Staff photo by Troy Stolt / A maskless Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp hams it up with two supporters during the 17th annual Floyd County GOP Rally at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds on Aug. 7, 2021, in Rome, Georgia. In coming days, he would sign an executive order allowing businesses to ignore any local COVID restrictions.

Brian Kemp's colossal failure

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline thundered: "Georgia Gov. Kemp stops short of measures to address COVID-19's spread."

But after reading the entire story, it should have said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp trades measures to address COVID-19's spread for votes.

The same could be said for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and many of the country's Republican governors. Two dozen GOP Republican attorneys general — including Georgia's — sent an open letter last week to President Biden threatening to "seek every available legal option" against his vaccine mandate plans.

In early August, when Georgia parents wavered between hope and fear about school starts, Kemp didn't pay any attention to CDC's call for folks in high COVID transmission areas to go back to wearing masks. Instead, Kemp told "Fox and Friends" that masks are tools of government overreach and accused the CDC of doublespeak.

Half a month later, while Georgia hospitalizations topped 5,000 and doctors begged people to be vaccinated, Kemp signed an order allowing businesses to ignore local COVID restrictions. Sure — four days later he said he hoped more in the Peach State would "become comfortable getting vaccinated." But what kind of "doublespeak" was that?

Another half month or so later, with health care systems on the brink, Kemp deployed 2,500 National Guard personnel to help hospitals, nursing homes and testing sites. In this announcement, he called vaccines a medical miracle. But he also said mandates would only breed distrust.

The AJC noted that "Kemp can't afford to rankle his base, given that he incurred the wrath of former President Donald Trump this year for his resistance to overturning election results."

Where does that leave you? (Or Tennesseans in the same boat with Lee?) Answer: Swamped and facing an upstream torrent of COVID-19 with no paddle, no mask, no certainty the person next to you is vaccinated and no state leadership.

Kemp's mouthpieces told the AJC that criticism of his approach is an attempt to "play pandemic politics" and force another lockdown.

Since when do masks force lockdowns? Since when do vaccines force lockdowns? No. Illness forces lockdowns. If that's not true, why are Tennessee, Georgia and other GOP-sickened states having to call out the National Guard to staff hospitals and even drive school buses?


Catoosa leadership rises

Not all of Georgia's political leadership chooses to be completely paralyzed by head-in-the-sand, right-wing politics. Catoosa County government employees are now eligible to receive $500 and an additional 40 hours of paid time off for COVID illness or quarantine if they get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The county has 640 employees eligible for this incentive that the county approved in a 3-2 vote on Sept. 10 — one day after President Joe Biden announced his administration will prepare a new mandate that employers with more than 100 workers require vaccinations or weekly employee testing.

The commission doesn't believe in mandates, according to Chairman Steven Henry. Nor does he. But he said vaccines are the best tool available for defeating COVID-19.

"In my personal opinion, it was divine intervention that we had the right president [Trump] in office last year and that's the reason we had vaccines as quick as we did. I would encourage everyone to be vaccinated, but again, this is not a mandate," said Henry.

By the way, the $500 incentive payments will be paid using American Rescue Plan Act funds, proposed by President Biden and approved by our Democratic Congress. House Republicans unanimously voted against the overwhelmingly popular American Rescue Plan. In the Senate, it passed with only Democratic votes, as well, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

Whatever it takes. Kudos, Catoosa!


The county vs. District Attorney Pinkston

Speaking of votes: Stay tuned this week for an important Hamilton County Commission debate and perhaps a vote.

The commission is considering a proposal to withhold funding from the district attorney's office due to ongoing — and unaddressed — concerns over potential nepotism.

It's complicated. District Attorney Neal Pinkston married one of his subordinates, kept that news under wraps for months and later hired his wife's brother. Then he got caught between state pay policy and county pay policy.

In May during budget hearings, Pinkston was asked whether the county funded his relatives' salaries. Pinkston said no. Later, the Times Free Press reported that Pinkston's brother-in-law, hired as an investigator in 2020, was receiving $14,000 in supplemental funds from the county at the time of the hearing to augment his mostly state-funded salary. Pinkston's wife and chief of staff had received supplemental funds from the county in previous years, but at that particular time was paid with state money.

After inquiries by Commissioner Tim Boyd and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, the state made Pinkston move his wife entirely to the county payroll as of Aug. 1.

The whole while, commissioners have been in a standoff with Pinkston, who despite repeated requests from the commission, has not come forward to answer their questions.

Now Boyd is again pressing Pinkston for accountability and has proposed that the panel suspend funding for Pinkston's office unless he removes his wife from the payroll or appears before the commission for questioning.

Drum roll, please.