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Political Headlines

    A bill introduced in the Georgia House would stop the government from purging voters just because they didn’t vote in a recent election. Democratic House Minority Leader Bob Trammell proposed the legislation Friday after more than 1.4 million voter registrations were canceled in Georgia since 2012, in many cases because they hadn’t exercised their right to vote for several years. “With today’s technology, there’s no excuse that justifies making voting harder rather than simpler,” said Trammell, D-Luthersville. “The process of purging people from the voter registration rolls solely because they haven't voted in recent elections is undemocratic and corrosive to the integrity of our elections process.” The measure, House Bill 6, would eliminate a state law passed in 1997 that allows Georgia’s secretary of state to target inactive voters. Canceling their registrations takes at least six years in Georgia.  Voters can be declared “inactive” if they make no contact with election officials for three years and don’t return a mailed confirmation notice. Inactive voters’ registrations can then be canceled if they don’t participate in any elections or have contact with election officials for the next two federal general election cycles. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the legality of eliminating inactive voters from voter lists. Supporters of the law, including Gov.-elect Brian Kemp, have said it helps prevent fraud and ensures accurate voter rolls. Registrations can also be canceled when voters move, die or are convicted of a felony, among other reasons.
  • Gov.-elect Brian Kemp emerged from his narrow victory resolved to pursue the conservative campaign promises that helped energize Republicans to secure him a record number of gubernatorial votes, even if that means wading deep into divisive social debates. Kemp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News in an exclusive interview Monday that he will not retreat from pledges to enact new abortion restrictions or gun rights expansions, even as he pushes for teacher pay raises and other initiatives aimed at a broader electorate. “Everything I’ve talked about in the campaign I’m planning on doing. That’s something I’ve prided myself on: doing exactly what I tell people when I’m running,” he said. “I’ve been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. And I’m going to continue to do that,” Kemp added. “I’ve been a strong supporter of life. And I’m going to continue to do that. I’ve been a conservative when it comes to budgeting issues and streamlining government. “That’s what Georgians want — someone who is going to go to work.” Kemp underscored his conservative approach by unveiling a transition team on Monday studded with dozens of well-known Republicans. The group included state legislators, conservative activists, prominent financiers and former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Asked whether the transition team was a sign that he’s not abandoning conservative policies in pursuit of a more moderate stance, Kemp was swift to concur. “You can’t run from your roots of who you are. But those conservatives, many of them worked across the aisle in the Legislature or on the local level or in their communities,” he said. “And that’s what they’ll do on the committee to move the agenda forward to help all Georgians.” Whether he ultimately pursues more centrist policies after his narrow defeat of Democrat Stacey Abrams remains unknown. He doesn’t take office until January, and over the next two months his transition team will hone his policies, hash out a budget plan and suggest appointments to top posts. But some critics are urging Kemp to take a broader approach after he won the election with just 50.2 percent of the vote thanks to huge margins in rural Georgia that overcame Democratic dominance in densely populated areas, including metro Atlanta. “I understand the desire and need to placate one’s base,” said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a suburban Atlanta Democrat who coasted to another term. “But the clear lesson of the election is that approach has serious long-term risks. The governor-elect won by only 1.4 percent of the vote — and that’s with him overseeing the election,” Holcomb said. “He has very little margin of error, and he risks further alienating the most populous and growing parts of the state.” ‘What I’m focused on’ The Republican suggested his first-year agenda will almost certainly include a teacher pay package that will top $600 million, a proposal to cut taxes and business regulations, and an increase of a popular tax credit program designed to shore up struggling rural hospitals. But he also made clear he’s not running from social issues, such as his support for legislation known as “constitutional carry” that would let gun owners conceal and carry handguns without a permit, or his vow to “sign the toughest abortion laws in the country.” That also includes support for a contentious “religious liberty” proposal despite threats from some Hollywood actors and executives to boycott the state and its booming film industry. They warn it would amount to legalized discrimination and tarnish the state’s business reputation. Kemp and other supporters say such a measure would protect people of faith from government intrusion, as well as strengthen legal protections for opponents of gay marriage. And he repeated his stance that he would only support a mirror copy of the version of federal law adopted in 1993 by a bipartisan vote. “I support the exact language that’s in the federal statute now. It protects religious freedom, which we should absolutely do. It does not discriminate,” he said. “And I’ve been very clear on that. I’ll veto anything less and I’ll veto anything more.” The former secretary of state said he was not dwelling on Abrams’ refusal to call the election “legitimate” or her fiery words accusing him of abusing his office. And he was dismissive of the litigation her new advocacy group, Fair Fight Georgia, was planning to file this week targeting his “gross mismanagement” of elections. “They’ve been filing all kinds of lawsuits. A lot of good resources were wasted on some of these ridiculous lawsuits. What she does in the future is her business,” he said. “I’ve got to be the governor of the state, and that’s going to be my business. That’s what I’m focused on.” Kemp, however, hinted that he was open to legislation next year that goes beyond replacing outdated voting equipment to include new standards on some voting policies. He would not elaborate but said any action should address concerns from local elections officials and take a “methodical” approach. “I’ve said all along you have to have an orderly process,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is to move quickly and not have it work.” ‘I guarantee you’ Kemp’s transition team telegraphed his embrace of the conservative wing of the party. The most prominent name was Price, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act who resigned from his post in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet amid scandal in September 2017 after racking up at least $1 million in travel on private and military jets. Kemp said Price, an orthopedic surgeon and former U.S. House member, will help him hone health care policy that includes a staunch opposition to expanding Medicaid but a promise to seek federal waivers to help stabilize insurance premiums. “He’s a very smart man. He’s dealt a lot on health care, and all of the situations he’s been in over the years, he’s certainly learned a lot,” Kemp said. “He brings a lot of value, and you can see from the team we have a very diverse team from a lot of different backgrounds.” Other members of the group include Virginia Galloway of the Georgia chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative advocacy group; Alec Poitevint, a Sonny Perdue ally and former Republican National Committee leader; and ex-U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, who ran for president in 2008 as a Libertarian. Even as he pointed toward the future, Kemp also invoked the past: His razor-thin election victory in 2002 over Democratic state Sen. Doug Haines, a victory in a left-leaning Athens-based district that launched his political career. That tight win has become a touchstone for Kemp in the weeks after his defeat of Abrams left a significant portion of the Democratic electorate furious — and convinced he leveraged his role as the state’s top elections official to suppress votes. Kemp said he was bombarded with criticism after his victory 16 years ago, as neighbors and community leaders predicted he would be “terrible for the district.” “But you know what I did? I did exactly what I said I would do. I represented the values of our district. I worked hard to cut taxes and streamline government,” he said. “You want someone who’s up there fighting for you. I guarantee you I’ll do that.” He sees this election through a similar lens. “I’ve got a great opportunity,” he said, “to prove people who didn’t vote for me wrong.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.
  • The death of longtime Atlanta City Councilmember Ivory Lee Young Jr. on Friday has set in motion a months long process to find a replacement who will serve out the remainder of Young’s term. Young was widely regarded as an ally of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and whoever wins his seat could shift the balance of power on the council. Young was re-elected to his fourth term in November 2017. In a statement on Friday Bottoms said: “I was privileged to call Ivory a colleague and friend and am eternally grateful for his love and devotion to our city.” Within 15 days, the city council will declare Young’s seat vacant and request that anyone who is interested apply to serve in the Young’s District 3 seat as a short term replacement. The council will pick a replacement for Young among the applicants until a special election can be held to fill the seat, said City Council President Felicia Moore. Moore said the date of the election has yet to be determined. The victor of that contest will represent Young’s district for the remainder of his term through 2021. Young’s death at age 56 follows a battle with cancer. He took a leave of absence from the council a couple months ago to undergo stem cell treatment. His leave of absence came at a critical time and set off a behind-the-scenes political maneuvering at City Hall as Bottoms tried to gain support for the $5 billion Gulch redevelopment project — the most significant initiative so far during her administration. Bottoms was trying to pass legislation to help provide a developer nearly $2 billion in incentives to redevelop 40-acres of weedy parking lots and railroad tracks stretching from Mercedes-Benz Stadium to the Five Points MARTA station in downtown Atlanta. The mayor had to postpone three votes on the project because she didn’t have enough support on the council. In September, she sought an opinion from Sam Olens, a former state attorney general, about whether Young could vote via conference call as he recovered from treatment. The move was criticized by opponents of the plan. Young never voted on the incentive package, which the council approved earlier this month. But if Young, who represents English Avenue and Vine City, hadn’t been sidelined, the deal would have probably passed more swiftly through the council. The makeup of the council changed significantly as a result of the election last year. A federal corruption investigation and revelations about how Former Mayor Kasim Reed used city funds seems to have emboldened some members of council, who have asked pointed questions of Bottoms’ administration. Young’s council bio highlights his work to transform the west Atlanta neighborhoods he served. It says that his role in the “redevelopment of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive corridor resulted in more than $65 million for the completion of the Historic Westside Village project that served as a catalyst for continued investments.” It credits him with lobbying “at the state level for enhanced tools to combat blight across the city through code enforcement.”
  • The candidates fought long and hard, but the race for Georgia governor is now decided. Governor-elect Brian Kemp is addressing the public now about his transition into office. WATCH LIVE STREAM BELOW:
  • A year and a half after the first pitch at SunTrust Park, Cobb has yet to account for tens of millions of dollars in stadium construction work and officials haven’t independently confirmed a final price tag on the county’s largest, most controversial public works project. The seeming lack of interest in tracking the true cost of a county-owned asset built with massive public investment reflects what some see as a lack of basic oversight by Cobb officials. The Braves, who managed the stadium construction, say at $684 million, the ballpark exceeded its budget, with the team covering more than its share. But Cobb only has invoices covering $536 million, meaning there are roughly $148 million in construction costs for which Cobb officials have not reviewed receipts. “We have invoices for all work that was the county’s responsibility to pay for,” the county said in a statement. Determining the stadium’s final cost and the percentage paid by the county and the Braves is vital to understanding taxpayers’ role in a project touted as a win-win partnership when officials announced it five years ago. The contract inked with the Braves stipulates that if the project came under budget, the savings may be applied toward “mutually agreed upon” stadium improvements or a capital maintenance fund — both expenses that taxpayers must help cover. The lack of a clear accounting means the county is at a disadvantage to verify if there were any savings and hampers public scrutiny of what the Braves claimed as a stadium expense. Cobb Chairman Mike Boyce said the remaining invoices don’t matter because Cobb’s contribution to the stadium is fixed and it won’t change, regardless of the final tally for construction. In 2016, Boyce rode a wave of voter discontent over the stadium deal to defeat former chairman Tim Lee. Part of his platform was a call for greater transparency with regards the ballpark. Boyce now dismisses concerns over the county’s book-keeping, saying he has no leverage anyway to compel the Braves to provide more documentation. A provision in the contract allows either side to audit the project. “We’ve paid our bills,” Boyce said. “Both sides are now in agreement that we have fulfilled all our obligations.” Ongoing costs at SunTrust Park and who pays for them are hardly a settled matter. In September, the county and the Braves resolved a legal dispute over $1.5 million in sewer infrastructure. Previously, the Braves successfully argued that certain road improvements around the ballpark did not count toward the county’s $14 million stadium transportation obligation, forcing Cobb to dip into its water fund to reimburse the team. No ‘pointed questions’ In statements to the public as recently as this year, Braves and county officials have consistently emphasized that the team was paying the lion’s share of the ballpark construction, budgeted at $672 million. Those figures were always potentially misleading. In fact, the development agreement the county signed in May 2014 put the stadium budget at $622 million, with the Braves kicking in another $50 million in “discretionary” funds if they wanted. Public funds accounted for $392 million of the up-front costs, in addition to $35 million in capital maintenance over 30 years. The Braves were obligated to pay at least $230 million in construction costs on the front end, and will reimburse Cobb an estimated $92 million through rent payments over the next three decades. The team was also responsible for any cost overruns. But the Braves were in control of much of the planning and construction, placing the onus on the county to watch-dog the actual costs. Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who has been a consistent skeptic of the Braves deal, said there is little appetite on the board to damage the relationship with the team by asking “pointed questions.” As a result, she doesn’t believe the taxpayers are being protected as they should be. “Throughout this time, there has been no record or documents forwarded to the board on a regular or periodic basis to show how these things are being accounted for,” Cupid said. “There have been other costs above and beyond what the county has said our contribution should be.” The county’s most recent summary of stadium invoices, updated in June, totals just $536 million for stadium construction costs. Of that, $155 million is identified as having been paid by the Braves. A line item on the summary lists another $95 million as coming from Braves “outside” construction accounts, but there are no details about these charges and Cobb has not received invoices for those billings, county officials said. In response to the AJC’s questions for this story, Greg Heller, the Brave’s executive vice president and chief legal officer, told the county’s legal department that the team has spent $292 million on the stadium. “All payments by the Braves were made in accordance with the terms of the Development Agreement, which permitted direct payments of invoices,” he wrote in an email. Assessing stadium impact Despite Cobb’s incomplete accounting of the project, some county officials have been quick to tout the economic benefits of the ballpark, citing a study released in September by the Center for Economic Development Research at Georgia Tech. Funded by the county’s chamber of commerce and unveiled at the Battery, the study predicts the stadium complex will have a positive fiscal impact to the county government and the school system. It estimates the Cobb government will take in an average of $4 million a year over expenses, and the school system will reap another $14.9 million a year over the next 20 years. The study’s predictions are largely based on projected revenue from rising property values in the area and the Braves’ mixed-used development, The Battery. Without that development, the stadium itself has a negative impact on the county finances, the report concludes. “[T]hat is why The Battery impact is so important,” the study’s author, Alfie Meek, wrote in an email. “You simply can’t use the old ‘traditional wisdom’ for stadium financing for this deal.” But J.C. Bradbury, a sports economist at Kennesaw State University who reviewed the study, expressed skepticism about its findings. “This is just ripe for cherry picking,” Bradbury said. “The halo effect is way overstated.” He also pointed to Meek’s role in assessing a public-private partnership between the Braves and another metro county. Ten years ago, Meek was the economist for Gwinnett County when it agreed to finance a new $64 million stadium for the Braves’ triple-A minor league team. The deal was bolstered by Meek’s analysis that the ballpark would generate $15 million a year in new economic activity. A decade later, the Gwinnett stadium struggles to attract fans and hasn’t sparked the explosion of development taxpayers were promised. Meek said he stands by both stadium studies. ‘This is public money’ The extent of the stadium’s influence on Cobb’s rising property values is subject to debate. But by any measure, the project has been costly to the Cobb government’s bottom line. According to the county’s most recent analysis, Cobb spent about $18 million on SunTrust Park in the 2017 fiscal year, including $6.4 million out of its general fund property taxes and $11 million from other taxes and fees. That doesn’t include $11.8 million Cobb paid, mostly from its water fund, to satisfy the disputed transportation obligation. The revenue directly generated by the project didn’t come close to covering the county’s expenses. The Battery complex brought in $404,000 in property taxes and the Braves paid $3 million in stadium rent to the county. The ballpark also generated $1.6 million in county sales tax, but those funds can’t be used to pay down the debt because they are earmarked for education and transportation. In an attempt to off-set some of the unforeseen costs, including $840,000 in police overtime, commissioners recently amended the Cumberland hotel/motel tax to divert more money for public safety around SunTrust Park—money that would have otherwise gone to fund the Cumberland circulator, stadium debt service or promoting Cobb tourism. This year, Cobb’s stadium debt service and capital maintenance contributions increased, as did rent payments from the Braves. Larry Savage, a Cobb resident who has filed several unsuccessful legal challenges to the stadium deal, sees Cobb’s failure to provide an accurate, durable accounting of total project costs is indicative of the way the ballpark has been handled from the beginning. “The whole thing is just misinformed and a very one-sided deal,” Savage said. “This is public money and they’re supposed to be accountable for it.”
  • Georgia’s top politicians tried to stem a revolt from some Hollywood executives who threatened to boycott the state’s booming film industry after Brian Kemp won the race for governor, urging moviemakers not to take their frustration out on thousands of workers who depend on their investments. “The hard-working Georgians who serve on crews and make a living here are not to blame,” wrote Democrat Stacey Abrams, whose campaign for governor benefited from the filmmaking industry’s support, in a message on Twitter. “I promise: We will fight – and we will win.” And the governor-elect’s campaign tried to tone down the rhetoric, with a statement Sunday reinforcing his support for the film tax credit and asserting that “it’s time to move past divisive politics and work together toward a safer, stronger Georgia.” The threats came from a handful of prominent movie industry insiders after 10 days of post-election drama ended with final vote tallies showing Kemp edged out Abrams by roughly 55,000 votes. Abrams ended her campaign with a fiery speech in which she announced a new group to challenge Kemp’s “gross mismanagement” of the election in court. Some of the Hollywood critics voiced concern about Kemp’s support for a controversial “religious liberty” measure that Abrams staunchly opposed, as well as claims that Kemp abused his role as secretary of state to suppress votes and boost his campaign for governor. Several actors used a #BoycottGeorgia hashtag on Twitter, including actress Alyssa Milano — who shot Netflix’s “Insatiable” in Atlanta, “West Wing” actor Bradley Whitford, actor Steven Pasquale and Ron Perlman. “To all my friends who are studio and network executives,” wrote Perlman, a producer and actor, “if you choose to shoot movies and tv in Georgia, don’t bother to call me.” Hollywood South? The film industry has exploded in Georgia since the tax incentives were first signed into law in 2005, turning the state into one of the most popular filming locations in the world and spawning a string of studios, editing hubs and post-production businesses that cater to filmmakers. Gov. Nathan Deal has jealously guarded the tax credit from any threat from fiscal conservatives who want to weaken the program, which is the most generous in the country in terms of direct payouts in part because it doesn’t cap the incentives. His office said in August that a record 455 productions were shot in Georgia in the last fiscal year, garnering a record $9.5 billion economic impact and $2.7 billion in direct spending. The program is so popular, in fact, that Kemp and other leading Republicans all supported the tax credits during the primary earlier this year - even as they called for reviews or the elimination of other tax breaks they described as wasteful spending, something that rarely, if ever, actually happens. Still, that hasn’t eliminated tension between a largely liberal Hollywood establishment and a Deep South state where Republicans have controlled every statewide office for much of the last decade. One of the biggest flashpoints is a perennial battle over “religious liberty” legislation that supporters say is needed to provide extra legal protections to the faith-based, but critics call state-sanctioned discrimination. The governor vetoed the legislation in 2016 amid a swirl of threats from filmmakers and other business titans to leave Georgia, and lawmakers haven’t passed the measure since. But Kemp has promised to sign a version of the proposal that mirrors a federal law passed with bipartisan support in 1993. ‘Happy middle ground’ And Republicans have regularly targeted the movie industry on the campaign trail, either to galvanize conservative supporters or blast Democrats for benefiting from celebrity support. In the Republican runoff, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle called for a boycott of filmmaker Judd Apatow after he criticized President Donald Trump. That led to a rebuke from Deal, who has appeared at red-carpet events in Atlanta and private gatherings in Hollywood to demonstrate his support for the industry. “The film industry should be very cautious of trying to tell Georgia what its social policies should be. They will get reactions if they go too far,” Deal said in an interview then. “And likewise, the state of Georgia should be very cautious telling them what their social policies should be. There’s a happy middle ground, and so far we’ve found it.” And Vice President Mike Pence drew headlines when he declared at a string of campaign stops in Georgia this month that “this ain’t Hollywood” as he assailed Abrams’ high-profile supporters. That led to snickering from Democrats who noted that, in a way, Georgia was Hollywood. Abrams, indeed, benefited from tremendous support from celebrities, including mega-fundraisers featuring Atlanta hip-hop legends, a string of campaign stops from Hollywood stars and a mega-watt pre-election visit from media icon Oprah Winfrey. Abrams received heavy financial backing from filmmakers, directors, producers, actors and actresses, musicians and others in the entertainment industry. She collected more than $4.6 million in contributions of more than $100 from California and New York, the two states that dominate the film, theater, and media industries, according to a review of campaign disclosures. Among her big donors were filmmakers Steven Spielberg ($6,600) and Tyler Perry ($6,600); Milano ($2,750) and fellow actresses Jada Smith ($10,000), Meryl Streep ($1,000), Tracee Ellis Ross ($5,000), Kate Capshaw Spielberg ($6,600) and Tiffany Haddish ($7,500); and actors Will Ferrell ($6,600), Chris Rock ($5,000) and Ben Affleck ($2,500). She also received donations from John Legend ($2,700), Ludacris ($5,000), Marlon Wayans ($5,000), movie director Rob Reiner ($2,000), director Seith Mann ($6,800) and celebrity couple Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman ($5,000). Abrams also received backing from the Georgia Production Partnership ($5,000), the Georgia Screen Entertainment Coalition ($2,500) and the Film Workers PAC ($6,600). The groups also contributed to Kemp’s campaign. Georgians in the film industry amplified Abrams’ warnings against a boycott. Jacob York, an actor and writer on a program on Atlanta-based Adult Swim, urged Hollywood executives to think about the lives they would affect if they pull the plug on Georgia productions. “When you say #BoycottGeorgia, you boycott me paying rent,” York wrote on social media. “You boycott raising kids, paying for braces and trying to make a living. All the artists I know in Georgia are mad as hell. But you saying ‘boycott Georgia’ primarily hurts people who already agree with you.” Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.
  • Her campaign for governor may be over, but Stacey Abrams is not going away. She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she’s not ruling out a run for another public office, perhaps as early as 2020. But before she considers a new campaign, she is throwing her energy behind a new federal lawsuit alleging mismanagement and malfeasance at nearly every level of Georgia’s electoral process. “That does not happen in a functional democracy, and this cannot be repeated in any future election,” she said Saturday. “Georgia is too important of a state, and democracy is too core to who we are.” A team of lawyers is gathering testimony from election workers, academics and statisticians as they prepare the lawsuit, said Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign manager. The goal of the suit, which is still being finalized, will be to lay bare the state’s voter registration and elections system and dissect why and how the issues occurred. “Literally just every day, this suit kind of grows and changes because the problems are so profound,” Groh-Wargo said. Abrams said the lawsuit, which will fall under the umbrella of a new organization called Fair Fight Georgia, will look toward improving the state’s election system prior to municipal elections in 2019 and the 2020 presidential election. Fair Fight may also push for legislative changes at the Capitol, and Abrams said it will hold the state accountable for running elections fairly. “We have to consider all the pieces that go into voter suppression and diminishing the ability of voters to cast their ballots,” she said. “And that means looking at the staffing and sourcing of polling stations, making sure that there are an adequate number of machines, making certain that poll workers who are often volunteers aren’t judging whether or not someone gets to vote based on how many pieces of paper they have left.” As for whether she will challenge U.S. Sen. David Perdue in 2020 or seek another bid for governor in four years, Abrams is mum. But she is confident her legal challenges will help continue to expand Georgia’s electorate. “We know that over the next two years there will be new people who will find themselves energized by politics,” she said. “And I think what we can do in 2020 is absolutely complete the transformation that started this year. It won’t only be at the top of the ticket, but also down the ticket.” She added: “I believe that Georgia is on the path to progress, and I intend to be a part of it.” New approach Long before Abrams was on the gubernatorial ballot, she told anyone who would listen that her party’s future in Georgia depended on rallying a new core of voters often neglected by candidates. Her New Georgia Project voter registration effort aimed to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of left-leaning minority voters who often skip midterms. And her campaign launched with a focus on energizing liberals rather than aiming for moderates who vote for the GOP. That she ended up winning both blocs of voters in her history-making quest to become the nation’s first black female governor is an enduring irony of the race. That surge helped her earn more votes than any Democrat in Georgia history — but left her about 17,000 ballots short of forcing a runoff against Brian Kemp, who earned the most votes of any Georgia gubernatorial candidate ever. “While we did not do as well in South Georgia as we hoped, we actually did not get blown out of the water,” Abrams said Saturday. “And I think that’s one of the reasons we had such a high-water mark in this election because we turned out voters across the state.” Her strength at the top of the ticket helped further polarize Georgia’s political map. She powered Democrats to a sweep of the metro Atlanta suburbs, carving a blue streak through areas Republicans have long dominated to help flip a U.S. House seat and win about a dozen down-ticket legislative races. But she foundered in rural and exurban territories where Republicans reign, despite peppering her schedule with visits to GOP territory in places such as Whitfield and Cherokee counties. Kemp outdid even Donald Trump in some of those areas, helped by the president’s endorsement, while Abrams often fastidiously avoided talking about the commander in chief. The focus on state-related issues was core to a strategy that helped turn out hundreds of thousands of new and irregular voters to the polls — a corps of Georgians she liked to call “unlikely voters.” It worked: More than 800,000 voters who skipped the 2014 midterm cast early ballots for this contest, including more than 260,000 minorities. Now she is hoping to keep those same voters active and engaged even as she acknowledges their collective disappointment in the midterm results. “That’s why I was so clear in my message that we can’t turn to apathy,” she said, adding: “Every time there have been questions or issues with the administration of elections, what happens is people get angry for a moment or they just turn off. That allows the system to continue to erode.” Bowing out Abrams said she decided not to make the usual concession speech because that would not have been consistent with her campaign mission to always tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. Her speech was full of critiques of Kemp’s tenure as secretary of state and laid the groundwork for the lawsuit she announced the following day. “If you know something is wrong, you cannot be silent, whether it’s wrong that you’ve done or wrong that someone else has done.” she said. “And my responsibility was to call out that wrong.” Fair Fight Georgia, the lawsuit and anything else she does from here will be about trying find the root causes of those wrongs and fix them, Abrams said. U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said he looks forward to seeing what she is able to produce. “Our voting process is archaic and subject to corruption in this process, and it’s unreliable and untrustworthy,” he said. “I think Stacey is going to dedicate herself to ensuring that changes are made and that we will have a voting system in Georgia that we will all be proud of.” She is not ready to say whether she will run for public office again. But she believes Georgia is a battleground state that will continue to draw national attention, and she wants to be more than a case study or cautionary tale. “It is insufficient to say there is a problem and then exonerate yourself from having to do anything about it because you didn’t get the result you wanted,” she said. “My job since my parents raised me has been to see a problem, find a solution and then be responsible for the execution of that solution. And that is what I’ going to do.” Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.
  • Brian Kemp’s victory capped a divisive race against Stacey Abrams that hinged on his relentless appeals to supporters of Donald Trump with promises to expand gun rights, cut taxes and defend the president even as he assailed the Democrat as an “extremist outsider” who would force Georgia toward socialism.
  • Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton received 11 write-in votes for an election in North Carolina, officials said. >> Read more trending news  Newton’s name was written in for the Mecklenburg County Soil and Water Conservation district position, according to the Board of Elections. The two people who won received more than 100,000 votes each. Newton has thrown for 2,086 yards and 17 touchdowns this season for the Panthers, who are 6-3 and trail the New Orleans Saints by two games in the National Football League’s NFC South division.
  • Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Lee Young’s passion for his family occasionally spilled over into council chambers. “He would serenade his wife, sing her happy birthday from the council floor, letting everybody know he loved her,” said city councilwoman and now Council President Felicia A. Moore. “He was always fun-loving and full of life.” Ivory Lee Young Jr., four-term city councilman from west Atlanta, longtime architect, ordained minister and family man, died Friday from cancer, according to sources in city hall. He was 56. Despite his illness, Young remained engaged in city affairs, with the help of technology, including the latest discussions on the city’s biggest development project, the Gulch. His last personal post on his Facebook page Sept. 26 urged Atlantans to come out and hear about proposal to develop the Gulch. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called a town hall meeting that day to discuss proposed plans to redevelop downtown’s Gulch into a $5 billion mini-city with office towers, apartments, hotels and retail space. Young wanted to be there. The meeting wasn’t being televised. Young reached Moore by phone, just as she was leaving city hall for the town hall. He asked how he might still be able to watch, and she told him where it was being live-streamed. “I was thinking to myself, he’s still wanting to keep up with what’s going on,” the council president said. On Friday, Bottoms, who had served with Young on the council, issued a statement of condolence to his family as she commended his service to Atlanta. “His love of God, family, and community was evident in his word and deeds,” the mayor said. “I was privileged to call Ivory a colleague and friend and am eternally grateful for his love and devotion to our city.” On city council, Young represented neighborhoods that have been in the throes of redevelopment, chiefly English Avenue and Vine City, where he lived with his wife, Shalise, children and grandchildren. “He had a tough time trying to represent his area because they had different groups within the neighborhoods with different desires,” Moore said. She said he was always trying to balance those interests. But she said, once he made up his mind, whether people liked it or not, “he was very good at sticking to it and seeing things through.” Young knew the dynamics well. He had come up through the neighborhood planning unit process, often-times a political tightrope. Young was first elected to city council in 2001. He won his fourth term in a landslide on Nov. 7, 2017, and, most recently, served on the council’s committees on city utilities and community/human services, as well as the Committee on Council. In an interview in 2017, Young said he considered a highlight of his council tenure the efforts in 2002 to help 160 families displaced by a sewer flood. Homes were rebuilt at no additional costs to their owners and renters were assisted with first and last month’s rent to move anywhere they wanted, he said. “I count that as a success,” he said. Shirley Franklin, Atlanta’s mayor from 2002 to 2010, said she remembers Young as a true gentleman. “We had numerous times when we were on opposite sides,” Franklin said. “But he was the kind you could debate and still have a warm relation with. I appreciated that.” She said Young “cared an awful lot about the residents of his district,” but also knew that, sometimes, the neighborhood interests and business interests need to be balanced. Moore’s memory is vivid of her conversation with Young on the day of the mayor’s town hall. She remembers that he began the conversation by asking about her. “I said: “The question is – how are you?” she recalled. Young told her his strength wasn’t coming back as fast as he hoped, but otherwise, he was doing good. Before their conversation, Moore said she told Young: “I love you.” He responded back in kind. “I’m at least glad I got to do that,” Moore said. “I’m sure he was fully anticipating getting back. He was always an optimist.” Funeral arrangements are being made. Sign and read the online guestbook for Ivory Lee Young Jr.

News

  • U.S. consumers are being advised to not eat any romaine lettuce as the Centers of Disease Control investigate an E. coli outbreak. “Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the CDC said in a warning. The advisory applies to all types of romaine lettuce, including hearts of romaine and salad mixes that use leaves of romaine lettuce. According to the CDC, restaurants should not serve romaine lettuce, either. All romaine should be avoided, the CDC says.
  • Some of the skies above New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia can be hazy, but that’s due to smog. Residents in those areas Monday saw a different kind of haze on a day that was sunny and mild -- the smoke blowing east from the deadly California wildfires, WNBC reported. >> Read more trending news  Gary Szatkowski, the former head of the National Weather Service’s Mount Holly, New Jersey, office, tweeted a map from NOAA showing the direction of the smoke as it advanced on the East Coast, NJ.com reported. The smoke could be seen from Philadelphia to the metropolitan New York City area, Szatkowski said. The smoke is not expected to be a health hazard on the East Coast. Last week, meteorologist Tom Kines told the Rockland/Westchester Journal News, 'The smoke is so high up in the atmosphere. It's kind of diluted anyway as it heads eastward.' People from different parts of the country have also been tweeting about the haze:
  • A German shepherd snarled traffic as it loped on and off two Phoenix freeways during Tuesday morning's commute before it was captured by a state trooper who was bit on the hand while grabbing its collar. The trooper is going to be fine, and the wayward dog was being evaluated at an animal shelter after suffering paw injuries 'from running so much,' authorities said. Troopers used a stun gun and a pole-mounted snare to capture the animal after it rambled in and out of traffic and through local neighborhoods, said Trooper Kameron Lee, a Highway Patrol spokesman. Lee said dispatchers got calls overnight about the dog being on at least one freeway and that efforts to remove it intensified for more than an hour when it began tying up morning traffic on busy State Routes 51 and 202. 'Our troopers tried everything they could. We did finally get the dog out and he's going to be all right,' Lee added. 'He's just exhausted.' The dog at one point ran in and out of the carpool lane of State Route 51 before escaping into an adjacent neighborhood. It then turned up on nearby State Route 202, where traffic stopped as it evaded troopers and drivers, going under a truck at one point and evading a snare wielded by a trooper, Lee said. 'The dog just continued to not be cooperative,' he said. It then left that freeway and troopers found it on a nearby street where the final encounter occurred. Jose Miguel Santiago, spokesman for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control, said the 1-year-old dog was placed in quarantine to determine its demeanor and whether it has any health problems. It will then be evaluated to see whether it should be put up for adoption or go to a rescue organization, Santiago said.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. has 'made clear' to South Korea that progress on disarming North Korea should not lag behind the expansion of relations between the two Koreas. Pompeo says there's 'complete agreement' between Washington and Seoul on this, but his comments to reporters underscore U.S. anxiety over a potential disconnect with its close ally. Pompeo says the U.S. and South Korea set up a working group, which is meeting in Washington on Tuesday, to ensure they don't 'talk past each other' on their dealings with North Korea. Negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea on ending its nuclear program have appeared to stall in the months since President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un held a historic summit in Singapore.
  • An actress who says she had a relationship with Michael Avenatti alleges he dragged her by the arm across the floor of his Los Angeles apartment after an argument. Court papers obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press detail Mareli Miniutti's account. A Los Angeles judge granted Miniutti a restraining order against Avenatti on Monday. She wrote in a sworn statement that before grabbing her, Avenatti shouted expletives and told her she was 'ungrateful.' Avenatti is best known as the attorney for porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges she was paid to keep quiet about an affair with Donald Trump. Avenatti was arrested on a felony domestic violence charge last week. Avenatti says the allegations are 'completely false' and 'fabricated.' He says he'll be fully vindicated after a thorough investigation.
  • One of the nation's largest student loan servicing companies may have driven tens of thousands of borrowers struggling with their debts into higher-cost repayment plans. That's the finding of a Department of Education audit of practices at Navient Corp., the nation's third-largest student loan servicing company. The conclusions of the 2017 audit, which until now have been kept from the public and were obtained by The Associated Press, appear to support federal and state lawsuits that accuse Navient of boosting its profits by steering some borrowers into the high-cost plans without discussing options that would have been less costly in the long run. The education department has not shared the audit's findings with the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. In fact, even while knowing of its conclusions, the department repeatedly argued that state and other federal authorities do not have jurisdiction over Navient's business practices. 'The existence of this audit makes the Department of Education's position all the more disturbing,' said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, who worked for the Department of Education under President Barack Obama. The AP received a copy of the audit and other documents from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has been a vocal critic of Navient and has publicly supported the lawsuits against the company as well as questioning the policies of the Department of Education, currently run by President Trump's Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Warren is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2020. Navient disputed the audit's conclusions in its response to the Department of Education and has denied the allegations in the lawsuits. One point the company makes in its defense is that its contract with the education department doesn't require its customer service representatives to mention all options available to the borrower. However, the five states suing Navient — Illinois, Pennsylvania, Washington, California and Mississippi — say the behavior breaks their laws regarding consumer protection. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says in its own lawsuit the practices are unfair, deceptive and abusive and break federal consumer protection laws. Of the five states that filed lawsuits against Navient, only Illinois and Pennsylvania were even aware of the audit, and they said they did not receive their copies from the Department of Education. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau declined to comment on whether it had a copy of the report. The Department of Education said withholding the report was intentional, repeating the argument it has made in court and in public that only it has jurisdiction over student loan servicing issues, through its Federal Student Aid division, or FSA, which oversees student loans. 'FSA performed the review as part of its own contract oversight, not for the benefit of other agencies,' said Liz Hill, a Department of Education spokeswoman. When student borrowers run into difficulties making payments, they can be offered forbearance, which allows them to delay payments for a set period of time. But under a forbearance plan, in most instances, the loan continues to accumulate interest and becomes a more expensive option in the long run. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleges in its lawsuit against Navient that between 2010 and 2015 Navient's behavior added nearly $4 billion in interest to student borrowers' loans through the overuse of forbearance. It is a figure that Navient disputes. A 2017 study by the Government Accountability Office estimates that a typical borrower of a $30,000 student loan who places their loan into forbearance for three years — the maximum allowed for economic-hardship forbearance — would pay an additional $6,742 in interest on that loan. 'This finding is both tragic and infuriating, and the findings appear to validate the allegations that Navient boosted its profits by unfairly steering student borrowers into forbearance when that was often the worst financial option for them,' Warren said in a letter to Navient last week. As part of their inquiry, DoE auditors listened in on about 2,400 randomly selected calls to borrowers from 2014 to 2017 out of a batch of 219,000. On nearly one out of 10 of the calls examined, the Navient representative did not mention other options, including one type of plan that estimates the size of a monthly payment the borrower can afford based on their income. Auditors wrote that many customer service representatives failed to ask questions to determine if such a plan, known as an income-driven repayment plan, might be more beneficial to the borrower. There is no public record of how many struggling borrowers serviced by Navient may have been impacted by these practices. In its most recent annual report, Navient says it services 6 million student loan borrowers, of which 12.7 percent are more than 30 days past due. That would be roughly 762,000 customers who are struggling in some fashion to pay their student loans. If one out of every 10 of those customers were pushed into forbearance instead of an income-driven repayment plan, as the department's audit found, that would be 76,200 of Navient's borrowers. The DoE report contains recommendations for how Navient could fix its practices but makes no mention of firm requirements or sanctions. The education department's Federal Student Aid division decided to do a review of Navient's forbearance practices after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed its lawsuit against the company in January 2017, department spokeswoman Hill said, to see if there were any compliance issues. She said DoE officials came to the conclusion that Navient was not improperly steering borrowers. 'Nothing in the report indicates forbearances were applied inappropriately — the observations noted focused on suggested improvements regarding how to best counsel' a small minority of borrowers, she said. In response to questions over the 2017 audit, Navient pointed to the fact that nine out of every 10 borrowers on the calls were offered all their options and that this audit is just one piece of a broader story. 'This (audit), when viewed as a whole, as well as dozens of other audits and reviews, show that Navient overwhelmingly performs in accordance with program rules while consistently helping borrowers choose the right options for their circumstances,' said Paul Hartwick, a company spokesman. Navient, which split off from Sallie Mae, is a publicly traded company. In calls and presentations with investors, Navient has said a company priority is to lower its operational costs. As a student loan servicing company, Navient has one primary operating cost: its employees, including the hundreds of customer-service agents who man Navient's telephones every day. The fewer customer-service agents Navient employs, the more money Navient puts in its pocket. Doing calls to determine whether a borrower should be in an income-driven repayment plan takes longer, student loan industry experts say. In fact, that is exactly what Navient said in its response to the Department of Education's audit. 'We (are not) aware of any requirement that borrowers receive all of their repayment options ... on each and every call,' the company said, adding that if the Department of Education chose to require all servicers to discuss income-driven repayment plans with all borrowers, the Department of Education needs to redo its contract with Navient. Seth Frotman, who was the highest-ranking government official in charge of student loans until he quit in August in protest over how the Trump-controlled Department of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were handling the issue of student loans, said Navient's response was outrageous. 'In short, Navient, when confronted with evidence of its bad practices, is telling the government, 'Pay us more money or take a hike.' And It looks like the Department of Education took a hike,' Frotman said. ___ Ken Sweet covers banks and consumer financial issues for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @kensweet.