A comprehensive preview of the Nov. 3 general election compiled from stories published in the Franklin County Citizen Leader. Stories will be added as they are published.
Election Day is here
CARNESVILLE – Franklin County voters will join counterparts in Georgia and across the country today to complete the election of the next U.S. President and other federal and state leaders.
Polls will be open today from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. to decide the 2020 general election, which includes the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
Voters must bring a photo I.D. to the polls to vote.
Voters in three Franklin County precincts will have new locations to cast ballots.
The Northeast Franklin (Gumlog) precinct will move from Gumlog Barbecue and Fish Lodge to Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.
The Royston precinct will move from Royston City Hall to the Royston Depot.
In addition, the precinct for Lavonia city voters will move from Lavonia City Hall to the Lavonia Community Center.
The Gumlog precinct is one of the largest in the county and had the most voters participate in the 2016 presidential election.
Kesler said that Pleasant Hill Baptist Church – located at 1333 Pleasant Hill Road in Martin – will allow 10-12 machines to be set up for the election.
The machines will be set up in the church’s gym.
The Royston precinct will move to the Royston Depot to allow more space for machines and voters as well.
The Depot, recently renovated by the city, is located downtown at 310 Railroad St. in Royston.
The change in the Lavonia precinct will only affect voters in city elections.
County elections have been held at the Lavonia Community Center at 39 Poole St. in Lavonia, with city elections held at Lavonia City Hall.
City elections will now be moved to the Community Center as well.
Lavonia city voters will vote on a referendum for a senior citizen tax exemption Tuesday.
City voters will have an extra question on their ballots and will not have to go through two separate lines or the voting process twice, Kesler said.
Any voter who has questions about where to vote on Tuesday may call the elections office at 706-384-4390 or visit the state’s My Voter page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
Races on the ballot include U.S. President, two U.S. Senate seats from Georgia, U.S. Representative from the 9th District, State Senator for District 50 and State Representative for District 32, two seats on the Georgia Public Service Commission, two state constitutional amendments and a state referendum question.
Franklin County voters will also decide a referendum to increase the tax exemption for senior citizens from $10,000 to $20,000 (see related story).
Tax exemption hikes on Tuesday ballot
ATLANTA – Senior citizens will get lower tax bills if a referendum on Tuesday’s ballot is approved by county voters.
The county’s homestead tax exemption for seniors – those 65 and older – will increase from $10,000 to $20,000 if the referendum passes.
The question on the ballot reads:
“Shall the Act be approved which (1) increases the homestead exemption from Franklin County ad valorem taxes for county purposes from $10,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that county who are 65 years of age or older to $20,000.00 of the assessed value and (2) increases the homestead exemption from Franklin County School District ad valorem taxes for educational purposes from $10,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that school district who are 65 years of age or older to $20,000.00 of the assessed value?”
The idea to increase the exemption was brought to Franklin County Commissioners by Tax Commissioner Bobby Martin late last year.
Martin said then he came up with the idea after listening to taxpayers following a reassessment of property in 2019 that meant a rise in taxes for many county residents.
Many older people have “heartbreaking” circumstances, Martin said. They live off of Social Security checks and must balance their taxes against food or medicine, he said.
Some 1,761 property owners take advantage of the current $10,000 exemption, which takes $190,426.04 off the county’s tax digest.
The current exemption saves those with the exemption between $108.13 (for those in the unincorporated county) and $119.60 (for those living in cities) on their county tax bills.
After approval by commissioners, the Franklin County Industrial Building Authority signed on.
The Franklin County Board of Education initially said it would wait to sign onto the idea but agreed in March to be added to the ballot.
The Lavonia City Council also voted in March to put a similar referendum on a separated city ballot Tuesday to increase the senior tax exemption for city taxes.
The city ballot reads:
“ADDITIONAL LOCAL HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION FOR RESIDENTS OVER 65 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER
“Shall the Act be approved which increases the homestead exemption from City of Lavonia ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes from the amount of $10,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead for residents of that city who are 65 years of age or older to $20,000.00 of the assessed value of the homestead?”
Hatchett, Daley vie for coveted Senate seat
By Matthew Osborne and Megan Broome
The Northeast Georgian
The District 50 Senate seat soon to be vacated by John Wilkinson has been hotly contested since candidates began declaring their intentions in January.
With nearly a half million dollars spent on the race, the seat is down to Republican Bo Hatchett of Habersham County and Democrat Dee Daley of Rabun County.
Hatchett is an attorney who defeated Stacy Hall in a close race in the runoff after outlasting four other candidates in the June primary. This is Hatchett’s first run for political office.
Daley is a management consultant and native of Atlanta who has lived in Rabun County for the last 20 years.
Daley did not face primary opposition. Her only previous political run was for Clayton City Council in 2019, which she lost by eight votes.
The two candidates answered four questions provided by The Northeast Georgian about their plans if elected to the Senate on Nov. 3.
The questions were:
1. What are the most important qualifications you are focusing on in the final days of the campaign that separate you from your opponent and make you the right choice on Nov. 3?
2. If elected, what are your top goals for your first 100 days in office?
3. What do you see as the biggest issues facing the region and what can be done at the state level to mitigate those challenges over the next two years?
4. In what ways can our next senator support legislation that abides by the rural values of this district with the idea of sharing in potential post-COVID-19 growth coming from Atlanta?
• Dee Daley.
1. My most important qualifications are my experience and skills in the corporate world and my proven ability to bring a community together for the benefit of all.
I have plans for our district that are not based on anyone’s political party affiliation.
If I am elected, I will focus on improving the overall quality of life for everyone, in all the communities across District 50.
Our state and country are in a crisis.
We, the people, must recognize our common values and unite around them. Our elected leaders must be guided by our values and focus on improving the situation in healthcare, the economy and education.
If I were elected, I would bring my wealth of business expertise to our state government.
I will bring my “I mean business” approach to your family’s needs, not to the lobbyists’ or big business demands.
My proven capacity to do this is grounded in four-decades working as a senior leader for some of America’s largest corporations, including General Electric (GE) Healthcare and GE Financial Services, to name a few.
Today, I am a management consultant for some of America’s biggest businesses, who hire me to lead them in cutting wasteful spending, improve productivity and increase customer satisfaction.
For the past 20 years, I have translated my people skills into volunteering as an active community leader known in Rabun County for working with all political parties to get things done.
I have demonstrated a steadfast ability to create and transform organizations.
2. I would begin working to expand Medicaid.
Our Republican governors and state leaders have shunned Medicaid expansion dollars assistance stating it is too costly.
To date, 38 other states have already accepted the billions of dollars for Medicaid expansion that Georgia tax dollars pay for.
Meanwhile, a half million Georgians don’t have any healthcare. The cost of premiums are out of reach, while our rural hospitals are closing.
My first morning as your state senator in Atlanta, I would start my “job” to see to it that there is a family doctor for every family.
I will save our rural hospitals by expanding Medicaid.
Let’s not let politics prevent Georgians from receiving the funds and the medical care we deserve.
As your state senator, I would propose legislation that would tap new revenue streams, such as increasing the state cigarette tax.
Raising state cigarette tax and eliminating the double tax deduction, that applies to tax filers that earn an average of $240,000 yearly would be a good start to bring in revenue to the state treasury.
I would also advocate for making sure that wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
One of my top priorities would be to increase funds for public education.
The worlds of art, science, medicine, the trades and technology are changing.
If our children and grandchildren are going to be able to compete in that economy, they must have the right tools to ever-changing economy and that means making education a priority.
3. Toxic partisanship at every level of government is chomping away at our democracy.
If I am elected, I will take my “people skills,” years of coalition building and business expertise to the state capitol.
I will listen respectfully to other points of view, strive to break through the partisanship, and work across the aisle to pass legislation to address our biggest challenges.
Georgians need to work together to find common sense solutions to provide affordable healthcare, to create jobs to fit the new economy, build the infrastructure for high speed internet, save the U.S. Post Office, enforce term limits, and a put together a state budget that works for everyone, not just big businesses.
The COVID-19 virus is a major health and economic issue.
To date 7,000 Georgians have died and hundreds of thousands Georgians have tested positive for the virus and now have a chronic illness with a pre-existing condition.
Regrettably, right now, the Trump administration is asking the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act.
If successful, the Trump admiration would permanently wipe out the health insurance coverage for as many as 23 million Americans.
This would also allow insurance companies to re-institute denying coverage or placing prohibitively expensive healthcare premiums on people with a pre-existing condition.
As your next state senator, I would advocate that the healthcare pre-existing condition clause remain the law of the land.
4. I will work to ensure no legislation is passed that infringes on the freedoms we enjoy in our rural community.
I will work hard as your Senator and I invite you to learn more about me at my website at deedaley2020.com or call me and let’s talk. I want to hear from you.
• Bo Hatchett.
1. We send senators and representatives to Atlanta to reflect the beliefs and opinions of our constituents. That’s how our founding fathers envisioned government operating.
To that end, I certainly believe that I am most qualified to represent our communities but, additionally, I also have conservative values that closely reflect those of the majority of the 50th Senate District.
Of those qualifications, I believe the most important are my experiences interacting with the people who live in North Georgia for my entire life.
Growing up in North Georgia, I believe, certainly qualifies me for the tasks that lie ahead at the Capitol.
2. As a “freshman” in the legislature, there is a lot to learn.
Understanding the legislative process itself and figuring out the best methods to maneuver a bill through the Capitol and ultimately onto the governor’s desk in the most efficient manner possible will be job 1 for me.
I believe that, ultimately, becoming keenly familiar with that process will be the greatest benefit for our District.
After that, knowing the people who facilitate the process itself will be highly beneficial.
Having worked at the Capitol previously, I know many legislators by first name.
I understand that relationships are what really make a legislative member most valuable and it’s my intent to build trust with those who I know as well as the legislative members I meet for the first time.
I think creating a list of accomplishments to achieve, as a new legislative member, in his or her first 100 days is probably unrealistic so I plan on focusing on what I can accomplish over the long term, by building trust and relationships.
3. I believe we must continue to keep the people of our district safe and recovering from this pandemic.
After that, we must continue to strive for economic development and to create jobs.
Our district has a good track record of bringing in new and appropriate industry.
Now more than ever, saving industry and jobs is crucial to a bright future for us. I’ll do this through listening and engaging with local business leaders. I’ll facilitate avenues for them to discuss their challenges with state agencies, like the Department of Economic Development and its Commissioner, Pat Wilson.
We must engage in these discussions now to ensure our communities are viable for the right kind of positive growth for business and ultimately the people of north Georgia.
4. I believe that county and city leadership knows what is best for our collective communities.
In saying that, I’m not only referring to elected officials but also local Chamber of Commerce members and those who have invested time and money in businesses and growth plans.
I believe growth planning starts locally and I see my role as that of facilitating these leaders to ensure they have the tools for planning.
If that includes legislation in order to help the plan, I’ll be there for them. There are a multitude of organizations that have and will help a community grow without experiencing the “sprawl” that other more urban areas to our south have experienced.
We must use vision, discussion and planning and ultimately, legislation, to make sure the road map ahead is the right one for all of us.
Perdue/Ossoff race draws national attention, money
By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA – For the last two decades, Georgia Republicans have cornered the market in U.S. Senate races.
In five of the six Peach State Senate elections since the turn of the century, the GOP candidate has won comfortably with margins of victory ranging from nearly 53 percent of the vote to more than 58 percent.
The other contest also went to the Republicans, although it took a runoff to decide the winner.
But 2020 is different.
With about six weeks remaining until Election Day, polls show incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff within the margin of error.
A sure sign the outcome is in doubt is how much the candidates and the national super PACs backing them are spending to bomb the airwaves, to the dismay of political ad-weary TV viewers.
Total TV/radio ad spending in the race, including future bookings, is now more than $83.4 million, political advertising broker Medium Buying reported last week.
“Money is being poured into Georgia because it could go either way,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
What’s turned a close race in Georgia into a critical contest nationally is that Democrats need to gain only three or four seats to control the Senate, depending on which party wins the vice presidency.
The vice president presides over the Senate and can break tie votes.
“Both parties are really interested in what happens here,” said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University.
Like President Donald Trump, Perdue, 70, came to Washington after a career in business.
Perdue was elected to the Senate in 2014 after 40 years in the corporate world, including stints as CEO of Reebok and Dollar General.
He has spent his first term in the Senate as one of Trump’s closest allies, supporting the president’s tax cut legislation in 2017, Trump’s get-tough trade policy with China, and, more recently, the president’s much-criticized handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Early on, he shut down travel from infected areas and quarantined people coming back into the country,” Perdue said. “He started a task force to work on PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing.”
After the pandemic shut down the nation’s economy, Perdue supported a congressional package of $2.9 trillion in relief to unemployed Americans and struggling businesses including the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program.
“That was a tough vote for me. I’m a fiscal hawk,” he said. “[But] we saved one and a half million jobs in Georgia.”
Ossoff, 33, is making his first run at statewide office after losing a special election for a congressional seat in Atlanta’s northern suburb three years ago.
His views on Trump’s handling of COVID-19 strike a sharp contrast with those of his opponent.
“The Trump administration’s response to the pandemic has been a total failure,” Ossoff said. “They lied about the scope of it to the public, sidelined public health experts and allowed the virus to spread.”
While Ossoff and Perdue agree that Congress needs to pass another economic stimulus package, Ossoff faulted Perdue and his Senate Republican colleagues for not taking up a $3 trillion relief bill U.S. House Democrats passed in May.
“The Senate went on a monthlong vacation, during which emergency loans expired,” Ossoff said.
Perdue said the Democrats’ plan is too expensive. He favors a $660 billion Republican alternative.
“This targeted approach is to get companies open again, people back to school and beat the virus,” he said.
Another issue dividing Perdue and Ossoff – and Republicans and Democrats in general – is how to respond to the deaths of black Americans at the hands of white police officers, incidents in Georgia and elsewhere that have prompted massive street protests.
“We urgently need criminal justice reform and reform of policing,” Ossoff said. “We need to pass a new Civil Rights Act to establish and secure equal justice under the law for every America.”
Republicans have jumped on the “defund the police” slogan some elements of the Black Lives Matter movement have espoused, arguing Democrats don’t support law enforcement.
Perdue, however, has shown support for some of the more moderate goals of policing reform, including community policing.
“Our police forces need to reflect the communities they serve,” he said.
At the same time, Perdue said Americans are worried when they see peaceful protests turn into violence and looting.
“People are concerned that we support our police and that they serve the community in a fair and even way,” he said. “We have to make sure we maintain law and order.”
Ossoff is an investigative journalist by trade whose business delves into political corruption, organized crime and abuse of power.
That plays into his campaign’s emphasis on the need to clean up corruption in Washington, starting with Perdue.
Ossoff is accusing Perdue of misleading voters with an ad in which the Republican endorses health insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions while voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the protection for pre-existing conditions it provides.
The nonprofit PolitiFact, which fact checks political advertising, rated the Perdue ad “false.”
“Senator David Perdue voted to allow health insurance companies to deny coverage to Georgians with cancer, diabetes, high-blood pressure and other pre-existing conditions, then ran ads lying about his voting record and was caught doing it,” Ossoff said.
Perdue said there’s a difference between opposing the Affordable Care Act and covering people with pre-existing conditions.
“I did vote against the Affordable Care Act a number of times,” he said. “But I also voted to protect pre-existing conditions a number of times. … This is a total misrepresentation by the Democratic side.”
Going on offense, Perdue is accusing Ossoff of conducting a campaign right out of the national Democratic playbook.
“He is supporting the Democrats’ radical agenda of defunding the police, abolishing ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and a government takeover of health care,” Perdue said. “We’re trying to reopen our economy and get schools reopened.”
Swint said the outcome of the Perdue-Ossoff contest will go a long way toward deciding whether Georgia Democrats continue building on the momentum of the 2018 elections.
Two years ago, Democrat Lucy McBath won a suburban Atlanta congressional seat the GOP had held for decades, while former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams lost the gubernatorial race to Republican Brian Kemp by a narrow margin.
On the other hand, a Perdue reelection victory could key a Republican rebound in Georgia from 2018, Swint said.
Georgia also will play a large role in which party controls the Senate next year. Besides the Perdue-Ossoff race, a second Georgia Senate seat will be up for grabs Nov. 3, with 21 candidates on the ballot in what is essentially a special election to replace retired GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Like the closely contested presidential contest, it might take weeks to decide the two Georgia Senate elections.
It’s practically a given that the special election will forced into an early January runoff between the top two vote-getters, given the number of candidates.
Bullock said if Libertarian candidate Shane Hazel can siphon off at least 3 percent of the vote in the Perdue-Ossoff race, it could deny an outright majority to Perdue or Ossoff on Election Day. That would require a second Senate runoff.
“We may not know which party controls the Senate until January,” Bullock said.
Special Senate race in Georgia draws national attention
By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
The race for a hotly contested U.S. Senate seat in Georgia kicked up a notch recently with the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and calls for a Democratic candidate to drop out in favor of the frontrunner.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Atlanta businesswoman appointed to hold retired Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat until the Nov. 3 special election, released an ad claiming she was “the first senator in America” to back President Donald Trump’s push to nominate a new justice ahead of the upcoming election.
“Our nation desperately needs another pro-life justice who will uphold the Constitution and defend conservative values,” Loeffler said.
The ad also takes aim at her Democratic competitor, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who has signaled he would vote against Trump’s nominee if he were to win the election outright on Nov. 3 – a tall order given the 50 percent vote threshold any of the 21 candidates in the race will need to cross.
“If that is the case and I can win outright on Nov. 3, the vote from the senator in Georgia might be the difference between setting an entire generation under an ideologue on the court or giving the American people a chance to weigh in,” Warnock said in an interview.
And U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the Republican from Gainesville who has bludgeoned Loeffler with campaign attacks for months, stirred controversy by criticizing Ginsburg’s court opinions on abortion within hours after her death on Sept. 18.
“RIP to the more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered during the decades that Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended pro-abortion laws,” Collins wrote on Twitter.
Ginsburg’s death has catapulted the race for Loeffler’s seat even further into the national spotlight, given the victor could not only tip the balance between conservative and liberal justices on the nation’s highest court, but also decide which party holds a majority in the Senate.
Recent polls have shown Loeffler and Collins running neck-and-neck in the low to mid-20 percent range, with Warnock creeping up close to them within a few percentage points as his profile elevates with new ads, support from sports figures and his potential influence on the Supreme Court nominee.
It’s for that reason Democratic leaders in Georgia like former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams have renewed calls for candidate Matt Lieberman to drop out and unify support for one Democratic candidate in the free-for-all race, in which candidates from all parties will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
But Lieberman, a health-care consultant and former educator who is the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, has signaled he does not intend to exit the race due to the large number of undecided voters who might break his way on Election Day.
“It’s been a tight race the whole time,” Lieberman said in a recent interview. “Obviously, [Warnock] has every advantage and he should have pulled away, but he hasn’t.”
Meanwhile, Loeffler drew attention recently for a pair of ads she released calling herself “more conservative” than the 5th-century warlord Attila the Hun.
The ads marked the latest move in the fight between Collins and Loeffler to win the title of most conservative candidate as they seek to woo Republican voters.
“The liberal snowflakes of the world melted when they found out that conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler was to the right of Attila the Hun,” said Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson. “Now that we’re releasing a second ad highlighting Kelly’s pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump values, we assume they will probably evaporate.”
In recent months, Loeffler has filed a steady stream of legislation in the Senate focused on immigration enforcement, punishing violent protesters, protecting funds for police agencies and gun-ownership rights.
She has also criticized the Black Lives Matter protest movement as she seeks to solidify her image as a pro-law enforcement candidate.
Collins, meanwhile, has long touted his background as a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain and the son of a Georgia state trooper, emphasizing his law-and-order roots, support for gun-ownership rights and opposition to abortion.
He has also begun firing shots at Warnock, who has largely escaped criticism from Republican contenders in the race as they batter each other.
Collins highlighted a recent segment by Fox News host Tucker Carlson that points outs comments Warnock made criticizing police officers while preaching at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he presides as senior pastor.
“Tucker Carlson exposed the hatred for our police from Stacey Abrams’ handpicked candidate for Senate, Mr. Warnock,” Collins said on Twitter. “In the Senate, I’ll continue to back the blue.”
While the Fox News segment featured comments from 2015 describing certain officers as “thugs,” Warnock in a recent interview said he supports officers overall but would vote in the Senate for uniform use-of-force-standards, abolishing qualified immunity and creating a third-party independent body to investigate officer-involved fatal encounters.
“We have got to have public policy that centers on the humanity of black people,” Warnock said. “Black people don’t want more than anyone else. We just want equal treatment under the law.”
Loeffler has made support for law enforcement central to her campaign, capitalizing on broad negative reaction from many conservative voters over instances of violence and vandalism seen during protests against police brutality and racial injustice since June.
She particularly has taken strong stances against calls from some advocates and lawmakers to reduce funding for police departments, going so far as to introduce legislation that would yank federal dollars from cities that shrink their police budgets.
“For months, the radical Left’s ‘defund the police’ movement has promoted violence, chaos and anarchy in cities across our country, while villainizing and attacking the brave men and women in law enforcement who risk their lives to keep us safe,” Loeffler said.
As Loeffler and Collins trade blows, Warnock has sought to elevate health care as among the most important issues in the race. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened health-care inequality in communities and acts as proof of the need for expanded access to Medicare and universal insurance coverage, Warnock has said.
“We don’t suffer from a lack of resources,” Warnock said. “We suffer from a lack of political will and moral imagination.”
On the health-care front, Loeffler has focused much of her early activities in the Senate on efforts to block federal funds from groups that provide abortions like Planned Parenthood and to boost access to health-care services for military veterans.
Collins, who has frequently expressed opposition to the Affordable Care Act, aligns with Loeffler and the prevailing Republican stance that favors expanding options for securing health insurance with less government influence on the marketplace.
“Even if you thought it was a good idea to start with, it’s not being funded,” Collins said recently of the Affordable Care Act. “We’ve got to get back to a system that protects pre-existing conditions.”
Amid the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate race is steaming for the finish line with less than a month until the special election.
A runoff will be held in January if none of the 21 candidates including Loeffler can win more than 50 percent of the vote.
9th District Congressional candidates debate platforms
By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Andrew Clyde, a gun store owner and the Republican nominee in Georgia’s 9th Congressional District, fielded attacks on his business dealings and a recent lawsuit against Athens-Clarke County during a debate Monday ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
His Democratic opponent, actor and U.S. Army veteran Devin Pandy, jabbed Clyde for costing Athens taxpayers “tens of thousands of dollars” amid the cash-strapped days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pandy also called Clyde “another millionaire attempting to buy an election.”
But Clyde took the criticism in stride during the debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.
His reluctance to punch back at Pandy likely stemmed from the position he holds as the Republican nominee in a heavily conservative district covering Northeast Georgia from Gainesville to Athens.
The June 9 primary election tells the tale: More than 140,000 Republican voters turned out for that election, while Democrats only cast around 31,000 ballots.
A U.S. Navy veteran, Clyde absorbed similarly fierce blows from his Republican opponent in the Aug. 11 primary runoff, state Rep. Matt Gurtler, before winning by a comfortable margin.
On Monday, the two general-election candidates squaring off ahead of next month’s contest stuck with party lines on bread-and-butter issues, forcing Pandy to go on the offensive to distinguish himself in the Democrat-averse district.
Pandy slammed Clyde for suing Athens-Clarke officials to keep his business open during the county’s shelter-in-place order in March, drawing parallels between that case and contracts Clyde held with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) after he sued the federal agency for asset forfeiture and pushed legislation to reform the practice.
“Andrew Clyde only wants to be involved in government when it impacts his own bottom line,” Pandy said during Monday’s debate.
Ignoring those attacks, Clyde embraced his past battles with the IRS as a pillar of his conservative personality and limited-government political beliefs.
“This experience showed me there’s a very thin line between we the people running our government and our government running us,” Clyde said. “And I believe that we the people need to run our government.”
Pandy also had sharp criticism for Clyde on the issue of climate change, which the Republican nominee on Monday said he does not think exists beyond the normal four-season cycle each year.
Claiming that scientists have “changed their tune on climate change,” Clyde argued “there are scientists who believe it and many who don’t.”
“I will hold court with those scientists who don’t believe in man-made climate change,” Clyde said.
Pandy poked holes in that stance, arguing signs of rising global temperatures have been seen in worsening natural disasters like wildfires in California and that “97 percent of scientists around the world agree climate change is real.”
“Humans may not have started it, but we are definitely making it exponentially worse,” Pandy said. “It wouldn’t be something that sets the entire West Coast on fire if it wasn’t real.”
Clyde also used the debate stage to tout his support for dismantling the IRS through a so-called FairTax levy on spending only, while Pandy called for establishing a universal basic income.
The election on Nov. 3 is poised to decide who in the 9th District will replace U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who has opted to run for U.S. Senate.
Early voting began Monday.
State voters to decide two amendments, referendum
By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA – Georgians heading to the polls next month will decide the fate of two amendments to the state Constitution supporters have been pushing for years.
A third ballot question is being pitched as a way to increase Georgia’s stock of affordable housing.
Here is a description of the three statewide referendum measures in the order they will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot:
• Amendment 1
House Resolution 164 requires that state fees and taxes collected for a specific purpose be used as intended in most circumstances.
Supporters point to a history of Georgia governors and lawmakers raiding the state’s Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust funds when money is tight.
Between 2009 and 2019, only $56.4 million of $153.8 million paid into the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund was actually used to clean up waste sites.
During the same decade, $72.7 million went into the Solid Waste Trust Fund, but only $22.5 million was spent getting rid of tire dumps and other waste management programs including recycling.
Governors and the General Assembly redirected the rest of that money into the state’s general fund budget for a variety of needs, particularly during years when income and sales tax revenues fell off.
“It really got bad during the Great Recession,” said Mark Woodall, chairman of the Georgia Sierra Club’s legislative committee. “But they’ll grab that money even in a good year.”
Kathleen Bowen, associate legislative director at the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said of the two state trust funds, the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund has the greater need.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has done a good job bringing funds from its budget to bear to clean up tire dumps when money from the Solid Waste Trust Fund wasn’t available, she said.
But there’s not nearly enough money to clean up the 503 hazardous waste sites scattered across Georgia, Bowen said.
“The state has only been able to fund a couple of sites per budget cycle,” she said. “It costs a lot of money.”
The Georgia House of Representatives has passed the amendment to dedicate the two trust funds to their intended purposes repeatedly, a tribute to the work of the late Rep. Jay Powell, who died last November.
But the State Senate has blocked the proposal just as many times.
The late Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill, who died last April, was concerned that requiring the trust fund money to stay put would leave the state without budget flexibility during economic downturns.
Sen. Blake Tillery, Hill’s successor on the budget-writing committee, said he shares his predecessor’s reservations. But he said he comes down on the side of truth in advertising.
“The citizens of Georgia deserve honesty and transparency in fees,” Tillery said. “It does hamper flexibility, but transparency is worth it.”
Georgia Rep. Andrew Welch, who picked up sponsorship of the constitutional amendment from Powell, said the measure contains several safeguards to protect the state when money is tight.
Under the proposal, the governor can temporarily suspend the requirement to dedicate all fees to a trust fund in a financial emergency.
It also prohibits designating one percent or more of total state revenues during a given year to trust funds, and any fee or tax intended to fund a specific purpose automatically expires after 10 years.
“I worked with Jack on that, trying to address his and other members’ concerns about what you do when you have a contraction of the economy,” Welch said.
“There are adequate safeguards, which we support,” Woodall added. “You do have to keep the government running.”
• Amendment 2
Welch also played a major role in Amendment 2 as chief sponsor of House Resolution 1023.
It prohibits the state and local governments from using the legal doctrine of “sovereign immunity” to keep citizens from suing them when government officials commit unconstitutional actions.
The amendment stems from a 2014 Georgia Supreme Court decision that virtually gave the state blanket immunity from citizen lawsuits in a case brought by the Center for a Sustainable Coast.
The group had filed suit alleging the state Department of Natural Resources was illegally allowing alterations to private property in fragile coastal wetland areas protected by state law.
The court doubled down two years later, citing sovereign immunity in refusing to consider a legal challenge to a University System of Georgia policy requiring students who are illegal immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition rates.
“Historically, citizens were able to sue their government, state or local, in state court to seek an injunction or declaration that their rights were being violated,” Welch said. “With those decisions, the citizens of this state were not able to get into the courthouse.”
Supporters put the measure into the form of a constitutional amendment after two governors vetoed previous bills passed by the General Assembly.
Unlike statutes, constitutional amendments bypass the governor and go directly to Georgia voters.
Both Gov. Brian Kemp and Nathan Deal, Kemp’s immediate predecessor, argued that denying the state the defense of sovereign immunity would allow “unprecedented judicial intervention into daily management decisions entrusted to the executive branch of government,” as Deal put it in a 2016 veto message.
Welch said the proposed amendment includes provisions to limit the scope of citizen lawsuits.
It prohibits plaintiffs from recovering monetary damages or attorney fees.
“We don’t want people just filing frivolous lawsuits to try to generate attorney fees,” Welch said. “This is about upholding legal rights.”
• Referendum A
House Bill 344 authorizes a tax exemption for property owned by charitable organizations for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes to be sold to individuals through no-interest loans.
If passed, the measure would help grow the stock of affordable housing in Georgia, particularly in small cities and rural communities, said Ryan Willoughby, executive director of Columbus-based Habitat for Humanity of Georgia.
“Every dollar we can save makes a difference in terms of completing a project in a timely manner,” he said.
Willoughby said helping Georgians forced to rent move into their own home is a quality-of-life issue.
He cited a 2017 Georgia Tech study that found children who live in owner-occupied homes do better in school.
Offering tax breaks to encourage single-family home construction also pays off in the long run for a local community’s tax base, Willoughby said.
“Our lots are usually vacant in undeveloped areas that don’t tend to have large property tax bases,” he said. “The smaller municipalities will really benefit in a big way.”