Collins touts sheriff support in U.S. Senate race

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., speaks after the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association’s summer conference on Lake Lanier on July 30, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins touted support Thursday from 41 Georgia sheriffs in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler as the two Republicans seek to stake a claim as the staunchest supporter of law enforcement.

Collins’ backing by sheriffs comes as he aims to fend off recent attacks on his record as a former defense attorney, which the four-term congressman has dismissed as baseless.

Collins spoke at the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association’s summer conference on Lake Lanier Thursday, drawing praise from several sheriffs and former state Department of Public Safety Commissioner Col. Mark McDonough.

“It’s more than simply just saying, ‘I support law enforcement,’” Collins said. “For me, it’s actually doing something about it.”

Historically, sheriffs’ endorsements have been coveted by Georgia candidates, particularly in more conservative parts of the state where police support often runs deep.

Loeffler, R-Ga., who made a video appearance at the conference earlier this week, has drawn endorsements from around a dozen local sheriffs and district attorneys as she seeks to cast herself as more of a law-and-order candidate than Collins.

She has also made supporting police a central plank in her platform over the past month, highlighting legislation she brought recently to withhold federal funds from communities that reduce police funding and broaden penalties for convicted gang members.

“We have to make sure that our brave men and women in blue know that we have their back,” Loeffler said at a recent campaign stop. “That we will never stop supporting them because they keep all of us safe.”

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks during a campaign event at Cobb County’s Republican headquarters in Marietta on July 13, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Policing and criminal justice issues have taken center stage on the Republican side of the race to fill the remaining years in the term of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who retired late last year. Loeffler was appointed to hold the seat until the special election in November.

Collins and Loeffler have both gravitated toward opposition to calls for reducing funds for local law enforcement agencies and criticism of recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice, particularly those done under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But Loeffler homed in on her Republican opponent earlier this month with a campaign ad pointing out Collins’ stint as a defense attorney in Gainesville, noting his firm took on several clients facing gang, drug trafficking and assault charges.

Following that ad, Loeffler’s campaign released a statement signed by nine Georgia sheriffs who accused Collins of having “made a career out of putting the interests of criminals before the safety of Georgia’s families.”

On Thursday, Collins called aspects of the ad “despicable”, stressing the clients noted in the ad that his firm represented were all court-appointed and indigent.

“Senator Loeffler seems to like the Constitution except that part about the right to counsel,” Collins said.

“What it tells me is Senator Loeffler would rather scare people than actually deal with the issues of law enforcement and the law enforcement community,” he added.

The back-and-forth over law enforcement support also comes amid a new poll released earlier this week by Monmouth University, which shows Loeffler leading Collings by 6 points.

Loeffler has hailed the poll as an indication of sturdy support among conservative voters at this stage in the campaign.

“This most recent polling shows that Senator Loeffler has all the momentum on her side – and that support for her strong conservative message only continues to grow,” said Loeffler’s communications director, Stephen Lawson.

Collins downplayed those projections Thursday, noting results from other polls that give him an edge and describing polls in general as “a snapshot in time” that are not set in stone.

“I hope she believes it because nobody else does,” Collins said.

The special election for Loeffler’s seat, which is an open contest involving candidates from all parties on the same ballot, is slated for Nov. 3. A runoff would be held in January if no one candidate gains more than 50% of votes, a strong likelihood with 21 candidates on the November ballot.

Ex-presidents eulogize John Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church

U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a prominent civil rights leader, served 33 years in Congress before his death on July 17, 2020. (Official U.S. House photo)

ATLANTA – Three former U.S. presidents said goodbye to civil rights icon John Lewis Thursday, culminating a weeklong series of ceremonies honoring the Atlanta congressman who died July 17 of cancer at age 80.

Lewis’ funeral took place at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, where Lewis mentor Martin Luther King Jr. once served as pastor.

Former President Barack Obama described Lewis as “perhaps [King’s] finest disciple,” carrying forward King’s message of non-violence after the civil rights leader was slain in 1968.

“He not only embraced that responsibility,” Obama told Lewis’ mourners. “He made it his life’s work.”

During the last week, Lewis’ flag-draped casket traveled to many of the sites where he made his mark as a young civil rights leader and, later, as a congressman for 33 years.

Last Sunday, a day after he was honored with a ceremony in his hometown of Troy, Ala., Lewis made a final trip via a horse-drawn carriage over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. That’s where he suffered a fractured skull when he was beaten by state troopers while leading a voting rights march in 1965 on a day that has come to be remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”

He returned to the bridge many times over the years to commemorate that day, telling the political leaders who accompanied him on those trips that he fully expected to die at the head of that march.

“It’s important to remember that,” former President Bill Clinton said in eulogizing Lewis Thursday. “He was there on a mission that was bigger than personal ambition.”

On his way to become the first Black American to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda earlier this week, Lewis’ procession swung by the Lincoln Memorial, where he was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963, where King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Finally, Lewis’ casket lay in state at the Georgia Capitol, where he was honored by Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Wednesday.

At Thursday’s funeral service, Republican former President George W. Bush said while he and Democrat Lewis had many political disagreements over the years, they were without animosity. The two worked together in planning the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2016.

“In the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are evidence of democracy in action,” Bush said. “We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis.”

Former President and Georgia native Jimmy Carter and current President Donald Trump did not attend Thursday’s funeral.

At age 95, Carter is not traveling. However, he sent written condolences that were read during Thursday’s service by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist’s current pastor.

Trump and Lewis were not on good terms. After questioning Trump’s legitimacy as president in light of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Lewis did not attend the Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

Georgia unemployment claims fall as federal unemployment assistance set to expire

Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – Initial unemployment claims filed in Georgia declined last week to 84,984, down 37,329 from the previous week, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

The labor agency paid out $778.1 million last week, including not just regular state unemployment insurance but funds from other state and federal unemployment compensation programs created to help offset the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

That brought to more than $11 billion the total payout by the labor department since mid-March.

“As additional claims are being filed, we have been able to maintain an impressive ratio of eligible claims filed to payouts,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said. “Record-breaking payout rates represent a new standard for this department as we strive to better serve Georgians.”

Of the total payout during the past 18 weeks, the state agency has issued more than $7.7 billion in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) funds. The FPUC, which provides an additional $600 weekly payment to jobless Georgians, is due to expire at the end of this week unless Congress extends it.

U.S. Senate Republicans have proposed reducing the payments to $200 per week following complaints from some business owners that laid-off employees they want to rehire are reluctant to come back to work.  Democrats are pushing to retain the weekly payments at $600.

Since March 21, the job sector accounting for the most regular unemployment claims in Georgia is accommodation and food services with 787,469 claims. The health care and social assistance sector is second with 390,018 claims, followed by retail trade with 359,438.

More than 122,000 jobs are listed online at for Georgians to access. The labor department offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.

Georgia schools poised for $6 million to boost internet access amid pandemic

State officials are sending $6 million in federal funds to help Georgia schools boost internet connectivity in areas where access to the web is poor.

The funds come as schools across the state hustle to prepare for the start of the 2020-21 school year in the coming weeks, with many districts opting to start classes all online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among ways for school districts to use the funds are for purchasing WiFi transmitters on residential buildings and school buses, which can be located close to students’ homes to give better internet access.

“This initiative will ensure schools and districts are prepared if distance/virtual learning is needed in the future, but will also expand the horizons of thousands of students long after the pandemic ends,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods in a news release Thursday.

The $6 million allocation is part of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding that Georgia has received since spring.

The state Department of Education is also partnering with the telecommunications company Verizon to help provide schools in 10 states with discounted internet plans including unlimited cellular broadband access (4G LTE) and software protections.

Georgia’s roughly 1.7 million students switched to online learning in late March as positive cases of the virus began to swell. Since then, officials have debated how to safely return students for in-person classes in the fall and support local efforts to undertake online instruction.

State officials have issued guidelines and recommendations aimed at helping local school districts decide how to hold classes in the fall via a mix of regular in-person classes and online instruction options.

The online method has been hailed as a way for Georgia students to keep up their studies during the pandemic, but many schools are facing resource challenges that the move to remote learning has exacerbated, particularly in rural areas where broadband internet service is spotty.

The U.S. Department of Education recently estimated more than 13% of Georgia’s population does not have access to broadband, while nearly 27% of the state’s students live in rural areas.

Gov. Brian Kemp touted the $6 million in federal internet-providing funds as a way to help school districts improve internet access during the pandemic and beyond.

“This is a major step to address the gap for this school year so that all Georgia’s children have access to learning opportunities in and out of school,” Kemp said.

Georgia film industry lands magazine recognition despite coronavirus pandemic

ATLANTA – Georgia’s film industry remains among the world’s leaders despite the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on film and TV productions.

Business Facilities Magazine has named Georgia No. 1 in its new Film Production Leaders category in its annual 2020 Rankings Report, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.

The magazine’s recognition of the Peach States comes soon after news that Georgia-lensed productions have received nearly 50 Emmy Award nominations.

“Our production numbers show Georgia was on pace for another record year for film before COVID-19,” Kemp said. “They confirm that Georgia continues to lead the way in film production.”

Despite the shutdown of film productions last spring in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the 234 film and television productions that filmed in Georgia during the last fiscal year spent $2.2 billion in the state. That was down from $2.9 billion in fiscal 2019 and $2.7 billion in fiscal 2018.

Film productions are just now starting to ramp back up, with at least 20 currently in production or filming prep in Georgia.

The Georgia Film Office unveiled a “best practices” guide for filming in May to help discourage the spread of COVID-19, based on input from officials with studio and production companies that maintain a presence in the state.

“We are continuing to welcome productions back to Georgia and get our incredible crews and film teams back to work,” said Lee Thomas, the state Department of Economic Development’s deputy commissioner for film, music and digital entertainment.

The Emmy nominations for Georgia-lensed productions announced this week include “Watchmen,” “Ozark,” “Stranger Things,” “Love is Blind,” “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Broken Bones,” and actor Jason Bateman for “The Outsider.”

HBO’s limited series “Watchmen” and Netflix’s hit series “Stranger Things” also earned Peabody Awards in June.