Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 19, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 19, 2023

Georgia Colonists signed the Treaty of Savannah with the Lower Creeks on May 21, 1733.

Button Gwinnett died on May 19, 1777 of a gunshot wound received in a duel with Lachlan McIntosh.

On May 19-20, 1791, George Washington spent his second and third days in Augusta, where he visited Richmond Academy. Washington left Georgia on May 21, 1791 to go to Columbia, South Carolina.

George Washington left Georgia on May 21, 1791, crossing a bridge over the Savannah River at Augusta.

Georgia ratified the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which governs voting for President and Vice President on May 19, 1804.

On May 22, 1819, the steamship Savannah left the port of Savannah for Liverpool, England. After 29 days, it became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. On May 22, 1944, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the voyage of the Savannah.

The Battle of Spotsylvania ended on May 19, 1864. In Georgia, the Affair at Cassville occurred on May 19, 1864.

Blue jeans with copper rivets were patented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis on May 20, 1873.

On May 20, 1916, more than 20,000 visited Stone Mountain for the dedication ceremony to mark the beginning of a Confederate memorial on the north face.

American Charles Lindbergh landed at Paris on May 21, 1927 in The Spirit of St. Louis, completing both the first nonstop transatlantic flight and the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.

On May 19, 1933, the Atlanta City Council voted to allow beer sales in the city. Prohibition was still in effect at the federal level at that time, but the President had signed the Cullen-Harrison Act that allowed sale of 3.2% beer effective April 7, 1933.

On May 21, 1942, German authorities removed 4300 Polish Jews from Chelm to an extermination camp at Sobibor and killed them by poison gas. The Sobibor camp’s five gas chambers would kill 250,000 Jews during 1942 and 1943.

The Rubik’s Cube is 49 years old today.

On May 19, 1977, “Smokey and the Bandit” was released.

On May 20, 1995, the section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to automotive traffic.

The 400th episode of The Simpsons aired on May 20, 2007.

President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at Morehouse College on May 19, 2013.

Nine years ago today, Georgia voters went to the polls in the earliest Primary elections in modern history. In the Republican Primary, 605,355 ballots were cast in the Senate contest, while the Democratic Primary for Senate saw 328,710 ballots.

Recent polling suggests he’ll be in the 30-point range.

On May 21, 2011, Herman Cain announced his candidacy for President of the United States at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

File Under: Voter Suppression. Georgia had the Southeast’s highest voter turnout in November 2022, and #14 in the nation overall, according to the Augusta Chronicle via the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia Quick Facts for November 2022 election (numbers are approximate):

Total adult population: 8.3 million
Total adult citizen population: 7.6 million
Percent of citizens registered: 69.4%
Percent of citizens who voted: 56.9%
Percent of registered voters who voted: 82% – highest in the South
Highest percent of citizens who voted: Oregon, 70%
Lowest percent of citizens who voted: West Virginia, 38.4%

Across the country, the election saw the second highest election turnout for a congressional race in 20 years, surpassed only by 2018. Nationally, registered voters who did not actually cast a ballot pointed to busy schedules and conflicting work as the top reason they did not vote, with disinterest coming in second place. Nearly half of U.S. voters went to the polls early.

Voting rates varied among racial and ethnic groups, but remained high among all citizens in Georgia:

White alone, non-Hispanic: 60.7%
Black alone: 54%
Asian alone: 51%
Hispanic (of any race): 43.3%

Governor Brian Kemp will lead a trade delegation to Israel, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald.

Citing security concerns, the governor’s office did not release details of the trip other than that Kemp will meet with Israeli companies that conduct business in Georgia as well as with government officials.

Kemp and the Georgia Department of Economic Development jointly reported last February that the state achieved a record-breaking year for international trade last year for the second consecutive year.

In 2022, Georgia’s total trade exceeded $196 billion across 221 countries and territories. The state surpassed $47 billion in exports last year, breaking the previous record by nearly $5 billion.

Former President Donald Trump will speak at the Georgia Republican Convention in Columbus, according to WSAV.

Trump, alongside numerous other Republican political leaders, is being brought to the Fountain City for the 2023 Georgia GOP State Convention happening June 9-10. The convention serves as a way for the Georgia Republican Party to nominate candidates and leadership as well as establish priorities and bylaws.

The Columbus Georgia Convention & Trade Center was named as the site of this year’s convention in May of 2022.

Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones (R-Jackson) said he might run for Governor in 2026, according to the AJC.

At a Morgan County GOP meeting on Tuesday, he acknowledged to activists that he “might” run for governor — earning a burst of applause from the audience of dozens and a hearty endorsement from county GOP chair Chris Alexander.

He is one of many Republicans making early moves. Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has spent heavily to maintain her political network since her 2021 defeat and cultivated support from GOP legislators and local officials. Attorney General Chris Carr and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also could join the race.

And Republicans are also closely watching Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper, who made a pilgrimage to the Republican Governors Association headquarters this week to “discuss ways to grow and advance the conservative movement in Georgia.”

The Democratic field is wide open, too. Stacey Abrams still hasn’t ruled out a third run for governor, though many activists are divided at the prospect of back-to-back-to-back bids for office.

On Tuesday, Jones drew laughs from Morgan County activists when he noted his plans to attend the Georgia GOP convention in June even as Kemp and other statewide elected Republican officials are set to boycott it.

“It sounds like I’m the only statewide elected official going to it,” Jones quipped. “I hope y’all remember that.”

The Georgia Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption will meet before the next session to consider reforms, according to the Center Square.

The state Senate approved the Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption with Senate Resolution 282 during this year’s legislative session. The eight-member committee, chaired by state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, will make recommendations for lawmakers to consider when the legislature reconvenes in January.

“The study committee will discuss the lack of funding, safety and ways to implement much-needed reform,” state Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, said in a statement. “The state has an obligation to ensure that all children in foster care have access to quality care and that all families interested in adopting have the resources they need to make a difference in the lives of children.”

The study committee will announce its meeting dates and locations later. Roughly 11,000 Georgia children are in foster care on any given day.

The Georgia State House Retirement Committee is considering legislation to create a pension to retain state law enforcement officers, according to the AJC.

State lawmakers have backed big pay raises for state troopers, Capitol police and other law enforcement in recent years in hopes of attracting recruits and retaining officers.

That hasn’t solved the staffing problem, so lawmakers are looking at creating a new pension system that would guarantee decent lifetime retirement benefits if officers stick around on the job.

The House Retirement Committee this week began reviewing House Bill 824 by Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, the panel’s chairman. The measure would give a 25-year veteran officer of the state patrol, GBI, or other state law enforcement a pension worth 80% of their final pay when they retire. Officers would vest in the plan after serving 10 years and the benefit would increase each year of service.

Carson filed the bill at the end of the 2023 session and the committee this week voted to request a financial study of the proposal, a necessary step before lawmakers can take up the measure during the 2024 session.

However, Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, a member of the committee and a pension system watchdog for years, said, “This is going to be tremendously expensive.”

Before the late 2000s, all full-time state employees could get a full Employees’ Retirement System pension. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue and lawmakers did away with the full pension for new hires.

While older troopers may still have pensions if they were hired before then, Wright said the current retirement system for newer hires — with 401(k) funds — doesn’t anchor officers to the job. They can work for the state for five years and leave for another job, taking what they accumulated in the fund with them.

A pension guarantees a defined monthly payment and in the state system, that amount gets bigger the longer you continue working for the state. New Georgia teachers and University System employees can still get such traditional pensions.

Wright said DPS isn’t getting enough applicants to fill trooper schools. He said it costs the state $146,000 to train a trooper. And once they join the force, they often don’t stay long.

“What we are seeing is people are just getting out of the profession,” Wright said. “It’s simply not worth the risk. The salary and compensation is just not competitive.

Georgia’s Department of Driver Services launched a new digital driver’s license for iphone, according to WTOC.

The state will begin offering residents the options to add an ID to their iPhone and Apple Watch.

You’ll be able to use it to get through TSA checkpoints quicker.

The option launches this week. For more information, please click here.

From 13WMAZ:

These mobile identification cards will be allowed at select Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“As the No. 1 state for business, Georgia recognizes the value of finding new and innovative ways to remain at the forefront of emerging trends,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

The process for the state ID to appear in the wallet app can take 48 hours, DDS officials said.

Passengers must be enrolled in TSA PreCheck in order to use the digital version of their ID.

According to TSA officials, passengers must still carry their physical driver’s license or state ID card because it may be required to show to a TSA officer.

That’s cool, but I’ll stick with the physical card for this reason: your iphone must be set to open using FaceID, and I am unwilling to use that.

Some Floyd County property owners are complaining about rising property tax valuations, according to the Rome News Tribune.

The Floyd County Board of Assessors has started mailing out 2023 assessment notices, and a number of property owners are reporting that their property values have gone up, in some cases dramatically.

According to Chief Appraiser Danny Womack, the board of assessors is mandated by state law to assess a property’s value at or as close as possible to market values.

“It was another year where the market has increased,” Womack said. “We know people have seen an increase, but we are obligated to have these values where they should be.”

In addition to listing the current property value, the assessment also includes an anticipated property tax. That, according to Womack, is what is causing the sticker shock. Although the tax is a derivative of the market value of the property, the assessment and the tax bill that goes out in August are two separate things.

Both the Rome City and Floyd County Commissions enacted homestead freezes, under which, if market values of homestead properties increase, the homestead exemption will increase in an equal amount. The frozen value stays in place until the property is sold or a new deed is filed on the property. However, the freeze does not apply to school taxes.

The Medical College of Georgia will establish a new campus at Georgia Southern, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University is establishing a new four-year medical campus at Georgia Southern University, according to a news release from Georgia House of Representatives Speaker Jon Burns.

“Increasing opportunities within the University System of Georgia allows Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia to educate and train more students and meets a clear need to make sure our communities receive better health care,” Burns was quoted as saying in the statement. “Georgia needs more doctors, and I’m proud we are making this investment in our future.”

The announcement comes as MCG prepares to merge with Atlanta-based Wellstar Health System, forming Wellstar MCG Health. The agreement, which would obligate Wellstar to spend up to $800 million on capitol investments, is currently under routine legal review by the state Attorney General’s office.

According to prior reporting, after the merger with Wellstar MCG hopes to increase the number of students from 264 in each class to 304. The Medical College has its main campus in Augusta and another four-year campus in Athens, as well as a number of regional campuses where students in their final two years can work on clinical skills.

Effingham County Commissioner Reginald “Reggie” Loper was arrested and charged with child molestation, according to WSAV.

According to the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office, Roper, 84, was booked into the Effingham County Jail just after 11 a.m. Wednesday morning on charges of felony child molestation and a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery.

Loper has represented District 4 in Effingham County since 2004. He is currently serving his fifth term.

The Effingham County Board of Commissioners released the following statement on Roper’s arrest: “The Effingham County Board of Commissioners is aware of the allegations against Mr. Loper. He has served the county and his constituents well for nearly two decades and we pray for him and his family as they deal with this situation.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has taken over the investigation at the request of the sheriff’s office.

Columbus faces high STD rates, according to the Macon Telegraph.

According to a new study by Innerbody, Columbus has 906 STD cases per 100,000 residents, beating out metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, California (860 cases per 100,000), Chicago, Illinois (822 cases per 100,000), Nashville, Tennessee (828 cases per 100,000) and Phoenix, Arizona (880 cases per 100,000).

Columbus is the second largest city in Georgia and 112th largest city in the United States. Of the 100 cities included in the survey, Columbus ranked 27.

Cities of a similar size like Knoxville, Tennessee (ranked 71 with 609 cases per 100,000) and Rochester, New York (ranked 23 with 923 cases per 100,000) reported hundreds of cases per 100,000 people, but Columbus dwarfed their statistics for individual diseases.

Columbus reported 305 HIV cases compared to Knoxville’s 37 cases and Rochester’s 66. Columbus HIV cases were also higher than the top three cities with the highest STD rates: Memphis, Tennessee with five HIV cases, Jackson, Mississippi with 105 cases and Columbia, South Carolina with 48 HIV cases. Columbus’ 13,348 cases of chlamydia were more than Knoxville (3,637) and Rochester (6,839) combined.

Sixteen of the top 25 U.S. cities with the highest STD rates are all southern cities. Three South Carolina cities — Columbia, Charleston and Greenville — were in the top 25.

In comparison, Atlanta’s population is estimated to be around 490,270 and there are 811 STD cases per 100,000 residents. Atlanta was listed as 42 out of 100 on the list, but improved its ranking from last year. Georgia’s largest city ranked 20 last year.

The Brunswick Judicial Circuit is seeing more gang activity and gang prosecutions, as well as case backlogs, according to The Brunswick News.

The top law enforcement agents in Glynn County said Wednesday during a Community Dialogue event hosted by Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Keith Higgins that gangs today are much more sophisticated and run organized operations much like the mobsters of the past.

Brunswick Police Chief Kevin Jones, Sheriff Neal Jump, Interim Glynn County Police Chief O’Neal Jackson III and Glynn County Schools Police Chief Rod Ellis joined Higgins and other members of the DA’s office at College of Coastal Georgia for the second Community Dialogue event and answered questions provided at the first event in February.

Jones said gang violence has increased in the past decade in Brunswick and Glynn County and that there are around two dozen gangs operating in the area. Ten to 15 years ago, gang members would represent their gangs with colors, hang out on street corners and sell drugs. Things have changed, he said.

“What we have seen is more organization,” Jones told the small audience that gathered on a rainy Wednesday night. “They run it now like the mobsters did in the 1920s or ‘30s. They run it like a business.”

“They are undercover,” he said. “They are using high-tech social media to communicate and they are not hanging out on the street corners anymore.”

Higgins, in answering a question about the backlog of cases in Glynn County, said there were 1,995 cases open in Glynn County Superior Court as of Wednesday. It is a daunting task to whittle down the caseload, which is why he has increased the number of prosecutors in the judicial circuit by 50 percent, bringing the total to 15, which is up from 10 when he took office in 2021. Six of those prosecutors work solely in Glynn County.

Dougherty County has a drug overdose epidemic, according to WALB.

The Dougherty County EMS has been responding to overdose cases every week and reported there have been 20 cases already in the month of May.

“It’s getting to the point to where some days we have two to three calls a day,” said Sam Allen, Dougherty County EMS director.

Allen said expects the number of cases to double throughout the summer. Fentanyl and opioid overdoses have become a bigger threat with the Georgia Department of Public Health reporting over 2,000 deaths. The increase is a result of more street drugs becoming laced with life-threatening narcotics. Allen said it only takes 2 grams of fentanyl to kill a person.

“With fentanyl, we are seeing a different type of fentanyl. We’ve actually seen the rainbow fentanyl pills here. It’s everywhere. People are using it. You don’t realize what they’re doing. Especially the ones with the vape because it’s blended in and you can’t tell the difference of the smell,” he said.

Last year, Dougherty County EMS had a total of 249 cases that required Narcan dispensation. Even with the overdose treatment becoming readily accessible to the community, Allan said it comes with misconceptions.

The City of Augusta lost network services briefly, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The multi-day network disruption that caused the majority of Augusta’s entities to lose access to their telephones, emails and databases has come to an end, according to Augusta Mayor Garnett Johnson.

The disruption, which began Tuesday, was caused by a power loss which affected the data center, according to Tameka Allen, chief information officer for Augusta’s IT Department.

A lawsuit seeks to dissolve the newly-created City of Mableton, according to Atlanta News First via WTVM.

The lawsuit alleges that the bill that created the city of Mableton and the referendum that voters passed were unconstitutional. Mableton’s ballot question and the city charter created not just the city, but also its community improvement district.

State law categorizes those as separate governmental bodies, according to the plaintiffs, so they claim that putting both in one bill violated the single-subject rule of the Georgia Constitution.

Mableton’s first-ever mayor, Michael Owens, told Atlanta News First the lawsuit is disappointing.

“We’re now in a situation where we have to go out and retain council to defend ourselves and spend taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We don’t have taxpayer funding at the time, so it’s even more challenging.”

Voters approved a split from Cobb County in the November 2022 election, wanting more autonomy over zoning and development in the Mableton area.

DeKalb County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw (D) will run for CEO, according to the AJC.

Bradshaw currently represents DeKalb’s District 4, and is the first in what will likely be a crowded field of candidates trying to succeed term-limited CEO Michael Thurmond.

Bradshaw won his commission seat in 2016, and then ran unopposed in 2020.

“I ran because I believed District 4 deserved better,” Bradshaw said in a statement announcing his intention to run for CEO. “Alongside CEO Thurmond, I have worked to deliver better for our seniors, veterans, our emerging leaders, cities, and everyone who calls DeKalb home.”

Democratic United States Senators confirmed the nomination of Nancy Abudu to a seat on the Eleventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals, according to the AJC.

Abudu will become the first Black person to fill a Georgia-based seat in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which also hears cases from federal courts in Florida and Alabama. She will replace former Judge Beverly Martin, who was considered one of the court’s most liberal jurists.

“I’m thrilled,” Martin said after the Senate vote. “I think Ms. Abudu will be a great addition to the court. It’s just terrific news.”

The final vote was 49-47 with all Senate Democrats in favor except West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, who voted “no” with Republicans. Four senators did not vote.

Even with Abudu’s appointment, the Atlanta-based appellate court will continue to be considered conservative-leaning because Republican presidents appointed seven of its 12 judges. That includes six who gained their seats under former President Donald Trump.

The Chatham-Savanah Authority for the Homeless will receive $3.5 million funding, according to WSAV.

“It’s critical because in our community over the last 17 months or so, both the City of Savannah government and Chatham County government has really begun to make strategic investments in homeless services,” said Jennifer Darsey, the executive director for the Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless.

Now, the available funds will go towards existing projects, many of which are aimed at creating more affordable housing.

“Housing and affordable housing and having housing available in our community is essential,” said Darsey. “There are people right now who are living in shelters who work 40 hours a week. They are fully employed but they can’t find a place to rent that they can afford, and that is a true challenge in our community right now.”

Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools are working on their FY 2024 budget, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The $561 million draft budget was presented to the Board of Education last week and includes an increase of $30 million in local revenue and a $12.9 million increase in state revenue. But while funding rose this year due to an increase in Chatham County property values, costs have also increased, including an $18 million rate hike for employee health insurance.

That leaves the district with an expected $16 million deficit, which they plan to cover with a withdrawal from the rainy day fund.

District 4 Board Representative Shawn Kachmar said he doesn’t mind dipping into the fund, but worries the added costs will continue to multiply and deplete the rainy day fund, which is supposed to have enough funds to allow SCCPSS to operate for more than two months without any revenue.

“If we’re using $16 million from the fund balance this year, that means we have to use $16 million from the fund balance, potentially, next year,” Kachmar said. “Because almost always revenues go up and pretty soon we’re back under two months (of revenue).”

But Board Rep. Dionne Hoskins-Brown, District 2, said they should take from the fund, especially since external auditors told the board they have too much extra cash laying around.

The Hall County Board of Education has to redo a meeting because they forgot to adopt a budget, according to AccessWDUN.

The Hall County School Board will meet Monday, May 22 after forgetting to adopt the district’s preliminary Fiscal Year 2024 budget at their meeting earlier this week.

In a video posted on the school district’s YouTube page, Superintendent Will Schofield said he takes responsibility for the mistake.

“We had just an absolute building full of recognitions Monday night. I wish I had a better excuse, but the moment got to us and we just forgot,” Schofield said. “We had all of our budget sitting out, we had the documents ready to go, and we realized after we called for adjournment that I had not called to adopt the preliminary budget. I apologize.”

Schofield showed some figures for the preliminary budget that will be voted on Monday. It shows a $46 million increase in revenues and a $33 million increase in expenditures.

Most of the revenue increase would come from local sources, assuming the millage rate stays the same. Most of the increased expenditures would come from teacher raises and increased health insurance premiums.

“The good news is we continue to have a healthy reserve fund,” Schofield said. “We anticipate spending between five and 10 million dollars of reserve funds this year to make the budget balance.”

The Savannah Morning News profiles candidates for City Council and Mayor in November’s elections, as well as a new candidate for District 3.

A labor union is striking against the company that provides school bus service to Dalton public school students, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Despite a strike by bus drivers against First Student, which provides bus service to Dalton Public Schools, attendance has been strong this week, according to Superintendent Tim Scott.

“Attendance has been really, really good,” Scott said Thursday. “Brookwood School has 97% attendance today. Roan School, and most of those kids ride buses, had 96% attendance. All of our numbers are normal. We’ve had to do some things differently. Schools are opening earlier and closing later to accommodate parents. There are 18 bus drivers still driving. We are thankful for them. We are thankful for parents and community members who are coming together to get these kids to school.”

The school system also set up new bus stops to help it better serve students with a more limited number of drivers.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents the drivers, began a strike on Monday.

“This is about First Student, not Dalton Public Schools,” said Lackecha Strickland, president of ATU Local 1212. “This is an unfair labor practice strike.”

First Student is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, and provides transportation for school systems across the United States and Canada.

Richard Hardy was named as the new City Manager for Valdosta, according to WALB.

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