Peach State Politics (July 30, 2021)

GA students prepare to go back to school, Kemp lashes out at Bottoms for new ATL mask mandate, spa shooter pleads guilty, This Week in Washington, and more

Welcome back to Peach State Politics! I hope everyone is having a safe summer and that everyone is staying cool and hydrated in the extreme heat that we’ve been experiencing this week.

As metro Atlanta students prepare to head back to school and new COVID-19 variants continue to spread, we will take a look at how some districts will be enforcing masks. We will also go over the latest in the ongoing war of words between Mayor Bottoms and Gov. Kemp.

Plus, the suspect in the Atlanta spa rampage has agreed to plead guilty to four of the murders. We will take a look at his sentence and the punishment he faces in another metro Atlanta county. And as always, we’ve got the latest news from Washington. Let’s get started!


Some metro ATL school districts impose mask requirements as students return to class

I know it sounds hard to believe, but this is the last week of summer vacation for many families in metro Atlanta and north Georgia. In fact, some school districts in the metro area will begin returning to class as early as Friday.

But as COVID-19 variants continue to spread and most students remain ineligible to be vaccinated, districts across the area are deciding how to enforce safety precautions such as mask mandates.

This week the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) announced new recommendations for public schools. The agency said Tuesday that all students in kindergarten through 12th grade should keep their masks on at all times, regardless of their vaccination status.

Shortly after the announcement, some metro area school districts announced that they will be requiring masks in all of their schools. Gwinnett County, the largest school district in the state, rolled out a new mask requirement on Wednesday, citing “current conditions, the rise in COVID-19 case rates in Gwinnett County, and the ineligibility of children age 12 and younger for the vaccine.”

For the most part, though, masks remain optional in most metro area districts. Only a handful are requiring masks, but districts with optional mask policies are requiring masks on school buses.

For information on your district’s mask policy, click here.


As COVID cases rise, Kemp and Bottoms spar over new ATL mask mandate

Party like it’s summer 2020: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp are continuing to publicly criticize each other, further deepening the growing rift between City Hall and the Gold Dome.

The two leaders began lashing out at one another after Bottoms announced that Atlanta will reinstate its indoor mask mandate as new COVID-19 variants continue to spread in communities with low vaccination rates. “Wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of this deadly virus,” the Mayor said.

But Kemp has remained opposed to more mask mandates, a year after he took Bottoms and other city officials to court for imposing them. The Republican lashed out at Atlanta leaders at a press conference on Thursday. “I know these officers damn well don’t have time to be writing tickets for not being masked up. I mean, that is ridiculous,” he exclaimed.

Bottoms fired back shortly after his press conference, saying that his strategy to combat crime is the same as his strategy to combat COVID-19: “to pick a fight w/me,” she tweeted. “He should stop trying to win an election by trashing Atlanta, the capital city of the state he leads.”


Atlanta spa shooter takes guilty plea

The accused killer in the shooting rampage at Atlanta area spas earlier this year will serve four life sentences after pleading guilty to four of the murders this week.

Robert Aaron Long faced survivors of the shooting as well as relatives of the victims in the Cherokee County courtroom as he was handed his sentence.

Along with the case in Cherokee County, Long is facing the death penalty in Fulton County, where District Attorney Fani Willis said that a crime as heinous as this one requires the “ultimate penalty.” But Willis also noted that a death penalty case like this one could take up to three years to prosecute.

Click here for my story on the spa shootings.


This Week in Washington

It was another busy week on Capito Hill. Speaker Pelosi’s new hand-picked commission to probe the January 6th riot held its first hearing this week. While House Republicans refused to appoint any of their members, the Speaker decided to add another Trump critic to the panel. Plus, a Trump-endorsed candidate in Texas has lost a special election, and Rep. Andrew Clyde is standing by his comparison of Capito rioters to “tourists.” Also, we have new warnings and guidelines from our nation’s top health officials.


Poll: Reed, Moore lead ATL Mayor field; race remains up for grabs

The race for Atlanta Mayor is very much up for grabs, according to a new poll from 11Alive News and SurveyUSA.

The poll, which sampled more than 500 likely voters, finds former Mayor Kasim Reed in first place with 17%, followed by City Council President Felicia Moore’s 10%. But the poll also says that nearly 2/5ths of voters remain undecided, a sign that the race is still wide open with just over three months until election day. If no candidate earns more than 50% of the vote in November, the race will advance to a runoff between the top two candidates.

Here’s are the full results of the poll:

  • 17% Kasim Reed

  • 10% Felicia Moore

  • 6% Walter Reeves

  • 5% Sharon Gay

  • 5% Antonio Brown

  • 5% Alex Barrella

  • 4% Amanda McGee

  • 3% Andre Dickens

  • 3% Rachele Fruit

  • 2% Brandon Adkins

  • 39% UNDECIDED

An overwhelming majority of voters — 77% — say that crime will be a “major factor” in their vote when they head to the polls this November. SurveyUSA also asked voters about the ongoing federal investigations into Reed’s administration:

SurveyUSA asked voters if “a candidate being under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations (would) be a major factor” in their votes. 64% answered that such an investigation would be a major factor.

The poll’s crosstabs can be found here.


ICYMI: Dem State Senator mulling run for LG

A Democratic State Senator is currently considering a run for Georgia’s second-highest office.

State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) is said to be looking at entering the race for Lieutenant Governor. If she joins the race, she would join a Democratic field that so far includes three candidates: two State Representatives and the grandson of a legendary Georgia politician.

But don’t expect an announcement from her any time soon. Parent is currently the Vice Chair of Fundraising in the Senate Democratic Caucus, a capacity that she will likely use to help raise money off of Republican-drawn maps in the upcoming redistricting session.

My story on Parent can be read here.


We love you, Jovita

On a personal note, I was absolutely devastated to hear about Jovita Moore’s brain cancer diagnosis. You may remember that the veteran Atlanta news anchor had to undergo surgery in the spring to remove two small tumors from her brain. But we sadly learned on Thursday that she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer that currently has no cure. She is now undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment in an attempt to slow the cancer’s growth, according to this new update from WSB-TV.

Georgians from all walks of life, including myself, have come to see Jovita as part of our family. For many years, we have welcomed her into our living rooms every afternoon for updates on the biggest stories across our community. I can confidently say that brain cancer does not know who it is up against this time.

Jovita, Atlanta has relied on you for many years. Now, it’s time for you to rely on Atlanta. We will continue sending love, light and prayers to you, your family and the entire WSB-TV newsroom as you enter this new stage in your treatment. It is my hope that you will be back at the anchor desk very soon.