Capitol Recap: Mideast war reveals unity, division in Georgia’s political circles

Gov. Brian Kemp, right, and Georgia first lady Marty Kemp, left, welcome an Israeli delegation to the Georgia Capitol, where they discussed the taking of hostages by Hamas in its war with Israel. “To hear it from victims and family members makes it more real but also unreal that something like this could happen,” the governor said. (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

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Gov. Brian Kemp, right, and Georgia first lady Marty Kemp, left, welcome an Israeli delegation to the Georgia Capitol, where they discussed the taking of hostages by Hamas in its war with Israel. “To hear it from victims and family members makes it more real but also unreal that something like this could happen,” the governor said. (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Kemp clearly backs Israel, while Ossoff warns about humanitarian crisis in Gaza

Israel’s war with Hamas is making an impact politically in Georgia.

Republicans and Democrats have both condemned Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 Israelis and launched the conflict. But some Democrats have expressed grave concerns about how Israeli counterstrikes have killed thousands of Palestinian civilians as shortages of food, medicine and other aid fuel a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Gov. Brian Kemp has been a publicly open supporter of Israel. The Republican governor has instructed the state treasurer to invest $10 million in Israeli bonds and pledged to protect Jewish people from violent protests.

This past week, he met with a group of Israelis and was visibly shaken after hearing “horrific” stories from the relatives of civilians who were taken hostage by Hamas.

“To hear it from victims and family members makes it more real but also unreal that something like this could happen,” Kemp said.

Jon Ossoff, Georgia’s first Jewish U.S. senator, warned about conditions in Gaza and called on Israel to allow the delivery of more critical supplies to Palestinian civilians.

During an appearance on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Politically Georgia” show on WABE radio, the Democrat discussed efforts to pressure Israel and Egypt to help avert a growing catastrophe.

“At this time, we are not seeing adequate flow through the Rafah border crossing of that aid,” Ossoff said, referring to the point along the Egyptian border with Gaza.

Ossoff spared no criticism for Hamas but maintained a focus on the conditions facing the Palestinians.

“This is an extraordinarily dangerous and volatile situation,” he said. “Georgians were shocked and united in our grief and our outrage at the coldblooded massacre of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. We have now an acute humanitarian crisis in southern Gaza and a real urgency in standing up a humanitarian operation that can meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of displaced people.”

Kemp is considered a potential Ossoff opponent in the 2026 elections.

State has $11 billion. Many have ideas how to spend it.

If you say you have billions and billions of dollars, someone will come up with ways to spend it.

This past week, it was the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s turn.

The left-leaning nonprofit released a report suggesting how the state should spend nearly $11 billion in undesignated reserves that were fed by huge surpluses in recent years.

The report offers three key proposals:

  • $7.5 billion to set up a self-sustaining trust fund to provide access to affordable child care for thousands of families.
  • As much as $2.7 billion to upgrade the state’s fleet of 20,000 school buses.

Danny Kanso, a senior analyst for the institute, said that in 1991, the state paid over half the cost of student transportation. Last year, that was down to 20%, leaving public school systems — really the residents who pay the property taxes that fund them — on the hook for the rest.

Kanso, a former aide to then-Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, said that Georgia school districts started fiscal 2022 with 6,300 buses that had been in service 15 years or longer. Replacing buses, he said, would save school districts money.

  • $5,000 bonuses and raises in future years for state workers to counter persistently high turnover rates. At the top of the list are frontline workers, such as those in mental health fields.

The state lost nearly 6,400 full-time workers between 2018 and 2022. That included a record turnover rate of 29% in 2022, when the private sector used higher salaries to raid the state’s workforce.

Naturally, others also have ideas for what to do with the money.

One is to return a share of it to the state’s taxpayers in some form of refund, just like the General Assembly did in recent years to exploit big surpluses. Another round of refunds seems highly likely in an election year such as 2024, when every seat in the Legislature will be up for grabs.

Democrats back an expansion of Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled, that could cover hundreds of thousands of uninsured Georgians.

State agencies got to kick in their ideas earlier this year, when Gov. Brian Kemp allowed them to seek increases up to 3% in their budget requests.

The governor has already acted on one idea, suspending the state’s motor fuel tax in September. That costs the state — and benefits its drivers — $160 million to $190 million a month.

Kemp and Republican lawmakers are resistant to projects and programs that incur ongoing costs. They’re more likely to favor the one-time payment of a bonus over a raise that commits them to additional expenses in the future.

Credit: ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay

Credit: ErikaWittlieb/Pixabay

Georgia among the worst states for increases in the infant mortality rate

Infant mortality increased in Georgia by 13% in 2022, among the four steepest climbs in the country.

Nationwide, the rate increased by 3%.

In Georgia, 892 infants died in 2022, 116 more than the year before.

Overall, more than 30 states saw at least slight rises in their infant mortality rates in 2022, but Georgia, Iowa, Missouri and Texas were the only four to post what is considered a significant, statistically clear increase.

Nationally, the increase from 2021 to 2022 was the largest in two decades, according to the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Potential factors included poor access to doctors and perinatal education, and overall “social determinants of health” — living conditions that make it more likely that a person gets sick and faces difficulty in navigating the health care system.

In Georgia, about half of the state’s 159 counties have no OB-GYN. Nine counties have no doctor at all.

Garrison Douglas, a spokesman for Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, pointed out that Kemp has worked with the Georgia Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage from six months to a year for new mothers with lower incomes.

“This nationwide increase in the infant mortality rate remains a concern, which is why under Gov. Kemp’s leadership Georgia has taken targeted action,” Douglas said.

That includes boosting benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, better known as welfare, for expectant mothers.

The state has also launched a home visitation program in at-risk and underserved rural communities during pregnancies and early childhood.

Georgia remains one of 10 states that have rejected government-funded medical coverage for all adults who live below the poverty line. Experts say that would help women in their fertility years to develop a network of doctors and have better health before they get pregnant.

Black babies continued to have the highest rate of death in the U.S., 10.86 per 1,000 births.

According to the March of Dimes, in the 2018 to 2020 period, Black babies nationwide died at more than double the rate of white babies and more than triple the rate of Native American and Pacific Islander babies.

Those gaps, however, narrowed some in the latest data, as white and Native American babies saw some of the biggest increases in the rate of infant death.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Ossoff turns spotlight on missing foster kids, faces accusation of playing politics

Georgia’s foster care system lost track of children in its care nearly 2,500 times between 2018 and 2022.

A U.S. Senate subcommittee found those reports of missing children involved 1,790 individuals in the care of the state’s Division of Family and Children Services, some who were involved in multiple occurrences.

“These numbers are deeply troubling because these are more than numbers, these are children,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. “Children who go missing from care are left more vulnerable to human trafficking, to sexual exploitation, and to other threats to their health and safety.”

The subcommittee — which held hearings recently in Atlanta and Washington — is examining allegations of abuse and neglect in the state’s foster care system. Ossoff and Republican U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee announced the inquiry in February, following an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in late 2022.

The hearings also explored other issues and prompted a letter from lawyers for the state Department of Human Services accusing Ossoff of conducting a “political” endeavor.

“The misstatements, omissions, and failure of the subcommittee to request relevant information or responses from the Department in advance of its publicized hearings and press conferences leave the unfortunate impression that the goals of this investigation are political,” the state’s lawyers wrote in the letter addressed to Ossoff and Blackburn.

The agency is led by Candice Broce, a longtime aide to Gov. Brian Kemp, who is considered a possible Ossoff opponent when he runs for reelection in 2026.

As for the reports of missing children, the DHS said it did not receive an analysis in advance of the hearings that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children conducted at the subcommittee’s request. That, the department said, denied state child welfare officials the opportunity to understand it or respond.

The DHS also cited a recent federal report showing Georgia’s rate for reporting missing foster children is lower than its neighboring states of Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee, and less than half the rate of some other states.

It added that it takes the issue of missing or runaway children seriously, including providing its staff with a 14-page policy memo on how to handle the issue.

Redistricting process set to move forward as state chooses not to seek court delay

Georgia will not try to delay the process of redrawing the state’s political lines, but it still plans to contest a judge’s order requiring the new maps.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled late last month that the maps the General Assembly drew in 2021 for congressional and legislative districts violated the federal Voting Rights Law by diluting the voting power of Black Georgians. He ordered state legislators to return to the task, and Gov. Brian Kemp scheduled a special session to begin Nov. 29.

Jones specifically instructed legislators to create a fifth majority-Black congressional district in west metro Atlanta, along with seven new seats in the Georgia Legislature based in the Atlanta and Macon areas.

Attorneys for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a court filing this past week that they would not seek a “stay of the rulings” to stop any immediate action, but that Georgia would appeal Jones’ order.

In Georgia, most white voters back Republicans while Democrats enjoy the overwhelming support of Blacks, who accounted for nearly half of the state’s 1 million-plus new residents between 2010 and 2020.

But in 2021 — using data from the previous year’s U.S. census — the GOP-dominated General Assembly drew maps that allowed Republicans to gain a congressional seat in last year’s elections, giving them a 9-5 edge in the state’s U.S. House delegation.

Attorneys for Georgia argued during an eight-day redistricting trial in September that Republicans drew maps to benefit their party, not to discriminate against Black voters. While the Voting Rights Act forbids maps that reduce Black voting power, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed partisanship to play a role in the redistricting process.

It’s possible the General Assembly, still dominated by Republicans, could try to preserve the GOP’s advantage in the U.S. House delegation. For example, it could convert the Gwinnett County-based 7th Congressional District already represented by a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, from a majority-minority district to a majority-Black district.

But that could be difficult, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock, who wrote the book “Redistricting: The Most Political Activity in America.”

In his order, Jones wrote that the state can’t remedy maps that violate the Voting Rights Act’s protections against racial discrimination by eliminating districts with substantial minority populations such as the 7th District, which is roughly 31% Black, 30% white, 24% Hispanic and 16% Asian.

Earlier this year, Alabama legislators attempted to sidestep a judge’s order to create a second majority-Black congressional district. A court quickly rejected Alabama’s new map, and the U.S. Supreme Court let the decision stand.

If the General Assembly doesn’t fulfill the judge’s requirements, the courts could take control of Georgia’s redistricting process.

“There’s a strong incentive among legislators to want to keep control of the process,” Bullock said. “If they come up with an unacceptable map ... that could cause them even greater grief.”

Political expedience

Looking for a new job: U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Jackson, is making a bid to become vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, a leadership position that opened up when U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana ascended to the speakership. House Republicans will hold a candidate forum for Collins and other contenders on Tuesday, with a vote set for the following day.

Deeper support: Gov. Brian Kemp gave his backing to a Georgia Ports Authority’s push for a study on deepening the Savannah River. Kemp wrote in a letter to all 16 members of Georgia’s congressional delegation that “it is critical we work together to ensure GPA can continue to accommodate ever-larger container vessels calling on our ports.” Ports Authority officials have asked Congress to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to explore widening and deepening Savannah’s shipping channel as part of the 2024 renewal of the Water Resources Development Act. Crews in March 2022 finished a $1 billion project to deepen 40 miles of the Savannah River after 6 1/2 years of dredging.

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