Sunday Reads – Jan. 16, 2022

We have a lot today, and it’s a good, long weekend to read.

It’s a 3-day weekend with Monday set aside to honor the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson hopes you’ll use that extra time for good and is encouraging everyone to fill that time with community service, even on the smallest scale. He’s officially proclaimed Monday Savannah’s Day of Service and Kindness with its very own social media hashtag. Let’s all do one thing for someone else, even if it’s check on a neighbor. Maybe #PEACELOVEandSAV is contagious?

The monument was dedicated Saturday along with a new riverfront park named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An inscription on one side of the pedestal contained excerpts from the Civil Rights leader’s Jan. 2, 1961, speech in Savannah.

An overdue recognition

Savannah honored Dr. King Saturday as the city got its very first monument to the legacy of the Civil Rights leader, 54 years after he was assassinated. A bronze bust on a granite pedestal was dedicated at a ceremony in the Plant Riverside District on River Street. One side contains excerpts from a speech King gave Jan. 2, 1961, at the Savannah Municipal Auditorium, including “Now I urge you today in Savannah, I urge our fellow voters of Georgia, all over the South, all over the United States to go out with a determined effort to achieve the ballot.” He also visited Savannah in 1964 twice in efforts to register and encourage Black voters. The 8-foot monument was commissioned by developer Richard Kessler, who owns the surrounding Plant Riverside hotel and entertainment complex. The new Martin Luther King, Jr., Park where the bust sits was underwritten by the City of Savannah, the Georgia Power Foundation and The Kessler Collection. King’s sister-in-law, Naomi King, participated in the dedication ceremony. Also from the 1961 address: “I am convinced my friends, that the problem we face …is not only tension between black men and white men. That isn’t it. It is the tension between justice and injustice.”

Camden County: Of the people, by the people?

The Spaceport Camden saga continued last week as officials from county government grilled residents about their signatures on a petition that could send a land purchase decision to the voters. Georgia’s Constitution allows 10% or more of the county’s registered voters to petition for a referendum on the real estate purchase. So far, the county leaders have spent $10 million of taxpayer money for the plan and permit processes for Spaceport Camden in hopes of luring high-paying jobs in the space industry. Now, they want to buy land declared dangerously polluted for it. Reporter Mary Landers attended the hearing in Woodbine and writes today about how citizens are legally fighting to stop a decision made by their paid and elected officials and using the constitution as their weapon. Spoiler alert: It’s not pretty.

The Georgia state of things

It was a week of speeches in Georgia — first, U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris brought their pitches to pass the federal voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Then Gov. Brian Kemp gave his annual State of the State address to the Georgia Legislature. Both were set squarely in election mode but in different ways.

Biden’s speech at the Atlanta University Center didn’t mince words about his feelings about state of voting access: “It’s no longer about who gets to vote; it’s about making it harder to vote.  It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.” Bills filed in the Georgia Legislature aim to narrow access options even more. Here’s some research from The Conversation on how all of the efforts so far are playing out.

Brian Kemp
Gov. Brian Kemp gives the 2022 State of the State address Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Credit: Riley Bunch/GPB News

Kemp’s speech also had a view toward the 2022 state races – including his own. He also outlined the components of the budget he’s sending to the legislature: More money for law enforcement, Medicaid extensions for new mothers, raises for teachers and supplements for school staffs and bus drivers, funds to recruit rural doctors and educate nurses. Using the state’s well-funded treasury, he also has proposed to return some of the money to taxpayers. And without saying the actual words “gun,” or “transgender,” he also expressed support for legislation opening the laws on carrying guns and setting limits on transgender students’ participation in school sports. Both are holdover pieces from last year that have renewed momentum from Republican primary election politics as Kemp moves closer to the party’s far right wing to face former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who continues to spread unfounded doubts about the 2020 Georgia election he lost. Kemp also supported a “parental bill of rights” that would include regulating racial history discussions in classrooms, among other topics.

You said….

Last week we set up a quick poll to learn about your priorities for the Georgia Legislature. As it turns out, many of these issues were addressed in the State of the State speech and in the budget Kemp subsequently sent to the legislature. We got a great number of responses — considering it was our first attempt. We asked you to rank topics on a 7-point scale with 7 for higher interest. The issues were listed in simple terms because we only wanted to gauge interest, regardless of stance. Do your interests and energy levels equal those of the governor or your hired representatives? Remember: Longer bars equal higher interest, shorter bars mean lower interest. Here’s how you ranked these issues:

Results from 12% of the Sunday Reads readers on Jan. 9. The number scale at the bottom reflects the total points each topic received.

Many of you also recommended other priorities, and the top of that list was environmental concerns in various forms — climate change, sea-level rise, cleanup and energy sources. Legislative bills addressing any of that are quite scarce. The next issue put forward: Queries about voting access for all. Bills addressing that topic are not scarce at all. Want to sift through measures filed so far? Here’s the link. Interesting keywords to search: election, race, women, education.

Tracking SCAD’s Savannah footprint

How many times have you wondered about the number of buildings owned by Savannah College of Art and Design and if they are paying taxes on any of them? Be honest. You know you have. Well, here’s the answer, thanks to Eric Curl over at Savannah Agenda. SCAD’s net worth recently topped $1 billion and the nonprofit university now owns about 120 properties throughout Savannah. Not all the buildings are tax-exempt and not all holdings are buildings. Here’s today’s time-suck: Check out the map and listings.

For your second cup: Slowing the dream

A bill filed last week in the Georgia Legislature would review and control how the country’s racial history is taught in the state’s public schools. A law much like that is now in force in Texas. Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news source focused on education, brings us a story this week about how fear of talking about race nearly killed a charter school effort in San Antonio designed to serve a primarily minority neighborhood. Organizers were told they had everything in order to receive its state charter and open, except for this: They were told to remove this quote from acclaimed author Ibrahim X. Kendi from its website, “The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is antiracist.” The Texas law’s lack of definition ended up costing the school effort money and the opportunity to open last fall to serve its community.


Spaceport hearing pits Camden officials against county residents

Tactics used in the debate over proper spending of taxpayer funds also illuminate a rarely used constitutional provision for Georgians to defy local government.

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Battles over voting rights, preventing fraud and access to ballots – what research tells us

The Conversation asked scholars to look at various aspects of voting rights. Here is a selection of their stories to provide more background to today’s consequential conflict. The strong message from all of these: The outrage generated by these laws may be out of proportion to their true impact.

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Kemp unveils record state budget request

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp is asking the General Assembly to approve a record $30.2 billon state budget heavy with new spending on schools, rural health care and public safety.

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Savannah Agenda: SCAD’s footprint

The Savannah-based university’s net worth just topped $1 billion, according to IRS filings.

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A proposed Texas charter school promised to be antiracist. Then it got caught up in the critical race theory fight.

A planned charter school was on the verge of winning final approval from the Texas Education Agency last August when a final set of requests arrived. Among them: The school needed to scrub its website and application of a quote by “How to Be an Antiracist” author Ibram X. Kendi.

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Guyton man charged with sedition along with insurrection leaders

Prosecutors say the defendants, including Ulrich, conspired in encrypted chatrooms for white militias to plan the Jan. 6 armed attack on the Capitol.

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Georgia COVID-19 daily statistics

Today’s cases, change, deaths, hospitalizations, testing, vaccination sites and tracker

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Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.

Susan Catron is managing editor for The Current GA. She has more than two decades of experience in Georgia newspapers. Susan served as executive editor of the Savannah Morning News for nearly 15 years,...