Georgia Today: Raffensperger wants changes, Augusta arena reopening, USPS honors John Lewis
LISTEN: On the Wednesday Dec. 14 edition of Georgia Today: Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants changes, James Brown Arena in Augusta is reopening, and the USPS is honoring John Lewis.
Peter Biello: Welcome to the new Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Wednesday, Dec. 14. I'm Peter Biello. Coming up on today's episode: Georgia's secretary of state is adding his voice to those calling for an end to runoff elections in Georgia. Augusta's James Brown Arena will host its first event since a tragedy there last month. And the United States Postal Service is giving a special honor to the late John Lewis. These stories and more are coming up on Georgia Today.
Peter Biello: Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger released a statement this morning calling on the Georgia legislature to end runoff elections. Georgia is one of only a few that still allow the practice, and the process has faced increased criticism, particularly with this year's shortened runoff period. GPB's Stephen Fowler reports on what that could mean for lawmakers and voters.
Stephen Fowler: After SB 202 shortened the runoff from nine weeks to four, everyone from voters to campaigns to local elections, officers have expressed a desire for change. Now add Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to the mix: Georgia's top elections official wants lawmakers to change general election rules to get rid of runoffs that coincide with Thanksgiving because it's costly and tough on counties. What kind of changes could we see? There's moving to ranked-choice voting; only having a runoff if nobody gets more than 45%; and, of course, whoever has the most votes wins. But the legislature, which starts in session in January, will have to vote on any of the changes. For GPB News, I'm Stephen Fowler.
Peter Biello: Georgians with disabilities have long suffered from a cumbersome system when seeking community-based care. Thousands are unable to access Medicaid waivers to cover the cost of services. A legislative committee made recommendations today to eliminate the logjam. GPB's Riley Bunch has the story.
Riley Bunch: More than 7,000 Georgians with intellectual and developmental disabilities are on a waitlist for services from the state, and many have been on it for years. A bipartisan group of legislators studying the issue recommended funding of 2,400 additional waiver slots in the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget. But committee co-chair Sen. Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat, says their work is far from over.
Sally Harrell: We are not going to be able to address the whole thing right now. This is the beginning. This is the kickoff of a process of solving these issues, which are deep and complex.
Riley Bunch: The committee recommended repeating the investment over the course of three years to eliminate the waitlist altogether. For GPB News, I'm Riley Bunch.
Peter Biello: Tonight, Augusta's James Brown Arena will host its first event since a maintenance worker died there last month. As GPB's Orlando Montoya reports, the 1970s building is not aging well.
Orlando Montoya: While the death remains under investigation, initial reports blamed it on a gas leak from a heating and cooling system. Officials have called the building functionally obsolete. Arena Board Chairman Cedric Johnson says events will continue to take place there while Augusta-Richmond County works on the financing to replace it.
Cedric Johnson: I plan to have my family there with children to show that I am very confident that what happened was just an accident.
Orlando Montoya: Last year, local voters rejected a tax increase to pay for a new arena, which could cost $250 million. The worker who died was a 66-year-old from Hephzibah. Tonight's event is the Harlem Globetrotters. For GPB News, I'm Orlando Montoya.
Peter Biello: The Army says a soldier who was fatally shot at Fort Stewart was a sergeant whose nearly eight years of military service included a deployment to Afghanistan. 30-year-old Sgt. Nathan M. Hillman of Pennsylvania was killed Monday by a gunman at the Army post southwest of Savannah. Hillman was a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist who joined the Army in 2015. Police arrested a suspect whose name has not been released.
Peter Biello: Descendants of a Black working-class Athens neighborhood that was demolished in the 1960s to make way for dormitories at the University of Georgia are now the first in the state to have secured reparations from a city government for what they lost. GPB's Grant Blankenship has more.
Grant Blankenship: State law rules out direct cash reparations to the descendants of the Linnentown neighborhood, many of whom belong to families who owned their homes before those structures were replaced by younger student housing. Instead, the Athens Court Commission set aside $2.5 million of American Rescue Plan funds for purposes hand-picked by descendants: Affordable housing and building a new Center for Racial Justice. Hattie Thomas Whitehead leads the Linnentown Project.
Hattie Thomas Whitehead: I'm over the moon! For the county, for the descendants — it is so historic.
Grant Blankenship: Whitehead and others are still asking for another $2.5 million from the University of Georgia for its role in the Linnentown episode, which the Athens-Clarke County government officially deemed, quote, "an act of terrorism and white supremacy." For GPB News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon.
Peter Biello: The U.S. Postal Service will honor the late congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis with a postage stamp next year.
John Lewis: But, we will march with the spirit of love and the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today. We must say: "Wake up America! Wake up!" For we cannot stop and we will not and cannot be patient.
Peter Biello: The design of the stamp. Uses a photograph taken by Marco Grob for a 2013 issue of Time magazine. Lewis, then 73, wears a dark suit and blue tie and looks directly into the camera. The Postal Service said the stamp celebrates the life and legacy of Lewis, who died at age 80 in 2020 from pancreatic cancer.
Peter Biello: And it is that time of year when you hear Christmas and holiday music pretty much everywhere you go. But what is the most popular Christmas song in Georgia? FinanceBuzz used Google Trends to find the most popular Christmas song in every state. And it turns out that the most popular Christmas song in Georgia is "Santa Baby."
Eartha Kitt: (singing) Santa, baby. Just slip a sable under the tree for me. Been an awful good girl.
Peter Biello: Along with Georgia, "Santa Baby" is the favorite in Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Idaho. And that is it for today's edition of Georgia Today. Thank you so much for tuning in. Tell us what you think about what you've been hearing so far. You can do that by email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org
I'm Peter Biello. We'll see you again tomorrow.