Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 7, 2024

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May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 7, 2024

George Washington attended the first inaugural ball on May 7, 1789 on Broadway near Wall Street in New York.

Washington arrived at the ball in the company of other American statesmen and their wives. That evening he danced with many of New York’s society ladies. Vice President John Adams, members of Congress and visiting French and Spanish dignitaries, as well their wives and daughters, joined in the festivities. Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton, recorded her impressions of the ball in her memoirs, noting that the president liked to dance the minuet, a dance she thought was suited to his dignity and gravity.

On May 7, 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant disengaged his Army of the Potomac from fighting against General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, ending the Battle of the Wilderness.

Although the Wilderness is usually described as a draw, it could be called a tactical Confederate victory, but a strategic victory for the Union army. Lee inflicted heavy numerical casualties (see estimates below) on Grant, but as a percentage of Grant’s forces they were smaller than the percentage of casualties suffered by Lee’s smaller army. And, unlike Grant, Lee had very little opportunity to replenish his losses. Understanding this disparity, part of Grant’s strategy was to grind down the Confederate army by waging a war of attrition. The only way that Lee could escape from the trap that Grant had set was to destroy the Army of the Potomac while he still had sufficient force to do so, but Grant was too skilled to allow that to happen. Thus, the Overland Campaign, initiated by the crossing of the Rappahannock, and opening with this battle, set in motion the eventual destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Therefore, even though Grant withdrew at the end of the battle (which is usually the action of the defeated side), unlike his predecessors since 1861, Grant continued his campaign instead of retreating to the safety of Washington, D.C. The significance of Grant’s advance was noted by James M. McPherson:

[I]nstead of heading north, they turned south. A mental sunburst brightened their minds. It was not another “Chancellorsville … another skedaddle” after all. “Our spirits rose,” recalled one veteran who remembered this moment as a turning point in the war. Despite the terrors of the past three days and those to come, “we marched free. The men began to sing.” For the first time in a Virginia campaign the Army of the Potomac stayed on the offensive after its initial battle.

May 7, 1864 saw some of the first fighting in the Atlanta campaign, northwest of Dalton, Georgia.

Keith Richards recorded the first version of the guitar riff that would become “Satisfaction” early in the morning of May 7, 1965 before passing out.

Jimmy Carter’s Presidential campaign received a boost on May 7, 1976 when he received the personal endorsement of the President of the United Auto Workers.

On May 7, 1996, Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell responded to the FBI Report that ranked Atlanta the most violent city in the nation. Campbell would succeed in replacing headlines about Atlanta’s violent crime by substituting headlines about official corruption.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Voters in Muscogee and Harris counties go to the polls today in a Special Runoff Election for House District 139, according to WTVM.

The race is a runoff between Sean Knox and Carmen Rice.

April’s election resulted in a runoff between Knox and Rice as neither candidates reached a majority of the votes.

“I anticipated that it would end in a runoff,” Rice told News Leader 9 in April. “We have four people in the race, just statistically that’s what’s going to happen so we’re just going to get busy, and keep doing what we’re doing and connect with the people of 139 and just have a positive mindset moving forward.”

“People did come out and voted for me a lot of people gave a lot of effort to help get our campaign moving with great direction, so gratitude is my first thought,” Knox told us in April. “There’s more work to do and I’m excited about that.”

The winner of this race will represent House District 139 until the end of the year.

Whitfield County had 904 voters during the first week of advance in-person voting, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

Whitfield County Supervisor of Elections Shaynee Bryson said 904 people voted last week in the general primary and nonpartisan elections. That was the first week of early voting for the May 21 elections and included voting on Saturday.

For comparison, 850 voted in the first week of advance voting in the 2022 general primary and nonpartisan elections.

“We are expecting higher turnout in the coming weeks, the closer we get to Election Day on (May 21),” she said.

The 14th Congressional District Georgia Republican Party censured State Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Georgia 14th Congressional District Republican Party at its annual convention in Rome recently censured state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, for being the sole Republican in the state House of Representatives to vote against the Georgia Criminal Alien Track and Report Act.

That bill, which requires local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, passed both the state House and Senate and was recently signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp.

In March, Carpenter was censured by the Whitfield County GOP at its annual convention for his vote on that bill as well as speaking out in support last year for a 10-year intergovernmental agreement between Whitfield County, Whitfield County Schools and the city of Varnell that allows a tax allocation district to help fund high-end commercial development at Patterson Farms.

The resolution censuring Carpenter by the district Republican Party calls the Georgia Criminal Alien Track and Report Act “a modest bill” and notes that Carpenter was the only Republican in the state House to vote against it. It calls Carpenter “wildly out of touch on the illegal immigration issue with most voters in the 14th Congressional District.” That district includes Whitfield and Murray counties.

“I think we ought to support our sheriffs and police officers, not penalize them for not being immigration experts,” Carpenter said in March after being censured by the county GOP. “I’m also concerned as a person who represents a 52% minority district that Hispanics and other people of color could be profiled.”

Carpenter does not have an opponent in the May 21 Republican primary, and no Democrat qualified to run against him in November.

Governor Brian Kemp will sign the FY 2025 state budget today, according to the AJC.

As the annual Capitol bill-signing season winds down Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to ink a $36.1 billion state spending plan for the coming fiscal year that includes raises for 300,000 educators and state workers, plus more money for law enforcement, education and mental health programs.

The raises are included in the budget for fiscal 2025 — which begins July 1 and was approved by lawmakers on the final day of the 2024 legislative session in March.

State tax collections have been slow for the past year. But the state is sitting on $16 billion in “rainy day” and undesignated reserves, so Kemp and lawmakers have backed higher spending since the session began in January.

State spending has grown from about $26.6 billion in fiscal 2020, the last budget plan approved before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as tax collections flowed in during the economic uptick that followed. Revenue stalled out in fiscal 2024, and it is not expected to gain much momentum next year.

Last year Kemp vetoed or told state agencies to disregard about $240 million in spending approved by lawmakers. It is unclear if this year will bring a repeat, although the governor’s office and General Assembly budget writers seemed to work together more smoothly during the 2024 session.

Former Congressman John Barrow (D) filed a federal lawsuit after the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission said he can’t continue to campaign on abortion rights, according to the AJC.

Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow filed a federal lawsuit Monday to block the state’s judicial watchdog agency from seeking misconduct charges against him for centering his campaign for a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court on a pledge to support abortion rights.

The lawsuit came days after the Judicial Qualifications Commission informed the former Democratic lawmaker he was facing a complaint for pledging to “protect” abortion rights against a 2019 Republican-backed state law that restricts the procedure.

In the five-page letter, the agency said Barrow had the right to state his views on partisan or disputed issues. But it said he violated the Judicial Code of Conduct by making “misleading” pledges to protect selected rights and promises about “highly sensitive cases” likely to come before the state’s top court. It urged him to immediately change his campaign message.

Barrow’s lawsuit challenging the code said he is “suffering irreparable harm” from the complaint ahead of the May 21 vote. It asked a federal judge to block the judicial agency from sanctioning him on grounds that it violates his free speech rights.

It’s the latest development in one of the most unusual — and closely watched — Georgia judicial races in a generation as Barrow challenges Justice Andrew Pinson, who was Gov. Brian Kemp’s surprise 2022 pick to fill a vacant seat.

He is bucking convention by treating the nonpartisan contest like a political campaign, telling audiences he supports abortion rights because, as he said at a North Fulton County Democrats forum, “politicians shouldn’t be making your personal health care decisions.”

“I’m a judge, not a politician,” said Pinson, who was appointed to the bench by Kemp after serving as the state solicitor general. “Folks understand that what makes a good judge doesn’t really have to do with partisanship or politics.”

Barrow’s legal challenge takes aim at the complex code that governs judicial candidates and bars them from making false or misleading statements, or accusations with “reckless disregard.”

Under the code, a three-person committee of the judicial agency is set up each election year to review allegations of misconduct. It can then refer complaints about judicial candidates to a full investigative panel, which has the power to reprimand, censure, suspend or remove a judge. The committee’s May 1 letter to Barrow pressed him to revise his messages, ads, website and other materials or face penalties.

Other judicial leaders have raised sharp concerns about Barrow’s approach. A letter signed by five former Georgia Supreme Court justices and 10 past presidents of the State Bar of Georgia encouraged voters to “demand that our judges be nonpartisan and refrain from making public commitments about how they will decide cases and issues.”

Elected officials are weighing-in on student protests, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Gov. Brian Kemp – Georgia’s governor was quick to condemn the protests, denouncing demonstrators as “radicals,” and claiming protestors have been “terrorizing” fellow Jewish students.

“College campuses are designed to be places of learning and often civil discourse, but in Georgia, they will never be a safe haven for those who promote terrorism and extremism that threatens the safety of students,” he wrote in an official statement.

“We will respect the right to peacefully protest, but those who choose to make the unwise decision to use our college campuses to intimidate, make threats, promote violence, or in any other way break the law will be met with the full force of the law and brought to justice.”

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones – The state’s lieutenant governor also strongly condemned the student protests, labelling them “antisemitic and illegal.”

“We will not allow pro-terrorist radicals and liberal anarchists to invade Georgia’s campuses,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “These criminals have only one goal: disruption.”

Jones also used the protests to slam Vice President Kamala Harris, denouncing her silence on the issue and urging Georgians to re-elect Donald Trump.

“It is imperative that we put President Trump back in the White House and combat this antisemitic hatred,” he said in a statement.

Attorney General Chris Carr – Georgia’s attorney general thanked police for arresting protestors, and condemned leaders at other universities for their response to student demonstrations.

“We’re not New York or California,” Carr posted on X. “We won’t stand by while people illegally occupy our schools and threaten and intimidate our students.”

Georgia Senate Special Committee on Investigations Chair Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) said they may subpoena Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to compel her testimony before them, according to Atlanta News First via WALB.

“She’s a key part of the investigation that her viewpoints are valued by us,” said state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens). “We need to hear what she has to say and her explanation of what she thinks are the appropriate rules ought to be going forward so we don’t have this kind of scandal give Georgia a black eye.”

On Friday, the committee reconvened after state lawmakers earlier this year charged it to determine if Willis engaged in any financial misconduct in her investigation and subsequent historic indictment of former President Donald Trump.

Before the committee meeting, Willis herself was defiant. Appearing at a community event with Fulton County Superior Court Clerk Ché Alexander at K&K Soul Food, Willis condemned the committee.

“Isn’t it interesting when we got a bunch of African-American DAs, now we need daddy to tell us what to do,” Willis said . “So y’all can go put that in your sound bite for today, but today I am here so I can reach my community, and this is really messing up my business.”

From 11Alive:

Willis hired a special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, for the election interference case pending against former President Donald Trump and his co-defendants. She later admitted to having a romantic relationship with Wade — who has since stepped down from the case.

The special committee is investigating accusations of misuse of funds for the hiring of Wade.

Among those who testified Friday was Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts, who said he would support a potential law change as it relates to oversight of the district attorney expenses.

“There’s times when you just disagree with what’s on the books and that’s where I find myself in,” said Pitts.

The panel is expected to produce a report at the end of its investigation that could feature proposed changes to state law or budgeting to the DA’s Office. The panel’s chairman, State Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), revealed they have invited Willis to their hearings and if forced, they plan to subpoena her.

“She’s a key part of the investigation and her viewpoints are valued by us. We need to hear what she has to say and her explanation and what she thinks the appropriate rules ought to be going forward so that we don’t have this kind of scandal giving Georgia a black eye in the future,” said Cowsert.

From Fox5Atlanta:

After the committee chairman threatened to subpoena Willis, she told FOX 5’s Rob DiRienzo at a news conference on Monday he couldn’t.

“First of all, I don’t think they even have the authority to subpoena me, but they need to learn the law,” she said.

“First of all, I don’t think they even have the authority to subpoena me, but they need to learn the law,” she said.

The committee chairman, State Sen. Bill Cowsert, told FOX 5 in a phone interview following Willis’ news conference that he maintains that the committee has the legal power to compel her testimony.

He said she could be held in contempt if she refuses to cooperate.

“I sure hope it doesn’t get to that,” Cowsert said.

Later in the day, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones all but dared Willis not to show.

“If subpoenaed by the Committee, she will be required to appear, or she will be in violation of Georgia law,” Jones said in an email. “This is what treating everybody evenly looks like, even if DA Willis doesn’t like being held accountable.”

Cowsert said the committee, which held its third meeting last week, could issue the subpoena in a matter of months.

From Georgia Recorder:

Willis cannot be sanctioned by the Senate committee, but it can issue subpoenas for her to turn over evidence and to testify under oath. Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who declined Willis’ offer to serve as special prosecutor in 2021 in the case against Trump,,

On Monday, Willis questioned whether the special committee had the legal authority to compel her to testify.

Willis cannot be sanctioned by the Senate committee, but it can subpoena her to turn over evidence and to testify under oath. Former Gov. Roy Barnes, who declined Willis’ offer to serve as special prosecutor in 2021 in the case against Trump, attended Friday’s hearing with plans to serve as legal counsel for Willis if she is subpoenaed.

Cowsert asked Fulton County Attorney Soo Jo if she agreed with his interpretation of the state law, which would seem to imply that Willis would need permission from the County Commission in order to hire an independent contractor such as Wade.

According to Jo, previous court rulings have interpreted the law as allowing district attorneys to appoint and determine compensation for special assistant district attorneys without the county board’s consent.

She also said disputes over finances and control usually turn into a tug-of-war between constitutional offices and local elected officials, who set the budget but must also cover shortfalls and legal ramifications.

“I do believe there are some practical and legal challenges for all counties and elected officials who are in and in between state where you have independence, but you depend on the county for finances,” Jo said.

Cowsert on Friday recommended state legislators consider implementing a statewide policy that addresses tensions between county commissioners and constitutional officers over how much discretion and autonomy they should have.

“We need to have a state law that provides ethical guidelines for prosecutors, for sheriffs, for clerks of court, for tax commissioners,” Cowsert said. “They are not county officers, but they need to have accepted norms of conduct and ethical guidelines. It’s our job in the state government to come up with that from the state level.”

Pitts said that the Fulton commission should be able to have more control since the board sets the multimillion dollar budgets.

A Georgia Court of Appeals is expected to render a ruling by May 13 whether to grant a motion by Trump and several of his co-defendants asking the court to review Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee’s decision to allow Willis to remain on the case following Wade’s resignation. In the March 3 ruling, McAfee wrote that Willis actions showed a tremendous lapse in judgment but that the defense was unable to prove there was conflict of interest that warranted dismissing the case.

Savannah released a statement in response to Attorney General Chris Carr’s assertion that the city’s new gun law is void, according to WTOC.

You may remember last month, City Council passed an ordinance requiring that gun owners in Savannah lock their firearms in compartments and are out of sight when in parked cars.

The City released this statement in response to A.G. Carr’s letter saying, ”In order to address the increasing amount of unsecured firearms stolen from unlocked vehicles the City of Savannah unanimously enacted this new ordinance. We certainly encourage our citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights, but this ordinance remains in effect and will continue to be enforced.”

The new ordinances are also facing legal challenges here locally.

Last week gun carrier Clarence Belt of Jesup filed a lawsuit against the City of Savannah over the new gun ordinances, also claiming they are preempted by state law.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson is pushing back against critics, claiming the new rules aim to lower the number of stolen guns.

He says 83 percent of firearm thefts came from unlocked vehicles last year.

“Sue us. We’ll go to the Supreme Court and let the United States Supreme Court say,” said Mayor Johnson. “The gun ordinance doesn’t go anywhere. So, sorry.”

A city spokesperson says they encourage citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights, but the ordinance will continue to be enforced.

From the Associated Press via the Moultrie Observer:

Carr’s letter foreshadows a likely court battle over whether city governments like Savannah’s can impose gun safety measures that have received little support in a state legislature dominated by Republicans. A lawsuit filed in Chatham Count Superior Court last week by a man described as frequent visitor to Savannah asks a judge to halt enforcement of the city’s gun ordinance.

Mayor Van Johnson, a Democrat and a former police officer, has previously said the ordinance aims to make gun owners act responsibly without infringing on their Second Amendment rights. He did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment made to a City Hall spokesperson.

According to Savannah police, there were 244 guns reported stolen from vehicles last year and 203 of them were taken from unlocked cars. Police have reported a similar number so far this year, with 56 of 69 thefts coming from unlocked cars.

In his letter, Carr noted that Georgia courts have struck down prior gun restrictions imposed by local governments. He cited a 2007 ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals that overturned a Coweta County ordinance prohibiting firearms at sports fields and other recreational facilities operated by the county.

Carr’s letter warned city officials they could face civil liability for enforcing it.

“Given this concern alone, it appears that the City should give immediate consideration to rescinding its approval” of the gun ordinance, Carr said.

The United States Department of Transportation awarded a $15 million dollar grant to electrify part of the truck fleet at Georgia’s ports, according to the Savannah Morning News.

A California-based clean-energy infrastructure company will put a $7.8 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration toward development of a 23-megawatt truck-charging center in Garden City. The facility will accommodate up to 120 electric versions of the trucks that move freight between the terminals and an ever-expanding array of adjacent warehouses and distribution centers.

Meanwhile, a $7.5 million grant to the GPA will support a four-year pilot project to replace more than 600 jockey trucks at the Port of Savannah with models using “renewable” diesel.

Renewable fuel, which can be mixed with traditional diesel, still pollutes when burned but has a smaller carbon footprint over its lifecycle because it is produced from raw materials such as used cooking oil and animal fat waste rather than refined from extracted oil.

The truck purchase is the next step in the port’s decade-long effort to reduce the use of “dirty” diesel. That transition has focused primarily on electrifying major equipment once powered by fossil fuels, said Joanne Caldwell, GPA’s director of Risk Management and Sustainability.

“The current fleet of 34 electric-powered ship-to-shore cranes are equipped with integrated generators to capture power while lowering boxes,” Caldwell noted. “In this way, the cranes produce enough energy to power themselves for 18 minutes of each operating hour.”

GPA now is installing 15 all-electric rubber-tired gantry cranes at its Garden City Terminal West facility. Another nine are already in use at the Savannah Transload Facility, just upriver of the main Garden City Terminal.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners are moving their meetings to address security concerns, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Meetings of Athens-Clarke County’s mayor and commission are being moved from City Hall, 301 College Ave. in downtown Athens, to the nearby Clarke County School District headquarters, 595 Prince Ave., as plans for increasing security at City Hall are being developed and put in place.

The venue change will remain in effect through this month and June. Commissioners will, as has become their practice, take a break from meetings in July.

The venue change for commission meetings, along with the adjustments to public comment procedures, come a little more than a month after a local ersatz rabbi, 54-year-old Richard Camden Pace, had to be subdued and tased by an Athens-Clarke County police officer during a public comment period at the commission’s April 2 meeting.

Pace was arrested and charged with felony obstruction of a law enforcement officer and disorderly conduct in the incident, during which he loudly addressed the commission and refused to sit down after his allotted 3 minutes of public comment had ended.

The incident with Pace, along with other recent disruptive incidents during commission meetings in City Hall, including loud calls for the resignation or recall of Girtz, Sheriff John Q. Williams, and District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, prompted the mayor to introduce the subject of controls over public comment at the county commission’s day-long retreat on Friday. The discussion did not appear on the agenda issued in advance of the retreat.

The City of Tifton lost $50,000 dollars to a cyberscam, according to WALB.

“Electronic activity has been great and made a lot of our life more convenient, but it has added a layer of things you have to watch out for. This happens to be one of those,” Tifton’s Director of Communications Stacey Green, said.

The city of Tifton was a recent victim of cyber theft. The city was scammed out of nearly $50,000 after a business they normally work with was impersonated by cybercriminals.

“They contacted us and said ‘Hey, can y’all change this to an electronic payment instead of a check?’ We were like yeah sure because it was in reference to a legitimate invoice,” Tifton’s Director of Communications Stacey Green said.

Green says that after they canceled the original check and sent the electronic payment they were contacted by the legitimate company and realized they had been scammed.

Four Republicans are running the the Primary Election for the Second Congressional District, according to the Albany Herald.

Michael Nixon, Wayne Johnson, Regina Liparoto and Chuck Hand are vying to face Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. in the November general election.

Two Republican candidates are running for Floyd County Sheriff, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Robbie Whitfield, a veteran local law enforcement officer, is challenging incumbent sheriff Dave Roberson in the Republican primary, and Roberson has the financial edge. There is no Democratic candidate so the winner of the May 21 primary will appear alone on the November general election ballot.

Whitfield reported $5,402 cash on hand compared to $71,306 for Roberson as early voting is continuing through May 17 at the Floyd County Election Center in Rome, Thornton Recreation Center in Armuchee and Anthony Recreation Center in Garden Lakes.

Georgia State House District 140 will choose between two Democratic candidates with no GOP opposition in November, according to WTVM.

On May 21, residents who live in Georgia’s District 140 will have the opportunity to choose between two democrats vying for the state representative seat. Incumbent Teddy Reese is running against Nia Williams, who are both Democrats. There is no Republican challenger.

If Reese wins, he said he will focus on Medicaid expansion and keeping his promises.

‘’The next two years I plan to keep my focus on our veterans,” he said. “We have so much that our veterans need here, and ours in our city, and our state and I believe we can do more. I’m also going to keep my focus on education. I have been a strong component for education for our children making sure that they have the resources that they need to be successful within the classroom, so that they when they leave the classroom they’re just as successful.’’

Early voting is already underway, while election day is Tuesday, May 21.

Former Rincon City Council member Damon Rahn is running for Chair of the Effingham County Commission, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Effingham County was once a bedroom community of Savannah but with a population of more than 70,000, the county is growing at rapid speed. Damon Rahn, an IT infrastructure analyst for Georgia Power, says he is the “right man” to lead the county as it anticipates continued growth. On March 4, Rahn announced his bid for chairman of the Effingham County Board of Commissioners.

“With our strategic location to I-95, I-16, dual rail access and excellent school systems, we are a prime target for development,” said Rahn. “As a county, we need to know our worth and really look at whom we decide to partner with in our community.”

Rahn said his experience in the political realm, having served on the Rincon City Council and the Effingham Industrial Development Authority, is what sets him apart from running mate Alex Long, owner of Lawrence Alexander Homes among other construction-related businesses.

Former Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan (R-Forsyth County) writes he is voting for Joe Biden for President, according to CNN via the Albany Herald.

ormer Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan on Monday said he will vote for President Joe Biden in November, arguing former President Donald Trump “has disqualified himself through his conduct and his character.”

“Unlike Trump, I’ve belonged to the GOP my entire life. This November, I am voting for a decent person I disagree with on policy over a criminal defendant without a moral compass,” Duncan, a CNN contributor, wrote in an opinion piece published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Duncan criticized fellow members of his party, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, calling it “disappointing to watch an increasing number of Republicans fall in line behind former president Donald Trump.” “This mentality is dead wrong,” he added.

One of the year’s first sea turtle nests was located on Jekyll Island, according to The Brunswick News.

“Out of the islands that receive nests, Jekyll Island is the only semi-developed barrier island to receive a nest,” said Davide Zailo, research program manager at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Data gathered by the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative indicate the nesting loggerhead population has been increasing by around 4% each year since the 1990s, Zailo said.

While nesting rates are now relatively high, a predictive model developed by the University of Georgia suggests a leveling off at current nesting rates for the next 20 years or so. Female loggerheads only begin nesting at around 30 years old, and the slowdown is predicted based on low nesting rates in the early 2000s.

Zailo linked nesting today to the innovation of the turtle excluder device, or TED, which was certified by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1989 and is now required on all shrimping vessels. It allows for shrimpers to continue their work while redirecting turtles outside their nets.

“These devices are made of metal bars and mesh that fit inside the neck of a trawl net,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. “While shrimp pass between the bars to the back of the net, turtles and other larger animals bump against the metal grid and escape through a flap in the mesh.”

In 2023, a total of 217 sea turtle nests were laid on Jekyll Island and 3,479 statewide, Zailo said. It was below the record-breaking numbers in 2022 but better than expected, coming in as Jekyll’s second-busiest nesting season since 1990, when consistent recording of nesting data began.

“Jekyll Island had the most nests for a semi-developed barrier island in Georgia (in 2023),” Zailo said. “This is likely due to a combination of Jekyll Island’s sea turtle education programs, conservation messaging, strong lighting ordinance — one of the most stringent in the United States pertaining to sea turtle nesting — and areas of undeveloped beachfront.

“Our commitment to protecting sea turtles includes reducing light disturbances from hotels and residential areas along the beach, using red lights at night to avoid turtle disturbance and the protection of nests from predators.”

Another fact Zailo found interesting is that the Georgia coast is seeing more unique turtle visits as opposed to the same turtles returning every year, a phenomenon he largely attributes to ongoing protection and conservation by agencies like the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the Jekyll Island Authority.

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