Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 18, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 18, 2023

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.

British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781,  ending the American Revolution.

On October 19, 1790, Lyman Hall, one of three signers of the Declaration of Independence from Georgia, died in Burke County, GA. Hall was elected Governor of Georgia in 1783, holding the position for one year, and was an early advocate for the chartering of the University of Georgia.

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.

On October 19, 1983, the United States Senate voted 78-22 to create a federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., to be celebrated on the third Monday of January. The House passed the King holiday bill, sponsored by Reps. Katie Hall (D.-IN) and Jack Kemp (R-NY), by a vote of 338-90 in August. President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation on November 3, 1983.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp visited the 2023 Sunbelt AgExpo in Moultrie, according to WALB.

Gainesville Mayor Sam Couvillon invited a local rabbi to open last night’s city council meeting with prayer, according to AccessWDUN.

Gainesville Mayor Sam Couvillon welcomed local Rabbi Nechemia Gurevitz to open Tuesday night’s City Council meeting in prayer and also expressed his support for Israel against its ongoing conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Rabbi Gurevitz opened his prayer asking for the safe return of the thousands of hostages to Israel.

“Almighty God masterfully universe, we stand here in your beautiful city of Gainesville, that our hearts and minds with your people in the Holy Land,” he said, “The venerated members of this body believe this welcoming and diverse city is called upon today to pray. We pray they should ensure that the hostages are returned home safely, that the thousands of wounded have a speedy recovery and the deaths of thousands of people should not be in vain.”

“Although we are all physically distant from the battles raging in Israel, we are all called upon to participate in the spiritual battle against the darkness is chased away by light,” he prayed. “Love extinguishes hate. When our enemies commit atrocities and despicable acts, we increase in acts of love, goodness, and kindness. When we stand in solidarity with Israel as natural as our presence and our words, we also stand in solidarity through our actions. We find ways to intentionally be more kind… Because every act of kindness is a powerful light that vanishes much darkness and most certainly vanishes despicable darkness we find ourselves amidst of.  Almighty God, the merit of our prayer, grant this great and beautiful city, sweetness and overflowing bless.”

Mayor Couvllion followed the prayer emphasizing the importance of speaking of the tragedy in Israel.

“When a  pebble is thrown into a pond the ripple effect the pebble will have downstream is never fully understood at that moment,” Couvllion said. “This is why so many more neighbors have condemned this attack that we joined. We joined them so that we are heard to show our Jewish friends here that they are loved and they have our support. We joined the condemnation of the events on October 7, to show that we stand in solidarity with the people of Israel, who have endured so much tragedy in the last week and a half.”

United States Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Atlanta) is co-sponsoring a resolution affirming the U.S. commitment to Israel, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, has cosponsored and introduced a bipartisan resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in the wake of the unprovoked Hamas terrorist attack. The resolution, introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, and Ranking Member James Risch, R-Idaho, reaffirms American support for Israel at a critical period for U.S.-Israel relations as Israel and Hamas are at war.

“(The Senate) stands with Israel as it defends itself, including Israeli efforts to diminish the threat posed by Hamas; reaffirms Israel’s right to self-defense, and is committed to helping Israel safeguard its people from future aggression,” wrote Warnock in this bipartisan resolution. “(The Senate) demands that Hamas immediately cease its attacks against Israel and safely release all living hostages and return the bodies of deceased hostages; and stands ready to assist Israel with emergency resupply or other security, diplomatic and intelligence support needs, both during the immediate crisis and in the near future, including by accelerating delivery of defense articles and systems.”

The resolution follows Warnock’s Oct. 10 statement condemning Hamas’ unprovoked attack, saying “The heinous acts of violence visited upon the people of Israel by Hamas — mothers, children and seniors, including American citizens — were horrific and are rightly condemned by all who believe in human dignity and seek a lasting peace. What these events make clear is that there are those who fear peace and seek to sabotage it at any cost. We must not let them win.”

Warnock has worked to bolster the United States’ commitment to Israel. During the summer he attended Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech to a joint session of Congress and reaffirmed his commitment to bring Israel and America closer together. In June 2022, Warnock was a part of a bipartisan group of 34 senators urging the Biden administration to maintain the United States Security Coordinator position at the three-star rank in order to maintain stability in Israel and the West Bank. Warnock was also a cosponsor to a resolution recognizing Israeli-American culture and heritage and the contributions of the Israeli-American community to the United States.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) discussed the same resolution , according to WTOC.

The Cobb County Board of Elections settled a lawsuit over election district lines, according to the AJC.

The Board of Elections is the sole defendant in the ongoing lawsuit over the school board map. As part of the settlement agreement, the board will not argue against the plaintiff’s contention that the map is unconstitutional when that case is presented to a judge.

The plaintiffs will ask the court to give the state Legislature a chance to redraw the map ahead of the 2024 election cycle, if the judge determines it does not conform with the law, according to the settlement.

The Cobb School District and its attorneys have repeatedly called on the elections board to defend the map in court and admonished them for settling the case.

The Board of Elections is majority Democrat and is appointed by elected officials in the state Legislature, the County Commission, and by the county’s two political parties. Daniel White, the attorney for the elections board, said they have maintained a neutral stance since the outset of the case and were not in a position to defend a map they did not create.

Two crime victims filed complaints against Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzales, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The latest complaints were filed by Watkinsville attorney Kevin Epps, who represents a woman involved in a hit-and-run wreck in Oconee County and the wife of a man who was killed while riding a bicycle in Athens. In both cases, the suspects were originally charged with drunk driving, but the charges were later dismissed.

The civil complaints are filed under a state law known as Marsy’s Law.

Earlier this year, Western Circuit District Attorney Deborah Gonzalez admitted guilt to a Marsy’s Law violation in a rape and child molestation case. She issued an apology, which included a statement that her office was taking measures to improve protocols to address communications with victims.

The Marsy’s Law complaints filed by Epps contend the homicide victim’s wife and the victim of the hit and run were not properly informed about the cases as they proceeded through the judicial system.

State House members may consider changes to the property tax assessment system, according to the AJC.

That’s one of the issues a House property tax panel is looking at this fall, and near the end of a recent meeting, the chairman of the committee called on a veteran statehouse lobbyist to pitch a proposal to change the way property taxes work.

Wouldn’t it be fairer, asked Les Schneider, a veteran lobbyist, who over the years has represented textile manufacturers, video gaming businesses and the limousine industry, if Georgians were taxed on what they paid for a house or other piece of property, rather than what a county assessor says it’s worth?

“It’s hard to argue with the market, it’s hard to argue with the price,” Schneider told a House Ways & Means property tax committee. “If they buy it for $100,000, they’d pay taxes on that.”

“I think it’s very intriguing and a real simplification of the valuation process,” said Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon, a Realtor and chairman of the panel “The fair market value argument is very sound. It’s an interesting idea.”

But while some real estate agents and lobbyists might like the idea, local government officials find it problematic. There are limits, for instance, on the tax rates most school districts can assess; one homeowner/business owner could be paying far higher taxes than another based on when they bought the property; some rural counties have little turnover in property, so could local schools and governments raise enough money to get by as the cost of services rise in a stagnant market?

Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes in the late 1990s passed a “homeowners bill of rights” and a tax credit on property tax bills. When Republicans took over the General Assembly, then-Speaker Glenn Richardson crusaded against rising property taxes – and Republican lawmakers floated the idea of replacing property taxes with higher sales taxes to pay for schools.

Schneider proposed reviving legislation filed in 2020 by then-House Ways & Means Chairman Brett Harrell, who is also now a lobbyist. It would ask voters to pass a constitutional amendment allowing local governments to essentially set property assessments at what an owner paid for property. If the property owner makes substantial improvements, they would be tacked onto the value.

It’s an interesting article about a complex issue and is worth reading in its entirety.

Proposed legislation by State Sen. Max Burns (R-Sylvania) would allow paper ballots, according to the AJC.

The bill would end Georgia’s reliance on voting computers that print out ballots, which critics say are vulnerable to potential tampering. Under current state law, in-person voters are required to vote on touchscreens.

Georgia’s voting system, manufactured by Dominion, has come under fire since the 2020 election, especially from Republican supporters of Donald Trump following his narrow loss in Georgia. Multiple investigations and recounts have confirmed the results.

The legislation by Senate Ethics Chairman Max Burns, a Republican from Sylvania, would allow in-person voters to request a physical ballot that they would fill out by hand. Burns didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Senators will discuss the bill at a Nov. 1 meeting of the Senate Ethics Committee, which will also focus on Raffensperger’s decision to wait until after 2024 to upgrade Dominion’s software.

Gwinnett County approved the purchase of an automation system for handling paper absentee ballots, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.

County commissioners voted to purchase a $401,508 vote by mail automation system from Quadient Inc. Elections supervisor Zach Manifold told commissioners the new system would ensure Gwinnett was ready if another pandemic situation, similar to the large increase in absentee-by-mail voting that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, happens again.

“This purchase with Quadient Inc. will provide for the beginning of automating our inbound absentee ballot processing set up, making the operation more efficient and secure and providing for the longterm infrastructure needed should Gwinnett Voter Registrations and Elections ever face another pandemic-type event,” Manifold told commissioners.

The commission also approved a new $708,000 contract with Fort Orange Press for ballot printing. The county has used Fort Orange Press to produce and mail out absentee ballots since the 2020 general election.

Manifold said the new contract will cover printing of emergency and provisional ballots to be used on election days in 2024, as well as the printing and mailing out of absentee-by-mail packets.

State Rep. Mesha Mainor (Atlanta) appears to be running for reelection after switching parties from Democrat to Republican, according to the AJC.

We can report this morning that she will indeed run in 2024 and has planned a campaign kickoff event in Atlanta on Oct. 24.

“Over the past two years I’ve had over 2,000 people reach out to me for help navigating their government. These aren’t people who care about Republican issues or Democrat issues, they care about their issues,” Mainor said. “And those are the people I will continue to serve in the Legislature.”

Shirlenia Daniel will be listed as the incumbent in November’s Pooler City Council after being appointed by the actual incumbents. From the Savannah Morning News:

Shirlenia Daniel will have sat through only two Pooler City Council meetings by Nov. 7. Nevertheless, there will be signage posted at early voting sites and polls on election day indicating that she is an incumbent for a seat that was held by former Mayor Pro Tem Tom Hutcherson until Oct. 2.

Hutcherson abruptly resigned during the executive session of the meeting that day. But he is still running for council to reclaim that seat.

From WTOC:

This election claimed the open seat left by the late Larry “Gator” Rivers who passed in April. Since then, his wife has been stepping in in his absence until a new commissioner could be elected.

Since Rivers had not finished 3/4 of his term a special election was required.

Don’t Drink the Water! Maybe. Hahira officials warned residents about water quality issues, according to WALB.

A recent water test showed a high level of a chemical compound that can be toxic with long-term exposure.

According to a violation public notice, samples of water were taken from raw supply water, water immediately following treatment, water from storage tanks and water from the distribution system. According to Wiseman, the levels of the haloacetic acids are between 10-15% — which is just above the contamination level.

“We believe the source of the TOC from the Hahira well is actually coming from the Little River. There appears to be some influence from the surface water into the aquifer that’s allowing that TOC to be present,” said Senior Project Engineer of Carter & Sloop Engineering Alex Wiseman.

The bottom line is for now, tap water is considered safe to drink, but people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women are advised to get guidance from their doctors.

Bryan County Commissioners adopted a comprehensive plan, according to WTOC.

This comprehensive plan is something the county has been working on for 18 months.

Comprehensive plans are required every five years by the state. It helps counties and municipalities plan for the future.

One main thing the county’s community development director says these plans focus on is development and growth in the area.

“It helps identify the goals and objectives of the communities. And so, for example, like recreation, we do address recreation in our plan, and we find out what type of goals does the community have. Are they looking for us to expand facilities, or are they looking to have more public involvement? Where, you know, do you think we need more parks? So that’s one element that it helps us,” said Audra Miller, Bryan Co. Community Development Director.

Augusta Commissioners heard a budget presentation, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Augusta Commission this week got its first look at the $1.156 billion proposed budget for fiscal year 2024, a proposal with about 5.5% increase over the current year’s budget.

These priorities included homelessness, human resources, infrastructure, public safety and quality of life, [interim county administrator Takiyah] Douse said.

On the revenue side, Augusta has a 2% increase in the digest, or total property value of the county, and a 3% increase in sales tax, as well as other fee and tax increases.

Commissioners unanimously voted to hold a work session on the budget, which is scheduled for Oct. 26. There will also be a public hearing on the budget on Oct. 30.

From WJBF:

But a growing budget does not mean a tax rate increase.

“Not for fiscal year 24, a tax increase has not been proposed if commissioners approve this budget as proposed it does not include any increases to taxes,” said Interim Administrator Takiyah Douse.

Commissioners plan to look at look at possible cuts at the first budget workshop next week.

Budget talks are underway with final approval scheduled for Nov. 21.

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller wants to build a new jail with funds from a new SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds, according to 13WMAZ.

Macon-Bibb Mayor Lester Miller says he’s willing to put the prospect of a new jail to a vote when voters decide on the 2025 SPLOST.

It’s the first official confirmation the county is considering replacing the 43-year-old facility. Sheriff David Davis said Monday the four inmates escaped from the oldest part of the jail, and he believes it could be part of the reason they got out.

Some county commissioners support a new jail, but two are still worried about the state of the current facility.

“Our staff folks, the deputies who are in there who are unsafe. It’s understaffed. So, we’ve got to do something,” Commissioner Elaine Lucas said.

Sheriff David Davis says fewer than 10 people were working in the jail on that particular shift. The optimal number is 30.

“We’ve not been able to have 30 people working in the jail on any shift in a long time,” Davis said in a news conference Monday.

Commissioner Virgil Watkins says he’s willing to vote to increase deputy pay again if the sheriff believes it will boost numbers. He just wants Davis to come to the commission and ask for what he needs.

Miller says if Bibb County voters approve the SPLOST in 2025, the penny sales tax would take effect immediately. In August, county spokesman Chris Floore said he expects the jail would cost about $80 million.

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office wants to augment their surveillance camera system, according to WRDW.

With deputy shortages, eyes in the sky are making up for officers on the payroll.

Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton with the sheriff’s agency says the Flock cameras are helping deputies stretch their resources farther.

“Because as far as all the deputies, we don’t want to run around chasing their tail. We want them to be able to catch bad guys. That’s what these license plate reading cameras do with these advanced analytics. That’s what it helps us to do,” he said.

Since installing the Flock cameras in 2021, Clayton says it’s helped them recover 126 stolen vehicles, solve 11 hit-and-run accidents where five of those were fatal, and piece together what happened in three murders.

It also helped them solve three armed robberies and find about a dozen people with active warrants.

“It’s the analytics that really helps us. Let’s say that it doesn’t have a tag. But it has some kind of another thing on the car that makes it identifiable, we’re able to put a filter in there, we’re able to search around for those cars, and find him throughout the county. We have them in all the hotspot locations throughout the county,” said Clayton.

“We’re planting the seeds right now for the future. And in 10 or 15 years, the capabilities of cameras. It’s gonna be hard to be a criminal,” he said.

Washington County Sheriff’s Deputies intercepted a drone being used to smuggle contraband into Washington State Prison, according to WRDW.

Two suspects were caught committing illegal activity at Washington State Prison after a deputy spotted and followed a drone to their operation over the weekend.

Officials say they discovered illegal drugs, contraband, a drone and a weapon.

Deputies and the Georgia Department of Corrections state that they will continue working together to monitor similar behavior at the Washington State Prison.

Malinda Scott Hodge was elected to the Chatham County Commission District 2 seat in yesterday’s runoff election, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Malinda Scott Hodge won the special election runoff for the Chatham County Board of Commissioners District 2 seat on Tuesday night, garnering 61.56% of the vote over David Tootle.

Hodge, a former Chatham County Board of Elections member, will finish the term of the late Larry “Gator” Rivers. The seat will be back up for election in November 2024 after the current term is complete.

Turnout on Tuesday was slightly up from September, with about 100 more votes cast in the runoff. Hodge finished with 806 votes, up nearly 300 votes from the special election. Tootle finished with 502 Tuesday, an increase from 328 last month.

After tendering his immediate resignation from council due to “health reasons,” Hutcherson has released a statement through the Ervin Law Firm regarding the status of his health.

“Tom Hutcherson has served Pooler diligently and selflessly for the past 3 1/2 years as a voice for the people,” noted the statement. “His concern first and foremost are the citizens of Pooler.”

While he resigned citing a health scare, he has since been reassured that he can assume full duties, the statement continues.

Pooler has also had a higher voter turnout for two out of the three most recent elections. In 2011, when the population was 19,326, 10,074 votes were cast in the council race, around 52%. In 2019, 56% of the population came out to vote, 14,452 of the 25,774 people living in Pooler at the time. In the eight years between 2011 and 2019, a flood of more than 6,400 people came rushing into the city. Since then, Pooler’s population is creeping up to 30,000 in the four years since the last election.

Sharroll Fanslau is running for Mayor of Pembroke, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Fanslau is no stranger to the community, having spent five years working for the Downtown Development Authority in Pembroke and four as the city’s clerk.

According to the settlement agreement between Fanslau and the City of Pembroke, “Her position as city clerk and treasurer for the City of Pembroke, Georgia terminated as of Sept. 1, 2020.”

The city told the Georgia Department of Labor the “Claimant seriously violated the procurement policy when she used the City of Pembroke’s credit card to purchase $1,600 of gift cards at what she thought was the request of her son-in-law when in fact, it was a phishing or scam scheme.”

Fanslau insists she resigned from the position. The city agreed to pay her $35,000 as part of a settlement agreement.

Karen Williams is running for Mayor of Pooler, according to WTOC.

All council seats and mayor are up for grabs in Pooler.

Karen Williams has served on council for nearly four years, but is now looking for more responsibility.

“I am ready to serve at the next level. I’m ready to continue my service to both residents and businesses in a way that I’ve been doing for even more than four years, even before I was elected,” said Williams.

You can cast your ballot early for the Mayor of Pooler and councilmembers through November 3rd, with election day itself November 7th.

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