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Democrats carry Rockdale, Newton in Senate runoffs

CONYERS — Rockdale County voters demonstrated their Democratic preferences Tuesday, voting overwhelmingly in favor of Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in runoff elections.

With all 16 precincts reporting, Ossoff had 72.36% of Rockdale votes, compared to incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue with 27.64%. There were 40,146 total votes cast.

Warnock garnered 72.56% of votes, compared to Senator Kelly Loeffler’s 27.44%. There were 40,154 votes cast in the election in Rockdale County.

In Newton County, with 22 of 22 precincts reporting, Democrats again carried the runoff, although the margins were closer than in Rockdale.

Ossoff earned 57.72% of votes to Perdue’s 42.28%. There were 48,751 total votes cast.

Warnock received 57.99% of votes, compared to Loeffler’s 42.01%. There were 48,772 votes cast.

Due to heavy turnout during early and absentee balloting, there were short wait times — or no waiting at all — at the polls in Rockdale and Newton on Tuesday.

All results are unofficial and incomplete until the elections are certified.

With the elections of Warnock and Ossoff, Democrats have captured both of Georgia’s seats in the U.S. Senate for the first time in nearly 20 years, a momentous feat that gives the party control of Congress and the White House.

Several media outlets declared Democrat Ossoff the winner Wednesday afternoon in Tuesday’s tight runoff contest against Perdue. Statewide, Ossoff took 50.3% of the vote to 49.7% for Perdue, apparently just above the 0.5% margin of victory that under state law would have allowed Perdue to request a recount. Warnock captured Georgia’s other Senate seat earlier in the day when the Democratic challenger was declared the winner over Loeffler. Warnock prevailed by a slightly wider margin, 50.7% to 49.3%.

The Senate runoff results solidify Georgia’s position as a battleground state with closely fought elections for at least the next decade, said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University.

“This is yet another election that confirms Georgia isn’t reliably Republican anymore,” Gillespie said Wednesday. “It has become purple, and it has the potential to be very competitive for the next few election cycles.”

The two Democrats’ wins “feel bigger than Obama,” said Georgia political strategist Fred Hicks, commenting on former President Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008 as the country’s first Black commander-in-chief. Warnock becomes Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator and Ossoff is the state’s first Jewish senator.

“There’s never been this kind of a get-out-the-vote effort statewide launched by Democrats and Democratic-affiliated groups,” Hicks said. “This was the first time that people went out to vote all over the state, not just metro [Atlanta] ... And in a game of margins, that made the difference.”

Georgia has not been represented by two Democratic senators simultaneously since 2002, when former Sens. Max Cleland and Zell Miller both held office before Cleland’s reelection loss that year. Turnout in the Jan. 5 runoffs is set to hover around 4.5 million, marking record-breaking turnout driven by huge vote-by-mail, early voting and Democratic enthusiasm over President-elect Joe Biden’s win over President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 General Election.

Close to $1 billion was spent by the four campaigns and outside groups in both races, dwarfing previous fundraising records in American politics, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Celebrities and national politicians flocked to the state. Trump and Biden held rallies twice each. Beyond the cash and cameos, Democratic operatives in Georgia also managed to “absolutely perfect get-out-the-vote” with wide canvassing efforts and “a more hopeful, optimistic message” than the fearful tone set by the senators’ campaigns, said Buzz Brockway, a former Republican state lawmaker and former Gwinnett County GOP chairman.

“Fear only goes so far,” Brockway said. “Obviously, there are people who think the world ended last night, but there are a lot who don’t.”

Democrats managed to hold the same margins or better that Biden saw in his win over Trump in Georgia despite a 10% drop in turnout in the runoffs compared to the Nov. 3 General Election, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. Much of the credit for Tuesday’s results and the presidential election flip went to Stacey Abrams, the former gubernatorial candidate and rising Democratic star who has led voter registration and turnout efforts since her loss to Gov. Brian Kemp in 2018. Abrams took to Twitter late Tuesday night to laud her voting rights group Fair Fight’s staff and volunteers for helping put Ossoff and Warnock on a “strong path” to victory.

“Across our state, we roared,” Abrams said.

Georgia GOP leaders are now left to wonder what could have been if not for the influence of Trump, who served up more distraction than motivation for crucial conservative voting blocs by insisting the state’s election system was “rigged” after his loss on Nov. 3, according to several analysts.

Blame for Perdue’s and Loeffler’s potential losses should fall squarely on the president, said Georgia’s election system implementation manager, Gabriel Sterling.

“When you say your vote doesn’t count … then you spark a civil war within a GOP that needed to be united to get through a tough fight like this in a state that has been trending in the other direction for years now,” said Sterling, who is a Republican and a former Sandy Springs city councilman.

Georgia State Park Passes and Travel Guide help you explore more in 2021

ATLANTA — One silver lining from 2020 has been discovering the joy of outdoor adventures. Parks all across the country welcomed record numbers of visitors looking for fresh air, peaceful scenery and heart-pumping exercise.

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to start daydreaming about future getaways. The newly published “2021 Guide to Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites” is a helpful resource for planning spring break, romantic retreats and summer vacations. The booklet is filled with tips on the best hiking trails, fishing spots, pet travel, golf courses, cabins and campsites, as well as many new photos shared by park users.

Frequent visitors may also want to purchase new 2021 passes. A $50 Annual ParkPass provides free parking at more than 40 destinations, including Fort Yargo, Tallulah Gorge and Providence Canyon. The separate Historic Site Pass covers admission fees at 15 sites, including Etowah Indian Mounds, Dahlonega Gold Museum and Fort King George. The Historic Site Pass is $25 for students and $50 for families.

“One advantage of having an annual ParkPass or Historic Site Pass is that it encourages people to explore parks and historic sites they’ve never been to before,” said Georgia State Parks Director Jeff Cown. “Your parking and admission fees are already covered for the whole year, and you may even find a new favorite campground, historic site museum or hiking trail.”

The 2021 Travel Guide is available free in park offices or can be viewed on GaStateParks.org. Passes may be purchased online, by calling 770-389-7286 or in park offices as well.

Georgia Southwestern, Georgia Piedmont Technical College sign new agreement for Long-Term Care Management Program
  • Updated

COVINGTON — Georgia Southwestern State University and Georgia Piedmont Technical College have signed a new articulation agreement designed to ensure a smooth transition from associate degree programs at GPTC to GSW’s Long-Term Care Management program.

“We are excited to partner with Georgia Piedmont Technical College in educating the caregivers our aging and disabled communities desperately need,” said GSW President Neal Weaver. “We hope that in simplifying the transition from institution to institution, more students are encouraged to pursue long-term care as a career.”

“Our nation has a growing number of older adults and individuals with disabilities,” said GSW Associate Dean and Professor Leisa Easom, Ph.D. “The LTCM degree addresses the multi-disciplinary elements in education and training required in the preparation of our healthcare workforce today to meet the needs of these populations.”

Unique to the GSW campus is the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI) where the creation of this degree began. In prior years, Easom served as the RCI executive director and experienced firsthand how families across the nation are struggling to connect with community resources that would enable the disabled family member to remain in their home, navigate the health care system, and/or transition from hospital to home as well as residential settings.

Tavarez Holston, Ed.D., president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College, said this partnership with GSW will greatly benefit the students at their institution.

“We enjoy creating pathways for students that will allow them to further their education without impediment. Our partnership with Georgia Southwestern State University is another example of that. I’m excited about this agreement with one of the great four-year educational institutions in our state. It will surely move Georgia’s workforce development efforts forward.”

Graduates with the LTCM degree will have the managerial, budgetary and communication skills critical to the health management field. The degree prepares graduates to assist patients and families to connect with community resources, transition from hospital to home, and manage the care of residents in an institutional setting.

Georgia Southwestern State University, located in Americus, is a public, four-year unit of the University System of Georgia with more than 3,000 students. Georgia Southwestern offers professional programs of study as well as degrees in the arts, humanities, sciences and graduate programs in business, computer science, education, English, and nursing. Founded in 1906, Georgia Southwestern is recognized as one of the best value colleges in the South. For more information about Georgia Southwestern State University, visit www.gsw.edu.

Established in 1961, Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC) is a student-centered institution that prepares individuals with the skills necessary to succeed in a rapidly changing economy. GPTC’s graduation rate for academic year 2019, as reported by the Technical College System of Georgia, was more than 70 percent, and its graduates secure employment at a level resulting in a 92.2 percent in-field job placement rate and a total placement rate of 99.8 percent. Georgia Piedmont Tech’s Adult Education program for GED test preparation and English as a Second Language classes is the second largest in the state. The college has seven learning centers in DeKalb, Newton and Rockdale counties and also specializes in customized business and industry training and workforce development through its Economic Development and Continuing Education division. Learn more at www.gptc.edu.

Newton School System extends all-virtual instruction for five days
  • Updated

COVINGTON — Newton County students who have been participating in in-person instruction will not return to the classroom on Jan. 11 as originally planned. The Newton County School System announced Tuesday that virtual learning will tentatively continue until Tuesday, Jan. 19.

In a message to parents and families posted on the school system’s Facebook page Tuesday, officials said that the increase in community transmission of COVID-19 prompted the decision. “District officials have reviewed the COVID-19 data for Newton County and also consulted this week with local medical professionals representing both the Gwinnett Newton Rockdale Health Department and Piedmont Newton Hospital,” the message states. “Due to the increase in community transmission of the virus, Newton County School System will continue our remote learning environment for students for an additional five days. All students will now utilize online learning or pre-developed work assignments through Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. Students currently served in-person will now report to school on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.”

According to the school system, the extension of virtual learning for all students is a “short-term” solution to help curb spread of the virus. The school system will continue to monitor COVID-19 data in five-day increments to determine its ongoing course of action on a week-to-week basis.

Each Wednesday the next week’s mode of instruction will be announced at 7 p.m. via a School Messenger call. For example, parents would receive a School Messenger call on Wednesday, Jan. 13 regarding school status for the week of Monday, Jan. 18 (Jan. 18 is the MLK birthday holiday for students and staff). The district will continue this procedure until the COVID-19 numbers significantly reduce to the point that a return to in-person instruction is safe.

While remote learning is in process, parents of regular in-person students may obtain free breakfast and lunch meals daily from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the nearest school. Weekly meal boxes are also available for pickup at the following distribution sites: Live Oak Elementary, Heard-Mixon Elementary, West Newton Elementary, Middle Ridge Elementary and Oak Hill Elementary. Virtual learning students may continue to obtain free meals at their regular bus stop drop off site.

“We realize that in-person instruction is often the most beneficial method of instruction for our students; however, the health and safety of the children and staff must be our number one priority,” the school system’s message states. “Our goal is to return to in-person instruction as quickly as possible. Our ability to return to in-person instruction is directly connected to what is happening in our community with regard to COVID-19. Each of us plays a role in stopping the transmission of the virus in our community. Please wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands, and stay home if you are sick.”