Sunday Reads — May 8, 2022

Almost everything has a political bent these days, and the debates can be a good thing when it forces us to think clearly about important issues. Here’s a look at what’s stirring and info to help you become and stay an informed, constructive citizen. We all have responsibilities in this democratic republic.


Case unfolds against former Brunswick DA

Since the federal hate crimes trial for Ahmaud Arbery’s killers ended earlier this year, all eyes have been on Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to see what’s next for former Brunswick district attorney Jackie Johnson. She was indicted on two criminal charges for violating her oath of office by allegedly showing favoritism to Greg McMichael, his son Travis and their neighbor William “Roddy” Bryan after they shot Arbery. She later recused herself from the Arbery case. Her attorneys say the charges are election-year politics, but new filings from Carr’s office show Johnson was in contact with Greg McMichael more than a dozen times after the shooting. The elder McMichael had served as an investigator for Johnson’s office. Editor in Chief Margaret Coker continues to follow the aftermath of the Arbery murder and has an update on the filings and what may be next as Carr faces a primary fight from his own party.


Considerable

  • Reptiles? We got’em — for now. New research shows climate change threatens Coastal Georgia’s 83 species of helpful lizards, snakes, turtles and alligators. Reporter Mary Landers talks to a herpetologist who describes how the slow habitat loss presents challenges for our reptile neighbors.
A closed Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center sits in Cuthbert, Ga., where residents now face miles of travel for emergency care — a problem only worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Rural health care gets harder to find. In recent years, 8 small hospitals have closed and now some Georgia counties don’t even have a doctor. GPB News reporter Riley Bunch has a stunning look at one grieving family who experienced what the situation means in a state that’s already facing serious health-care challenges.
  • Groups ask courts for a say on coal ash: Georgia environmental groups have asked to intervene in a federal court case on enforcing Environmental Protection Agency rules on closing coal ash ponds. It’s important because the case may end the debate over whether ponds where dangerous coal ash touches groundwater must be moved or left in place.

A moment for Covid’s victims — all of them

In 27 months, the known Covid death toll is hovering at 1 million dead. The toll surpasses the population of the country’s 10th largest city, San Jose, Calif. The officially counted deaths already more than equal the populations of either Fort Worth, Texas, our 11th largest city or, closer to home, Jacksonville, Fla., the 12th. And it’s still with us. Georgia Department of Public Health reports 82 Covid deaths in the past week.

According to data gathered and maintained by groups of journalists across the country, the toll could be at least 15% higher. Studies show statistically higher rates of non-Covid deaths across the nation during the pandemic. Their work continues but early analyses of “excess deaths” by the group include higher CDC numbers for those who died from hypertensive diseases or diabetes and some that could be misclassified or caused by a break in care because of poor access to regular medical care during the pandemic.

The varying counts overall reflect the frustration of getting accurate and consistent data about Covid cases and deaths. Generally, the counts from reputable sources cannot rely only on the taxpayer-funded Centers for Disease Control or state departments of health. While they all will disagree on the specific moment we hit 1 million, Worldometers.info, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and the New York Times have been credible sources of cases and deaths because they also gather data from other key sources of Covid information, including hospital systems and test centers, and factor in the trends shown by official sources. There are several other reasons it’s harder to get exact numbers: The wide use of at-home testing, differing ways of recording death certificates and, mostly, inconsistent methodology among states like Florida that no longer report at regular intervals or with any depth. Georgia DPH reports weekly. And this week, Georgia’s official pandemic death toll is 31,627 — which equals the population of Pooler.


Ballot-marking devices and printers for the paper ballots await May primary voters for early voting at the Savannah Civic Center in Chatham County. Credit: The Current GA

Early voting draws crowd

Last Monday morning as the Savannah Civic Center precinct opened, the quiet parking lot didn’t foreshadow the busy voting week across the state. As early voting for the May 24 primary election opened on Monday, Chatham County Board of Registrars chair Colin McRae met with members of the media, only 10 voters had voted by 10:30 a.m. McRae said requests for mail absentee ballots were down but voter registration numbers were up in spite of lower registrations through the state’s driver’s license offices and web site. The DDS website redesign changed the selection button for license applicants to make the choice to register to vote appear to be preselected when it was not. It was fixed in recent weeks after the system’s voter registrations dropped by half.

In Georgia, as of Friday evening, 163,551 people voted, a 216% increase over the same early voting time for 2018’s primary election. 57.9% of the vote requests were for Republican ballots. Less than 1% were for non-partisan ballots. Georgia’s open primary system allows you to choose a specific political party’s ballot as you vote. You have to stick with that party choice for any runoff election stemming from the May 24 vote. One interesting note so far: 69,704 or 42.6% of the early primary voters this year did not vote in the 2018 primary election. You can keep up with the voting and absentee requests at georgiavotes.com, updated daily.

Rolls of “I’m a Georgia Voter” stickers await early voters.

Prepping to vote? Check out our Coastal Georgia early voting guide to check poll hours and locations and find links to recordings from candidate forums. We’ve also compiled a list of candidates for each county.


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Your second cup: Classroom discussions

Whether you agree with the listing of “divisive concepts” in Georgia’s new “Protect Students First Act”, national polls have been checking the public’s collective temperature on the topic for a few years. Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site dedicated to covering educational change in public schools, pulled the data on 20 different polls on race and racism and education to get an idea of what people really think about the topic. The analysis found deep divides on how to teach race and racism, but it also spotted some common ground and ways to bridge it all. Here are the 6 takeaways from that work.



Indicted Brunswick DA, Arbery killer allegedly in contact 16 times

Georgia prosecutors reveal new evidence asserting collusion between former DA Jackie Johnson, one of Ahmaud […]

Georgia COVID-19 daily statistics

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

Coastal Georgia early voting guide

Drop points for absentee ballots, early poll locations close on May 20.

Candidate forums, recordings

It’s time to do your homework on candidates. In Georgia, nonpartisan races like school boards and […]

Habitat loss, climate change threaten coast’s diverse reptiles

Coastal Georgia is home to a diverse array of reptiles that can benefit from […]

Georgia’s rural hospitals are holding on. But communities where they’ve closed face a brutal reality

As health facilities close in rural Georgia, tens of thousands of residents have no options […]

Environmental groups petition to intervene in coal ash case

An executive with Georgia Power said last month that ash from four of 10 ponds […]

6 takeaways from 20 polls on race discussions in classrooms

Analysis finds nuanced divides, broad areas of agreement on racial history, banning books.

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