Democrats make gains in municipal elections across Georgia

Local elections are typically nonpartisan and lower turnout, but that doesn't make them immune to Georgia's battleground status.

In the November general elections and runoffs, Democrats picked up 48 seats in mayoral and city council elections across the state while Republicans flipped six.

In McDonough and Warner Robins, voters elected the first Black mayors in those cities' history — and the first women, as well.

McDonough City Council member Sandra Vincent told GPB News she is hoping to retain the city's "small-town feel" while ensuring rapid growth in the surrounding area doesn't leave residents behind. LaRhonda Patrick defeated incumbent Warner Robins mayor Randy Toms in a runoff election as well.

Former Cairo mayor Booker Gainor defeated incumbent Howard Thrower III, Ann Tarpley is the new mayor of Hampton and Cosby Johnson is the new mayor of Brunswick.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement that the results leave the party well-positioned to continue making gains in 2022.

“From Middle Georgia to the coast and everywhere in between, Georgians came out in full force this election cycle to make their voices heard and demand change," she said. "Democrats’ strong showing in this year’s municipal elections is a testament to the unprecedented grassroots enthusiasm our party has been building across the state for years — and our momentum is only growing."

Beyond seats changing hands, runoff elections in metro Atlanta also signaled an end to many longtime incumbents' terms and a new direction for Atlanta's government.

South Fulton Councilman khalid kamau ousted incumbent mayor Bill Edwards in the city's mayoral race, while newcomers Jason Dozier and Antonio Lewis defeated Cleta Winslow and Joyce Shepherd, respectively, for Atlanta City Council seats.

With City Council member Andre Dickens handily winning Atlanta's mayoral runoff, Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore continued the streak of council presidents failing to move up into the city's highest office.

Pro-Trump candidate's Senate run is heavy on Fox News spots and closed-door campaign stops

Herschel Walker has been no stranger to the limelight over the years, but his bid to become a U.S. senator so far has been a quieter, closed-door affair.

Herschel Walker has been no stranger to the limelight over the years, but his bid to become a U.S. senator so far has been a quieter, closed-door affair.

The former Heisman Trophy winner, U.S. Olympian and successful business owner has the endorsement of former president Donald Trump in the GOP race to challenge Sen. Raphael Warnock, but the opening weeks of his campaign have been largely conducted in private.

Apart from a prominent speech at a Trump rally in Perry, the former University of Georgia football star has largely juked typical campaign events, fundraisers and media interviews in favor of friendlier conversations on conservative media outlets such as Fox News.

A GPB News analysis finds Walker has done more than two dozen interviews in the eight weeks since launching his campaign, almost exclusively with Fox News personalities like Sean Hannity.

"The crop of 2022 Republican candidates just got a lot stronger tonight, as football legend Herschel Walker announced that he is jumping into the Georgia GOP Senate primary to take on incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock," Hannity said Aug. 25, the day Walker's campaign officially launched. "We need leaders like you. You are a leader, a natural-born leader."

The next morning, Walker joined Fox and Friends and said the key to Republicans winning in future elections is to "get out and see the people."

"I think you've got to get out and you've got to see the people and let the people know who you are, let the people know what you can do for this state," he said.

A few days later, Walker's campaign skipped one of the largest Republican events of the year, the 8th District GOP fish fry in Perry.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, one of three other Republicans vying for the party's nomination, said showing up to events like the fish fry was important connect with the voters a senator is supposed to serve.

"Those folks are the personnel committee for the state of Georgia," he said. "The United States Senate seat is a job, it's not celebrity. There are people that need to be served because it's a job under our Constitution. The personnel committee will hire who they want to do that job."

Kelvin King, another candidate, recently visited all 159 counties in 30 days on a grassroots listening tour to introduce himself to voters and learn about their concerns. Latham Saddler has also crisscrossed Georgia, spoken with local conservative radio shows and held events covered by the press.

The race to challenge Warnock is seen as one of the biggest pickups for Republicans seeking to retake control of both chambers of Congress in the 2022 election, and comes as the party is in an identity crisis about how much of Trump's legacy and focus the GOP should embrace moving forward.

For some conservatives, Trump's endorsement of Walker is secondary to questions about what Walker actually believes and would do if elected.

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who endorsed Black, said on his radio show late August that Walker's campaign was "heavy on coming from Wrightsville, Georgia, and very low on policies and beliefs."

On the opening day of the University of Georgia football season, Walker chatted with Fox Sports personality Clay Travis — who has complained about ESPN mixing sports and politics — with most of the conversation about football.

One anonymous party insider supporting Walker's campaign vented days later to the Washington Examiner that the former University of Georgia standout "appears to have gone back to the comfort of his war room” instead of blanketing the state with campaign appearances.

Democrats and Republicans alike have questioned Walker's campaign strategy, arguing he is hiding from voters, the media and potentially hard questions about policy positions. Conservative radio hosts across Georgia and beyond have commented on Walker's lack of presence.

"For me, the million-dollar question is, is 'Herschel Walker a conservative? Yes or no?' And then I like to see the record," conservative commentator Todd Starnes said on his radio show in early October. "That’s all. And I think that is a fair thing to ask."

Walker's campaign website has five sentences of biography, an email sign-up list and a donate button — and no issues page. His interviews with national right-leaning media outlets have rarely dealt with policy questions pertinent to working in the Senate. The campaign has often deflected on questions of the day on topics ranging from vaccines to Mitch McConnell to abortion, and according to Facebook's Ad Library, the Walker campaign has spent nearly $280,000 on ads that feature Trump and fundraising pleas with no mention specific issues or stances.
So at best, what kind of U.S. senator Herschel Walker would be is gleaned from soundbites that are publicly available, like his speech at the Trump rally in Perry, where he stayed positive and avoided the sorts of false claims of election fraud that the former president and other Republican speakers made throughout the night.

"I'm conservative because I like law and order; I'm a conservative because I like school choice; I'm a conservative because I like border control; I'm a conservative because I like a fair election," he said before saying the country is not racist. "The Constitution is not just a piece of paper that we can wad up and throw away. The Constitution is a solid rock that we live by. Those are the foundations that this country was built on."
Before the rally, Walker gave an interview to far-right outlet One America News, the day after the rally joined Fox and Friends to discuss Trump's endorsement and days later told Bill O'Reilly that border control was the top issue the government needs to address.

On Oct. 6, Walker did a local interview, joining North Georgia conservative radio station Voice of Rural America to discuss the importance of his faith and said that while Trump's endorsement is great, he would focus on running the campaign his way.

"Trump is not running, Herschel Walker is running, and I've already been out there on the campaign trail in different cities doing different things," he said. "One of the things I said at the very beginning: The media is not going to run my campaign. And I'm not here for the media, I'm here for the people of Georgia."

Getting out to Georgians is a recurring theme in his interviews, including two interviews during which Hannity asked Walker about a promise to go into "every town, every city and every church, any place you're invited."

"I don't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican; I am here to represent you," he said. "Everything that the Democrats want, I guarantee is what I want."
Walker has also joined conservative Georgia-based radio shows in recent weeks, like The Morning Xtra and Word on the Street, and the campaign said he did interviews with local radio hosts in Augusta and Savannah.

"We've got to get out and vote," Walker said on The Morning Xtra show. "You know, if you don't vote, how in the world can you talk about something is wrong? We're looking in the rearview mirror talking about the past. We've got to let the past go and move forward. We can't stay back in the past. That's the worst thing that we have to try to do."

Beyond the highly managed campaign rollout, Walker's past has dogged his candidacy from the start, from his self-reported struggles with mental health to his long residency in Texas to questions about the veracity of his business exploits.

Even the best-laid plans to stay under the radar can go awry, like last week when the campaign had to cancel a fundraiser in Texas following a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the sponsor had a swastika made of vaccine needles as a profile picture on social media. A campaign spokeswoman initially defended the image as “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic” before backtracking and saying "the symbol used is very offensive and does not reflect the values of Herschel Walker or his campaign" — one of the few instances the campaign has shed light on Walker's values.

Walker has apparently held a listening tour of stops across the state, such as a recent festival in Hiawassee with singer Lee Greenwood, visits to Savannah and Marietta. But these visits with businesses and small groups of voters have happened without advance notice, so the only record of his campaigning are curated photos and videos on social media.
New campaign finance reports show Walker raked in nearly $3.8 million in his first five weeks, with the majority of itemized cash coming from out of state, so the closed-door fundraisers, private events and national media interviews appear to be working.
As Walker is the most visible candidate in Trump’s slate of GOP challengers seeking to remake Georgia politics, it's unclear how long a campaign for public office conducted largely in private will continue. But with more than six months until the Senate primary, the playbook seems to be settled for now.

This story was updated Oct. 21, 2021 at 7:00 a.m. to include more interviews Herschel Walker conducted with local conservative radio shows and an article in the Marietta Daily Journal.

Judge dismisses Georgia ballot inspection case after investigation finds no evidence of fraud

A Henry County judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to inspect Fulton County's absentee votes for counterfeits after state officials reported an investigation found no evidence to support the claims.

Judge Brian Amero wrote in an order Wednesday that the plaintiffs, including Garland Favorito of the group VoterGA, lacked standing and also failed to allege a particularized injury in their lawsuit that claimed fake ballots were counted in Fulton's totals.

The dismissal is the latest in almost a year of unsuccessful lawsuits that have failed to overturn or alter election results in Georgia after President Joe Biden narrowly defeated former President Donald Trump by about 12,000 votes. Multiple investigations by state and local officials have also found little evidence to support conspiracies and claims about how the votes were counted, though isolated instances of misconduct have been reported and referred to appropriate authorities.

Amero granted the motion to dismiss filed by Fulton's three Democratic election board members and also dismissed the two Republican members, who did not object to an inspection of the thrice-counted ballots.

The swift decision by Amero comes hours after the Secretary of State's office filed a brief detailing investigations into the core claims of the suit.

RELATED: Election investigators haven't found evidence of counterfeit ballots in Georgia

"Based upon interviews with the foregoing witnesses, as well as other witnesses who were interviewed during the course of the investigation, and in the inspection of approximately 1,000 absentee ballots and ballot images, the Secretary's investigators have been unable to substantiate the allegations that fraudulent or counterfeit ballots were counted," the filing read.

Investigators looked into claims made by Suzi Voyles, who worked the county's risk-limiting audit and claimed to see a batch of "pristine" ballots that looked suspicious. Voyles is now running for Congress as a Republican in the 6th Congressional District.

After interviewing Voyles two separate times, investigators checked several batches of absentee ballots that she claimed were marked by computer instead of by hand. But they found no irregularities or any ballots that appeared to be counterfeits.

The court filing Tuesday also found no evidence to corroborate claims that workers at State Farm Arena counted fraudulent ballots that were hidden under a table or that they scanned the ballots multiple times, a popular conspiracy theory debunked months ago by state and local officials.

In May, Amero granted a motion to unseal Fulton's absentee ballots, leading supporters of the lawsuit to claim the potential inspection was an "audit" of the votes, part of a nationwide call over the last 11 months to perform so-called "audits" of certified vote totals that show former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden.

Georgia Republicans brace for tough primaries as Trump seeks to oust Governor Kemp

In the world of political sports metaphors, primary elections are like scrimmages, where teammates face off to decide who gets to suit up and make the starting lineup. But especially after Republicans lost the White House and both U.S. Senate seats, former Gov. Sonny Perdue said it's important to remember they all play for the same team.

"That's what primaries are all about," he said Saturday. "We have intra-squad scrimmage use to see who can stand and be our flag bearer for the general election. Folks, I want you to be as passionate as you can about your candidate, but don't get mad. We are still on the same team, the best team in America: the Republican Party and the Georgia Republican Party."

The latest showcase for the Republican team was at the 8th District GOP Fish Fry in Perry, one of the largest events on the state's political calendar and a prime opportunity for candidates up and down the ballot to reach hundreds of attendees who will decide next spring what direction the party will take.

In the nearly 20 years since Perdue took office and kicked off a seismic shift toward Republican dominance in state government, there have been other internecine clashes in primaries, but this one comes as a demographically shifting state is on the cusp of flipping back into Democrats' favor after President Joe Biden won the state's electoral votes and Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won crucial runoffs in January.

So between speeches that touted the merits of conservative, small-government policies, economic growth and attacks on Democrats in Washington, the message of unity around eventual nominees permeated the cavernous Georgia Grown building at the Georgia National Fairgrounds.

"If you believe they're the best candidate for the job, you do everything you can to elect them," Perdue said. "Be passionate but don't get mad, because we've got to come back together."

Gov. Brian Kemp hit back against the "disastrous agenda" Democrats are proposing in Washington and defended against criticism of the state's coronavirus response. He also applauded lawmakers for passing the massive election overhaul currently facing eight federal lawsuits and noted historic lows in unemployment rates before closing with a message asking for unity in the party.

"At the end of the day, we do have to unite," Kemp said. "We have got to work like we've never worked before to hold the line in Georgia and to show the rest of the country the playbook for 2024, and I believe we can do that."

The governor faces at least two primary challengers and the ire of former President Donald Trump, who has been obsessed with defeating him after Kemp did not overturn the 2020 election results.

One of them, Democrat-turned-Trump supporter Vernon Jones, held a rally with pardoned former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn near the fish fry before greeting supporters during the governor's speech. Jones' campaign has ridden a wave of anti-Kemp grassroots sentiment throughout the primary so far.

At a small, anti-vaccine protest in Macon, fringe gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor falsely claimed that Georgia's votes were manipulated and that the battleground state was "75 to 80% conservative." Taylor also compared wearing masks and getting the coronavirus vaccine to Nazis loading Jewish prisoners into trains to concentration camps.

The Republican primary battle for lieutenant governor is also shaping up after incumbent Geoff Duncan announced he would not seek a second term. Pro-Trump Sen. Burt Jones launched his campaign this week with a crowded event near his hometown of Jackson.

MORE: GOP State Sen. Burt Jones Launches 'Underdog' Lt. Gov. Campaign

"I'm the only consistent conservative in this race," Jones said Thursday. "The only problem with that is sometimes I've got to stand alone."

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) is also in the race, and raised more than $2 million in the opening weeks of his campaign. Both promise to improve communication between the office, which leads the state Senate, and the lawmakers in the chamber.

Typically a lower-profile race, Georgia's Secretary of State primary is a crowded affair, with numerous candidates challenging Brad Raffensperger after the 2020 election cycle that many Republicans believe was poorly run, despite thrice-counted results and smooth Election Day operations.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Greensboro) has Trump's endorsement for the race, and the congressman has made numerous false or misleading claims about how Georgia's elections are conducted. Former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle has released two music videos skewering Raffensperger as a pawn for former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and taken aim at Hice for expressing support for Raffensperger before switching to attack him. And T.J. Hudson, former Treutlen County probate judge, is campaigning as the only candidate with experience running elections.

Raffensperger did not have a campaign presence at the event.

Another campaign missing from the fish fry was that of Herschel Walker, the former UGA football star who made an entrance into the U.S. Senate primary this week at the encouragement of Trump with a launch video heavy on biography and light on policy platforms. Despite the star power, and because of concerns about how the untested Walker would fare in the general election against Sen. Warnock, the other candidates remain undeterred.

Military veteran and banking executive Latham Saddler has received positive reception from recent campaign swings across parts of the state. Kelvin King, a Black construction company owner, completed a 30-day road trip across all 159 counties at the Perry fairgrounds, showcasing his credentials as a candidate who listens to concerns of Georgians no matter where they live.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, the top vote-getter in every election he has ever been in, is banking on his strong network of support in rural Georgia to spread across the state in ways that Walker or other Senate candidates cannot.

"See, these folks have cousins that live in Atlanta, these folks have daughters who live in Augusta," he said, in between cutting watermelons for passersby. "One of the strengths that we're going to have is that this helps us build those teams up further, because it's relational. We've got to get back to relational politics."

The Republican Party in Georgia is at a crossroads, with some campaigns focused more on harnessing outrage and misinformation about the 2020 election as a way to mobilize the base, while others in the more establishment wing are trying to nudge the conversation into the present and focus more on conservative policies that contrast with Democrats in Washington. And, of course, there is Trump, who can potentially change the direction of any race with a well-placed rally or emailed statement.

By this time next year, the field will be set as Republicans gear up for a showdown against Democrats, including a likely rematch between Kemp and Abrams for the governor's race. But until next May's primary, GOP candidates seeking a leg up in the primary have bigger fish to fry.

Georgia officials investigating alarm at election warehouse as conspiracy theories grow

The Fulton County Sheriff's office is investigating why an alarm went off over the weekend at a warehouse that stores election equipment, the latest bizarre twist in an ongoing lawsuit seeking to prove thrice-counted absentee ballots were marred by fraud.

But Fulton officials say the actual facility rooms that are holding ballots from November's presidential election is and has been secure. The investigation into what happened should be wrapping up soon — including a look at whether two off-duty officers hired as private security by plaintiffs in the suit were trespassing by entering the building.

A planned meeting to discuss parameters of potential inspection was abruptly canceled after all three defendants in the case filed motions to dismiss.

Since reports of the alarm trickled in late Saturday, the information void has been filled by conspiracy-minded media outlets and others who already believe Georgia's most populous county committed voter fraud at a scale that caused former President Trump's narrow defeat.

Emerald Robinson, the White House Correspondent for right-wing media outlet Newsmax tweeted Saturday night that an attorney on the lawsuit said "the building was found left wide open and unattended" and posted a picture that appeared to be an open outer loading dock door at the English Street warehouse in Atlanta.

"This is a picture is [sic] that the attorney provided of the door left open at the supposedly secure building were [sic] the ballots are being kept," she tweeted.

Right-wing media outlets like Conservative Destruction Media, the Gateway Pundit and The Conservative Treehouse quickly aggregated the tweet and suggested something malevolent was at play.

"The Democrats must be really scared," a Gateway Pundit article read. "God only knows what they are up to now."

However, the reality of the situation was different.

Bob Cheeley, attorney for two of the nine people suing over access to Fulton's absentee ballots, said he hired a private security company to watch the Fulton elections warehouse after a Henry County judge ordered that the ballots would be unsealed. On-duty Fulton County Sheriff's deputies were also assigned to watch the warehouse 24/7 as part of a separate court order.

Cheeley said that Saturday around 4 p.m., the Fulton deputies left the warehouse parking lot, and about 20 minutes later an alarm went off inside the Fulton County Election Preparation Center. Two off-duty Douglas County Sheriff's officers in uniform and a marked patrol car — identified in an email to Cheely posted by Robinson as Deputy Lewis Fredenburg and Lt. Terrance Dukes — then approached the warehouse and found the outer door unlocked. The officers opened it themselves, and it was not "left wide open" as the Newsmax personality claimed.

After a Fulton County courts employee locked the door Friday afternoon on their way out, a different employee who had re-entered the building to use the bathroom left but did not have a key, according to multiple sources briefed on the situation but not authorized to speak on the matter publicly. This timeline for the door being unlocked matches up with statements from Cheeley, who said in an email he believed that the door was unlocked from Friday at 4 p.m. until Saturday at 8 p.m.

The source of the alarm was a motion detector in an upstairs office belonging to the Clerk of Superior Court in the warehouse, and the county is investigating if that alarm could have been audible from where the private security officers were stationed off property. That alarm notified 911, and it is not clear at this time if Fulton police responded to the call.

Fulton County and the Fulton Sheriff's office declined to comment beyond the following statement:

“We can confirm that the security alarm was activated at the warehouse on Saturday. The matter is currently under review by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. We are confident that the ballots at the warehouse have been secure at all times.”

Former President Trump, who unsuccessfully tried to overturn his election defeat in Georgia and other states, issued a statement over the weekend urging "Republicans and Patriots" to show up to the warehouse and protect it, continuing to push false claims of fraud.

"We must not allow ANYONE to compromise these ballots by leaving the building unsecured, which was done late Friday," he said about the Saturday incident that did not actually see the ballots left unsecured. "The Left talks about election security but they do not practice what they preach because they are afraid of what might be found."

While the outer door was left unlocked for about 24 hours and it appears Fulton County officers that were supposed to guard the warehouse left before replacements arrived, there is no evidence that any of the inner doors to the warehouse were compromised or the elections warehouse alarm went off. There is also no evidence of fraudulently made or cast ballots within the 147,000 mail-in votes in Fulton from the November election, which were counted three separate times, including once by hand.

The next hearing in the ongoing lawsuit is set for June 21.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

GOP lawmaker loses job for sponsoring controversial Georgia 'voter suppression' bill

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 Wednesday to ask Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) to resign as county attorney after pressure from citizens opposed to his work on proposed voting law changes.

Fleming is currently the House Special Committee on Election Integrity Chairman and primary sponsor of HB 531, a 66-page voting omnibus that would make sweeping changes to voting in Georgia, including limiting access to drop boxes and curbing larger counties' ability to offer a full slate of weekend voting.

Hancock has one of the highest proportions of Black voters in the country and has been the center of several voting controversies in recent years, including an episode in 2015 when a fifth of the voters in Sparta — all Black — had their voter registrations challenged.

One of those was Johnny Thornton, a retired DEA agent who lives and works on a catfish farm.

Thornton was among several people protesting in Sparta before the commission's vote, and said that the pushback came after years of Fleming, who represents a multi-county stretch of east Georgia that includes Hancock County, being a "suppressor" instead of an advocate.

"He's been part of strategic voter suppression, but this year he went all the way over the top with this House bill that he introduced," Thornton said. "Your attorney is supposed to be an advocate, not an adversary. You can't advocate for me and vote to suppress me at the same time."

Thornton said Fleming hasn't done enough in his time in office to help Hancock County, and his support of several voting bills was the last straw.

HB 531, which passed the House along party lines, is the likely vehicle to make a number of overhauls to Georgia's election law after the 2020 election cycle saw record turnout and heavy Republican skepticism about voting by mail.

Fleming said his proposal is about restoring "confidence" to elections after both 2018 and 2020 saw claims of malfeasance, and wrote in an op-ed that absentee ballots were like the "shady" part of town down by the docks where you could get "shanghaied."

HB 531 would add ID requirements to vote by mail, move up the deadline to request an absentee ballot and create a uniform set of early voting dates and times. The vast majority of Georgia's 159 counties would be required to add an extra weekend day and extend voting hours, while the largest and most diverse would be barred from offering a full slate of weekend voting.

Thornton said opposition to Fleming's involvement as county attorney has been building for weeks, and he hopes other lawmakers take note of the national conversation about voting rights.

"We might not be taking a lot of money out of his pocket, but it's sure going to embarrass the hell out of him to say your a** has been fired," he said. "That type of leverage will make some of these other state representatives in some of these rural towns say, 'Wait a minute.'"

Fleming did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

This story comes to Raw Story through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

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