Archives for category: Georgia

Stephanie McCrummen wrote this story in the Washington Post about what happened when Kevin Van Ausdal ran against a member of QAnon in a Congressional district in Georgia.

There was a time when Kevin Van Ausdal had not yet been called a “loser” and “a disgrace” and hustled out of Georgia. He had not yet punched a wall, or been labeled a “communist,” or a person “who’d probably cry like a baby if you put a gun in his face.” He did not yet know who was going to be the Republican nominee for Congress in his conservative district in northwestern Georgia: the well-known local neurosurgeon, or the woman he knew vaguely as a person who had openly promoted conspiracies including something about a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

Anything still seemed possible in the spring of 2020, including the notion that he, Kevin Van Ausdal, a 35-year-old political novice who wanted to “bring civility back to Washington” might have a shot at becoming a U.S. congressman.

So one day in March, he drove his Honda to the gold-domed state capitol in Atlanta, used his IRS refund to pay the $5,220 filing fee and became the only Democrat running for a House seat in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, which Donald Trump won by 27 points in the 2016 presidential election.

He hired a local campaign manager named Vinny Olsziewski, who had handled school board races and a couple of congressionals.

He came up with a slogan — “Save the American Dream” — and posted his first campaign ad, a one-minute slide show of snapshots with voters set to colonial fife-and-drum music.

He gave one of the first public interviews he had ever given in his life, about anything, on a YouTube show called Destiny, and when the host asked, “How do you appeal to these people while still holding onto what you believe in?” Kevin answered, “It’s all about common sense and reaching across the aisle. That’s what politics is supposed to be like.”

All of that was before August, when Republican primary voters chose the candidate with the history of promoting conspiracies, and President Trump in a tweet called her a “future Republican Star” and Kevin began learning more about Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose first major ad featured her roaring across a field in a Humvee, pulling out an AR-15 rifle and blasting targets labeled “open borders” and “socialism.”

He read that she was wealthy, had rented a condo in the district earlier in the year to run for Congress, and that before running she had built an online following by promoting baseless, fringe right-wing conspiracies — that Bill and Hillary Clinton have been involved in murders, that President Obama is a Muslim, and more recently, about the alternate universe known as QAnon.

“I’ve seen some mention of lizard people?” Kevin said, going through news articles to learn more about QAnon. “And JFK’s ghost? Or maybe he’s still alive? And QAnon is working with Trump to fight the deep state? I’m not sure I understand.”

He plunged deeper, reading about a world in which a cryptic online figure called Q is fighting to take down a network of Democrats, Hollywood actors and global elites who engage in child-trafficking and drink a life-extending chemical harvested from the blood of their victims. He read about an FBI memo warning that QAnon followers could pose a domestic terrorism threat, and the reality sank in that the only thing standing between Marjorie Taylor Greene and the halls of Congress was him. Kevin.

“I’m the one,” he said. “I’m it.”

That was how the campaign began. Thirty-one days later it was over, and within those 31 days is a chronicle of how one candidate representing the most extreme version of American politics is heading to Congress with no opposition, and the other is, in his words, “broken.”

It is an outcome that was in some ways years in the making, as all but the most committed Democrats in northwestern Georgia had long become Republican, or abandoned hope of winning the mostly White, mostly rural district of gun shops and churches, leaving the Democratic Party so weak that in 2018, the nominee for Congress was a man who had run a nudist retreat.

But as Greene gave a victory speech railing against the “hate-America left” and calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “b—-,” Kevin sensed an opening. He would counter her extremism with moderation. He would talk about jobs and health care. He would double down on civility. As he told Vinny soon after hiring him as campaign manager, “People say I’m a nice guy, and I am. I think that’s the best approach.”

His team urged him to become more forceful, to respond with anger and outrage to her charges against him. He wasn’t used to that tone. Greene launched a fierce attack on Kevin.

“We have had enough,” she began, launching a tirade against “the radical left” and “Marxist BLM” and “these thugs, these domestic terrorists, these anarchists, these insurrectionists” and the Democrats’ “globalist plans, their open-border plans, their take your guns away plans, their abortion kill babies up to birth and maybe even afterwards plans.” She urged people to enter a raffle to win the AR-15 she’d used in her campaign ad because “socialism does not belong in America” and “we need to blow it away.” And then, for the first time, she addressed Kevin.

“I’m running against a radical Democrat. A Democrat socialist. He’s an AOC progressive — that really means communist — candidate,” Green said, referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), “who absolutely loves AOC and Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, you know, king of the basement dwellers. So, help me beat this Democrat in November. Help me go on to Congress.”

Below the video, her supporters began posting comments.

“WWG1WGA,” one wrote, using QAnon code for “Where we go one, we go all.”

“Gloves are off,” another wrote.

The comments kept coming, and Kevin, trying to calm his nerves, went into a spare bedroom, shut the door, and stayed there long enough that his wife finally texted him from another part of the house to see if he was okay.

“She is calling for a civil war!” he texted back, referring to Greene. “And I am expected to call her out tomorrow!”

Greene ratcheted up her attacks by posting a photo on Facebook, this one showing her in sunglasses and holding an AR-15 rifle next to a photo of three of the four Democratic congresswomen known as “The Squad,” titled “Squad’s Worst Nightmare.”

The race gained national attention but Kevin’s life began to fall apart. He made a video to respond to Greene. Donations began flowing in. The national media was watching the race. But his wife asked for a divorce. She couldn’t deal with the stress anymore. On Day 28 of the campaign, a sheriff’s deputy served him with divorce papers and told him he had to leave the house.

Kevin was homeless. He headed to his parents’ home in Indiana and moved into the basement. He gave up the campaign.

Marjorie Green ran unopposed.

A week later, Marjorie Taylor Greene was arriving in her Humvee for a pro-gun rally at a rural amphitheater not far from where Kevin once lived.

Alongside county sheriff’s deputies, the Georgia III% Martyrs provided security: a dozen or so men and a few women equipped with AR-15s, earpieces, camouflage and bulletproof vests. One man had a battle ax dangling from his belt. They fanned out around the fenced perimeter of the park while a hundred or so Greene supporters milled around, a few wearing little patches that read “WWG1WGA” or “Q Army” and others who said they didn’t know or care about QAnon but just knew that Greene “shares our values.”

“Marjorie was all there for us, one hundred percent,” said Ray Blankenship, who had in August started a new gun group called the Catoosa County Civil Defense League to guard against everything he believed Democrats stood for, including gun confiscation, rioting and socialism. “People will step up when it’s time,” he said.

Onstage, a guest speaker was talking about “a time when you will be asked to shed another man’s blood because he is a threat to your very way of life.” Another talked about “the communist Democrats.” Another said that vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris “wants to come to your house and take your guns away.” Another began his speech by yelling into the microphone, “FREEDOM!!!!” and out in the audience, a man wearing a hat with a “Q Army” patch was listening.

“I think people are waking up,” said the man, Butch Lapp.

“The silent majority is silent no more,” said his wife, Rebecca, and now the Martyrs were radioing each other for “backup,” and forming a protective huddle around Greene as she made her way to the stage with no opposition anywhere in sight.

“I am so proud and so excited to represent northwest Georgia!” she began.

Back in Indiana, Kevin reflected on what happened:

“I wanted to be the voice of reason against fear. I wanted to draw attention to big issues in the district,” he said during a walk one afternoon, thinking back to the beginning.

“My opponent, unfortunately, embraced QAnon beliefs. I saw her disgusting comments. I thought, ‘She is basically talking like a terrorist,’ ” Kevin said.

“When I had to do that statement, I was scared,” he said. “I’m being told I need to make a direct attack on groups who respond to people with violence. Who glorify violence.”

“My staff had monitored backchannels and seen where Q people were making threats, and we talked about what to do about death threats,” he said.

“I felt out of control. I had no control. I felt unreal. I didn’t know what to do with myself in the quiet. I felt uneasy. I felt I was on the rails and floating through,” he said.

I was breaking down,” he said. “I was just broken.”

But now all of that was over, and he was walking down a street in Indiana describing the person he had become in the fall of 2020.

“I’ve not really been eating. I’ve been sleeping a lot. Avoiding news. I blocked anyone talking ill about me. One or two said they want to punch me in the face,” Kevin said.

“I’m worried the political situation is not going to get better. I worry we may not be able to turn it around. I knew Trump was a fascist, and I knew he was going to destroy this country, but I didn’t know how much. And Marjorie’s only going to make it worse.”

In the Trump era, voices of reason became targets.

Jack Hassard has spent his career teaching science and training science teachers. He lives in Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp is determined to open schools without regard to the state of the virus.

Hassard says, based on the science, that Georgia is not ready to open its schools.

The infection rate in Georgia is unacceptably high at 13-16%.

It is important for us to use the science to make decisions about the lives of our citizens. At this time, it is not prudent to open schools in ways that bring hundreds of students into a school building. We have seen examples of crowded high school corridors, with most students not wearing masks. This should not be tolerated.

CBS News reported:

A Georgia high school that was featured in a viral photo showing students packed tightly in a hallway has closed temporarily after nine students and staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV reports. North Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia, reopened for in-person learning August 3.

The school will be closed to in-person learning Monday and Tuesday, according to a letter sent to students’ parents and guardians on Sunday. Extracurricular activities have also been canceled for those days.

Students will be informed if they can return for in-person learning on Tuesday night, the letter stated. The letter also noted the building will be “thoroughly cleaned and disinfected” while the school is shuttered.

USA Today reported:

After only one week of school, more than 250 students and teachers from one Georgia school district will be asked to quarantine for two weeks after several teachers and students tested positive for COVID-19, according to the district’s website.

Cherokee County School District, which is just north of Atlanta, is sharing regular updates on coronavirus cases in its schools on its website.

As of Friday, at least 11 students, ranging in age from first to 12th grade, and two staff members from various elementary, middle and high schools, have tested positive for the virus, prompting the school to send almost 250 students and staff home for 14 days because of possible exposure. The students will receive online instruction during the period.

That’s a trick question because a Governor Kemp has stiff competition from several other governors, such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis.

Politico interviewed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. He said his early reopening of schools for full-time in-person instruction was going really well, except for the photo that went viral of high school students packed together in a hall while changing classes.

Under Kemp’s abdication of leadership, Georgia is fifth in the nation on the number of cases of COVID-19.

Photos shared widely on social media last week showed hallways packed shoulder to shoulder with students at North Paulding High School northwest of Atlanta. School officials later announced that six students and three staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus, and that the school would be closed Monday and Tuesday while the building is disinfected.

In nearby Cherokee County, 12 students and two staff members from a dozen schools tested positive for the virus during their first week back at school. The Cherokee County school system reported that more than 250 students with potential exposure had been sent home to quarantine for two weeks.

Cherokee County also drew attention because of online photos. Dozens of students at two of its high schools squeezed together for first-day-of-school senior photos. None wore masks.

Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia has boldly asserted his claim to be the dumbest governor in the nation. This makes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis very unhappy, as he claims that title.

Kemp suspended all local laws and orders that mandate mask-wearing as the number of coronavirus cases rise in Georgia. He “encouraged” people to wear masks, but no mandates permitted.

Bob Shepherd explains why Florida is miffed:

 

FROM: the law offices of A. Wayne Kerr, Esq.

TO: The State of Georgia

OK. We here in Flor-uh-duh are not happy. We’ve spent years, literally, building our reputation as the dumbest state in the union. We’ve built rope swings over pits of alligators. We’ve worn “Seriously, I have drugs” T-shirts when we were carrying drugs. We’ve organized people to shoot down hurricanes. We’ve claimed in court that we weren’t drinking and driving because we only swigged alcohol at stop signs. We’ve committed criminal assault with fried chicken. We’ve passed resolutions banning Satan from our towns. We’ve committed armed robbery with transparent bags on our heads. We’ve elected Ron DeSantis our governor. We’ve passed stand your ground laws. We’ve driven on highways with a “Car in Toe” sign in the back window. And we’ve issued an order to open all our schools to full in-person instruction on the very day that we set a national record for new cases of Covid-19.

In short, we have worked extremely hard to build the brand of Flor-uh-duh Man. Now, the state of Georgia thinks it can capriciously encroach on our brand by rescinding its order to wear masks in public during the pandemic. This cannot stand. Please cease and desist from further stupid.

Thank you.

This insightful article in Esquire is mostly about Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, the guy who was in charge of the election (as Secretary of State) in which he beat Stacey Abrams and refused to step aside to let a nonpartisan person do it. His platform was pro-gun and anti-immigrant.

Kemp belatedly figured out that people who exhibit no symptoms of COVID-19 can transmit the disease.

Jack Holmes writes:

One issue for Republican politics at the moment is that the only criterion that matters for anyone seeking power—absolute fealty to Donald Trump—rarely seems to overlap with competence. “It’s by nature almost impossible for Trump to build an administration of quality,” historian Douglas Brinkley told me what seems a lifetime ago. “It’s not about good governance or ethics or even dead-rock patriotism. It’s about full-bore allegiance to him, to Trump.” This is true of the president’s Cabinet and someone like Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, who predicted in January that the novel coronavirus outbreak would be good for American jobs. 10 million people have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks.

But it’s also true of the new class of Republican governors, who have pledged allegiance to The Leader, but who are also often feckless morons. Exhibit A is one Brian Kemp, governor of Georgia. Mr. Kemp ran for the top job in 2018 while he was secretary of state, meaning he had authority to administer state elections, and he refused to recuse himself from overseeing the gubernatorial election in which he was running. This is known as a conflict of interest….

In his very finite wisdom, Kemp did not put in place statewide mitigation measures like social distancing until Wednesday, when he announced his reversal with a stunning admission.

He didn’t know that asymptomatic people could transmit the virus. He was among the last to know.

Kemp in particular is an emblem of the militant ignorance which is now required to make it in Republican political life. If you actually know things, you will frequently find yourself in disagreement with the president, so it’s best to dunk your head in the sand and, when you occasionally come up for air, bash immigrants. The president was briefed on the full catastrophic possibilities of the COVID-19 pandemic in January—including that China was fudging its numbers on how bad the situation was there—and chose to downplay the problem for the better part of two months in public. A little over a month ago, he said the number of U.S. cases would go from 15 to zero in a miraculous turn of events. Now there are 214,000 cases in the United States—including 7,700 in Florida and nearly 5,000 in Georgia—and the president has suggested his administration will have done a “good job” if 200,000 Americans die. It’s almost like governing is a hard job that requires people with intelligence and skill to do it.

Ed Johnson, a Georgian who puts a high value on intelligence and thoughtful decision making, writes about the conflict among some of his fellow Georgians. Should they listen to God or science? Johnson doesn’t think that one has to choose. God is not in opposition to science. God and science walk together. God wants people to learn about COVID-19 and take care of themselves.

Will they listen?

The Virtual Charter schools of for-profit K12 Inc. have been noted for high attrition, low test scores, low graduation rates, and high profits.

The corporation currently operates a virtual charter school in Georgia which is the largest “school” in the state but of course low-performing. Now it proposes to open another K-12 online charter that will eventually enroll 8,000 students. It will be career-focused, so even children in kindergarten can begin planning their careers.

Fortunately, even the charter advocates in Georgia are having second thoughts.

The staff of the State Charter Schools Commission is recommending the denial of Destinations Career Academy, which, if ultimately approved, would become the second largest public school in the state.

The petition is backed by K12 Inc., a publicly traded corporation with scores of online schools around the country. One of them, Georgia Cyber Academy, is this state’s largest public school. It is at risk of closure due to its history of poor academic performance. The company and the school’s board are embroiled in a contractual dispute following recent board decisions aimed at turning the school around. The board has reduced K12’s role in — and revenue from — the school.

Really, how much dysfunction and profiteering should one state tolerate?

 

Peter Smagorinsky is a Professor of English Education at the University of Georgia. He often contributes to Maureen Downey’s blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In this post, he lets his students explain why they were inspired by Stephanie Johns, who teaches at Classic City High School in Athens, Georgia.

As you read about this model teacher, Stephanie Johns, you may realize that experience matters. She has distilled her dedication, love, and concern for her students into a daily practice, which enables her to reach them and teach them.

 

I just finished reading a compelling book about the famed Atlanta Cheating Scandal. It is titled None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators. I found it hard to put down.

It was written by Shani Robinson, one of the teachers convicted in 2015 of racketeering, for changing her students’ answers on a state test, and journalist Anna Simonton. It is Shani’s story, and with Anna’s help, it is a very good read.

Shani was a Teach for America teacher who taught first graders at Dunbar Elementary School in Atlanta. She was one of dozens of teachers and administrators accused of cheating to raise her students’ test scores. Being arrested, charged, threatened, tried, and convicted was an ordeal, which she describes in detail. Throughout this ordeal, she maintained her innocence. She very credibly insists that she never changed her students’ test answers. Her student scores were not counted towards the school’s “AYP” and had no bearing on the school’s rating because first grade scores were not part of the No Child Left Behind dragnet.

She never received a bonus or any other monetary reward. Yet she and other educators were accused and convicted on a racketeering charge (the federal RICO statute that was designed to snare members of the Mafia and other organized criminals). She did not conspire with anyone, she writes, and to this day she insists upon her innocence.

What is especially shocking is her account of the “justice” system. At every step along the way, she and the others who were accused were offered the opportunity to get out of the charges if only they agreed to plead guilty. They got off scot free if they were willing to accuse others. Repeatedly she was told that she had a choice: If you stick with your plea of innocence, you face 20 years in prison; if you confess your criminal behavior, you will get probation, community service, and a nominal fine. Those who were convicted lost their job, their reputations, their careers, and in some cases, their freedom.

Others whom Shani trusted confessed to crimes they had not committed. She insisted upon her innocence and refused to lie to win her freedom. She cannot help comparing the longest trial in Georgia’s history with the cheating scandal in Washington, D.C., where no one was charged and there was no trial or punishment, nor even a credible investigation.

Somehow the whole procedure sounds like a story from the old Soviet Union, but this is American “justice” as practiced in Georgia.

What makes the story even more interesting is the way she connects her personal dilemma with the history of racism and injustice in Georgia and with the manipulation of politics by corporate interests. She notes again and again that the media created a feeding frenzy because of allegations that educators cheated, but were not interested at all in reporting how corporate interests shifted or stole hundreds of millions of dollars from the schools for real estate development or gentrification.

She describes Atlanta’s history as the first city to build public housing, which became home to many thousands of black families, and the first city to tear down all of its public housing, ostensibly to woo middle class families back to the city (and to push out poor black families).

She became disenchanted with Teach for America as she saw its recruits—funded by out-of-state billionaires and trained by TFA’s Leadership for Educational Equity– organize a takeover of the Atlanta school board so as to make way for corporate education reform, especially charter schools.

She details the efforts of for-profit Charter Schools USA to open a charter in Atlanta, and the determination of the black community to keep them out.

Hypocrisy?

She writes:

“I tried to keep my cool as I came to terms with the fact that some very bad things had happened in my school district, worked to remain self-assured that my name would be cleared, and attempted to quell my outrage at the naked hypocrisy of some of the public figures who scrambled to condemn educators for ‘cheating the children.’ There were so many ways that children, particularly black children, were being cheated out of a decent life. During the decade that some APS staff members were tampering with tests, most teachers were doing the best they could with few resources for contending with kids who suffered generational trauma stemming from urban renewal, racialized violence, the drug epidemic, mass incarceration, and the obliteration of public housing. Meanwhile, real estate moguls and financiers were finagling ways to line their pockets with the education dollars that should have been going to the classroom.”

The most memorable line in the trial was uttered by the utterly reprehensible Judge Baxter, who said that the cheating scandal was “the sickest thing to ever happen in this town.” Shani wonders if he never gave any thought to slavery, Jim Crow, and the many other attacks on blacks as equally “sick.”

Shani Robinson’s appeal has not yet been heard. She may yet be sent to prison. Her book is a persuasive argument that some of the worst criminals in Atlanta were never tried for their crimes against the children of Atlanta.

 

 

The Georgia State Senate, controlled by Republicans, voted not to create a private school voucher program. 

Critics said the program would eventually cost the state half a billion a year, defunding public schools.

Democrats voted as a bloc against it, joined by key Republicans including Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller of Gainesville.

Public school supporters who opposed the bill were astonished.

The fate of the bill by Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, stunned the public school lobby, which had been working overtime against it.

“Pleasantly surprised,” was how Craig Harper, executive director of the 90,000-plus member Professional Association of Georgia Educators put it.

John Zauner, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said the legislation would have “fundamentally” changed school financing.