Capitol Recap: Report details climate change’s impact on Georgia

Hurricane Idalia was one of the most visible pieces of evidence of climate change's impact on Georgia when it struck in September. The damage includes tens of thousands of pecan trees, a blow to the state's leading industry, agriculture. (Greg Bluestein/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Hurricane Idalia was one of the most visible pieces of evidence of climate change's impact on Georgia when it struck in September. The damage includes tens of thousands of pecan trees, a blow to the state's leading industry, agriculture. (Greg Bluestein/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Southeast identified as one of most vulnerable regions as warming increases

The toll of climate change is already visible across Georgia, making a lasting impact on its cities, shores and even its leading industry, according to a report the federal government released this past week.

In Atlanta, that’s meant eight more extreme heat days — when temperatures and humidity are both high for extended periods — than it saw in 1961. The city has also added more than 80 days to its “heat wave season.”

The federal report, known as the Fifth National Climate Assessment, identified the Southeast as among the most vulnerable regions in the country to climate change.

One reason is the general poor health in the region. Southerners consistently rank among the most unhealthy residents in the country, and conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are known to increase vulnerability to heat illness.

Some of the most dramatic change can be seen along Georgia’s coast and other shorelines of the Southeast.

Between 1970 and 2020, sea levels rose in some areas by roughly 6 inches. By 2050, the assessment predicts, sea levels in parts of the Southeast could rise 16 to 23 inches over where they were in 2000. Some coastal communities could see incidents of high-tide flooding occur five to 10 times more often.

Flooding could also become a bigger problem farther inland, as heavy deluges grow stronger and more frequent. In the Southeast, according to the assessment, the heaviest 1% of precipitation events now dump 37% more rain than they did in the middle of the 20th century.

Extreme weather has already pummeled agriculture, the state’s largest industry with an annual economic impact of $74 billion. When a freeze hit in March following an exceptionally warm winter, peach farmers lost nearly their entire crop. Blueberry farmers experienced a similar fate. Just over two months ago, it was pecan farmers’ turn, when Hurricane Idalia downed tens of thousands of their trees in South Georgia.

The report says long-term droughts will likely grow more intense, and warmer conditions will allow pests to flourish.

But Pam Knox, an agricultural climatologist at the University of Georgia and one of the authors of the Southeast chapter of the report, said there is reason for hope.

She said data-driven technologies can help farmers use resources such as water and fertilizer more efficiently.

“The more we know, the more we can figure out ways to adapt and change our management style to deal with a challenge,” Knox said.

On a wider front, solar panels are becoming less expensive — down 90% since 2010 — and other clean energy technologies, such as batteries and wind turbines, have also gotten cheaper. Georgia is helping lead the way, with electric vehicle, battery and solar manufacturing plants coming online.

“The takeaway from this assessment — the takeaway from all of our collective work on climate — should not be doom and despair,” said Ali Zaidi, the White House’s national climate adviser. “The takeaway should be a sense of hope and possibilities.”

Kemp hands out big money to help GOP keep its grip on General Assembly

Gov. Brian Kemp is doling out big cash to Republican legislators — at least the ones he likes — in an effort to maintain the party’s hold on the General Assembly.

The governor sent out $175,000 that he took in through his Georgians First Leadership Committee, a powerful fundraising tool that Republican lawmakers created in 2021 to give a select few officials and candidates authority to sidestep donation limits and raise unlimited amounts of cash — even during legislative sessions.

Kemp has turned the committee into a fundraising and voter turnout operation that now fills a void left by the Georgia GOP, once a powerful distributor of campaign cash to Republican candidates. The party has been hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees spent defending alternative electors charged as part of Fulton County’s election interference case against former President Donald Trump.

The governor split with the state GOP last year, as then-Chairman David Shafer and other party officials openly sided with Trump’s hand-picked candidates over Kemp and three other incumbents in last year’s primaries.

The money from Kemp’s committee is going to almost every Republican legislator in the state. No help, however, went to state Sens. Brandon Beach and Colton Moore, who have openly warred with Kemp.

Earlier this year, the committee also launched a six-figure campaign to boost vulnerable GOP incumbents and target a handful of Democrats in competitive districts.

Officials say the committee — which reported $3.7 million in the bank in July — will soon increase spending in key swing areas.

A bill sponsored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana would cap the price of insulin at $35 a month for patients with private insurance. (Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

icon to expand image

Credit: TNS

Much of Georgia an ‘insulin desert,’ according to report pushing to cap price

More than 7 out of every 10 uninsured Georgians live in what a new report calls an “insulin desert.”

Insulin deserts are defined as counties that have high rates of uninsured individuals and diabetes. In these areas, people are more likely to be lower-income and people of color, and less likely to have college degrees and internet access.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana partnered on the report, titled “Insulin Deserts: The Urgency of Lowering the Cost of Insulin for Everyone.”

They are also urging Congress to pass their bill that would extend a $35 monthly cap on insulin to those with private insurance.

Congress in January approved a $35 cap for seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare. But an effort to extend the cap to private insurance holders failed in the Senate.

The report identifies 813 U.S counties as insulin deserts. That includes 105 of Georgia’s 159 counties, and 71% of the state’s uninsured residents live in an insulin desert.

Twenty-six states have created their own cap on insulin copays for those on private insurance, the report says. Georgia is not one of them.

Warnock and Kennedy’s bill would have wide-ranging impact. The American Diabetes Association says that more than 37 million people, about 11% of all Americans, have diabetes. The disease costs Americans over $410 billion each year.

In addition to the $35 cap, the bill — now in committee — would create a program for uninsured patients to receive insulin for no more than $35 a month. Insulin currently costs uninsured patients an average of $996 a year, compared with $456 for patients with private insurance and $449 for Medicare patients.

Insulin manufacturers have taken measures this year to cut their prices, but the cost of prescription insulin is far higher in the U.S. than in other countries.

“Insulin should not be expensive,” Warnock said. “It should not be unaffordable.”

Greene faces a series of setbacks inside and outside Congress

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene seems to be on a losing streak.

Greene, a popular figure with Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump and one of the leading fundraisers in the House, entered 2023 riding high.

She had just trounced a well-funded opponent to win reelection, and she gained key committee assignments thanks to a close relationship with then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

But the ride has gotten bumpier for the congresswoman from Rome since McCarthy’s ouster at the hands of some of Greene’s allies in the most conservative wing of the House GOP caucus.

First, she tried to censure Democratic U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan over comments she made during pro-Palestine protests.

But 23 of her fellow Republicans helped knock down that effort by voting with Democrats to table her proposal.

She responded by going to her huge social media audience to trash those Republicans as “pathetic” and “feckless.”

One of them, U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Suwanee, then offered his own measure to censure Tlaib.

McCormick’s motion didn’t go as far as the one proposed by Greene, who labeled Tlaib’s demonstration as an attempted insurrection. But it succeeded where Greene’s had failed, as some Democrats joined Republicans in voting 234-188 to reprimand Tlaib, a punishment one step below expulsion from the House.

This past week, Greene hoped her resolution to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas would win approval on the House floor.

Eight of her fellow Republicans, however, joined with Democrats to refer the bill to committee.

Greene once again vented on social media.

“We had eight Republicans vote with the Democrats to send my articles of impeachment back to committee where articles of impeachment go to die,” she said in a video she posted on X. “These eight Republicans just voted with the Democrats to protect Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas from impeachment, which is absolutely unbelievable.”

Then she was spurned when she asked a federal judge to order a New York man to pay more than $66,000 in compensation for a fence and other security measures at her Georgia home after he was convicted of sending her threatening voicemails.

Greene also got some disheartening news in the most recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, at least if she wants to run for statewide office. Only 25% of the likely Georgia voters who responded gave her a favorable rating, compared with an unfavorable rating of about 57%.

The congresswoman’s fortunes could quickly change, though. On Tuesday comes the release of her book, “MTG.”

Spalding County Elections Supervisor Kimberly Slaughter helps a poll worker put some results on a board during a hand count of the ballots. Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

icon to expand image

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Few discrepancies found as counties conduct hand counts of ballots

Spalding County this past week concluded a hand count of votes cast in this month’s municipal elections as a check against voting machines. The biggest discrepancy was a three-vote difference — out of more than 5,500 ballots cast — during early voting in a Griffin City Commission race.

In Bartow County, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was there to witness a hand count that differed by only one vote from the machine count of nearly 2,000 ballots.

“You’re proving the accuracy of the count and the accuracy of the machines to restore any confidence that may be damaged from candidates when they lose the election,” Raffensperger said. “When you have an audit show very similar results, they’re so close that there’s not enough to argue about.”

That could be a point of argument.

Some Republicans in particular have questioned voting totals after Donald Trump and his allies spewed false claims of voting fraud after he narrowly lost the 2020 presidential election. Even though investigations and recounts have repeatedly debunked suspicions of fraud, GOP lawmakers have continued to talk about the need to boost voter confidence as Trump, running once again for president, spreads conspiracy theories from the campaign stump.

Members of the GOP-led General Assembly passed a measure this year requiring an audit of at least one statewide contest after every primary, runoff and special election. Audits conducted in this year’s local elections — in addition to Bartow and Spalding counties, Floyd, Forsyth, Paulding and Polk counties also conducted hand counts — were optional, going a step further than what the law mandated.

Conservative activists and Republican election officials said the audits helped restore trust, especially since no significant discrepancies were found.

“We were all excited to see the numbers totaling up with pure transparency and pure accuracy,” said Holly Kesler, Georgia coordinator for the advocacy group Citizens Defending Freedom. “We’re at a point now where both sides really do agree that we need transparency in our elections.”

Voting rights advocates have warned that hand counts are being pushed by election skeptics who could use any discrepancy to sow doubt in results.

Republicans’ confidence appears to be on the rise.

About 73% of GOP voters who responded in January to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll said last year’s elections were conducted fairly and accurately. That was an increase from 56% of voters expressing confidence the year before. It may have helped that Republicans won nearly every statewide race in 2022.

Some are holding out, though.

“It takes one time to destroy confidence. It takes many times to restore confidence,” said Roy McClain, a Republican member of the Spalding County election board, which voted before the audit not to certify the election until discrepancies were resolved. “One half-truth, one lie, takes a long time to overcome.”

He voted against certifying the election.

Political expedience

  • Paper ballot trial set: U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg has scheduled a trial to begin Jan. 9 in a lawsuit seeking to replace Georgia’s voting machines with paper ballots. Totenberg said, though, that even if the plaintiffs prevail in the trial, she won’t order Georgia to use hand-marked paper ballots. She said it’s not within her power to mandate a new statewide voting system that would replace equipment manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems. Totenberg will try to determine whether Georgia’s touchscreen-and-paper voting system has major cybersecurity flaws that violate voters’ constitutional rights.
  • Board of Regents sets its leadership: Harold Reynolds will serve a third one-year term as chair of the Georgia Board of Regents, which oversees the 26 schools in the University System of Georgia. Reynolds, who was appointed to the board by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2020, is the chief executive officer of the BankSouth Holding Co. in Greene County. The board also named T. Dallas Smith, the founder and chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based commercial real estate firm T. Dallas Smith & Co. as its new vice chair. He will replace Erin Hames, who chose not to seek reappointment as vice chair but will remain on the board.
  • Targeting foreign ownership of farmland: State Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper is pushing for legislation to restrict or ban “foreign adversaries” from buying U.S. farmland. “Chinese ownership of U.S. agricultural land is increasing at an alarming rate, and this increase poses a significant threat not only to the livelihoods of American farmers and producers but to America’s national security,” Harper, a Republican, wrote in commentary for James Magazine. Fifteen states have passed legislation this year restricting or regulating foreign ownership of agricultural land or other sensitive properties, according to the Congressional Research Service. Harper isn’t the first Georgian to express concern about Chinese ownership of American farmland. Democrat Stacey Abrams raised the issue in the final days of her 2022 run for Georgia governor.