Sweetwater Creek State Park, west of Atlanta, is open and allowing hiking, boating and fishing with social distancing Friday, April 3, 2020. Camp sites and yurt rentals are still avaiable as well. Some groups are ignoring the mandates. (Jenni Girtman for Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: Jenni Girtman
Photo: Jenni Girtman

The Jolt: North Georgia wants state parks sealed off, too

Coastal Georgia isn’t the only area objecting to Gov. Brian Kemp’s statewide shelter-in-place order, which rolled back local restrictions that shuttered parks, imposed curfews and closed down seashores.

The commission chairs from a dozen north Georgia counties sent Kemp a letter Monday urging him to lock down state parks in their communities to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

Their constituents, they wrote, are “highly concerned about the increased traffic” to the area from the statewide order. 

Not mentioned was the call by Kemp’s top aide, Tim Fleming, for Georgians to visit state parks and beaches during the partial shutdown. From the letter:

During normal times, we are very thankful for the many Georgians and other tourists who visit and explore our area and frequent our state parks. As public awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased, there has been a recent surge in visitors to our area. It appears that these nonresidents believe our area is a safe haven because of its rural nature.

To the contrary, the influx of people into our communities has had a staggering detrimental effect on our resources. Our communities simply do not have enough hospital beds or medical personnel to care for the inflated population. Similarly, there is not enough food, dry goods, fuel and other supplies to adequately provide for the numbers we are experiencing.

The letter was spearheaded by Habersham County Commission chairman Stacy Hall and fellow commissioner Tim Stamey. 

It was signed by the leaders of some of Georgia’s most staunchly Republican areas: Banks, Dade, Fannin, Franklin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White counties. Read the entire letter here.

The criticism has hardly abated along the coast, too. Glynn County Chairman Michael Browning, a Republican, initially said he favored the statewide shelter order but worried that reopening beaches sent mixed messages. 

Now he offered a sharper opinion to The Brunswick News. 

“There is no leadership in this state,” Browning told the newspaper. “I’m almost ashamed to be called Georgian.”

“You can print this. 912-574-9150. Gov. Kemp, call me. If I’m wrong, then someone can come tell me.”

***

The Monday death of state Sen. Jack Hill stunned his fellow lawmakers. His death is thought to be unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic:

Tattnall County Sheriff Kyle Sapp said Hill, a Reidsville Republican, died Monday evening at his office.

“He was at his office working and the staff hadn’t communicated with him in a while, so someone went to check on him and found him there at his desk,” Sapp said.

...Hill was sworn into the Georgia Senate in 1991 as a Democrat. A retired grocer, Hill switched parties after the 2002 election, helping throw the Senate to the Republicans. He was rewarded by being named chairman of the Senate budget committee.

...Gov. Brian Kemp called Hill a gentle giant.

“Jack Hill was one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I ever served with,” Kemp said on Twitter. “His loss is devastating to our state, but he leaves behind an unmatched legacy of hard work and public service.”

The loss of Hill’s expertise in budget matters will be felt almost immediately, as the state begins to grapple with the second national economic crisis in a dozen years.

***

We here at the Insider blog are open-minded about many things, including the possibility that there is logic behind the shortage of toilet paper in local gocery stores. From Medium.com:

[T]he toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.

Georgia-Pacific, a leading toilet paper manufacturer based in Atlanta, estimates that the average household will use40% more toilet paper than usual if all of its members are staying home around the clock. That’s a huge leap in demand for a product whose supply chain is predicated on the assumption that demand is essentially constant. It’s one that won’t fully subside even when people stop hoarding or panic-buying.

***

Already posted:

-- State officials are quietly preparing to establish three large emergency hospitals across Georgia, including one at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, as theyrace to open more beds ahead of an expected surge in coronavirus cases.

-- Georgia State Patrol officers charged five congregants at a small Statesboro congregation on Sunday with reckless conduct after they were accused of defying Kemp’s order to keep six feet apart. The church’s leaders told Savannah-based TV station WTOC that they shouldn’t face restrictions.

***

Vice President Mike Pence gave a shout-out Monday to Georgia National Guard troops dispatched to senior care homes to battle the coronavirus. “During my conference call today, I learned that Gov. Brian Kemp is actually using the Georgia National Guard to sanitize and clean up nursing homes,” he said.

***

U.S. Rep. John Lewis endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden’s bid for the White House on Monday, saying he’d use his pulpit as a veteran leader of the civil rights movement to “help elect a man of conscience” in November.

***

It’s never too early to plan for November. The Democratic National Committee reserved $22 million in YouTube ads in Georgia and 13 other states, in what The New York Times described as the “beginning of a broad digital effort” to defeat President Donald Trump. More from the Times:

The D.N.C. ads will begin to run on Sept. 1 in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They are scheduled to begin appearing on Oct. 1 in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

The party said the ads would focus on get-out-the-vote efforts in heavily Democratic ZIP codes.

***

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler sent her personal plane to pick up two Georgia couples who needed a ride home from Miami after disembarking from a cruise ship struck by the coronavirus. 

Many members of Congress have intervened to help constituents stranded in far-flung areas after borders closed to control the spread of COVID-19, but Loeffler’s riches include her own jet that’s sparked controversy.

Fox 5 (WAGA-TV) reported that the couples had spent nearly a month on the Coral Princess cruise ship, and that Gov. Brian Kemp helped connect them to the U.S. senator:

David and Dianne Fowler of Coweta County boarded the Coral Princess Cruise Ship on March 5 and were supposed to end their cruise two weeks later, but instead, they were stuck on board for a month because several ports refused to let them dock after two people on board died of COVID-19. The ship finally docked in Miami Saturday, but the Fowler's flight to Atlanta had been canceled. 

"We should have been home three weeks ago. As you can imagine, bills need to be paid," the couple told FOX 5 on Sunday.

Monday afternoon Sen. Loeffler sent her private plane down to Florida to pick up the Fowlers and another couple from Marietta. When they landed at Fulton County Airport Monday evening, Loeffler was there to welcome them home as well as two ambulances to drive them. 

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, her chief Republican adversary, weighed in on the flight -- in a somewhat jaded fashion -- through a spokesman.

“Well, I’ll be. Loeffler’s million-dollar image consultants finally have a good idea,” said Dan McLagan. “They probably filmed a slick TV ad of the whole thing, too.”

***

Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, hoping to make a name for herself in the 14th District congressional contest, is out with a new ad in which the gun-toting businesswoman praises President Donald Trump and takes literal shots at progressive issues.

Greene initially had signed up to run in the Sixth District, a swing seat now occupied by Democrat Lucy McBath. After U.S. Rep. Tom Graves announced he would not seek another term, she switched to run in his conservative 14th District in northwest Georgia. She joins a long list of Republicans vying for the seat; all of them appear to be campaigning as pro-Second Amendment and pro-Trump.

“I’m running to stop gun control … open borders … the Green New Deal and socialism,” Greene says in the ad, firing a rifle at an image of each phrase. The spot is posted to Facebook and Twitter. Greene also said the ad is running on television stations in the district.

***

Speaking of firearms in political campaigns: Dr. Paul Broun, who is seeking to return to Congress via Ninth District seat, has been endorsed by Gun Owners of America last Friday and is launching a lottery (to build his email list) for an AR-15 rifle to celebrate. 

***

U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s stock portfolio was more active than usual in March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to roil the markets. The AJC’s review of the financial disclosure report Perdue filed Sunday showed that his advisers conducted more trades on his behalf than they had in a single month in over two years.

Some of the choices are drawing criticism, such as his investment in Netflix and another company that makes protective equipment to limit exposure to the virus. Congress began approving huge spending bills in March in order to direct resources to local governments and families dealing with the shelter-in-lace demands of COVID-19.

Perdue has insisted that his trades were made without his involvement, and he has faced less criticism than his junior counterpart, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who sold off millions of dollars worth of stocks while publicly extolling the strength of the economy. Nevertheless, Perdue’s leading Democrat opponents are piling on: 

-- Sarah Riggs Amico: “Perdue’s efforts to make a profit off a national health emergency warrant a full investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. Georgians are suffering while their senator turned profits, and they deserve to know why.”

-- Jon Ossoff: “He traded stocks heavily while he was working on the biggest spending bill in history. The burden is on Senator Perdue to prove this isn’t what it looks like: Insider trading amidst one of the most destructive public health and economic crises in American history.”

-- Teresa Tomlinson: “He must be investigated as should each senator who owns individual stocks and does not have a blind trust.”

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