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Rural Georgia Braces for Kemp’s Budget

Rural Georgia supported Gov. Brian Kemp overwhelmingly in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Now they are asking serious questions about how his proposed budget will negatively impact the area.  Lawmakers have made it a priority to pour millions of dollars into efforts to help rural Georgia.  Some are now wondering what the results of their work will be after much of what they championed was slated by Kemp and agency heads to be trimmed back.

Changing the long pattern of struggling small-town Georgia economies has been a top priority among members of the General Assembly.  House Speaker David Ralston’s strong support has encouraged lawmakers to put taxpayer money behind their ideas.  One example is creating a Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation in Tifton.  Under Kemp’s proposal the center would take a $100,000 budget cut next year.

Several questions continue to resonate concerning how proposed budget cuts are going to affect rural Georgia:

• How will they affect meat inspections and marketing of farm products at a time when Hurricane Michael and trade wars have hurt the state’s top industry, agriculture?
• How will they affect programs to get more doctors to small-town Georgia?
• How will they affect health departments in remote counties with no doctors?
• How will they affect programs to boost the economy of rural Georgia?

“Rural Georgia is going to feel the pain of this,” said state Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.  “Rural Georgia is going to get killed.”

Small-town lawmakers who dominate the budget committees in the General Assembly expressed particular concern about Kemp’s proposed reduction to several health care initiatives including a loan forgiveness program for rural health care professionals and funding for public health departments.

Beverly, the House minority caucus chairman, said the series of cuts to rural programs shows small-town Georgians have been misled.  “It is our job to let folks know that, here is a governor who said one thing, who you voted for, but who is not helping you,” Beverly said. “He’s hurting you.”

According to Kemp’s office, the governor is, “committed to keeping rural Georgia strong by using innovative ways to spur economic growth, improve educational opportunities and ensure bright futures for Georgia families.”  They stress, “The governor’s budget fully funds Quality Basic Education for Georgia students, includes a $2,000 educator pay raise for a combined $5,000, invests in critically important infrastructure initiatives and provides much-needed resources to improve health care access and quality across the Peach State.”

The governor’s budget plan would eliminate funding for a rural water association and a rural health innovation program and cut money for:  loan repayment awards for health care professionals working in rural Georgia; medical malpractice insurance assistance for doctors working in rural Georgia; a rural surgery initiative; doctor training programs that helped prepare more physicians to work in rural Georgia; and for several other medical programs.

Proposed cuts to the Georgia Department of Agriculture raised concerns about filling vacancies in the positions of food safety inspector and agriculture marketing positions which would lead to fewer meat inspections.  “Should our citizens be concerned about food safety?” asked Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “When you talk about food inspections and meat inspections are going to be fewer and farther between, what is our obligation to the public if we are going to do this?”

Farmers sounded the alarm concerning the agricultural experiment stations and the Cooperative Extension Service which are part of the University System of Georgia budget and would experience reductions of about $7.6 million next year under the governor’s budget plan. University System Chancellor Steve Wrigley promised to work with lawmakers to avoid or lessen the cuts to the two programs.

During a recent press conference outlining their 2020 legislative agenda, Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) members also expressed alarm about the governor’s budget.  Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bennett (D-Stone Mountain) addressed the GLBC’s concerns regarding Governor Brian Kemp’s budgetary recommendation for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 budgets.  She discussed potential divestments in the state’s criminal justice system, especially in services that support rehabilitation, training, alternative sentencing and legal representation.  Bennett discussed how the proposed budget cuts could also impact the following areas:  the state’s social mobility gap; workforce training; economic development; children/adolescent health, education and social services; health services; and statewide infrastructure.

“We must join colleagues across both parties to address these concerns and work to find solutions to balance our budget without jeopardizing these critical services,” said Bennett.

Sources and for more information, visit http://www.legis.ga.gov, https://www.ajc.com.

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Georgia Tax Revenues Increase as Lawmakers Struggle with Budget Cuts

The Georgia Department of Revenue has announced that tax collections rose 4.5 percent in January compared to the same month in 2019. Overall tax collections for the budget year, which began July 1, are now up $133 million.  The state is still short of the $800 million in new revenue that Gov. Brian Kemp and state lawmakers projected for this year when they passed the budget last spring.

According to budget experts, if Georgia’s revenues had grown this rapidly in every month as in January, the state would be on track for a surplus.  Instead Kemp ordered many agencies to make cuts in this year’s budget to save about $200 million.  He has proposed deeper cuts for the 2021 budget beginning July 1, seeking to reduce spending by about $300 million over what was originally planned this year.

Some lawmakers have expressed concerns about delays to a plan to open a transition center in Gwinnett County for teens being released from the Department of Juvenile Justice, saying that’s when youths are “vulnerable” and need the most support.  Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) asked whether cutting open positions would increase overtime spending and hurt morale among already low-paid juvenile corrections officers.  Lawmakers pored through cuts in vacant state trooper spending, with Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough saying attrition would likely reduce trooper ranks in 2021.  Following is the revenue report for January 2020.

The State of Georgia’s net tax collections for January totaled nearly $2.36 billion, for an increase of $100.8 million, or 4.5 percent, compared to January 2019, when net tax collections totaled $2.25 billion.  Year-to-date net tax collections totaled approximately $14.21 billion, for an increase of $133 million, or 0.9 percent, compared to the previous fiscal year, when net tax revenues totaled $14.07 billion.

Individual Income Tax collections increased by a total of $56 million, or 4.3 percent, compared to last year when Income Tax collections totaled $1.3 billion.  The following notable components within Individual Income Tax combine for the net increase:

• Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were up $18.5 million, or 34.1 percent
• Individual Withholding payments for the month increased by $43.8 million, or 4.2 percent
• Individual Income Tax Return payments were up $12.3 million, or 91.7 percent, over FY 2019
• All other Individual Tax categories, including Estimated Tax payments, were up a combined $18.4 million

Gross Sales and Use Tax collections totaled $1.24 billion, an increase of $56.5 million, or 4.8 percent, over January 2019.  Net Sales and Use Tax increased by $27.7 million, or 4.6 percent, compared to last year, when net sales tax totaled $599 million.  The adjusted Sales Tax distribution to local governments totaled about $607.8 million, for an increase of $26.3 million, or 4.5 percent, over the previous year.  Sales Tax Refunds increased by nearly $2.5 million, or 43.2 percent, compared to FY 2019.

Corporate Income Tax collections totaled $50.1 million, which was an increase of $11 million, or 28.2 percent, over last year, when Corporate Tax collections totaled approximately $39.1 million.  The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the net increase:

• Corporate Income Tax refunds issued (net of voids) were up $15.1 million, or 114.1 percent
• Corporate Income Tax Return payments for the month increased by $23.6 million, or 174.6 percent
• All other Corporate Tax types, including Corporate Estimated payments, were up a combined $2.5 million  

Motor Fuel Taxes:  Motor Fuel Tax collections increased by $9.2 million, or 6.3 percent, compared to FY 2019.  Motor Vehicle Tag & Title Fees increased by $6.5 million, or 19.1 percent, during the month, whereas Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) collections declined by $13.4 million, or -20.1 percent, from last year’s total of $66.9 million.

Sources and for more information, visit http://www.legis.ga.gov, Associated Press, https://dor.georgia.gov/.

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Monroe Student Athletes Named to All-Region Teams take Player of the Year Honors

ALBANY, Ga. — Student-athletes from Monroe Comprehensive High School dominated the 1-AAA All-Region teams, including Player-of-the-Year nods, while the boys and girls head coaches snagged Coach-of-the-Year honors.  Leading the honors were Marius Ellis, the All-Region Player of the Year, and Dominick Henderson, who was named the All-Region Defensive Player of the Year.

The Monroe boys team, which claimed the Region 1-AAA crown, ended up with Senior Matthew Green and Junior Kareem Nixon on the first team All-Region team. Sophomore Cedric Johnson was named to the second team All-Region team. Head Coach Michael Hoffpauir, who is in his first season as the Golden Tornadoes head coach, was named Boys Coach of the Year by his fellow Region 1-AAA coaches.

The Monroe Girls team, coached by Jennifer Acree, had Kenzi Williams and Catriesa White named to the first team All-Region squad, with Aaliyah Johnson named to the second team All-Region. Jordan Elder and Saniyah McDuffie were named honorable mention. Acree was named the Region 1-AAA Girls Coach of the Year.

 

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Legislation to Create Georgia Gang Prevention and Intervention Task Force Introduced

House Bill 883, legislation that would create the Georgia Gang Prevention and Intervention Task Force, was recently introduced by State Representative Carl Gilliard (D-Garden City).  Rep. Gilliard will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed legislation on Tuesday, February 25, 2020, at 1 p.m. in room 341 of the State Capitol.

House Bill 883 is a recommendation from the House Study Committee on Gang & Youth Violence Prevention, which was authorized during the 2019 legislative session to examine the rising rate of gang violence in Georgia and determine legislative recommendations for the 2020 legislative session.  According to Rep. Gilliard, the state has identified more than 71,000 gang members, and the state needs to intervene within schools and communities before it is too late for some of Georgia’s youth.

The Georgia Gang Prevention and Intervention Task Force would develop and maintain a comprehensive state plan for strategic, coordinated and collaborative efforts between educational institutions and social service organizations to help prevent and intervene in criminal youth gang participation.  The task force would provide resources to community organizations to implement programs and initiatives to help deter youth gang activity.  The Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) would oversee the task force, and it would be comprised of 15 members appointed by various state agencies and organizations.  Its members could serve up to two consecutive two-year terms, and they would serve without compensation.

“As the chair of the House Study Committee on Gang & Youth Violence Prevention, I am honored to introduce House Bill 883 to help address this serious issue by implementing a concrete intervention and prevention plan for at-risk youth,” said Rep. Gilliard.

Source and for more information, visit http://www.legis.ga.gov.

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Ending Discrimination in Housing for Veterans is Focus of House Bill

Housing discrimination of veterans is the focus of recently introduced House Bill 768.  Initiated by State Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex), the legislation would prohibit discrimination against veterans who seek to purchase or lease housing.  “Under no circumstances should a veteran be discriminated against when he or she is trying to buy or rent a home,” said Rep. Scott.

HB 768 would prohibit the refusal to sell, rent or lease housing to any person who is currently serving, or has served, in the U.S. armed forces.  Under HB 768, it would be illegal to refuse to negotiate for the sale, rental or lease of housing accommodations based on a person’s military status, as well as making a representation that a housing accommodation is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when it is in fact available.

Under HB 768 it would be illegal to harass, evict or otherwise discriminate against a veteran in regard to their housing or their status as a member of the U.S. armed forces or to request information about a person’s current or former involvement with the U.S. armed forces.  An individual, bank, mortgage company or other financial institution would not be able to determine an individual’s eligibility for financial assistance based on a borrower’s status or history with the U.S. armed forces.  HB 768 would also give veterans a private right of action against any person who engages in this discrimination, and the person would be entitled to attorney fees and all litigation expenses.  Violations of the proposed law would be considered a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.

“Veterans have paved a way for us to be safe in this world, and we should always treat them with the utmost respect.  We must value our veterans more in Georgia,” said Rep. Scott.

Source and for more information, visit http://www.legis.ga.gov.

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Winterwood Neighborhood Voices Strong Opposition to Addiction Recovery Facility

On Tuesday, January 28, 2020, in a marathon City Commission meeting that lasted from 6:30 PM to nearly 11:00 PM, citizens, one by one, raised objections to a proposed rezoning of property at 2804 Phillips Drive.  The Planning Staff and Planning Commissioners proposed to rezone this property that is currently used as a church, and zoned residential (R-3), to Community Residential Multiple-Dwelling (C-R).  However, beyond and in addition to the rezoning, the property would have to be granted Special Approval to establish an Addiction Recovery Campus in new C-R district.

The addiction recovery facility would be operated by Penfield Addiction Ministries, Inc.  The property is currently occupied by Raleigh White Baptist Church.  The church would continue to operate through an agreement with the new occupant.  The transitional housing facility would provide a more structured environment than outpatient services for the purpose of establishing or maintaining abstinence from alcohol and other drugs for up to 50 residents.  These residents would be free to go and come for work and other purposes with approval of staff.  Staff, however, would be limited to as little as two during weekends.  Penfield operates three campuses all of which are at some distance from residential areas such as Winterwood.

The Winterwood neighborhood has been in existence since the early 1970’s.  It is a stable, safe community of single-family homes on large lots.  It has a viable and functioning Neighborhood Watch that keeps an eye on upkeep and general appearance of the area and its environment.  Even the staff’s own analysis states that the “C-R designation is not consistent” with the future land use recommendation for the area.

State law states that, “When a proposed zoning decision relates to or will allow the location or relocation of a halfway house, drug rehabilitation center, or other facility for treatment of drug dependency, a public hearing shall be held on the proposed action.  Such public hearing shall be held at least six months and not more than nine months prior to the date of final action on the zoning decision.”  This provision in state law means that the decision on the rezoning cannot be made before July and not after October of this year.

Penfield Addition Ministries, Inc., is headquartered in Union Point, Georgia.  It was established in 1979 and is a non-profit whose mission is to reclaim alcohol and drug addicted men and women through Christ and Christian love.

One of the outspoken residents addressing the Commission at the hearing was Ms. Marion Gaines Jones.  She is a retired educator with the State Prison System.  Ms. Jones has a long history of working in the community and was jailed numerous times as a young girl marching during the Albany Civil Rights Movement.  At eleven, she made the journey to Washington, DC to participate in the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  She states that like Dr. King, “I just want to do God’s will.  God gave me the courage to speak up for what is right on behalf of myself, my family and my neighbors and I will always do that.  I plan to follow this important issue to its finish.  I believe God is on our side and we will prevail.  We will not let this go.  You never see this kind of imposition in other neighborhoods in the city.  Why must we always have to fight to keep our neighborhoods safe and family friendly.  We care about the well-being of our families just like everybody else and are willing to fight if we must.”

Ms. Jones said that her family has been in Dougherty County since slavery, for four generations and have always stood for what is right.  “I can do no less,” she stated.

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Queens-R-Us

By The Editor

Queens-R-Us is an organization created to offer a variety of services and inspirational messages to help develop, motivate and encourage young women between the ages of 5-18 to become the Queens they are meant to be.  The focus starts on the inside and works outward.

The organization seeks to inspire girls and young women to understand and know their worth and to mentor them into becoming successful and intentional in all aspects of their lives through adulthood.  Queens-R-Us works to empower young women to become future leaders who exact positive social influence.  The mentoring programs are designed to boost self-esteem, provide educational sessions on health, fitness, dressing for success, financial literacy, community service and more.  It is a holistic approach to being a Queen in today’s society and discussing relevant information about subjects associated with today’s young women.

According to Ms. Carla Hawkins, founder and operator of the program, “It is a dream come true, as I have always wanted a safe and beautiful place where girls can realize their worth and value in this world.  I once was very lost and took a more complicated path in life until God and a very special mentor in my life helped me to realize who I am and who I was meant to be.  I am only paying it forward and want so much to provide the resources that our girls need.  The most important being LOVE AND SUPPORT.  Queens-R-Us wants to be an extension of each girl’s village and remind them that they are meant to be Queens!”

Ms. Hawkins had the honor of being crowned Miss Black Georgia in 2010.  It was her encounter with a young girl as tour the state speaking to young women that lead her to found the organization.  She recalls a little girl commenting that she could never be a Queen.  Ms. Hawkins feels very strongly that no girl should ever feel that way and wants to do what she can to lift that self-doubt.

The organization is currently seeking to increase enrollment by providing school bus transportation from the following schools:  Lincoln Elementary, Lamar Reese School of the Arts, International Studies Elementary Charter School, Robert Cross Middle School, Radium Middle and Monroe High School.  They hope to soon have their own van to pick up girls from all locations.

Queens-R-Us is located at 1319 W. Broad Avenue, Albany, GA  31701.  You can contact them at 229-449-1912 or at queens.r.us.inc@gmail.com.

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Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund Established to Support Grand Bahama Hurricane Relief and Recovery Efforts

By znsbahamas

www.znsbahamas.com

The Grand Bahama Port Authority has partnered with Coastal Community Foundation to establish the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund, a charitable giving fund to support relief and recovery efforts on Grand Bahama. Contributions to this fund are tax-deductible under the US tax code.

What:  Hurricane Dorian has created unprecedented destruction in Grand Bahama. To provide charitable assistance for disaster relief and recovery efforts in Grand Bahama, a charitable gift fund to support relief and recovery efforts has been established at Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina.

Who: The Grand Bahama Port Authority has established a charitable gift fund with Coastal Community Foundation to support relief and recovery efforts in Grand Bahama.

How:  Individuals, businesses and other donors who wish to financially support relief efforts may do by visiting www.gBDisasterrelief.org. This website provides contribution information for the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund at Coastal Community Foundation and will also be updated with local resource information.

Why:  The devastation for Hurricane Dorian is extensive and will require significant financial resources in the immediate days as well as coming weeks and months. Support at this time is critical for relief and recovery efforts.

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Food

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  It goes on to say in 1:11-12, “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation, seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds,’ and it was so.”

Flint River Fresh (FRF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit headquartered in Albany, seeks to increase access to fresh, local, affordable, healthy food for our neighbors, create new economic opportunity for local farmers and positively impact the lives of young people through agriculture.  As Genesis suggests, God created sustenance for humankind before he created man.  Over the generations as societies have become more urbanized, we have moved away from growing our own food and are almost totally dependent on corporations to provide for the most basic of need, food.  Growing up in Albany, my father grew more than half of the food we ate, including meat, vegetables and corn for bread.  In summers, it was probably more than ninety percent. The food was fresh and picked daily.  He sold a good amount to local grocery stores as well.

Today, the gardens are gone and in south Albany, so are most of the supermarkets.  There is only one grocery store south of Oglethorpe.  This, at a time when there is increasing awareness of the health benefits of a plant-based diet.  As we see the growing prevalence of chronic disorders like diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, etc., all evidence points to the lack of healthy foods and over reliance on processed and fast foods as a major contributing factor.

FRF believes that community gardens are outdoor classrooms that can teach residents how to grow their own groceries while emphasizing the importance of conserving our natural resources and providing a safe gathering space for children and neighbor commune.  FRF aims to build community urban farms where vacant and abandoned lots are transformed into food oases and make fresh food more assessable to underserved neighborhoods.  The stated goals of Flint River Fresh are:

– Create an Urban Farm Training Center with cold storage, commercial kitchen and packing facility,

– Expand Rarmer’s Markets on wheels to serve more communities throughout Southwest Georgia,

– Provide more locally produced food to schools, institutions, grocery stores, and restaurants,

– Develop videos and manuals to teach farmers how to diversify crop selections for new markets, and

– Build a farm-market-café model in low income and rural communities making it easy to choose tasty, hHealthy, convenient and truly affordable meals and groceries.

The group’s Executive Director is Fredando Jackson, also known as Farmer Fredo.  He can be reached at info@flintriverfresh.org.

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Fair Fight:  Albany City Elections

I truly debated the merits of writing this article.  Over the last few years, especially since the 2016 national elections, I have watched with dismay as Americans’ faith in free and fair elections, in my opinion, declined.  It worries me a lot.  I came of age in the sixties and have voted, come hell or high water, in every election since.  I completely buy into the notion that the right to vote and have that vote counted equally is foundational to democracy.  When I graduated college and left Albany, I left to work for renowned Civil Rights activist and Congressman, John Lewis, at the Voter Education Project in Atlanta.  I worked with Congressman Lewis and the late State Representative Julian Bond throughout the 13 southern states in the 1970’s to fully implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Even then sometimes it was scary work in the deepest parts of Alabama and Mississippi.

When I read the following statement by Fair Fight’s CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo on July 29, 2019, and reflected on the 2016 presidential election, and on the Georgia statewide elections last year and other reported questions about the efficacy of elections outcomes even locally, I thought I would just raise a word of caution as we enter the important City of Albany municipal elections scheduled for November 5, 2019.  WE MUST BE ON GUARD!  Nothing is sacred anymore, not even the vote.

This is likely to be the last election in Dougherty County to use the current voting machines and software that date back to 2002.  The State of Georgia has entered into a contract with Dominion Voting Systems to provide new machines and software in time for next year’s primary as ordered by court.  The company beat out ES&S which held close ties associates of former Secretary of State and now Governor, Brian Kemp.

Fair Fight is an anti-voter suppression organization formed by Stacey Abrams after her failed efforts to become the first black or female governor of Georgia in 2018. Here is the CEO’s statement:

“Make no mistake that it was a result of the hard work of litigation, activism, and advocacy that the state has chosen Dominion over ES&S for the largest purchase of voting machines in American history.  ES&S has infiltrated Georgia government, bribed politicians, shielded itself from public records requests, and failed in state after state, and, because of our and our allies’ months long efforts to expose this corruption, the choice by the state is not as bad as it could have been.  Today’s announcement, however, does nothing to change the fact that hand-marked paper ballots are more secure than election machines.  Team Kemp cannot be trusted to protect the integrity of Georgia’s election system after his office repeatedly compromised and failed for a decade to provide necessary support and training to Georgia Counties.  Frighteningly, court hearings last week revealed that employees of Georgia vendors are currently accessing Georgians’ personal information on unsecure networks in their personal homes.  This announcement and a change of vendors mark an admission of how poorly the 2018 elections were conducted, and serious questions about how the Secretary of State intends to secure 2019 elections remain.  We continue to have questions about the RFP selection process and will continue our fight for truly free elections in which every vote is counted and every voice is heard.”

Of course, I realize that everything us humans create are subject to error and deliberate corruption, I ask you to reflect on a few facts from the past.

1. Leading up to the 2018 statewide elections, Secretary of State Kemp froze some 53,000 registrations.  98 percent of them were from 10 of the states’ most urban counties, including 5 metro counties, Bibb, Dougherty, Richmond, Chatham and Muscogee Counties.  In addition, the percentage of frozen registrations represented by African-Americans was far greater than the percentage of the general population in these counties.
2. In 2018, the Abrams campaign ended up having to sue Dougherty County elections officials to have absentee ballots counted after Hurricane Michael and a court case delayed mailing out the ballots.
3. Although many may discount polls, there has been an increasing number of cases nationally, statewide and locally where polls and in some cases, intuition indicate one outcome and the results are greatly different.
4. Then there is the case of Harry James’ efforts to get on the ballot as an independent in last year’s race for chair of the Dougherty County Commission.  Mr. James had more than 400 over the required signatures yet did not make it on to the ballot. 
5. The questions surrounding exact match in signatures on absentee ballots caused a lot of hiccups in statewide elections last year as well.  Whose signature does not change over years and who knows how many of those absentee ballots are thrown out each year.

All of this to say, be on alert.  It is your duty as a member of a free democratic society to pass it on to the next generation, something we were willing to stick our necks out for and to fight for and to always keep our eyes open. 

Vote November 5th!

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