Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 27, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 27, 2023

On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II called for the first Crusade.

At the Council of Clermont, in France, at which several hundred clerics and noblemen gathered, Urban delivered a rousing speech summoning rich and poor alike to stop their in-fighting and embark on a righteous war to help their fellow Christians in the East and take back Jerusalem. Urban denigrated the Muslims, exaggerating stories of their anti-Christian acts, and promised absolution and remission of sins for all who died in the service of Christ.

Urban’s war cry caught fire, mobilizing clerics to drum up support throughout Europe for the crusade against the Muslims. All told, between 60,000 and 100,000 people responded to Urban’s call to march on Jerusalem. Not all who responded did so out of piety: European nobles were tempted by the prospect of increased land holdings and riches to be gained from the conquest. These nobles were responsible for the death of a great many innocents both on the way to and in the Holy Land, absorbing the riches and estates of those they conveniently deemed opponents to their cause. Adding to the death toll was the inexperience and lack of discipline of the Christian peasants against the trained, professional armies of the Muslims. As a result, the Christians were initially beaten back, and only through sheer force of numbers were they eventually able to triumph.

Urban died in 1099, two weeks after the fall of Jerusalem but before news of the Christian victory made it back to Europe. His was the first of seven major military campaigns fought over the next two centuries known as the Crusades, the bloody repercussions of which are still felt today. Urban was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1881.

On November 27, 1864, Sherman ordered the courthouse in Sandersville, Georgia burned.

On November 27, 1978, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered at City Hall.

[Suspect Dan] White, who was caught soon after the murders, pleaded a “diminished capacity” defense, claiming that copious amounts of junk food, combined with distress over the loss of his job, caused him to suffer mental problems. The so-called “Twinkie Defense” appeared to be successful, and, in 1979, White was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. Public outrage was so widespread that California revoked the diminished capacity defense in subsequent cases.

In 2009, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and California declared his birthday, May 22, Harvey Milk Day. On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall in 2019, Milk was an inaugural inductee onto the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp issued Executive Order #11.21.23.01, declaring a State of Emergency in Sumter County related to the celebration of life for the late First Lady Rosalynn Carter. From the Capitol Beat News Service:

Gov. Brian Kemp is assigning Georgia National Guard troops and other state resources to help with the “logistical challenges” associated with ceremonies and services to honor the late former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

Kemp issued an executive order Tuesday activating the State Operations Center to coordinate the state assets that will assist next week in the final farewells and interment of Mrs. Carter, who died Sunday at her home in Plains. The order also calls on the Georgia Department of Defense to provide up to 50 National Guard troops.

Ceremonies celebrating the life of the former first lady of both Georgia and the United States will begin next Monday morning [today] with a motorcade from Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus to the Rosalynn Carter Health and Human Services Complex at Georgia Southwestern State University, where wreaths will be laid.

The motorcade then will travel to The Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, where members of the public will be able to pay their respects from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. as Mrs. Carter lies in repose.

On Tuesday, the motorcade will travel to Glenn Memorial Church at Emory University for a tribute service with invited guests at 1 p.m.

On Wednesday, the funeral procession will arrive at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains for an 11 a.m. service for family and invited friends. The casket then will depart for a private interment at the Carter family residence.

Under a second executive order Kemp issued Tuesday, the U.S. and Georgia flags will be flown at half-staff at all state buildings and grounds from Monday through sunset on Wednesday.

President Biden and Vice President Harris will visit Georgia today, according to CNN via WTVM.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with their spouses, will travel to Atlanta for a tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

The tribute service on Tuesday will be held at Emory University for invited guests.

Starting Monday, a number of ceremonies will be held across the state leading up to her funeral service in Plains, Georgia, on Wednesday.

From the Athens Banner Herald via the Savannah Morning News:

Biden is scheduled to arrive with first lady Dr. Jill Biden on Tuesday to attend the former first lady’s memorial service. Vice President Kamala Harris and husband second gentleman Douglas Emhoff will attend, too, according to the White House.

A service for Rosalynn Carter is planned for invited guests Tuesday in Atlanta at Glenn Memorial Church at Emory University.

On Wednesday, the funeral procession arrives in the morning at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia for a service for family and friends.

The casket will then be transferred to a hearse and depart for private interment at the Carter family residence.

The Georgia General Assembly convenes in Special Session on Wednesday, November 29, 2023, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

“(Republican incumbents are) either going to end up in districts highly likely to elect a Democrat or in a district with another Republican incumbent,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who has written extensively about redistricting. “They will have to decide which Republicans are going to walk the plank.”

The General Assembly’s Republican majorities drew the current maps two years ago in a redistricting exercise legislatures around the country go through every decade following the decennial U.S. Census to account for changes in population that occurred during the previous 10 years.

Almost immediately, civil rights and voting rights groups sued the state, claiming the new district boundaries ignored strong population growth among minorities in Georgia since 2010 and an actual decline in the state’s white population.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones agreed in a ruling last month that ordered the legislature to redraw the 2021 congressional and legislative maps. The lengthy 516-page ruling specifically instructed lawmakers to add one Black majority congressional district, two more Black majority Georgia Senate districts, and five additional state House seats.

While Jones ruled that five of Georgia’s congressional district maps violate the Voting Rights Act, the action during the upcoming special session is expected to focus on McCormick’s 6th District or the 11th Congressional District centered in portions of Cobb and Cherokee counties represented by GOP Rep. Barry Loudermilk.

Of the two, McCormick is the more likely target, said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University. While McCormick is a freshman in the House, Loudermilk has served in Congress since 2015 and before that was a member of the General Assembly.

“Loudermilk’s been around awhile,” Swint said. “He’s bult a base of support.”

Jones was more specific in the portion of last month’s ruling pertaining to legislative seats. The judge ordered the legislature to draw two additional Black majority Georgia Senate seats in the southern portion of metro Atlanta and five more Black majority state House seats – two in the south metro, one in the western portion of the metro region, and two in the Macon area.

The special session isn’t expected to take long. For one thing, Jones’ order gives lawmakers only until Dec. 8 to draw the new congressional and legislative maps.

Bullock said another factor that could allow this round of redistricting to go smoothly is that lawmakers only will be focusing on those parts of the state the judge pointed to in his ruling.

“If you’re in south Georgia, you won’t have to worry about any of these changes,” he said. “It won’t be a complete redraw.”

From the Rome News Tribune:

Gov. Brian Kemp’s call for the special session also includes ratifying his executive orders suspending the gas tax through Nov. 30, said Rep, Katie Dempsey, R-Rome.

Other than that, she’s going to try to squeeze in some more site visits. Dempsey chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on human resources. She visited a Georgia Baptist Children’s Home site the week before Thanksgiving.

“We do that to see how the money is being spent and to get a better idea of their needs,” she said. “I’d like to visit some of the other facilities we fund, if it works out. It may just be me, or the committee.”

Dempsey noted that lawmakers are up against a tight deadline of Dec. 8 to adopt the new voting district maps. And while committees can meet, they can’t take any action other than what Kemp set out in his proclamation.

From Georgia Recorder via the Albany Herald:

Republican legislative leaders have been largely quiet about the redistricting do-over and have offered few clues about their plans. House Speaker Jon Burns has said he believes they will land “in a place that Judge Jones will be able to accept,” though he did not elaborate, and no proposed GOP maps for either chamber have been released with the mapmaking session less than a week away.

The detailed 516-page order appears to leave little wiggle room for GOP mapmakers. Jones offered specific guidance on what a remedy should look like: two additional majority black Senate districts in south metro Atlanta and five additional majority black House districts, including two “in or around” Macon-Bibb County, two in south metro Atlanta and another in west metro Atlanta.

“That’s very precise what he did, saying look on the west side, look on the south side, go down to Macon,” Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who is the author of the book called “Redistricting: the Most Political Activity in America,” said. “That’s clear guidance.

“So it means if the Legislature doesn’t follow it, then he could easily say, ‘Hey, I gave you explicit directions and you ignored them,’ and therefore he could act like the court did over in Alabama and have a special master step in to draw.”

Bullock said the state’s decision to not attempt to temporarily block the judge’s ruling means the maps created during this year’s special session will likely be used in next year’s election.

But if the state is successful in challenging the ruling, then the next election could be held under the old maps, though this would be an unusual twist.

“I don’t see how you comply with Jones’ order and protect all 33 Republican senators,” Bullock said. “If you’ve only got an area where you have black Democrats and white Republicans, who loses?

“In those areas where someone is going to be sacrificed, who gets protected? Who’s been on the naughty list and who’s been on the good list with Santa Claus Jon Burns and Santa Claus Burt Jones?”

“I think that’s going to be the biggest thing to watch is who gets drawn in with whom, on both sides,” former state Rep. Erick Allen, a Cobb County Democrat who testified for the plaintiffs during the September trial, said. “I mean, do they use this as an opportunity to draw out Colton Moore, who they really do not want in their Senate caucus?”

Georgia State Senators are expected to make public a proposed redistricting map, according to the AJC.

Mapmakers worked to comply with U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ order to create two new majority-Black Senate districts in south Atlanta. Drawing new lines that satisfy the judge, who ruled that the current maps illegally dilute Black voting power, is not a given. Recall that Alabama lawmakers resisted a court-ordered redistricting earlier this year.

We’re told the new Senate districts minimize GOP damage but aren’t set to pair incumbents against each other, protecting Democrats and Republicans who already hold seats.

That means Republican state Sen. Brian Strickland, whose McDonough-based district could have been made substantially more competitive, is likely to be insulated, barring any last-minute changes.

A vaster overhaul is expected in the Georgia House, where Jones called for five new majority-Black districts in metro Atlanta and Macon.

Avoiding brutal incumbent-on-incumbent pairings might be impossible. One wizened legislator likened it to “Godzilla stomping through territory.” That chamber’s proposed maps may not be released until later this week.

State Rep. Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville, framed the upcoming session this way: “We will waste taxpayer money for something that should have and could have been done right the first time.”

The obvious challenge for state lawmakers whose district lines are redrawn this month is the Georgia constitution requires they live within the district where they run for one year prior to Election Day.

But the real twist is in the calendar. With Election Day 2024 falling on Nov. 5, that means the residency deadline for the upcoming election has already passed. So there won’t be time for members to move into revised districts should they be drawn out this week.

They’ll either run where they live or not at all.

The Georgia Supreme Court declined their proposed role in approving rules and regulations for the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission (PAQC), according to the Capitol Beat News Service.

In a six-page ruling, the justices declined to review rules and regulations for the Professional Attorneys Qualifications Commission as required by Senate Bill 92, which lawmakers passed along party lines in March and GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed in May.

“We have grave doubts that adopting the standards and rules would be within our constitutional power,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, we respectfully decline to take any action regarding the commission’s draft standards of conduct and rules for the commission’s governance.”

The legislature created the oversight commission to investigate complaints lodged against local prosecutors and potentially discipline or remove the target of a complaint on a variety of grounds including mental or physical incapacity, willful misconduct or failure to perform the duties of the office, conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, or conduct that brings the office into disrepute.

There was no immediate response from Republicans to Wednesday’s ruling, which came on the afternoon before a long holiday weekend. But GOP legislative leaders could get around the decision by amending the law during this winter’s General Assembly session to remove the provision requiring the Georgia Supreme Court to review the commission’s rules.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision that put Georgia Public Service Commission elections on hold, according to the Associated Press via AccessWDUN.

The ruling is important beyond Georgia’s Public Service Commission because it could help protect certain statewide elections in other states subject to scrutiny for racial discrimination under the Voting Rights Act. It also could signal limits to a new wave of voting rights litigation after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key part of the law this year in an Alabama case.

In August 2022, U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg had ordered Georgia’s commissioners elected by district, the first time a statewide voting scheme had been overturned by a federal judge. But a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Grimberg went too far.

“Georgia chose this electoral format to protect critical policy interests and there is no evidence, or allegation, that race was a motivating factor in this decision,” Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote for the unanimous panel. “On the facts of this case, we conclude that plaintiffs’ novel remedial request fails because Georgia’s chosen form of government for the PSC is afforded protection by federalism and our precedents.”

Plaintiffs decried the ruling as sanctioning discrimination. Grimberg had found statewide elections illegally handicapped Black-favored candidates, and that such candidates would have a better chance if only voters in a district elected each candidate, making it possible to draw at least one Black-majority district.

If the ruling stands, it could put three of the five Georgia commission seats on 2024 ballots. Commissioners typically serve staggered six-year terms, but elections for the places held by Commissioners Fitz Johnson and Tim Echols were delayed from 2022 by Grimberg’s ruling. Johnson and Echols had already each won the GOP nomination.

A third Republican, Commissioner Tricia Pridemore, was already scheduled for election in 2024. Commissioners are required to live in particular districts under state law, but run statewide.

It wasn’t immediately clear Friday if parties would nominate new candidates, or if the 2022 nominees would stand. It’s also unclear whether delayed elections would take place in November 2024 when voter turnout will be highest, or at some other time. No other statewide offices besides public service commission are scheduled for 2024 ballots.

The appeals court said the lawsuit must fail because the plaintiffs hadn’t proposed a plan to remedy discrimination while maintaining a statewide election system, saying courts can’t impose a new form of government as part of a Voting Rights Act remedy.

“Plaintiffs’ novel proposal is that we dismantle Georgia’s statewide PSC system and replace it with an entirely new districted system,” the court wrote. “But we have never gone this far.”

“If each commissioner represented only a district, then important questions of utility regulation — such as the location of energy and infrastructure — could turn into a zero-sum game between commissioners beholden to their districts instead of a collaborative effort to reach the best result for the entire state,” the court wrote.

State Senator Donzella James (D-Atlanta) is working on legislation to rein-in Homeowner Associations, according to the AJC.

[A] panel of state senators led by Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, held a hearing earlier this month where homeowners flocked to the capitol to tell stories of problems they’ve had with HOAs.

It’s part of an effort to draw attention to the issue as Democratic lawmakers will try again to curb the power of HOAs in Georgia in the next legislative session that begins in January.

City of South Fulton council member Linda Becquer-Pritchett testified that several HOAs in her city have run into problems. They include Camelot Condominiums, where two members of the HOA board were indicted for allegedly stealing funds from a $1.5 million insurance payout after a building was destroyed by a fire.

“People are being really terrorized by HOAs,” Becquer-Pritchett said. “I’m seeing abuse that’s unconscionable.”

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation published last year found that HOAs face few regulations in Georgia and wield broad powers over the estimated 2.2 million residents who reside within communities governed by associations. For those who run afoul of their association, the stakes can be high.

Georgia homeowners who find themselves in dispute with their associations have little recourse but to file a lawsuit in civil court, a prospect that can prove extremely costly to homeowners. Lawyers who represent homeowners are rare, and pursuing a lawsuit against an HOA can cost thousands of dollars — often exceeding the amount of the fines.

And taking one’s HOA to court can be risky. If the homeowner loses, Georgia law allows for an association to charge the homeowner for its attorneys fees.

James and her Democratic colleagues face steep opposition from industry groups and housing interests and, historically, there has been little appetite among Georgia Republicans for regulating HOAs. SB 29 did not receive a floor vote, neither did a similar bill on the House side, sponsored by Rep. Viola Davis, D-Stone Mountain.

Gwinnett County Commission Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson (D) proposed a $2.5 billion dollar budget for 2024, according to the AJC.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson is proposing a $2.5 billion county budget for 2024 that attempts to keep up with population growth and a tight labor market by adding 104 jobs, pay raises and infrastructure improvements.

“Our 2024 proposed budget focuses on ensuring that we can maintain our exceptional services while prioritizing the rapidly changing needs of our residents and businesses,” Hendrickson said in a news release.

The overall budget represents about a 9% increase from this year. It includes $1.96 billion for operations and $542 million for capital improvements. The general fund budget, which includes payroll, would be nearly $550 million, an increase of about 13%.

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote Jan. 2 on the budget. The board approves property tax rates in the summer.

It appears that Gwinnett County’s Fiscal Year begins January 1, 2024.

Springer Opera House executive director Danielle Varner launched a petition opposing the construction of a new Judicial Center in Columbus, according to WTVM.

New details about the construction of Columbus’ new judicial center set to be built across the street from the State Theatre of Georgia, the Springer Opera House.

In the wake of the plan, staff of the historic theatre are expressing a “no” to the site plan for this big project.

The petition is to express how the Springer and its supporters strongly believe the site plan will negatively impact the building that is more than 150 years old.

The new plan, unveiled September 12, eliminates the existing greenspace on 10th Street and replaces it with a modern, eight-story high-rise building that hovers over multiple historic structures, including Columbus’ National Historic Landmark – the Springer Opera House – which would literally be in the shadows of the new structure for much of the year.

Mayor Skip Henderson says construction shouldn’t be a problem as the design team and construction company is considering the age of the 153-year-old building.

“They’ve also changed the way they’re going to put the footings in. They won’t use a jackhammer, they’ll use an auger to minimize vibrations,” said Henderson, “Bottom line is the design team, construction team, and certainly the consolidated government are committed to keeping the state theatre safe.”

“Anytime someone brings a petition or even just calls us frankly and says hey we have some concerns. We’re going to make sure we’re going to talk about, we’re going to make sure we provide them input and mitigate every concern they have. It may not be possible for us to solve every single issue, but if we work together, we’re going to be able to make it work out,” said Henderson,

The Glynn County Board of Elections is preparing for 2024 Elections, according to The Brunswick News.

Christopher Channell, Glynn County’s elections supervisor, said one of the first preparations for next year is for the Glynn County Commission to establish the qualifying fees for different offices. That is expected to be approved by the county commission by early January, he said.

Local elections next year include county commission, school board, and all the constitutional offices including sheriff, tax commissioner and clerk of Superior Court.

Voters will also have to elect a district attorney, state representatives and a senator, a full slate of state races, a U.S. Senate seat, a U.S. House seat and the next president.

Channell said all the voting machines have to undergo logic and accuracy testing to ensure every vote cast will be counted accurately. It’s a process that takes about two weeks.

Luckily, the county won’t have to worry about the state requirement for a minimum number of voting machines at each polling place to ensure voters don’t have long waits for the primary elections. Channell said some polling locations have such a strong early voting turnout that the waits are minimal on Election Day.

But the state mandate remains in place for general elections. During the upcoming General Assembly session. state Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-St. Simons Island, is expected to push for the state requirement for the number of voting machines be relaxed in smaller counties that have strong early voting turnout and don’t need the additional machines.

Qualifying for May’s general primary is March 4-8, with county seats including sheriff, several county commission seats and constitutional offices on the line.

On March 12, voters from both parties will show up to the polls for the presidential preference primary.

About a month later, early voting will begin for the May 21 general primary election, followed by runoffs on June 18.

Then, elections officials will have to prepare for the Nov. 5 general election, with an early voting period in what is expected to generate a high turnout.

The runoff for the general election will be held Dec. 5. By the time the elections results have been audited and approved by the state, local elections officials may be done in time for a well-deserved vacation just before Christmas.

The City of Milton may not have reaped the economic efficiencies they sought by administering their own elections this year, according to the AJC.

Before the city of Milton took over management of local elections this year, city leaders promoted the change as a way to achieve huge savings to taxpayers.

But costs exceeded rosy projections in an election with fewer voting locations and slower results than if Fulton County had remained in charge.

“There’s something to be said for doing things yourself and getting your own results, but obviously, if it was the same amount, it would be much more effort for the same cost by doing it in-house,” Milton City Manager Steve Krokoff said. “It was a definitely a significant drain on our staff resources.”

The north Fulton city hasn’t compiled a full accounting of election costs, but initial estimates indicate that cost savings fell short of the hopes of a study led by local Republicans and city officials.

By running its own municipal elections, Milton was able to use paper ballots that it counted by hand, without optical scanning machines, a process that delayed vote totals until about 12:45 a.m. the night of the election. Republicans who distrust voting machines following Donald Trump’s debunked claims of fraud in the 2020 election conducted hand ballot counts in several counties this year.

Three polling places were open on Election Day, down from the eight polling places Fulton County provided in previous city elections. One early voting location was available at Milton City Hall after voters were able to cast ballots at any of the county’s 24 sites in municipal elections two years ago.Three polling places were open on Election Day, down from the eight polling places Fulton County provided in previous city elections. One early voting location was available at Milton City Hall after voters were able to cast ballots at any of the county’s 24 sites in municipal elections two years ago.

Palmetto City Clerk Cindy Hanson said locally run elections cost less money upfront but require much more labor from government employees. She said this year’s city elections cost about $8,000, plus staff time, compared with about $30,000 if it paid Fulton to do the job for the city of 3,500 registered voters.

Besides Milton, four other cities are considering taking over management of their local elections in two years: Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Mountain Park and Roswell.

Savannah is considering creating an accountability court to address homelessness, according to WTOC.

Officials say homeless courts have been implemented in communities across the nation and serve as a diversion court for low level misdemeanor offences. Assistant Chief of Police for Savannah, Robert Gavin described them as quality-of-life crimes.

“Things from aggressive panhandling, begging from the medians and roadways indecent exposure those types of crimes, trespass continued, going into stores, shops or hanging in front of places, what the homeless court allows for is instead of taking this to recorders court or the state court it brings them into those services and looks at getting them the mental health– it has all of those offering to them and they don’t have to take part in it but they are held accountable and given those opportunities,” said Assistant Chief Robert Gavin, Savannah Police Department.

The program would combine “a plea bargain system, assurance of “no custody”, alternative sentencing, and activities to address certain criminal offenses.”

“For people who may be experiencing homelessness, instead of getting papered or picked up and wasting a lot of resource from the public safety side, with not a whole lot of advancement or outcomes for that person is essentially a diversion court that uses the justice system in order to connect people with better services that are going to provide better outcomes,” said Jay Melder, Savannah City Manager.

“To the extent we can get cases resolved more efficiently more effectively and in a way that leads to hopefully leads to those persons not reoffending, I think it is a win for everyone,” said Superior Court Judge Lisa Colbert, Chatham County.

Macon-Bibb County will buy ATVs for security patrols with proceeds from a grant, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Mayor Lester Miller applied for and received a $200,000 grant from the Peyton Anderson Foundation to buy ATVs for security patrols downtown, Carolyn Crayton Park and along the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

Miller said the vehicles will allow the county to more efficiently monitor those areas, address any issues or problems, and provide additional security for those walking the trails.

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