Tuesday, March 28, 2023

dome stairs
Lawmakers and lobbyists at the state capitol in Atlanta, Jan. 9, 2023 Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

State legislature hurtles to session’s end

The curtain officially drops at midnight-ish tomorrow on the latest session of the 157th Georgia General Assembly. The Current will sort it all out for Coastal Georgians after the dust settles. Meanwhile, here are some of the things we’re watching in the session’s frantic, final hours.

Whither the school voucher bill? The latest plan to expand school vouchers in the state was dealt a blow last week when the House failed to hold a vote after more than an hour and a half of debate. GOP leaders could still revive the bill if they can muster enough support to pass it.

The measure would have enormous repercussions for education across the state, allotting $6,500 to the family of any Georgia public school family that decided to withdraw their child from a low-performing school and educate them at home or a private school.

The EV capital of the nation? “If Georgia lawmakers want to help Gov. Brian Kemp achieve his goal to make the state the electric vehicle capital of the nation, they have an odd way of showing it,” Georgia Recorder reports. Bills that would drastically shift how much electric vehicle owners pay to recharge their cars received a final vote late Monday and headed for the governor’s desk. The measure would impose fees that would be among the highest electric vehicle levies in the country.

Reining in DAs: The House voted yesterday to establish a committee that could punish or remove district attorneys for “willful misconduct or persistent failure to follow the law.” As of late yesterday afternoon, the Senate had yet to vote on the measure but passage — and Kemp’s signature — were expected.

Republicans say that DAs who are inept or skirting the law need to be checked; Democrats say the criteria for sanctions contained in the proposed law are overly broad and vulnerable to abuse. They also say the measure bill represents GOP retribution for Fulton County DA Fani Willis’ investigation of Donald Trump.

Kemp oath
Gov. Brian Kemp takes his second oath of office on Jan. 12, 2023. Credit: Screenshot/GPB News

Across the state

‘Not running’: In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Gov. Brian Kemp boasts about standing up in April 2020 to an angry President Trump over loosening Covid restrictions (“After running over me with the bus on Monday, he backed over me on Tuesday. . . . I could either back down and look weak and lose all respect with the legislators and get hammered in the media, or I could just say, ‘You know what? Screw it, we’re holding the line.”)

He objects to the president’s suggestion that hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors aren’t essential services that should be opened (“With all due respect, those are our people,” he says he told Trump.) He touts his anti-woke credentials (“Among governors, I was really the first standing up to the cancel culture.’”)

But no, he says, he won’t be running for president in 2024, though he has good relationships with all the current and likely candidates, starting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former vice president Mike Pence. What about the poll-leading 45th president?  “I haven’t heard from Trump.”

Party in the politics

Keeping Georgia red: More robust fundraising. Better resource management and accountability. More staff, more training, more door-knocking. Two candidates to succeed state GOP chairman David Shafer, along with the surrogate for a third, found little to disagree with each other at a debate last Wednesday at the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick.

Citing a desire to re-focus on his family, Shafer told party officials in February he wouldn’t seek a third term as state chair when the party meets for its state convention in Columbus in June. Shafer has endorsed Josh McKoon. Rebecca Yardley has cast herself as the voice of the party’s grassroots activists against its sclerotic “establishment.” The third candidate, Dennis Futch, seeks better organization and accountability.

Shafer is departing under a cloud. His support for Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud in 2020 and Trump-backed candidates against Republican incumbents in last year’s elections have made him the subject of investigation by Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis and divided the state party. New fundraising laws and Gov. Brian Kemp’s diffidence have added to the party’s troubles.

At the Brunswick debate, Yardley promised to “lead by example” — an apparent allusion at Shafer’s tarnished reputation. Still, given the party’s internal turmoil, the obvious question is: Whose example?

Camden County
Welcome sign to Historic St. Marys. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

In St. Marys, a new challenge

Being competitive: “We want to make sure we’re competitive and can attract and maintain good employees,” the newest member of the St. Marys’ city council told The Current last week, sounding a challenge (and plight) heard in nearly every Coastal Georgia municipality.

Chad Ingram said the St. Marys police force and its public works department are each short by as many as nine personnel.

Ingram won last week’s special election in St. Marys with 65.19% percent of the vote to Mike Wilkie’s 25.29% and Jay Moreno’s 9.52%. Only 1,630 voters — or 13.19% of all registered voters — cast ballots in the race, according to incomplete and unofficial results. Ingram will be sworn in at the council’s next meeting on April 3.

Another challenge is cutting red tape and debunking the impression that, in contrast to neighboring Kingsland, “St. Marys may be difficult to do business in” when it comes to obtaining required permits.

“For the first time, I believe ever, Kingsland has been growing and getting new businesses at a higher rate than St. Marys,” he said. With multimillion dollar companies looking to come here, he said, “we need to take a step back and look at the perception that it’s a little more challenging to do business here.”

Coastal Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter questions TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew during a congressional hearing, March 23, 2023

Washington beat

Carter Grills TikTok CEO: In his weekly newsletter, Coastal Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter describes last Thursday as “one of the most intense days” he’s ever experienced in Washington.

That’s saying something for the congressman from Pooler, who during his five terms in the House of Representatives has witnessed plenty of political dramas, not least two impeachments, an attempted insurrection and most recently, in January, an agonizing 15 round of voting to elect a new speaker of the House.

In his questioning of TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, Carter accused the Chinese Communist Party of using the app to wage psychological warfare against American children.

But he didn’t succeed in persuading Chew to disclose how many U.S. children purportedly have died because of TikTok “challenges,” in which users are urged to create videos that the app’s creators hope will encourage them to join a discussion or interact with their contacts. Nor did he offer an estimate himself, The Current’s Craig Nelson reports.

And asked by Carter if TikTok was taking steps to curb harmful videos, Chew said pernicious uses of the internet were an industry-wide challenge (read: Meta, Apple, Google, Microsoft), one not solely limited to his company.

By the end of the emotional hearing, there appeared to be no new evidence to support lawmakers’ unsupported claims that the Chinese government has used TikTok to access Americans’ user data or promote government propaganda, though that hardly allays suspicions that Beijing is using the app to spy. Meanwhile, the video of Carter’s questioning of Chew went viral. So did critiques of it.

Marjorie Taylor Greene
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene worked the crowd at a late March 2022 Trump Rally in Commerce. Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Greene gets a nudge

Trump urges Greene to enter U.S. Senate race: Donald Trump on Saturday urged Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to run for the U.S. Senate.

After describing “Washington Republicans like Mitch McConnell as the worst,” Trump pledged his support to the northeast Georgia congresswoman during a campaign rally in Waco, Texas.

“I will fight like hell for you,” the 2024 presidential candidate said during his 97-minute speech. The next Georgia Senate seat to be contested will be Democrat Jon Ossoff’s in 2026.

He also described Greene, who apparently flew with Trump aboard Trump Force One to the rally, as “brilliant” and a “badass.”

Trump’s praise was yet another sign of Greene’s rising star in the GOP. On March 8, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy chose her as Speaker Pro Tempore, handing her the gavel to oversee the chamber’s proceedings that day.


Yes, Atlanta is 248 miles from Savannah and 307 miles from Brunswick — for all intents and purposes, a world away from Coastal Georgia. But for a lot of reasons, we care about Georgia’s capital, even though usually ignores these parts. Which is why we’ll be paying attention to today’s “state of the city” address by Mayor Andre Dickens.

“‘We Were Helpless’: Despair at the C.D.C. as the Pandemic Erupted” (New York Times, March 21, 2023) “All of us knew tens of thousands were going to die, and we were helpless to stop it,” said Dr. Daniel Wozniczka, one of the trainees. “It was really heartbreaking and difficult on a psychological level not to be able to do anything.”

Abortion fight in Senate snarls hundreds of military promotions” (Military Times, March 24, 2023) “Hundreds of military promotions and confirmations are stalled in the Senate over one Republican senator’s objection to the Defense Department’s abortion policies, and even more could pile up in coming weeks if a compromise isn’t found soon.”

Savannah NAACP holds mass meeting honoring SCCPSS superintendent” (WSAV, March 27, 2023) “Dr. Levett says, ‘I’ll always be a teacher. This chapter will be over so, I will. One thing, I will commit to doing is continuing to advocate for public education. Continuing to advocate for Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools.’”

The Largest Source of Stolen Guns? Parked Cars.” (New York Times, March 25, 2023) “In a country awash with guns, with more firearms than people, the parked car, or in many cases the parked pickup truck, has become a new flashpoint in the debates over how and whether to regulate gun safety. . . . A report issued in May by the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety analyzed FBI crime data in 271 American cities, large and small, from 2020 and found that guns stolen from vehicles have become the nation’s largest source of stolen firearms — with an estimated 40,000 guns stolen from cars in those cities alone.”

Georgia lawmakers’ school voucher push stumbling to finish with little time left to recover

Proposed law would dedicate $6,500 to the family of any Georgia public school family that decided to withdraw their child from a low-performing school and educate them at home or a private school.

Taxes could toss sand in gears of Georgia governor’s drive to become electric vehicle capital

Electric car and truck owners are concerned that a similar motor fuel levy would be a double tax on top of the yearly $214 registration fee for small battery-powered cars and the $320 paid by owners of commercial electric vehicles.

What do the proposed Georgia prosecutor oversight bills do? An explainer

Reasons, perspectives are more complex than one incident or person. Here’s a look at similarities and differences in the bills and explanations of what a commission would and would not look like.

Carter grills TikTok CEO

In his questioning of TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, Carter accused the Chinese Communist Party of using the app to wage psychological warfare against American children.

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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...