November 29, 2022

‘Monster voter turnout’

Gabriel Sterling, who oversees elections in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, seemed to run out of superlatives yesterday as he described voter turnout on the first day of statewide early voting in the U.S. Senate runoff between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker.

“Turnout so far is blowing doors,” Sterling tweeted at 10:40 a.m.

“We are seeing monster Early Vote turnout,” he tweeted two-and-a-half hours later.

This is on pace for record single early vote day turnout ever.”

Whether, in fact, the single-day early vote record was broken wasn’t yet clear as of late last night, but the voter enthusiasm was indisputable, following high turnout in the 34 counties, out of 159, that offered voting on Saturday or Sunday.

Sterling said Sunday’s voter turnout of 86,937 voters was 130% higher than the previous Sunday record of 37,785 set on October 25, 2020. A total of 156,168 Georgians cast ballots over the weekend, according to the secretary of state’s office.

That turnout included 4,589 votes in Chatham County, the only county in Coastal Georgia to offer voting either Saturday or Sunday.

The weekend voting came after the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously rejected an appeal by the Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Republican National Committee, which had asked the court to prevent “illegal advance voting” on Saturday in the runoff.

Republicans groused about the decision. In a Thanksgiving Day interview with Fox News, Coastal Georgia’s Rep. Buddy Carter accused Warnock of trying to use “legal trickery” to win the election. He didn’t elaborate.

The Georgia Supreme Court decision appeared to be a clear legal victory for Warnock, whose campaign had filed suit asking that Saturday voting go forward after Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said it should be allowed, then did an about-face and said it shouldn’t be.

Republicans alleged that state law prohibited Saturday voting if a holiday fell within two days beforehand. In this instance, the state holidays were Thanksgiving and the day afterward that until 2015 commemorated the birthday of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Meanwhile, while Warnock maintained a full slate of campaign events, the Walker campaign continued its efforts to limit their candidate’s exposure to potentially bad press.

From last Wednesday until Sunday, the Republican challenger held no public events and limited his tweeting to Thanksgiving greetings and weekend photos of his mother’s 85th birthday celebration, which he attended. Walker resumed campaign appearances yesterday.

Chester Ellis, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, Nov. 28, 2022 Credit: Craig Nelson

Chatham chair defends revenue-sharing plan

The chairman of Chatham County Board of Commissioners yesterday defended the panel’s rejection of a tax-revenue sharing proposal offered by the eight municipalities that comprise the county.

Chatham County’s Local Option Sales Tax must be renewed before the end of the year or it will expire. Citing an increase in costs from 10 years ago, when the tax was last up for renewal, the commission is asking for its share of the revenue to increase to 31%, with a 2% hike for the next nine years, culminating in the county collecting nearly half of the funds.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson has called the commission’s proposal “reckless” and “absolutely ridiculous,” and in a Nov. 17 letter to the commission, he and the mayors of Thunderbolt, Pooler, Tybee, Garden City, Port Wentworth, Vernonburg, and Bloomingdale urged that the current revenue split of 77% for the municipalities and 23% to the county continue.

The commission chairman, Chester Ellis, emphatically rejected that formula yesterday.

“I’m here to tell you that that will not work, and the reason it will not work is because of the 31 services that the county is responsible for that none of the municipalities contribute to.” 

Ellis said the cost of services provided by the county, some of which are mandated by the state’s constitution, have risen to some $152 million from $140 million two years ago and $90 million a decade ago, the last time the revenue sharing arrangement was negotiated.

Talks to reach a solution collapsed in the summer and since then have gone to mediation. Local politicians have entered the fray, as well. State Rep. Ron Stephens, Sen. Ben Watson, Rep. Edna Jackson and Rep. Derek Mallow are to meet again with the two sides on Dec. 9 in an attempt to hash out an agreement. 

The bogeyman in all of this, of course, is the third rail of local politics: raising property taxes. That notion is a non-starter for residents, who demand better and more government services yet oppose any proposal to the means to pay for them, a fact Ellis acknowledged. 

“You should see the emails I get every day from people asking us to improve the services we already have,” he said.

US Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter

Carter returns to D.C. for lame-duck session

Lawmakers are returning to Washington this week for the final sprint before the end of the 117th Congress, and the House and Senate face a laundry list of legislative items before the year’s end.

At the top of the agenda: keeping the government running beyond Dec. 16. Other issues pending include protecting same-sex marriage and changes to the Electoral Count Act spurred by the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

At the top of US Rep. Buddy Carter’s agenda will be his pursuit of the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee. Coastal Georgia’s congressman won a fourth term in the House in a landslide in last month’s balloting.

The timetable for electing a new Budget chair is unclear. Carter’s office didn’t return a phone call yesterday requesting comment.  

In a recent interview with The Brunswick News, Carter said that starting in January with the new Congress, the new Republican-controlled House would concentrate on investigations.

“We are also placing a heavy emphasis on oversight so we can get to the bottom of our botched Afghanistan withdrawal, COVID-19’s origins, audit the IRS, understand how American Rescue Plan funds were or were not spent, and other key issues that one-party Democrat rule ignored,” he said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Forest City Gun Club, Thursday, May 19, 2022

Kemp blasts Trump over antisemitism

Opening up yet another rift with Donald Trump — and possibly with some members of his own political party — Gov. Brian Kemp criticized the former US president for his dinner with Nick Fuentes, whose outspoken racism and antisemitism has made him one of the nation’s most prominent white nationalist figures.

“Racism, antisemitism and denial of the Holocaust have no place in the Republican Party and are completely un-American,” Kemp told The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Through an aide, Herschel Walker, Trump’s handpicked US Senate candidate, declined comment, the paper said.

There was no immediate reaction from Buddy Carter, Coastal Georgia’s representative in Congress, or other members of Georgia’s House delegation to Kemp’s comments.

Carter recently praised the leading candidate to become the next speaker of the House, Republican Kevin McCarthy, following reports that he plans to remove three Democrats from their committees over allegations they have endangered national security or made antisemitic remarks.

“I applaud [McCarthy] for this move,” Carter told Newsmax. “Anyone who jeopardizes national security, anyone who makes antisemitic comments … they should be removed from committees.”

Bert Brantley

Kemp aide to head Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce

Gov. Brian Kemp announced yesterday that his deputy chief of staff, Bert Brantley, will depart the governor’s office to become president and CEO of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, effective Feb. 1.

Brantley takes over for William Hubbard, who is retiring after leading the chamber for more than 24 years. Under Hubbard’s leadership, the chamber has grown to more than 2,200 members, the chamber said in a news release.

In his statement disclosing Brantley’s departure and other staff changes, Kemp singled out his deputy for his service to the state. “For three administrations, he has devoted his time, talent, and energy to the people of Georgia. As both a colleague and a friend, I appreciate all of his contributions and I know he will continue to make us proud as he brings even more jobs and opportunity to the coastal region.”


Black clerics urge vote for Warnock: In an open letter yesterday to Georgia’s African American community, faith leaders representing predominantly Black congregations and denominations across the state called on Black Georgians to vote for Raphael Warnock in the US Senate runoff election. “We believe Herschel Walker belongs in the Football Hall of Fame, but absolutely nowhere near the U.S. Senate,” the letter said.

Can Warnock or Walker win over the 81,000 Georgians who voted for the Libertarian in November?

Those 81,278 Georgians could sway the pivotal Senate race, but there are doubts among experts whether those voters who chose a Libertarian in Round 1 will even show up for the Dec. 6 runoff for Round 2.

Georgia Supreme Court restores state’s strict six-week abortion ban, for now

A one-page ruling from the court Wednesday forced abortion providers to send patients home without treatment. The legal question hinges on the state’s ability to pass laws that are invalid at the time the Legislature approves them.

Georgians can vote Saturday after Thanksgiving with state Supreme Court ruling in GOP challenge

Supreme Court justices unanimously denied the petition from the Georgia Republican Party, the Republican National Senate Committee and the Republican National Committee that argued that it is illegal for counties to offer early voting on Saturday, Nov. 26 since it falls two days after Thanksgiving and one day after a state holiday.

Georgia’s on-again, off-again abortion restrictions create doubt for future of fertility treatments

Georgia’s abortion law defines an unborn child as “a member of the species Homo sapiens at any stage of development who is carried in the womb.” The fertilized eggs used in IVF are stored outside the body, which would seem to exempt them, but experts say inexact language might not protect patients.

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Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...