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Georgia editorial roundup

January 24, 2019

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Jan. 22

The Savannah Morning News on a poll focused on favorability ratings for elected officials and preference on issues facing the state legislature:

An unidentified wizened politician once said public opinion polls merely “measure the public’s satisfaction with its ignorance.”

The 2018 midterm election cycle certainly prompted Georgia’s electorate to familiarize themselves with the candidates and issues at play in the state’s future. The result was an impressive turnout last November, with 57 percent of registered voters — 3.9 million Georgians — casting midterm ballots.

The election day crowds rivaled those seen in presidential election years. Voters were split almost evenly, with none of the major statewide constitutional office winners getting more than 51.6 percent.

The politicking didn’t end Nov. 6 either. Within the state, two runoff races, disputes over absentee ballots and charges of voter suppression kept the public engaged for another month.

Nationally, the changeover in House leadership, from Republican to Democrat, and the ongoing standoff over the border wall and government funding has held the public’s attention.

These factors make a recent poll conducted by the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs on behalf of our journalistic peer, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than just a study in public ignorance.

The survey was done between Jan. 7 and 17, bridging the inauguration of Gov. Brian Kemp and the start of the 2019 legislative session in the Georgia General Assembly. What’s more, the partial federal government shutdown spanned the period and President Donald Trump gave his Oval Office address, appealing to the American people to put pressure on Congress for border security funding, and congressional leaders their rebuttal on Jan. 8.

The timing increases the likelihood that the 702 poll respondents were paying attention. And with the UGA surveyors contacting more than 450 of them on cellphone numbers, the pool included a broad generational swath: 22 percent of respondents were between the ages of 18 and 29; 26.4 percent were ages 30 to 44; 30.8 percent were 45 years old to 64; and 20.1 percent were 65 and older.

The poll focused on favorability ratings for elected officials and preference on issues facing the state legislature.

Leaders at both the state and federal level were viewed unfavorably. Kemp won Georgia’s governorship last November with 50.22 percent of the vote yet was viewed unfavorably by a 46 percent to 37 percent margin, with the remaining 17 percent undecided.

The result is particularly curious given the conservative slant of respondents. Forty percent identified themselves as conservatives and another 25 percent as moderate.

The same can be said for the returns on President Donald Trump. He received the same percentage of favorable responses as Kemp — 37 percent — but significantly fewer were noncommittal in their attitudes: 55 percent viewed him unfavorably.

Interestingly, the disapproval of Trump did not stain one of his biggest supporters on Capitol Hill, Sen. David Perdue. He bucked the negative trend, earning a 45 percent favorable rating. Only 30 percent gave him a negative performance review.

Respondents’ disappointment extended beyond Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was viewed unfavorably by 47 percent.

Among the major themes of the 2018 election campaigns were the state’s voting system, health care reform and gun control.

The UGA poll looked at all three, and the returns in many ways contradicted the November election results.

On voting, respondents overwhelming favored hand-marked paper ballots, a confusing result considering voters elected a machine proponent, Brad Raffensperger, over a paper ballot advocate, John Barrow, in the secretary of state’s race.

On health care, 71 percent favor Medicaid expansion while only 22 percent are against it. This issue constituted a major public policy difference between Kemp and his gubernatorial opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, as well as between many Republican incumbents in the state legislature and their challengers. Yet Kemp won and the Democrats made only incremental gains in the Georgia General Assembly.

On guns, few Georgians favor relaxing regulations. Constitutional carry, or allowing citizens to carry guns without a permit, was viewed unfavorably by an 82-15 margin. And 78 percent of respondents support increasing the age limit to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21.

Taken by itself, the poll is unlikely to influence legislative action. But if the poll returns accurately reflect what legislators are hearing from their constituents, Georgians could be in for several surprises this session — or an upheaval among the electorate come 2020.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com/

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Jan. 20

Dalton Daily Citizen on Gov. Brian Kemp offering a proposal to permanently increase teacher salaries, and his announcement that he will add $69 million to this year’s budget for increased school security:

It may have been the first gathering of the 2019 edition of the Georgia General Assembly, but all eyes and ears were turned to Gov. Brian Kemp when he made his inaugural State of the State address.

Gold Dome watchers were interested in hearing what he would say. Would he emphasize his campaign trail promises? Offer details on how to achieve those goals or surprise us with a new direction?

He certainly didn’t do the latter. While his main focus was on the creation of a waiver plan that would give the state more flexibility in using federal Medicaid funding — without offering any details — we found his mentioning a raise for teachers to be of more local interest.

Kemp offered a proposal to permanently increase teacher salaries by $3,000 for all certified Georgia teachers, which he called a “sizable down payment” on his campaign promise to raise pay by $5,000.

Whether it’s $5,000 or $3,000, that’s a multi-million dollar proposal for state and local school systems to contend with. After all, they’re just now receiving full funding after major cutbacks during the Great Recession.

Perhaps some state leaders realized that the larger figure is way overboard and urged the new governor to settle on a lower figure.

When contacted by CNHI state reporter Jill Nolin, Whitfield County Superintendent Judy Gilreath said she was wary about the raise proposal, and rightly so. The raise would cost her district several million dollars since not all of the system’s 1,000 or so teachers are state funded. There would also be increased benefits cost, Gilreath noted.

Details on how to pay for the raises have not been revealed. It would be hard for many of the state’s 189 school districts to come up that kind of money for their teachers. Some rural counties just don’t have the tax base. Others, such as Whitfield County, may have trouble coming up with the funds since government-sanctioned tax abatements have taken a lot of property off the tax rolls.

In addition to teacher salaries, Kemp touched on another school-related issue — security.

He announced that he will add $69 million to this year’s budget for increased school security, which would send about $30,000 to each public school. That’s in addition to the $16 million state lawmakers put in the budget last session.

What we like about this is that safety measures will be determined at the local level. Security measures needed at a high school in downtown Atlanta are very different than what may be needed at Brookwood School in Dalton.

The governor’s proposals sound good and should play well with the voters, but they are dependent on an economy that will keep chugging along, something that no one can guarantee.

We’re not against raises for our teachers. Good salaries attract good educators. We found it alarming that about 44 percent of teachers in Georgia leave within their first five years in the classroom, according to a state Department of Education survey done.

Good salaries plus increased and sensible security measures could help erode that teacher drain. But let’s keep an eye on how we’re going to pay for it all without letting other sectors go downhill.

Online: http://www.daltondailycitizen.com/

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Jan. 18

Valdosta Daily Times on human trafficking:

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

The month is dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking, otherwise known as modern slavery.

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice found that at least 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation annually in the U.S., according to numbers released last year.

There is a misconception that human trafficking does not happen here, Ashley Lindsay of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Lowndes County said last year.

Human Trafficking Awareness Month “brings to light a situation that most people may not think is in our community, but with I-75 running right through Lowndes County, Atlanta is a major hub for sex trafficking, and that’s easy access between Miami and here,” Lindsay said. “We just want to make people aware that sex trafficking is real.”

The FBI has identified Atlanta as among 14 cities with the highest incidence of sex trafficking activity in the U.S., according to state officials.

Many people think a victim must cross the border for the crime to be considered trafficking, but that is not the case, officials say.

Another misconception is victims are always physically restrained, but many times the victim is detained through mental coercion. Victims fear being without food, shelter and other resources if they leave those who are trafficking them.

The Children’s Advocacy Center can put victims in touch with Georgia Cares and victims advocates at the district attorney’s office. They can help victims get resources they need. Victims can reach the center by calling (229) 245-5362.

January became National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month following a Dec. 28, 2016 proclamation signed by President Barack Obama.

The proclamation read: “Our nation wrestled with the issue of slavery in a way that nearly tore us apart — its fundamental notion in direct contradiction with our founding premise that we are all created equal ... But today, in too many places around the world — including right here in the United States — the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric.”

We urge anyone who is a victim of human trafficking or anyone who believes they may be witnessing a case of human trafficking to contact authorities for help.

To report human trafficking, call 911 or the Georgia Division of Family and Child Services at 1-855-422-4453.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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