Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for January 10, 2023

Patrick Swanson / January 08,2023
  • Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections
  • Talmadge fired elected officials who resisted his authority. Others were thrown out of their offices. Literally.

    After Julian Bond’s election to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, the chamber voted against seating him ostensibly because he had publicly state his opposition to the war in Vietnam. On January 10, 1967, after the United States Supreme Court held the legislature had denied Bond his right to free speech, he was seated as a member of the State House.

    Eight years ago, on January 10, 2014, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution released a poll of the Georgia Governor’s race that showed Nathan Deal with 47 percent to 38 percent for Jason Carter. The nine-point Deal advantage was as close as the AJC polling firm would come all year to correctly predicting the point spread in the General Election.

    Governor Nathan Deal was sworn-in as the 82d Governor of Georgia on January 10, 2011 while snow shut down the planned public Inaugural.

    Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

    Some sportsball stuff happened yesterday.

    Senate Resolution 6, introduced yesterday and passed by both chambers, sets out the legislative schedule through Day 40 of the General Assembly. I believe this is a first.

    Session this week will be held Wednesday (LD2), Thursday (LD3), and Friday (LD4).

    Next week will be devoted to budget hearings, so no Legislative Days.

    Legislative Days resume on Monday, January 23, when they convene for LD5 and begin a pattern of mostly holding Session Monday through Friday, with no session days on Fridays after this week, despite what the AJC Political Insider wrote.

    Crossover Day (LD28) is March 6, 2023 and Sine Die will be Wednesday, March 29th.

    State Representatives elected Jon Burns (R-Newington) as Speaker of the House. From the Valdosta Daily Times:

    Burns, a Republican whose district includes Screven and parts of Effingham and Bulloch counties, succeeds the late Rep. David Ralston who was elected to the Speaker role by colleagues in 2010.

    “The passing of Speaker David Ralston has left a hole in the heart of this House,” Burns said during his speech on the House floor Jan. 9. “I was honored to call him my speaker but I considered it an even greater honor to have called him my friend.”

    The speaker serves as the presiding officer of the House of Representatives and is responsible for determining the leadership and membership of House committees. In addition, the speaker is charged with assigning legislation to committees, calling legislation for debate, and enforcing the rules of the House.

    “Whether you are Republican or Democrat, new or a returning member, I will work to serve each of you and our House to the very best of my ability,” Burns said. “… This House will continue to lead. … It will continue to champion those policies which keep Georgia the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

    “Since (Burns) has been in the House, he has worked to bring sound environmentally balanced economic development, world-class health care, quality education and improved transportation to Georgia,” Rep. Butch Parrish, who officially nominated Burns to the role, said.

    “He’s respectful and he’s dependable and he reaches out to all members, those in his party, those across the aisle and even our friends over on the other side of the building in the Senate,” Parrish said. “This past session, leader Burns was able to negotiate an adjournment resolution with the Senate very early in the session so that we knew the days that we would be in session, days we will be out of session and when we will actually finish the session, and signing day.”

    State Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, was also reelected speaker pro-tempore Jan. 9 by colleagues — a position she has held since 2010.

    Following the death of Ralston in November, Jones became the 74th Speaker of the House for the remainder of the 2021-22 legislative term, making her the first female Speaker of the House in state history.

    The writer of that piece does a nice job of including information on the responsibilities of the Speaker and Speaker Pro Tem.

    From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Albany Herald:

    It took the Georgia House less than an hour to get its leadership team in place, in sharp contrast with the U.S. House of Representatives, where the new Republican majority took four days and 15 ballots last week to choose U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as House speaker.

    On the Senate side Monday, Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, was unanimously elected Senate president pro tempore, that chamber’s second-highest leadership position. Newly elected Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones did not preside over the Senate as he will during the remainder of the session because he won’t be sworn into office until Thursday.

    “My office will be here to serve this entire chamber … whether Republican or Democrat,” Kennedy told his fellow senators. “We may not agree on all issues … but you will be treated respectfully.”

    Lawmakers in both legislative chambers also voted unanimously Monday to set the schedule for the entire 40-day session. The House and Senate will take off Tuesday to allow members to return from Monday night’s college football championship game in Los Angeles featuring the Georgia Bulldogs.

    The General Assembly will hold a joint session on Thursday for the inauguration of Gov. Brian Kemp to a second four-year term.

    Local legislators’ priorities are profiled by the Savannah Morning News:

    [State Senator Billy] Hickman will champion an overhaul of Georgia’s K-12 education funding mechanism, known as Quality Basic Education, or QBE. The husband of an educator, the Republican flinches at a report released last year that 36% of Georgia third graders aren’t reading on grade level, a literacy failure that has grown in recent years. Another study found that students who struggle to read coming out of third grade are four times more likely to end up dropping out of school than their better-reading peers.

    Hickman, whose district covers several rural counties as well as Bloomingdale and part of Pooler, also plans to advocate for improved access to health care in underserved areas.

    [State Senator Ben] Watson, a physician by trade whose district covers parts of Chatham and Liberty counties and all of Bryan County, chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. He will prioritize health care network adequacy, as many Georgia counties have only one insurance coverage choice, and will also explore legislation that could empower state officials to challenge nonprofit hospitals that put patients in the middle of coverage squabbles with insurance companies.

    [State Rep. Bill] Hitchens’ 2023 focus will be on the main travel corridor through his district: Georgia 21. Hitchens represents residents of Pooler, Port Wentworth, Rincon and southern Effingham County, and the state highway that connects those communities is a notorious travel bottleneck.

    Hitchens will also seek to continue a driver’s education program he helped implement in 2019. Funding for the initiative is due to expire this year.

    Another subject [State Rep. Carl] Gilliard has long championed is support for Georgia’s farmers’ markets and produce terminals. The Savannah Farmers’ Market sits within his westside district, and he’s been among the leaders of an effort to establish a development authority that works in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Agriculture to bolster the viability of state-owned markets to address food insecurity. Gilliard runs a related nonprofit, Feed the Hungry.

    [State Rep. Anne Allen] Westbrook will assert herself early and often as she joins the Georgia House. She has prioritized two issues for her first session: To ensure election measures promote voting and don’t disenfranchise Georgias; and health care access.

    The dean of the Chatham County legislation and a member of the Georgia House since 1997, [State Rep. Ron] Stephens is an influential lawmaker who is focused on “pocketbook issues.”

    [State Rep. Edna Jackson t]he former Savannah mayor and civil rights era pioneer is putting her influence behind the passage of legislation that would increase Savannah’s hotel-motel tax by 2% to 8%. The increase nearly passed in 2020 before division among Savannah City Council members halted those efforts.

    [State Rep. Jesse] Petrea styles himself a criminal justice watchdog and has championed several legislative measures related to police, courts and the corrections system in his eight years in the House. His focus this session is a bill that would create a Prosecuting Attorney Oversight Committee aimed at district attorney. He is an outspoken critic of Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones.

    Some legislators are working to build on last Session’s mental health legislation, according to the Georgia Recorder via the Albany Herald.

    Advocates are making the case that state lawmakers should do more to hold insurers accountable when the availability of behavioral health services are not as they appear, and they say it should be one of the next steps taken in the multiyear effort to lift Georgia’s lagging system of care.

    A bill designed to tackle the issue — known as network adequacy — is likely to be just one of multiple measures filed this legislative session aimed at building on the high-profile bipartisan measure passed last year.

    The influential Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission has issued a new slate of recommendations, including a call for “strong” standards for network adequacy.

    The commission’s chairman, former GOP state Rep. Kevin Tanner, now leads the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Tanner often calls this the “decade of mental health reform.”

    Tanner said in an interview that it’s no coincidence Gov. Brian Kemp appointed the head of the reform-minded commission to lead the state agency.

    “A lot of it drives back to work force,” Tanner said. “All the issues that we have identified, all the issues we’ve talked about, without exception for the most part, we’re not able to address them if we don’t address the work force issue.”

    Jeff Breedlove, chief of communications and policy with the Georgia Council for Recovery, who also co-leads the broad coalition of advocacy organizations, points to troubling data last fall from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed drug overdoses as a contributing factor for a shortening life expectancy in America.

    “My message to the governor, to the president, to the mayor, to the General Assembly: This is an epidemic, and it is time to treat it as such,” Breedlove said. “We need to mobilize, organize and get serious about the fact that behavioral health issues, especially addiction, are literally impacting our life expectancy.”

    Proposed State Senate Rules changes would clarify a state law immunity for members, according to the AJC.

    Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, proposed on Monday a change to the chamber’s rules to explicitly shield members from having to discuss their “speech and conduct” when they are engaged in “legitimate legislative activity” — and disclosing what their colleagues say or do would violate the integrity of “legislative privilege.”

    “If you and your colleague to your right or left are having a conversation about a piece of legislation, you would have immunity as well as your colleague you’re talking to,” Gooch said when asked to explain the rule change. “And so you would not be able to reveal the conversation that you and she are having without jeopardizing the immunity that that senator also enjoys.”

    Democrats pushed back on the change, with all of them voting against the proposal. Though Republicans hold the majority, three GOP senators were absent today and one seat previously held by a Republican is vacant, causing the vote to fall one short of the 29 needed to pass. Senators are expected to take the measure up again Wednesday.

    Gooch said the proposal is in response to recent legal debates over what is and isn’t legislative privilege. The rule addresses a portion of the state constitution that states, “no member shall be liable to answer in any other place for anything spoken in either house or in any committee meeting of either house.”

    “The Senate rule is intended to emphasize the importance of the privilege (of) the work that the Senate does on behalf of the citizens of this state,” he said.

    Another proposed change would require that the Senate president pro tem vacate the leadership position if he or she runs for another office.

    State Senator Derek Mallow (D-Savannah) was sworn in yesterday, after upgrading his seating from the House Chamber to the Senate. From the Savannah Morning News:

    “It doesn’t feel any different yet. But I’ll tell you, the work is different. I went from about 60,000 constituents to now, almost 200,000 people,” Mallow said. “Sen. Jackson was there a lot longer, and often didn’t have opposition (at election time). So he was able to fundraise to pay his staffers to work for him at the Capitol. I had to go through two elections with two opponents. So I didn’t have that luxury.”

    But Mallow, who first won his House 163 seat in 2020 after the departure of his mentor and predecessor, J. Craig Gordon, has a long list of issues on his mind: Medicaid expansion, public transportation investments, health care reform and affordable housing solutions — but statewide affordable housing, not just in Atlanta.

    Mallow said he worked closely with Jackson during the 2022 session, gleaning as much as he could from the long-time legislator. And keeping the focus on Savannah was a big part of that advice.

    “He told me: Remember, you’re not from Atlanta, you’re from Savannah,’” Mallow said. “And there are going to be a lot of people who will try to pull you for the Atlanta-based issues. He said, ‘Just remember, your district is in Savannah.’”

    “[Former State Senator Regina Thomas] said, ‘You have to be watchful. You have to watch everything and everyone,’’” Mallow said. “They’ll let you know if anybody gets you on the wrong side of anything.”

    Mallow is the most recent in a long line of Savannah representatives to make the jump from the House to the Senate.

    Both Jackson and current Senate District 1 Rep. Ben Watson served in the House prior to moving to the Senate. So have many others in recent history, including Buddy Carter, now a U.S. congressman; Thomas, who left office in 2009; and Eric Johnson, who left the Georgia Senate in 2010 to run for governor.

    “When a bill gets into a committee, just one or two votes can make the difference,” Jackson said. “And oftentimes, it depends not on the message, but who is carrying the message. Derek already knows about relationship building, and he knows what he needs to do to be effective, so I told him, just keep those same relationships skills up because it plays even more in the in the Senate than it did in the House.”

    “I want to just say, as a millennial, I want folks to know that age doesn’t hinder anyone from doing a good job. I think I would say I’m wise beyond my years in some instances, but my hand of leadership is steady,” Mallow said. “I’m not swayed or persuaded by what any one person will say; I will vote my conscience and vote in the best interest of my constituents every time. And hopefully, everyone’s seen that in my time and tenure in the House, and hopefully, that resonates with folks in Chatham County.”

    State Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) took his oath of office in a slightly off-campus location. From the Athens Banner Herald:

    Athens native Houston Gaines was sworn into his third term in the state house of representatives on Monday night inside SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles before Georgia football played TCU for the college football championship.

    Gaines posted to his Twitter account a photo of Georgia Supreme Court justice John Ellington doing the proceedings with fellow Athens natives Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp.

    Stacey Abrams’s campaign for Governor raised a record amount of money and ended up more than a million dollars in the hole, according to the AJC.

    Stacey Abrams’ campaign set another fundraising record in her second bid for governor, raising $113 million for a rematch she ultimately lost to Gov. Brian Kemp, according to filings Monday.

    The Republican Kemp raised more than $78 million to beat the Democrat Abrams by more than 7.5 percentage points in November.

    Abrams’ leadership committee alone raised $59 million and Kemp’s $45 million, according to reports Monday.

    Kemp’s team said the governor’s campaign accounts ended 2022 with about $5.2 million in the bank, while Abrams’ leadership committee listed about $1.4 million in debt and her accounts had about $100,000 in cash on hand. Most of Abrams’ debt was to her media firm, AL Media.

    A group of Effingham County students filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, according to WSAV.

    According to the lawsuit, filed Jan. 5, two students from Effingham County High School and one student from Effingham College and Career Academy and their mothers allege “deliberate indifference to acts of racial animosity” toward Black students while they were attending the schools.

    The 12-page lawsuit says that school administrators participated in “an egregious pattern of deliberately ignoring complaints” and showed indifference toward harassment among students.

    The plaintiffs will seek a jury trial and ask the court to rule that the school district violated the student’s rights under the Civil Rights Act and Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. They also ask that the court issue a permanent injunction, requiring [Effingham County School District] to comply with federal law and expunge the incidents from the plaintiffs’ school records.

    Warner Robins appointed Roy Whitehead as long-term interim Chief of Police, according to 13WMAZ.

    Mayor Patrick says the terms of the agreement meant that there would be another interim chief named down the line. Patrick says Whitehead will serve for up to 6-8 months..