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Local Govt & Politics
Democrats chart new course for Gwinnett at state Capitol
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Democrats chart new course for Gwinnett at state Capitol

Democrats chart new course for Gwinnett at state Capitol
Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, stands Thursday as he speaks to Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Lawrenceville, (right) and Rep-elect Gregg Kennard during Gwinnett County’s annual pre-session meeting with its legislative delegation. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

Democrats chart new course for Gwinnett at state Capitol

Gwinnett’s delegation to the state Legislature had its annual meeting with county officials on Thursday morning — the first major gathering of the county’s elected leaders since last month’s historic election that tilted local power toward Democrats.

In a wave that in one way or another was expected, Democrats turned Gwinnett’s delegation on its head in November. The party converted a five-seat deficit into a nine-seat advantage with the party now holding a 17-8 advantage in its delegation of state lawmakers.

Members of the newly empowered party said they plan to work with their Republican colleagues and try to find common ground, but that doesn’t mean they won’t push a progressive agenda when they can. Or that they’re not already making plans.

“Of course, now that we are in power, we’ve got to govern,” said Rep. Pedro Marin, a Duluth Democrat who is now Gwinnett’s longest-tenured legislator. “We’ve already been meeting and we’ve got some ideas about what we have to do.”

Having a majority on a local delegation can be largely symbolic. That’s especially true for Democrats in Georgia, where Republicans still hold a significant advantage in both the state House and Senate.

But being in control will give the party more sway on issues that directly impact Gwinnett. Legislative delegations can make changes to the way things operate in their communities by championing local legislation about specific issues in the county.

Rep. Dewey McClain, D-Lawrenceville, said he hopes to push measures that would expand the size of Gwinnett’s county commission and its school board.Democrats and other advocacy groups have criticized the current structure of Gwinnett’s governing bodies. Four district commissioners and a countywide chairman currently represent the county’s more than 900,000 residents. The school board has five members.

Litigation has also been filed alleging that the way both local bodies’ districts are drawn dilutes the potential influence of minority voters (though that claim may have lost some urgency in November, when a total of three people of color were elected to the commission and school board).

Marin pitched a bill regarding expansion of Gwinnett’s governing bodies in the legislature’s most recent session, but it went nowhere. The county’s Republican-led delegation had no real interest.

“I think what people will see more so now,” McClain said, is legislators “being more responsive, and people being more taken care of, instead of things.”

Chuck Efstration was one of just a few local Republicans who won reelection this year. But the representative from Dacula was optimistic that little would change, at least functionally.

“We’re going to have an outstanding working relationship … that is not bogged down by partisan affiliation,” he said.

Gwinnett has been a Republican stronghold for decades, but the last few election cycles have made clear that the county is now up for grabs for either party — if not distinctly left-leaning. Hillary Clinton won the county in 2016’s presidential election, and Democrat Stacey Abrams bested Gov.-elect Brian Kemp by more than 14 points in last month’s contest.

Two Democrats will be joining the five-member Gwinnett County commission in January. They’ll be the board’s first Democrats in more than 30 years.

Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash, a Republican, said the priorities that county officials presented to Gwinnett’s legislative delegation on Thursday were little different than they’ve been with her party in control of the state delegation over the last several years (or decades, for that matter).

Most issues the county government deals with are less political than practical, she said.

“I don’t start with the idea that just because we’re different political parties means that we can’t work together,” said Nash. “…We’re gonna try to keep focusing on what we think is important for the community, and I have no reason to believe any of the newly elected officials want to do anything other than that as well.”

NEW GWINNETT LEGISLATORS

State Senate

-Sheikh Rahman, D, Senate 5

-Sally Harrell, D, Senate 40

-Zahra Karinshak, D, Senate 48

State House

-Beth Moore, D, House 95

-Bonnie Rich, R, House 97

-Gregg Kennard, D, House 102

-Donna McLeod, D, House 105

-Shelly Hutchinson, D, House 107

-Jasmine Clark, D, House 108

Read More

News

  • Union County sheriff’s detectives were staking out an area Thursday near Wesley Chapel, North Carolina, when they saw two males leave a red vehicle. >> Read more trending news The suspicious people put on ski masks and hoodies and kicked in the front door of a residence. Detectives 'noticed they started putting on ski masks covering their faces putting hoodies on their heads, then they made their way toward the house and kicked the front door in,' said Tony Underwood with the Union County Sheriff’s Office. Patrol officers were called in and after a short time, the intruders left the house carrying a bag and got back into a vehicle where a driver was waiting. Authorities stopped the vehicle near Goldmine Road and Corporate Center Road. 'I heard sirens, and I saw a lot of Sheriff's Office deputies driving really fast down the street,' neighbor Shannon Skiscin said. Two of the suspects were taken into custody and the third fled on foot but was apprehended a short time later. Inside the vehicle, authorities found a 9 mm handgun, Taser, cellphones, ski masks and about 1,100 Xanax bars. The three suspects were Gabriel Alexander Oyuch, 20, of Matthews, Jaydan Burwell, 20, of Charlotte, and Michael Lamonte Byrd, 24, of Charlotte.  'I've never (sic) known nothing to happen,” neighbor Tammy Heath said. “I've fallen asleep with my door unlocked.' Detectives then executed a search warrant for the home and found marijuana, about 200 Xanax bars, Roxicodone and more than $2,400 in cash. The two people arrested in the home were Michael Joseph Tabbit, 18, of Wesley Chapel, and Jonathan Troy Sierski, 20, who lives at the house. Oyuch was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a felony, felonious breaking and entering and possession with intent to sell and deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance.  Burwell was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a felony, felonious breaking and entering, felony larceny and possession with intent to sell and deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance.  Byrd was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit a felony, felonious breaking and entering, felony larceny and possession with intent to sell and deliver a Schedule IV controlled substance.  Tabbit and Swierski also face numerous drug charges. “Outstanding police work,” Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said. “Deputies were in the right place at the right time to apprehend armed criminals who boldly entered an occupied residence in the middle of the afternoon. A situation like that could have ended much differently.”  The home invasion was not a random crime, authorities said.
  • Police are searching for a man accused of stealing a car from a Midtown high-rise condominium parking garage last week. The car was stolen from the Spire condos at 860 Peachtree Street on Feb. 5, Atlanta police said in a Friday news release.  The man slipped through the side of the parking gate and began pulling on car door handles and entering vehicles, the release said. The car that was stolen was a 2009 Honda Accord, which the victim said had been left unlocked with the key inside, the release said. A 9mm Glock handgun was also inside the vehicle when it was stolen. Anyone with information on the this incident is asked to contact CrimeStoppers at 404-577-8477 or online at www.StopCrimeATL.com. Tips can be sent anonymously and information that leads to an arrest and indictment in this investigation can earn tipsters up to $2,000. In other news:
  • One man was arrested after police in Florida said he allowed an underage girl to take the wheel during a trip to the store, according to the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. >> Read more trending news Officials said a vehicle was observed be driven into the opposite lane and into dirt off the side of the roadway Thursday in the area of North Tropical Trail at about 6:15 p.m. Police came in contact with the vehicle, where 62-year-old Mark Papczynski said he allowed the girl to drive to the store 'to get her a snack and himself another 18 pack of beer,' according to an arrest report. Papczynski admitted that letting the girl drive was dangerous. In a post-jail interview Papczynski said, 'I was brought up in the old school, where parents always taught their children the ways of life,' in regards to the incident. He also said that 'it wasn't like she was doing it for the first time.' He faces two charges of child neglect without great bodily harm and permitting an unauthorized person to drive, according to jail records.
  • It was a busy day for Atlanta rapper 21 Savage Friday, starting with a pretaped appearance on “Good Morning America,” followed by being booked into a South Georgia jail on a felony theft by deception warrant. He was later released, according to the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office. >> Read more trending news The Friday legal matter is connected to a concert booking from 2016 for which a promoter paid the musician, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, $17,000, TMZ reported. The rapper kept the money but did not perform, so the promoter filed paperwork to get a warrant issued for his arrest, according to TMZ’s report. “The warrant is from some years ago, and he went through the process and addressed the issue,” Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes told the Coastal Courier newspaper in Hinesville.
  • A Florida man said he was going through his morning routine when he walked out of his apartment bathroom and realized his Nest security camera was on. >> Read more trending news Adam King said he then heard a voice he did not recognize. 'The light came on and caught my attention, and I believe he said, 'No one wants to see that,'' King said. 'He had an accent, proceeded to do some shuffling of the microphone. When I left the bedroom, some music or audio of some (sort) came on.' King said someone was using a computer or cellphone to watch him through the Nest app. He said he walked into his living room to search for his cellphone or his iPad so he could turn off the camera, but he was unable to, because the other person had control of the app. 'I had no choice but to come right back inside and unplug the camera,' King said. Nest, which is owned by Google, provided WFTV with the following statement: 'Nest Security has not been breached or compromised. Customers may be vulnerable because their email addresses and passwords are freely available on the internet. If a website is compromised, it's possible for someone to gain access to user email addresses and passwords, and from there, gain access to any accounts that use the same login credentials.' Jason Cook, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement cybercrimes supervisor, said it is important to use a secured network. 'It's your thermostat. It's your home surveillance system, your washer and dryer, Wi-Fi, controlled outlet sometimes,' he said. 'They're all running through your network, and if your network isn't secured, all of that stuff is vulnerable.' Nest said that it encourages users to utilize its two-layer authentication process. King said he is unwilling to put his privacy at risk again. 'I don't want to put my camera back up on the wall in fear it could be hacked again,' he said. The company spokesman would not estimate how many customers have experienced similar issues.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office recommends that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort serve a sentence of 19.5 to 24.5 years in prison after being convicted of eight financial crimes in Virginia. >> Read more trending news The sentencing memorandum also recommended a fine of up to $24 million. Though Mueller’s office did not recommend a precise sentence for Manafort, prosecutors said they agreed with a calculation by federal probation officials that his crimes deserve a punishment of between 19 and 24 years. They also lay out in great detail for U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III how they say Manafort’s greed drove him to disregard American law. “In the end, Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” the prosecutors wrote. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.” Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled Manafort not only lied to Mueller’s team, he made false statements after agreeing to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s Office, according to court documents. >> MORE: Judge rules Paul Manafort intentionally lied after agreeing to cooperate The judge also found that Manafort lied in statements to investigators and the grand jury about finances related to a pro-Trump super PAC, that he lied about his communications with alleged Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik and that he lied about information in another Justice Department investigation, among other false statements. Manafort’s attorneys have denied any wrongdoing. Officials said he’s turned over access to his electronic devices and email accounts as part of his cooperation. >> MORE: Paul Manafort appears in court after allegedly lying to investigators Last month, defense attorneys said Manafort has been kept in solitary confinement for his own safety. He’s had severe gout for several months of his incarceration, according to his attorneys, and it’s sometimes been severe enough to require that he use a wheelchair. The Associated Press contributed to this report.