Warnock narrowly defeats Walker 

Democrat Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Herschel Walker Tuesday in the race for Georgia’s Senate seat.

ATLANTA – Incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock narrowly defeated Republican Herschel Walker Tuesday in a closely fought race for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat, giving Democrats a slim two-seat majority in the upper house in Washington.  

Warnock was leading Walker 51.1% to 48.8% as of 11:50 p.m. Tuesday night, with 98% of precincts reporting. The Warnock victory in the final contest of the 2022 election cycle gave Democrats 51 seats in the Senate to 49 for Republicans. 

Though Warnock won around 38,000 more votes than Walker in the November general election, neither candidate earned more than 50% of the vote required by Georgia law to prevent a runoff, pushing the nationally watched race to a December rematch. 

The lengthy campaign that finally concluded Tuesday night was the most expensive race of the 2022 cycle, with outside groups and the candidates’ campaigns spending more than $401 million in the race, according to campaign-finance tracking group OpenSecrets

“It is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken,” Warnock said to a jubilant crowd celebrating the victory at a downtown Atlanta hotel. 

“The people once again rose up in a multi-racial, multi-religious coalition of conscience,” Warnock said. 

“I will walk with you even as I work for you,” Warnock vowed, promising to represent all Georgians, not just those who voted for him. “I will always be a voice for Georgia.  All of Georgia.” 

Walker conceded the race on Tuesday night. 

“I’m not gonna make any excuses now because we put up one heck of a fight,” Walker told his supporters. “I want you to believe in America and continue to believe in the Constitution and believe in our elected officials.” 

“The best thing I’ve ever done in my whole entire life is run for this Senate seat right here and the reason I’m gonna say that is I had a chance to meet all you and hear what you guys feel about this country,” Walker added.

Going overtime to achieve victory wasn’t new to Warnock. The pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta first won a U.S. Senate seat in a January 2021 runoff.  

During this year’s lengthy campaign, Warnock portrayed himself as a protector of middle-class Georgians’ economic interests, touting his support for a $35-per-month cap on insulin and other drug spending caps for Medicare beneficiaries passed earlier this year. Warnock is also a strong supporter of full Medicaid expansion in Georgia as a way to bolster the state’s hospital infrastructure and improve rural health care. 

Walker, one of the most storied University of Georgia football players of all time, was a political neophyte when he was tapped by former President Donald Trump to run for the seat last year.

Walker sought to tie Warnock to President Joe Biden and blamed the Democratic duo for high inflation and crime rates. The Republican also emphasized what he considers the problems with “woke” social policies, often telling crowds he would protect women’s sports from the participation of transgender athletes and criticizing Democrats for focusing on racism in American history.  

Abortion was one of the most important issues in the race as Georgia’s law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy took effect this fall. Warnock made his strong pro-choice position clear during the campaign, saying that “a patient’s room is too narrow and small and cramped a space for a woman, her doctor and the United States government,” and that abortion rights are protected by the fundamental right to privacy.   

At one point, Walker indicated that he opposes all abortions, with no exceptions for the life of the mother or in the case of rape or incest. But during a debate this fall, he said he supports Georgia’s “heartbeat law,” which bans most abortions after about six weeks but includes exceptions for rape and incest.  

The Walker campaign was dogged by a number of serious allegations about his character. Two ex-girlfriends alleged that Walker paid for their abortions, despite his public pro-life stance.  

Warnock campaign ads highlighted Walker’s alleged violence against his ex-wife. More recently, reports surfaced that Walker received a Texas homestead tax exemption despite having voted and run for office in Georgia.  

Georgians turned out in droves to cast their ballots during the early voting period ahead of Tuesday’s runoff, with more than 1.7 million voting early during the newly shortened period. Total turnout as of Tuesday night was 3.5 million, a record for a midterm runoff in Georgia.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Kemp to lawmakers: ‘We cannot rest on our laurels’

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATHENS – Gov. Brian Kemp challenged members of the General Assembly Tuesday to build on the successes that played a major role in the Republican governor’s reelection last month.

Echoing many of the themes of this year’s campaign, Kemp touted Georgia’s achievements during the last two years in economic development, education, and public safety.

On the economic front, the past year has marked the creation of 51,132 private-sector jobs and more than $21.2 billion in investment, Kemp said during a luncheon speech at the University of Georgia closing out the Biennial Institute, a three-day orientation session for newly elected legislators.

Most of those jobs and 85% of that investment occurred outside of metro Atlanta, he said.

“I consider these milestones to be the new level to beat,” he said.

Kemp reiterated a pledge he made on the campaign trail to seek another $1 billion state income tax cut on top of the $1 billion reduction the General Assembly approved this year.

The governor reminded his audience of the $2,000 pay raise the legislature approved for teachers this year. The increase was the final installment of a $5,000 raise the governor promised on the campaign trail four years ago.

Another education-related accomplishment Kemp cited increased benefits through the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships program to 90% of tuition coverage. HOPE provided full tuition coverage until 2011, when growing demand for scholarships combined with the rising costs of tuition forced the General Assembly to reduce benefits.

In the public safety arena, Kemp said he plans to continue a crackdown on human trafficking and on criminal gangs recruiting children. Last year, the governor formed a multi-agency Crime Suppression Unit that has made hundreds of arrests, while Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr more recently created a Gang Prosecution Unit that has produced 11 indictments of 46 suspected gang members.

“We cannot rest on our laurels,” Kemp said. “This is an ongoing fight against criminals.”

The biennial conference, sponsored by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, drew an unusually large crop of incoming freshman legislators, veteran lawmakers, legislative staffers, and lobbyists. Topics of panel discussions during the three days included transportation, health care, economic development, and cybersecurity.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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Port of Savannah’s Ocean Terminal slated for renovations

The Port of Savannah’s Ocean Terminal

ATLANTA – Containerized cargo, which already dominates activity at the Port of Savannah, soon will play an even bigger role.

The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) board has approved a plan to renovate and realign the docks at the port’s Ocean Terminal to better accommodate an expanding container operation.

“For nearly 40 years, Ocean Terminal has been handling a mix of container ships and breakbulk vessels,” authority Executive Director Griff Lynch said. “The realignment is part of a broader effort to transform the terminal into an all-container operation, shifting most breakbulk cargo to the Port of Brunswick.”

The GPA plans to move breakbulk cargo, which doesn’t easily fit into shipping containers, to Colonel’s Island Terminal in Brunswick. Construction has started on 360,000 square feet of dockside warehousing that will serve auto processing there, as well as three additional buildings and 85 acres of auto storage space on the south side of the island.

The 200-acre Ocean Terminal facility will be modified in two phases.

The work will begin with rebuilding the docks to provide 2,800 linear feet of berth space capable of serving two big ships simultaneously. The docks will be served by new ship-to-shore cranes. 

“As the dock construction progresses, GPA will continue to operate container ships at Ocean Terminal,” said Ed McCarthy, the ports authority’s chief operating officer. “The work … will be conducted alongside container and breakbulk operations.”

Apart from new cranes and berth enhancements, the project will bring expanded gate facilities and paving to allow for 1.5 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) of annual cargo capacity. Wharf renovations are scheduled to start in January, with completion of the entire terminal redevelopment expected in 2026.

Port officials expect container volumes to taper downward toward the end of the year after a period of record-breaking business.

Lynch said the opening of a new container berth at the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal next summer and volume declining from historic highs will help expedite vessel service, which experienced backlogs when demand was at its peak.

“While we are beginning to see an anticipated market correction, it is important that GPA move forward with projects like the Ocean Terminal enhancements to accommodate business growth,” GPA board Chairman Joel Wooten said. “Through continued infrastructure improvement, we will ensure the free flow of commerce, and our ability to meet expanding customer demand.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.
 

Ex-school superintendent admits guilt in multiple thefts

ATLANTA – Former Pickens County School Superintendent Carlton Wilson has pleaded guilty to multiple counts of racketeering and theft, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said Monday.

Wilson was involved in various schemes to illegally obtain charitable donations, county tax dollars, and funds from his own business for personal use, including one scheme involving his wife, Cindy.

“Carlton and Cindy Wilson stole thousands of dollars from hardworking Georgians, and now they are facing the consequences of their illegal actions,” Carr said. “This conviction is a major victory for all those who fell victim to the couple’s fraudulent and deceptive tactics.”

“Our detectives and prosecutors with the attorney general’s office worked hundreds of hours analyzing financial records and interviewing dozens of witnesses in an effort to bring this case to a close and provide restitution to our victims of this racketeering enterprise,” Pickens County Sheriff Donnie Craig added.

Wilson is a former teacher, school principal, magistrate judge, school superintendent and victim advocacy director for the district attorney’s office. He and his wife also own and operate a private company in Jasper.

In 2009, a private landowner donated 10 acres to a Boy Scout troop in Pickens County. Wilson was active with the Boy Scouts and exercised control over the land through that association.

Years after the donation, Wilson sold the property and kept $26,420 instead of giving it to the troop. He subsequently used the money to pay personal expenses.

During the last two years, Wilson suffered a serious injury while working for the county, exhausted the balance of his paid sick leave, and certified that he was still unable to work.

But while he was collecting more than $6,000 in leave time donated by county employees, he was actively working at his business doing work with the same physical requirement.

Also in 2021 and this year, both Carlton and Cindy Wilson embezzled funds from the business they shared with two other partners.

They wrote checks totaling more than $79,000 from the company and deposited them into their personal account. In addition, the pair redirected almost $25,000 in company revenue from a vendor to their personal account and took $42,800 in cash from the company.

Carlton and Cindy Wilson pleaded guilty last week. No date has been set for sentencing.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Robotics manufacturer to build North American headquarters in Georgia

Georgia Commissioner of Economic Development Pat Wilson

ATLANTA – A German robotic machinery manufacturer specializing in individualized robotic equipment will build a manufacturing plant in Canton to house its North American headquarters, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday.

Becker Robotic Equipment will invest more than $30 million in a project expected to create 137 new jobs in Cherokee County.

“Georgia continues to attract global companies like Becker to our ever-growing automotive industry,” Kemp said. “We’re grateful for Becker’s decision to locate their North American headquarters in Georgia and look forward to their expanding impact on the Peach State.”

Headquartered in Dülmen, Germany, Becker was founded in 1993 to supply accessories and integrated automated systems, mainly for the automotive industry.

“The investment in Georgia builds on our previous success in the state and enables us to bring about a new phase of growth for our high-tech manufacturing operations,” said Johan Broekhuijsen, Becker’s CEO for global project management. “Georgia’s business environment, particularly regarding e-mobility, has been critical in this regard. The available workforce, business environment and support on all levels drove the decision to remain in the state.”

Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, said Georgia has been a center for the automotive industry since Kia set up shop in West Point in 2009. The automaker has 3,000 employees and has drawn more than 40 suppliers responsible for 12,000 more jobs, Wilson said Monday at the Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators, a three-day orientation session for newly elected lawmakers at the University of Georgia.

“Automotive is a major driver of our economy,” he said.

Becker is looking to hire sales and applications engineers, automotive project managers, non-automotive project managers, inside sales support staff, project engineers, office administrators, HR generalists, manufacturing technicians, and customer and service technicians. Interested individuals can reach out directly to hiring-us@becker-robotic.com.

The state economic development agency worked in partnership with the Cherokee County Development Authority, Georgia EMC and the Technical College System of Georgia’s Quick Start program on the Becker project.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Early voting turnout for Tuesday’s runoff finishes strong

Early voters wait in line at a precinct in Cobb County. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – More than 1.7 million Georgia voters cast ballots last week ahead of the U.S. Senate runoff, a sure sign that interest is high in the contest between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

The 352,953 ballots cast on Friday, the final day for early voting, shattered the previous one-day record for early voting in Georgia set ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Counting absentee and military voters, the total turnout reached 1.85 million, 26.4% of active Georgia voters.

Warnock received more votes than Walker in the Nov. 8 general election, capturing 49.4% of the vote to 48.5% for the Republican. But since neither candidate won more than 50% of the vote, state law requires a runoff to decide the victor.

Democrats have expressed concern about the relatively low number of absentee ballots turned in ahead of the runoff, citing legislation the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed last year requiring voters to show a photo ID to vote absentee and significantly limiting the number of absentee ballot drop boxes.

But Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the strong early voting turnout shows the new law works.

“Georgia has struck the perfect balance between accessibility and security,” Raffensperger said. “These historic turnout levels emphasize that any lawful voter who wants to cast a ballot can do so easily.”

Tuesday is Election Day. Polling locations across the state will be open from 7 a.m. until 7p.m.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.