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Capitol Recap: Farmer suicides add dimension to Georgia’s rural woes

Legislators in recent years have devoted much of their time and effort under the Gold Dome to the plights of rural Georgia. The House Rural Development Council, for example, has focused on population losses, hospital closings and economic stagnation in the state’s small towns.

But problems are also growing at a more personal level, with a spike in suicides within Georgia’s agriculture community.

Anna Scheyett, the dean of the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work, studied 106 suicides by farmers and other agricultural workers in the state from 2008 to 2015.

Farmers who died by their own hand were predominantly white men over the age of 50. The most common means of death, at 78%, was by gunshot.

Scheyett’s study, first reported by WABE, found that relationship difficulties and chronic health problems, each at 25%, were the leading reasons for the suicides.

Coming in third was financial stress, at 12%.

That could change, though.

Scheyett is seeking data that would include this year, meaning it could be used to measure the impact Georgia farmers have felt from Hurricane Michael. (The storm wreaked more than $2.5 billion in damage on the state’s agriculture sector, according to a UGA estimate.) An additional cause of concern for Georgia farmers — and another thing for Scheyett to measure — is the toll from the trade war with China and the tariffs placed on many of the state’s agricultural products.

“It’s an incredibly stressful time for farmers and agriculture workers now,” Scheyett told The Associated Press.

Southwest Georgia farmers waited for nine months after Michael struck the region in October, watching Congress and President Donald Trump haggle over details before producing a relief package.

Ultimately, $19.1 billion was approved to aid the recovery of the victims of Michael and other natural disasters across the country — think wildfires in California and the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico in 2017.

The wait isn’t over, though.

It still could take months before Georgia farmers see their share of the money, after it passes through a number of government agencies and programs on its way to the local level.

Meanwhile, planting season did not wait, forcing tough decisions for many farmers. Some flirted with bankruptcy filings or mortgaged pieces of land to secure independent financing; others delayed or skipped planting altogether.

Scheyett and company could have plenty to examine.

Foreign substance: Is it a cause or just an indicator?

Charlie Hayslett isn’t sure, but he notes on his website, Trouble in God’s Country, that there appears to be a connection between “community prosperity and foreign-born populations.”

Here’s his evidence:

“The foreign-born population in Albany, which has the worst Distressed Community Index (DCI) score of any city in Georgia (and one of the worst in the country), was less than three percent of the total population. In contrast, Alpharetta’s population is 23.3 percent foreign-born and it posted the best DCI score in the state. …

“My 12-county Metro Atlanta region, which generates the lion’s share of the state’s economic output, is home to about 47 percent of the overall population but nearly 72 percent of the foreign-born population.”

Division within the ranks: Georgia’s new anti-abortion “heartbeat” law has sparked many a debate — even between anti-abortion groups.

Georgia Right to Life, once the most influential opponent of abortion at the state Capitol, recently withdrew its endorsements of state lawmakers who helped pass House Bill 481. The law, which is set to take effect in January, bans most abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.

That’s most abortions. GRTL opposes exceptions made in cases of rape and incest, which require the filing of timely police reports.

Another powerful anti-abortion group, the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia, takes exception to GRTL’s decision to halt its support of lawmakers who backed HB 481.

Alliance leader Cole Muzio wrote on Facebook that his group “will not be working with GRTL on political and policy objectives moving forward until/unless significant changes are made.”

Muzio said he hopes GRTL’s educational efforts remain successful, but he added that “the organization harms our political/policy efforts for a Georgia where life is cherished.”

“We took a great step toward this vision this session, and it’s been a privilege to be on the journey from the beginning as this moved from an idea, to a pledge, to a priority, to a bill, to a law,” Muzio wrote. “As we continue toward this vision, we will proceed by supporting those who made it all possible and partner with those who co-labored along the way.”

Nothing tops it: Chief Justice Harold Melton of the Georgia Supreme Court found his own way to characterize the results of the state’s criminal justice overhaul.

What didn’t happen tells the story.

The chief justice, according to The Athens Banner-Herald, said the state’s prison population falls about 6,000 short of the 59,000 that had been projected before the state tackled the overhaul beginning about eight years ago.

“That’s four prisons we didn’t have to build just in the past few years,” he said.

Not Biden his time: If you’re trying to size up Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, the newest Democratic entry in Georgia’s upcoming U.S. Senate race, he gave a clue about how he sees himself during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Asked whether he’s angling to be the Bernie Sanders of the Senate race, he aligned his goals with those of a variety of Democratic presidential candidates.

“I have the desire to support policies and plans like Elizabeth Warren,” Terry said. “I want to change fundamental aspects of the system like Bernie Sanders. I want to bring a youthful vision like Mayor Pete (Buttigieg), and I want to embody the passionate approach of people like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.”

Candidates rush in: Gov. Brian Kemp this past week scheduled a special election in state House District 71 to replace state Rep. David Stover.

The ballot is already filling up for the Sept. 3 contest.

It’s an all-Republican affair, so far, with four candidates launching campaigns: Sam Anders, Nina Blackwelder, Marcy Westmoreland Sakrison and Philip Singleton.

Sakrison is the one who can claim name recognition, or at least maiden name recognition. She’s the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.

Stover last month announced his resignation to take effect immediately.

That didn’t take long: State Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson announced that he won't seek re-election in 2020.

Some names have already popped up as potential contenders to represent the Stone Mountain Democrat’s district: Yterenickia “YT” Bell, Kim Jackson and Connie Stokes.

Bell serves on the Clarkston City Council.

Jackson is the former associate rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Midtown Atlanta.

Stokes is a former member of both the state Senate and the DeKalb County Commission. She made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 2014.

Senate District 41 takes in Clarkston and Stone Mountain in DeKalb, as well as a piece of Gwinnett County.

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