Civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis lies in state at Georgia Capitol

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)

Civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis was honored Wednesday at the state Capitol in Atlanta following his death earlier this month at age 80.

His casket lay in state in the rotunda of the Gold Dome for a ceremony presided over by state officials and a public viewing set to last through the evening. A funeral service will be held Thursday morning at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the congregation once co-led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Lewis was an early admirer and colleague of King, who together with many other prominent civil rights leaders brought non-violent protest to bear against segregation in the 1960s.

In Selma, Ala., Lewis led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where he and others were beaten by police in the event known as “Bloody Sunday.”

His example helped push through passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting and paving the way for more political inclusion by Black Americans.

Lewis died on July 17 after a seven-month battle with cancer.

“A giant redwood tree has fallen in the Georgia forest of life,” said state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, who is the Georgia General Assembly’s longest serving member.

Born near Troy, Ala., to sharecropper parents, Lewis led lunch-counter boycotts as a student in Nashville, chaired the influential Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was among the original Freedom Riders who protested segregation on public buses.

He moved to Atlanta in the late 1960s and served on the Atlanta City Council before winning election to the 5th Congressional District in 1986. He held his seat in Congress for more than 30 years, becoming one of the body’s most respected voices.

“Congressman Lewis laid down his life for all of us and he taught us to get in good trouble,” said state Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain, who chairs the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus.

Lewis was a staunch advocate for voting rights and racial justice. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms recalled that his final public appearance was in support of protesters at the Black Lives Matter mural in Washington, D.C.

“Until his last days, he was calling upon America to be America again in his words and in his deeds,” Bottoms, a Democrat, said Wednesday at the Capitol.

Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, noted Lewis’ ability to bridge conflict between political parties, symbolized by his embracing retiring U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson on the House floor last December before Isakson stepped down.

“No matter where you go, everyone knows the name of John Lewis, and more importantly, they know his record of standing up, speaking out, and shaking up the status quo,” Kemp said Wednesday.

Lewis’ casket arrived in Atlanta after two days of lying in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, which is among the country’s highest honors for a departed leader.

The casket of Lewis’ friend and fellow civil rights leader Rev. C.T. Vivian also lay in state at the Georgia Capitol building last week. Vivian died at age 95 on the same day as Lewis.

New poll has Trump, Biden tied in Georgia

A new poll shows Democrat Joe Biden and President Donald Trump are tied in Georgia.

ATLANTA – President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are locked in a tight race for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, according to a poll released by Monmouth University Wednesday.

A random statewide sample of 402 registered Georgia voters taken between July 23 and July 27 found Trump and Biden tied with 47% of the vote. Three percent said they will vote for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, and another 3% were undecided.

“There is a lot of parity between the two candidates,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Trump has a lock on his base, but Biden is performing much better than [2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary] Clinton did in key swing areas.”

Trump carried Georgia by 5 points in 2016, continuing a Republican run of success in presidential elections in the Peach State that began in 1996.

But Democrats gained ground in 2018, capturing a congressional seat in Atlanta’s northern suburbs and posting victories in several state House districts in suburban areas of metro Atlanta. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp two years ago by a narrow margin.

According to the Monmouth poll, Biden is showing strength in those same areas, holding a 58% to 38% lead in 14 swing counties, including Gwinnett and Cobb, where the vote margin was closest between Trump and Clinton in 2016.

Trump is dominating among white voters, while Biden enjoys overwhelming support among Black voters. Biden also holds a sizeable lead among independents, 53% to 21%.

Meanwhile, Republicans are leading in both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate races. U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is seeking a second six-year term, holds a 49% to 43% lead over Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, according to the Monmouth poll.

In the other Senate contest, incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler leads with 26% of the vote, compared to 20% for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. Among Democrats, attorney Matt Lieberman – the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut – had 14% of the vote, with the Rev. Raphael Warnock polling 9%.

Loeffler, appointed by Kemp last December to succeed retired Sen. Johnny Isakson on an interim basis, was trailing in earlier polls. However, the Atlanta businesswoman has hit the airwaves in recent weeks with a flurry of ads, both praising her accomplishments since taking office in January and attacking Collins.

If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in November, the top two vote-getters would move on to a runoff in January.

On another issue, 63% of respondents to the Monmouth poll said cities should be able to establish their own rules for wearing masks that are stricter than statewide regulations. Kemp is suing Atlanta officials for imposing a mask-wearing requirement inside the city.

More than 3 in 4 voters (79%) supported requiring people to wear masks indoors in public places when they come within six feet of other people.

The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 4.9%.

Cobb County’s Angie Davis confirmed clerk of new state business court

Angie Davis

ATLANTA – Georgia’s new statewide business court will be fully staffed when it opens its doors next week.

The state House and Senate Judiciary committees Tuesday unanimously confirmed Gov. Brian Kemp’s nomination of Cobb County State Court Clerk Angie Davis as clerk of the new court.

“The thought of helping write the playbook in this new court is exciting,” Davis said shortly before the vote. “I’m up for the task. I have the experience and skill set to take on the role.”

The General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 after an advisory council headed by Attorney General Chris Carr recommended a statewide business court as a way to expedite the handling of cases requiring expertise in business law. Georgia voters ratified the amendment that November.

About a year ago, Kemp nominated Walter Davis, a partner in the Atlanta office of Jones Day, to become the business court’s sole judge.

Both Walter Davis and former state Attorney General Sam Olens, who worked with Angie Davis back when he was chairman of the Cobb County Commission, gave her strong endorsements during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing.

“[She] excels at everything she does,” Olens said. “She is a mentor to her office and a leader in her office.”

Angie Davis said the experience she gained bringing technology to the Cobb County State Court will help her launch the new business court from the ground up. She began an e-filing system for civil cases in Cobb in 2016 and followed with e-filing of criminal cases earlier this year, she said.

Walter Davis said technology will be key to the success of the Atlanta-based one-judge business court, particularly with the coronavirus pandemic limiting face-to-face interactions.

“We were built for video-conferencing and audio-conferencing, engaging the public in a different way,” he said. “We were built for this challenging time.”

The first job for the new court will be promoting itself to other courts throughout the state.

Walter Davis said his goal for the number of cases the business court receives is somewhere between the 20 to 30 cases per year the business court in Fulton County handles and the 200 to 250 cases the highly successful North Carolina business court takes on each year, although that caseload is divided among seven judges.

“There is a backlog in the court system now,” he said. “We’ve got an open highway. My hope is people will show faith and use the business court.”

Georgia ports set yearly tonnage record

Port of Savannah

ATLANTA –  The Georgia Ports Authority set a tonnage record during the last fiscal year despite the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

For fiscal 2020, which ended last month, the ports of Savannah and Brunswick handled an all-time high 37.77 million tons of cargo, up 233,000 tons –  or 0.6% – compared to fiscal 2019.

The record came despite a slight downturn in the number of twenty-foot equivalent container units that moved through the Port of Savannah, a decrease driven by the global pandemic that began taking a toll on commercial shipping in March.

“Cargo volume reductions related to COVID-19 were offset by the strength of our export markets and record volumes earlier in the year,” Griff Lynch, the ports authority’s executive director, said Monday.

Meanwhile, growth continues in and around the Port of Savannah.

The first nine of 18 tracks at the $126.7 million Mason Mega Rail project are now moving cargo at the port. When complete, the project will increase Georgia’s reach to a mid-American arc of cities, including Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio.

Also, two new mobile harbor cranes have been added to Savannah’s Ocean Terminal, and a new container yard will be completed at Ocean Terminal by the end of the year.

Twenty new rubber-tired gantry cranes are due to arrive in Savannah by December, and three new rail-mounted gantry cranes are scheduled to go into service by the end of the current fiscal year next summer.

Just outside of the port, 5 million square feet of industrial space are currently under construction. The latest announcement came from Port City Logistics, which is investing $80 million in a 1.1 million square-foot warehouse.

“What sets Savannah apart from the competition is the sheer capacity of the port’s ever-expanding footprint, on and off the terminal,” said Will McKnight, the authority’s board chairman. “Not only are we focused on the future and providing even greater value to our customers, but we have nearly unlimited potential and capacity to grow our business.”

On the other side of the state, the Appalachian Regional Port (ARP) near Chatsworth handled more than three and a half times the cargo in fiscal 2020 as the year before, moving 27,132 containers by rail. The inland rail terminal, which opened nearly two years ago, allows the authority to reduce truck traffic on Georgia’s highways by diverting cargo to rail.

 “As more customers learn the value the ARP brings to their operations, the facility continues to gain traction and build momentum,” Lynch said. “We forecast business there to continue growing.”

Ossoff tests negative for coronavirus

Jon Ossoff

ATLANTA – Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff has tested negative for coronavirus, Ossoff announced on Twitter late Monday.

Ossoff was tested for COVID-19 on Saturday after his wife, Emory University ob-gyn Dr. Alisha Kramer, tested positive for the virus.

Both self-quarantined during the weekend at their Atlanta home, as Kramer’s symptoms steadily improved.

“Alisha is still doing OK,” Ossoff tweeted. “Today, she’s even been able to remotely consult some patients.”

Ossoff is challenging Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., in the November election. The Democrat won his party’s primary last month in a crowded field, avoiding an August runoff by capturing a majority of the vote.

Perdue, who is seeking a second six-year term, was unopposed in June’s Republican primary.