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Georgia Politics

    When the first Democratic presidential primary debate kicks off Wednesday night, Kirkland Dent will be watching. Dent, 28, a medical librarian at Mercer University in Macon, has been trying to keep up with the sprawling Democratic field aiming to unseat President Donald Trump — “I can probably name 80% of them,” he said. But he is looking forward to seeing them in action. “I’m curious about what their goals are, what issues they want to tackle.” So are Judy Hauser, Michael Murphy-McCarthy and John Chastain. They are among about a dozen Democratic and independent voters in Georgia who have agreed to take part in an informal focus group organized by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss the 2020 Democratic primary race. The AJC checked in with them for the first time ahead of the debates Wednesday and Thursday in Miami, the first opportunity many voters will get to see the candidates answer questions for a national audience. THE LATEST | Georgia Presidential candidate visit tracker MORE | Democratic presidential hopefuls emphasize Georgia’s big role in 2020 For the most part, the Georgia voters said they have been paying some attention to the race but want to know more. That’s true of Democratic voters nationally, too. According to a poll released this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs, only 35% of Democrats who are registered to vote say they’re paying close attention to the campaign. The size of the field doesn’t help, and most of the Georgia voters who talked to the AJC said they are eager for it to thin out a bit. The debates, which will feature 10 candidates on stage each night, won’t give the contenders a lot of time to make their case. “It’s going to be really, really hard to stand out in that big a crowd,” said Murphy-McCarthy, who lives in Peachtree Corners and works in IT. “It will be easier to fall down than to stand out.” Dent said a number of candidates have stood out for him so far: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. But he’s open to being surprised by lesser-known candidates. “It’s important for our generation to start paying attention a lot more,” he said. RELATED | Biden reverses stance on Hyde abortion amendment at Atlanta event MORE | Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ law targeted by Democratic presidential hopefuls Chastain, 73, lives in largely Republican Cherokee County. “If I say I am a Democrat, it’s like I have the plague,” he joked. He said he’s very interested in the Democratic primary race and wants to hear candidates get specific at the debates. “I’m looking for some action plans,” he said, “I want to know what they are going to do, not just getting Trump out.” He’s retired and said health care is a top issue. Hauser, a registered nurse from Buckhead, wants a candidate who can win. “We need someone who is going to be able to take on Trump and his mouth,” she said. She said she likes Biden but is also interested in Buttigieg and Harris. Biden, she said, “has very good core values. Yes, he’s made some mistakes, but who hasn’t?” His age doesn’t bother her. “I see him as a one-term president that will bring this country back on even keel,” she said. Murphy-McCarthy, 51, said he’s been impressed by Warren but says he’s open to the others. “I’m OK with somebody coming out of nowhere,” he said. DEEPER COVERAGE | Which Democratic candidates have raised the most in Georgia PHOTOS | Top Democratic presidential contenders campaign in Atlanta Howard Giambrone of Coweta County is an independent who has mostly voted for Republicans in the past, but he is considering a Democrat in 2020. It won’t be Bernie Sanders or Warren, who he says are too liberal. He said he is looking for a candidate who is fiscally responsible, supportive of the military and has what he considers a moderate view on immigration. Giambrone’s wife is from Colombia and he doesn’t like Trump’s immigration policies. “I want to strengthen the border but make coming here (legally) less difficult,” he said. So far he thinks Biden and Cory Booker are possibilities. What can the candidates say to win him over? “I want to hear fresh ideas and get away from trashing Trump,” he said. William Black, 38, is a housekeeper in Jones County. He said his top issues are race relations and global warming, and his favorite candidates so far are Sanders and Biden. He isn’t too worried about the size of the field. “They will weed themselves out,” he said. He’s happy to see the enthusiasm. “It’s good for the Democratic Party that there’s that level of interest of people who want to change the country.” How to follow Democratic presidential debates NBC will host the first Democratic presidential debates Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9 and concluding at 11 each night. Each night will feature 10 candidates. The debates will be broadcast by NBC News and also appear on MSNBC and Telemundo. Telemundo will broadcast the debate in Spanish. They also will stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms. NBC News will also stream the debates live and in full on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • Stacey Abrams urged members of Congress to bolster federal voting protections on Tuesday, six years to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court nullified key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act for being outdated. The Democratic runner-up for governor said the court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder opened the door for states such as Georgia to institute a plethora of policies that have made it harder for people, especially African Americans and Latinos, to vote. “The Shelby decision created a new channel for the troubling practice of voter suppression during a time of dramatic demographic change,” Abrams told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee. Georgia and other states that were once required to run proposed voting changes by the U.S. Justice Department have since “raced to reinstate or create new hurdles to voter registration, ballot access and ballot counting,” she added. Testifying before Congress for the second time this year, Abrams leveled criticism at Republican rival Brian Kemp, saying he oversaw an election system that purged thousands of inactive voters from the rolls, rejected absentee ballots under “trivial pretenses” and led to long lines at the polls. A group Abrams launched after last year’s election, Fair Fight Action, made similar claims in a federal lawsuit seeking the reinstatement of the pre-clearance requirement of voting changes for Georgia. The case is still pending. Kemp, the secretary of state who defeated Abrams by some 55,000 votes last year, has dismissed her claims and said he strictly adhered to the state’s voting policies in order to safeguard against illegal voting and fraud. Georgia’s Republican governor wasn’t at Tuesday’s hearing, but Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins said the Voting Rights Act provision that required federal involvement in state and local elections was “inconsistent with the central pillars of federalism.” He said the courts currently offer critics of voting laws adequate recourse and that Congress doesn’t need to step back into the debate. Democrats rally Abrams was one of three voting rights activists who told lawmakers Tuesday to update the formula that underpinned the Voting Right Act’s “pre-clearance” requirement. In its 5-to-4 Shelby decision, the Supreme Court tossed out the nearly 50-year-old formula that had required Georgia and 15 other jurisdictions with histories of voting discrimination to pre-clear their proposed election changes with the Justice Department. The justices ruled that the formula being used at the time was outdated, but they also left the door open for Congress to develop a new formula with more up-to-date evidence of racial discrimination. Lawmakers, however, have yet to agree on an approach in today’s sharply divided Washington. Abrams voiced support for a pair of recently introduced proposals, including legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights leader. That bill, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, would set a new formula that applies to all 50 states and “hinges on a finding of repeated voting rights violations in the preceding 25 years,” according to a fact sheet. If enacted, it would once again give the Justice Department veto power over any of Georgia’s proposed voting changes. The legislation has yet to be considered in the House, where Democratic leaders are trying to build a legislative record of hearings in order to bolster the bill’s chances of holding up in court. Senior Democrats reaffirmed their support for the bill during a Tuesday press conference steps from the U.S. Capitol. “This is about patriotism for America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters. “It’s about the right to vote, a sacred privilege contained in our Constitution.” Several lawmakers cited Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race as a reason why the bill was needed. “We must have the capacity and the ability to redeem the soul of this nation and set it on the right course,” Lewis said. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pledged the House will pass “a new Voting Rights Act renewal with a new pre-clearance requirement” by the end of the year. GOP resistance Any voting rights bill, however, faces an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been sharply critical of a broader elections overhaul that Democrats have pushed in recent months. The Kentucky Republican has dubbed that legislation — which would institute automatic voter registration for federal elections, expand early voting and bar voter purges, among other changes — a “naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.” “The whole package seems tailor-made by Washington Democrats to help their D.C. attorneys descend on local communities, exploit confusion and try to swing elections,” McConnell wrote in a Jan. 17 op-ed. During Tuesday’s hearing, Abrams received friendly questions from Democrats and was largely ignored by the subcommittee’s GOP members. The exception was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee who once served with Abrams in the Georgia statehouse. Collins sought to defend the voting rights record of Georgia’s GOP leaders and sparred with Abrams over her previous comments about immigrants in the U.S. illegally, as well as the details of the state’s “exact match” policy and past voter purges. “Voter turnout is expanding mightily” in the state, Collins said. “Between 2014 and 2018, turnout among Hispanic and African American voters has soared, increasing by double digits in a state that more and more Americans are choosing to call home.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • A lawsuit filed by College Park against Clayton County involving airport alcohol sales tax revenue can proceed toward trial, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday. The case now returns to the trial court in Fulton County. In its lawsuit, filed in 2015, College Park has contended it was not receiving as much tax revenue from alcohol sales at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as a 1983 law entitled it to collect. The airport is owned by the city of Atlanta but some of its concessions sit in both College Park and unincorporated Clayton County. College Park has claimed the county owes it about $2.5 million from alcohol taxes collected over the past 35 years. In Monday’s unanimous ruling, the state high court said the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity does not bar the city’s claims against the county, as Clayton County lawyers had contended. Under Georgia law, sovereign immunity prohibits lawsuits against the state without the state’s consent. This case involves a dispute between two political subdivisions of equal standing, Chief Justice Harold Melton wrote for the court. “Neither entity retains a superior authority over the other that would prevent it from being (haled) into a court of law by the other.”
  • Over the weekend, President Donald Trump postponed a massive sweep of raids that would have targeted undocumented immigrants in Atlanta - and set up a dicey showdown with local Democratic leaders. The operation was to take aim at 2,000 families who had received deportation orders because members were in the country illegally. And the raids were set to begin Sunday in Atlanta and other major cities, a prospect that sowed fear and confusion across the region.  But the president delayed the sweep over the weekend to give lawmakers two more weeks to hash out a solution. “If not,” he tweeted on Saturday afternoon, “Deportations start!” A few hours before Trump’s tweet, state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero blasted out an email to supporters with information about how to prepare for the raids, including Spanish and English instructions about what to do if agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement show up at your door. 'Right now the best option this to be informed,' she wrote in the email, which included links to websites from groups like the ACLU and Latino Community Fund Georgia. 'Prepare yourself to protect yourself and family. Share this information with your networks.' Lopez Romero is an immigration attorney who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 5. She’s also one of a half-dozen Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based 7th Congressional District. (She announced her bid for Congress this spring but is formally kicking off her campaign Friday evening with an event at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse.) The raids may have ultimately been postponed, but Lopez Romero’s email – and similar tweet from fellow Democratic candidate Nabilah Islam over the weekend– show some Democrats are ready to take the issue by the horns. That’s not something to be ignored in the rapidly-changing 7th, where Latinos make up about 20 percent of the population. *** Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms has emerged as one of the more vocal critics to the immigration raids, saying in a statement the “cruel policy” wouldn’t help fix a broken immigration system. “This is a siege on immigrant families and local municipalities by the federal government. The White House should be ashamed for the depths they are willing to sink to—including the separation of families and imprisonment of children—for what appears to be a re-election stunt,' Bottoms said in a statement to news outlets. *** Trump is giving Congress two weeks to cut a bipartisan deal overhauling the country’s asylum laws. As our Cox colleague Jamie Dupree notes, such an agreement has eluded Congress for years, but there could be movement this week on a $4.5 billion emergency spending package to help handle the humanitarian crisis on the southern border. Lawmakers are slated to vote on dueling proposals this week as they race toward their July 4th recess.  *** The GOP is unveiling a long-awaited online fundraising platform today that party leaders hope will rival Democrats’ small-dollar machine, ActBlue. Politico reports that WinRed is “intended to reshape the GOP’s fundraising apparatus by creating a centralized, one-stop shop for online Republican giving, which the party has lacked to this point.” Republican candidates have pushed the party to come up with an answer to ActBlue, which helped Democrats pull in more than $1.6 billion ahead of the 2018 elections. The bigger question is whether the GOP can build a small-dollar donor culture to rival Democrats’.  *** State Sen. Greg Kirk posted two pieces of news on his Facebook page over the weekend. The Americus Republican announced he’s been diagnosed with bile duct cancer – and that he still plans to run for re-election in 2020. “I've got a long fight and road ahead of me. I need your prayers and Rosalyn needs your prayers,” the former pastor posted. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston quickly circulated a statement wishing Kirk well. 'While Senator Kirk’s news is devastating, we remain confident in the power of the Lord and the skill of his doctors to deal with this disease,' said the Blue Ridge Republican. 'As Greg said, he is a fighter — a tenacious one at that — and I know I speak for the whole House in wishing him well in the fight ahead.' *** If you haven’t already read our colleague Yamil Berard’s Sunday investigation into Georgia’s emergency medical services system, it is very much worth your time.  *** On Friday, we told you of some new U.S. census data compiled by AJC number-cruncher Jennifer Peebles, who said that a decline in white population and a rise in minority numbers could result in Georgia becoming a majority-minority state by 2028. A number of our readers assumed that this demographic shift was the result of illegal immigration across the southern U.S. border. And while it may be a factor, reality has more to do with declining birth rates among white Southerners, a return of African-Americans to the South, and decades of legal immigration into the U.S. As a percentage of the population, white Georgians have declined by 3.2 percentage points. The largest part of minority gain, 1.9 percent, has been among black, non-Latino Americans. Another .9 percent has been among Asians. Latinos of all races, whether undocumented or not, account for another .9 percent. *** They aren’t exactly political pals, but President Donald Trump has shown an affinity toward Jimmy Carter.  They’ve chatted on the phone several times over the years, and Trump has delighted in Carter’s critique of his nemesis Hillary Clinton. (Carter revealed after the election that he supported Bernie Sanders in the primary.) On Meet the Press on Sunday, host Chuck Todd pressed Trump about how Carter has become his go-to ex-president. Here’s the transcript:  PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I speak to Jimmy Carter. CHUCK TODD: You do? What about President Obama? PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have not spoken to him -- CHUCK TODD: But George W. Bush, you do? PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: -- pretty much from the beginning. CHUCK TODD: And Jimmy Carter? PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have spoken to Bush, I have spoken to Jimmy Carter, yes. CHUCK TODD: Do you get -- PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I like Jimmy Carter. You know, Jimmy Carter's oftentimes come to my defense. I don't necessarily agree with the way he ran things and that's okay. And he understands that and so do I. But he came to my defense on numerous occasions. And he thinks that I was treated the worst of anybody he's ever seen by the press. *** Another Republican is jumping into the 7th District congressional race. Duluth-based teacher Lisa Noel Babbage announced her plans to seek the open seat over the weekend, joining an already crowded field that includes more than a half-dozen other Republicans.  Babbage said she’s active in Women for Trump chapters in Georgia and Virginia and is vowing to donate a “significant portion of her legislative salary back to small businesses and community programs” in the 7th District.
  • The head of the Georgia Ports Authority is warning that the Trump administration’s latest round of proposed Chinese tariffs could take a nearly $18 million bite out of the state’s booming ports.  The White House is currently mulling whether to add ship-to-shore cranes to its fourth batch of Chinese tariffs. The state’s Ports Authority has already ordered six such cranes, costing some $70 million. Executive Director Griff Lynch said instituting a 25 percent tariff could have a “substantially negative impact” on work to expand the Savannah harbor, the state’s top economic development project. “It would also hinder our plans for additional future purchases of these large, purpose-built cranes required for our expanding operations,” he wrote in a recent letter to U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer. “There is no domestic source for these cranes and, indeed, there is no manufacturing facility for these cranes except in China.”  Lynch’s letter, which also included a plea for Lighthizer to exempt port yard equipment from any future tariff discussions, was quickly followed up by Georgia U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson.  The Republicans said Friday that removing the prospect of tariffs on ship-to-shore cranes “would allow our ports to continue with important infrastructure upgrades and will prevent major disruptions to trade in the southeastern United States.” “We hope you and your staff will consider the importance of fairness and predictability, so that American businesses can continue to create jobs and increase economic prosperity,” they told Lighthizer. The push from Lynch and Georgia’s senators comes three months after the Trump administration proposed setting aside a record $130.3 million for dredging work at the Savannah harbor.  The nearly $1 billion project to deepen the Savannah harbor bed from 42 feet to 47 feet is now more than halfway complete. Proponents say it will deliver $282 million in annual transportation savings to the country once it’s finished in 2022. Georgia isn’t the only port state that’s asking for relief from proposed tariffs. South Carolina recently raised similar warnings about levying duties on cranes – the state’s ports authority said a 25 percent tariff could cost them some $36 million, according to The Charleston Post and Courier. Read more:  Latest White House budget a boon for the Savannah port  The D.C. bargain that raised the tide for the Port of Savannah
  • The state Department of Community Health will reinstate the Medicaid benefits of 17,000 poor elderly or disabled people it cut off in a mass disenrollment this month. State officials still believe they properly notified most of those people it was time to renew, and that those beneficiaries simply did not respond. But out of “an abundance of caution” they will restart the process, said Blake Fulenwider, the agency’s chief health policy officer. “We take every single one of these cases extremely seriously,” Fulenwider said in an interview with the AJC. That means that the 17,000 people who were cut off — and another 13,000 that were in line for cutoff for the same reasons — will be sent new renewal notices. Recipients must respond to those renewal notices. If they don’t, they will be cut off again. Attorneys for some of the people who lost benefits said their clients never received the notices. They were glad to hear Friday’s news. “We are grateful that the state has seen this as such a priority that they have worked diligently to assure health care for the most vulnerable Georgians including the seniors and disabled,” said Vicky Kimbrell, a staff attorney with Georgia Legal Services, a nonprofit that represents clients across the state. “We will carefully monitor the benefits on behalf of our clients to assure that they receive these benefits.” State officials are urging all Medicaid beneficiaries to check their accounts to make sure their correct address is listed for notices, especially those in the group of aged, blind or disabled people on Medicare. “If we don’t get a response to the notice or if the notice is sent to an incorrect address, we have very little we can do on our end to track people down,” Fulenwider said. “It is absolutely critical that we have an accurate address of record in the system so we can assure that notices are properly delivered to where they need to go.” Updating a mailing address or email address is up to the person covered, Fulenwider stressed. He suggested recipients do that through their Georgia Gateway computer account, or by going into a state office, or calling the Medicaid 1-877-423-4746 customer service line. The offices that handle that are the Department of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, under contract to DCH. Kimbrell said that that her clients often have difficulty fixing problems through those methods, starting with the phone line. She hopes that the news of those difficulties will encourage the state to prioritize fixes to its customer service system for benefits. “We are back to the issue of the ability of people to get through, through Gateway or the phones or their caseworker, to actually get the renewals done,” Kimbrell said. “We hope part of the process is the recognition that the state has to make sure that those pathways are accessible for everyone.” The group of people affected in this disenrollment were generally on Medicare, but were so poor that they also received Medicaid to fill in the gaps that Medicare doesn’t cover, such as Medicare monthly premiums of more than $100, medications, and co-pays. The loss of Medicaid can cause a domino effect for them, lawyers said, causing them to miss other payments, and lose medical coverage and medical care, for starters. State officials made the decision after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the mass disenrollment, bringing attention from across the country and questions from federal regulators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The reinstatement won’t happen immediately. Doing the computer coding to make the patients’ accounts active again will take some time, said Fulenwider and Ed Potts, director of the Georgia Gateway System at the Department of Human Services.  “Top priority for us to get this done,” said Potts. “And we want to get it done right.” The Gateway computer system started the problem, when it accidentally created a backlog of 30,000 cases for cancellation last year. Every month, thousands of people come on and off Medicaid. The 30,000 people should have been part of that regular flow, Potts said, after they didn’t respond to renewal notices. The computer should have generated an alert for a caseworker to review each case and end the account. Instead, a glitch that started in October put such accounts in limbo. When the vendor for Gateway, Deloitte Consulting, fixed the mistake in January, the backlog was too big for caseworkers to review. DCH decided to terminate them. Deloitte, DHS and DCH say they are “extremely confident” that notices were sent to all but 68 of those 30,000 people before they were scheduled for the mass disenrollment. When Medicaid accounts are reinstated, all benefits will be restored back to June 1, they said. “We feel that we are absolutely correct in the actions that were taken,” Fulenwider said. “But we do recognize that it could have caught some folks by surprise. And we want to take the steps that we can to help them revalidate and take care of benefits.” READ THE ORIGINAL AJC STORY: EXCLUSIVE-Georgia is cutting off Medicaid for 17,000 patients
  • The state’s judicial watchdog on Wednesday filed ethics charges against Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Terrinee Gundy, accusing her of chronic tardiness and absenteeism — and then covering it up. The charges against Gundy were brought by the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s investigative panel in a filing before the Georgia Supreme Court. They are the culmination of a lengthy JQC investigation of Gundy, who has been a city judge since 2013. Efforts to reach Gundy, 45, were unsuccessful. Her lawyer, Frank Strickland, declined to comment on the allegations. The nine charges filed by the JQC allege varying degrees of misconduct by Gundy. These include failing to provide required hearings to at least six defendants, resulting in them being unlawfully incarcerated, as well as making false statements to the commission, which is a possible felony under state law. From September 2015 through February 2018, Gundy also failed to show up to work on time, the charges allege. For this reason, she violated the judicial canons of ethics by failing to fairly and efficiently dispose of cases before her because she repeatedly arrived at the courthouse after she was supposed to be presiding over cases in her own courtroom, the filing said. Gundy also disabled or removed an audio-visual recording system at the courthouse to conceal her tardiness, the charges allege. And she told the court’s operations manager to stop producing “case count” calendars to further conceal her improper absenteeism, the charges allege. Once the JQC opened its investigation, Gundy made false statements to the commission, both in written responses and when she appeared before the commission’s board, the filing said. Former JQC chairman Lester Tate, who has also represented judges under investigation by the commission, said the ethics charges are a serious matter. “Anytime you have a judge against which charges have been filed by the JQC, it’s a big deal,” Tate said. As for the judicial canons of ethics, he said: “It’s more like the Ten Commandments rather than a specific legal statute.” Gundy’s case now proceeds to a three-person hearing panel of the JQC chaired by Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert McBurney. If the panel finds Gundy violated judicial ethics rules, it can recommend punishment ranging from a reprimand to removal from the bench. The state Supreme Court will have the final say on the matter. Richard Hyde, the JQC’s vice chairman said the “charges filed allege various acts of misconduct by Judge Gundy and speak for themselves.” The JQC filing was signed by Ben Easterlin, the commission’s director, and attorney Fani Willis, the former Fulton County prosecutor who headed the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case. City taxpayers funded $56,000 of Gundy’s legal defense, before Atlanta City Attorney Nina Hickson wrote a letter to Strickland saying it was improper under state law to use public money to pay for a private legal matter. Jeremy Berry, who was hired as city attorney by Reed, is the person who approved the use of public money for Gundy’s legal bills in a March 2018 letter to Strickland that did not mention Gundy by name. The letter said Strickland would be paid $600 an hour “in the matter of a Judge.” Hickson became city attorney after Berry resigned. Not included in the charges against Gundy is nearly $10,000 of public money spent on glass sculptures; a party hosted by former Mayor Kasim Reed, with whom she had a personal relationship; and luxurious stationery, including gold-sealed letterhead. One of the $600 glass sculptures was engraved to read: “Mayor Kasim Reed, Flame of Excellence.” Reed appointed Gundy to the bench. About $2,500 of the spending went for tickets handed out to people invited to the after-party for Reed’s Masked Ball, an elegant social event hosted by the mayor to raise money for the United Negro College Fund. “We need them on the fancier side, as it’s for a city event,” says an Oct. 30, 2017, email from Gundy’s assistant to the account manager for the printing company. The Municipal Court is a $20 million operation, funded through the city budget. The spending documents reviewed by Channel 2 Action News and the AJC show that neither Gundy nor any member of her staff sought approval for any of the purchases, nor do they indicate that anyone in the city’s finance department signed off on them. Among the new charges against Gundy, who draws an annual salary of $182,000, is that she threatened to fire a court security officer if he failed to secure seats for her and her family at the 2018 mayoral inauguration. She also allegedly used “profane language … in a hostile and abusive manner” to fellow Municipal Court Judge Christopher Ward, the filing said.
  • The consultant working to devise Gov. Brian Kemp’s health care “waivers” said early on that it expected Georgia to craft work incentives for people covered by its Medicaid program, according to documents released by Kemp’s office. Following a law the Legislature passed this year, Kemp plans to seek waivers from the federal government to reshape Georgia’s health coverage, both for Medicaid and for insurance sold under the Affordable Care Act. Kemp has the ability to increase the number of people on Medicaid or to make changes to insurance plans offered in Georgia. But he hasn’t shown his cards yet and it’s his choice what to seek. His aides rebuffed the notion that decisions have been made, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the work has only begun. But the consulting company he and state health officials chose, Deloitte, appears to have given clues to what the governor is seeking in its winning bid for the job. The “critical goals” for the state, Deloitte’s application said, included standard aims for improved health, especially among lower-income Georgians, and broader insurance coverage. It also included items that suggest a conservative wish list. One could require Medicaid recipients to file paperwork showing they’re trying to work or be active. A second could give private-policy customers options that offer less coverage than what they would find on the state’s ACA exchange. Some of those goals could advance the Trump administration’s deeply held goals of undoing regulations created in the ACA, also known as Obamacare. Some states that have already tested the waters saw their efforts brushed back by the courts. Deloitte is proposing to use those states’ experience to devise strategies that are different and could last. “This is an opportune time for Georgia to think creatively as the federal government has signaled a new willingness to entertain ideas and flexibilities that heretofore they had not,” the application says. Kemp’s spokeswoman, Candice Broce, said in an email that Deloitte had barely gotten to work and the governor’s office was sharing information when it has it. “Governor Kemp is committed to reducing healthcare costs, protecting individuals with preexisting medical conditions, and improving healthcare access and quality for Georgia families,” Broce said. “I would say that, at this time, speculating on any specific plan, population, etc. is premature.” “Work-related activities” First among the critical goals Deloitte listed was “incenting work-related activities in Georgia’s Medicaid program.” Georgia Republicans have long favored work requirements in exchange for benefits. And Kemp’s focus on “hard working Georgians” in health care is nothing new. As Kemp aides have previously pointed out, Georgia’s current Medicaid program is heavily weighted to benefiting children, and most adults currently on it are new mothers. If working-age adults were required to do something work-related, those likely wouldn’t be people already on Medicaid, said Kyle Wingfield, the CEO of the right-leaning Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Laura Colbert, the director of the patient advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, says most of the goals Deloitte listed could be accomplished without having a waiver at all, unless, for example, making a work-reporting requirement mandatory was a goal. “Frankly, the documents themselves, just the way the work incentive is framed, and the direction that the federal government is pushing states, indicate that this work requirement will be mandatory, not a voluntary work support program,” she said. That could mean simply reporting to the government a person’s attempts to find work, or his or her status as a student, or even volunteer work. Where Colbert sees a bureaucratic barrier, the Trump administration sees an opportunity to make people happier and healthier by pushing them to get jobs. Full coverage Deloitte also cited the goal to “re-frame ACA requirements” to stabilize the individual insurance market. That could mean opening wide the door to insurance plans that offer less coverage in the hopes of being cheaper. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, oversees the ACA, which was written to mandate more comprehensive coverage for all individual health insurance plans. That meant insisting on coverage for mental health care, prescriptions and other “essential benefits” whether a policyholder wanted them or not. It meant preventing plans from pricing out coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The Trump administration is trying to weaken those requirements. Jennifer Tolbert, the director of state health reform at the research organization the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the Trump administration had “loosened the guardrails” around waiver applications that previously aimed to make coverage as comprehensive as possible. “It is possible that Georgia may be contemplating something along the lines of what CMS has encouraged states to do,” Tolbert said, “by directing people to these alternative health plans, if you will, that don’t have to meet the consumer protections laid out in the ACA — these plans can deny coverage based on their health status; can refuse to cover pre-existing conditions; can charge people with health conditions more than other people.” Healthy people would take those plans, Tolbert said, leaving the regular market with sicker, more expensive patients and requiring prices to go up. Colbert, from Georgians for a Healthy Future, like Kemp, advocates for increased health coverage and better health of Georgians. She disagrees on the way to get there though, preferring Medicaid expansion for the poor and stabilizing the ACA insurance exchange with its comprehensive plans for the rest of the individual market. She said it’s “confusing to consumers” to increase access to plans offering less coverage than what’s required by the ACA. She’s afraid customers won’t know they’ve bought skimpy coverage until it’s too late. Wingfield, of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, supports such conservative solutions and said the alternative is living a fantasy. “Look — here’s what everybody seems to fail to acknowledge,” Wingfield said. “Yes, plans on the individual market right now cover a wide range of benefits. But they’re also really expensive. That’s why the market has been battered. People are opting out. “What these other plans let you do is you have an option,” he said. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • A lawsuit alleging widespread voting problems in Georgia is pursuing an ambitious solution: restoration of the Voting Rights Act and federal oversight of elections. After notching an initial court victory last month, allies of Stacey Abrams will now attempt to prove through their lawsuit that Georgia’s election was so flawed that it prevented thousands of voters from being counted, especially African Americans. The lawsuit links civil rights and voting rights with the aim of showing that elections are unfair in Georgia because racial minorities suffered most from voter registration cancellations, precinct closures, long lines, malfunctioning voting equipment and disqualified ballots. More than 50,000 phone calls poured into a hotline set up by the Democratic Party of Georgia to report hurdles voters faced at the polls. If successful, the case has the potential to regain voting protections that were lost because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in a case involving the Voting Rights Act, the landmark legislation approved in 1965. The court decided that several states with a history of discriminatory practices, including Georgia, no longer had to obtain federal clearance before making changes to elections. Bringing Georgia back under the Voting Rights Act will be tough because the lawsuit would have to prove intentional discrimination in the state’s election laws and practices. But the plaintiffs see an opportunity to try to make that case. Free from federal supervision, voter suppression has been on the rise in Georgia, said Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, which include Fair Fight Action, an advocacy group founded by Abrams, along with Ebenezer Baptist Church and other churches. “This is modern-day Jim Crow,” Lawrence-Hardy said. “Minority voters simply have a harder time voting and having their vote counted in the state of Georgia than other voters. That’s just factual, and that’s part of the information we’ll be submitting to the court.” Georgia election officials say that’s not, in fact, “factual.” They reject the idea that election laws and policies target minorities or infringe on voting rights, according to their filings in federal court. Many of the alleged voting obstacles in November’s election resulted from decisions made by local election officials — not by any statewide effort to disenfranchise voters — wrote defense attorneys for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. His office and his attorneys declined to comment. The lawsuit “attempts to string together a variety of isolated incidents to weave a new theory: that a variety of independent and unrelated actions by mostly local officials somehow resulted in constitutional violations that require massive judicial intervention,” a March 5 defense brief states. “Indeed, plaintiffs claim that Georgia’s election system is so flawed that the only solution is to place the entire state in federal receivership.” U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled against the state government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit May 30, allowing the case to move forward. Already, the plaintiffs have collected testimony from more than 200 people who reported difficulties voting. They reported that voter registration records disappeared, provisional ballots were incorrectly issued to legitimate voters, hours-long lines discouraged turnout and voting machines flipped votes from Abrams to Brian Kemp, who won the governor’s race by nearly 55,000 votes, a 1.4 percentage point margin of victory. To try to show voting rights were violated, the plaintiffs will seek emails, documents and depositions from Georgia election officials. No states are currently subject to federal review of elections under the Voting Rights Act, and only one city falls under that provision of the law: Pasadena, Texas, which settled a lawsuit filed by Hispanic voters alleging that their voting strength was diluted by redrawn voting districts. Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Voting Rights Act decision in Shelby v. Holder, nine states were subject to federal oversight, including Georgia. Most of the states covered by the Voting Rights Act were in the South and West. “This could turn out to be a case of national legal importance, but it’s too early to say,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in election law. “The complaint presents a general picture about the kinds of hurdles African American voters and other voters faced. It’s trying to show how all these things accumulate to a voting rights violation, even if any one in isolation might not.” A judge could also order incremental changes to Georgia elections instead of making the state subject to federal clearance under the Voting Rights Act, said Lori Ringhand, a constitutional law professor at the University of Georgia. “Depending on what the evidence shows, the judge would have a fair amount of discretion to decide how wide of a remedial system he would want to put in place,” Ringhand said. Though the election for governor is over, the lawsuit continues the fight for voting rights that invigorated last year’s election, said the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor for Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached during the civil rights movement. Georgia’s election laws continue to harm African Americans, just as they did decades ago, Warnock said. For example, a Georgia election policy called “exact match” prevented more than 53,000 people from being added to the state’s list of active voters last year because of discrepancies in their registration information, such as a missing hyphen in their name. About 80% of those potential voters were African Americans, Latinos or Asian Americans. In addition, Georgia’s “use it or lose it” law allows election officials to cancel voters’ registrations if they don’t participate in elections for several years, a practice that critics say disproportionately affects minorities. More than 1.4 million registrations were canceled from 2012 to 2018 when Kemp was secretary of state because they stopped participating in elections, died, moved away or were convicted of felonies. Warnock said these kinds of voting hurdles are more sophisticated versions of “tricks they played in the darkest era of the South” to prevent African Americans from voting, such as literacy tests and poll taxes. “The efforts to keep ordinary people from voting find ways to reinvent themselves at every junction,” Warnock said. “All of these tactics really hearken back to the very era that the civil rights movement emerged to address.” Some of the obstacles voters faced in November were caused by one-time problems rather than broad deficiencies in the voting system, said Deidre Holden, the elections supervisor for Paulding County, located west of Atlanta. Record turnout led to long lines. Voter registrations were canceled when Georgians moved to a new county and forgot to re-register. Old voting equipment broke down. “There were some good complaints, and some were blown out of proportion,” Holden said. “Complaints needed to be heard. I don’t think anyone should be disenfranchised from voting. No one should ever be turned away.” Without the protections of the Voting Rights Act, Georgia and other states have increasingly passed laws to remove voters from the rolls and limit new registrations, said Leigh Chapman, the director of the voting rights program for The Leadership Conference Education Fund, which focuses on elections, education and criminal justice issues. “Georgia has been at the epicenter of the problem — a full-on assault on the right to vote,” Chapman said. “Until Congress restores the Voting Rights Act, it’s critical that organizations bring these lawsuits to protect individuals’ rights to vote.” A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February would create a process to determine which states with a history of voting rights violations must receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before making changes to election laws. The bill is pending in a subcommittee. Georgia elected officials, including Kemp, have said voting has never been easier. A record 7 million Georgians were registered to vote for November’s election, when turnout reached an all-time high for a midterm. In addition, the General Assembly passed a bill this year that changes many of the election laws criticized by the lawsuit. The new law replaces the state’s voting machines, requires printed-out paper ballots, delays registration cancellations and prevents precinct closures within 60 days of an election. The lawsuit contends that the legislation doesn’t go far enough or address many of the difficulties voters reported on Election Day. Jones ruled that the bill didn’t address poll worker training of ballot handling, inappropriate cancellations of voter registrations and allegations that the state’s “exact match” policy disproportionately impacts minority voters.
  • The first Hispanic to serve as a state constitutional officer in Georgia history. The first African American woman to work as Cobb County’s top prosecutor. The first woman to sit on the superior court bench in a stretch of west Georgia counties. In the five months since he took office, Gov. Brian Kemp has tapped a diverse group to fill some of the state’s highest-profile openings. It’s come as a pleasant surprise to some of his critics, who worried he would take the opposite tack after he won a narrow victory by appealing to the GOP’s white base. Hispanic advocacy groups lauded his selection of John King, the Doraville police chief, to replace suspended Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck. Democrats praised his criminal justice appointments. And judicial veterans applauded his early picks for key spots on the judiciary. “Governor Kemp seems to be focused on qualifications and not so much on ideology,” said former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears, who was the nation’s first African American woman to preside over a state Supreme Court. It’s “refreshing in this day and age because, as you know, judges aren’t supposed to be politicians and district attorneys aren’t supposed to prosecute based on political considerations,” she added. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found that Kemp selected women for about half of the roughly 80 appointments he has made to state boards and criminal justice posts since January. About a quarter of those appointees are minorities, mostly African American officials. At least three are LGBTQ. The selections offer an early snapshot of his strategy for filling key posts, but not a full picture. The Republican will have the chance to fill hundreds of additional board positions and, likely, appoint dozens of judges through 2022, and his strategy and record could look vastly different in a few years. The scope of his appointments has been limited, too. No appellate-level judicial positions have come open yet for Kemp to fill, nor has he appointed members to several of the state’s most powerful panels, such as the Board of Regents, which oversees the higher education system and is typically a prime spot for major, mostly male campaign donors. Still, after a campaign fueled by an appeal to the party’s conservatives, including promises to “round up criminal illegals” and fight “radical extremist” opponents from across the party aisle, the governor’s first wave of appointees has given even his harshest critics a reason to be optimistic. State Sen. Elena Parent was among several Democratic lawmakers to praise some of Kemp’s high-profile selections, including his appointment of Joyette Holmes to be Cobb’s district attorney. She’s the first African American woman to serve in that role. “I haven’t scoured all of Governor Kemp’s appointments, but I have noticed that in a few key incidents he has appointed diverse contenders,” said Parent, an attorney who represents parts of DeKalb County. “We have a diverse population, and that should be reflected in those that are appointed to serve,” she said. “I hope that Governor Kemp continues to take that into account.” Picking newcomers Georgia law gives the governor wide latitude to fill judicial openings and appoint members of the powerful boards that oversee state agencies and departments, and they often stock those positions with political allies and donors. Kemp is no exception, as his picks include major donors and supporters. Former Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds, one of his early endorsers, was tapped to lead the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; ex-U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, another key ally, is a finalist for a spot on the state’s judicial watchdog agency. But Kemp’s other appointments include an array of newcomers not tightly associated with his campaign. The most prominent of those is King, who was tapped earlier this month to lead the state Insurance Department after Beck, who was elected in November, was indicted on federal fraud charges. A military veteran with no insurance experience, King was recruited to overhaul a department notorious for being too cozy with industry officials. The governor called him a “war hero” and praised him for his leadership skills and history-making role as the state’s first Hispanic constitutional officer. The move was immediately lauded by Hispanic advocacy groups including the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, whose leader, Jerry Gonzalez, described King as a “close friend” of the organization. Those ties also sparked criticism from some conservatives. D.A. King, a well-known activist who opposes illegal immigration, posted a series of letters on his website warning that Kemp has tarnished his reputation with his selection of John King. Kemp’s made diverse selections for some lower-profile openings, too. The same day he reappointed National Rifle Association President Carolyn Meadows, a Republican activist from Marietta, to the board that governs state-owned Stone Mountain, he also tapped the Rev. Abraham Mosley for a spot on the panel. Mosley, a longtime pastor from Kemp’s hometown of Athens, becomes only the second African American to serve on the 10-person panel that oversees the nation’s largest monument to Confederate war dead. And Kemp tapped prominent black Republicans for two of his five selections on the state Board of Economic Development, tasked with recruiting businesses: T. Dallas Smith, the owner of a commercial real estate brokerage; and June Wood, the first black chairwoman of the Henry County Commission. ‘Cautiously optimistic’ He may be most closely scrutinized, however, for his judicial picks — particularly after his predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal, drew sharp criticism for his record. Over two terms in office, Deal reshaped the judiciary by appointing a majority of appellate court judges and dozens of lower court jurists. His administration said Deal picked 166 justice system appointees overall as he pushed an overhaul that sent fewer defendants to lengthy sentences for low-level crimes. But Deal faced blowback for a lack of racial diversity among his picks, particularly on the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, which both expanded at his urging. Of Deal’s 21 appointments to those courts over eight years, 19 of them were white jurists; the other two were a black man and an Asian woman. He chose men for 15 of those posts, reducing the proportion of women on the state’s highest court. Kemp, too, raised similar concerns when he selected a 25-member judicial nominating commission that includes 13 white men, 10 women and only a handful of minorities to vet each candidate for court openings. But advocates for gender and racial equality said they’re encouraged by his first picks. Of the eight superior court judges Kemp has so far selected, five are women and three are African American. Two of the new female jurists — Shondeana Morris, who is black, and Stacey Hydrick, who is Jewish — were tapped for open seats on the bench in heavily Democratic DeKalb. Markette Baker is the first woman to ever sit on the Superior Court in the Coweta Judicial Circuit, a five-county span in west Georgia. And on Tuesday, he appointed Tadia Whitner to the Gwinnett Superior Court, making her the first African-American to take the bench for the county's highest court. Charles Johnson, an attorney and frequent critic of Deal’s judicial appointments, singled out Kemp’s appointments of Holmes and Morris as “reason to be encouraged” by the governor’s record. But he said the true test will be how he handles vacancies to the Superior Court of Fulton County, the landing spot for most of the legal challenges related to the powers of state agencies and officials. About 45% of the county’s residents are black, but only one person of color has been appointed to that bench since 2003, he said. “It is my hope that, once he takes a look at the data, the governor will want to help restore balance to the appointments on the Fulton Superior Court — just as he has begun to introduce a measure of balance to the appointments to other courts around the state,” said Johnson, who recently retired from an Atlanta law firm and is now the general counsel of Tuskegee University. Sears, the first woman on the state’s highest court, also said the jury is still out on Kemp’s picks. “I’m going to need to see a little bit more until I’ll be able to celebrate the fact that the state is really headed in a different direction in terms of diversity, inclusion and appointments to the judiciary — including district attorneys, et cetera,” Sears said. “So, all in all,” she said, “I’m cautiously optimistic.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.

News

  • A man said his pain medication and a broken back door are what led to his 2-year-old son wandering onto a busy Florida highway. Jacob Krueger, 25, and the child's mother, 28-year-old Yajaira Tirado were both arrested on neglect charges after their son was found on the highway around 10:30 a.m. Monday with a dirty diaper and bug bites covering his arms.  'I'm sorry,' Krueger said after walking out of jail Tuesday. 'I didn't mean for it to come down to this.' Krueger explained that he and Tirado are on medications for conditions that he said kept them asleep during the ordeal. He also blamed a broken door at the home they rent as why his son was able to escape. >>Read: Toddler wearing dirty diaper, covered in bug bites found crossing highway, police say; 2 arrested When asked why there wasn't any attempt to fix the door to prevent an incident like this, Krueger said, 'There's no way. Doesn't matter if I tried doing something to it.' Krueger went on to deny a responding deputy's claim that his home was littered with broken bottles and smelled like feces. >> Read more trending news  'I love my child. I want the best for them (and) don't ever want to hurt them,' Krueger explained.  Officials said they had been to the home in 2018 for another case of child neglect in which Tirado was arrested after a 1-year-old and 2-year-old were left at the home alone, according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.  Deputies said the toddler found crossing the highway was placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Tirado remains in the Volusia County Jail.
  • The Democratic presidential primary debates begin Wednesday with 10 candidates going head-to-head in Miami as the 2020 presidential election season gets underway. >>Read more trending news Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and seven others will likely face questions on border security, health care and climate change on the first night of the two-night event. >>Jamie Dupree: Warren leads Democrats into first night of 2020 debates Here’s what to know about and how to watch Wednesday’s Democratic debate.  When and where is the debate being held? The debate will be broken up into two nights with 10 candidates on the stage to debate each night. The debates will take place on Wednesday and Thursday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. Who will be on the stage on Wednesday? Here is the lineup for Wednesday’s debate: Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey  Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts  Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas  Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii  Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota  Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington  Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio  Where will they stand onstage? The candidates will stand from left to right in this order – de Blasio, Ryan, Castro, Booker, Warren, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, Gabbard, Inslee, Delaney.  Who will be asking the questions at the debate? Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart will moderate the debate. Holt, Guthrie and Diaz-Balart will moderate the first hour, with Holt, Todd and Maddow asking questions in the second hour. How can I watch the debate? NBC is sponsoring the debate, but it will be shown on all three major networks and on cable news channels. It will stream online free (without requiring an account with a television provider) at NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps, and Telemundo's digital platforms. What time wil it be on? The debate will air from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesday. Where can I watch the livestream? Here is the livestream link of the debate from YouTube Live coverage: Come back here beginning at 7 p.m. for live coverage of the first night of the debate. 
  • Police arrested a woman who allegedly tried to kidnap a couple’s children in the atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Saturday morning. Police said Esther Daniels, 26, tried to grab a stroller with a child in it before being fended off by the child’s mother. She then picked up one of the couple’s other children and walked away, but the father took the child back from her, Atlanta police spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said in an emailed statement. >> Read more trending news  An officer responded a few minutes later and found Daniels in a frenzied mental state, Chafee said. She then allegedly ran toward a nearby family and had to be restrained by the officer, Chafee said.  Daniels, who lives in Kansas, eventually calmed down and was escorted to the police precinct in a wheelchair, the statement said. She was checked out at Grady Memorial Hospital before being taken to the Clayton County Jail. Daniels was charged with kidnapping and obstructing an officer. Her bond has not been set.
  • A Virginia man and woman are facing homicide charges after their 2-month-old daughter died from cocaine and heroin intoxication last year, authorities said. According to WDBJ-TV, police on Tuesday arrested Eugene Chandler Jr., 27, and Shaleigh Brumfield, 26, of Danville, on felony homicide charges in the baby's November 2018 death. Officials also charged the pair with child abuse and neglect, the news station reported. >> Read more trending news On Nov. 24, Danville police and emergency crews responded to a report of an infant who couldn't breathe, according to court documents. The child, identified as Marleigh Rain Chandler, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, the Danville Register & Bee reported. While searching the family's home, investigators discovered evidence of drug use, including marijuana and drug paraphernalia, WSET reported. The Western District Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy, which revealed that Marleigh died from 'acute heroin and cocaine intoxication in a setting of co-sleeping,' officials said. Chandler and Brumfield were booked into the Danville City Jail, where they are being held without bond.
  • When the first Democratic presidential primary debate kicks off Wednesday night, Kirkland Dent will be watching. Dent, 28, a medical librarian at Mercer University in Macon, has been trying to keep up with the sprawling Democratic field aiming to unseat President Donald Trump — “I can probably name 80% of them,” he said. But he is looking forward to seeing them in action. “I’m curious about what their goals are, what issues they want to tackle.” So are Judy Hauser, Michael Murphy-McCarthy and John Chastain. They are among about a dozen Democratic and independent voters in Georgia who have agreed to take part in an informal focus group organized by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss the 2020 Democratic primary race. The AJC checked in with them for the first time ahead of the debates Wednesday and Thursday in Miami, the first opportunity many voters will get to see the candidates answer questions for a national audience. THE LATEST | Georgia Presidential candidate visit tracker MORE | Democratic presidential hopefuls emphasize Georgia’s big role in 2020 For the most part, the Georgia voters said they have been paying some attention to the race but want to know more. That’s true of Democratic voters nationally, too. According to a poll released this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs, only 35% of Democrats who are registered to vote say they’re paying close attention to the campaign. The size of the field doesn’t help, and most of the Georgia voters who talked to the AJC said they are eager for it to thin out a bit. The debates, which will feature 10 candidates on stage each night, won’t give the contenders a lot of time to make their case. “It’s going to be really, really hard to stand out in that big a crowd,” said Murphy-McCarthy, who lives in Peachtree Corners and works in IT. “It will be easier to fall down than to stand out.” Dent said a number of candidates have stood out for him so far: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. But he’s open to being surprised by lesser-known candidates. “It’s important for our generation to start paying attention a lot more,” he said. RELATED | Biden reverses stance on Hyde abortion amendment at Atlanta event MORE | Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ law targeted by Democratic presidential hopefuls Chastain, 73, lives in largely Republican Cherokee County. “If I say I am a Democrat, it’s like I have the plague,” he joked. He said he’s very interested in the Democratic primary race and wants to hear candidates get specific at the debates. “I’m looking for some action plans,” he said, “I want to know what they are going to do, not just getting Trump out.” He’s retired and said health care is a top issue. Hauser, a registered nurse from Buckhead, wants a candidate who can win. “We need someone who is going to be able to take on Trump and his mouth,” she said. She said she likes Biden but is also interested in Buttigieg and Harris. Biden, she said, “has very good core values. Yes, he’s made some mistakes, but who hasn’t?” His age doesn’t bother her. “I see him as a one-term president that will bring this country back on even keel,” she said. Murphy-McCarthy, 51, said he’s been impressed by Warren but says he’s open to the others. “I’m OK with somebody coming out of nowhere,” he said. DEEPER COVERAGE | Which Democratic candidates have raised the most in Georgia PHOTOS | Top Democratic presidential contenders campaign in Atlanta Howard Giambrone of Coweta County is an independent who has mostly voted for Republicans in the past, but he is considering a Democrat in 2020. It won’t be Bernie Sanders or Warren, who he says are too liberal. He said he is looking for a candidate who is fiscally responsible, supportive of the military and has what he considers a moderate view on immigration. Giambrone’s wife is from Colombia and he doesn’t like Trump’s immigration policies. “I want to strengthen the border but make coming here (legally) less difficult,” he said. So far he thinks Biden and Cory Booker are possibilities. What can the candidates say to win him over? “I want to hear fresh ideas and get away from trashing Trump,” he said. William Black, 38, is a housekeeper in Jones County. He said his top issues are race relations and global warming, and his favorite candidates so far are Sanders and Biden. He isn’t too worried about the size of the field. “They will weed themselves out,” he said. He’s happy to see the enthusiasm. “It’s good for the Democratic Party that there’s that level of interest of people who want to change the country.” How to follow Democratic presidential debates NBC will host the first Democratic presidential debates Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9 and concluding at 11 each night. Each night will feature 10 candidates. The debates will be broadcast by NBC News and also appear on MSNBC and Telemundo. Telemundo will broadcast the debate in Spanish. They also will stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms. NBC News will also stream the debates live and in full on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • A 58-year-old man is behind bars after police said he raped a child nightly over a three-year period. According to the Jackson Sun, William Paul Godwin of Parsons, Tennessee, was arrested Sunday and charged with 12 counts of child rape, as well as one count of continuous child rape, authorities said. >> Read more news stories Godwin is accused of forcing the girl into sexual intercourse nightly beginning in fall 2012, when she was 5, the Sun reported. The victim said the rapes continued until summer 2015, according to court documents. Godwin was jailed on $100,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court July 8, WBBJ reported. Read more here or here.