2022 General Election Voter Guide

The 2022 midterm election takes place on November 8.

In this article, APN will break down candidates of interest to Athens voters, providing information and analysis to help you decide who to vote for.

Before examining this guide, first check out your sample ballot at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov so you know which candidates you have the option to vote for. Most elections on the ballot are discussed in this guide, but offices that are not being contested are not included.

Table of Contents

US Senate
Governor
Lieutenant Governor
Secretary of State
Attorney General
Agriculture Commissioner
Insurance Commissioner
State School Superintendent
Labor Commissioner
US House of Representatives, District 10
State Senate, District 46
State Senate, District 47
State House, District 120
State House, District 121
State House, District 124
Constitutional Amendment #1
Constitutional Amendment #2
Referendum A
Referendum B
Local Referendum

US Senate

2022 US Senate candidates from Georgia
Senator Raphael Warnock (D – left), Herschel Walker (R – center) and Chase Oliver (L – right)

The US Senate is the most prestigious federal legislative body. Senators work together (at least on occasion) to pass laws, ratify treaties, approve spending and vet the President’s judicial appointments.

Reverend Raphael Warnock became Georgia’s first Black Senator after defeating Kelly Loeffler in the 2020 election, tipping the balance of power towards the Democratic party. Warnock’s election was instrumental in the passage of the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, which have been key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda over the past two years.

These bills delivered $1,400 per person in relief funds, temporarily expanded the earned income and child tax credits, extended unemployment insurance, supported small businesses through the pandemic, lowered health insurance premiums, capped the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs for seniors, imposed a minimum tax on corporate profits and made the largest investment in fighting climate change in US history.

Every Republican in Congress voted against both of these landmark bills, allowing Warnock to rightly claim credit for the benefits they brought to Georgia.

Warnock’s opponent is former UGA football running back Herschel Walker, who wants to cut taxes and regulations, build a wall on the southern border, increase funding for law enforcement and the military, restart construction of the Keystone pipeline and boost domestic fossil fuel production, despite the US already being the world’s top oil producer.

On the issue of abortion, Warnock is pro-choice and supports codifying a women’s right to receive reproductive healthcare into law. Walker, on the other hand, is pro-life and supports a complete federal ban on abortion. Walker has recently denied allegations that he paid for his girlfriend to get an abortion back in 2009.

Vote for Warnock if you would like to continue federal support for infrastructure, if you’d like to continue improving the Affordable Care Act and investing in renewable energy, and if you’d like to ensure that women living in Georgia and other Republican-controlled states regain access to abortion care.

Vote for Walker if you can ignore Walker’s many lies and scandals, if you support banning abortion nationwide, if you support building a wall on the southern border or if you support former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Walker.

Vote for Oliver if you don’t have an opinion between Warnock and Walker and want to cast a protest vote.

Governor

2022 Georgia Governor candidates
Brian Kemp (R – left), Stacey Abrams (D – center), Shane Hazel (L – right)

The Governor is the highest executive position in the state of Georgia. The Governor signs or vetoes legislation, implements state law, commands the national guard and manages the various agencies of state government.

In a rematch of 2018, Stacey Abrams will try to defeat Brian Kemp to become America’s first Black woman Governor. In 2018, she came very close to achieving that goal, but narrowly lost to Kemp after receiving 48.8% of the vote. This time around, Senators Warnock and Jon Ossoff have proven that Democrats can win statewide, a fact which should be positive news for Abrams’ chances.

However, Kemp is a much stronger candidate in 2022 than in 2018. He is now an incumbent and is running on a record of which many Georgians approve. Despite having signed a near-total abortion ban into law, 50% of voters approve of Kemp’s overall performance while only 41% disapprove in a recent poll by Morning Consult. On the campaign trail, Kemp has touted his record on the economy. He’s emphasized that he’s made deep tax cuts, that he was the first Governor in the country to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic and that he’s offered large grants to expand access to rural broadband. He has not mentioned that the broadband funding came from Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which he opposed.

Nevertheless, Kemp secured his right flank during the primary with a strong victory over David Perdue, a Trump-backed candidate, and has made appeals to the center with a large pay raise for teachers, government workers and the previously mentioned tax cuts for everyone else.

Abrams, who is trailing in the polls, will have to hope that her message of reproductive justice, expanding healthcare access, defending voting rights, building affordable housing and revitalizing rural areas with more job opportunities will inspire new voters and those who do not typically turn out to the polls.

Vote for Kemp if you’d like to continue his brand of conservative leadership, including tax cuts, a pro-business economy, making it more difficult to vote (particularly absentee) and criminalizing abortion.

Vote for Abrams if you’d like to head in a new direction. For example, if you’d like to focus more on workers and tenants than business owners and landlords, if you’d like to make it easier to legally vote instead of harder and if you’d like to defend the right to receive abortion care rather than continue to criminalize this procedure in Georgia.

Vote for Hazel if you don’t have an opinion between Abrams and Kemp and want to cast a protest vote.

Lieutenant Governor

2022 Lieutenant Governor candidates in Georgia
Charlie Bailey (D – left), Burt Jones (R – center), Ryan Graham (L – right)

The Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Georgia Senate. They preside over debate among senators and work to advance legislation. The Lieutenant Governor also steps in if the Governor is no longer able to serve.

Georgia’s current Lieutenant Governor is Geoff Duncan, an outspoken critic of both Donald Trump and Herschel Walker. Since Duncan is disliked by many in the Republican voter base, he has decided not to run for re-election.

That means the Lieutenant Governor position is open this year, and there are two major candidates vying for the seat: Burt Jones, a state senator and founder of an insurance company, and Charlie Bailey, the former Senior Assistant District Attorney of Fulton County. Comparing the two, we find that Jones has a bit of an edge in terms of legislative experience over Bailey, who originally planned to run for Attorney General. Bailey changed his mind and decided to run for Lieutenant Governor instead to leave the Attorney General seat for Jen Jordan (see below).

Bailey is running on a platform of improving healthcare access by expanding Medicaid and lowering prescription drug prices. He also wants to fully-fund education and invest in technical colleges.

Jones also wants to fund education and invest in technical colleges, but instead of expanding healthcare access, he says he’d like to cut taxes and increase funding for law enforcement. Furthermore, he wants to aggressively investigate voter fraud (if he can find any cases of it happening), ban critical race theory in K-12 education (although it hasn’t ever been taught to children) and “help secure the Southern Border” (although Georgia doesn’t share a border with Mexico and the border with Florida is pretty secure already).

Also of note is that Jones was involved in the “fake elector” scheme to overturn the 2020 Presidential election in favor of former President Donald Trump.

Vote for Bailey if you want to fund education and expand healthcare access and you don’t mind letting a competent person like Bailey learn on the job for the first year or so.

Vote for Jones if you’d rather fund law enforcement and cut taxes than expand Medicaid access for working Georgians.

Vote for Graham if you don’t have an opinion between Jones and Bailey and want to cast a protest vote.

Secretary of State

2022 Georgia Secretary of State candidates
Brad Raffensperger (R – left), Bee Nguyen (D – center), Ted Metz (L – right)

The Secretary of State manages elections, keeps track of corporate paperwork and grants professional licenses.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger gained national attention when then President Donald Trump encouraged him to interfere in the 2020 election by “finding” 11,780 votes. Raffensperger refused to do so and leaked a recording of the phone call to the Washington Post. The call is still being investigated by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Raffensperger’s reputation for honesty, integrity and his willingness to stand up even to members of his own party will surely be an asset in his bid for re-election against his opponent this year, Bee Nguyen. Nguyen, who is currently a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, contends that even if Raffensperger did not break the law as Trump requested, he has still used the power of his office to unfairly improve the chances for Republicans statewide.

Nguyen opposes voter suppression in all its forms, even if accomplished legally through methods like purging the rolls of inactive voters. As a state representative, Nguyen spoke out against the “exact match” voter registration law used by Raffensperger until it was abandoned in 2019.

Raffensperger has defended both his aggressive purges of the voter rolls and SB 202, the controversial 2021 elections law. As he told CNN in one interview, “there is no legitimate reason to keep ineligible voters on the rolls.” As voters die or move to other states, regular purges remove them from the rolls, helping to ensure election integrity according to Raffensperger.

Voting rights organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice disagree, saying that these sorts of purges are often flawed and can disenfranchise legal voters.

Vote for Raffensperger if you approve of his handling of the 2020 election, or if you want a Secretary of State who will aggressively defend election integrity even at the cost of disenfranchising some legal voters.

Vote for Nguyen if you want to make it easier to legally vote and if you want to stop the regular purging of Georgia’s voter rolls.

Vote for Metz if you don’t have an opinion between Raffensperger and Nguyen and want to cast a protest vote.

Attorney General

2022 Georgia Attorney General candidates
Chris Carr (R – left), Jen Jordan (D – center), Martin Cowen (L – right)

The Attorney General is the head legal advisor for the Governor and the rest of the executive branch. He or she provides legal opinions and represents the state in court.

Chris Carr has been Georgia’s Attorney General since 2017. This year he’s running for re-election against Jen Jordan, a state senator and practicing attorney with Atlanta-based law firm Shamp, Jordan & Woodward.

Carr has strong right-wing credentials, having challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act back in 2018 when that was fashionable. More recently he has defended SB 202, Georgia’s controversial voting reform law, from a US Department of Justice lawsuit which he dismisses as “blatantly political.” His other priorities include “tough on crime” measures like being more aggressive in fighting gangs and human trafficking.

Jordan, on the other hand, has placed greater emphasis on reforming the criminal justice system by providing oversight and strengthening accountability for law enforcement. She promises to fight for clean air and clean water by ensuring that environmental regulations are upheld and she also pledges to fight Republican voter suppression efforts.

Vote for Carr if you’d like to aggressively fight gangs and human trafficking, or if you’d like to see SB 202 upheld in court.

Vote for Jordan if you want to hold police accountable when they abuse their power, if you’d like to see SB 202 struck down in court or if you want the next Attorney General to help stop pollution by aggressively enforcing environmental protection laws.

Vote for Cowen if you don’t have an opinion between Carr and Jordan and want to cast a protest vote.

Agriculture Commissioner

Tyler Harper (R – left), Nakita Hemingway (D – center), David Raudabaugh (L – right)

The Agriculture Commissioner regulates and assists with the agriculture industry in Georgia throughout the entire supply chain, from farms to the grocery store. They also help market Georgia agricultural products overseas.

Gary Black, Georgia’s Agriculture Commissioner since 2011, ran for US Senate against Herschel Walker in the Republican primary this year, meaning he will be stepping down from his current post at the end of the year.

That opens the door for either Tyler Harper (R) or Nakita Hemingway (D) to take over for Black in 2023. Hemingway currently manages a small-cut flower farm, so she has some agriculture experience but has never served in elected office before. Harper is a state senator and farmer who claims to still use his grandfather’s tractor while tending his fields. Perhaps he could use an upgrade.

If elected, Harper plans to fight federal environmental regulations, end tariffs, expand the Georgia Grown program and improve rural infrastructure for broadband internet to benefit farmers. Hemingway’s platform is a bit more ambitious, including a plan to end child hunger in Georgia by 2025, convening an emergency task force on the problem and establishing a state hunger authority. She also wants to legalize and expand state cannabis and hemp production with what she’s calling a “farm recovery plan.”

Hemingway also wants to investigate, prosecute and work to minimize slave labor in agriculture, an ongoing problem in Georgia.

Vote for Harper if you think federal environmental regulations or unfair trade deals are among the most pressing problems farmers face.

Vote for Hemingway if you’d rather focus on ending child hunger, human trafficking and slavery, and also if you’d like to see Georgia farmers profit from a legal cannabis industry.

Vote for Raudabaugh if you don’t have an opinion between Harper and Hemingway and want to cast a protest vote.

Insurance Commissioner

2022 Georgia Insurance Commissioner candidates
John King (R – left), Janice Laws Robinson (D – right)

The Commissioner of Insurance regulates insurance companies, investigates potential fraud and inspects buildings to help improve fire safety.

John King become Commissioner of Insurance in 2019 after the previous commissioner, Jim Beck, was suspended by Governor Brian Kemp after being accused of fraud and money laundering. Beck was convicted of stealing more than $2.5 million and was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison.

King, who previously served as Doraville’s Police Chief, is unsurprisingly running on a platform of fighting corruption and restoring public trust in his office. King is Hispanic and was born in Mexico, making him the first Hispanic statewide official in Georgia.

Janice Laws Robinson has worked in the insurance industry for 20 years. She is running to lower insurance premiums, especially in auto insurance, which she says have “skyrocketed out of control.” She also wants to hold insurance companies accountable when they engage in “predatory” practices and ensure that fire safety codes are enforced.

Vote for King if you think he’s done a good job so far, if you want to support Georgia’s first Hispanic statewide official or if you think a former police chief is the best person to change the apparently corrupt culture at the Insurance Commissioner’s office.

Vote for Robinson if you want the next Insurance Commissioner to focus on lowering rates for car insurance and fighting for consumers against the insurance industry.

State School Superintendent

2022 Georgia State School Superintendent candidates
Richard Woods (R – left), Alisha Searcy (D – right)

The State School Superintendent oversees Georgia’s public education system and heads the state Board of Education.

Richard Woods has been the Superintendent of Georgia Schools since 2015. He’s running for re-election against Alisha Searcy, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives and current CEO of an education consulting firm. Searcy is a strong supporter of charter schools and is running on this issue as a primary focus of her campaign. She also wants parents to be allowed to remove the administration of failing schools through use of a “trigger option.”

The Georgia Association of Educators have already announced their list of candidates they have endorsed this cycle. They’re mostly Democrats but there is one Republican on the list: Richard Woods. GAE President Lisa Morgan explained her organization’s endorsement to WABE: “We believe that Mr. Woods, who is an actual educator, who has experience in the classroom, understands public education and understands our positions. We believe that he is more focused on ensuring that the voices of the experts and the classroom teachers are at the forefront of the decisions.”

ACC Commissioner Russell Edwards, a Democrat, also opposes Searcy’s candidacy and he wrote an op-ed in the Flagpole explaining his position.

Even so, Democrats should remember that Woods is a Republican and has issues of his own that they may find worrisome. For example, he has supported a prohibition against teaching “divisive concepts” like critical race theory in classrooms (which, by the way, is not taught in Georgia K-12 education). More to the point, he’s also a supporter of charter schools even if he hasn’t made this issue the focus of his campaign in the way that Searcy has.

Vote for Woods if you believe having actual classroom experience, and having almost eight years experience as superintendent, makes him the best person to lead Georgia schools. You should also vote for Woods if you trust the opinion of GAE, or if you want to discourage Democratic candidates from supporting charter schools in the future.

Vote for Searcy if you support charter schools. Even if you don’t, vote for her anyway if you want a Democrat in office to oppose things like banning “divisive concepts,” knowing that Woods also supports charter schools.

Labor Commissioner

2022 Georgia Labor Commission candidates
William Boddie (D – left), Bruce Thompson (R – center), Emily Anderson (L – right)

The Commissioner of Labor manages the implementation of state laws about labor and the workforce, such as relating to wages, hours and other compensation. The Commissioner of Labor runs the state unemployment insurance program and also helps to develop Georgia’s workforce.

Mark Butler has served as Commissioner of Labor since 2011 but is not running for re-election. In his place, voters have two major candidates to pick from: Bruce Thompson, a Georgia Senator and CEO of Thompson Insurance company, and Will Boddie, lawyer, community organizer and member of the Georgia House of Representatives.

If elected, Boddie pledges to stand with organized labor in the fight for better pay and improved working conditions. He promises to restore timely unemployment insurance payments and to reopen unemployment offices closed during the pandemic. He also wants to open more career centers throughout the state so that rural Georgians don’t have to drive as far to access one, and he wants to provide more training and workforce development opportunities.

Thompson’s campaign focuses on reforming the slow and inefficient operations of the Department of Labor, but he doesn’t have much of a campaign platform beyond fixing those issues. In a Facebook post using the hashtag #back2work, he does mention that he wants to work with the “business community to ensure we have a strong workforce and a business-friendly environment,” but there is no mention of organized labor or workers rights anywhere in Thompson’s campaign messaging.

Vote for Boddie if you feel that workers deserve a voice and that labor unions should have a seat at the table when state labor policy is implemented.

Vote for Thompson if you’d rather focus on the needs of business owners and want Georgia to remain among the top states in the country in which to do business.

Vote for Anderson if you don’t have an opinion between Boddie and Thompson and want to cast a protest vote.

US House of Representatives, District 10

2022 US House Georgia District 10 candidates
Mike Collins (R – left), Tabitha Johnson-Green (D – right)

The US House of Representatives may not be as prestigious as the Senate, but it’s an important federal legislative body that passes laws, levies taxes, approves spending and initiates impeachments, holding the executive branch accountable.

Athens’ US Representative Jody Hice ran for Secretary of State this year and lost badly to Brad Raffensperger. That means he’s out of the picture and District 10 voters will get to choose between Mike Collins and Tabitha Johnson-Green, two candidates who won their respective primaries fairly convincingly.

Johnson-Green is trying for the third time to win this seat for the Democrats. As a registered nurse, improving America’s healthcare system is a main focus for her and she wants to do that by implementing a single-payer, Medicare-for-all insurance system. She also wants to end partisan gerrymandering and require “dark money” groups to disclose their political contributions.

Mike Collins, the owner of trucking business, is a big supporter of former President Trump even though Trump backed his opponent during the primary. Collins wants to cut federal spending, cut corporate taxes, privatize social security, build a border wall, end birthright citizenship and allow gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

Vote for Collins if you think the military and border security are the most important things the federal government does and if you want to cut everything else, including social security.

Vote for Johnson-Green if you want the federal government to use its influence to do things like lower healthcare costs and prevent the states from engaging in partisan or racial gerrymandering.

State Senate, District 46

Bill Cowsert (R – left), Andrew Ferguson (D – right)

The Georgia Senate is the upper chamber of the state legislature. Together with the House of Representatives, Senators debate and pass laws, approve the state’s budget and initiate the process of amending the state constitution.

Bill Cowsert has been a Georgia Senator since 2007 and has been the majority leader for much of that time. This means he is extremely powerful and will be almost impossible to defeat, if for no other reason than he got to pick his voters in the last round of redistricting. Cowsert also had $310,108 on hand at the end of January. That’s significantly more than Andrew Ferguson, a professional screenwriter and former candidate for US Congress, will raise throughout the entire year.

While in office, Cowsert has voted to restrict abortion rights, to make voting more difficult, to limit investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools, to allow guns to be carried without a permit, to mandate cash bail for some offenses, to criminalize some forms of protest and to support education vouchers potentially at the expense of public schools.

Ferguson, on the other hand, is running to expand Medicaid, ensure access to abortion care, fully fund our schools, protect voting rights and train a new clean energy workforce to support the transition to renewables.

Vote for Cowsert if you want the candidate with the most experience, if you appreciate the many bills he’s passed or if you want to keep Georgia a red state through continued voter suppression and gerrymandering.

Vote for Ferguson if you want to go in a dramatically different direction with new leadership and if you don’t mind voting for the candidate with less experience.

State Senate, District 47

Frank Ginn (R – left), Conolus Scott, Jr. (D – right)

Frank Ginn has been a Georgia Senator since 2011. While not quite as well-resourced or powerful as Bill Cowsert, he will surely cruise to another victory in 2022. District 47 has been deep red for a long time, but with redistricting it’s actually lost some Republican voters to District 46 to help defend Cowsert’s seat. That means it could end up swinging Democratic at some point this decade (just not this year).

Ginn has voted for all the same Republican legislation that Cowsert supported (see above) … and then some. In addition to all of that, he also voted against hate crimes legislation, he voted against ending the citizens’ arrest (even after Ahmaud Arbery’s murder) and he voted in favor of allowing guns on college campuses.

Ginn’s opponent is Conolus Scott, Jr., a plumber, former supervisor at Westinghouse and coordinator of Ministry-to-Men, an organization that serves C.M.E. churches. Scott supports voting rights, expanding Medicaid, promoting access to healthy food by eliminating “food deserts” and also the right to affordable housing for all people.

Vote for Ginn if you prefer the farthest-right candidate with most political and legislative experience. If you believe the archaic practice of the citizen’s arrest and easier access to guns make us safer, even if some innocent people are occasionally shot, you’re definitely a Ginn voter.

Vote for Scott if you want to go in a new direction for Georgia, and don’t mind voting for the candidate with less legislative experience.

State House of Representatives, District 120

Houston Gaines (R – left), Mokah Jasmine Johnson (D – right)

The Georgia House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the state legislature. Together with the Senate, representatives debate and pass laws, approve the state’s budget and initiate the process of amending the state constitution.

Houston Gaines has been a member of the Georgia House of Representatives since 2019. His victory over Deborah Gonzalez to reclaim her seat for the Republican party was the start of what will surely be a long and successful political career. Gaines is an excellent fundraiser, probably because the wealthy and powerful conservatives of the state consider him to be an excellent servant.

That being said, Gaines is a bit more moderate than his Trump-like campaign rhetoric would have us believe. But during his short time in office, he’s already voted to ban abortion, to allow concealed weapons to be carried without a permit and to make voting more difficult. He’s also fought back against bail reform efforts by voting to restrict signature bonds.

On the other hand, Gaines has sponsored some legislation that Democrats will appreciate, such as allowing for the expungement of more criminal records to remove what would otherwise be a lifetime barrier to employment for some people.

This year, Gaines is in a rematch with activist Mokah Jasmine Johnson, founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. In addition to the typical legislative priorities that all Democrats have, like expanding Medicaid, Johnson has recently called on the state government to allow local governments to enact rent control. Johnson made this a focus of her campaign after many in Athens are being removed from their homes due to rapidly rising rents.

Gaines has not yet commented on the recent displacements and does not yet have a plan to do anything about it.

Vote for Gaines if you want the candidate with the most experience to remain in office, or if you appreciate his more moderate right-wing style of leadership.

Vote for Johnson if you want a representative who will take the housing crisis seriously and who will fight for the interests of all of her constituents, not just wealthy donors.

State House of Representatives, District 121

Marcus Wiedower (R – left), Jeff Auerbach (D – right)

Similar to Gaines, Marcus Wiedower has also been a member of the Georgia House of Representatives since 2019. While affable and perhaps a bit more accessible to constituents, he’s nowhere near the fundraising powerhouse that Gaines is. Even so, he’ll have vastly more resources for this campaign than will his opponent, Jeff Auerbach.

Auerbach is a political scientist and political economist who has no actual legislative experience but who seems to have an excellent understanding of the legislative process. He’s not running on any big, controversial ideas, but instead he wants to use his academic prowess to improve people’s lives through small changes to Georgia’s legal code. What a nerd!

In his interview with APN, Auerbach described several of the small but important priorities he has, such as allowing the sale of feral hog meat (these animals are a huge problem for farmers in south Georgia), reducing unnecessary legal fees by allowing fathers to have parental rights to their children at birth, lowering our insurance premiums by enacting a state re-insurance program and of course, expanding Medicaid.

Vote for Wiedower if you want representative with direct experience legislating who is more of a “people-person” than someone who understands the issues on an academic level.

Vote for Auerbach if you want a representative with a deep understanding of the issues and the way in which our problems can be solved through better legislation.

State House of Representatives, District 124

Trey Rhodes (R – left), Kat Howkins (D – right)

Trey Rhodes is a Republican from Greensboro who has served in the Georgia House of Representatives since 2015. He works as a financial planner. His Democratic opponent is Kat Howkins, an animal advocate who started the Sweet Olive animal rescue farm.

This year, Rhodes voted for things like banning “divisive concepts” in Georgia schools and to allow the concealed carry of firearms without a permit. Howkins, on the other hand, wants to do things like protect voting rights, the environment and expand Medicaid if elected.

Vote for Rhodes if you’d like to see continued Republican dominance of the state house or if you think that defending gun rights is more important than defending voting rights.

Vote for Howkins if you’d like make it easier to vote legally and more difficult to carry a gun legally, or if you’d like to protect the environment for animals and to expand Medicaid for humans.

Constitutional Amendment #1: Stop paying politicians who commit felonies

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to suspend the compensation of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State School Superintendent, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor, or any member of the General Assembly while such individual is suspended from office following indictment for a felony?”

This amendment was added to the ballot after Jim Beck, former Insurance Commissioner, stole $2.5 million through fraud and money laundering but was still drawing a government paycheck after being indicted and put on trial. He’s now serving a seven-year prison term, so he’s no longer getting paid by the state of Georgia, thank goodness. However, it would have been nice to cut him off a little earlier in this process.

If passed, this amendment would allow compensation for public officials to be suspended if they are under felony indictment. State officials who are indicted but then later proven innocent would be reinstated to office and given full back-pay.

Vote YES on Amendment #1 if you think public officials indicted on felony charges should stop receiving a government paycheck in some circumstances.

Vote NO on Amendment #1 if you think public officials indicted on felony charges should continue receiving their state salary in all circumstances unless they are proven guilty.

Constitutional Amendment #2: Tax relief in case of disasters

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the governing authority of each county, municipality, and consolidated government and the board of education of each independent and county school system in this state shall be authorized to grant temporary tax relief to properties within its jurisdiction which are severely damaged or destroyed as a result of a disaster and located within a nationally declared disaster area?

This amendment is on the ballot after the city of Newnan wanted to provide property tax relief to residents when a devastating tornado destroyed many homes there. However, the state constitution does not currently allow cities to do this. That meant the owners of thousands of destroyed or damaged homes in Newnan had to pay taxes as if nothing had happened, even though the city wanted to give them a refund!

Note that this amendment does not require cities to do this. It allows them to, if they want.

Vote YES on Amendment #2 if you think cities should be allowed to offer temporary tax relief in the case of federally-recognized natural disasters.

Vote NO on Amendment #2 if if you don’t think cities should be allowed to offer temporary tax relief, even in the case of federally-recognized natural disasters.

Referendum A

Shall the Act be approved which grants a state-wide exemption from all ad valorem taxes for certain equipment used by timber producers in the production or harvest of timber? 

This amendment would lower taxes for the timber industry, perhaps encouraging the growth of this industry in Georgia but also reducing state revenues.

Vote YES on Referendum A if you think the timber industry should pay less in taxes.

Vote NO on Referendum A if you want to keep taxes on the timber industry the same as they are now.

Referendum B

Shall the Act be approved which expands a state-wide exemption from ad valorem taxes for agricultural equipment and certain farm products held by certain entities to include entities comprising two or more family owned farm entities, and which adds dairy products and unfertilized eggs of poultry as qualified farm products with respect to such exemption?

This referendum would remove the ad valorem tax on eggs and dairy products and would allow corporations resulting from the merger of two “family-owned farms” to receive the tax break. Small corporations or partnerships could benefit from this, but large corporations could also benefit if they are owned by at least two people related to the fourth-degree of civil reckoning at a minimum.

By the way, the fourth-degree of civil reckoning would include great-great-grandparents, great-great-grandchildren and first cousins once-removed. People who are more closely related, including half-siblings, could also get this tax break.

Vote YES on Referendum B if you think the agriculture industry should pay less in taxes as long as some of the owners of a particular agriculture business are related.

Vote NO on Referendum B if you want to keep taxes on the agriculture industry the same as they are now.

Local Referendum

“Shall the Act to increase the existing general and senior homestead exemptions from $10,000.00 to $25,000.00 and create a low-income base year assessed value homestead exemption from Athens-Clarke County ad valorem taxes for unified government purposes be approved?”

If passed, this referendum would do two things: first, it would more than double Athens’ already large homestead exemption on property taxes levied by the local government (it would not affect property taxes levied by the school board). Second, it would allow the tax assessor to freeze property taxes for homeowners under 200% of the federal poverty line (or $27,180 a year). These low-income homeowners would have to apply before receiving this exemption.

Different versions of the tax freeze idea have been proposed by Athens politicians before, but this particular one was from Commissioner Tim Denson. He requested that the state legislature allow a property tax freeze for low-income homeowners, and the idea was co-signed by the entire commission.

Representative Houston Gaines agreed to do the tax freeze for low-income homeowners, but only if wealthier homeowners got a tax break at the same time. He sponsored the tax break bill and included a provision in it that would more than double Athens’ homestead exemption, even though the commission did not ask him to do that.

Of course, the commission could always raise property taxes to compensate for an unwanted homestead exemption. Doing so would erode some of the benefits for homeowners and would place an extra tax burden on local business owners, landlords and others who don’t live in their Athens properties. This might sound like a good thing, but it’s important to know that these landlords may be able to get away with raising rents, thereby making their renters pay for the extra expense instead.

The potential effects here are complicated, with multiple effects and counter-effects happening at the same time.

My best guess of what will happen should this referendum pass is:

  • The local government will raise tax rates a bit, but still their revenue will be slightly reduced.
  • Landlords will raise rents a bit, but they’ll lose even more due to increased taxes.
  • Athens renters will have to pay slightly increased rents, as they have no one else to pass on the burden to.
  • Low-income home owners will see a significant benefit, because they’ll get both the homestead exemption and the tax freeze. (This is true as long as they apply for the tax freeze.)
  • All other homeowners will see a slight tax benefit, even if rates go up slightly to compensate.

Now that this is as clear as mud, here’s how you should vote:

Vote YES on the local referendum if you are a homeowner who wants to pay lower taxes, or if you want to provide significant help to low-income homeowners who are struggling to afford their tax bill and are at risk of being pushed out.

Vote NO on the local referendum if you rent or own property in Athens that you don’t live in, or if you don’t want low-income renters to pay slightly higher rents.

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