The Jolt: With winter coming, Athens mayor wants governor to tighten COVID restrictions on bars, restaurants

We told you last week about the escalating town-and-gown tensions between Athens-Clarke County lawmakers and University of Georgia officials. This morning, Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz has asked Gov. Brian Kemp to make changes to his statewide order to help local authorities -- with cold weather and indoor socializing on the increase -- curb the coronavirus spread.

In a letter, Girtz encouraged the governor to tighten language to ensure that “seated environments and table service” are the only manner of operation allowed in bars, which have grown more crowded with the return of students.

And he urged Kemp, an Athens native who still lives on the outskirts of town, to restrict gatherings of more than 10 people in counties with more than 500 cases of the disease per 100,000 residents in the prior two weeks. Kemp’s current restrictions ban gatherings of more than 50.

“Without stronger tools, the hands of localities are tied, and we face the prospect of continued spread,” Girtz wrote the governor. “Given that there are several communities in Georgia that are facing high case counts following the start of the academic year, these measures will be particularly helpful to cities across the state.”

It’s been pretty well documented that college towns are leading a resurgence of the virus. Last week, Mayor Girtz made this specific criticism of the governor’s emergency order on business operations, as it affects local bars and restaurants:

The language used in the bar regulation section of the current governor’s order is rife with ‘carve-outs’ that create the legal loopholes that neuter the entire section. For example, the prelude to the bar section closes with the phrase ‘as practicable,’ which in plain language means ‘measures must be feasible, operable, and not too difficult in actual practice.’

That same section mentions that tables should be separated ‘if applicable,’ meaning “if it’s a standing room-only joint, never mind.”

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On a separate UGA note, the campus chapter of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity has self-suspended indefinitely after screenshots of racist messages in a GroupMe for its members were posted to Twitter by student activist Arianna Mbunwe. Read the story in The Red & Black here.

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The dynamics of U.S. Senate race No. 2, for the seat now held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, are being exposed by candidate reactions to the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“RIP to the more than 30 million innocent babies that have been murdered during the decades that Ruth Bader Ginsburg defended pro-abortion laws,” Collins wote on Twitter, only hours after the announcement of her death. “With @realDonaldTrump nominating a replacement that values human life, generations of unborn children have a chance to live.”

The message was widely criticized, particularly in Democratic circles, but it was a success in terms of drawing attention. This was the move of a candidate whose fortunes rest heavily on earned media rather than a robust campaign treasury. Collins is battling Loeffler for the Republican base – and a self-funder (presumed to be the richest member of Congress) Loeffler has a heavy financial advantage.

Collins later posted a follow-up video where he talked more personally about his opposition to abortion and commitment, if elected, to opposing justices who are pro-choice. “Sometimes, there is a place for polite, then there’s time to be right,” he said.

Collins also took a shot at the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the leading Democrat in the all-comers contest, who over the weekend reiterated his support for a woman’s access to abortion.

"As a proudly pro-life Pastor I’m really curious to have a debate with you and hear defense of abortion from a “pro-choice” Pastor. Let’s set it up!" Collins wrote.

This, too, tells us something – that Warnock represents the greatest threat to Collins' effort to win one of two berths in a Jan. 5 runoff for the seat. And that there’s a presumption on Collins' part that Loeffler has the better lock on one of those runoff spots.

Similarly, both Warnock and the state Democratic party noted that Collins voted to defund the Affordable Care Act seven years ago today, and that the Supreme Court will soon take up a GOP effort to have the law declared unconstitutional. From the Warnock campaign:

“Now, after the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the future of health care hangs in the balance. The next Justice nominated to the Supreme Court, and confirmed by the United States Senate, will help determine if protections for pre-existing conditions remain the law of the land. Georgians cannot trust a candidate who has fought to overturn the ACA not to confirm a Supreme Court nominee that will do the same.”

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Translation: Likewise, Warnock considers Collins to be the most vulnerable obstacle between him and a spot in a Jan. 5 runoff.

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Angela Stanton-King, the long-shot GOP candidate for Georgia’s Fifth District congressional race, also raised eyebrows when she tweeted, “Just think of all the people that will live now that Ruth Ginsburg has died and can’t vote for them to be aborted.”

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., is sure to back Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on the issue of replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. But notice that this Tweet from Perdue does not address when that vote should occur – whether before or after Nov. 3:

“I am confident that President Trump will nominate another highly-qualified candidate who will strictly uphold the Constitution. Once the President announces a nomination, the United States Senate should begin the process that moves this to a full Senate vote.”

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Our AJC colleague Ty Tagami has what’s probably the most important piece in today’s print edition. The gist:

In late August, the Georgia Department of Public Health asked every school in the state to start sending weekly reports about infections, clusters of infections and related quarantines in each school. As of Friday afternoon, the agency had not posted the data on its homepage.The agency last week did release new information about the coronavirus and school-aged children, though, showing schools were the lead source of coronavirus “outbreaks” from Sept. 6 to Sept. 12, responsible for 39 of 93 of them over that period.

Experts disagree about whether those counts are subject to public disclosure.

Phillip Hartley, a lawyer whose firm represents many of Georgia’s school boards, said federal laws protecting the privacy of student and patient records could prohibit the release of the numbers, especially for smaller schools where he said a numerical report could help someone guess who was infected.

“There’s no right of the public to know how many people, how many students how many staff” are infected or affected by coronavirus in a school, he said. That’s just the legal question around public release of the data, he added. “Whether it’s a good idea or not is another issue.”

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Bloomberg Businessweek has a piece on those two-time voters from Georgia’s June 9 primaries that begins with these paragraphs:

Lynn Elander, a semi-retired marketing executive in Atlanta, voted twice in Georgia’s presidential and U.S. Senate primary races this year. She didn’t mean to, she says. But Georgia’s election system let her do it.

Elander voted first in March, in advance of the state’s March 24 presidential primary, and then again in late May, after coronavirus fears delayed the original primary twice. She went to the polls the second time to vote on down-ballot races that hadn’t appeared on the March ballot. But when she inserted her ballot card into the machine, it pulled up all the races, including those she had already voted on. She assumed her earlier ballot had been discarded and cast her vote again.

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Here’s the thing: Back when the March 24 presidential primary was postponed, we asked the secretary of state’s office how early votes would be handled. We were told that customized electronic ballots would account for that.

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Over at Decaturish.com, George Chidi takes up the sad news about state Rep. Pam Stephenson, D-Lithonia, who recently resigned from the Legislature:

Stephenson’s 90th district is mostly in Rockdale and Henry County, snaking north from east Stockbridge through the Snapfinger neighborhood to the commercial node at Wesley Chapel and I-20. It’s about 70 percent Black with aspirational middle-class Black women at the center of its politics.

Stephenson is suffering from a degenerative dementia, which explains quite a bit. Her law license was suspended earlier this year after a disastrous performance in a defense case in court. It’s heartbreaking. But as people are telling me, it’s not shocking. She wasn’t expected to qualify to run for re-election this year. Many people I spoke to said they were surprised when she signed on for another term.

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More about U.S. Rep. Doug Collins: He has recently gone after streaming companies for supporting movies that, according to conservative lawmakers, are pushing a far-left agenda.

He and other Republicans are calling for child pornography distribution charges against Netflix for “Cuties,” a highly regarded, and critical look at the sexualization of Parisian pre-teens that has been dogged by misleading marketing and incomplete characterizations of its plot. Collins says a scene in the movie where the fully clothed girl gyrates and twerks during a religious ceremony meets the legal definition of child porn.

Collins also blasted Amazon Prime for hosting the “All In” documentary produced by Stacey Abrams, a former colleague who has become a major target during Collins' Senate campaign in attacks against opponent Kelly Loeffler.

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The attacks on Sen. David Perdue’s stock transactions before the coronavirus pandemic sparked economic turmoil aren’t going away.

The Senate Majority PAC rolled out a new ad Monday accusing the Republican of taking “care of himself while we suffered” with a spate of stock sales spanning from late January to early February.

Called “Took Care,” it’s the latest ad from the group, which is aligned with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, that boosts Jon Ossoff’s campaign.

Perdue has said he wasn’t at the private coronavirus briefing invoked in the 30-second spot, and that third-party advisers made the transactions without his knowledge.

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Instead of in-person events, the Georgia Chamber is planning a “D.C. Fly-In” slate of events this week featuring 60-90 minutes of conversations with politicians and policy leaders.

Among the scheduled speakers are U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue; Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue; Georgia public health commissioner Kathleen Toomey and most of the state’s congressional delegation.

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In endorsement news: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is backing Karen Handel, the Republican candidate in the Sixth District congressional race against U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.

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