Is Georgia headed for a Kelly Gissendaner Execution Redux?

In September 2015, Georgia executed its only female death row inmate, Kelly Gissendaner, for the murder of her husband Douglas. I’m a self-proclaimed nerd about these kinds of cases so ahead of her execution, I did considerable research on her case. 

Kelly’s boyfriend at the time, Gregory Bruce Owen, held Douglas at knife-point and drove him to a wooded area where he struck him in the head and stabbed him in the neck and back. Kelly arrived on the scene and helped drag the body into the woods and Kelly and Gregory set fire to Douglas’ car and left. Of course, the pair was caught, questioned, and charged. Owen took a plea deal for life in prison and testified in Kelly’s trial that the entire thing was her idea. 

Kelly, who was not there for the stabbing and did not inflict the actual harm, was sentenced to death. It took almost 20 years for the state to put Kelly to death and ahead of her execution, her own children begged the state not to put her to death, citing the loss of one parent already and their mother’s remorse and path to redemption. Her final statement showed nothing short of either. Meanwhile, Gregory will be eligible for parole in 2021.

Full disclosure, I am a critic of the death penalty because I believe it is misused and I believe some of our cases are too flawed to put someone to death. Kelly Gissendaner’s case, in my opinion, is yet another glowing example of just that. She had the idea, she also helped put the body in the woods, but she didn’t kill the man…and yet, she faced a stiffer punishment than the man who actually took the life of another. The case bothered me tremendously because while both parties should have been held accountable for the actions, I’m not sure justice was served. 

Now, four years later, it is possible that Georgia is headed down that pathway again. A pathway of uncertainty that is about to yield the same result. 

Attorney General Chris Carr announced last week that the state is set to put Ray Jefferson Cromartie to death at the end of the month for the 1994 murder of Richard Slysz. Slyz was a store clerk and was shot twice in the head during a robbery.  Cromartie and his accomplice were both charged, but only Cromartie was charged with murder. His accomplice testified for the state, served time for a lesser sentence, and is already out of prison, while Cromartie rolled the dice at trial. In a press release, the AG’s office said the appeal’s process was complete, but also noted that a motion for reconsideration was filed and denied despite one of the ‘witnesses’ from the initial trial offering new testimony. 

For 21 years, Cromartie has maintained that he was there for the robbery, but did not pull the trigger. Part of the case against him cited his role in another shooting which critically injured another clerk two days prior, for which the state claimed Cromartie was responsible. But even in the AG’s own press release, they state that the store video camera was “too indistinct to conclusively identify Cromartie.” The video merely offered a person with a similar description. 

Additionally, for years, one of the key witnesses -Larry Young- says he offered false testimony during the initial trial in rural Thomas County and has agreed to testify to that effect, but the appeals process has never allowed an opportunity for such.

And then there’s DNA testing. Attorneys for Cromartie say testing would show Cromartie did not pull the trigger and sought post-conviction DNA testing in September of this year with the support of the victim’s daughter, but the trial court denied the request. The judge who denied the request for a new trial with the forensics and the witness testimony –Superior Court Judge Frank Horkan- is the same judge who oversaw the trial in which Cromartie was sentenced to death 22 years ago. Horkan said Cromartie ‘should have asked sooner.’

Georgia is ‘party to a crime state’ (OCGA 16-2-20), which means Cromartie could still face the death penalty whether he pulled the trigger or not. But the defense hopes new evidence and a new trial would yield a different result for sentencing. 

People often say, “The process takes too long!” and “He/she has had all of this time to appeal and didn’t…just end it already.” But unless you’ve been in the court system or know someone who has, you simply cannot comprehend how slow justice moves. [The case of former DeKalb police officer Robert Olsen took 4 years to simply get to trial. I have a friend who waited 18 months just to get a HEARING on a motion to consider offering him a new trial.]

In this case, it took 18 years to work through the appeals process. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus at the state level was first filed in 2000, but the first hearing was not held until 2008 and it was denied in 2012. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the denial in 2013 and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the request to appeal in April 2014. When the federal habeas corpus petition was filed in 2014, district courts took three years to weigh in and SCOTUS again denied the request to appeal in December 2018. That slowness was at the hands of the court. 

I’d argue that the state has an obligation to be slow, cautious, and exhaustive when considering taking the life of another person. Why is there not a desire to be absolutely 100% certain? If the appeals process, which was slow due to the courts and by no fault of Cromartie, had only taken five years or two years or six months, would people be more willing to allow time for forensic DNA testing. Testing, mind you, that was not available at the time the crime and trial took place. What about the witness?

“My father’s death was senseless. Executing another man would also be senseless, especially if he may not have shot my father,” the victim’s daughter, Elizabeth Ligette, wrote in the letter to the court.

If this is supposed to provide some semblance of closure for the family of the victim’s, are they not entitled to be sure it’s the right person?

Do these questions not matter? Has the system not been wrong before? Is there no desire to be sure? 


The Trouble with Police Accountability

I think there are a number of questions that we’ll never be able to pin down and answer and one of those is “What is police accountability?”

I am personally pro-law enforcement. There is no “I back the blue, but….” coming with that statement. I am pro-law enforcement and I am pro-police accountability.

But, what I have found over the last several years is that the idea of “police accountability” means different things to different people, which means it is difficult to define and even more difficult to enact.

I receive a number of “tips” and complaints from people who have what they believe are shoddy interactions with law enforcement and they want me to use my platform to hold them accountable. Ironically, only twice in my career have I published videos of law enforcement encounters and both of those times, the tips came from people within law enforcement.

[If you’re an avid reader, this may be confusing, but I consider the Brooklet series a single writing instance because it was a series within a single department and the same ‘bad actors’.]

As a writer, I am in unique position. This job has connected me with people in law enforcement in various corners of the state, people whose brains I wouldn’t have the opportunity to pick if I wasn’t in the profession that I am. The exposure has allowed me to ask them what they think, as a person “in the industry,” when a video goes viral or a story makes the news. Sometimes they will explain why something is justified and even help me better understand the circumstances and other times they will not only condemn what they saw, but encourage me to write about it. I trust their judgment immensely and when I’ve written about the police, I’ve had their support in my angle for accountability.

But that still doesn’t mean we have the same vision of “police accountability.”  It also doesn’t mean the media is always the correct avenue for accountability.

Some people expect that law enforcement officers be perfect all of the time. They believe that their every move should be recorded, that no mercy should be shown because they are public employees, and termination should follow any perceived abuse of power. A number of these “believers” spend their days looking for opportunities to point out wrongdoing and exceed the idea of a ‘watchdog.’

On the other end of the spectrum is the faction of the population that is willing to concede any and all power and excuse to the police in the name of “authority,” they believe that everyone the police deal with is a hardened criminal, and even mouthing off to someone in law enforcement should be an arrestable offense. These loyalists believe that because a person puts their life on the line that we should refrain from criticism.

Neither of these spectrum extremists, if you will, are productive or helpful. The world of social media has seemingly made both of these extremes sound the loudest by providing trials in the court of public opinion for all involved parties any time a police encounter hits the internet. Couple that with the emotional side of this debate, whether it is coming from people who have had negative interactions, the wrongly accused, or the family of someone in law enforcement, most discussions start at the trigger level of abortion, which is not conducive for civil discussion.

Per usual, where we belong is somewhere in the middle. I don’t automatically respect someone in law enforcement because they’re in a position of authority. I offer my respect because they’re another human being. It’s a great foundation for objectivity because I don’t view them as any different than the people with whom they’re interacting.

Obviously, I expect law enforcement officers to obey the law and avoid violating the rights of citizens. From there, police accountability is rooted in the expectation of professionalism, responsiveness, transparency, and how they use their discretion. “Would a…should a…reasonable person behave the same way under the same circumstances?”

We have come to a place, and rightfully so, where we expect law enforcement officers to handle themselves with a certain level of decorum and for that reason, I rarely find ‘rudeness’ acceptable. It shouldn’t matter if the person they’re dealing with is also rude, nor should it matter if that person has a criminal history. Respectfulness is paramount. But, does someone being rude mean they shouldn’t be in law enforcement? No, it’ just means they have a knack for escalating situations – something they’ll have to suffer the consequences of sooner or later, even without the accountability of the public. But even this is not a ‘standard’ as not everyone views rudeness the same.

Police accountability also places a heavy burden on not only the officer but the respective agency to understand and internalize why an interaction or incident may rub someone – or the public as whole – the wrong way. Will they listen? Do they respond? Social media and cell phone video have all but eliminated the idea of ‘handling things internally’ within an agency. Still, a level of responsiveness is necessary to affirm to the public that their concerns are heard. In some ways, this hasn’t fared well for ‘accountability,’ because not every public outrage warrants public action. In the quest for balance, sometimes the public grows more outraged by the inaction and other times, good officers are punished in the interest of ‘public perception’ when they’re undeserving of such punishment.

All of this because accountability means different things to different people – even amongst those who wear a badge.

Another facet of police accountability, and likely one of the most important components, is understanding that just because you want someone held accountable for their actions, doesn’t mean you hate the police. It quite literally means you just want someone to take responsibility for their actions. Accountability also leaves little room for excusing an action because it was a mistake.  Mistakes warrant accountability, too. But while we’re on the subject — ‘accountability’ isn’t a synonym for ‘termination.’

So, what can the public do to foster an environment of accountability? First and foremost, be honest. Don’t lie, don’t embellish, don’t sensationalize. If you record an interaction, record the whole thing, not just what is favorable to you. People will be willing to listen to why you’re upset about something that happened, even if the law or the policy isn’t on your side.  Second, don’t offer commentary about how something is wrong unless you’re prepared to answer how it should be done better – and why. Third, don’t make it personal. Principle and policy will always trump vendettas and insults. And finally, understand that accountability is a direct result of who we put in power.

We should have opinions on law enforcement behavior and we should offer them…when we have enough information to do so.

I am a strong advocate for praising people when things are on the up and up so that when it’s time to hold them accountable, your voice is one with credibility. I also believe it’s important to let law enforcement know that you’re rooting for them to do what is right, but you’re on standby to call them out when they mess up…just like we do with they other public professions.

Nuisance Bill in Legislature Will Harm Property Owners, Agriculture Community

A measure that has already passed the Georgia House of Representatives would be tremendously detrimental to private property owners and those in the agriculture community if it clears the state senate as well. The bill has pitted agricultural and conservation groups against each other as the state legislature has worked to further protect a number of bigger agriculture companies.

House Bill 545, sponsored by House Agriculture Chairman Tom McCall, seeks to prohibit nuisance claims after one year of the establishment of an an agricultural facility, agricultural support facility,  or any operation at an agricultural support facility. The bill, which targets nuisance claims exclusively in the agriculture community, provides an exception to that 1-year timeline in the event that a facility expands, changes ownership, or changes purpose only to the extent that said change or growth requires approval by a state agency or authorization by a local zoning board.  An agricultural operation can be something as simple as a roadside market or honeybee farm to something more complex like the application of pesticides or the manufacturing of feed for poultry, livestock or forestry products.

OCGA 41-1-1 already defines a ‘nuisance’ as “anything that causes hurt, inconvenience, or damage to another and the fact that the act done may otherwise be lawful shall not keep it from being a nuisance. The inconvenience complained of shall not be fanciful, or such as would affect only one of fastidious taste, but it shall be such as would affect an ordinary, reasonable man.”

Simply put: Under HB 545, property owners would be prohibited from taking actions against other landowner and/or agricultural operation owners unless the action is taken within one year of the establishment of the operation, regardless of how severe the impact on the complainants property may be.

Initially, the bill’s sponsor sought to restrict the distance from the agriculture operation to ½ mile, but a floor amendment expanded that distance to ownership within 5 miles of the nuisance. Chairman McCall repeatedly told the Rules committee that the bill sought to “protect the state’s largest industry,” which is agriculture. McCall also told colleagues that the bill doesn’t eliminate the ability to sue if a facility is doing something illegal, but HB 545 makes no mention of that.

The bill mimics a 2018 North Carolina law designed to stop the ability of neighbors to pursue nuisance actions against industrial hog facilities. North Carolina farmers direct the waste of 10 million hogs into open air lagoons whose stench and water pollution have ruined many lives.

The measure in the peach state is supported by the Georgia Poultry Federation, the Georgia Urban Ag Council, the Georgia Farm Bureau, the Georgia Forestry Association, and the Georgia Agribusiness Council.  While sponsored by some of Georgia’s agriculture-oriented lawmakers, the measure narrowly passed by a vote of 107-58.

So, while we talk about protecting big agricultural businesses, who is looking out for the private property owners and smaller agricultural entities adjacent to or in close proximity of those thriving mega-entities?

Right now, it seems the opposition is limited to private property owners, the US Water Coalition, the Flint Riverkeeper, and the Georgia Water Coalition, which has said, “HB 545 severely restricts the rights of individual property owners, businesses, and schools from protecting their rights against nuisances from industrial agricultural operations that move into their communities.” The Georgia Water Coalition, by the way, is comprised of over 250 organizations, including conservation groups, farmers, homeowners and lake associations, business owners, sporting clubs, professional associations, and religious groups.

April Lipscomb, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said that “HB 545 flips current law on its head” and “prevents existing land owners from protecting their property values from new and expanding agricultural operations that move into their neighborhoods.” This, in part, is a foundation for opposition because if a state agency or local zoning board doesn’t have to approve the move or expansion, the “establishment period” does not apply. This would be especially troublesome for rural counties without any zoning regulations at all.

House Minority Leader Bob Trammell told me that the bill would “substantially limit [the] ability to seek redress.  In some instances, it will completely preclude the ability to seek redress. The sad irony is that it will adversely affect rural Georgians most.”

In addition to what all of the experts have said, there are a number of reason to oppose the bill, so I’ll go through them one by one.

  1. The Georgia House passed the measure knowing it wasn’t good legislation. In the Rules Committee on March 5th, Rules Chairman Jay Powell made it clear that he had concerns with the bill but they would work to ‘fix it in the Senate.’ Not only this an unprincipled approach to legislation, it’s also completely reckless. What if the Senate doesn’t ‘fix it’? The House can’t weigh in on anything after the fact unless the Senate actually makes a change, which would have to be approved by the House before heading to Governor Kemp’s desk.
  2. The distance is subjective.  5 miles is a subjective number which is contingent upon on the type of agricultural facility in a region, whether or not the facility is in close proximity to a water source, other agriculture facilities, or a farming operation, if there are tree lines or open fields…and so much more. Additionally, a landowner could be impacted at 5.25 miles in the same way someone at 4.95 miles is impacted, but only one of them would have a legal pathway to address the issue.  
  3. The bill requires the owner of the land to file a nuisance action. Whether a landowner leases his/her property to a farmer for cultivation or to a school for other uses, the landowner may not always be the one impacted by the nuisance. Shouldn’t the wronged party have recourse?
  4. Some agriculture may benefit, but many others could suffer from HB 545. What Chairman McCall is failing to address in his advocacy of the bill is how others in the agriculture business will be adversely impacted by this type of legislation. While it may help the poultry producer at mile marker 101, it could negatively affect the cotton farmer at mile marker 103.
  5. Mere establishment of a facility does not equate to the commencement of a nuisance or harm to a neighbor. An agriculture facility may begin a practice that creates a toxic runoff to adjacent property owners two years after the facility opens, but the property owner would have no recourse because the nuisance did not begin within one year of when the facility was established.
  6. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The current law has been in place since 1980 and properly balances the protections for all parties involved. In fact, the code section already on the books states,“It is the purpose of this Code section to reduce losses of the state’s agricultural and forest land resources by limiting the circumstances under which agricultural facilities and operations or agricultural support facilities may be deemed to be a nuisance,” which shows the laws are already in place – restrictive enough – to protect some businesses from lawsuits. 
  7. It’s not the proper role of government. We have a court system that allows those elected and appointed to sit on a bench to weigh the facts of each individual case and make a decision based on the complaints and the statements of the defense. It is not the job of the legislature to protect a particular industry — or, in this case, a specific facet of a particular industry.

The lawsuits from these nuisance claims don’t always seek financial relief, but instead simply injunctive relief — to get whoever the nuisance is to stop doing what they are doing that is causing harm. This limits the ability to do that.

That’s why we should leave the law the way it is. The very foundation of our nation is property rights. Landowners have the right to do as you please on your own property — so long as it doesn’t negatively impact the private property of those around them. This legislation circumvents that ideology entirely and it does so while offering smaller landowners as sacrificial lambs for Georgia’s agriculture industry. 

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs committee. One hearing has already been held and it could be voted on by the committee as early as March 19th.

Here is a link to the bill.
Here is a link to the Amendment which was added from the House floor, which passed.

Georgia Doesn’t Need “Cagle’s Law” or 2-Party Consent

Northwest Georgia Senator and Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis wants to make Georgia a two-party consent state and he’s never been more wrong.

Under current Georgia law, only one party must consent to being recorded in a conversation and that one party can be the recording party. (Ex: If I’m having a conversation with Bob and I decide to record it, I don’t need to ask Bob’s permission. I’m the consenting party.)

But this is nothing more than a poorly structured elected official protection act – or “Cagle’s Law.” Mullis can say it isn’t about our former Lieutenant Governor who was recorded on tape during the 2018 election cycle saying he backed ‘bad public policy’ because of [expletive] politics, but Senator Jeff Mullis, who donated more than $10,000 to Cagle’s failed campaign, is doing this to make sure no one else gets Cagled. The bill is sponsored by other Cagle supporters including Senators Larry Walker, Steve Gooch, John Wilkinson, Butch Miller, and Ellis Black.

Mullis filed Senate Bill 59 this week, which would bring Georgia in line with 12 other states in the U.S. that require both parties give consent to being recorded – California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. (Ex: I consent to conversation with Bob and both Bob and I announced that we consent to being recorded) The other 36, including Georgia, protect individuals in consensual conversations.

Mullis was quoted in the AJC saying that people have “a right to know when people are recording them.”

He’s wrong about that. Rights are found in the Constitution. The Constitution is supposed to restrict the government, not people. The legislation not only restricts people individually but interferes in private interactions between two parties who are already consenting to have a conversation. The government does not need to be involved.

These lawmakers would be limiting a tool long used by the media, a tool that has long allowed the media to hold elected officials accountable. Perhaps that’s why they want to make it illegal. Remember the Planned Parenthood videos back in 2015? Some of that was protected by one-party consent laws. In California, they faced felony charges. Mitt Romney was recorded in 2012 talking about Obama voters and the ACORN voting process recordings rocked the election in 2008. These seem to exclude the times when private citizens have taken things they recorded to the media for distribution because a crime was committed or something unethical was happening in their community.

In rural Georgia, I was able to highlight the poor behavior of a magistrate judge because of the one-party consent rules. Ironically, the judge and his attorney were not aware of Georgia’s one-party consent law and even dangled the idea of criminal charges in front of me because I released the recording of his inappropriate behavior.

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

It’s something that Georgia First Amendment Foundation President Richard T. Griffiths said would be “very bad for the public.”

Not only would it have an impact on investigative journalism, it would keep people from being able to pursue legal action against people trying to commit fraud over the phone, Griffiths said.

The current law is direct, clear, and takes less than a paragraph to explain, but Mullis and his friends in the Senate want to change that in the name of a failed political campaign and a candidate who amounted to an even bigger failure. I can’t think of a worse reason to enact a law, but I’ve come to know that our lawmakers thrive in environments where the public has less and politicans can do more.

Criminal charges for recording a conversation between adults. That’s what these Senators want to do with Senate Bill 59.

It’s imperative for you to contact your state lawmakers and voice your disapproval. Additionally, contact Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and urge him not to allow this bill to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

If you support investigative journalism, the First Amendment, consensual conversations between adults without government regulation, and the rights of an individual, email this group and let them know you OPPOSE Senate Bill 59 and encourage them to vote against the measure in committee.,,,,,,,,

You can contact the sponsors of the bill by email at:

You can contact Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan’s office by clicking here. His office number is (404) 656-5030.

Ringgold is Wrong to Target Sex Offenders in New ‘Homelessness Ordinance”

The City of Ringgold in northwest Georgia has enacted an emergency ordinance to address sex offenders living under a bridge in the community.

The council adopted an “urban camping” ordinance Monday night which, according to The Times Free Press, bans “tents, “other temporary structures,” clothes, sleeping bags, cookware or luggage from public property.” The ordinance deals with homelessness generally, but is directed at those with criminal pasts.

Councilman Larry Black brought the idea forward after he learned that five men living under a bridge were sex offenders recently released from prison.”We have no way of knowing what that person is doing, as far as our safety concerns of our children, at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, when we’re very vulnerable,” he’s quoted saying in the paper. A citizen was quoted voicing concerns over fishing safety near the bridge with the homeless using the restroom in such close proximity.

The new ordinance comes with a written warning to vacate within 24 hours and is then followed by tickets with $1,000 fines, 60 days in jail, and orders for community service.

Before we go any further, let’s first be clear that 99.9% of people who are homeless cannot afford to pay a $1,000 fine and many homeless people would prefer to spend a night in jail, especially as the winter months approach.

Now, to the merits of the ordinance….

The emergency ordinance was put in place to allow the council time to properly advertise and pass a more permanent ordinance. As an advocate for transparency and accountability in government, I can’t say that I’m a fan of this practice. Usually, emergency ordinances are reserved for natural disasters or extenuating circumstances of a manmade disaster. Five men under a bridge is neither an emergency nor a disaster, and it isn’t something that can’t wait 30 days to be done correctly. But there is more substance to discuss than the ‘how.’

Why are these men living under a bridge?

Arguably, it is because laws on the books restrict where sex offenders can live and a criminal background that can often be a hurdle for employment.

This is a conversation that partially reared its ugly head when reports of cities and counties requiring sex offenders to report to a secure location on Halloween came to light. “What to do” with sex offenders is understandably an emotional topic, and while there are a number of people who would love to see those who commit sexual offenses be locked away forever, our current system doesn’t allow for that. So as long as these offenders are being released into society, we have to discuss what to do with them.

Since 2008, state law has prohibited convicted sex offenders from working or living within 1,000 feet of a church, school, park, or other place where children gather. It doesn’t seem outrageous until you consider places like Catoosa County where only two apartment complexes meet the standard. In metro areas, more housing is available, but if you concentrate so many offenders to metro areas, you’ll eventually run into the same problem — not enough housing.

Whether you are talking about a metro area or a rural area, not enough housing will always lead to homelessness. Find me a community where there isn’t homelessness, while we’re on the topic.

So, back to the ordinance.

Do we want these convicts living under a bridge or do we want them gainfully employed somewhere and contributing to society? Do we want them focused on rebuilding and re-entering regular life or do we want them bored, living outdoors, and willing to do whatever it takes to survive? Is the end goal to eradicate sex offenders from a city, or county, or state as a whole? Does anyone think that’s financially or practically possible, short of literally rounding them up and taking them elsewhere?

When we are talking about issues as serious as this, we can’t talk in wide platitudes of what should happen in a perfect world or if you were ruling on the bench. We have to talk about practicality of what makes sense and what can actually be enforced. Does this ordinance meet that threshold?

And just like every other law, this one has unintended consequences.

The city is criminalizing homelessness. The wide net will capture those who aren’t sex offenders, or even convicts at all, and put them in a position to have a criminal background when they otherwise would not. With regard to the homeless who don’t have a criminal past — is the goal to tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get back on their feet as long as they do it somewhere else?

By criminalizing homelessness, those who are out on parole or probation will be reincarcerated if they are arrested. If that is the end goal, the City of Ringgold should just acknowledge that the method is simply to make an offender ‘someone else’s problem.’

Another thing to consider is whether or not something like this can hold up in court. The same ordinance passed in Grants Pass, Oregon as is working its way through the courts right now under constitutional right violations – specifically the 8th and 14th Amendments. In September, a federal court of appeals ruled that the Constitution forbids cities from prosecuting homeless persons for sleeping in public places when they have no alternative.

I won’t claim to know the proximity of this bridge in Ringgold to children and I won’t even claim to have all the answers. But I can assert that this type of ordinance is NOT the answer.  One of the men under the bridge has reportedly lived there for decades, without incident. Pretending to be ‘tough on crime,’ pro-children, and anti-sex offender when you’re really just ‘pro-cycle of poverty’ is disingenuous, especially when courts have already ruled on the matter.

The City of Ringgold doesn’t know what the answer is, either. As evidenced by those voicing concerns over the ability to track homeless sex offenders, the cleanliness of fishing sources, the dangers of cooking under a bridge, and any of the other reasons mustered to try to tip the scales of public opinion to fear, it appears that council members and the community in Ringgold may not even know the question.

There Should be Consequences in the City of South Fulton

Recently, Fox 5 Atlanta’s Dale Russell published an article on City of South Fulton Solicitor LaDawn Jones and her voter registration “incentive.” In it, Russell described how Jones offered defendants in municipal court a reduced fine if they registered to vote or had already voted.

From the article:

“On her Twitter feed, Ms. Jones linked to an article describing Taylor Swift’s call for voter registration and proclaimed: “We registered voters in the City of South Fulton today. Everyone got $50 off their citation if they registered or confirmed their registration….

A court clerk told me there were 110 people on Judge Tiffany Seller’s calendar yesterday and that approximately 90 percent took the $50 off their fine to register or showed they had already registered.”

Jones told Fox 5 that she was considering ‘civic involvement’ when determining the fine and noted that she did not ask anyone with which political party they associated.

After reading about the ‘incentives’, I quickly found myself with with some pretty strong opinions on this incident. Perhaps it is the perception of hypocrisy after her calls for criminal charges against Brian Kemp, or maybe it is the blatant disregard for the law, or it could be the “rules for thee but not for me” mentality that seems to emanate from elected and appointed officials these days. Whatever the cause, my opinions and understanding of the law lead me to believe there should be consequences.

Jones is undoubtedly well-versed on the law as a practicing lawyer, a former state representative, and a current prosecutor for a city in one of our state’s largest counties. She also credits herself with a candidate school where she trains political candidates running for office. Jones is a political pundit – including here at – and talks shop on outlets across the state. She should know better and I believe she doesknow better.

The municipal judge in the City of South Fulton told Fox 5 that she did not believe any laws were broken, but election law attorney Bryan Tyson is quoted in the Fox 5 article and he later penned his own onMedium where he stated the act was illegal. And a felony.

In Georgia, our laws dictate that you cannot offer another person anything of value in exchange for voter registration, a vote, or a vote for a particular candidate. When federal candidates appear on the ballot as well – like instances Congressional races – it becomes a violation of federal law.

This is not an interpretation of the law either. It is clear as day. O.C.G.A. 21-2-570 reads: Any person who gives or receives, offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony.

A reduction of a fine owed is money in your pocket, is it not? If so, the reduction of a fine under the discretion of a prosecutor who considered voter registration status in reducing said fine (that is otherwise codified by state law or local ordinance) is a financial gift, is it not?

If you visit the referenced chapter of the Georgia code, most of the other election-related offenses are misdemeanors, but incentivizing or offering gifts in exchange for something related to a vote is a felony…because it is much more serious.

[If you have the time, I encourage you to read Tyson’s article as he does a nice job articulating specific examples of what is and isn’t okay when encouraging “civic duty.”]

Something similar happened in New York in September of this year where gift cards were offered in exchange for voter registration. It was deemed illegal by election law experts there, too. It comes up every election cycle and every election cycle, legal experts remind people NOT to do it.

Federal law is just as stringent and offers stiffer penalties — up to $10,000 in fines and/or imprisonment up to five years. While it requires ‘willful’ commission, federal law does not require that the payment actually be made or that any individuals actually register to vote or vote for the act to be considered committed. This is stricter than state law because it is clear about ‘anything’ of monetary value, which seems to cancels Jones’ defense to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in which she says no money was actually offered.

The Alliance for Justice has a voter advocacy guide the states, “ Similarly, handing out free cupcakes to individuals to register to vote or offering a service at a discounted rate to individuals who provide proof that they voted would be prohibited” under federal law.

Though we could all speculate and grandstand about the political leanings of those who benefitted from the incentive Jones offered, it really is not necessary. This is not a partisan issue – it is an integrity issue that can’t be excused by the idea of civil disobedience or the public interest of ‘civic engagement.’ The integrity of our elections should be sacred.

It is not unusual for municipal judges to be unclear about the law, but I doubt that any action will be taken locally, even with the codified evidence brought to light and Jones’ admission that the act occurred. Not handling it locally leaves a district attorney in another county, the GBI, or federal authorities, given the clear violations of the law.

Whether or not a bar complaint is necessary, or perhaps an ethics complaint in the City of South Fulton, is not for me to decide. But some sort of deterrent to keep this from happening in the future would go a long way.

There should be repercussions for this kind of flagrant behavior that occurred and was showcased on social media after the fact. Jones’ position as solicitor is a position of power and, therefore, sets a higher standard of moral and ethical character. Jones can’t claim ignorance here, but she could claim it was “a mistake.” Much like those who appear before her in the City of South Fulton, Jones knows that state law requires people be held accountable for their “mistakes.”

And if Jones doesn’t like the law, I would encourage her to lobby her elected officials for a change.

Why I’m Voting NO on Georgia’s Amendment 4 – Marsy’s Law

Georgia has 5 Constitutional Amendments on the ballot this year and while I plan to vote NO on all five, the one I am most adamantly against is No. 4.

Amendment 4, known as Marsy’s Law, addresses rights of victims of crime. It is part of a national effort to add additional rights and privileges for victims of crime. It’s named after California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. It is already codified in state statute.

The amendment allows, upon request, crime victims to have specific rights, including the right to be treated with “fairness, dignity, and respect;” the right to notice of all proceedings involving the alleged criminal; the right to be heard at any proceedings involving that release, plea, or sentencing of the accused; and the right to be informed of their rights. The amendment also explicitly stated that the legislature was able to further define, expand, and provide for the enforcement of the rights.

The measure has been approved by voters in California, Ohio, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, but not without effects. In 2018, voters in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nevada, North Carolina and Oklahoma will consider versions of it.

The amendment will appear on the Georgia ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?

Sounds heartwarming, but…that’s intentional from the powers that be. I’ll be voting NO and here’s why:

My reasons for voting NO are numbered but are in no particular order of importance.

  1. As proposed in the Constitutional Amendment, it deals with “alleged” perpetrators, notthose already convicted of a crime. In some states, unintended consequences have resulted in problems of due process.Read this from The Gazette: “Marsy’s Law would interfere with a defendant’s Sixth Amendment due process rights, said John Piro, the chief deputy public defender for Nevada’s Clark County, by giving people harmed by a crime the right to be heard before the alleged perpetrator has pleaded innocent or guilty.” And in South Dakota, the approved Marsy’s Law has resulted in longer jail stays while courts wait for victims to be notified. Officials say it’s led to notification in even the simplest of crimes, like vandalism, and swamped staff with additional paperwork.
  2. It’s duplicative because it’s already state law. Joe Mulholland, a District Attorney in South Georgia, told his local paper that the amendment is technically already part of the law. “It’s already technically part of Georgia law, but the legislature felt like being a part of the constitution is even stronger. Having that and knowing its part of the constitution, I think it gives peace of mind to prosecutors.” Victims have the opportunity to opt-in to the notification process and be involved in the proceedings as much as they so choose under current law.
  3. It will bog down the legal process. The state of Illinois hasn’t seen a slow down in actual proceedings, but Lee Roupas, president of the Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association has said “There’s definitely an increase in administrative burden as far as notification goes.” since the state passed the measure in 2014.
  4. Changing the State Constitution is serious business, something the ACLU opposes because it will leave no room for discretion or change without ANOTHER Constitutional Amendment.

    “We certainly believe that crime victims should be supported, but Marsy’s Law is really a one-size-fits-all, outsourced approach for how to support crime victims,” said Susanna Birdsong of the ACLU of North Carolina i
    n the News Observer, which is urging voters to reject the amendment. She says the change “leaves no legislative discretion to fill in the gaps or complete the picture,” tying the hands of state leaders from tweaking the process when needed.
  5. It will be expensive.

    Georgia has not released any documentation on the financial impact, but in North Carolina, where the measure is also on the ballot, the legislature’s nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division estimates Marsy’s Law could cost at least $11 million a year to fund.

    In South Dakota, lawmakers have worked to repeal the Constitutional Amendment earlier this year because of the high costs. KSFY ABC reported that ““Marsy’s Law laid the ground work for a costly victims notification system, with a price tag of more than $100,000 dollars for Minnehaha County. It’s costing the state upwards of $5 million.”” Those same lawmakers say it has also hampered ongoing investigations and has caused confusion over what information can and cannot be released to the public and the media. Law enforcement officials have even said it hinders how the public assists with investigations.

    And Montana officials have said similar things: “Somebody steals a hair brush from Target department store, well is the corporation the victim? Does that mean that my office is obligated not to just talk to the clerk at Target who is victimized and the store manager, but do I have to talk to corporate council at wherever that corporation is headquartered,” Yellowstone County State’s Attorney Scott Twito said.  In addition, the Montana version of the law was never implemented because of a state Supreme Court challenge.

  6. It makes some people more equal under the law than others.  This Constitutional Amendment would actually provide more rights for victims than it would for anyone else under the law, including the accused which is only exacerbated by the fact that it will be in the Constitution.
  7. The group pushing Marsy’s Law is well-funded. It’s billionaire backed and millions of dollars are being funneled in to each state where the initiative is on the ballot, which is unusual for an initiative that would be for limited government. Henry Nicholas, the billionaire founder of semiconductor company Broadcom, is the brother of Marsy, who the bill is named after. With such intense ties to the cause, it’s no wonder the advocates are willing to see it passed at all costs, regardless of financial or justice system-related impact. He has spent $27 million, without counting funding in 6 states in 2018, to get the measure passed in various states.
  8. Because the group is well-funded, a number of television and social media ads have been sponsored and they’re using fear to tug at the heart strings of Georgians. I don’t want any initiative passed because of fear — and it’s an unprincipled approach to policy.

    The first one, released in late September, falsely implies that victims of crimes do not have equal rights under the Constitution, which is not true. You can watch it below.

The second ad is available here:


This is more about recourse for victims than anything. The state law, which is already in place, that requires notification doesn’t have a pathway for victims to actually gain anything if they are not notified or something happens. This would allow for claims of a violation of their constitutional rights should the court system fail to notify them. It sounds nice, but I still feel strongly that this isn’t the intended purpose of our Constitution. It’s frightening that the end goal is to have the U.S. Constitution amended to include this, according to the Gazette in reporting on the backer.

Benita Dodd from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation also said in an article published on their website that “A constitutional amendment is no place to risk infringing the rights of someone accused of a crime. The accused have the presumption of innocence until convicted; their life and liberty are at stake. For many suffering victims and their surviving families, there’s a fine line between justice based on a court of law and vengeance based on the alleged wrongdoing.”

And I agree.

BREAKDOWN: 2 Ballot Referendums In Addition to 5 Constitutional Amendments

I previously penned a breakdown on the 5 proposed Constitutional Amendments that will appear on all ballots across Georgia this fall. It can be found here or in the content at the bottom of this article.

But the 5 Constitutional Amendments won’t be alone. They’ll be joined by two statewide ballot referenda as well. [You may also find local referendums on issues pertaining to your city and/or county, but those won’t be broken down here as there are far too many. If you have questions about them, feel free to reach out!]

The two ballot referendums, also known as “legislatively referred state statutes, appear because the state legislature voted to place those measures on the ballot for voters to decide. [ Georgia does not allow citizen-initiated ballot referendums.] The proposed changes referred by the legislature are changes in the laws – by way of approval or rejection – but do not alter the state Constitution.

Referendum A – Provides for a Homestead Exemption for residents of certain municipal corporations

The referendum stems from House Bill 820 in the Georgia legislature. It was approved 158-6 in the House and 55-0 in the Senate. State Representatives John Pezold, Michael Caldwell, Park Cannon, Matt Gurtler, David Stover, and Scot Turner voted NO. Five of the six of the NO votes are limited government conservative state representatives.

The question on the ballot will read:

“Do you approve a new homestead exemption for a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6%?

This one is confusing, so bear with me.

For most people, this referendum will not apply because they do not meet all the criteria. The measure was sponsored in the House & Senate by metro Atlanta legislators, but once it becomes law, it could affect any city or county that someday meets the criteria.

The “adjusted base year value” is defined as either the lowest base year value or, if available, the previous base year value adjusted annually by 2.6 percent plus any change in value. “Lowest base year value” for exemptions first granted in the 2019 tax year is defined as the lowest among the 2016, 2017, and 2018 valuations multiplied by 1.0423, which is the inflation rate for December 2015 through December 2017.

These municipalities referenced already have different millage rate and taxation guidelines.

VOTING YES — means you support the measure to provide a homestead property tax exemption for some cities equal to the difference between the current year and the adjusted base year.

VOTING NO — means you do NOT support the measure to provide a homestead property tax exemption for some cities equal to the difference between the current year and the adjusted base year.

If approved, it will change and make law OCGA 48-5-44.1. Approval by the voters means it will take effect on January 1, 2019 and will apply to all tax years beginning on or after that date.

Referendum B – Provides a tax exemption for the mentally disabled.

The referendum stems from House Bill 196 in the Georgia legislature. This bill started off as a music industry tax credit piece of legislation but was gutted from its original form to include the language for the nonprofits in order to get the bill passed before the close of the legislative session. Therefore, if you search the legislation, it may appear with a different name and subject matter but the content reflects what the referendum pertains to.

This initiative was sponsored by State Representative Matt Dollar and passed 49-5 in the Senate and 149-3 in the House. The three dissenters in the House were State Reps Matt Gurtler (R), Brenda Lopez (D), and Matt Dollar (likely because his bill was gutted from its original intent and replaced with an initiative of someone else.) The give dissenters in the Senate were Senators Bill Heath (R) , Lester Jackson (D), Emanuel Jones (D), David Lucas (D), and Josh McKoon (R ).

The question on the ballot will read:

“Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes on nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled if they include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes?”

B is much easier to understand than A and is a simple exemption for nonprofit organizations that assist the mentally disabled, even in instances where corporations are involved. Essentially, homes that are owned by Limited Liability Corporations, LLCs, are exempt from taxation if the parent company is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Concerns would be that corporations would use the nonprofit industry as a tax shelter. Additionally, any ‘exemption’ or manipulation of the tax code provides for a different standard of treatment for a specific group of people – making some more equal under the law than others.

VOTING YES means you support this measure to allow a tax exemption for nonprofits that serve the mentally disabled even in instances when housing constructed is paid for by financing from corporations.

VOTING NO means you DO NOT support this measure to allow a tax exemption for nonprofits that serve the mentally disabled even in instances when housing constructed is paid for by financing from corporations.

If approved, it would amend OCGA  48-5-41 and would become law beginning January 1, 2019.

You can visit ‘My Voter Page’ on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website to get a full size sample ballot. Early voting is already underway and Election Day is Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

For good measure, the breakdown of the Constitutional Amendments is below.

5 Constitutional Amendments to the State Constitution will appear on the November general election ballot. Are you informed about what those ballot questions mean?

Here’s a brief rundown.

Amendment 1 — Portion of Revenue from Outdoor Recreation Equipment Sales Tax Dedicated to Land Conservation Fund Amendment 

This would give the state the authority to dedicate “up to” 80% of the existing sales and use tax on outdoor sporting goods to be used for land conservation.  This was initially supposed to happen when the sales tax was put into place, but never occurred. The “up to” 80% language means the legislature is still not required to allocate the tax money but can allocated up to that percentage.

The funds would be used to support state parks and trails, provide stewardship of conservation lands, and acquire land for the provision or protection of clean water, wildlife, hunting, fishing, military installation buffering, or outdoor recreation.These initiatives would be carried out by creating the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund, which would be handled by the state. 40% of the 80% allocated would go to this fund.

It will appear on the ballot as follows:

Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?

VOTING YES means you support allowing the state to authorize up to 80% of the sales tax for outdoor goods for conservation.

VOTING NO means you oppose support allowing the state to authorize up to 80% of the sales tax for outdoor goods for conservation.

The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Coalition is one of the main sponsors of this amendment as is The Georgia Conservancy.

Opponents of the amendment say it doesn’t go far enough or have enough enforcement teeth to require the money actually be used for conservation. It simply allows the state to send the money to the fund if it chooses.

Amendment 2 – Business Court Creation

Amendment 2 would create a new court system in the state of Georgia, specifically for businesses. This will allow judges in the business court to be APPOINTED not ELECTED. All judges would be appointed by the Governor and there would be no limit on how long a judge could serve.

It will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for state-wide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?

VOTING YES means you support amending the Constitution to authorize the state to create a state business court and would set the rules, term length and qualifications of the court.

VOTING NO means you oppose amending the Constitution to authorize the state to create a state business court which would appoint judges by way of the Governor,  set the rules, term length and qualifications of the court.

This Amendment was sponsored by the Governor’s floor leaders and others, including Representatives Chuck Efstration, Terry Rogers, Trey Rhodes, Christian Coomer, Wendell Willard, and Barry Fleming. All are Republicans.

Governor Nathan Deal told WABE that, “A constitutional created business court would provide an efficient and dependable forum for litigants in every corner of our state.” This is a measure that was part of his Court Reform Council in his earlier years as governor. The amendment has the support of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and is being pushed by “Georgians for Lawsuit Reform.”

Here’s the link to the bill.

Amendment 3 – Forest Land and Timberland Conservation

This amendment would revise current law by subclassifying forest land conservation use property for ad valorem taxation purposes. It would also change the method for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants.

Amendment 3 will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem taxation purposes?

VOTING YES means you support allowing the legislature to change the formula used to calculate the tax on forest land conservation use property and create a new land designation for commercial timberland. This also allows the state to establish a percentage of local grant assistance funding that could be retained by the state for administration.

VOTING NO means you oppose allowing the legislature to change the formula used to calculate the tax on forest land conservation use property and create a new land designation for commercial timberland. This also allows the state to establish a percentage of local grant assistance funding that could be retained by the state for administration.

The bill is supported by the Georgia Forestry Commission and Governor Deal. Andres Villegas, president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association was quoted saying, “For more than 100 years, the Georgia Forestry Association has been instrumental in timber tax legislation, which has positioned the state as a global leader in forestry. Thanks to the leadership of our elected officials and Governor Deal, we can, once again, ensure that our tax policy supports the growth and vitality of our working forests and the communities that depend on them.”

You can read the bill here.

Amendment 4 – Marsy’s Law/Victim’s Rights

Amendment 4, known as Marsy’s Law, addresses rights of victims of crime. It is part of a national effort to add additional rights and privileges for victims of crime.

The amendment allows, upon request, crime victims to have specific rights, including the right to be treated with “fairness, dignity, and respect;” the right to notice of all proceedings involving the alleged criminal; the right to be heard at any proceedings involving that release, plea, or sentencing of the accused; and the right to be informed of their rights. The amendment also explicitly stated that the legislature was able to further define, expand, and provide for the enforcement of the rights.

The amendment will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?

VOTING YES means you support adding more rights of victims of crimes to the State Constitution, known as Marsy’s Law.

VOTING NO means you oppose adding more rights of victims of crimes to the State Constitution, known as Marsy’s Law.

Marsy’s Law for Georgia is a special advocacy organization created just for this bill and is the main sponsor. The amendment is endorsed by a number of victims’ rights groups.

Joe Mulholland, a District Attorney in South Georgia, told his local paper that the amendment is technically already part of the law. “It’s already technically part of Georgia law, but the legislature felt like being a part of the constitution is even stronger. Having that and knowing its part of the constitution, I think it gives peace of mind to prosecutors.”

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, has voiced concerns about the unintended consequences of the law, even penning a piece on it. You can read that here, but among the concerns are 1) additional attorney costs and costs for support staff for victims, 2) the risk of infringing the rights of someone accused of a crime, 3) an increase in false accusations, and seemingly most severe, the accused could “lose their right to be presumed innocent until convicted.”

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation also said in an article published on their website that“A constitutional amendment is no place to risk infringing the rights of someone accused of a crime. The accused have the presumption of innocence until convicted; their life and liberty are at stake. For many suffering victims and their surviving families, there’s a fine line between justice based on a court of law and vengeance based on the alleged wrongdoing.”

Amendment 5 – School Sales Tax Referendums

Amendment 5 is the School Sales Tax Referendums Amendment. This amendment, if passed, would allow school districts or groups of school districts within a county to call for a sales and use tax referendum. For example: Fulton County and Atlanta City Schools or Cobb County and City of Marietta Schools.

The sales tax would be used for the educational purposes of the school districts and would be 1%. The term could be upwards of 5 years.

It will appear on the ballot as follows:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?

VOTING YES means you support the amendment to allow a school district or districts with a majority of enrolled students within a county to call for a referendum to levy a sales tax for education purposes.

VOTING NO means you oppose the amendment to allow a school district or districts with a majority of enrolled students within a county to call for a referendum to levy a sales tax for education purposes.

Ballotpedia quotes Senator Ellis Black, a sponsor of the Amendment, in an interview saying, “the measure was designed to put provisions in place so that a school system with a majority of the full-time equivalent (FTE) students can place a renewal of an ESPLOST on the ballot before voters without having to ask all the systems within a county. Black also said the measure was designed to prevent a smaller school system from essentially blackmailing a larger school system within the county from passing a resolution to place an ESPLOST renewal on the ballot, and similarly, that it would stop a larger school system from preventing smaller systems from putting the issue before voters.”

The bill passed 33-17 down party lines.

To all the broken hearts after Election Day

Few things are worse in the political arena than working tirelessly for months, for yourself, a cause, or a candidate in whom you believe, only to find that the votes didn’t go your way.

It doesn’t matter if it was 70-30, 60-40, or 49-51. A loss is a loss.

Whether it’s because you were outspent, outworked, you were too positive, you were too negative, you were too young, you’d been there too long, you got in the race too late, you peaked too early, you focused on the wrong issues, turnout was low, turnout was higher than expected, or any other reason that someone offers you the morning after, your heart is a little bit…or maybe even a lot of bit…broken.

If it isn’t, you worked for the wrong candidate.

I know this because I’ve been on both sides – all sides. I’ve been on the losing team when we deserved to win and the losing team when we deserved to lose. I’ve also been on the winning team when we deserved to win and even when we didn’t. All evoke a different kind of emotion, but an emotion nevertheless because you hopped on board because you care.

Campaigning is probably one of the most exhilarating and simultaneously toxic activities in American culture. There are highs and lows, so many good people, and so much uncertainty. I always joke that you have to be a little bit mental to enjoy it because who thinks it’s fun to play a (usually unfriendly) game of, “Is the person telling you the truth when they say they’ll vote for you? I don’t know – let’s wait a few months and find out.”

For me, I always like the definitive aspect of campaigning and elections. Much like my job with AllOnGeorgia, campaigning places you in a position where people will either stand with you or against you. They will either defend you or they will tear you down. They will take sides and, for the end of time, you will forever know where they stand. Campaigns bring out the best and the worst of people and I find it to be refreshing to know who stands with the best and who will publicly stand with the worst.

And if you’re competitive, invested, or just honest, you probably associate “loss” with “loser,” but the two are not the same. A loss means you didn’t win, but “a loser” is a mentality, a state of life, a quality of character – or lack thereof. Those who stand for what they believe, no matter what the cost, are never losers.

I know a lot of winners who lost last night around this state…and a lot of “losers” who won. [Don’t take that to mean no good people won, that’s certainly not the case either.]

Knowing and understanding all of that may not take away where you are emotionally.

You may be angry with the people around you right now, and in some cases, it may be justified. You may have been the center of a smear campaign, as it seems those are becoming more and more popular around our state. It may have been your husband or wife that was tarnished – even in a victory – and that isn’t something you wake up and no longer resent. You may just be angry that you told the truth and it went unheard. Or that you did as you believed only to learn that isn’t what others believe. That you’re a minority.

But while you’re the minority, you aren’t alone. It’s the old adage of quality over quantity.

My boss has always told me, “Not everyone will support you, but the right ones always will.”

Read that again: The right ones always will. So don’t let them down by seeing yourself as a “loser” or carrying yourself as one. The right ones stood with you for a reason.

Because the most definitive aspect of campaigning is how it defines you. Are you defined by a political candidate or a career yourself? Is politics the most important thing you’ll do with your life?

For most of you, that answer is a resounding no.

My Choice for Governor in the Republican Runoff

I’m voting for Brian Kemp for Governor on July 24th and it’s not because I’m simply “anti-Cagle,” though I am in the strongest sense of the term.

In fact, I’m not just ‘against the other guy,’ I’ve had a 3×4 Kemp sign displayed in my yard since March of this year. I believe I’ve had fewer than five candidate signs in my yard over the last several years, so it’s safe to say I’m committed to why I’m supporting him.

I first saw Kemp as a gubernatorial candidate at the forum in Milledgeville. I was a moderator and had the opportunity to ask all of the candidates questions. Kemp seemed genuine and I remarked after the debate in my analysis that he appeared to be the only candidate of the five who appeared on stage to grasp the contrasting lifestyles in rural and metro areas across our state.

I then had the opportunity to sit down with all of the gubernatorial candidates – with the exception of Cagle, who refused – during the primary election. I spent an hour grilling Kemp on his positions and his plan for rural Georgia. He had recently released the plan and AllOnGeorgia was the first news organization to discuss the details. I assumed I would see him dodge a few questions or maybe even contradict himself throughout the lengthy interview, as most politicians do, but he did not. Kemp earned my vote that day.

I found it respectable that he answered all of my questions. I didn’t agree with every response, but he took a position and, from what I’ve seen over the last nine months, hasn’t wavered. I will take a candidate who I disagree with on a consistent basis over an inconsistent chameleon any day. Kemp isn’t on the campaign trail telling different groups of people different things. He is the same when he’s in jeans as he is when he’s in a suit.

I’ve lived in metro Atlanta and I now live in rural Georgia. The differences in quality of life are staggering. I’m not looking for a candidate who will “fix” rural Georgia because I don’t believe that’s the proper role of government, but to get government out of the way, one must first understand where government is the problem. Kemp made it clear that he does.

From health care to infrastructure to broadband internet and even education, Kemp’s answers illustrated that he wasnt just regurgitating what he’d put on his website. His positions were taken because of what he has seen, because he’s the only candidate who has actually visited rural communities.

(I’ve linked our interview at the bottom of this column)

Had you told me a year and a half ago that I’d have a nice Kemp sign in my yard, I would have laughed in your face. I’ve been a vocal critic of his while he’s served as Secretary of State. His teams knows that and I’m sure he knows that. (I was actually nervous about interviewing him after so much criticism, but he was nothing but humble and kind throughout.) Kemp is not perfect. He made some mistakes as Secretary of State.

But he isn’t running for Secretary of State. He’s running for Governor of this state and the offices are vastly different with two totally different operational positions. I feel strongly that Kemp is the most qualified candidate to lead Georgia with honesty and integrity.

I believed all of these things before Cagle’s infamous recordings came out, well before Cagle’s campaign accused me writing fake news, and long before the laundry list of unprincipled legislators lined up for #CagleLead. To me, those are just bonus points — further assurance that I’m supporting the right person.

This office isn’t one that’s supposed to operate off of political favors, backscratching, and “thank yous.” It shouldn’t be about special interest donations or “****ing politics.” It should be about someone who has conviction and a concrete belief system you can look to, even in the face of losing support. This election is about electing someone who will put the needs of others above his own.

I don’t believe Kemp will hold grudges or govern with a vengeance. I believe he’ll be someone who is accessible and accountable. I also believe that when he tells Georgians “NO” on an issue, there will be a reason — not a dollar — behind the decision. Successes seen will be seen in the lives of Georgians, not the reflection in the mirror. Aren’t those the qualities of a person in which this state is in dire need?

I expect him to make mistakes, as every elected official in the history of elected officials before him has. But I believe we’ll always know what to expect. And I also think we’ll be able to bring criticisms to the table with a Kemp governorship. Do you think we could say the same about a Cagle dictatorship governorship?

Issues and policies seem to change with the times and circumstances surrounding social trends, the economy, and so much more. That’s why we need to look to elect people of character because when everything else is fluctuating, character remains in tact. We have the opportunity to do that in the Peach State.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Brian Kemp on July 24th.