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, a Republican, pled guilty to federal charges of fraud and money laundering, beginning a streak of Republican State School Supers to leave office under a cloud.

On May 9, 2005, Governor Sonny Perdue signed legislation recognizing the Green Tree Frog as the official state amphibian.

On May 11, 2011, Newt Gingrich announced via Twitter that he would run for President. Two days later, I caught up with Newt at Fincher’s Barbecue in Macon for a brief interview the day he was scheduled to speak to the Georgia Republican Party State Convention.

Happy Birthday to Minnesota, which became a state on May 11, 1858. Y’all talk funny.

The Savannah Morning News has an interesting historical story about the development of Hunter Army Airfield over the years.

“We are a piece of Savannah history,” said Jack Dibrell, a retired Army colonel and Hunter’s airfield chief. “Really, we are a big part of Savannah in the 20th century and beyond. We’ve been just as actively involved in (the city’s) history as anything else.”

Beginning this week the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division — and the dozens of tenant units including Army special operators, military intelligence soldiers, Coast Guardsmen, Marine Corps reservists and National Guardsmen — will mark the 75th anniversary of the field named in honor of Frank O’Driscoll Hunter on May 19, 1940.

To this day Hunter Field remains the only military installation named for a then-living person.

Georgia Politics

That viral video you saw this weekend of a school graduation with the principal make statements described as racist? Yeah, that happened in Lilburn.

This morning, Governor Deal announced that April’s tax revenues were up 15% over April 2014.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced today that Georgia’s net tax revenues for April totaled $1.93 billion, an increase of $252 million, or 15 percent, compared to April 2014.

Year-to-date, net tax revenue collections totaled $15.78 billion for an increase of nearly $1.05 billion, or 7.1 percent, compared to the previous fiscal year, when net tax revenues totaled $14.73 billion through 10 months.

Year-to-date gross tax collections, before refunds and distributions to local governments, totaled $22.15 billion, which was an increase of approximately $1.36 billion, or 6.5 percent, compared to the year-to-date total of $20.79 billion in April 2014.

The changes within the following tax categories made up the majority of April’s net tax increase:

Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for April totaled almost $1.06 billion, up from $867.6 million in April 2014, for an increase of $190.8 million, or 22 percent.

Sales and Use Tax: Gross Sales Tax collections deposited during the month totaled approximately $910.5 million, which was an increase of $40.3 million, or 4.6 percent, compared to April 2014.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections for April decreased $1.2 million, or -1.1 percent, compared to FY 2014

Last week, Gov. Deal signed House Bill 130, creating the Department of Community Services to streamline probation and parole oversight. The Governor also appointed Michael Nail, executive director of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, as commissioner of the new agency.

Governor Deal has nominated State Rep. Jay Roberts to be the next Planning Director for the Georgia Department of Transportation. According to the Press Release, Roberts will begin work at GDOT on May 15. We’re not sure when his resignation from the State House will be effective, and that in turn determines whether the election to fill his State House seat will be held June 16th or September 15th. The House and Senate Transportation committees must confirm his appointment.

“Rep. Roberts is a subject matter expert and a statewide leader on transportation issues,” Deal said. “He’s earned the trust of his colleagues on the two transportation committees, and I look forward to their confirmation of his nomination.”

From the Atlanta Business Chronicle, this history lesson,

The General Assembly created the planning director position in 2009 as part of a broader overhaul of the DOT. By giving the governor the power to nominate the director, subject to legislative confirmation, it gave the governor’s office new authority over a state agency that had been fully independent.

Members of the State Transportation Board are elected by state lawmakers from each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts. The commissioner of transportation, the department’s top administrative post, is chosen by the board.

The Albany Herald spoke to Roberts about his nomination,

“It was a tough decision for me to make because I enjoyed serving the people for 13 years,” Roberts said of leaving the House. “But this is a great opportunity to not only help the people of rural Georgia but the entire state. I think I can do more in this new position to help the state than I could in the House.”

Roberts added that his main priority is being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money and to concentrate on connectivity and viability of the state’s roadways.

Speculation now revolves around Roberts’ replacement as Transportation Committee chair.

According to sources in Atlanta, four names are being bandied about — committee vice-chair Valerie Clark of Lawrenceville, committee secretary Bubber Epps of Dry Branch, and senior committee members Tom McCall of Elberton and Ed Rynders of Leesburg.

“Keep in mind that there very well could be other openings in leadership and I anticipate (House Speaker David Ralston) would want to fill these positions as soon as possible,” Rynders said Friday. “It’s premature to speculate on who will fill these positions, but I am confident that Speaker Ralston will be both thorough and fair with his selections.”

Rynders was instrumental in securing funding for transportation projects including the new Broad Avenue bridge, the Lee County by-pass and the airport extension in Worth County.

The Chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee could be in play as the House Republican Caucus meets today to choose between State Reps. Jon Burns, Chuck Martin, and Allen Peake for House Majority Leader.

As the only candidate to qualify for a Special Election to the Locust Grove City Council, Willie James is a shoo-in.

Muscogee County Schools Superintendent David Lewis will present a list of projects for eSPLOST (education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds tonight.

Policies in Bibb County that could require prospective jurors who fail to appear for jury duty to face arrest has doubled turnout, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Judges instituted a new policy in March after too few jurors responded to summons during a February trial week, causing a high profile murder case to be postponed.

In January, February and March, 70 to 75 percent of jurors summoned failed to show up for duty, according to the policy that outlines a set of graduating penalties for residents who ignore a summons.

Since the policy was announced, the percentage of people responding to summons — showing up, being excused or deferred — has more than doubled, according to Bibb County Superior Court Clerk’s Office statistics.

Henry County is without a County Manager after the resignation last week of Jim Walker.

Villa Rica may soon have a new City Manager after council voted to offer the job to the leading candidate.

Carroll County Sheriff Terry Langley wants to be able to offer higher pay to deputies in order to retain personnel. Carroll County Chairman Marty Smith pledged to work with the Sheriff and Fire Chief for higher pay for deputies and firefighters, but said the millage rate will not be raised.

Former President Jimmy Carter returned early from a trip to observe elections in Guyana after falling ill.

Two Henry County high schools, Stockbridge and Ola, won national chapter awards at the FFA State Convention.

The Volvo plant that Georgia competed for will be built instead in South Carolina.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley planned a news conference later Monday morning to formally announce Volvo’s decision.

“We are proud to have this global leader in car manufacturing join and strengthen South Carolina’s automotive industry,” Haley said in a statement released by the automaker.

South Carolina and Georgia had been the two finalists for the plant and Georgia officials said last week that Volvo had decided against building near Savannah.

Local elected officials are keeping an eye on the Supreme Court, as a decision on same-sex marriage could have ramifications for them, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The decision on the case, Obergefell v. Hodges, could come to bear as county officials determine how to proceed with a personnel change recently proposed to provide health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of county employees. That proposal has been in flux since last considered by the Chatham County Commission in February.

If the Supreme Court rules that bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional, states such as Georgia that currently uphold these bans will have to repeal them. They will also have to recognize marriages from states that have previously provided for same-sex unions.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens has already signaled that he will not fight a ruling one way or the other. Olens told reporters during a speech to the Atlanta Press Club last month he will advise policy makers to abide by whatever decision the Supreme Court hands down.

Chatham County Human Resources Director Carolyn Smalls said a decision on the side of same-sex marriage would change the landscape of benefits provided to county employees and rewrite who qualifies for what under Chatham County’s plan. While the existing policy allows for health insurance for spouses and dependants, the proposed addition would provide county employees’ domestic partners — same-sex or opposite-sex — with health insurance coverage under the county’s plan. To be eligible for domestic partner coverage, the couple would have to be in a relationship for at least six months and be willing to sign an affidavit affirming that fact.

“(The Supreme Court ruling) may change who qualifies for the (domestic partners) policy. If it happens that we have employees who already have a marriage in another state or who then decide to marry in Georgia, it would definitely have an impact on who would qualify,” Smalls said. “They’re expecting a (Supreme Court) decision in June, so to me it would make sense to wait for that.”

Congratulations to Benjamin Klein of Gainesville, Georgia, who will now be a real rocket scientist.

Klein graduated this month from Georgia Tech with a 4.0 GPA and a degree in mechanical engineering.

He was offered a job as a test engineer with SpaceX, a NASA contractor.

SpaceX designs, builds and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft, according to the company’s website. It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, who also founded PayPal and Tesla Motors, to revolutionize space travel and technology, with the goal of empowering people to live on other planets.

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James was replaced as a member of the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors, according to the Fulton Daily Report.

Thompson Hine business litigation partner Gary Freed has unseated DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James for a spot on the State Bar of Georgia’s Board of Governors.

James’ re-election bid was one of only a handful of contested board of governor’s races. The fallout from a 2013 dispute between James and a judge on the county’s superior court bench became a talking point in the race.

Freed told the Daily Report in March that he had long considered seeking a more active role with the bar but was motivated to seek James’ spot on the board of governors because he was disappointed in how James handled his disagreement with Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott over the release of a special-purpose grand jury report. (That report led to the criminal investigation and subsequent corruption charges against county CEO Burrell Ellis. Ellis’ first trial resulted in a hung jury and he is awaiting retrial this summer.)

Freed defended Scott against a mandamus action brought by the DA’s office. The legal fight ended up costing Scott more than $128,000 in legal fees, much of which the judge paid out of his campaign contributions.

Freed said James and his staff were condescending and vitriolic in their actions and in their filings, citing an incident in which, according to Scott, a DA’s investigator tried to serve Scott with a subpoena in the judge’s courtroom while he was presiding over a hearing. James has denied Scott’s recollection of the event, calling it “unsubstantiated.”

Craft brewers in Athens hope changes in the law called the “Craft Beer Jobs Will” will help them sell more of their Georgia-made wares, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

A new law that allows breweries to sell their beer to customers to take home isn’t ideal, but Athens brewers are optimistic about even the smallest change to what they call the state’s antiquated regulations.

Georgia Senate Bill 63, initially referred to as the Beer Jobs Bill, was passed in March and signed this week by Gov. Nathan Deal. It’s headed to the state Department of Revenue, where officials will write regulations around the language of the law.

It’s an arduous process, but Terrapin Beer Company co-founder and Georgia Craft Brewers Guild President John Cochran says he and many of his colleagues are happy to have a seat at the table.

Most breweries in Georgia currently work on the same model: Customers can tour a brewery for free and purchase a souvenir pint glass if they want one. The brewery then can offer the customer up to 32 ounces of beer for free.

The model is designed to protect the three-tier system comprised of the brewery, the distributor and the retailer, something at the top of lawmakers’ minds when writing the bill.

Once the new law goes into effect in July, Cochran said, breweries will likely have the option to begin selling a few different tour packages that come with up to 72 ounces of beer (the equivalent of a six-pack).

“I think it’s going to be a win for the consumers as well,” he said. “I see a choice of two or three tour options, like what most of us are doing right now, plus the option to buy a package to go.”

The new law is far from what guild members originally envisioned. After expressing their frustration immediately after SB 63 passed, some brewers have turned to a more optimistic approach.

A statement posted on the guild’s website blasted the end result, saying the new version is “riddled with mistakes, bad public policy, and has stripped the bill of anything that might tempt a brewery to open in the state of Georgia.”

The federal government is working to broker a deal for high-speed passenger rail that would include Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.

The nation’s top transportation official says he’s more optimistic that high-speed rail will eventually become a reality in the Southeast after Georgia and South Carolina expressed interest in a joint agreement between North Carolina and Virginia to study, coordinate and advocate for the project.

“You look across the country, the Northeast corridor is more than a constellation of states,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told The Associated Press last week. “That multistate coordination just hasn’t existed as strongly here in the Southeast. And that would be a really key part of starting something big.”

North Carolina and Virginia established a compact to promote high-speed rail years ago, and officials in Georgia and South Carolina are now discussing whether they should join.

Officials who advocate high-speed rail for the Southeast aren’t talking about Japan-type speeds of 200 mph or more. Rather, the rails would allow for top speeds of 110 mph and average speeds between 85 mph and 87 mph. Speeds now top out at less than 80 mph.

Foxx met Wednesday in Raleigh with state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata, representatives from transportation departments in Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina, and others, including Amtrak officials, U.S. Rep. David Price and local officials. Foxx is a former mayor of Charlotte, which has a light rail system.

The U.S. Geological Survey says that water use in Georgia has declined despite booming population growth.

Georgia’s population increased by more than 75 percent between 1980 and 2010. But in those same 30 years, water use declined significantly, according to recent estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The amount of water withdrawn from Georgia rivers and aquifers dropped from a peak of about 6.7 billion gallons per day in 1980 to 4.7 billion gallons per day in 2010 — down 30 percent overall and 43 percent per person, according to research by USGS hydrologist Stephen Lawrence. Most of that reduction came between 2000 and 2010, when Georgia baked in two unusually intense droughts.

The declines have important implications for state water planning, calling into question, for example, whether the state really needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building water supply reservoirs.

“I think people have changed their habits in regards to water use” because of the droughts, said University of Georgia agricultural climatologist Pam Knox.

One of the newest eaglets at Berry College had a dramatic fall from the nest before taking flight on its maiden voyage, according to the Rome News-Tribune.

After an initial 15-foot fall, one of the two Berry College eaglets recovered and flew for the first time Sunday afternoon.

The eaglet’s first foray out of his nest started roughly, according to Chris Reinolds Kozelle, director of news and editorial services at Berry.

“There was video of him going to a branch, then the branch breaking and him falling about 15 feet,” she said.

Several eagle-watchers and Berry College representatives finally went to the nest Sunday morning to check. He was on a branch under the nest, she said, and he appeared to be flapping his wings and was fine.

Not only that, but the eaglet decided to take his first flight on Sunday.

“As of now, he still hasn’t returned to the nest,” Kozelle said late Sunday afternoon. “He is staying near it, though, and we are hoping he returns because that is where he eats and is safest. He is simply too young to be on his own now.”

You can check out the Bald Eagle nest via the Berry College Eagle Cam.

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