Tuesday, January 24, 2023


Something happening here

Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, tensions between insurgents and the old guard are roiling the political establishment in Coastal Georgia.

The ferment is swelling as both political parties gear up for county assemblies next month, during which delegates will be chosen to attend state conventions or state committee meetings this summer, The Current’s Craig Nelson reports.

In a voice vote at a meeting of the Chatham County GOP in Savannah last week, supporters of Carl Smith, the local GOP’s ad hoc leader, defeated efforts to unseat him as head of the rules committee.

But that’s unlikely to halt efforts by the party’s self-described “grassroots activists,” who call Smith a RINO (Republican in Name Only), an embodiment of the “good old boy” network that has quashed the kind of party reform that they and former President Donald Trump seek.

Smith plays down the insurgents’ scope and influence. “I’m not even sure if they’re Republican,” he says. 

On the Democratic side, there’s similar anti-establishment fervor.

At a meeting of the Georgia Democratic Party in Atlanta earlier this month, Savannah’s James “Jay” Jones won a full, four-year term as head of the 1st District’s 18-member delegation to the state party, narrowly defeating Hinesville’s Sabrina Newby. But discord remains.

In the effort by Coastal Democrats to build a wider and deeper foundation in the region, “Jay Jones needs to move on,” one member of the delegation, Debby Griggs, a nursing instructor at Georgia Southern University, wrote on Facebook after the vote. For all the party’s successes in some urban areas, Jones says few people fathom the enormity of the task that faces Democrats region-wide.


Former TitleMax employees Ted Welsh Lupica and Cordelius Brown say that many of the Savannah, Georgia-based company’s policies were unethical. Credit: Malcolm Jackson for ProPublica

Title lending on the agenda

Legislation addressing the state’s expanding credit deserts will be one of the priorities of Georgia’s Black Legislative Caucus during the current legislative session, Rep. Carl Gilliard (D-District 162), the caucus’s leader, tells The Current.

Spurring the legislation, says Gilliard (D-District 162), is a series of articles by The Current’s editor in chief, Margaret Coker, examining the business activities of Savannah-based TitleMax, the nation’s largest title lender. The caucus is the largest bloc of Black state lawmakers in the nation.

Coker’s stories, co-published with ProPublica, reveal the controversial sales practices of TitleMax and the scope and scale of the industry in Georgia. For the past two years, the company has issued more than 46,000 title loans, or roughly 60% of the industry in Georgia.

Title lending is a segment of the subprime industry that in Georgia is allowed to lend money with triple-digit interest rates, rates that would be illegal for any other financial institution. To many customers — most often, the millions of Georgia’s working poor or elderly on fixed incomes — title lenders are the only option for cash in emergencies such as paying medical bills.


Credit: Maggie Lee/The Current GA

Moving parts

Georgia’s legislative year started as usual with a budget proposal from Gov. Brian Kemp. Yet for all the ensuing discussion about budget priorities, Georgia’s governors, in fact, don’t have much discretion over spending.

About two-thirds of the state’s roughly $32.5 billion budget is fixed, through cost-sharing formulas and long-standing practice, to education and health care, The Current’s Maggie Lee writes.

The state’s House and Senate will now each come up with their own budget proposals, and all three should reach agreement in April.


U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter Credit: Craig Nelson/The Current

ICYMI

The GOP’s Fair Tax Masochism(The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 20, 2023) “Rule No. 1 in the legislative handbook is to make your opponent take the tough votes, but House Republicans may be reading it backwards. They’re set to vote on a national sales tax that won’t become law but will give Democrats a potent campaign issue.” Commenting on Rep. Buddy Carter’s “Fair Tax” legislation, the Journal adds: “The point is that a consumption tax might make sense if Congress were writing the tax code from scratch. But it isn’t, and we could end up with both a national income and sales tax, the latter of which could evolve over time into a value-added tax.”

Tweeted Carter yesterday: “Democrats are losing their minds lying about my proposal to eliminate income taxes. What are they so afraid of? Americans don’t want to pay more taxes!”

2022 Impact Report (Greater Georgia, January 2023) “Georgia isn’t just a red state — it is a red state despite the challenges posed by the Left’s massive national funding, organization on the ground, and growing demographic advantages.”

Trump team struggles to muster support ahead of S.C. event (Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2023) “Many of the state’s lawmakers and political operatives, and even some of his previous supporters, are not ready to pick a presidential candidate. They find themselves divided between their support for Trump, their desire for a competitive nomination fight in the state and their allegiance to two South Carolina natives, former governor Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, who have taken steps to challenge Trump for the nomination.”

Dismissal of lawsuit to block removal of Confederate monument upheld on appeal (Brunswick News, Jan. 19, 2023) “The Georgia Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a local Confederate heritage group’s suit to prevent the city of Brunswick from removing a Confederate monument from Hanover Square.”

Governors to voters: The state of our nation is bleak, except under me” (Politico, Jan. 18, 2023) “Like the seasoned pols they are, the governors made a point of offering some self-aggrandizing carve outs to their forecasts of doom. Specifically, they — and their state alone — are doing it right.”

Public Opinion Roots of Election Denialism (Social Science Research Network, Jan. 6, 2023) “Among Republicans, conspiracism has a potent effect on embracing election denialism, followed by racial resentment. Among independents, the strongest influences on denialism are Christian nationalism and racial resentment. And, although election denialism is rare among Democrats, what variation does exist is mostly explained by levels of racial resentment. The results, if confirmed by analysis on nationally representative samples, are important not only for understanding one of the most important phenomena in contemporary American politics, but for considering how to combat misinformation over the conduct of elections.”


Coastal Georgia Republicans, Democrats struggle for souls of their parties

Established political political parties work to mend internal splits before state conventions.

Georgia budget: Mostly education. As usual.

Kemp proposes taking this year’s budget from a planned $30.2 billion up to about $32.6 billion to reflect Kemp’s campaign season proposal to spend reserves in tax breaks for homeowners and taxpayers.

Could new blood at Georgia Capitol, veteran lawmakers in new roles get legislature out of ‘rut’?

Diverse membership of General Assembly will need to build new alliances, fill voids left by experienced lawmakers.

Project to raise Savannah bridge gets green light

The State Transportation Board voted Thursday to proceed with a plan to replace the cables on the Savannah River bridge in Savannah and raise the structure to more easily accommodate cargo ships calling at the Port of Savannah. The work will be done without closing the bridge to traffic, at an estimated cost of $150 million to $175 million.

Olivia Dunne’s rise to fame is fueling the earning power of college athletes — but who is keeping her safe?

The NIL policy has created a kind of double-edged sword for women student-athletes, allowing them to financially benefit in a way they otherwise never could from their sport, but also making them vulnerable to the dark side of online fandom.


Join The Current on Feb. 8, 2023, at the 40th Anniversary Georgia Economic Outlook Luncheon, Jekyll Island Convention Center. Details here. (Newsletter sponsor)

Meet The Current at the Savannah Book Festival, Feb. 16-18, 2023. Details here.

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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...