Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 9, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for October 9, 2023

Today is Leif Erikson Day, celebrating the Norse explorer being the first European to visit North America. From Mental Floss:

While the actual date of Leif Erikson Day doesn’t have anything personally to do with Leif, it was picked for the holiday because it’s the anniversary of the day that the ship Restauration arrived in New York from Stavanger, Norway, back in 1825. The arrival of the Restauration marked the beginning of organized immigration from Scandinavia to the USA. The holiday was first recognized by Wisconsin in 1930, eventually becoming a nationally observed holiday in 1964.

On October 9, 1963, the Board of Regents approved a new junior college in Cobb County that is today Kennesaw State University. The next year, Cobb County voters approved a bond referendum to fund construction.

Democrat Jimmy Carter challenged President Gerald Ford to make his income tax returns public on October 9, 1976.

United States Senator Sam Nunn announced on October 9, 1995 that he would not run for reelection. From CNN’s contemporary story:

“I know in my heart it is time to follow a new course,” Nunn told reporters gathered in the Georgia State Capitol. He said his decision followed “a lot of thought and prayer” and he expressed enthusiasm about meaningful days ahead in the private sector.

“Today I look forward to more freedom, to more flexibility,” he said, adding he planned to spend time with his family, to write, and “devote a substantial amount of time” to public policy and public service. He said he has no immediate plans for a presidential bid.

Nunn hailed America as “the greatest country in the world,” but cited problems that need attention, including education concerns, illegitimate children, and widespread violence and drugs. He expressed optimism on such items as the strong military and entitlement reform.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said of Sam Nunn’s retirement,

“For those who listened carefully, it is clear that the Democratic Party is not the vehicle for the values outlined by Sen. Nunn.”

Nolan Waters of Knight-Ridder wrote of the announcement,

Nunn’s departure is a watershed.

“Nunn is the last of the great moderate Southern Democrats. This creates a huge hole for the party,” said Merle Black, a specialist on Southern politics at Emory University in Atlanta.

Nunn, like President Clinton, helped organize a group of moderate Democrats, the Democratic Leadership Council, in an attempt to move the party rightward after the 1984 landslide re-election of President Reagan.

“He has been fighting the liberal wing of his party for over two decades,” Black said. “It’s been a losing battle.”

In place of Nunn, the state’s most prominent politician is becoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich – whose futuristic, activist style of conservatism seems radical along-side Nunn’s traditionalism.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

WRDW writes that today is the deadline to register to vote in November elections, but the Secretary of State’s site says it’s tomorrow. From WRDW:

The last day to register to vote in Georgia is on Monday.

One of the items on the ballot is the half-penny sales tax for the James Brown Arena.

Remember, if you’ve moved counties or changed your name, you must update your information to vote.

From the SOS office website:

Registration Deadline
10/10/2023

Either way, today is a great day to check that your voter registration is up-to-date.

From the AJC:

The voter registration deadline for the upcoming metro Atlanta elections is Tuesday, Oct. 10.

Elections this fall are mostly for local governments, including the Atlanta Board of Education — but not Atlanta City Council. Many other metro Atlanta cities will hold elections in November. But the city of Atlanta held most of its elections in 2021.

So election day this year is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Early voting for the November elections begin as soon as Monday, Oct. 16. Any runoff elections would be Tuesday Dec. 5.

State agencies are seeking more funding in the legislative budget process, according to the AJC.

Agencies requested massive increases in health care spending, for pay raises, to fight crime, improve prisons … and in some cases, to get some of the money back that either the General Assembly or Kemp cut during the budget process earlier this year.

That included the $66 million lawmakers cut from the University System of Georgia during a dispute over a medical college contract and some of the money they slashed from public television and radio.

The requests are just that: agencies asking that the state, which has been on a fiscal roll since a few months after the start of COVID-19 pandemic, to spend billions of dollars more through mid-2025. Kemp will consider the requests as he puts together his proposals for the midyear fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2025 budgets. The General Assembly will then decide what gets approved, and what doesn’t, and will add its own priorities.

“I was somewhat surprised at the dollar level of the requests, given that inflation is causing a slowdown in the economy and revenue,” [Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia)] said. “We will certainly comb through those numbers to look at need and evaluate return on investment for the taxpayers of the state.”

The state took in over $5 billion more than it spent in fiscal 2023, which ended June 30. Last year it was more than $6 billion, and the previous year, almost $4 billion.

Kemp has urged lawmakers to give some of the money back to Georgians in the form of income and property tax breaks, and the General Assembly has enthusiastically supported the idea. That trend will likely continue during the 2024 session, which begins in January.

The agency that runs Medicaid asked for an increase of more than $1 billion for the program and nearly $3 million to hire more people to monitor and evaluate its partnership with private health care providers. The mental health agency asked for big increases in several areas, including money to bring more mental health hospital beds online.

Superior court judges asked for $20 million to boost their salaries, an issue lawmakers debated during the mid-2010s.

Bulloch County approved the purchase of a second site for a water well to serve the Hyundai plant, according to the Statesboro Herald.

After the revised purchase approved this week of a 3.7-acre parcel on Highway 46 for a total price of $118,176, or $32,000 per acre, Bulloch County will have potential sites in hand for the two wells it is expected to own to provide water to Hyundai Motor Group’s huge Metaplant America.

Construction of the factory complex for making electric vehicles and their batteries is now well underway in northern Bryan County about five miles from the southeastern Bulloch County line. Bryan County also is expected to provide two wells, as part of the deal by the four-county Joint Development Authority and Georgia’s state government for the approximately 8,500 jobs expected at the Hyundai plant and thousands more jobs at parts factories being built in Bulloch and neighboring counties.

But Bryan County’s two wells, although to be owned officially by that county’s government, are also expected to be located within southeastern Bulloch County because of a longstanding state environmental restriction on new wells being drilled in Bryan.

The idea of Bulloch County hosting all four wells and potentially sending millions of gallons of water daily across the county line doesn’t sit well with some Bulloch residents. Neither does the county government’s strategy of using some of the water to start its own water system serving future residential neighborhoods.

“Those wells were the biggest mistake we’ve made,” said Randy Proctor, the first Southeast Bulloch-area resident to speak. “That’s ridiculous, for us to have to furnish water for a Korean car plant on American soil.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released results of an audit of Georgia nursing homes, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The report from the Office of the Inspector General of DHHS involved inspections of 20 nursing homes of the 358 in the state that participated in Medicare and Medicaid, 19 of which had issues with in life safety, emergency preparedness or infection control — a total of 155 deficiencies across the facilities.

The inspections followed updates by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2016 to the requirements for these kinds of facilities. The inspections, however, are done by state agencies. The facilities were selected because they had had issues listed previously, and none were named in the public report.

“As a result, the health and safety of residents, staff, and visitors at the 19 nursing homes are at an increased risk of injury or death during a fire or other emergency, or in the event of an infectious disease outbreak,” the report found.

The issues resulted from rapid turnover of staff and a lack of resources on the part of the Georgia agency to carry out inspections of nursing homes more frequently than every 15 months, according to the audit. While CMS does not require staff training on some of these issues, the report also suggested that Georgia could require this training and it might help avoid some of these issues.

In a response to the audit, the Georgia Department of Community Health said it was following up on the reported issues found in the audit, but that some of the recommendations, like more regular inspections, were beyond the scope of the agency. The State Fire Marshal, which is responsible for emergency preparedness inspections, also said they would follow up.

Georgia will be the first state to sell medical cannabis products in pharmacies, according to the Associated Press via WSAV.

The Georgia Board of Pharmacy began accepting applications this week, and nearly 120 pharmacies have agreed to provide medication from Botanical Sciences, one of the state’s two licensed production companies, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. It will likely take a few weeks before medical marijuana is available in pharmacies. After they submit applications, inspections will be required before the board grants approval.

Medical marijuana is only available to Georgians with approval from a physician to treat severe illnesses including seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Low THC oil can contain no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high.

The expansion of medical cannabis sales into drug stores will put low THC oil within reach of many more patients, adding to the state’s seven dispensaries that have opened since April.

Patients will be able to buy cannabis oil at pharmacies if they show a state-issued low THC oil registry card and identification.

“Pharmacists have been fielding questions from patients for years without ever having the ability to do anything about it,” said Gary Long, CEO for Botanical Sciences. “Finally, they have the ability not just to give people advice but provide them with the therapies they’ve been seeking.”

The Georgia General Assembly approved distribution of low THC oil as part of a state law passed in 2019, but it has taken years to create regulations for safety, inspections, licensing and distribution. Gov. Brian Kemp approved rules last month that were passed by the Georgia Board of Pharmacy, clearing the way for pharmacy sales to begin.

“We’re going to have patients that need this health care in some remote parts of Georgia that probably would never have a dispensary near them,” said Jonathan Marquess, vice president for the Georgia Pharmacy Association and the owner of several pharmacies in the Atlanta area. “But they do have a caring professional, a knowledgeable professional pharmacist, in their communities who can talk to them.”

There are over 400 independent pharmacies in Georgia, and Marquess said he expects most of them will be interested in selling low THC oil. The product isn’t being sold by national drugstores like CVS and Walgreens.

Speaking of pharmacists, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) worked for a donation of albuterol inhalers for Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, according to the Savannah Morning News.

On Sept. 28, Congressman Earl L. “Buddy” Carter’s communications team shared that the congressman had collaborated with Cipla USA to secure a donation of Albuterol inhalers for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS).

School Superintendent Denise Watts, Ed.D, included an announcement of the donation in her updates at the School Board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

SCCPSS District Nursing Administrator Lisa Wilson was the first to address the shortage over the summer. Wilson said, “The request for support was made after our District received notification that our previous supplier was unable to provide albuterol to the clinics. The provided supply in years past has been more than adequate, however, we were unable to utilize the medication past the manufacture’s expiration date.”

When asked if there is potentially a rise in student respiratory incidents, Wilson said it is too early in the school year to tell of any true increase. “Given some of what we are seeing, it could be seasonal. As always however, our team seeks to offer a best practice response to any student/staff who may be experiencing respiratory distress.  Having stock albuterol in every clinic facilitates the nurse’s ability to quickly respond to what could potentially be a life-threatening situation.”

Brunswick City Commission candidates meet in a public forum Thursday, according to The Brunswick News.

Two seats on the City Commission, one representing the North Ward and one representing the South, are up for grabs. Incumbents Johnny Cason and Julie Martin have announced they are not seeking reelection.

In the South Ward race, Lance Sabbe is challenging Christopher Bower for the seat. Gwen Atkinson-Williams, Paige Edwards, Gary Cook, Leroy E. Dumas Jr. and Zack Lyde qualified for the North Ward race.

Tuesday is the deadline to register for the Nov. 7 election.

“The deadline to register to vote is 5 p.m. (Tuesday). We can still process anything done through the (online) portal until 11:59 (p.m.),” said Glynn County Elections and Registration Director Chris Channell.

Early voting at the elections office will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 16 to Nov. 3. Early voting polling will also be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on two Saturdays, Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.

On Election Day, voters must cast their ballots at their assigned polling place.

Warner Robins City Council repealed a grass-cutting ordinance passed in February and adopted a new one, according to 13WMAZ.

In February, the city passed a new grass-cutting ordinance to help fight blight and help city employees. However, leaders say this led to many complaints, and have now repealed the ordinance.

The past ordinance set an expectation that property owners had to cut all the grass around their home including the city right of way.

She says the ordinance the city put in place at council on Monday, added clarity. Patrick says they define it as “areas that are within a reasonable person’s control.”

“It was already on our books previously, but we enhanced those and made it what was best for our community,” Patrick said.  “They may cut close to the mailbox and they won’t go to the curb. We’re informing people that, that is your responsibility to cut.”

It also gives property owners 10 days to correct the issue and adds a $150 administrative fee to those found in violation.

Patrick says if the city has to cut the yard, you will have to pay that bill. If you don’t pay it by the end of the year, you will see it on your tax bill.

Macon County Commissioners voted to fire County Manager Kelvin Lewis after allegations of missing funds, according to 13WMAZ.

“The county commission meeting was an emergency call,” Macon County Commission Chairman Carl Oliver said.

Oliver says they got evidence of Lewis misusing funds.  They went into executive session to discuss the evidence and, after they came back into regular session, the commissioners voted.

“The vote was unanimous to terminate the employment of our county manager,” Oliver said.

“We want to make an example that sends a message that Macon County is the wrong place to do this kind of stuff,” he said.

Lewis has only been accused by commissioners at this time. Oliver says he’s asked the district attorney and Georgia Bureau of Investigations to investigate the purchases.

Pooler City Council voted to appoint Shirlenia Daniel to a vacant council seat, according to WSAV.

This all comes after Pooler councilman Tom Hutcherson resigned from his seat this week citing health concerns. But now some residents and current leaders believe the council replaced Hutcherson too quickly, saying the appointment comes too close to an election and potentially subverts the will of voters.

After a 4-2 vote, Shirlenia Daniel became Pooler’s newest city council member. Her appointment to replace Hutcherson does not come without controversy.

“I’m just a little disappointed. This felt very rushed,” Councilman Aaron Higgins said. He voted against Daniel’s appointment.

Daniel said she currently serves on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. She’s also a candidate running for Pooler city council and will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Some councilmembers say appointing an active candidate to council should not come with just over a month before voters head to the polls.

“We’re 31 days from an election. I was hoping that we could hold off long enough to fulfill the requirements provided by law – state law and our local charter – to replace Mr. Hutcherson, but also with some help and insight from our voters,” Higgins said.

“It’s an unfair advantage for those who are running,” Councilwoman Karen Williams said. She also voted against Daniel’s appointment.

Daniel will now serve out the remainder of Hutcherson’s term, while also being an active candidate looking to remain on city council following the November election.

From the Savannah Morning News:

The council on Friday, Oct. 6, approved her appointment 4-2, with Mayor Rebecca Benton, councilmembers Stevie Wall, Shannon Black and John Wilcher voting yes. Councilmembers Aaron C. Higgins and Karen Williams voted no.

After Hutcherson resigned Oct. 2, during the executive session, Wilcher was unanimously voted to be the new mayor pro-tem. Benton called a special meeting of the city council for Friday to appoint someone to fill the vacancy. According to Benton, the seat was required to be filled before the end of the year.

“Given the unique circumstances of this vacancy, I firmly believe that being so close to an election and nomination, the placement of a candidate into a seat of this honorable body is improper and subversive to the will of the voters,” Williams said.

Williams added, “While Mayor Benton had every right to call a special meeting, I believe it was improper to nominate active candidates running for council versus a resident who is not on council. It makes an unfair advantage for those who are running. My time on council is all about transparency. I like to do a great job, but this is not the way I would like to take my seat on council. It’s favoritism and I just don’t agree with it.”

According to Pooler’s city charter, the council has 45 days to fill a vacant council seat before the governor steps in and fills it, Wall said.

Benton said she made the resolution to appoint Daniels because she was the most qualified, very active in the community and very knowledgeable, and added that if people had an issue with Daniels being appointed as she was running for council, they were just jealous.

Two members of the Chatham County Board of Elections were present, James B. Hall and Trish Brown. They expressed concerns that although Hutcherson resigned, he was still running for council and will remain on the ballot for November.

“If someone is resigning from council for whatever reason, they usually put something in writing and they vacate the seat altogether,” Hall said. “So, it’s just odd to me that my staff is telling me he resigned, but to keep his name on the ballot.”

Harris County Schools Superintendent Roger Couch announced his retirement at the end of the school year, according to WTVM.

Richmond County Deputy Marshal Clarence Lucious “Bo” Johnson announced he is running for Richmond County Sheriff, according to WRDW.

Johnson filed paperwork with the Richmond County Board of Elections office announcing his declaration of intention to seek the sheriff’s position on Wednesday.

Johnson is the second candidate to announce his intent to run, following Richmond County Sergeant, Eugene Brantley who made his announcement on Sept. 13.

Johnson states, “I am running for the position of sheriff in Richmond County because it is time for a change and a fresh approach to law enforcement in our community. Several critical issues within the current Sheriff’s Office have led me to take this step, and I am committed to addressing them head-on.”

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