Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 15, 2023


Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for September 15, 2023

The Mayflower left Plymouth, England, for the New World on September 16, 1620. Thirty-five of 102 passengers were members of the English Separatist Church seeking religious freedom from the Church of England. Originally aiming to reach Virginia, Mayflower eventually landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Forty-one delegates signed the United States Constitution, including Abraham Baldwin and William Few representing Georgia, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787 before adjourning sine die.

On September 17, 1796, George Washington began working on the final draft of his farewell address as the first President of the United States of America.

Francis Scott Key composed the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” on September 14, 1814.

On September 15, 1831, Dr. Samuel Worcester and Dr. Elizur Butler – missionaries – were tried in a Lawrenceville courtroom for living as white people among the Cherokee and refusing to take an oath of loyalty to Georgia, convicted and sentenced to hard labor. Some historians refer to this case, which went to the United States Supreme Court on appeal, as the beginning of the events that led to the forced removal of the Cherokee people from Georgia on the “Trail of Tears.”

HMS Beagle, carrying Charles Darwin, arrived at the Gallapagos Islands on September 15, 1835.

The Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee met the Army of the Potomac under General George McClellan at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.

The Battle of Antietam actually consisted of three battles. Beginning at dawn on September 17, Union General Joseph Hooker’s men stormed Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops around the Dunker Church, the West Woods, and David Miller’s cornfield. The Federals made repeated attacks, but furious Rebel counterattacks kept the Yankees in check. By early afternoon, the fighting moved south to the middle of the battlefield. Union troops under General Edwin Sumner inflicted devastating casualties on the Confederates along a sunken road that became known as “Bloody Lane,” before the Southerners retreated. McClellan refused to apply reserves to exploit the opening in the Confederate center because he believed Lee’s force to be much larger than it actually was. In the late afternoon, Union General Ambrose Burnside attacked General James Longstreet’s troops across a stone bridge that came to bear Burnside’s name. The Yankees crossed the creek, but a Confederate counterattack brought any further advance to a halt.

The fighting ended by early evening, and the two armies remained in place throughout the following day. After dark on September 18, Lee began pulling his troops out of their defenses for a retreat to Virginia. The losses for the one-day battle were staggering. Union casualties included 2,108 dead, 9,540 wounded, and 753 missing, while Confederate casualties numbered 1,546 dead, 7,752 wounded, and 1,108 missing.

On September 14, 1885, Georgia Governor Henry McDaniel signed legislation granting up to 200 acres in Fulton and DeKalb Counties to the federal government to be used in the constuction of Fort McPherson, which was named after Union Maj. Gen. James McPherson, who was killed in the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.

A single pistol shot on September 16, 1893 opened former Cherokee land in Oklahoma to white settlers in a “land run” to claim property.

On September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died of an infection from gunshot wounds suffered eight days earlier.

On September 15, 1904, Wilbur Wright made the first in-flight turn in an airplane.

On September 17, 1932, the Georgia Division of the Roosevelt Business and Professional League was created to work with the Georgia Democratic Party to support FDR’s Presidential campaign in the Peach State.

The original stimulus act was announced to bring $70 million in federal money to Georgia to build roads and public buildings on September 16, 1933.

On September 16, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Service and Training Act requiring males 26-35 years of age to register for the draft. On the same day, Sam Rayburn of Texas was elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and would go on to hold the post for 17 years total, the longest tenure of any Speaker.

Early on the morning of September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young girls.

On September 14, 1974, Eric Clapton’s cover of the Bob Marley song, “I Shot the Sheriff” reached #1 on the music charts. After 46 years, we still don’t know who shot the deputy.

Jimmy Carter received the first ever endorsement of a national ticket by the National Education Association in his bid for President on September 17, 1976.

On September 15, 1996, the Texas Rangers retired #34 in honor of the most dominant pitcher in professional baseball history, Nolan Ryan.

R.E.M. and Gregg Allman were among the inductees into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame on September 16, 2006.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Governor Brian Kemp announced the retirement of Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commissioner Colonel Chris Wright and the appointment of his successor and other new leadership, according to a Press Release.

Governor Brian P. Kemp today announced that Colonel Chris Wright, Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), is retiring following many years of distinguished service in state law enforcement.

“On behalf of all Georgians, Marty, the girls, and I want to thank Colonel Wright for the incredible job he has done as head of the Department of Public Safety,” said Governor Kemp. “During times of civil unrest and the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, Colonel Wright demonstrated resilience, foresight, and strength that has led to reductions in crime and safer communities all across Georgia. He has led as he served – with distinction – and we wish him and his family well in this next chapter.”

Governor Kemp also announced that the Board of Public Safety unanimously voted today to approve Lt. Colonel William “Billy” Hitchens to serve as the next DPS Commissioner and Colonel of the Georgia State Patrol, effective October 1. The Board also unanimously confirmed Major Kendrick Lowe to serve as Lt. Colonel of the Georgia State Patrol and Deputy Commissioner for DPS, also effective October 1. Lt. Colonel Joshua Lamb will continue his service as a valued member of the senior DPS leadership team and will be promoted to Assistant Commissioner.

“Keeping Georgians safe will always be my top priority. My entire family is thankful we will continue to have great leadership at the Department of Public Safety and overseeing the Georgia State Patrol,” said Governor Kemp. “As someone who has dedicated his career to this agency, Marty, the girls, and I are grateful for Lt. Colonel Hitchens’ willingness to step into this new role. We’re also thankful for Major Lowe and Lt. Colonel Lamb’s further service. All three of these men are dedicated to the job, to setting high standards for our state law enforcement, and most of all to protecting their fellow Georgians. We are thankful for that ongoing commitment and for the sacrifices of their families.”

Lt. Colonel William “Billy” Hitchens, III currently serves as Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Public Safety. He is also the Director of Field Operations, overseeing the Georgia State Patrol, the Motor Carrier Compliance Division, the Capitol Police Division, the Headquarters Adjutant, and the Special Operations Adjutant.

Prior to this appointment, Lt. Colonel Hitchens served as Major and South Adjutant. He began his career with the Georgia State Patrol as a Cadet Trooper in Sylvania and graduated from the 69th Trooper School in 1995. During the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Lt. Colonel Hitchens was assigned to Centennial Park and received a Meritorious Service Award for his actions prior to and immediately after the bombing. Lt. Colonel Hitchens was also selected to serve on the committee which developed the department’s mission statement and core beliefs.

Lt. Colonel Hitchens earned an undergraduate degree from Georgia Southern University and an MPA from Columbus State University. He is a graduate of the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College and the FBI National Academy.

Lt. Colonel Hitchens and his wife, Angie, have two children and reside in Statesboro.

Major Kendrick Lowe currently serves as North Division Adjutant for the Georgia State Patrol, responsible for DPS operations in the Northern half of the state. He oversees 30 Patrol Posts, North and Middle Nighthawks DUI Task Forces, the GSP Motor Unit, the Crime Suppression Unit, and five Troop Communication Centers. Previously, he served as the Troop A Commander.

Major Lowe began his career with the Georgia State Patrol in 1993 as a Radio Operator before graduating from the 72nd Trooper School in 1997. Having served in various posts, he was a valued part of both Governor Barnes and Governor Perdue’s protection details. He also served as Director of Executive Security for Governor Perdue. In 2007, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant before later serving as the State Patrol law enforcement liaison with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. He then served in various other capacities around the state before taking his current position.

Major Lowe and his wife, Avary, have two children and reside in Lake Spivey.

Lt. Colonel Joshua Lamb currently serves as Director of Administrative Services for the Department of Public Safety, overseeing the Office of Professional Standards, the Human Resources Division, the Public Information Office, and Legislative Affairs. Previously, he served as Chief of Staff for the Department.

Lt. Colonel Lamb began his law enforcement career as a Special Agent with the Tri-Circuit Drug Task Force before graduating from the 74th Georgia State Patrol Trooper School. He served in leadership positions in posts across the state and spent eight years as a member of the State of Georgia SWAT team. Lt. Colonel Lamb then became a member of the Planning and Research Unit where he created departmental policy, assisted in planning special events like the 2018 National College Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII, and worked on legislative affairs matters, including the distracted driving law. During his notable career, he also served as the Director of Training, SWAT Team Commander, Executive Officer to the Deputy Commissioner, and in other leadership roles.

Lt. Colonel Lamb earned a bachelor’s from Georgia Southern University and an MPA from Columbus State University. He attended the FBI National Academy and is one of only two people from Georgia to be chosen to represent their cohort as Class Spokesperson. He was also an FBI Executive Fellow.

Lt. Colonel Lamb and his wife, Alison, have two daughters.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Lt. Colonel Hitchens is likely the son of State Rep. Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), himself a retired commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety and colonel of the Georgia State Patrol. The late Mrs. GaPundit held State Rep. Hitchens in the highest esteem for his work on the Board of the Georgia Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission.

The incoming DPS Commissioner spoke to a State House committee, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

Pay raises of $11,000 for state law enforcement officers during the last two years still haven’t solved recruitment and retention challenges for a Georgia State Patrol forced into a bidding war.

“Agencies are competing over an ever-decreasing pool of candidates,” Lt. Col. William “Billy” Hitchens III, deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, told a state House “working group” Thursday.

Despite the raises, Georgia is 36th in the nation in trooper salaries and 50th in number of troopers per capita, Hitchens said.

House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, formed the House Working Group on Public Safety earlier this year to look for ways to attract and retain more law enforcement officers.

Lt. Col. Joshua Lamb, director of administrative services for the Department of Public Safety, said the agency is moving to address the recruitment issue with an accelerated trooper school program that allows candidates to complete their training in fewer than the 32 to 34 weeks the traditional model requires.

“That was probably one of the biggest steps we’ve taken to make it more appealing without lowering standards,” he said.

State Rep. J Collins, R-Villa Rica, chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and a member of the working group, said Hitchens and Lamb made a good case for the severity of the department’s workforce plight.

“The numbers don’t lie. They are what they are,” Collins said. “The benefits and pay have to increase for us to get those numbers up.”

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office pushed back against allegations of voting issues, according to The Brunswick News.

Former state Rep. Jeff Jones told board members at their meeting Tuesday that the county’s continued use of the Dominion voting system is “in violation of Georgia law.” He cited state law that says ballots must be marked in a format readable by the elector.

“Any statement that Georgia’s voting system is in conflict with the law is false,” said Robert Sinners, an elections division spokesman.

He said a Georgia Court of Appeals decision held that the use of a QR code on the paper ballots in addition to the readable text does not violate the elections code.

According to the court ruling, “there is no language in the statute that requires that the corresponding QR code on the ballot be readable by an elector, or that electors must be able to verify their election choices through the specific mechanism or device that actually tabulates and counts their voting choices, and we decline to construe the statute [OCGA 21-2-300] in such a manner.”

The court ruling continues: “Instead, as reflected by the plain language of the statute, the law simply requires that electronic ballot markers produce paper ballots that are marked with the elector’s choices in a format that can be read by the elector, and the petitioners do not dispute that an elector can read their voting choices on the printed paper ballot.”

[Glynn County Elections Supervisor Christopher] Channell estimated it would take workers at least three minutes per ballot for the November 2024 elections, meaning at a high-volume precinct like the ones on St. Simons Island, poll workers could spend days counting ballots.

“Poll workers have already put in 13-hour days by the time the polls close,” he said. “It blows me away they think this is the best way to do it.”

The solution, which Dominion is trying to get approved, is for what Channell called “full face ballots” that show every vote cast without identifying the voter.

If Dominion gets approval and the state decides to go that route, Channell said there will be an additional cost because the printers currently used to print ballots are not capable of printing full face ballots.

Hog Hammock residents will continue fighting against zoning changes they say threaten their community, according to The Brunswick News.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is working with residents of the last saltwater Geechee community in Georgia and is expected to appeal new zoning rules on Sapelo Island passed Tuesday by the McIntosh County Commission.

They say the new rules — which impact the Hogg Hummock, or Hog Hammock, community on Sapelo Island — were bulldozed through by the commission without regard to due process and that they are discriminatory because they remove protections previously in place for the cultural heritage of the descendants of formerly enslaved people who live there.

That amounts to violations of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, said Crystal McElrath, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC.

“The McIntosh Board of Commissioners’ vote has raised serious 14th Amendment concerns, especially given that they have previously stated that the community of Hogg Hummock should be protected due to its unique historic resources,” McElrath said. “They have effectively disregarded the historic and cultural significance of the last remaining Gullah-Geechee community on Sapelo Island by approving existential threats to be brought on by development and they have ignored the community’s very reasonable request for a 90-day delay on the vote. They then followed their vote by reading statements that insulted the current generation of landowners and whitewashed the history of land theft in prior generations which brought us to this current situation.”

Residents whose families have called Sapelo Island home for generations, since being freed from slavery following the American Civil War, say the changes were unnecessary and are a way to push them off of their ancestral land to make the mostly state-owned island a haven for wealthy, mostly White, tourists and vacation homeowners. They say larger homes mean higher property values and increasing property taxes, which will make it unaffordable for Geechee residents who still live a rural, agrarian lifestyle on the island as their ancestors did.

Four Statesboro citizens addressed council members about the proposed property tax millage rate hike, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Statesboro’s mayor and two council members heard from a total of four citizens during the city’s noon property tax increase hearing Tuesday, Sept. 12. Three of the same four citizens spoke against the increase again during the 6 p.m. hearing, and that was all.

The proposed 1.9-mill addition amounts to a 26% increase in the millage rate itself. But when added to the 2022-2023 inflation in the assessed value of taxable property in the city limits, the millage boost is expected to result in a 44.75% increase, on average, in the tax on homes and businesses.

On a house previously valued at $200,000, the city tax would rise from $496.24 to $718.54, a $222.30 increase, by the city staff’s calculations.

The 44.75% number, reflecting the 2.85-mill difference between a “rollback rate” of 6.362 mills and the proposed 9.212 mills, was the total increase cited in notices the city published in the newspaper. The rollback rate, as City Manager Charles Penny explained during the hearings, is the lower rate the city would have to adopt to keep the tax “revenue neutral,” collecting roughly the same amount as before inflation.

Lawton Sack, chair of the Bulloch County Republican Party, was the second speaker. He is a resident of Statesboro and now a candidate for the District 2 seat on City Council, which is nonpartisan.

“Bryan County just lowered theirs (millage rate) for the seventh straight year, and there is something they are doing right that Bulloch County and the city of Statesboro and the Board  of Education is evidently not paying attention to. …,” he said.

Richmond County resident Eric Loggins is working on a recall petition against Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree, according to WRDW.

On Aug. 30, Loggins took out a recall application and had 15 days to gather 100 signatures of so-called sponsors. He turned in the signatures Thursday and now the board must schedule a meeting to determine whether the signatures are valid and sufficient to issue a recall petition.

If that’s the case, Loggins will need to gather signatures of 30% of registered voters in the county. Then if that petition passes muster, the board could schedule a recall election.

Roundtree is up for re-election in 2024.

Savannah-Chatham County school cameras are now armed with lasers issuing tickets, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The program returned on Aug. 14 with a 30-day warning period, which ends today, Sept. 14. Beyond the warning period, valid citations will be issued.

Savannah Morning News had reported in the past about how the program netted $537,000 in revenue in 2022 for the City of Savannah. This marks the start of the third year Photo Speed Enforcement Systems have been used at schools throughout Chatham County. The Chatham County Police Department (CCPD) launched a program in Aug. 2021 in unincorporated school zones of the county. CCPD posts monthly School Speed Zone Camera reports on the number of citations issued. From Aug. 2022 through May 2023, CCPD handed out 56,473 citations (6,576 of which were warning citations issued during September and October).

SPD claims that, on average, these programs have reduced the number of speeders by 92% throughout the Country. Blue Line Solutions, the Tennessee-based private contractor that manages school zone camera programs in Savannah and throughout the country provided a summary report to SPD for the 2022-23 academic year. The report (below) shows an overall 80% reduction in speeders in the school zones. The report states that, “the TrueBlue program is designed to reduce the number of speeders in school zones to make a safer place for our children to study and play.”

Some expectant mothers will benefit from expanded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) eligibility, according to WJBF.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has been helping mothers in the state of Georgia for years, but House Bill 129, recently signed by Governor Kemp, expands those benefits so expectant moms can also benefit.

Aside from expectant mothers, the program also supports low-income families with children under the age of 18 and children aged 18 attending school full-time, and if you are a mom in school, this could help you too.

The Georgia Department of Human Services says close to 15,000 children in the state of Georgia are supported by the TANF program each year.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating allegations of a confrontation between members of LaGrange City Council, according to WTVM.

LaGrange Daily News reports that District 2′s Leon Childs and Nathan Gaskin are believed to be the two councilmen involved in the incident. The report says Childs claimed Gaskin threatened him and lied that Childs pulled a weapon on Gaskin.

Lieutenant Chris Pritchett with LaGrange police confirms to us that the request for the GBI to investigate Tuesday’s situation is to avoid conflict of interest or favoritism.

Proponents of the Floyd County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST)are addressing prospective voters, according to the Rome News Tribune.

“We have to have a place for our police,” former Rome mayor Evie McNiece said as she began to outline the many projects she characterized as needs for the community in this year’s special purpose local option sales tax proposal.

The measure will go before voters on Nov. 7 and McNiece is part of the team assembled by the citizens committee chair, Bob Berry, to promote the SPLOST to voters.

Stressing that the 1-cent SPLOST is a very good deal for Floyd County taxpayers, [Bob] Berry said it is estimated that 30% to 40% of the revenue comes from outside the county.

“This is a great deal for Floyd County taxpayers because we get 100% of the funds,” Berry said.

MARTA CEO Collie Greenwood will receive a $25,000 raise, according to the AJC.

The MARTA Board of Directors Thursday gave CEO Collie Greenwood a $25,000 raise.

The board approved a new contract for Greenwood that includes an annual base salary of $425,000 – up 6.25% from $400,000. The contract also says Greenwood is eligible for an annual performance bonus of up to 5% of his salary, or $21,250.

The contract grants Greenwood six weeks of paid time off, plus pension, health insurance and other benefits. It is retroactive to Jan. 2.

Theodore Hamby announced he is running for Guyton City Council, according to the Savannah Morning News.

When Gov. Brian Kemp was visiting the University of Georgia in 2018, Theodore Hamby knew he had one shot to get on his campaign team.

So he approached one of Kemp’s volunteers and within seconds he was added to the crew.

“I was out there making signs, making phone banks and going out there and canvassing,” said Hamby. “This was something I wanted to do my entire life because history was in the making.”

Hamby, who is from Eden, qualified to run for the Post 2 City Council seat in Guyton. Although the youngest to run for the position this year, the 25-year-old said he is not easily intimidated and residents are encouraged by seeing a young person trying to make a difference in their community.

“When I go out door-to-door, people see hope in the future of young people,” said Hamby. “They think young people have drifted away but going out and talking to them about the issues that frustrate them the most is what they want to see. I think most young people see a system that is broken, but all it takes is a couple of us to show that … it can be fixed. We can be part of the solution.”

He said the experience when working on Kemp’s team was eye opening and allowed him to see politics play out on a big stage. But being from a small town has helped him understand what residents need in a city like Guyton.

“I want people to see me face-to-face,” said Hamby. “Ever since I’ve been in politics, I’ve learned it is all about the ground game. It’s how you get votes.”

“If the residents of Guyton think they are in a better place, then vote for my opponent,” said Hamby. “If you think Guyton is worse off than it was four years ago, then vote for me. Vote for change because we can get this done. I have a plan to get it done. The greatest days are still ahead for Guyton.”

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