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The Jolt: The state Board of Education gets thrown under the school bus

Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Zelienople, Pa. Pennsylvania schools are working on how they will safely transport students this fall, but one idea that won't be part of the plan is to install plastic barriers around school bus drivers. The state Transportation Department rejected that idea recently, saying there wasn't evidence it'll make anyone safer. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Zelienople, Pa. Pennsylvania schools are working on how they will safely transport students this fall, but one idea that won't be part of the plan is to install plastic barriers around school bus drivers. The state Transportation Department rejected that idea recently, saying there wasn't evidence it'll make anyone safer. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Credit: Keith Srakocic

Credit: Keith Srakocic

Last week, a quick kerfuffle sprouted and died within a matter of hours over whether all Georgia public schools should delay their starts until Sept. 8.

Ultimately, the idea didn't even make it onto the Thursday agenda for the state Board of Education. And now there are some hurt feelings over a matter that had its origins and ending in Gov. Brian Kemp's office.

After-the-fact statements appeared to throw members of the state Board of Education under the school bus, so to speak. From our AJC colleague Ty Tagami:

“This week, we solicited feedback from superintendents on this idea, but the state board did not move forward with it,” Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said in an emailed statement after the board meeting. “We will continue to work with educational leaders to ensure a safe and productive learning environment for all of our students in these unprecedented times.”

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The resolution for a Sept. 8 opening surfaced a day before the school board meeting, and so couldn’t legally be added to the meeting agenda. Moreover, the school board’s authority to mandate uniform start dates was questionable. The vote would have had to have been on a non-binding resolution.

Then there was the promise made two days earlier by state school Superintendent Richard Woods that local school officials would retain their authority to decide when and how to open their classrooms during the current pandemic.

Ultimately, we’re told, the governor’s office pulled the plug. Efforts to shift responsibility elsewhere were “disingenuous.”

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Across the state, the debate over opening public schools during a coronavirus pandemic has become fraught with anxiety and anger. Elected officials are advised to step carefully.

Consider state Rep. Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga, an objective lesson in what not to post on your Facebook page. He referred to teachers nervous about returning to classrooms as “self-centered cry babies.”

The lawmaker initially defended his comments and told a local TV station he wasn’t “the least bit concerned about it,” but then swiftly reversed, the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports:

In a post on Sunday, Tarvin said he has "apologized in the most sincere way possible. Over and over."

“I can assure you I am a friend of teachers, students and all in education,” he said. “I appreciate all of them. I don’t always agree with them, but I am not their enemy. We all are concerned with this virus and my comments were not meant to shame teachers or anyone else concerning the virus.”

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Days after Jon Ossoff placed himself in self quarantine, after his physician wife tested positive for Covid-19, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate has unleashed a new TV ad heaping blame on Republican incumbent David Perdue for echoing President Donald Trump and taking the coronavirus plague too lightly this spring.

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We have another example of how Republican incumbent David Perdue’s traditional U.S. Senate reelection bid is coming into conflict with the Senate race that features GOP incumbent Kelly Loeffler, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, and 19 other challengers.

Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee -- of which Perdue is a member -- voted out a massive defense funding bill that included a demand that the Pentagon rename 10 military bases Named after Confederate generals. Two are in Georgia -- Forts Gordon and Benning.

The measure passed out of committee on a voice vote. As far as we can tell, Perdue hasn't addressed the renaming issue. But he faces a tough challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff, and needs the votes of suburbanites who might not be so offended at the removal of John Brown Gordon's name from the military facility near Augusta -- given that he once headed up the KKK in mid-19th century Georgia.

But at this point, Loeffler and Collins are merely seeking a berth in a Jan. 5 runoff. Each is after a majority share of a GOP base pledged to president Donald Trump, who has threatened to veto the defense bill over the Confederate renaming issue.

Enter John C. Hall, a Dublin accountant who operates the “Atlanta Gone with the Wind” blog, a site dedicated to All things Confederate. Early this month, Hall approached Doug Collins with his cell phone on “record.”

Hollis asked Collins about the Senate Armed Services Committee vote, and whether he supported renaming Forts Gordon and Benning. Collins hedged a little -- but seemed wary of throwing Perdue under the bus.

“It’s a conversation that we need to have but I don’t think it needs to happen that way,” Collins said.

Hall pressed on the issue of renaming bases. “I don’t support it. I think what we’ve got to understand is, if that’s going to be a conversation, we can’t do it the way we’re doing it right now. That’s putting it to a voice vote with nobody discussing it,” Collins said.

Last week, within days of each other, the House and Senate passed separate defense bills. Each contained a provision for renaming bases with Confederate namesakes.

In the House, Collins and other Georgia Republican lawmakers voted against the military spending package. The Senate, Loeffler and Perdue both voted in favor of passage. Afterwards, in a press release, Loeffler said she nonetheless opposed the portion of the bill that would require the renaming of Georgia bases.

In that post, Hall pronounced himself a Loeffler supporter. The note from Chip lake, a GOP consultant working with Collins:

“Doug’s mad about Congress caving to the mob and renaming bases, and he’s mad at the process of doing so through NDAA. What happened last week is simple. Doug voted against it and Kelly voted for it. Period.”

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The group known as opensecrets.org, which tracks campaign spending, says the political action committee of Koch Industries contributed $5,000 to the campaign of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the leading GOP candidate in an Aug. 11 runoff for the 14th District congressional seat.

KochPAC has since asked for its money back, opensecrets.org notes, pointing to media of Greene’s previous racist comments and her support for the QAnon conspiracy theories.

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House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., intends to offer legislation Monday to rename a sweeping voting rights bill already passed by the House after the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. A spokeswoman said the measure is expected to pass without a dissenting vote.

The bill passed in December would restore a part of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court that required certain states, including Georgia, to seek changes to state and local election laws -- down to the closing of precincts. Senate Republicans have refused to take it up for a vote.

Clyburn is among the congressional leaders expected to speak during a Monday afternoon service at the U.S. Capitol rotunda that marks the beginning of a two-day period when Lewis will lie in state.

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U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ six-day “celebration of life” highlights the cities most significant to his life: his hometown Troy, Ala.; Montgomery, Ala., the state capital where he first met Martin Luther King Jr.; Atlanta, the city where he launched his political career and spent his adult years; and Washington, where he served in Congress for nearly 34 years.

But perhaps there is no city that tells us more about Lewis than Selma, Ala., the place where he was beaten during a 1965 voting rights march in an attack that became a national flashpoint of the civil rights movement. Lewis returned to Selma annually to re-enact the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Sunday morning, he made his final trip across the expansive span: this time in a horse-drawn caisson. During his first attempt across, he was beaten by Alabama state troopers. This time, troopers stood at attention and saluted him good-bye.

Click here to see the poignant video shot by the AJC’s photo staff.

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We’ve told you about discontent among Democrats who wanted to see a full-blown special election to replace the late John Lewis in Congress. Last week, the executive committee of the Georgia Democratic Party named party chair and state senator Nikema Williams to take Lewis’ spot on the November ballot. The explanation from Maggie Chambers, spokeswoman for Georgia Democrats:

“After receiving advice from our counsel, who conferred with the Secretary of State’s office, it was clear that the best course of action to ensure a Democratic nominee was on the ballot for November was to name the nominee at the same time the DP G verified we would be filling the vacancy on the ballot.”

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Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is having none of it. The reaction he sent us on Sunday:

“For the first time in U.S. history, a committee of establishment partisans decided an entire congressional election with a mere 44 political insiders.

“The votes of the Fifth Congressional District were not given a fair fight, nor was there an open Democratic process to decide the replacement of Congressman John Lewis.”

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Describing what happened last week as unprecedented might be a bit of a stretch. But do note Raffensperger’s trolling use of “fair fight” in his remarks.

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College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post where she criticized Gov. Brian Kemp for attempting to block cities from enforcing mask orders. A taste:

We didn’t necessarily expect the governor to require masks throughout Georgia, as other states have done. But we did think, at a minimum, he’d express support for local governments setting policies that worked for their communities.

We certainly did not think he would attempt to take away our ability to require masks in our own buildings, putting our municipal workers at risk. After all, he has allowed school districts to decide what’s best for their workers, students and families, which I think is a wise move.

If you look at last year’s books, our city took in more than $1 million in hotel and motel tax revenue in the month of April; this year, we brought in $122,000. I would love nothing more than for our economy to restart, but for that to happen, people need to feel safe and be safe when they gather in public spaces.

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On a related note, Gov. Brian Kemp’s approval ratings dipped as the state dealt with an uptick in coronavirus cases this month, Axios reports.

The news organization’s latest poll said that Kemp is among four Republican governors — the others are Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Texas’ Greg Abbott and Arizona’s Doug Ducey — who saw lower approval ratings driven by lagging support among voters in their own party.

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Chris Clark, President and CEO of the Georgia Chamber, last week put out an op-ed piece aimed at newspapers across the state. Much of its focus was on the future need for workers outside metro Atlanta. A taste, as it appeared in the Albany Herald:

Rural Georgia is experiencing a grey tsunami as the population ages. Over the next decade, senior citizen retirees in rural Georgia will increase by 25%, leaving millions of jobs vacant. In equal measure, the “Automation Economy” is projected to eliminate 39 million U.S. jobs largely in our rural communities. COVID-19 has accelerated both of these economic disruptions.

Rural students are often considered disadvantaged because they are not properly connected, and the lockdown illustrated that a lack of 5G and broadband only furthers the issues of disparity and economic immobility in these areas…

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In his list of solutions, Clark had a place for those immigrants brought here illegally by their parents as children. Among his recommendations:

Allow in-state tuition for rural colleges and post-secondary schools, providing “dreamer” access while consolidating and developing non-competitive degrees and virtual learning programs to further promote economic mobility…

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