Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 18, 2022

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 18, 2022

The Mason-Dixon line separating Pennsylvania from Maryland was established on October 18, 1767.

In 1760, tired of border violence between the colonies’ settlers, the British crown demanded that the parties involved hold to an agreement reached in 1732. As part of Maryland and Pennsylvania’s adherence to this royal command, Mason and Dixon were asked to determine the exact whereabouts of the boundary between the two colonies. Though both colonies claimed the area between the 39th and 40th parallel, what is now referred to as the Mason-Dixon line finally settled the boundary at a northern latitude of 39 degrees and 43 minutes. The line was marked using stones, with Pennsylvania’s crest on one side and Maryland’s on the other.

Twenty years later, in late 1700s, the states south of the Mason-Dixon line would begin arguing for the perpetuation of slavery in the new United States while those north of line hoped to phase out the ownership of human chattel. This period, which historians consider the era of “The New Republic,” drew to a close with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which accepted the states south of the line as slave-holding and those north of the line as free. The compromise, along with those that followed it, eventually failed.

On October 18, 1867, the United States took over Alaska from Russia and ran up Old Glory there for the first time.

Separated from the far eastern edge of the Russian empire by only the narrow Bering Strait, the Russians had been the first Europeans to significantly explore and develop Alaska.

Seeing the giant Alaska territory as a chance to cheaply expand the size of the nation, William H. Seward, President Andrew Johnson‘s secretary of state, moved to arrange the purchase of Alaska. Agreeing to pay a mere $7 million for some 591,000 square miles of land-a territory twice the size of Texas and equal to nearly a fifth of the continental United States-Seward secured the purchase of Alaska at the ridiculously low rate of less than 2¢ an acre.

On October 18, 1870, Rockdale and McDuffie Counties were created when Georgia Governor Rufus Bullock signed legislation creating them.

On October 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act became law after Congress overrode President Nixon’s veto.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp ordered flags flown at half-staff today on state properties in honor of the late State Representative Henry “Wayne” Howard.

Governor Kemp met Democrat Stacey Abrams in a debate last night, according to the Savannah Morning News.

“The reason people are on my side is because I’m on the right side of the issues and the right side of history,” Abrams said in response to an opening question about why she is behind on polls. “I do not believe I am behind, I believe I making the case for me.”

Asked about whether he would support additional bans on abortions or contraceptives, Kemp said, “No, I would not,” then pivoted to inflation.

“Thankfully, working with the Georgia General Assembly we’ve been able to give some people relief,” he said.

Kemp asked Abrams how many sheriffs had endorsed her campaign, alleging that none had – a characterization Abrams disagreed with.

“Gang crime is up, gun violence is up, housing prices have skyrocketed,” Abrams said. “We have 1.4 million people who don’t have health insurance…The most dangerous thing facing Georgia is four more years of Brian Kemp.”

Kemp, for his part, pivoted back to the rising living expenses.

“My record is being attacked because Abrams doesn’t want to talk about her own,” he said. “We value life and we care. But in the future, my focus is going to be what it was when we opened the debate, and that is addressing sky high inflation.”

Abrams called for using the $6.6 billion state surplus to increase access to preschool and give an $11,000 raise to teachers.

“This is exactly why I did the $5,000 teacher pay raise that I ran on in 2018,” Kemp said. “We’ve also done a Parent’s Bill of Rights.”

From the Associated Press via WALB:

Abrams, pushing uphill to unseat the incumbent four years after she narrowly lost to Kemp, told voters his record of accomplishments was scant.

“This is a governor who for the last four years has beat his chest but delivered very little for most Georgians,” she said. “He’s weakened gun laws and flooded our streets. He’s weakened … women’s rights. He’s denied women the access to reproductive care. The most dangerous thing facing Georgia is four more years of Brian Kemp.”

Kemp, though, reminded voters that he had delivered billions in tax relief and rebates to millions of Georgians, crediting his decision to reopen Georgia’s economy amid the pandemic for the state’s financial strength and repeatedly blaming Democrats for economic difficulties

“My desire is to continue to help them fight through 40-year-high inflation and high gas prices and other things that our Georgia families are facing right now financially because of bad policies in Washington, D.C., where President Biden and the Democrats have complete control,” he said.

Kemp said he “would not” go beyond the “heartbeat bill” he signed in 2019 to ban nearly all abortions at six weeks of pregnancy, a point that comes before many women know they’re pregnant. The law took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned a constitutional right to abortion services. The Georgia law includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest and health risks to pregnant women.

Kemp urged voters to remember that he was among the Republican governors who relaxed public restrictions early in the COVID-19 pandemic, including resisting widespread mask mandates and school closures during the nation’s worst public health crisis in a century.

“Our economy is incredible … we are the ones that’s been fighting for you when Ms. Abrams was not,” Kemp said.

More than 4 million people could vote in the state’s elections this year, and more than half are likely to cast ballots before Election Day. Gabriel Sterling, an official with the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said more than 100,000 people cast early votes Monday. Sterling said that surpassed a previous record of 72,000 for a midterm cycle.

More than 200,000 people have requested mail ballots already, with an Oct. 28 deadline to request them. Early in-person voting will run through Nov. 4.

Kemp and Abrams are scheduled to meet for a second debate on Oct. 30.

From WTOC:

For Gov. Kemp (R-Ga), he celebrated the state’s economy under his leadership.

This year, Georgia registered a surplus of more than $6 billion, which Kemp said he plans to use on a refund tax credit and property tax relief grants.

“If Stacey Abrams had been your governor over the last four years, you would not have that excess revenue because she wanted the state to stay locked down and criticized me when I opened it back up,” said Gov. Kemp.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald:

During an hourlong debate aired by Georgia Public Broadcasting, Kemp touted his efforts to target street gangs and human trafficking, reopen the state’s economy quickly following the onset of the pandemic and invest in public education.

“We are funding K-12 education in this state more than we ever have per pupil … coming off a recession in the middle of a global pandemic,” he said.

A central issue in the debate was what the state should be doing with a bulging budget surplus of $6.6 billion.

Kemp said he wants to use the money to fund another income tax rebate similar to the rebate the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed this year, plus a one-time property tax rebate.

“I want to invest it in our children and our families,” Abrams responded, including an $11,000 pay raise for teachers – compared to the $5,000 raises the legislature gave teachers at the governor’s request – and more pre-kindergarten slots to plug a backlog.

“We’ve got the money,” she said.

Kemp said the state is sitting on such a large pile of revenue because Georgia was the first state to reopen its economy early on during the pandemic at a time Abrams was calling for businesses and schools to remain locked down.

“We’re the ones who were fighting for you when Stacey Abrams was not,” Kemp said.

Since then, Georgia has seen more than $30 billion of investment in economic development projects, 74% of which went outside metro Atlanta along with 80,000 jobs, he said.

Abrams said Georgia’s surplus was built largely with federal pandemic relief dollars provided by the Biden administration and congressional Democrats.

The problem with spending the surplus as Ms. Abrams suggests is the question of what we do next year and the year after when revenues recede due to less federal money being sent to states.

From the AJC:

Kemp used every opportunity he could to tout the record he has built since he defeated Abrams in 2018. That was especially true when it came to the state’s economy. As he has done on the campaign trail, he credited his decision to reopen the state from COVID-19 lockdown protocols with amassing a healthy budget surplus, totaling more than $6 billion this year.

“If Stacey Abrams had been your governor over the last four years, you would not have that revenue,” he said. “She wanted to stay locked down and criticized us when we opened it back up.”

Asked why recent polls show her trailing Kemp even though she is in line with how most Georgians come down on some key issues – like her support for abortion rights – Abrams said she didn’t believe the surveys were accurate.

“Polls are a snapshot. The question is, who are they taking a picture of?” she asked. “I’m on the right side of history and the right side of the issues.”

One of the biggest disagreements between the two is the surplus: Kemp has pledged to return about $2 billion to taxpayers.

“We have, in fact, been using this revenue and will do so in the future to do another income tax refund… to put the money back in your pocket,” Kemp said.

Abrams has said it should be used to fund what she said were vital programs like Medicaid expansion and early childhood education. Abrams also wants to provide a $1 billion refund to Georgians.

Meanwhile, voters are going to the polls for early voting. From The Brunswick News:

Early voting started at 8 a.m. Monday with people waiting in line followed by a steady stream of Glynn County residents who wanted to get done with the process.

There were 14 waiting at the airport fire station poll on St. Simons Island and about eight at the Ballard precinct when the doors opened.

People in line were irritated to learn about the strict enforcement of the ban on cellphones in precincts.

They were among the more than 130 who had voted at Ballard by 10:20 a.m. Monday.

From the Dalton Daily Citizen News:

In Whitfield County, early voting is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the courthouse.

In Murray County, early voting is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Murray County Recreation Department on Hyden Tyler Road.

Locally there are no contested races. Murray County residents will vote on a measure on whether to allow restaurants to sell distilled spirits by the drink Monday through Saturday. They will also vote on a measure on whether to allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages by the drink on Sunday.

Voters will also decide on several proposed amendments to the state constitution, including one that would allow the pay of officials elected statewide to be suspended if they are indicted for a felony. Another proposed amendment would allow local governments and school boards to provide temporary tax relief to properties that are destroyed or severely damaged by a natural disaster in an area that nationally is declared a disaster area.

From WALB:

[I]n Lowndes County, a new voting system is not only making it faster to vote, but it’s also easier for workers and voters.

Lowndes County is one of 14 counties that are testing out a new system called the Advanced Voting Poll Pad. Supervisor of Elections Deb Cox says this system’s command center allows officials to monitor everything in real-time, even up to Election Day.

“It’s a new poll pad process and it’s working beautifully. It’s 10 times quicker than it used to be. It’s easier and more voter-friendly. They don’t have to fill out a piece of paper and all of that. They don’t have to wait for someone to come and check their ID because they just present their ID. Sounds like all the poll workers love it, the voters love it, the staff loves it, it’s a go.” Cox said.

From WSAV:

People made it out to the polls early and in a steady flow for the first day of early voting. Monday morning at the [Chatham County] board of elections office, the wait was well over two hours long, marking the first day people could cast their ballots early.

While it took over two hours to get through at the board of elections office, other locations around Savannah had much shorter wait times.

Early voting in Georgia wraps up on Nov. 4th, with election day set for Tuesday, Nov. 8.

From WTOC:

“We had 300 people come out to vote already this morning, which is a great turnout for just 4 hours. So, we encourage everyone that’s registered in Bryan County to please come out and vote. This is a big election for the state of Georgia and for Bryan County,” Bryan County Communications Manager Matthew Kent said.

“Pretty much it’s been constant since 8:00. And everything is, so far, going smooth from what I’ve seen,” Thompson said.

“We are fully staffed up. We actually had way more applications than we needed. So that’s a great thing for the citizens so they can get the help that they need,” Kent said.

From WTVM in Columbus:

“I was only in the line for an hour today,” says one voter.

“An hour and 13 minutes,” says another voter.

Plenty of voters lined up today at the citizens services center in Columbus to get ahead of the process.

From WALB:

The polls opened at about 9 a.m. Monday morning in Dougherty County. Some voters said the process was smooth, while others left the line to cast their ballot.

“I just wasn’t prepared for this today because usually in Dougherty County, I’ve come in for early voting and it was quick,” [Albany voter Herbert Phipps] said.

Phipps said he wanted to have his vote counted early but decided to leave because the wait time didn’t fit his schedule. He plans to get his voting done Tuesday morning.

”I just wasn’t prepared for the long line today, so I’m going to come back in the morning,” Phipps said.

The line wasn’t the only bump in the road on the first day of early voting. There was an issue with the state system, which raised concerns from Democratic State Senator Freddie Powell Sims.

“Someone has indicated that the State of Georgia machines are down or the computers are not working properly. I want to say to voters, don’t be discouraged,” Powell Sims said.

Dougherty County election officials said this did not slow the process down entirely.

“The state system was down for 20 minutes. However, we still were able to use another route, an alternative route to ensure that we were processing our voters,” Ginger Nickerson, Dougherty County board of elections director, said.

From WRDW:

In Richmond County, 1,005 people cast the votes Monday. That compares to 1,629 on the first day of early voting in 2020 and 636 on the first day in 2018.

Voters in Georgia are already sending in ballots by mail, with more than 1,000 received by Friday through the mail. More than 200,000 people have requested mail ballots already, with an Oct. 28 deadline to request them. Early in-person voting will run through Nov. 4, with counties mandated to offer two Saturdays of balloting and given the option of offering two Sundays.

From the AJC:

The first day of early voting in Georgia set a new midterm turnout record, with nearly 123,000 in-person voters casting their ballots, an early sign of strong interest in this year’s elections.

Turnout on Monday far exceeded the last midterms in 2018, when about 71,000 people showed up at the start of early voting, according to state election data.

The fast start put Georgia on pace to surpass the 3.9 million voters who cast ballots four years ago, though turnout appears unlikely to reach the 5 million voters who participated in the 2020 presidential election.

In-person early voting is the most popular method of casting a ballot in Georgia, with voting locations open for three weeks before Election Day, including two Saturdays. Some counties also offer Sunday voting hours.

Black voters accounted for about 39% of Georgia’s early voters, higher than their 29% of the state’s registered voters, according to an analysis of election data by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. About 49% of early voters were white, while Hispanic and Asian voters made up about 1% of turnout each. About 9% of voters didn’t provide their race or chose “other” when they registered to vote.

Absentee ballots were also beginning to be returned after they began to be mailed to voters last week. About 11,000 absentee ballots had been returned through Monday out of 218,000 requested.

U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Extreme Northwest Georgia) didn’t shy away in her statements in the debate for 14th Congressional District. From the Rome News Tribune:

“The Democrat Party is the party of child abuse. It’s the party that represents grooming children and sexualizing them in school; teaching anti-white racism in the terms of CRT education and genital mutilation of kids, kids that can’t even get a driver’s license, can’t get a tattoo and cannot vote.”

That’s how U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, opened her question to her Democratic challenger, Marcus Flowers, during Sunday’s Loudermilk-Young 14th Congressional District debate sponsored by The Atlanta Press Club.

“How do you stand there and represent the Democrat Party as a father and do you believe in genital mutilation of children under the age of 18…” she continued before being cut off by moderator Karyn Greer of WSB-TV for exceeding her time.

From the AJC:

“I stand by the words that I say,” Greene, a Republican, said during Sunday’s Atlanta Press Club debate. “They’re just offensive to Washington, D.C., and the swamp creatures there because the words that I speak are the same as Americans back home — the same as people in Georgia’s 14th district, and the words I speak are the truth.”

Despite how polarizing of a political figure Greene is, she is still the heavy favorite to win a second term in her deeply conservative northwest Georgia district. The district is overwhelmingly Republican, and although Flowers raises money from across the country from people who want to see Greene unseated, there is little indication her voters will abandon her.

Flowers said that he decided to run against Greene after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which he holds her partially responsible for inciting because she was among the Republicans who supported false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump. Asked Sunday whether Joe Biden won the election, Greene would only say he is the president now.

However, Greene took issue with Flowers’ attempts to tie her to the violence of that day.

“I was a victim of the January 6 riot just as much as any other member of Congress,” she said. “That was the third day I had on the job. I had nothing to do with what happened there that day, and I will not have you accuse me of that.”

Some pro-abortion Augustans will rally on Saturday to promote voting, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

Traci George of the People’s Agenda has been knocking on doors and registering voters. Now she wants to march them down to the polls.

The longtime activist is organizing a “Roe, Roe, Roe the Vote” march on Saturday, starting at the Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School parking lot, then marching a mile down Telfair Street to the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, where Augusta’s advance voting polls are located.

“We heard from many that they would be intimidated to go vote, they wanted vote buddies,” George noted in a text message. “My plans are to bring over 300 voters to the voting booth on Oct. 22, the first early Saturday of midterm voting.”

St. Marys voters will decide whether to permit earlier Sunday alcohol sales, according to The Brunswick News.

The existing law allows sales in the city from 12:30 p.m. Sunday until 12:30 a.m. Monday. The new law would allow Sunday sales to start at 11 a.m.

But a problem with the referendum’s wording is creating some confusion.

The referendum reads: “Shall the governing authority of the city of St. Marys, Ga. be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits, or alcoholic beverages for beverage purposes by the drink from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.?”

The way the referendum reads, for those who like to go to a sports bar to watch a Sunday afternoon game, last call will be a half hour before opening kickoff if there is only a 90-minute window to buy a cocktail at a restaurant or store, if the intent is to reduce hours.

St. Marys lawyer Jim Stein has worked as a city and county attorney in Georgia for many years. He said it’s unclear what the intent of the referendum is, but he interprets it to mean there will be a very narrow window to buy alcohol in stores and restaurants in St. Marys on Sundays.

If the referendum passes, Stein said he believes the new one will supersede the existing one that allows sales to begin at 12:30 p.m. and end at 12:30 a.m. Monday.

“You would not have two laws,” Stein said.

St. Marys Mayor John Morrissey said he believes the intent of the referendum is to extend the hours of Sunday sales, not to start them earlier for a 90-minute window.

United States Congressman Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will debate his Democratic opponent today on GPB, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Since Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. House Rep. Buddy Carter has had a challenger in Savannah lawyer Wade Herring. With Election Day now just a few weeks away, the two will finally meet face to face this week in a pair of televised debates.

Herring, the political newcomer who says he was inspired to run after Carter’s vote to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, comes into the race untested. He’s never held political office before, but he’s managed to draw plenty of folks to his side, raising $1.2 million in his first political campaign — with most of that cash, $1.18 million, coming from individual donors.

Carter, meanwhile, has held his congressional seat since 2014 and has served as an elected position at either the local, state or federal level since 1994 — 28 consecutive years of politics. Last week, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carter said he would be vying for the coveted House Budget Committee Chair position.

Brunswick City Commissioners will consider a moratorium on new homeless shelters, according to The Brunswick News.

Commissioner Julie Martin said she asked the city attorney to draw up a moratorium that could be passed via a commission resolution to put a stop to any new halfway houses or homeless shelters while the city works to redraft and modify local ordinances.

“Prices have gone up a good bit over the last two years, but nonprofits were buying the larger properties and running recovery homes, and I think people just didn’t want that to continue to happen,” Martin told The News. “… It wasn’t pushed forward, this resolution, to target any one specific entity or group or nonprofit. It’s just to have a waiting period.”

Columbus City Council is considering spending $13 million on raises for city employees, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

Columbus councilors could cast their final votes on the plan as early as Oct. 25 after they gave initial approval for the project in early September. If passed, the pay plan would take effect sometime before July 1, 2023 — the end of this fiscal year. The new plan would ensure that all full-time city employees make more than $15 an hour.

However, support among city employees is not universal. In emails to city leaders and during public comments at meetings, government employees expressed frustration with the proposal.

One of several concerns is that some longtime employees won’t be rewarded for all their years of service. The pay increases are based on the date employees started in their current position rather than the date they were hired. That leaves veteran employees who recently received promotions with smaller pay bumps, and a member of the council who spoke with the Ledger-Enquirer said the body wants to address this before the plan receives final approval. Roughly 500 employees have filed appeals and the appeals process is ongoing.

A wood pulp mill in Jesup is being blamed for polluting the Altamaha River, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Aerial photos show a plume of discolored water which sometimes stretches for miles downstream and has an offensive smell that repels fishermen and boaters, according to local environmentalists seeking to block the renewal of the plant’s discharge permit, which is up for its periodic review by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

On Sept. 15, the Southern Environmental Law Center submitted a report to the EPD on behalf of the Altamaha Riverkeeper arguing it would be illegal for the agency to grant Rayonier the draft discharge permit put forward for public comment last month.

The SELC and Altamaha Riverkeeper argued in their brief that the mill’s discharge violates a state water quality standard prohibiting interference with the “designated use” of a given body of water. The designated use of the impacted portion of the Altamaha is for fishing; according to the Altamaha Riverkeeper, many local fishermen do not fish downstream of the plant due to “the offensive smell of the fish once cut open” — a result of the fish absorbing the compounds emitted in the mill’s discharge.

“When the mill shuts down, the water clears up. You can tell when the mill’s not running,” Maggie Van Cantfort, a watershed specialist at the Altamaha Riverkeeper, told the Telegraph.

A Rayonier spokesperson, Ryan Houck, told the Telegraph in an email that the SELC’s “characterization is patently false,” noting that Wayne County hosts an annual catfishing tournament on the Altamaha for which “hundreds of fishermen from nearly 50 counties and multiple states travel here just to fish in the river.”

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